What happens when critters and vanlife collide

What happens when creatures and critters invade the sanctuary of your van? Here are lessons from some of our wildest encounters…

Imagine the scene. You’ve been out all day, checking out the town, running and exploring. After cooking up a storm, you and your significant other settle down to eat dinner at the table in your cosy van. But before you can lift the steaming hot food to your mouth, out of the corner of your eye, you notice something move.

Casually, you turn your head only to find, just five inches from your face, hanging onto the window and staring straight back at you, a huntsman spider. But not just any huntsman spider – this critter is about the size of your hand.

And it’s inside the kombi.

Herein lies our dilemma. We love the outdoors life. We love camping – the more remote the better. And these days, we spend more time on the trails than off. So it goes without saying that we’re going to come across some creatures and critters every now and again.

The problem is neither of us harbour what I would call an affection towards animals. In fact, those closest to me would say I have the opposite – an aversion. And my way-too-close encounter with a kangaroo some years ago suggests they feel the same about me.

This wasn’t the kangaroo that ran into me, though it is a kangaroo we encountered on a run

So when I see a huntsman spider hanging out inside the kombi, next to my face, and looking like it might quite to stay a while, I don’t react like the outdoorsy person I like to pretend I am. Even though I know they’re not poisonous in any way. Instead, my reaction went something like this:

Nicki [jumps up desperately, flings herself across Mat, violently forces the door open and runs out the kombi]: Ugh! Oh my god, oh my god, oh my god.

Mat [still sitting in the kombi holding a fork-full food]: Eh?

Fortunately, Mat can override his repulsion in order to play hide and seek with the spider for the next ten minutes, before asking the spider ever so nicely to leave the Old Girl and perhaps find somewhere else to hang out for the evening.

Our lesson? Don’t assume the van is a critter-free zone.

Here are some more lessons we’ve learned about Australia’s creatures on the road:


One night, we were lying peacefully in the van, about to drop off into a deep slumber, when the van started to shake violently. The shaking went on for about a minute, then stopped. Mat and I had just enough time to look at each other in disbelief before it started again. It sounded like someone was lying underneath the kombi sawing at metal pipes. This went on for the whole night.

So was it an earthquake? A huge truck driving by? Was someone lying underneath the kombi with a saw? No, it was a wombat.

Photo 2-05-2016-4
What me? I have an itchy back, what you gonna do?

We later learned that wombats get itchy backs. And when they do, they find something at just the right height to crawl underneath and get their scratch on. Like a kombi van. It all sounds quite sensible, right? But that night, we had a queue of wombats who wanted to use the Old Girl as their scratching post. And we got zero sleep.

THE LESSON: Gather up everything you own and build a fortress around your vehicle so that no wombat can sneak underneath and have a good scratch. Be sure to fill all the gaps – the worse thing would be to have a wombat sneak in and not be able to find their way out again! Disaster.

Photo 3-05-2016
Gather everything you own and build a fortress


About 20km from Lismore, New South Wales, in a little village called The Channon, in the corner of Nan and Hugh’s campground, in the ladies bathroom, inside the toilet, under the rim, lives a green tree frog.

Photo 15-06-2016
You looking at me?

When he is flushed, he swims back up and sits on his throne. When Hugh picks him up and puts him on the other side of the farm, he makes his way back home. Why the ladies toilets? Nobody knows. Green tree frogs are harmless and extremely beautiful. But this didn’t stop me using the men’s toilet. 

THE LESSON: If you can’t see a green tree frog in the toilet, it’s still there. Don’t be scared to flush, it will survive.


Leaving a Lismore cafe with two hot coffees, we jumped into the kombi and slowly bumbled along the city streets. But we could hear a weird scratching on the roof. Suddenly a mass of feathers appeared at the passenger window, next to my face.

“Ummmm…Mat, we might need to pull over for a minute!”

Mat quickly pulled over to see what it was. Thinking it was probably just a big pigeon hitching a ride, he tried in vain to shoo it away. Gradually, everyone in the street came over to see what was going on. And we learned it wasn’t a giant pigeon but a crested hawk (pacific baza) – a beautiful bird known for his bright yellow eyes and distinctive crest.

But his bright yellow eyes were sleepy and he wouldn’t move from the roof. Mat petted him and wrapped him in a blanket while a man went to find a box and a lady rang the local vet. Team work!

The vet said if the hawk allowed Mat to pet it without scratching his eyes out, it must not be well…so we took him to the vet. Later that day, we rang the vet to find out if our hitchhiker was okay. The vet said he’d suffered from a chest trauma and was now asleep under a heat lamp. Finger’s crossed he made it back out to the forests.

THE LESSON: If a hawk lets you pet it, something is wrong.


Camping at Crowdy Head, NSW, we spotted a dinosaur walking through the campground. On second glance, it wasn’t a dinosaur but the biggest goanna we’ve ever seen. He walked with purpose, from the trees on one side of the campground towards the trees on the other side.

But to the horror of some campers, this goanna wasn’t about to take a detour around their van. He had somewhere to be. So, he strode straight through their outdoor living area, under the RV and out the other side.

IMG_3737 (1)
“Well, if you park your RV in the middle of my daily commute, what do you expect?!”

THE LESSON: Goannas know where they want to go – and they will get there no matter what’s in their way. If that happens to be you, they’ll simply run up your body, using their claws to dig in. Not fun. So, while it might go against your every instinct, a better approach is to lie down so they can walk over you.

Have you ever had a run in with critters and creatures in the great outdoors? Tell us!


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