The Tip! (not the rubbish kind)

After surviving the corrugations of the Peninsula Development Road, it was a relief to finally make it to Seisia, at the top of Cape York. We stopped in to the start of the Old Telegraph Track (OTT) on our way up to see what that would be like – we had entertained the idea of doing that track but had been warned it was pretty “gnarly” (do people still use that word these days? Apparently so!).  And “gnarly” it was!

The initial track through to the first water crossing at Palm Creek was quite good with only a few little spots that required some caution. Poor Brandon – with such a sooky pants in the car (that’s me, not Charlotte – she loves everything to do with the car being on it’s side or bouncing around up and down) this small bit of 4WD-ing is probably all he’s likely to do on this trip 😦 We would have attempted OTT if the Palm Creek crossing was passable as that is apparently the worst. But alas it was just too risky for us. It really was quite bad – particularly for heavy vehicles towing heavy camper trailers! We stopped to watch two cars attempt the steep descent into and then climb out of the creek and I was cringing all the way. The first car was driven by the son, the second driven by the father. I was talking to the mother on the banks of the creek and she said her and her husband had done quite a lot of 4WD-ing. When I watched first her son and then her husband attempt to exit Palm Creek, I was able to see where his experience came in! The son gave his car too many revs at the top of the slope and ended up getting stuck (and, as it turned out, damaged his wheel or tyre and had to change it after winching himself free). Meanwhile Dad does it after him a more measured and steady pace and makes it look easy.

The son entering the creek…

The son leaving the creek…

Dad showing us all how it’s done…

Not surprisingly, we made the very adult decision to give it a miss. We had also heard that the road in to Elliot Falls (our next destination) was likely impassable thanks to deep water and while we could probably take a more northerly road to reach it, it would add a few hours to our trip. So we decided to just head straight to Seisia instead.

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The infamous sign leading the way to ‘gnarly’ tracks

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There are literally millions of termite mounds throughout the Cape. Every now and then you see someone has decided to make one stand out 😉
Brandon’s one and only 4WD attempt on the OTT 😉

It was drizzly and wet as we arrived so Brandon suggested as a treat we stay in a cabin – I think he felt sorry for me having to put up with all that red dirt and adding in the rain would have just about sent me stark raving mad! Setting up the camper and annex in the rain is certainly something we’re going to have to experience, but my capacity to cope with discomfort is being stretched a bit already, so let’s just take things one at a time. A cabin it was, for two glorious nights. Yes, I know, I’m a bit soft. But I have another 3 months to toughen up, OK?We were planning to stay at Loyalty Beach Campground originally because Brandon had been told they had palm cockatoos there. Brandon loves palm cockatoos and he would probably tell you he only had 2 things he wanted to achieve while we were up the Cape – (1) catch a fish off the Seisia wharf, and (2) see a palm cockatoo in the wild. Turns out, palm cockatoos like Seisia too 😉

We were driving back into the campground after a quick trip to the shops and suddenly Brandon brings the car to a screaming halt and says “palm cockatoo” – and voila, there on the ground right in front of us was this illusive creature that Brandon has waited most of his life to see! Just hanging out, nibbling on a nut. Right in front of us. And then, later during our visit, we saw another one just next door to our cabin! Brandon was able to get incredibly close to it, which I thought was pretty special 🙂

(Side note: alcohol restrictions in this part of the country mean you are limited to what you can buy at the bottle shop in Bamaga. When we saw the first palm cockatoo we were coming back from a trip to buy our allowable limit of alcohol – in this case, a 30 pack of cans of beer and a 2 litre cask of moscato (yeah, cask moscato – it’s a thing up here). You know your car is packed to the brim when you have to sit your carton of beer on your lap!)

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Beer balancing
Our first night, we watched the sun set as we sat next to the water in Seisia – even knowing there were probably crocodiles in the water in front of us, we still enjoyed the ambience. We also made friends with the locals – tree frogs and wild horses. This little green tree frog parked himself outside our cabin for pretty much the entire time we were there. He was adorable 🙂 At one point, Brandon grabbed a grasshopper that was jumping about the garden nearby and held it in front of the frog’s nose. As soon as one of the grasshopper’s legs brushed against the frog – gulp! He was gone. So cool to watch! And if you come to Seisia you have to get used to seeing wild horses everywhere. They roam through the campsite and attack the wheelie bins in the evening, hunting for food. They were hanging out the back of our cabin. We were warned against approaching them – they have a nasty bite apparently.

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Doesn’t get much better than this!

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Charlotte’s new friend

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Seisia beach looking towards the jetty

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Charlotte thought this bush turkey was trying to get away with having us believe it was a palm cockatoo.

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Horses hanging around camp
We left the camper at the cabin and headed for the Tip proper on our second day. (Charlotte took great pleasure in pointing out we were going to the Tip of Cape York and not a rubbish tip.) Despite the volume of red mud we brought back with us, it was great to finally get to that illusive sign I had seen on so many television programs about the Cape. The tip of the continent of Australia – pretty cool really. It required a bit of climbing up a small rocky mountain but I heard not one word of complaint from Charlotte about all the walking and climbing. It was marvelous 🙂

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These rock ‘mountains’ are all over the path as you climb to the tip. Charlotte insisted on putting a rock on every. single. one.

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We made it!
On our second morning, Brandon headed off to the Seisia wharf nice and early for a spot of fishing. While I suspect he had hoped for more variety in his catch, he came away having caught three quite nice sized trevally. Apparently the highlight was watching the 6 foot shark chasing his trevally in, and then also seeing a 5 foot grouper following too!

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The catch

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Happy camper (see what I did there?)
We initially planned to stay 3-4 nights up the top but we’d pretty much seen all there was to see, Brandon had been for a fish and the palm cockatoos had made an appearance, so we decided we might as well start our trek back south. Obviously Brandon would have been happy to fish for days more and I would have been happy to lounge in a cabin for days more, but we needed to keep moving. Too much to see in a short period of time! We have a few places we want to add to our itinerary so being a few days ahead of schedule isn’t a bad thing. On the way south, we stopped in at Fruit Bat Falls. This is a day use area only, no camping allowed. There’s a walk of about 200 or so metres from the carpark to the Falls and then you reach this glorious freshwater water hole along the Elliot River where you can swim and paddle around. Charlotte was in heaven – she’s such a water baby. Some people were swimming but we hadn’t brought our swimmers down from the car so we settled for a quick paddle before hitting the road again. I pointed out an orchid flower I hadn’t seen before which was also a new one for Brandon too. I can’t remember what it’s called now, but no doubt JH will tell me.

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Fruit Bat Falls

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Fruit Bat Falls

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Fruit Bat Falls

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A new (for us) orchid

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Fruit Bat Falls
After this we made our way to Bramwell Station. We had heard that this place had a good atmosphere and had live music etc each night, so we thought it would be a good place to stop for the night. Like most places here, it was a little rough around the edges but the beer was cold and during happy hour the manager, Ken, put on a talk about the history of the Station, the current owners and the surrounding area. If you wanted to join in the buffet meal (for $35/head) at this point you could but we retreated to our campsite as we had just splurged on the cabin and didn’t really need to spend more money. We packed up in the morning and continued our journey south, returning to Musgrave Station for a final night on the PDR before beginning our trip west. Unfortunately, after arriving at Musgrave some 5 hours later we realised we had left behind a rather integral pole for our annex at Bramwell. After a nervous few hours, we were able to get the Station to confirm they had our pole (which also has our LED lights attached to it) and had put it in their office for safe keeping. Now as I write this we are waiting to hear if someone is heading south from Bramwell tomorrow who can bring the pole to us! If not, we’ll ask them to hold on to it and arrange them to send it back to us COD once we return to Brisbane. Brandon has found there’s a camping supply place in Katherine so we may just have to make do until then. We plan to get up early in the morning to ring the Station again to see if they have found anyone to send the pole with. If not, we’ll head off without it. But if they did, we’ll wait around here another night to get our pole back. Stay tuned for more news I guess!

EDIT: Pole was found by the manager of the station but no-one was heading as far south as Musgrave the next day so we pushed on. The manager, Ken, lives in Brisbane and will be returning home at the end of October. He is bringing our pole home with him and will contact us to collect it 🙂 Meanwhile, we will have to make do with what we have and will buy another one at the next camping shop we find.

I suspect it will be a little while until our next blog post as we head off into unchartered territory and do some bush camping on our way to the Burke Development Road and Normanton. From there we are heading to Lawn Hill Gorge for a few days and then across into NT and Katherine. We have ordered some Clearview mirrors through a supplier in Katherine so they should be there when we arrive and who knows – we might have to source a local camping shop to buy a new annex pole if we’re not lucky!

Night on the road: 16

Bouncing up and down in an old Landcruiser…

We had a lovely rest in Cairns but in some ways this was the calm before the storm. Our journey northwards would see us start the infamous corrugations of the Penninsula Development Road (PDR), complete with dust and dirt. In and around Cairns, Charlotte was very taken with the quantity of sugar cane fields and this became a little running joke with her – along the lines of “I bet you can’t guess what I’m thinking of now?” We waited for a lengthy sugar cane train to cross in front of us, saw a hopper in action, and even saw one field on fire which was a special treat. The cloud cover around the mountain ranges coming into Cairns were also quite spectacular.

One of the cane fields on fire

Beautiful cloudy ‘misty mountain’ outside Cairns
Leaving Cairns we headed north towards the Daintree and our first little test run of a 4WD road, the Bloomfield Track. Some people say it’s not really a proper 4WD track because it’s quite easy and many 2WD vehicles can do it. This is probably true but it had a few nice little creek crossings and a couple of exceptionally steep ups and downs. The worst of these were concreted for easier traction but it was more than enough off-roading for me. I’d be happy with roads like that for the rest of the trip! At the end of the track was a little pub called The Lion’s Den which seemed like a great place to stop for pizza and a beer 🙂 We also drove past a mountain range called Black Mountain where all the mountains were made entirely of boulders! It was surreal and very pretty.

Crossing the Daintree River by ferry
Video footage of the Daintree forest at the start of the Bloomfield.

Mountain made of boulders
More boulder mountains
Relaxing at the Lion’s Den

Charlotte was quite taken with the lion
We were heading for Cooktown, specifically a bush camping spot we’d found on WikiCamps called Endeavour River Escape. We got there are 4.30pm and set up for one night. It was a great spot – we rang in advance to book and the homestead owner met us at the gate and personally escorted us (on her motorbike!) to our bush camping site. There was hot showers, flushing toilets and grass under foot. Each site had a rubbish bin and fire pit. We had our first marshmallow roasting that night 😉 Tranquility. Given the fishing and walking tracks on the property, we’ll be back for sure!

A guided escort!

Lovely bush camp
After Cooktown we followed Battle Camp Road (hello corrugations!) towards the Old Laura Homestead. We stopped to make some sandwiches for lunch at the old homestead and give Charlotte a chance to stretch her legs. Then it was on to our next camping spot, the Hann River Crossing. We were expecting something a little more rainforest-like and less dust bowl but we made camp as per our plans. There are about 14 sites here and each one is some distance away from the next, except ours (site 12) which joined site 11 and was therefore a tad bigger. We ended up with some lovely neighbours, a retired couple from Broome and we chatted to them a while about the road further north.

Despite not meeting expectations, the site was picturesque in its own way and gave us a chance to refresh ourselves. We were close enough to the (freshwater) river that we got to test our Joolca river water pump. Brandon hooked it up so that we used river water for our showers and dishes which was a real treat. We are having to become very water-wise on the road and are constantly trying to find ways to reduce usage. We have run out a few times which makes me nervous (we have a 60 litre water bladder in B’s car as a back up which has come in very handy!) I stopped short of washing clothes in the river water however! But I did use our Scrubba bag for the first time and I was pleasantly surprised at how good that works. It takes a lot of effort because the bag only fits a small amount of clothes but for life on the road in between caravan park washing machines, it will do nicely.

Fishing at Hann River
Charlotte Trinh out the wash bag
Judging by the colour of the water, I’d say the clothes were getting clean!
Proof the bag worked!
Cherubin caught in the Hann River – B said they tasted like a banana prawn

Stretching out at the Old Laura Homestead

Let’s hope our truck doesn’t end up like this!
Brandon was constantly reminding Charlotte and me to keep things closed and up off the ground. Just on dark on the first night, our neighbours in the next site came over to let us know they just saw a brown snake at their site! Yikes! My sleep that night was disturbed and I became very nervous of our movements around camp. I was kind of happy to leave after that!

Spidery wildlife at Hann River
After two nights beside the Hann River it was time to hit the PDR and Musgrave Station Roadhouse. This was only a short trip down the road from Hann so we had a relatively easy drive that day and managed to snag a good camp site before the hoards arrived. We had good neighbours who shared stories of their trip with us and it was nice to have a grassy campsite again. The Roadhouse slowly filled up during the course of the day and that night the bar was full of cries of delight as the final State of Origin match beamed over satellite. Despite the volume of people, the camp site was surprisingly quiet and made for a peaceful night’s sleep.

Musgrave fills up each night
The freshwater lagoon behind Musgrave Roadhouse was home to a number of freshwater crocs and turtles
The PDR in all her corrugated glory
This horse was intent on eating our Wild Boar flag!


Musgrave is a typical one night stopover on the way north or south so everyone started clearing out early the next morning, including us. Our next destination was originally the Archer River Roadhouse but this wasn’t that much further down the road and our neighbours from Hann River had mentioned the Moreton Telegraph Station as a peaceful place (with grass!) so we pressed on and ended up there instead. And that is where I am writing this post from. We were originally only staying one night but we are a night ahead of schedule for our next national park booking at Elliot Falls so we have decided to stay here tonight and set off early tomorrow.

We have pretty much survived the worst of the PDR although we have to go back that way in a week or so! We had a few moments where we came close to being air-born and we hit bottom a few times but other than some bone-shakingly, boob-jiggly corrugations, we have travelled unscathed.

One thing we are having to learn as we go is how to best set up camp for one, two or three night stays. For the quick overnighters we don’t bother with the big annex but that then leaves us with no protection from sun or rain. So we have started to use the annex from Brandon’s car to stretch over our sitting area and giv us some quick and easy shelter. Those roof-rack mounted annexes are definitely something to add to your kit if you’re planning a trip like this!

Our luscious camp site at Moreton Telegraph Station

We are seeing lots of different frogs everywhere we go 🙂

So from here we hit the Old Telegraph Track (and possibly a few hairy 4WD moments) on our way to Fruit Bat Falls and Elliot Falls. After two nights there it’s on to the top! The reports on the river crossings seem to change every day so we need to just go and check something out first and maybe we go that way or maybe we don’t. While the distances between spots isn’t huge, the road conditions can mean it takes some hours to get anywhere so it’s important to be stocked with water, fuel and food in case we end up camped by the side of the road. So far, so good.

Nights on the road: 1 week, 3 days

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…

 

The Maiden Voyage

While Brandon and I have both had yards of experience camping–so many of my childhood memories involve freezing my butt off at some cold and windy camp ground somewhere in Tasmania–we are both new to camper trailers. If we are going to be running our ship* like a well-oiled machine by the time we head off in late July, we will need quite a lot of practice setting up the camper and packing everything away again. If we want to set off at 7am one morning, I don’t want to have to get up at 4am just to make sure we have enough time to pack up! And if we only stopped driving at 6pm the night before, finished setting up camp at 9pm… well, you get the picture. Lots of practice is needed!

So off we headed this past weekend on the first of our practice trips.

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We chose somewhere reasonably ‘safe’ – close to home should anything go wrong, close to shops should we forget anything, a powered site with water, and plenty of things to keep Charlotte occupied. It was hard to find somewhere at the last minute but we eventually booked in at Treasure Island Holiday Park on the Gold Coast.

The park is very comfortable and certainly had everything we needed for our maiden voyage. We were given a nice powered site, close enough to one of the 4 pools (!) and the toilet block to not be inconvenient, but far enough away to not be bothered by noise. The park was busy but it certainly wasn’t full. We found our assigned spot easily and set about ‘bumping in’ as I’m inclined to call it.

I’ve heard from a lot of people how friendly many people are at campsites and how everyone becomes friends quickly. So I shouldn’t be surprised that at one point in our set up we were visited by “Kingie” who decided he wanted a closer look at our camper. Forward fold campers aren’t as common as soft-floor or rear fold hard floor campers, so they tend to attract a bit of attention. They are certainly becoming more common, and in fact there was another model forward fold camper just a few sites down from ours, but as a rule they stand out from the crowd and can be beasts to look at. So camping men in thongs and holding a stubby of beer are naturally attracted to the shiny newness of it all (note: my use of the word ‘camping’ as an adjective here may not provide the image I was initially going for!). We didn’t mind showing Kingie around, although amusingly he was a bit like the kangaroo from that YouTube video of visiting kangaroos that went viral [check it out here – it’s really very amusing] – Kingie came back a few hours later with his son-in-law and grandchild in tow and asked if he could give them a looky-see as well! (Naturally we were happy to show her off.)

Back to the set up… take a look for yourself and let me know how you think we went…

[The original video went for one and a half hours, which represents how long it took us to set up. Clearly a lot of room for improvement! After we stopped the video we ended up putting the rest of the sides on the annex but not the floor. That may have been a bit of a mistake, as we learned later that night 😦 But that’s a tale for another post.]

Other than learning about bumping in and bumping out the camper, I was also keen to see how Charlotte went with the camping lifestyle. Unless you count the Peppa Pig play tent she once had set up in her room, she’s never been camping before so it was a good opportunity to see how she would respond. Turns out, nothing to worry about! Water, duck, back. I’m not sure what added more normality – the television viewing or Daddy building Lego with her 😉

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So the trip was a success. We had a fun time, we learned a lot about the camper and what we’ll need to improve on for future, but we also glimpsed a picture of how much fun we’re going to have on our trip. Can’t ask for more than that 🙂 There were a few other aspects of the trip worth noting, but I’ll save those for another post.

* We have yet to name our camper trailer but I feel this is a must, if not for ease of communication in later posts. Come to think of it, Brandon’s car doesn’t really have a name either, except that we once thought about getting personalised plates for B’s car that read “Mudbug”. So I will most likely refer to the Landcruiser as MudBug… but what shall the camper be called?

Let’s go shopping!

“Our first test run of the new camper is this weekend! Eek! Better go shopping!”

Nothing like some last minute panic to make you realise just how much you have to do. We have booked ourselves in for two nights at the Treasure Island Holiday Park on the Gold Coast this coming weekend but up until a few days ago, the camper had been reversed up the drive way, opened up to season the canvas, and then closed and left alone. Time to get geared up if we plan to spend some time with her this weekend!

Off we go to Anaconda, Tentworld and Outback Adventures to track down the items on our ever expanding list. Add this to the bundle of goodies given to us by the Wild Boar folks, and we’re almost set. But gosh it takes a lot to set up a camper! Seen below are just some of the ‘staples’ we need (roughly from left to right):

  • chock/ramp thingies to stop the 1.5 tonne camper from rolling down a hill and smashing into some poor unsuspecting bovine’s paddock…
  • chemical toilet (supplied with camper)
  • folding aluminium step (so the shorter legged, most likely furry, members of our family don’t struggle to get up into the camper)
  • gas hot water system (probably more for my comfort than anyone else’s, truth be told; also supplied with camper)
  • cutlery, crockery and a full supply of kitchen torture devices implements (some supplied, others purchased)
  • gas lighter (supplied)
  • 4-slice toaster (just because you’re camping doesn’t mean you want to wait for one slice at a time!)
  • Egg carrier (supplied)
  • Pots and pans
  • Fire extinguisher and fire blanket (supplied)
  • Foam mats and PVC annex matting
  • Water hose and hose bag
  • Chairs
  • Collapsible rubbish bin
  • Foot stools (who said you can’t be comfortable when camping – also useful as tables for shorter legged non-furry family members)
  • New pillows
  • Bedding (not shown – currently hanging on line after a pre-wash)

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And after all that, we’re still not finished! The kitchen supply box needs a bit of attention – we want to get it set up so that we don’t need to keep taking stuff from our home kitchen every time we go anywhere (except perishables) so a big grocery shop is also in order (salt and pepper, oil, sauces, canned goods, measuring cups, sharp knives, etc etc)

test-setup

Brandon also decided, quite wisely, that we should probably put the annex up before we go so we can be sure we know what we’re doing. I don’t think Brandon is as comfortable with looking like a fool as I am – I’ve spent too many years running in a tutu I guess 😉 I don’t mind wandering around looking like I have no clue, battering my eye lids and asking for help from fellow campers. But I suspect Brandon would probably find that troubling 😉 So we went with Be Prepared. Probably just as well. Turns out that to zip the annex on at the highest point in the camper’s roof, you really need to be quite tall. As much of our family is of the shorter-legged variety, a ladder was in order. Better add ‘ladder’ to the list of staples needed!

But we did it – and to be honest, if we were setting up from go to woe (hopefully not ‘woe’, hopefully ‘wo’) in one hit rather than hunting around looking for ladders and stabilising the camper to stop it rolling down the driveway and into the neighbour’s pool etc, the whole process probably would have taken 20 mins tops. Honest. No, really (to be tested this weekend!)

[In our haste to prepare our camper, we forgot it was also back to school time. Bugger! 😦 Nothing like covering books at 1am on the night before school starts. Thank you to Grandma for starting The Big Book Cover Adventure. Your technique was vastly better than mine – Charlotte’s exercise books now resemble a ‘touch and feel’ topographical map of the Great Dividing Range. Thankfully she and I are both working on reducing our perfectionist streak and we were both quite accepting of the finished product. Although Charlotte was heard to utter “I don’t think a pin is going to help those air bubbles”! Precious, forgiving soul. Never again – book covers all way from now on.]

Our new baby

Yesterday we collected our new baby, the Wild Boar Campers Razorback forward-fold camper trailer. Brand spanking new, built just for us. Paul and his crew at Wild Boar really looked after us – and threw in a heap of freebies as well. Can’t fault their service 🙂

Brandon had to make all sorts of modifications to his car to tow this camper because it’s approximately 1.5 tonne. (Some modifications were also for driver and passenger comfort, such as new XR Falcon seats in the front and a centre console Waeco 10.5 litre fridge.) New shocks, new springs, an electric brake system, a new tow tongue, a new rear bar to move the spare wheel from under the car to up on the bar, new rear-mounted Anderson plug… the list goes on. There is still more to do before we go to make our tow vehicle more comfortable but for now, we can at least get the camper out of the showroom and on to our property!

Speaking of which, here she is, coming home…

We’ll add more pictures and videos as we get out and about and get used to towing it, but for now it’s time to open her up and season the canvas to make sure we don’t get any leaks! (and don’t ask me to ever reverse this thing – I take 5 attempts to reverse a box trailer at the tip – this camper is going to be a real challenge for me!)