Hiring a car at Heathrow … a different dimension

By Europe / UK /

On a recent business trip to the UK we discovered how Europcar have added a different dimension when picking up your car rental at Heathrow Airport. …… You get to actually pick out and choose your car!

OK so arriving at Terminal 3 still requires you to exit the Terminal, head left and wait for Europcar’s minibus to whisk you off to their branch on the Northern Perimeter Road. The wait was short the journey shorter still.

Europcar along with Hertz, Enterprise, national and Thrifty operate their Heathrow branches over the airport fence on the Northern Perimeter. Dollar and Thrifty are a stone throws further on Bath road, whilst Avis and Budget have branch locations within the Short Stay Car park of Terminal 5 (used exclusively by BA and Iberia) as well as on Northrup road adjacent to the Northern Perimeter. So whichever rental company you choose you’ll never have to travel for more than 10-15 minutes depending upon traffic and with minibuses regularly scooting around each terminal the wait there is not long either.

Arriving at the Europcar branch we took our ticket and grabbed a seat. Barely had we may made ourselves comfortable when we were greeted by an English Shakespearean (as it turned out) actor-come-entertainer, wearing a kilt, orange wig and tam o’shanter hat who was there to keep us all occupied whilst we waited to be called up. My job involves a fair bit of travel around the world and I have to say this was a first! What a great idea. Whilst his Scots accent and absence of a sporran would fail to impress north off the border he kept everyone entertained and enjoying themselves and in no time we were called up.

Once we had completed the paperwork formalities rather than being directed to a particular bay to collect our car we were asked to go out and choose from any vehicle in Row 3 and the sign-off would be completed as we left the branch. Whether we were lucky with our timing or whether Europcar maintain a large number of vehicles onsite we had a huge choice of 10 vehicles. As our trip involved over 30 days business travel throughout the UK and given this unexpected choice we needed to ensure we had the right vehicle. Perhaps too much choice! Up and down we went testing bags and cases in boots, rear-seating legroom, previous smoker occupation, figuratively kicking tyres and checking out the driving features of each car. We settled on a Nissan Quasqai and headed for the exit where all the details were quickly recorded and we were on the road.

Overall our experience in collecting our car hire at Heathrow Airport was a good one. Offsite airport rental branches may appear inconvenient but are a necessity in many parts of the world with onsite costs and space constraints. With the regular cycling of minibuses and efficiency of the Europcar Heathrow team we were on the road within 45 minutes of exiting customs, not bad for one of the world’s business airports. The added option of making our own vehicle choice meant we spent more time selecting our car but came away with the one that best met our needs. Great idea.



Travel the Top End Loop – Lazy Lizard lunch and cruising with Katherine – Day 5 & 6

By Australia / Northern Territory /

Pine Creek, Katherine Gorge and Cutta Cutta Caves

Before leaving the Jabiru area we stopped off at Mirrai Lockout, parked up the motorhome and a 20 minute walk up to the hilltop was rewarded with panoramic views of across Kakadu to the Arnhem Land escarpments on the other side of the East Alligator river.

We had thought about Jim Jim Falls however as it was accessible only via a 2 hour journey on an unsealed road it was off the agenda with our motorhome – no motorhome or campervan rental can be driven on unsealed roads (unless entering a camping ground or something similar and over a short distance). The Jim Jim Falls road as with many in the park is closed during the wet becoming impassable. As we drove south we crossed countless dry river beds all with the rather telling sign “Don’t linger on bridge and no fishing”, Crocs never seemed to be far away,

Lunch at the Lazy Lizard Resort in Pine Creek was everything you expect from a great Outback pub. Great food and décor to match. Amazing wooden troughs as basins in the toilets, outdoor pool tables and backpacking Germans serving behind the counter!

Having filled up with fuel it was on down the Stuart highway for the 70 minute drive to Katherine. This was our next stocking up point with a trip to Katherine’s large Woolies supermarket (in the main street on the left at the southern end of town) and then we checked in to the Katherine Big 4 , another great holiday park, plenty of space, pool & spar, surprisingly slightly more expensive than Jabiru (our Maui rental came with discounted rates at Big4 Parks) but still great value and excellent facilities including the best equipped kitchens of our trip. In fact we found the facilities wherever we went so good that our motorhome’s cooker had a holiday and was hardly used.

Of course no visit to Katherine is complete without a cruise through Katherine Gorge or to give it’s correct name Nitmiluk Gorge which sits in the Nitmiluk National Park belonging to the local Jawoyn people. We pre-booked online for convenience sake – $244 for the 4 of us and settled on the 2 Gorge tour – all very much dependent upon water levels.

There’s been plenty written about Katherine Gorge or Gorges as there are 13 in all, needless to say they lived up to expectations. You can hire Kayaks and make your own way down and it’s safe to swim in with only harmless and rather shy small freshwater crocs present.

The other expedition we mounted in Katherine was to drive 30kms south on the Stuart highway and visit Cutta Cutta Caves.

Only discovered in 1910 by a drover whose cattle disappeared into sink holes, the caves extend back 450 metres although only 250 are open to the public – the humid conditions and ammonia make it too dangerous to venture deeper. The local aboriginal clan named the caves Cutta Cutta meaning many stars after the sparkling calcium deposits found within. As it totally flooded during the wet season the cave system was not occupied by aboriginals and has no rock art.

The tour is short and there’s not a huge amount to see, however our guide did show how absolutely and totally dark it becomes when he shutdown the lighting system – the average person lasts 30 minutes before their mind begins to play tricks, we were gladed normal service was resumed after 2!

Nancy L

We travelled the Top End in a 6 berth Maui Motorhome.You can learn more about campervan hire in the Northern territory on the DriveNow Darwin pages.



Travel the Top End Loop – Arnhem Land – Day 4

By Australia / Darwin / Northern Territory /

Arnhem Land and 20,000 year old Australians

Day 4 was spent on tour in Arnhem Land and for me this was the absolute stand out of our entire trip – if you can only book one tour in the top end – make it this one. You will not be disappointed in what was a memorable and an amazing experience.

The tour is organised by Lords Safaris (www.lords-safaris.com), one of only 3 operators permitted by the Land council to enter Arnhem land. Yes it is expensive at $810 for 2 adults and 2 children, however worth every cent. You experience that rare opportunity of exploring 20,000 year old Rock Art with a member of the Aboriginal clan that the art belongs to, and all in its raw natural environment. Not for the faint hearted as you’ll discover.

Collected at Kakadu Lodge by mini-bus, the 17 of us were driven out to Cahills Crossing to enter Arnhem Land. Access to Arnhem Land is restricted and managed by the Northern Land Council with limited permits issued each year – hence one reason for the higher tour costs.

Cahills Crossing is regularly featured on Australian News in January & February with great torrents of water during the wet season as someone is rescued from a stranded 4WD; for us the causeway was bone dry, with mud flats on one side, tidal water on the other and crocs evident on both. Only the foolish swim or enter the water here.

Our Arnhem Land tour started in the local Aboriginal community of Oenpelli where we met and saw at work the artists and weavers at the local Art centre and learnt more about the community and what it was like living in a remote location
(at least in our eyes) and being often cut off for weeks during the wet season and reliant on air transport for everything – including diesel for the local power station. Life here is not easy and this made the whole experience that bit more real and in some ways confronting.

Our guide, Roland, joined us as we took the short drive to the base of Injalak Hill, renowned for it’s rich rock art galleries, some of the best in Australia. Water Bottles, sunscreen and hats an absolute must.

We set off up the hill following a very rough path, really walking over stones and scree for 15 minutes before arriving at the first Art Gallery. No ropes, no steps carved into the hillside and no barriers, just the real thing.


Over the next 2 hours we were taken through more than 10 galleries of varying sizes and ages with Roland describing the use of 2 and then 4 colours in the art and the significance of each piece of work. The walks between galleries involved squeezing down narrow canyons, through rock cracks and along ledges all very safe for the sensible and averagely fit person but not for the infirm, under 5s or unsteady. Areas of the hill are burnt off to discourage goannas and snakes (nice to know) although you may see black kangaroos and wallabies on the hill – but given the temperature most sensible animals are likely tucked up in bed waiting nightfall.

These galleries are as current to their owning clan today as they were to the original artists 20,000 years ago and each year any art work that is exposed to runoff during the wet is carefully touched up and maintained. Whilst the oldest go back 20,000 years there is much younger art work including that painted after Contact – being the first time aboriginals came into contact with non-indigenous people, the first being Makassan Sea cucumber fisherman from Indonesia 500 years ago.

Just before lunch Roland took us through to a large ledge backing into a cave which historically was the burial area for the clan. This was a very spiritual place and the only part of the tour where photographs cannot be taken.

Lunch was 200 feet up on a wide deep ledge overlooking a plateau stretching across towards the Arafura Sea  and on our left an escarpment running down in parallel to the East Alligator River. A photographer’s heaven.

Following lunch we explored further galleries before heading back to the Injalak Arts and Crafts Centre in Oenpelli for the opportunity to purchase goods with all proceeds going straight back into the community. Pricing ranged from
$20 through to $3000+ for some of the larges pieces of Art although given these would fetch 4 or 5 times the cost in city galleries this was definitely the place to purchase if Aboriginal Art appeals (and they will post it home for you
as well). What was surprising was how expensive the Pandanus baskets and other weaved products were.

We headed home at 4.30 and by 5.40 were sitting in the Kakadu Lodge pool cooling off – great day and great way to finish. Next is Pine Creek, Katherine Gorge and Cutta Cutta Caves.

Nancy L

We travelled the Top End in a 6 berth Motorhome from Maui kicking off our trip in Darwin. More information and pricing on Maui and other top campervan companies in the Northern Territory can be found on the DriveNow Darwin campervan hire page or contact Reservations on 1300 547 214.


Travel the Top End Loop – Kakadu and a hissy Saltie – Day 3

By Australia / Darwin / Northern Territory /

Day 3 Darwin to Kakadu and Yellow Water

We collected our motorhome from the Maui depot on Bombing road in Winnellie (around $35 from the city). Allow 45 minutes for the staff to show you around the vehicle and explain how everything works. There’s DVD you can watch and we were also given a USB stick with the video. A team member will go over the vehicle with you to check for any existing scratches or damage and there’s no harm in using your phone camera to snap these just to be totally sure.

Now is also the last opportunity for you to take out any optional excess insurance reduction protection. Unlike car hire your travel insurance is unlikely to cover your excess liability and given you are travelling in the Northern Territory reducing this liability is a good idea. Ours cost $45 a day although we choose not to take the $99 separate rollover cover.

Next stop – the supermarket. There’s a Woolworths in Palmerston, or stick on the Stuart Highway and a little further south (22kms from Bombing road) you’ll find a Woolies on the right of the highway at Coolalinga – along with a Caltex – handy for topping up before returning the vehicle.

It is strongly (very) recommended to stock up on groceries and other essentials before leaving Darwin – you will find supermarkets elsewhere but these will be more expensive and in less populated areas be small with limited choice. However you will find that EFTPOS facilities are everywhere – there’s no need to carry larger than normal amounts of cash.

Road-Train-Northern-Territory Once fully provisioned including grog (last opportunity is in Humpty Doo just outside the park on Arnhem Highway) we headed for Kakadu, south on the Stuart Highway before turning left turn onto the Arnhem Highway. All very well sign posted to the point our TomTom was really redundant.The 255km drive into Jabiru takes around 3 hours from Darwin. Be aware of Road Trains – these operate across the Territory and can be up to 4 trailers and 50 metres long, impressive and very long trucks!

Kakadu Park charges a park fee of $25 per person valid for 14 days (children under 16 & NT residents are free). There’s no booth at the Park entrance to collect this, you can pre-purchase when collecting your campervan, online on the Federal Government’s www.environment.gov.au site or purchase at shops within the park. It’s really a honour system – you can be fined if found to be without a pass.

Kakadu-Lodge-PoolOur first overnight destination was Kakadu Lodge in Jabiru. This proved to be an excellent choice (actually only choice in Jabiru!) and highly recommended. There’s plenty of space and powered sites with over 200 they have never had to turn anyone away even in the peak July period so there’s no need to book ahead (in fact they don’t take bookings for powered sites). There’s also unpowered sites, cabins and tent-cabins that can be hired as well.

Toilets and shower block we accessed were the best on our trip. Central Pool was an oasis for the kids and with a bar and bistro adjacent a great meeting place for evening meals and drinks.

Reception have a small shop and selection of tourist materials along with Tour booking services. This park was the best value in our opinion at $43 a night for a powered site and family of 4 along with the best facilities – a stand out.

The next day we headed 50kms south down the Kakadu Highway to Gagudju Lodge at Cooinda to jump on a cruise of the Yellow Water Billabong. $244 for the four of us. Cooinda also has a Caravan Park and is another great spot to stay. It’s also home to quite expensive fuel – 50 cents a litre more than major Australian cities! However given its remote location and their limited options in raising revenue it’s a bit more understandable – we topped up – in fact we topped up whenever we could.

This was an opportunity to see water wildlife and we were not disappointed. Plenty of salt water crocs which of course were headliners (never knew that they hiss as our youngest discovered) however the abundance of other animals including Buffalo, Whistling Ducks, Darters, Jabiru, Sea Eagles, Ibises, Spoonbills Brolgas and Magpie Geese to name but a few made this quite an amazing 2 hour trip. Something like 25% of all birdlife in Australia feature within Kakadu Park. Belinda, our guide, was terrific and seemed to have eyes in the back of her head in picking up animals that the 40 odd tourists managed to be oblivious to.yellow-water-crocodile
Nancy L


Travel the Top End Loop – Catch a Wave in Darwin – Day 1 & 2

By Australia / Darwin / Northern Territory /

A 10 day discovery of Darwin, Kakadu, Katherine and Litchfield Park by Campervan Hire with DriveNow.

FOR the September school holidays the choice was left to the kids, Darwin or New Zealand? – the selection fell the way of the warmer Northern Territory, and warmer it most definitely was with the coolest day hitting a mild 37.

Although a family of 4, we organised a 6 berth Platinum River motorhome through Maui which proved to be the perfect vehicle – plenty of room, easy to drive and came with everything we needed – shower, toilet, fridge, great cooker and no need to pack towels or bed linen. There’s even a TV and DVD player to keep the kids entertained and the air-conditioning made sleeping easy during the very warm nights.

The Team at the Maui branch in Winnellie, Darwin were terrific, explained the best insurance options for us, showed us right through the motorhome and even have a DVD to help you become familiar with the vehicle. All adding up to the perfect start.

You can find the latest rates and more details on this and other campervans on the DriveNow Darwin Campervan rental rate page.

Day 1 & 2 – Exploring Darwin

Our trip started with a slightly cramped late night Jetstar flight out of Melbourne (no star jumping in our little plane) on a Thursday evening depositing us 4 and half hours later into Darwin and into the Marrakai Luxury apartments on Smith Street at 2.15 in the morning. Shuteye time.

Whilst slightly dated our two bedroom apartment had everything we needed, was air-conditioned throughout and a great little pool downstairs that quickly became home from home for the kids.

Darwin is definitely a blend of old and new and always a city with a large transient population dominated by backpackers and more recently construction workers on the Ichthys Gas Project.

There’s plenty to do and explore in Darwin – for families your number one destination is the Darwin Waterfront precinct. This on-going development includes a huge Wave Pool that’ll keep everyone entertained for hours, a safe man-made beach and plenty of restaurants and shops. All within 5 minutes’ walk from the Smith street mall.
Other highlights include the array of markets; Mindi Beach Sunset market (Sun & Thur May-Oct), Nightcliff Village Sunday market, Parap Village Saturday market and the Rapid Creek Sunday Flea Market are all worth a visit if time permits. Feed a multitude at high tide with Aquascene’s Fish Feeding on Doctor’s Gully off Daly Street.

For history buffs there’s the Aviation Heritage Centre at Berrimah on the Stuart Highway with a B52 bomber, Spitfire and other aircraft as well as a dedicated display to the bombing of Darwin; the WWII underground Oil storage tunnels; and plenty of WWII airfields dotted right across the Top End.

For those looking for a unique cinema experience checkout the Deckchair Cinema on Jervois road in the Waterfront Precinct running nightly shows of a range of movies between April and November (chairs provided).

We spent two days exploring Darwin and felt this was probably under done by 1. An extra day would have given us the additional time to explore more markets and the museums as well as time to relax, unwind and chill-out by the pool. But time now to collect our camper and hit the road.
Nancy L