Road tripping around Australia – meet a Coffs Coast family ‘doing the loop’

Travelling families have a multitude of different reasons for wanting to take to the road and experience our wide, open spaces. We discover the particularly challenging circumstances that motivated this family to ‘do the loop’ and explore Australia.

Life throws a curveball

In 2016, Steve Sanders noticed a lump behind his ear. He was unconcerned by it; there were no moles or markings on his skin, he was feeling well and had been reassured by three different doctors that there was nothing to worry about. However, the lump bothered him, mostly because it caused his sunglasses to sit oddly, and Steve opted to have it cut out. It was a decision that saved his life.

A Stage 3 metastatic melanoma was discovered. This resulted in a full neck dissection, the removal of 70 lymph nodes and Steve’s ear being removed and reattached to take out the existing tumour and cancerous satellite tumours as well. Steve’s prognosis was poor, and the only way forward was to treat the spreading cancer aggressively. Radiation therapy followed. He lost 22 kilograms in six weeks and spent much time at the Chris O’Brien Lifehouse Skin and Melanoma Institute in Sydney.

Steve was aged 45 and a father to three children under the age of eight. Talk about life throwing you a curveball.

“I was worried and scared. I questioned whether I had done enough for my family and if I could have been a better father. I had a lot of regrets and realised the importance of making every moment count. I made a promise to myself that if everything turned out okay, this trip was happening. I owed it to my family.”

Road tripping around Australia – meet a Coffs Coast family ‘doing the loop’
Steve felt that he owed his family this trip. Above: Steve & Nash with an amazing Aussie backdrop

Steve and his wife Tiare had spoken of such a trip for years but as often happens, life got in the way. Steve, a builder by trade, had moved into project management and spent the better part of 20 years working on large commercial projects here and overseas. By his own admission, he was mentally working himself to death and taking on horrifically stressful jobs all over the country.

Steve adds, “One of my favourite sayings is, ‘the things you think you own, own you‘ because often, you feel like the more you get, the more you need and your focus on the fancy house and the great car can stop you from actually living your life.”

A move home to Coffs Harbour in 2010 slowed down the pace a little but then cancer came knocking at Steve’s door to remind him of the fragility of life and the immeasurable value of family. 

Road tripping around Australia – meet a Coffs Coast family ‘doing the loop’
Steve is very encouraging of other families spending time together on the road

The Road Trip

The Sanders family – Steve, Tiare and their kids Jewel (11), Koben (8) and Nash (7) took to the road in April this year and will be away for several months. So far, their travels have taken them to locations such as Lightning Ridge, Yeppoon, the Whitsundays, Cape Tribulation, Kakadu, Kings Canyon, The Kimberley and The Barossa Valley to name just some of the amazing stops along the way.

When I chatted to Steve, he asked me what day it was. Holiday mode kicked in early, he explained, but it’s not all a fairy tale existence either. “We have ups and downs and five of us in a caravan took some getting used to. The kids still argue and finding time for schooling can be challenging. Whilst not always smooth sailing, we’re well aware of how lucky we are to be able to do this.”

Packing up their normal lives was certainly an undertaking and getting ready required considerable outlay. Additionally, the family home was sold and Steve placed his business, Sanco Projects, on hold. Even the family pet was left behind although regular Skype sessions keep the kids connected to Cattle Dog Merlot, who is in the loving hands of Tiare’s Mum.

Road tripping around Australia – meet a Coffs Coast family ‘doing the loop’
Getting ready for the trip was a huge undertaking. Above: Devils Marbles Conservation Reserve, NT

I’m curious about the best and worst days on the road to date. Nash stacking his bike, resulting in a trip to hospital wasn’t ideal and a stellar day involved meeting up with fellow Coffs Coast road trippers in Airlie Beach. Together, the two families cruised the Whitsundays in a chartered yacht (see below).

Steve reiterates that the positive experiences far outweigh any negatives and he’s observed some wonderful changes in the kids, too. “I can see the kids becoming more self-sufficient, communicating better and understanding that sometimes, they have to rely on one another for entertainment. I want them to learn how to be bored. It’s great seeing them create their own fun. Best of all, a lack of wi-fi does not cause the world to end!”

Road tripping around Australia – meet a Coffs Coast family ‘doing the loop’
Meeting up with another Coffs Coast family for a Whitsunday sail was a highlight 

Advice to others

And Steve’s advice to families considering a trip? “Do it! If you have the opportunity to go on a long, extended holiday as a family, you should. Even if you can’t do a big, block trip like ours, make the time you have together count. I for one am very grateful for what I have, and time together cements that.”

A Stage 3 cancer diagnosis was a tremendous wake-up call for Steve and as we wrap up our phone conversation, he offers some parting words he hopes others heed, “Don’t wait until you nearly die to start living your life!”

Steve is currently in partial remission. Two years cancer-free was a cause for celebration and 2021, the five-year mark, is the next crucial milestone. He continues to have full-body scans every six months and skin checks every three months.

And yes, the trip means that these medical appointments will be a little less regular than they have been over the past couple of years but sometimes, seizing the day is just as important. Steve, Tiare and their children are living life with great gusto as they explore this incredible country of ours.

In our most recent magazine, we met two families on the road. Read about the Martins and their ‘Caravan of Crazy’ here.