Things you learn quickly (or not so quickly) in a camper trailer…

As a result of our recent trip to Sydney we have learnt one valuable lesson on camper trailer etiquette. It’s probably the most important lesson of all to learn and best we learned it early on. That lesson is: when you have a heavy, forward fold camper like Miss Piggy that requires a reasonable amount of effort to get into (as opposed to just opening a door to a caravan), you must ALWAYS be sure of where your personal belongings are and NEVER pack up without being absolutely certain that these belongings are where they should be (e.g. in your bag, in you pocket, in your briefcase, in the car…)

So how did we come about learning this lesson? We had not one, not two, but THREE opportunities to learn it during the Sydney trip.

  1. We left Sydney and Brandon realised he didn’t know where his iPad was. We were fairly certain it wasn’t at Shayne’s house because it never really left the car/camper area. So we figured it must be in a suitcase or something. We made it to Mark’s and Brandon looked through every bag in the car and came to the conclusion that the only place it could be was in the camper. Thus the reference in our Sydney post about the need to open the camper at Mark’s house. Upon opening the camper, Brandon realised the iPad wasn’t there. Minor panic. He starts to fire up iCloud on his phone to track the location of the iPad at the same time that I decide to again look through one of our suitcases that was very near to where the iPad was last seen and voila – iPad found *smirk*
  2. On our day of departure, we were filling up with fuel at the local servo when Brandon realised he didn’t have his wallet. We call Mark and ask him to be on the look out for it but it wasn’t anywhere at his place that he could see and we couldn’t find it in the suitcases or the car. Retracing his movements that morning, Brandon realised he probably hadn’t actually removed it from the camper so up goes the camper again! (we waited until we were back in Laurieton dropping John off this time). By now, Brandon is getting exceptionally good at opening and closing the camper and I’m getting exceptionally good at standing back with a disapproving scowl on my face as someone who has never lost an item ever in her life! *smirk*
  3. The final insult opportunity came when Charlotte casually mentioned while we were in Laurieton for lunch that she didn’t have one of her toys that had come down with us in the car. She was carrying them in a bag and I saw them all come out and get played with at Mark’s place but I wasn’t all that convinced they had all safely been packed up at Mark’s place. So once again we’re on the phone asking him to look out for one of Charlotte’s toys. At this point, I should say how remarkably calm Charlotte was about the possible loss of one of her favourite toys. I think maybe the disapproving looks I was giving Brandon earlier were paying off dividends with Charlotte 😉 In any event, I told her that we may have to cope with not having Kiki with us anymore at which point she rather pragmatically said “that’s OK – we can buy another Kiki” Lol When Brandon went searching for his wallet, he also searched for Kiki but with less successful results. So we arrived home thinking Kiki was lost to us forever, a new chew toy for Mark’s dogs, Jack and Will. Then I started to empty the laundry bag that had our dirty sheets from the beds in the camper and magically out popped Kiki and Puppy, another of Charlotte’s favourite toys (although clearly not THAT much of a favourite, as she hadn’t mentioned Puppy’s absence and I suspect she didn’t actually realise Puppy was missing). Moral of this story? Always check the camper sheets when you strip the bed for fear of misappropriating lost belongings!

So I think it is fair to say we have learnt our lesson when it comes to ensuring all belongings are present and accounted for. Truth be told, I learnt that lesson at a young age but clearly some people learn faster than others *poke*

On the road again…

It was my sister-in-law’s 50th birthday recently so when we received the invitation to her party in Sydney we thought this would be a great opportunity to take the new camper for a longer drive than just down to a Gold Coast caravan park. It also turned out to be a good long-range test of the new engine. All things considered, it was a light-weight trip because we only needed our clothes and the camper, plus a bit of food to cover us during our driving. The truck was pretty empty which was just as well because we were collecting Brandon’s father, John, in Laurieton on the way down and wanted to make sure there was room for another passenger! I’m not sure we’ll be able to do that once we start our big trip. *gulp*

We were up at 3am on the Friday and hit the road by 4.30am. Charlotte was beside herself with the double excitement of a trip to Sydney and a few nights in the camper. We’re blessed that she’s a great traveller – we have years of horrid commutes up and down the Bruce Highway to thank for that! This is the 3rd time she’s done this trip to Sydney and we typically do it all in a day and just get it over with. As with other trips, we didn’t hear a peep of complaint out of her the entire way. She occupied herself with her drawing, watching movies, playing games on the iPod, sleeping (but only for about an hour) and chit-chatted to us in between bouts of activity. Once grandad got in the backseat with her, her day had been made as she had instant ‘just add tickles’ 😉

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Down the driveway and on our way!
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Beautiful sunrise as we make our way south

The trip also gave us the chance to test out some new gadgets. Brandon has bought a RAM mount to hold the iPad while we’re on our trip. He has attached it to my passenger seat so it sits nicely to the left of the gear stick and is great for navigation.

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The RAM-mounted iPad in action

We have the HEMA maps loaded on to the iPad and will use that plus Memory Map to help us find our way around. These apps have so many other built-in features, like speedometers, latitude and longitude GPS coordinates, distance travelled, etc. They also cover all the off-road non-gazetted road destinations we intend to traverse so once we add in the satellite phone for emergency contact, we really should have everything covered 🙂

The drive was mostly uneventful (thankfully) but it gave Brandon the opportunity to see what the new engine was capable of. I think he was pleasantly surprised to see the power the new engine had as she pulled the 4 of us plus the camper up those hills leading in to Sydney. Alas, I also think he was unpleasantly surprised at how easy it was for the EGT monitor to start beeping. The monitor is set to alarm at 500 degrees and it turns out it doesn’t take much to get your exhaust gas to that temperature when you’re towing a 1.5 tonne camper trailer and a payload of passengers. Thankfully it also doesn’t take long for the temperature to fall again, and for the most part all that Brandon had to do was ease back on the throttle, down shift a gear and stop pushing the engine. But frustratingly, this meant we weren’t actually getting to use the power of of the turbo all that much. The car had more power to give us on those hills but we couldn’t risk pushing it for fear the exhaust gases would get too hot. Somewhat begrudgingly we are realising that in order to really get to make the most out of the power of the turbo on these sorts of hills we are going to have to install an intercooler. That’s not a cheap exercise – the parts alone are close to $1300. Brandon thinks he might be able to install is himself and he’ll get a sexy bonnet scoop in the process. But it’s an expense we hadn’t counted on. That seems to be the theme of things to date…

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A big family needs a big dinner table!

So we arrived safely in Sydney around dinner time on Friday and it was great to see the family and catch up with everyone before the madness of the party on Saturday. Shayne and her family are always very welcoming and leave their guests wanting for nothing so we were well looked after (and fed! Shayne’s husband is Italian and cooks these amazing dinners that appeal to my pizza- and pasta-loving pallet enormously! They have a lovely big front-yard that nicely accommodated our Mud Bug and camper (Miss Piggy?) but was out of the way of party traffic.

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The camper stayed hitched to the car for the duration but Brandon and I both woke up with a headache the first morning and Charlotte fell out of bed! We soon realised that while we had stabilised the camper from side to side (as much as we could when still attached to the car) we had failed to stabilise the camper from front to back. Alas there wasn’t too much we could do about that and stay hitched to the car (for ease and security) so we had to turn ourselves around and put our head ‘uphill’ the second night (and keep Charlotte away from the edge!). All learning opportunities for us. There will be times when we set up on the side of the road for a quick night while we’re on our way from A to B so it’s worth remembering we might be a bit uneven!

The theme of Shayne’s party was “Housos versus Authority“. We’ve never seen the film so we were a little clueless at first as to what this meant but we have since learned that in Queensland-speak this is essentially ‘bogans vs the cops’. Brandon’s niece works for NSW Police so we had a bit of help with some of the decorations for the yard. The boys also thought it was great to be able to go to the supermarket and borrow a few shopping trolleys for the occasion. I think the decorations worked a treat!

We helped set up the outdoor space ready for everyone to arrive while Charlotte made friends with a feathered member of the Clementi family. Then she enjoyed a little visit from Nicole in her work car 😉

Being the boring old farts we are, we didn’t last anywhere near as long as everyone else did. After Charlotte went to bed (admittedly later than usual), we moved some chairs to be around the camper and sat with some friends and chatted for a few hours. We even had a cup of camper tea! It was great to catch up with you, Michelle and Kath 🙂

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Party guests getting into the theme
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Brandon doing his best ‘houso’ impersonation
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Just a bit tired from the long drive the day before
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Me and the birthday girl
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Brother and sister 🙂
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Charlotte was in heaven – the lounge was full of helium balloons! Here our sentimental family toy ‘Mooey’ is having an ‘Up’ moment…
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Michelle, Kath, Nicole and some random person trying to look cool with Nicole’s fake gun (where was her truncheon when we needed it?! Lol)

The next morning we packed up the camper and headed north again. This time we were just going as far as Gloucester (well, Stratford, just near there) to spend a night with Brandon’s brother, Mark. He lives on a property with horses, cows, chickens, and lots of open blue skies and rolling green hills. And lots of quiet. Oodles of quiet. You couldn’t find a more disparate experience to the activities of the past 24 hours and we welcomed the peace as we prepared for our big trip back to Brisbane the following day.

The camper got her first taste of mud on this trip – recent rains had made the ground a bit slushy and the trip up Mark’s driveway introduced Miss Piggy to some of what she can expect when we take off in July. I did a good job of hiding my distaste at the sight of Miss Piggy with mud all over her stone deflector and tyres!

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So here we were minding our own business in the kitchen when one of Mark’s horses walked past the front door. “Dinner time” says Mark, and off he takes Charlotte to help him feed the horses. I really wish I’d been able to photograph her face (or mine) when we saw the horse at the front door!

I’m actually quite proud of the fact that we stayed in the camper at Mark’s. We could have stayed inside in the house as he has plenty of room. But for various reasons (explained in another post) we had to open the camper anyway so we decided we might as well get the practice in at opening and closing the camper and went ahead and set her up. We also then had practice at traipsing mud through the camper and I immediately starting making lists of all the things we’ll need to do differently on our big trip to avoid said mud traipsing in the future!

[I’m keeping another list of the little things I need to make or create to help with life on the road in the camper – for example, we don’t have much storage in the camper for small stuff like mobile phones or glasses, wallets etc but there is a lot of marine carpet inside the camper and lots of poles, so I plan to sew some hanging pockets and use velcro to attach them to the marine carpet or tabs to attach them to poles. We can then take these down when we pack up and lay them on the bed. But essentially they’ll give us little spaces to keep things in when we’re set up.]

All in all, our trip was a success. We found out what our new engine is capable of (and not capable of), we had substantial practice opening and closing the camper (perhaps more than we would have like, as discussed here), and we caught up with family and friends we hadn’t seen in a while.

95 days until departure and counting…

 

The (big) little engine that could…

You can all relax, we have our tow vehicle back!!

Almost two weeks to the day it was unceremoniously dumped on the doorstop of our unsuspecting mechanic, Mud Bug is back up and running. And you couldn’t find a more relieved husband if you tried 😉

A huge shout out to Cameron from Billabong Offroad Services who went above and beyond to get our Landcruiser back on the road, working weekends and welding and fabricating parts to fit the new motor.

For those of you who may have missed the news, the Mud Bug chucked a wobbly and decided it couldn’t go any further without some serious attention, attention in the form of a new (secondhand) engine. Costly attention.

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The old motor before it was removed from the car.
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Brandon’s old motor sitting outside the car.
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Hmmm – shouldn’t there be something in there? I doubt the car would get too far like this…

We bought a Jap import engine, a ‘crate engine’, reflecting the fact it was imported over from Japan in a crate after it was taken out of a similar vehicle over there. Japan’s stricter emission laws mean engines get cycled through much faster than here, creating a lucrative import market for poor sods like us to shop with. So we found what we hoped was a good engine (upgrading to a turbo!), paid the big bucks and had it delivered to Cam. Then we waited.

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The new ‘crate engine’
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Shiny bits in the new engine 🙂

The Landcruiser was due for some other big ticket service items (which we had already saved up for, thankfully) so in addition to the new motor, we ended up with a new clutch, new brake shoes for the handbrake (it might actually work now!?), a new 3 inch stainless steel exhaust to better suit the new turbo engine, a new radiator, a new thrush bearing (don’t ask me) in the gearbox and a full engine lubrication.

We arrived on Tuesday afternoon to pick up the car and we were full of anxiety and excitement. Brandon had been on edge for a while, understandably anxious about how it was all going to work out. When you buy a crate engine like we did, you rarely get the chance to actually hear it running and you know very little about the internal workings of the engine. It’s a little risky but you have to trust the people you buy it from. In our case, while these people were largely unknown to us, we met them and saw their workshop and discussed all manner of engine-related things with them and their professionalism reassured us somewhat. But when you are looking at an engine sitting outside a car on the ground without any of the vital components attached that are needed to make it actually turn over… well, it is a bit of a gamble. So I know Brandon had a lot on his mind when we went to collect the car .

I was surprised when we turned into the mechanic’s street that the Mud Bug looked exactly the same, all the dust and dents were still there. I think I partly expected her to be on the mechanical equivalent of a set of crutches after all that had happened to her since we last saw her. But there she was, sitting out the front ready for us to bring her home. Cam spent some time going over all the work he had done, explaining the new bits to Brandon, pointing out things here and there. Throughout all of this I kept thinking “but what does it sound like?” because for me, that was really the main thing I expected to notice, at least from a distance. Brandon’s old engine had extractors on it and it was rather ‘beefy’ sounding (helped along by the fact that he, by his own admission, would drive the car quite hard). The only other turbo engine I’d had much opportunity to listen to was Brandon’s father’s 100 series Landcruiser turbo diesel and I’ve always considered that engine to sound quite gentle and soft. So I was incredibly keen for this chit chat to be over with and for Brandon to get in and fire up the new engine. While I was a bundle of excitement and easily distracted, Brandon was calm and intent on listening to Cameron. I was Odie, he was Garfield 😉 Given he will be driving the car more than me, I guess that’s probably a good thing 😉

 

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Here is the new motor in its new home

 

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The new bright red clutch looks a little out of place amongst all that dirt and dust

 

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New EGT monitor

 

We also had an EGT monitor gauge thingy installed – Exhaust Gas Temperature. This is something to do with the turbo engine and the fact that our exhaust gases now may heat up a little bit as we don’t yet have an intercooler. We need to monitor the temperature of the exhaust to make sure we don’t overheat. Or something like that… ? (maybe Brandon should be writing these posts? Haha) Unfortunately Cam has installed the gauge in a place that we would normally have had covered with a homemade cup-holder/centre console system but we can live with that. Brandon has been talking about making up something more effective to house the small Waeco fridge we bought to use as a centre console so we will just have to work around this new configuration.

I’m attracted to shiny things, so one thing I did notice was the new exhaust. The turbo motor requires a bigger exhaust so we had a 3 inch system installed. You can now see it running down from the motor, past the front wheel arch and out the back. Mmmm… shiny 🙂

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Shiny new exhaust running from the engine bay, under the chassis and along to the back

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Shiny tip 🙂

Finally the time came to start up the engine and guess what? It started! And oh boy – does the new engine sound nice 🙂 It actually has a deeper note than I was expecting but the little tick of the turbo in the background is unmistakable. It was such a joy to see Brandon drive off down the street, knowing that we were once again on our way with our adventure and ready to face the next challenge (hopefully not car-related) that comes our way 🙂

However, the first thing we need to work on is getting Brandon used to his new clutch!! Bahahahahaha….

This little piggy went to market…

We three piggies went to the Moreton Bay Caravan and Camping show recently with the intention of buying ourselves a new piggy. But not the kind that oinks, rather the kind that burns! (there may be some crackling involved too…)

OzPig is a great little beast – useful for both heating and cooking. We’ve been eyeing them off for a while now, and with an Easter trip coming up that may get a bit chilly, we thought we’d make the most of a possible ‘show special’ and head on down to the Redcliffe Showgrounds to see what the OzPig crew had to offer us. OzPig is like the camper’s equivalent of a brazier but a little more fancy. It is fully enclosed and has a chimney with a spark arrestor at the top of the chimney. With the optional vented door and off-set chimney kits, you can essentially have a wood heater you can use under your annex. Best of all, fires in the OzPig are considered ‘fully contained’ which means most national parks will still allow you to use the OzPig even when fires are not permitted. Ticks all the boxes for us 🙂

The OzPig looks like this:ozpig_stock-photo

When you pack it away, the legs and chimney all come apart and fit inside the unit itself so the whole thing ends up being slightly smaller than a 9kg gas bottle. The dimensions are 41.5cm x 36.5cm x 41cm and the unit weighs about 17kg.

In addition to being a heat source, the OzPig will also be an additional cooking surface for us. If we set up camp where there isn’t a fire pit close by or we want something with quick and easy access to the camper, we’ll set up the OzPig and put the camp oven on top. I’m very much looking forward to trying out some of the great camp oven recipes I’m finding, including these from the OzPig website. (Note: while the OzPig brand also make a camp oven, the price for theirs is ridiculous so we’ll settle for the good old cheapie we’ll pick up at a camping store.) I can also make pizzas on the OzPig BBQ plate – outstanding!

Here we are bringing the OzPig home and setting it up for the first time. It seemed a bit odd setting up a fire in the pool enclosure but we were keen to give it a go. We needed to make sure the firewood was the right size (the OzPig people say the size of a soft drink can is the perfect size) and it’s fair to say that our fire-lighting skills are a tad rusty. But we got their in the end 😉 No doubt we’ll get plenty of practice on the road – the Tasmanian in me certainly remembers how to run a good fire!

One of the things I loved the most about our test run of the OzPig was the smell – I’ve completely forgotten how much I love the smell of wood smoke and how much it reminds me of camping and the Australian bush (thankfully I don’t have any traumatic memories about bush fires etc so I can be innocent in my love of the smell). I’m really looking forward to using this little piggy more in the months to come.

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