Food, glorious food…

We’re in low single digits, folks. Eeeek! It’s really starting to hit me just how much we have to do, how much we have to pack, and how long we will be gone for! My nights are slowly getting more and more restless as I lay awake thinking through everything over and over, mentally making lists, crossing things off lists, and making yet more lists. D-Day is fast approaching.

This past weekend I focussed on food. I completed the first big shop of non-perishable items (who knows where we’ll be for the next one!) and grabbed the last few non-food items on my shopping list. I’m struggling with the concept of being so self-sufficient which is really surprising me. I’ve always assumed that packing up and driving off into the sunset would be easy but it’s not. It’s actually quite tricky.

Lately I have found myself pondering how much tuscan seasoning should I be bringing with us? And do we need Vegemite and Cheesymite or just one? How much actual cooking do I think I’ll want to do? You’re supposed to be roughing it when you’re camping but what if your camp is your home for the next 107 nights? There’s only so much roughing it this little black duck can tolerate, particularly when it comes to food! So in goes the tuscan seasoning, the cornflour, the pesto, the salad dressing, the breadcrumbs, the Lots-a-Noodles soup, the Coco Pops and the honey oats. Plus lots more. 

We have two tubs for non-perishables. I was actually able to replace the big blue tub with a smaller blue one so I must have packed well!
Here is all that needs to go in the tubs. Let the Tetris games begin…

Did you know you can get tinned tomatoes in square boxes now? Yes, that’s a thing! So much easier for packing!

One thing I am trying for the first time, to help reduce space needs, is dehydrating some vegetables. I borrowed a dehydrator (thanks CF!) and set to work on 3kg of carrots, 4-5 large heads of broccoli and 6kg of potatoes. It was a time consuming process and I’m not entirely sure how they’ll taste afterwards but once cryovac-ed with our 12v rechargeable vacuum sealer, the space savings were certainly noticeable.

Before…
Brandon says the broccoli looks like it should have a street value 🤣
The vacuum sealer we have
I may end up saving the dehydrated veggies for times when we can’t get fresh stuff (or it’s hideously expensive) because I’m just not drawn to the look of those carrots! The potatoes turned out the best by far but I forgot to photograph them!

Tetris food packing success 😀

On the topic of food, I also recently had to get Dobby’s food prepped and ready, as he will be staying with grandad while we are away. (Note: when I did this, Lucy was still alive so I was planning for 2 dogs…) We feed our pups BBQ chicken, mixed with rice and vegetables. When you have small dogs this works out cheaper than canned food and is a darn sight better for them (and as another plus leads to less smelly number twos, but we don’t need to go there Lol). So I was needing to get 107 nights worth of doggie bags for 2 pups – that’s 14 BBQ chooks, 2kg of (uncooked) rice, and 21 cans of vegetables. And if you’ve ever wondered what that looks like…

Getting everything ready…
Chooks ‘plucked’ and starting to add veggies…
The mixing trough…
 

Dobby would have just about jumped in here if his little legs would have allowed it!

4 more sleeps until departure…!!

Vale Lucy Lu Hazelwood

The lead up to our departure was always going to be overshadowed by the health concerns of our lovely Jack Russell Terrier, Lucy Lu. She was diagnosed with transitional cell carcinoma (bladder cancer) about 7 months ago – a diagnosis that usually comes with a 4-6 month prognosis. So we were on borrowed time and needed to accept that a goodbye was imminent and most likely going to occur before we left.

Alas that time came last Tuesday when the vet’s latest report was that Lucy was in extreme discomfort. Her quality of life was pretty poor so we had to say goodbye 😦

We have had Lucy since she was a tiny puppy, 12 years ago. We travelled to Tasmania to collect her and she’s been an integral part of our family ever since. She will be sadly missed. She’s no longer in pain, that has been left behind for us to bare.
We miss you, dear sweet Lucy.


8 sleeps to go…

Let them eat cake… ummm… bread!

OK, so we don’t have much call for Marie-Antoinette style cake eating at the moment but as we start to get to The Serious Countdown (as in, super close to departure) one of the things that is crossing my mind a lot is food. I know that probably doesn’t make today any different to any other day in my life (!) but we really need to work on our food storage options. I plan to have a test pack of everything at least one week out from leaving but that’s also going to mean finalising our food needs.

We have a lovely big fridge/freezer – well, ‘big’ by camping standards. It’s a Waeco CFX 95 litre that should certainly keep us out of trouble. We also have a little Waeco 10.5 litre centre console fridge in the truck for drinks and lunch snacks etc. But what about the rest of the food, the non-perishables? When you don’t have the ‘luxury’ of a full caravan kitchen with cupboards and the like, you have to think carefully about food storage.

Those people who know me will know that I’m a planner and that’s certainly true of my cooking/meals. I like to plan my dinners at least so I know that I have what I need in the cupboard and have less decisions to make as the week wears on and my nerves start to wear thin. So how does one meal plan when you’re camping and have to live more simply and with limited space? I can’t plan for two weeks in advance and then buy two weeks worth of food, we just don’t have the room. But some of the places we’ll be, we could be two or three weeks between grocery stores – I can’t imagine finding a Woolworths on Cape York or half way along the Gibb River Road. (OK, there’s a Woolworths in Weipa, but we aren’t going to the western side of Cape York). So I’m torn. I think it’s probably going to be a case of ‘buy a whole heap of whatever I can fit in our food boxes and hope for the best’. Some creative cooking, perhaps? (No, Brandon, there never is and never will be a home for corn kernels in pea and ham soup!)

tub1These are the food boxes we have – this is 68 litres (it comes with quite a good fitting lid) but I also have two smaller ones to choose from; one of those is about 1/2 this height and the other is about 1/3 this height. I will most likely use two boxes this size for food, plus use the half height box for kitchen bits and pieces that won’t fit in the camper storage. So that’s three boxes in the back of the truck plus our suitcases and quite a lot of other stuff! That being said, now that we have a boat loader, we will be able to fit more on the back of the camper which will remove some of the need to have everything in or on the truck.

But back to food – what does one take when one is camping for 4 months?! I know, I know, I won’t be buying 4 months worth of food before we head off. But even just thinking about the basics is enough to do my head in. We have yet to discover what is readily available and how expensive it is, but I’ve been told to expect the worst. So simple cooking is the way to go. We have our camp oven and our Dreampot thermal cooker so lots of casseroles, roasts, soups and the like will be done. I will keep pasta and rice on hand, with a selection of sauce mixes to be used sparingly between supermarket visits 😉 The obligatory sausages, chicken and steak, of course, plus a supply of baked beans. I’m guessing we want to limit canned or bottled foods due to added weight, so packets of things will be popular. We can make pizza dough reasonably easily if I carry flour and yeast, and a good selection of things like mustard, UHT cream, tomato paste (does that powdered stuff really taste all that good??), and a few common herbs/spices should certainly help things along. We can carry eggs and bacon for breakfast or dinner, I can do stir fries when I can get fresh vegetables, spaghetti bolognese when I can’t! I was pointed in the direction of a great cook book for camping (although I’m not a fan of the title) – A Woman’s Look at Camping Cookbook (thanks TK!) There are some great recipe ideas there that I’m keen to try. And the Dreampot cookbook comes with quite a number of good ideas too. So I guess it won’t be that hard. Just so long as I can fit it all in the boxes!!! This is about to become the story of my life, methinks.

Hit me with your ideas, folks! (Note: I don’t eat fish… although Brandon and Charlotte do, so anything he catches, he can cook!)

Speaking of bread, I had a discount voucher so I stocked up on my favourite bread yesterday – just as well it freezes well!

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24 days until leave commences, 27 days until departure…

Sweet dreams are made of this…?

We’re all about comfort at the moment. Five weeks out from leaving, we’re less focused on needing to set things up and more on how things feel. Particularly how our mattress feels, and it feels pretty horrid, let me tell you.

I have been struggling with the camper’s supposed inner spring mattress ever since we took her for the maiden voyage to the Gold Coast back in January. Really, it’s like sleeping on a plank. And while I’m sure that a lighter, more nimble, more ‘zen’ person would probably reach enlightenment sleeping on that mattress, I was as far from zen as you can possibly imagine each morning after a night on that torture device. How on earth can we manage almost 4 months on that thing?

We tried a bamboo mattress topper and while the difference was certainly better, it was nothing to write home about. Waking up stiff and sore and grumpy is not something my family needs from me at the moment. So we contemplated our alternatives – a good quality eggshell topper from Clark Rubber, a self-inflatable ‘4WD mattress’ on top of the existing mattress, or a new mattress altogether. Each has pros and cons.

EggshellThe eggshell is an unknown – we’ve never slept with this kind of topper before and the reports I’ve heard is that while it’s quite comfortable to begin with, it’s really only good for a short while before the effects start to disappear (particularly if you weigh a little more than average…).

inflatable

The inflatable 4WD mattress is a mixture of foam and air and while it may work as a topper of sorts, the whole reason we got a camper in the first place was because I was completely over the whole ‘air mattress’ thing and really wanted something more closely resembling an inner spring mattress. So this would feel like a bit of a backwards step to me.

So that leaves a new mattress. We came across a company called Made to Measure who specialise in caravan and camper trailer mattresses. They have a mattress that comes to just 130mm (our current one is 110mm) but because it includes low profile springs and more foam surrounding the springs, you get substantially more comfort for your $$. So we decided to give them a go.

They are open Saturday mornings and I was told to come over with the old mattress so they can measure up and we can compare the two side by side. On Friday night Brandon got the camper out (not an easy feat), opened it up, got the mattress out and put it on the roof of the cruiser. We organised for my father in law to come and babysit Charlotte so we could give our full attention to our shopping and off we went. Twenty minutes later we arrive… to find they are closed *insert expletive and lots of tired and weary tears* Turns out, as a once off, they were closed that Saturday. Off back home we go, drop the mattress, then head out for the rest of our chores.

Brandon arranged to take the morning off on Tuesday and once again we trudged to the mattress shop. This time they were open! They had a sample mattress for us to lay on and oh boy – there really is no comparison! How had we coped with such torture and pain for so long? Even the sales lady looked at our old mattress and couldn’t help but question our sanity! You can see the thinness of the old mattress in this photo of it on Brandon’s roof rack (the black is his pull-out awning which the mattress sits above). When you think this is an inner spring mattress that two fair-sized adults would have been sleeping on for 4 months… sheesh – I’m so glad we forked out the bucks for the new one!

Check back in two weeks and hopefully I’ll have a photo of the new mattress so share!

30 days until leave commences, 34 days until departure!

This little piggy went to… the beach!

We decided to buy a Wild Boar camper trailer for a number of reasons, one of which was we had a good ‘feeling’ about the owners of the company. The people who sold us the camper were intimately familiar with the build of the camper and did much of the work themselves. It is a family-owned company and they seemed to have a great attitude and promised good after-sales service. We have stayed in touch with Paul, Nicole, Meghan and the crew since we drove out of their yard and we were thrilled to hear the news they were voted runner up in the Camper Trailer of the Year competition. We were even more delighted to receive an invitation to attend their inaugural Wild Boar Beach Bash to help them celebrate their runner up status. And what fun it was!

Wild Boar owners came from all directions – at a guess there were 35 camper trailers and as many tow vehicles. All of the Wild Boar staff their families were there as well. It was an early start – our first meeting place was a service station half way to the Sunshine Coast, at 6am. From there it was on towards Tewantin North Shore ferry service for our beach convoy along Teewah Beach. The Wild Boar crew paid for everyone’s return ferry journey.  That was a slow process – approximately 4 cars and trailers could fit on each trip so it required a lot of patience. Travelling with a 6 year old in the back seat made the wait seem even longer!

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Waiting to board the ferry (photo credit: SM)
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There certainly were lots of us!
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Ferry adventures

Once across, we lined up on the beach ready for the trip north. Wild Boar had a film crew there to make a publicity video so it was a constant start-stop process for the first hour or so, driving up and past cameras, with a drone flying overhead. This was the first time we’d taken the camper onto the beach but thankfully Brandon has heaps of beach driving experience so I knew we were in safe hands 🙂IMG_4723

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A beautiful day for a beach drive

We finally reached our camp site around 11am and then it was like a game of tetris to fit all of us in to the camp site they had selected and started setting up a few days earlier. But fit we all did and once parked we all got out and started to assemble our camp site. The Wild Boar crew walked amongst everyone, helping them set up their campers and giving pointers on how to do things. For one or two families, they had only taken ownership of the camper a few days earlier so they were very keen for the help. I certainly remember our first time! Others had owned their camper for a few years so they were seasoned hands and happy to help others. It was a very jovial, collegial atmostphere, with lots of people walking around introducing themselves to others and checking out each other’s set up.

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It was hard to set up – the wind was rather fierce. We elected to put our two short annex sides up but leave the main front annex open. That worked quite well – we could bring the OzPig up nice and close to the annex but still have the chimney outside the annex. In the evening the wind died down a bit and we were actually quite cozy, even in short sleeves at one point! I don’t presume to think it will be like that once we reach the second half of our big trip but all these practice runs are giving us plenty of opportunities to work out the various ways we can set things up to suit various conditions.

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“Mr Bubble Head’ the alien was a gift from the Wild Boar gang – it came in the goody bags given to the kids

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At the end of the first day we all went up to the communal area where our hosts had a big tent and fire set up. They gave us all raffle tickets for the next night’s festivities, and handed out some goody bags full of free products and a special goody bag for the kids! Charlotte walked away with a new fishing rod with her own kid-sized Alvey reel, fish measuring ruler and a selection of toys. Needless to say, she was quite chuffed 😉

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Dobinsons sponsored the trip and provided our ‘recovery vehicle’ – they gave us some goodies
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Charlotte was very pleased with the kids bags

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Brandon managed a spot of fishing while we were away and caught himself a nice stargazer.

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Some of the local wildlife (bluebottle jelly fish)
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The new ensuite tent

Charlotte immersed herself in the sand, on multiple occasions, and managed to bring half the beach back to our campsite. But we were able to wash her off in our new Joolca ensuite tent 🙂 Yes, we did away with the space-like old ensuite tent (see our Easter post to read of our adventures with that little gem). We are really struggling with our hot water system at the moment. The Companion system that came with the camper is quite temperamental and tends to waste a lot of water while getting to temperature. So we are considering purchasing a new Joolca hot water system for our trip. It’s expensive but if we can limit water wastage, it will be worth it. Our current system also requires two of us to operate it smoothly, whereas the Joolca system is a much easier set up.

 

IMG_4762On the second night, the Wild Boar team hosted us all for a spit roast dinner, with raffle prizes, “special stars” (aka fireworks) and a huge bonfire. We were lucky and won two raffle prizes – some deep dish 4WD rubber floor mats and some Hulk 4×4 recovery tracks. We were planning to buy a set of recovery tracks and these ones sell for $190 so we were pretty happy with that win 🙂

We made quite a few new friends during the weekend, including one family who live about 1km away from us and have a young son and a daughter close in age to Charlotte. We look forward to spending more time with them after we get back and perhaps doing some weekend camping trips together. They took their Wild Boar to the Kimberley last year so they had lots of advice and some great photos to share. We also met another person who works at C&K and knows some of the staff from Charlotte’s old childcare centre; a man who knows of Brandon’s dad from when they both worked for the same fire door company and another man who know’s of Brandon’s dad from his work as a Lowrance rep for BCF – it’s a small world! It was great to meet other Wild Boar owners, to have a relaxing camping weekend and have another opportunity to fine tune our camp.

Two things we came to realise during this trip are (a) we are saggy in the rear end (!) and (b) we need to lighten our load. When completely full, including the 60 litre water bladder behind the rear seat, the car is pretty heavy and sags a bit in the rear end. Brandon put new 350kg springs in the car a few months ago but unfortunately that doesn’t seem to be working too well.

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Just a bit of a saggy bottom!

So we have started to investigate methods for improving this problem. Initially we thought we’d get new springs but the next size up is quite large and would be too large for ordinary, every day driving. So instead we are now leaning towards airbags which we can just deflate when we are doing unloaded driving. Brandon can install these himself, cutting the cost further (love having a handy husband!) The second thing we realised was that in order to reduce some of the weight we need to move some stuff out of the car and in to the camper – or on to it, in fact. We have sourced a second hand boat loader from another Wild Boar owner (thanks again to the people we met over the weekend!) and once we install that onto the camper and weld some mesh on to it, that will allow us to move some of the weight from the car over to the camper, behind the axle. That should even things out a little bit 😉

This was our last weekend away with the camper before we leave. Yikes! Other than possibly looking into getting a new mattress, preparation now moves to getting US ready rather than the camper. That means mostly buying suitable clothes and bags to pack them all in. We need to finalise how we plan to carry and pack everything in the car – another tetris puzzle to be worked on in the coming weeks.

47 days until we start long service leave, 50 days until we head off!

 

Easter shenanigans…

The reason we bought our camper trailer 6 months earlier than our departure date was to give us plenty of opportunity to become familiar with the camper, how we want to pack things, what we might need etc. So we are using any chance we have to get out and get the camper set up. The Easter long weekend presented us with another excellent opportunity to put ourselves through our paces. We decided that this time we would treat it like a test run of the ‘real thing’ – we’d use solar panels, set up the camp loo and gas hot water shower, put the full wind skirt annex up with floor etc, cook in the camp oven. The Whole Hog (fitting!), as it were.

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All loaded up…
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We are thinking we might need a cargo barrier!

Our destination was Bestbrook Mountain Resort on the Cunningham Highway towards Warwick, Queensland. Even though we booked a few months in advance, many of the places we wanted to go to were already booked out so we went with Bestbrook on a friend’s recommendation. It was a lovely setting – 500 acres of bush land with many flat, open spaces for camping and a creek winding through the property. Unfortunately there is a motor-cross track on the property next door and even with 500 acres of land between you and next door, the sound of those under-powered, two-wheeled lawnmowers zipping around the track was relentless during the day and definitely ruined the peace. The evening sounds were also punctuated by the trucks going up and down the Cunningham Highway so while the area looked picturesque, we were a bit disappointed that we weren’t quite as peaceful and secluded as we had hoped. Oh, and the 2000 other campers also added to the ambiance as well 😉 We were lucky that our camp site was right up the back of the property, well away from where most of the caravans and campers had set up. They were certainly packed in like sardines down the front of the property – I had never seen anything like it before. I wish I’d thought to take a photo because it really did look very unpleasant.

I did a walk through video of our Easter set up…

Bestbrook has a few things to do to keep the kids occupied, which was great for Charlotte. She went on a wagon ride and was kept entertained by the property’s three cattle dogs who regularly jump on and off the wagon as it’s moving along. Charlotte and I both attempted to learn how to crack a whip but we gave up after we cracked our own skin more than the whip itself – turns out, that shit hurts! I have far more sympathy for prisoners who copped 50 lashes now. We then turned our hand to throwing boomerangs. I thought they were kidding when they said “does anyone want the left-handed boomerang?” Turns out, they weren’t and that’s really a thing! Didn’t seem to help me though 😦 Charlotte really enjoyed that and I suspect if we buy her a boomerang she’ll have hours of entertainment while we’re on the road (mental note: buy a boomerang). Milking cows was also on offer but Charlotte was accidentally sprayed with a stream of warm milk while she waited in line and that set about a mini-meltdown so we left the cow milking well enough alone. Instead she jumped on a horse and had a great time with Daddy leading her around a small course. Unfortunately she was too young to be allowed to do an actual lesson or trail ride, but I suspect she’ll be keen on that as she gets older. Butter making demonstrations and damper eating rounded out the activities on offer and made for an enjoyable stay.

As I said earlier, this was our opportunity to set up camp like it would be when we’re on our big trip – so we brought everything with us. Turns out, it doesn’t really matter if you’re going for 5 days or 50 days, you take the same amount of stuff! If we’d just wanted to set up the camper and nothing else, we’d probably be done in 10-15 minutes, add another 10-15 minutes to set up the annex roof and poles. So from go to wo(e) we could have beds set up and with a basic roof on the annex in half an hour. That’s not too bad. But this time around we took a lot longer because we were setting up wind skirts, annex floors, shower tents and the camping loo all for the first time.

(Our rather space-age looking shower tent attracted some attention from some passers by who hadn’t seen a tent like it before. It took Brandon almost half an hour to work out how to set it up and by the end he was cursing and saying we’re buying a plain Oz Trail ensuite tent to replace it, particularly as the Oz Trail ones take up less space when packed up. BUT, after I looked at some photos of the shower tent set up on the Wild Boar website, I came to realise he’d put the darned thing up inside out! No wonder it was causing him grief LOL So he fixed it up and now he’s not quite so negative about it and I suspect it might make its way to the outback yet…)

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A Wild Boar photo that shows the shower tent, the right way around 😉

Also on our list of things we wanted to try for the first time on this trip was cooking on the OzPig and using the Dreampot. We certainly weren’t disappointed by either. It took a while for the OzPig to get nice and hot but eventually we had it full of lovely coals and keeping our toes warm. I popped two little boneless lamb roasts inside the camp oven (lined with foil) and sat that on top of the OzPig, piling coals on the lid as well. Almost 90 minutes later and we had roast lamb, baked vegetables (thanks to Carla) and gravy for our Easter Sunday dinner. Fantastic! The meat didn’t brown or crisp up as much as it does in the regular oven, but the flavour was perfect.

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Warming toes by the open fire

I also used the Dreampot for the first time to cook a chicken casserole. I fried up the chicken thighs first and sauteed some vegetables; I add some liquid to the pot, got it nice and hot and then locked it in Dreampot’s thermal base. Two hours later we had the most amazing chicken casserole. The only problem was we had too much! We bought the 6 litre Dreampot and I think we probably could have done with the 5 litre version. Nevertheless, we’ll have leftovers while we’re on the road, which is one less meal we’ll need to cook so I’m OK with that 😉

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The somewhat nuclear-looking OzPig in action
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Camp oven cooking on the Pig
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More than enough heat to share

Keeping Charlotte occupied while we’re at camp is going to be something we need to consider. There were older girls camping with us this time but it wasn’t always easy for Charlotte to integrate into their games and I didn’t want them to feel they had to keep someone younger than them entertained (although full credit to Charli, Mackenzie, Piper, Laura and Nieve for doing a brilliant job playing with Charlotte). Definitely keen for some tips on how to keep a bored 6 year old entertained! [With this in mind, we recently bought Charlotte a few card games suited to her age group and the Barrel of Monkeys game so she can have something to do while we’re set up for more than a day.] Brandon brought his iPhone-operated drone chopper with him and he captured some good aerial footage – needs a bit of practice with it though 🙂 : ) 🙂

Another thing we trialled for the first time was our solar panels. We discovered that while our panels are certainly powerful enough, we don’t have long enough leads to really have the freedom to set them up in the right place to follow the sun. So that’s something to add to the shopping list. As a result, we were a little under-powered for the weekend (thanks to our 95 litre Waeco fridge/freezer), and we had to borrow a friend’s generator. But that also caused us to consider the possibility that as we are going to be travelling in winter, sunless days are a very real possibility. While we’re on the road regularly, this isn’t a problem as we’ll charge up as we drive. But if we bunker down for a few days in one place (perhaps to see out a storm etc) then we’ll be pushing it to keep the power up to the camper. So Brandon set out looking for a secondhand 1Kva generator to help see us through the dark days (literally more than figuratively I hope!) and low and behold there was a great little Honda machine available on Gumtree in the next suburb. So we’re now the proud owners of a small generator that has put our minds at ease about fulfilling our power needs while we’re on the road.

All in all, our weekend was a tremendous success. It helped us realise a few things we’ll need to consider, it also helped me realise how conservative I’m going to have to be when packing for our trip, and I’m now on the lookout for hints or tips to help with this packing. But our Easter weekend has helped give me the confidence I need to think we might actually be able to pull this off 😉

Stay tuned for our next adventure in May when we take the camper off-road for the first time and head up to Double Island Point for a weekend of beach camping with the Wild Boar gang.

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…

 

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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… and then suddenly…

So Brandon was driving along the other day coming back from helping a mate, as you do. When suddenly he hears a metallic clunking noise coming from the engine and the oil pressure gauge flat-lined. He and the car limped home that day but there was a look of dread and fear on Brandon’s face when he talked to me about the various things that could be causing the problem. We booked the Cruiser in to visit our trusty mechanic, Cameron, and crossed our fingers and hoped for the best. I was determined to believe that it was fixable – after all, Brandon was able to drive the car to the mechanic, so how bad can it be? Surely you can’t be driving along one minute and the next minute your engine is close to blowing up?

Turns out, yes. Yes, that can happen.

After an anxious wait, Cameron delivered the worst news possible today. When Brandon described the news on Facebook, his comment was “[The] bottom end [of the engine is] about to get blown out the side of the block”. I don’t speak Engine language so I can’t really interpret that for you but from what I have been able to piece together, there’s some important stuff in the lower sections of Brandon’s engine, possibly the words ‘big end’ and ‘crank’ may have been thrown around, but I could just be pulling those terms out my butt… anyway, lots of important parts that do important things now aren’t working and if we keep driving the car the engine will most likely fly out of the car, and Brandon will be left resembling Fred Flintstone (or perhaps he’s more Barney Rubble?).

This. Cannot. Be. Happening. As Charlotte said on the way home today, “Today is a very bad day. I wish it was a dream”. [She was talking about not being allowed to play in the playground at after school care for a suitable length of time, but I think the same really applies to our situation, don’t you?]

Of all the crappy, #firstworldproblem things to have happen to us, just after we spent so much time and money fixing up this car (note the royal use of the word ‘we’ here)… devastated is an understatement.

So, where does this leave us?

Well, you can’t keep a good Cruiser down, that’s for sure. Can’t keep a good Hazelwood down either. The Hazelwood problem-solving team whipped themselves into action and Brandon spent a good part of today on the phones and online looking for a replacement engine and doing homework about costs for replacement versus buying a new (second hand) car etc. Meanwhile, I jumped in the car and went and met with our faithful loan officer who helped us come up with a plan to pay for whatever outcome we decided on. This was no longer a matter of ‘do we cancel’ – this was beyond that. This was now ‘we need to get Brandon’s car on the road again’, regardless of whether we go on the trip or not. It is just adding insult to injury that we have a brand new camper in our garage that we can’t actually tow anywhere at the moment. While I love my Rav, she’s not up to that task and never will be.

End result? I’ll let Brandon tell you…

We have certainly had more than one person say to us today “Thank god you weren’t in the middle of your trip when this happened” (very true) and then there’s been the odd “Will you cancel the trip?” At this point, the trip is still on. We are waiting for the bank to give us the go-ahead and obviously that really dictates everything at this point. But assuming they do say yes, we are beginning to see the silver lining. The engine we are hoping to put in the car is better and more fuel efficient. So while we certainly didn’t want this to happen, there will be savings to be made when we’re actually out on the road. Yes, we will have more debt than we wanted but we have already identified where we can trim some fat and I think, fingers crossed, we’ll get through OK. Well, obviously we will – we have so much to be thankful and grateful for. But in the short term, we have to be a little more unsettled than we might like.

Stay tuned for updates when we get them…