John Paul Whelan and Tina Satchell at Eli Creek on Fraser Island.
John Paul Whelan and Tina Satchell at Eli Creek on Fraser Island. Contributed

TRAVEL: Couple sells everything they own to live in a van

A YEAR ago, John Paul Whelan and his partner, Tina Satchell, made a radical decision.

They sold almost everything they owned and bought a 1989 Toyota Hiace.

They spent six months renovating the van, from do-it-yourself tiling, wood work and electrics, as well as several trips to the mechanic.

Finally the couple was ready to hit the road and share their message of eco tourism across Australia.

The couple, both originally from Britain, met in Cairns about three years ago.

Both well travelled, they had passionate ideas about the environment, climate change and conservation.

Both were vegetarians when they met, but they have since decided to have a wholly plant-based vegan diet, which is part of their focus on sustainability.

They met at a backpacker hostel where they shared their love of travel.

Tina had made many friends among the Maori community while living in New Zealand, while John had spent time with indigenous people in South America.

John said it was amazing to meet someone with whom he shared so many similar ideas.

THAT'S THE LIFE: John Paul Whelan visited Hervey Bay with his partner, Tina, in their eco van.
THAT'S THE LIFE: John Paul Whelan visited Hervey Bay with his partner, Tina, in their eco van. Contributed

Both shared a love of life and freedom.

An idea was born - what if they travelled across Australia to see what different places were offering in terms of conservation, sustainability and eco tourism?

That is what brought the couple to Hervey Bay this month.

Years ago, when he first visited Australia as a backpacker, John had basically seen a couple of streets in Hervey Bay before he visited Fraser Island.

This time both he and Tina got to walk the Esplanade, visit businesses in Hervey Bay that fit in with the values of eco tourism and enjoy the lifestyle the Fraser Coast had to offer.

They also travelled to Fraser Island where they go the chance to see eco tourism in action at Kingfisher Bay Resort.

Everywhere they go, the couple picks a beach to do a clean up.

When they visited the beach in Pialba, the couple found 74 pieces of rubbish in just an hour.

They intend to return in a month or two in pick another beach to clean.

With John now an Australian citizen and Tina well on her way to becoming one, the conservation of the country's environment is now a major focus for the couple.

They are also building a business, a travel agency called Tree Hugger Travel, which will promote eco tourism.

"Eco tourism is a growing industry," John said.

"It's going more mainstream.

"We want to encourage people to reduce the impact of travel or go somewhere and give back to the community."

The business offers Eco-Rewards, which helps fund the purchase of parcels of threatened rainforests around the world.

As for their decision to leave their home, sell all their belongings and hit the road, John said it was part of having a simpler lifestyle.

"Less is more," he said.

"We just want to take things back to basics.

"Humans are just social beings who want to be together, we don't need all these unnecessary things."

Stripping back on material items meant being less of a burden on society and growing socially, John said.

"There's so many aspects to what we are doing," he said.

"It's about coming together and loving everybody."

Tina Satchell at Urangan Pier.
Tina Satchell at Urangan Pier. Contributed