We’re covering the latest outlandish story about pet love, travel and being brave enough to chase your dreams. You hear lots of stories about how people left their job to travel full time – many of which will make you want to do it yourself.
Rich East, a native Australian, decided that the simple life was for him. He didn’t need any possessions, a house, or the stability of a regular income to survive. All he needed was a van, the open road and his beloved rescue cat Willow by his side. This is his story…
It All Started In May 2015
In May 2015, Willow and Rich decided to leave Tasmania and begin their adventure. Prior to leaving his hometown of Hobart, Rich was a regular guy with a corporate job that he’d held down for 10 years.
Although from the outside he had a good career and a stable life, he had started to become unhappy with his situation. After going through a breakup with his girlfriend, Rich decided to do something drastic. He had recently adopted a rescue cat named Willow with his ex-girlfriend but wasn’t going to let that stop him from traveling. He took his cat and his VW Transporter van and set off on his journey.
Rich Caught The Surfing Bug in Coffs Harbour
They started in Hobart, where they were from, and took the van across the water to mainland Australia on the ferry. They traveled up the coast through the Gold Fields and tried their hand at looking for gold (well, Rich did). After not finding any, they moved upwards towards the Murray River and NSW.
They stopped off at Sydney and Coffs Harbour, where Rich nearly learned to surf, and then they continued to travel up the East Coast for the entire first year of their travels around Australia.
Next Stop: Brisbane
After enjoying the surfer life for a while, Rich and Willow moved further up the east coast and took a stop at Brisbane. Although there’s lots of driving involved within their travels, their camper van is their home, so whenever either of them needs to stretch their legs, they are able to stop and get outside to move around.
Willow is a completely free-roaming cat and gets into the van through choice. She loves her life on the road and is able to have lots of time to explore and enjoy herself when they take breaks from driving.
Great Barrier Reef
We know – we thought cats hate water too! Not this one. Well, ok, Willow isn’t the biggest fan of the water but apparently, it didn’t bother her when they boarded a boat to the great barrier reef and explored the world-renowned reef for three days.
After that box was ticked, and they’d had an amazing time exploring under the sea, the duo headed back down to Coffs Harbour to escape the unbearable heat of the north. It’s just about liveable with air conditioning – but not when you’re stuck in a van overnight.
After the worst of the winter months were over, Rich and Willow headed back up to Brisbane and Rockhampton. In Rockhampton, they explored the city and learned about its colonial past. It’s well known for its beef production and has a large farming community.
With amazing national parks and lots of history to explore, Rich and Willow had loads to do as they continued to travel up the east coast. Lots of national parks don’t allow cats, which allows them to explore the quieter, more secluded areas that are nestled around them and are still very beautiful.
West towards Darwin
Once the two of them had enough of the city life, they went westward, up to Darwin. On their trip upwards they saw much of the amazing Australian outback during the cooler months of the year.
They continued west to prepare themselves to make the round trip back to the bottom of Australia. At this point, they were still at the very north of Australia, in the west, and they wanted to start making the trip back down via Perth.
Rich And Willow Go To Split Rock
Split Rock is located in Western Australia and once they arrived, Rich knew he wanted to go for a hike. It seemed like a little hill, but because the land surrounding them was so flat, every bit of elevation gain improved the view.
They climbed to the top together without a harness or leash and sat at the top to soak in the view with one another. Rich shared, “Everything seems tiny on top. Our home, the road trains on the highway, and all the day’s worries. To sit for just a moment, with the last of the sun’s rays in your eyes and think, ‘Everything is okay.'”
Their Adventures Took Them To Gnomesville
On their way down the South West coast, Rich and Willow stopped off at the Gnomesville. Gnomesville started when a few people left gnomes in the woods which grew to become its own mini gnome town.
Nowadays, it’s a fully fledged tourist attraction with its own carpark, streams, and pathways. People travel from all over the world to see the attraction, although it’s often omitted from tourist maps and must-see lists as it’s existence is controversial amongst the locals. Nonetheless, many go and visit and add their own gnomes to the collection.
Willow Travels To Every State In Australia
After 658 days of travel, Willow became the first cat ever (we think!) to travel to every state of Australia in a van. After heading to South Australia from Western Australia, Willow and Rich had nearly made the entire trip around Australia.
During their time in South Australia, Rich and Willow were on Sunrise TV talking about their adventure, which in turn boosted their following on Instagram and Facebook. As their fanbase grew, they knew they didn’t want to stop after two years of travelling, so they continued…
Rich and Willow continued their adventures in Southern Australia as they enjoyed Mangrove Beach on the Spencer Gulf – a favorite because there are no crocodiles.
After their little jaunt through the mangrove trees, they stopped off at Port Fairy, where they enjoyed exploring the history of the little whaling port that dates back to the 1800s. They visited the old lighthouse and met some seals on their travels too. The fishing town was a great little excursion for the two of them before they headed back on the open road.
Adeleide to Melbourne
Rich and Willow knew they had to make the journey back to Melbourne to cross over to Tasmania. At this point, they had been traveling for over two years. Because they’d spent so long exploring South Australia, they needed to get to Melbourne pretty quickly.
Surprisingly Willow is fine with traveling on the water, and despite being away from Rich on the ferry, she seemed to be pretty unfazed by it. They boarded the ferry in Melbourne, ready to go back to Tasmania and take rest in their homeland before heading back to mainland Australia.
Willow and Rich enjoyed some travels in Tasmania, as they took a break from the mainland. In Tasmania, they enjoyed the wilderness despite the wet weather that’s not a favorite with our feline friends.
They explored the island, stopping at campsites along the way as well as a rugged shack community called Trial Harbour. They stayed in the North of the town, where there were 12 campsites all side by side and many think it’s the best place to camp in Australia. They enjoyed the beaches and rocks and camped by the ocean.
Willow Makes It On The Radio
After their adventures in Tasmania, Willow and Rich made it onto ABC Local Radio to chat with the host, Carol, about their exciting travels. Rich told a funny story about how Willow once growled at a dingo.
Whenever they make it onto the news or have interviews, Rich and Willow always seem to be asked when they will stop traveling. Rich set the story straight in this interview, saying that he had no plans to stop moving around with his furry pal, and mentioned that he was even thinking of doing ten years on the road!
Willow and Rich made their way to Melbourne and Charleville in an off-grid adventure for their next stop. They had to get back on the ferry to the mainland from Tasmania and then planned to head up north as the cold winter was just about to begin.
The went directly upwards, towards Lake Dartmouth to have a month in the middle of nowhere, completely disconnected to the outside world. For a lot of this time, Rich had no cell phone service and was really giving up everything he knew to explore Australia – just a man and his cat.
After abandoning life as they knew it and heading off-grid, the duo needed to get back to civilization for a little while. So they headed for the town of Adavale. They finally got to have a beer, find a cell phone signal and get to know the locals.
Due to flooding, the area had been pretty derelict and unpopulated, despite having a boom in the 1800s due to the Opal trade kicking off there. They found an amazing little pub to relax in and enjoyed learning about the history of the area that attracts many travelers and tourists.
As they continued on their trip, they headed deep into the depths of Central Australia, stopping off at the towns on the way. Quilpie to Birdsville was another stop off on their route, where they enjoyed a bit more civilization after being on the road.
For the first time in a while, they had access to an actual supermarket instead of a service station – which was a welcomed treat! They saw hidden creeks and rivers that were completely void of any human contact, a beautiful place for a man and cat to explore.
They continued their travels up to the Northern side of Australia, and enjoyed a stop off at the town of Bedourie, which only has a population of around 120 people. It’s a desert town that can be found between creeks and sand dunes. It’s pretty empty, but quite touristy and has a few amenities such as a police station, doctor and pub.
Rich learned all about the sport of Campdraft – a game about controlling cattle whilst on horseback. It originated in Queensland to settle a debate about who had the best horsemanship.
Goldstone The Film Set
Goldstone is an Australian Thriller that came out a few years ago and the film crew left the set behind in the middle of the desert. Rich and Willow went to visit it on their way up the Mid-East of Australia.
The town of Middleton was an interesting stop-off point for man and cat, and although the population only consists of three people (can you believe it?!), they enjoyed a beer at an old school pub with a few travelers who had also pulled up their camper vans nearby.
The Lost Highway Back To The Coast
When the time had come to head back to the coast and integrate fully with the ‘real world’ again, Rich and Willow took the Lost Highway back towards Brisbane. It took over two weeks to get across, and they met many of the same towns that they passed the first time they took the route back in 2016.
Now that they’ve made it to the East Coast, Willow and Rich are planning on sharing more stories of the humans and cats that they meet along the way. Rich still says that there are no plans to stop travelling.
Currently, Willow and Rich find themselves in Queensland near Rainbow beach. They are still traveling and exploring the east coast together with no signs of slowing down.
You can follow their adventures on Instagram, which is full of amazing travel photos featuring the traveling man and cat duo. They’re also part of a CatExplorer community, which features podcasts and stories from other people traveling with their cats! Rich certainly proved that there’s an alternative lifestyle out there for everyone.