At last we turn north…

It was with a bit of a heavy heart that we started our trek north after disembarking from the Spirit of Tasmania. On the one hand, I was really excited about heading closer to home, and the call of a comfortable bed and familiar belongings was pretty strong. But I was also sad at the thought that in a few short weeks this amazing adventure would soon come to an end. Still, we had a few more sights to cross off our list before getting home so we headed out of Melbourne with the excitement of a new and unfamiliar destination around the corner.

We headed east from Melbourne, towards Lakes Entrance. We were heading towards Burra on the NSW/ACT border to spend a few nights with a friend and decided to take a more scenic route. I suspect Brandon is probably swearing at me for this decision (I did the route planning for this leg of the trip) because our lack of inter-cooler on the new turbo engine was regularly apparent to us as we drove the outskirts of the Snowy Mountains and through the high country! (when the turbo works hard, such as towing a heavy load up a hill, our exhaust gas temperature increases, causing an alarm to sound. We need to let off a bit of power to cool the exhaust down and avoid engine problems. Needless to say, this route created a litany of ringing alarm bells and made for a very slow climb!)

I wasn’t entirely certain of our first camping spot but a quick scan of WikiCamps as we were driving led us to a lovely farm stay called Tostaree Cottages. They have room for a few campers in a well-maintained, flat, open pasture that essentially feels like you are camping in their backyard. Covering something like 300 acres, the rolling green hills of this property were a lovely change from the rainy, snowy mountains we’d just left in Tasmania. The weather was sunny and glorious, although the air was still a bit crisp, but we didn’t need our annex and set up for a quick overnight stay. There was only one other group of campers there, a young family with similar-aged children who Charlotte quickly made friends with. The children then announced that shortly one of the farm’s owners, Greg, would be coming by in his ATV (all terrain vehicle) to take us all on a tour of the farm if we wanted. What fun!

Oh lord – what an adventure that ride was! Charlotte was desperate to stand up in the back with Daddy and one other child while I shared the front seat with Greg and our neighbour’s second child. Greg gave us lots of information about farming cattle and sheep (for meat purposes) and we identified new calves that were only a day or two old. Over hill and down dale we went, bouncing and banging and generally having a scream of a time. Now I know why those things are so bloody dangerous and cause so many injuries on farms! But we escaped unscathed and returned to camp after an hour or so with flushed cheeks and lots of laughs.

img_6316
Our camp site at Tostaree
img_6317
Tostaree Cottages are very picturesque
img_6329
Can you spot our camp?
img_6330
I’m still deaf from Charlotte’s squeals of delight
img_6320
Our transport
img_6327
This calf is only a few days old but it has already had a tag placed on its ear – we found many who had no tags who Greg said would have been born in the past 48 hours or so

From Tostaree it was onwards to Burra and across a new state border into NSW.

img_6341

We were heading to a visit with Chris and Peter (Chris is Kerrilee’s brother, my best friend we stayed with in Devonport). Chris and Peter live on acreage about half an hour outside of Canberra (officially in NSW) and we were made to feel very welcome during our stay there. We didn’t need to set up the camper as we were offered their spare bedroom. Chris and Peter both enjoy gaming so Brandon was able to catch up on the World of Warcraft gossip while we were there and I was able to catch up on some reading while Charlotte enjoyed the Nick Jr channel!

IMG_6534We were so comfortable, I forgot to take any photos at Chris and Pete’s place, so I asked them to send me something instead 😉 Here is Chris’s selfie!

It had been years since I was last in Canberra so it was great to be able to see the new parliament house site for the first time. And we crossed our second last state border! (a few times – we crossed out and back NSW/ACT every time we left Chris’s place!)

img_6377

We were counting down the days until we had to be home, so we only had time for a flying visit to Canberra, which included a drive around the outside of Parliament House. Charlotte loves a good Australian flag at the best of times, but even she was bowled over by the majesty of this giant flag pole high atop the hill at Parliament House.

img_6368

img_6370

img_6365

After Parliament House, we went to Questacon, the National Science and Technology Centre. This was lots of fun! Like a giant science museum, every room is a different gallery with hundreds of hands on things to see and do. Charlotte was in her element and there was much squealing to be had… mostly by Charlotte, although a little from Brandon as well 😉

img_6357
Charlotte was picked to help out in the “liquid nitrogen” show – she was playing 0 degrees, or “cool” 😉

Charlotte had to play ‘cool’ and was told to show her ‘guns’ (finger points) but she struggled because the glasses she was given to wear only had one arm and kept falling off!

img_6348
Using air to attempt to push a beach ball through a hoop – very hard!
img_6347
Brandon fascinated by this magnetic liquid – it has iron particles in it that caused it to be attracted to the magnets but it looked like the whole liquid was alive
img_6351
Lightening (man-made)

A favourite was this light harp – instead of strings, your hands passed over the lights in the harp’s frame which created the musical note (clearly I’m not giving you the technical explanation!)

One exhibit allowed you to feel a simulated earth quake. You built a tower and then watched to see if it would withstand the quake!

After leaving Burra we drove to Parkes, NSW – home of the The Dish, a radio telescope instrumental in supporting NASA throughout the Apollo program, and still active today. I had driven past this place (officially called the Parkes Observatory) quite a few times but never stopped so I really wanted to get there on this trip.

I really enjoyed our visit to the observatory. We watched a few 3D movies which gave us some interesting information on space, the relative size of things in space, and other topics relevant to the telescope. We were able to get quite close to the telescope and watched it move around quite a lot which was exciting. It stands 58m tall, is 64m in diameter and the dish alone weighs 300 tonnes. It can tilt to 60 degrees from the vertical and takes 5 minutes to get to this maximum tilt. For a full 360 degree rotation, the time is 15 minutes. Officially it is only rated to operate in maximum wind speeds of 35 km/h but apparently on the night when the Apollo landing was taking place, the winds peaked to 2-3 times that speed and it managed to cope (albeit with some nervous operators in the control tower).

IMG_6381
About to head in – is it just me or does Brandon look like he’s balancing on his heels?
IMG_6385
The Dish

img_9504

Dish Selfie

At the entrance to the visitors centre there are two opposing, smaller dishes called ‘whispering dishes’. Charlotte and Brandon went and stood next to one and about 20 metres away, I went to stand next to the other. Charlotte talked into the arc of the dish nearest her and I was able to hear her clear as day! It was fascinating and a great learning opportunity for us all 🙂

IMG_6382
Whispering dish – there’s one behind where I’m standing and you can see the other one at the other end of the garden

If you haven’t seen the movie, check out The Dish (movie) with Sam Neill and a host of other familiar faces. Classic Australian cinema 🙂

That night we stayed at Peak Hill just a little north of Parkes. Our plan to was to hit up Taronga Western Plains Zoo (aka Dubbo Zoo) the next day but we had been warned that Dubbo wasn’t that secure so best not to leave the camper unattended. To combat this, we decided to camp at Peak Hill then we’d be only an hour away from Dubbo and would take the car and camper to the zoo. Then we’d go to a Dubbo caravan park that afternoon after finishing up at the zoo.

We happened across a lovely little caravan park in Peak Hill called the Double D Caravan Park where every morning they put on a free pancake breakfast and the windscreen cleaning fairy comes to clean your windscreen! It was fantastic. It was also the only caravan park we’d stayed at that had a lovely looking (new) vegetable garden. Charlotte was attracted to the ponies and birds, of course 😉 We had a camp site immediately next to the toilets but it wasn’t a busy park and the visitors were mostly older so it was very quiet and we had a nice peaceful night.

IMG_E6404
Our set up at Double D
IMG_6396
Lovely veggie garden
IMG_6395
Ponies
IMG_6410
I loved this emu statue – made from thatching
IMG_6407
The windscreen fairy visited during the night…

From here it was on to Dubbo and the zoo. I will do a separate entry for that as there are quite a lot of photos from the zoo, including a very special memory that I will treasure for the rest of my life!

Weeks on the road to this point: 14 weeks, 6 days.

 

Nullarbor and beyond…

Forgive me as it has been some weeks since my last blog post.

I have come to realise that providing regular posts relies on having some relaxing down time that allows me to bring out the laptop and set myself up in a comfortable environment. I’m fussy like that. Unfortunately circumnavigating Australia in the time period we are doing is kind of the antithesis of things like ‘relaxing down time’ and ‘comfortable environments’. And we’re doing quite of lot of fun things so it’s hard to make time to sit down at the laptop 😉

For anyone contemplating a trip like this, I definitely suggest you make sure you have lots and lots of time. It really is an exhausting endeavour to travel around the entirety of Australia in just under 4 months. We started the trip with naive optimism and allowed ourselves to spend extra nights here and there. While this flexibility made for a more relaxed first half to our trip, it has undoubtedly contributed to us feeling a little more rushed for the second half.

At the end of my last post we were about to head off across the Nullarbor. I was super excited about this prospect for a number of reasons. Probably the strongest of these was that crossing the Nullarbor meant heading closer to the things I was more familiar with – towns I’d been to before and even landscapes I was used to seeing. We wouldn’t seem so far away from it all, we’d be back into a similar time zone. Another reason for looking forward to crossing the Nullarbor was that I really wanted to see the Nullarbor! I’d heard so much about this epic stretch of Australia and it once seemed so formidable. I was excited to be able to see if for myself.

So when last I wrote we were staying the night in a hotel room in Esperance to escape the cold (oh boy – if only I knew then what awaited us when we arrived in Tasmania!)… Because we didn’t need to pack up the camp site in the morning, we made use of having a little extra time and visited a local wildflower show. We missed the ‘big’ one in Ravensthorpe on our way to Esperance so it was nice to read a flyer advertising a smaller display at the local church.

The local horticultural community had put a lot of effort into their show and they were very welcoming when we walked in the door. There were a few other stalls/displays that caught our eye, including a lovely lady who had ‘raw’ wool and was combing it and spinning it on her wheel. Charlotte thought that was pretty cool. Another element that caught Charlotte’s attention was the questionnaire we were given to fill out. One very enthusiastic club member had put together a series of questions that you could only answer if you went around to all of the exhibits and read the accompanying information. The exhibits that provided answers were all numbered so Charlotte took charge of the clipboard and saw it as her job to help us find answers to all the questions! I was hoping for a small reward or congratulations at the end after we diligently went around and wrote everything down but alas we just drifted outside the door and no-one was any the wiser to our newfound understanding of the local salt lake flora community 😦

I have a few photos from the display but Brandon’s wildflower post (hopefully coming soon!) will tell you more…

img_5907
The entrance to the wildflower exhibit
img_5908
Some of the exhibits
img_5915
Some of the exhibits
img_5913
Some of the exhibits

img_5909

img_5906
Brandon and Charlotte consulting over the questionnaire

img_5896

After this it was on towards the Nullarbor and the longest, straightest stretch of road in Australia (146km). I actually ended up driving a lot of that to give Brandon a break from driving. I figure what harm could I do driving in a straight line?!

img_5918
Nullarbor here we come!
img_5931
The biggest inhabitants of this neck off the woods are suicidal bugs!

img_5932

The scenery of the Nullarbor was rather bland but we expected that. However, we pulled over at one of the many lookout spots along the way and were rewarded with a great view of the coastline – that was what I really wanted to see. The Great Australian Bight – it was awe-inspiring. Before long we had crossed the border into South Australia and immediately lost 1 and ½ hours!

img_5923
Yippee – another state line 🙂
img_5949
The Great Australian Bight – very impressive
img_5928
Bight selfie
img_5925
Charlotte just loves contributing to any rock pile she can find (and we’ve actually seen quite a few on our travels!)

I underestimated the impact that changing time zones was going to have on me. When we crossed into WA we lost a few hours and suddenly it was sunset at 5pm. The days seemed to end much quicker, although we were getting up earlier – I was waking at 5.30am because my body clock was telling me it was 7.30am. On mornings when we had to get up and get moving early, that habit worked quite well for us. Alas on days when we drove long distances, setting up at 6pm and then having to scramble to get Charlotte showered and fed in time for a decent bedtime was next to impossible. Charlotte has now had to get used to having a lot of flexibility with her bedtime which is fine while we’re on the road, but it will be a harsh return to reality when we get home and get back to our regular routine! (Although I suspect she will actually quite enjoy going back to a regular routine and will respond well to the boundaries we’ll have to re-enforce.)

Crossing into a new time zone can sometimes be difficult – one minute it is 4pm and the next it is 5.30pm. I know it probably doesn’t seem like a big deal but when you are driving from one destination to the next and you are making plans to stop at a certain place and set up camp for the night, you tend to watch the clock a bit in the late afternoon so as to avoid having to set up camp in the dark. Crossing the border into SA we suddenly lost some time. Thankfully we were staying at the Nullarbor Roadhouse that night which makes set up a little easier (dinners usually take place in the roadhouse restaurant on nights like this). Charlotte actually made a friend at the roadhouse – the 6 year old son of a fellow camper trailer travelling family, The Howards, who we had actually seen at the lookout earlier that day. We shared a dinner table and discovered some remarkable similarities between the Howards and ourselves. It was a lovely connection and when they said they were heading to Streaky Bay the next day we decided to modify our plans and head there too (we had originally planned to Venus Bay for a few nights but we had no reason to be there specifically, so stopping a short distance away from that in Streaky Bay was not difficult).

img_5930
Charlotte and Ashley – we haven’t seen a camel yet!
img_5934
The Nullarbor roadhouse’s own attraction 😉
img_5936
Fake whale selfie

 

On the way along the second half of the Nullarbor the next day we stopped at the Head of the Bight, which is the best place to see whales during the spring season. We weren’t disappointed – there were at least 5 pairs of mothers and calves frolicking in the water beneath the cliffs and it was delightful to watch.

img_5959
Whales, whales and more whales
img_5947
Whales, whales and more whales
img_5961
We have seen so many of these fellows on the road! Shingleback lizards – literally hundreds on the roads

Our (my?) reason for selecting Streaky Bay wasn’t just to give Charlotte a play friend for a few days; Jo showed us photos of the bathrooms which were all set up like ensuites – each has a toilet, vanity and large shower. The Streaky Bay Islands Caravan Park has only been open since February of this year and it was such a luxurious treat to find such great amenities! The park has large (very large), tiered camp sites that are perfectly flat.

Streaky bay
The attraction of a clean amenities block!

It was a great place to stay for a few days. It was also a bit cold and windy but we weren’t allowed to use our OzPig stove. This was a great opportunity to head into town and look for a Mr Heater Buddy portable heater. We had wanted an alternative heat source for times like this and had been researching camping heaters so we were pleased to find the local hardware store had what we wanted. We won’t use it in the camper itself (despite what you see in this photo – that was a test), it will be for the annex.

img_5977

Streaky Bay has a few sights to see, one of which was a series of blowholes which we took a trip to see. Charlotte loved the long boardwalks that allowed her to run ahead of us. I just love the cliffs and coastline here – it’s breathtaking. And cold! The wind that comes up here pretty much comes straight from the South Pole, I’m sure!

img_5966
Lots of boardwalks to get to the blowholes

img_5965

img_5974

After two nights in Streaky Bay, it was time to continue the trek east – we had a date with a big ship that was going to take us across the Bass Strait! So we headed further along the Eyre Highway towards Victoria, a route that took us through Kimba, South Australia. I had heard about the painted silos that seem to be dotted across the country, mostly in South Australia and Victoria. So I was really pleased to see that Kimba had some painted silos! They were every bit as impressive as I had hoped they would be.

img_5978
Painted silos at Kimba

Charlotte was pleased to see that Kimba also had a giant galah 😉

img_5979
The Big Galah

We weren’t exactly sure where we were going to end up when we left Streaky Bay because we didn’t know exactly how far we were going to be able to travel that day (recall what I said earlier about changing time zones!). We had thought we’d stop at Port Augusta but nothing there really took our fancy and we still had a little bit of daylight left so we kept moving. We headed a little further east towards Wilmington but we couldn’t find a 24 hour rest stop which was the first time we’d had that problem. It seems the southern states may not have as many of them as we’d encountered in WA. So we were starting to get a little nervous when it was getting to be dusk and we hadn’t yet spotted anywhere yet to stay. WikiCamps hadn’t provided any morsels of joy either.

If we were travelling in a caravan we’d probably be able to just pull over on the side of the road somewhere and set up camp. You have more security in a caravan and don’t feel quite as open to the elements. But in a camper trailer, where all your cooking and living still happen outside and when you only have canvas between you and what waits outside, it’s a little less secure. In order to stay warm (well, not freeze), we also have to make sure all our canvas was zipped up tight which means no windows to look out. You’re a little like a sitting duck if someone wanted to come along and cause trouble. So we try to avoid just pulling up on the side of the road, particularly in towns, unless we’re in a gazetted rest area.

We finally found a caravan park in Wilmington and given the time of day we had no choice but to make camp there. It was actually a very pleasant last resort. The Beautiful Valley Caravan Park is more like a bush camp. We didn’t need a powered site just for one night so we were able to choose where we wanted to set up. We were also allowed to have a fire which was great – we used one of the fire pits a previous guest had established. We were nestled in the trees in a very private spot but with the advantage of a toilet block a few metres away. There was even a children’s playground and a pony to keep Charlotte entertained. It was quite a lovely surprise. And Brandon wants to head back there to do some sight-seeing around Alligator Gorge (not suitable for towing). As usual as soon as we had set up camp, Brandon disappeared into the bush to see what treats he could find 😉

img_5982-3
Pretend bush camp at Beautiful Valley
img_5990-1
Charlotte by the camp fire
img_5985-2
She found a pony 🙂
img_5983-1
Our view from the camper 🙂

The next day we headed off with the excitement of knowing that we were going to reach Victoria today. At least, I was excited. As we have been getting further and further east I have noticed Brandon getting a little less excited about places, perhaps not quite as enthusiastic as I have been about our impending Victorian/Tasmanian travels. I suspect that’s more a sign of him missing all that is now behind us and feeling rushed more than not necessarily wanting to go east. The downside to doing a trip this quick is that a lot of places you really like or want to explore you can’t really spend a lot of time at. It’s more an opportunity to identify parts of the country you want to come back and visit again. I know Brandon has already started planning a southern WA trip to see the wildflowers in more detail, hopefully this time with his Dad.

I was excited to be heading towards a part of the country I felt more familiar with, scenery that made me feel ‘at home’ and seemed less foreign. I have gotten so much out of what we’ve seen so far and am thrilled we had the chance to spend so much time in WA, but I was also constantly aware of how different the countryside over there was and how far way we were from everything. We were now going to be visiting places I’d been to before but wanted to share with Brandon and Charlotte – it felt nice to be heading towards a part of the country that was closer to home, that looked and felt more predictable.

Unfortunately, the predictable hostility of the weather was something I had forgotten about, something that caused us some troubles as we headed east and then on to Tasmania. I’ll save that story for the next post…

Weeks/nights on the road to this point: 11 weeks, 1 day

“Go west, life is peaceful there…”

[Bragging rights to the first person who can tell me who sang the song that the title of this post comes from… if you don’t mind showing your age…]

So when I last wrote, we were leaving the Bungle Bungles headed for El Questro (ELQ) and the infamous Gibb River Road. We decided to stay at a 24 hour rest stop on the way to ELQ so as to be there nice and early the next day (to get a better camping spot – see, we’re learning the way of the “we-don’t-take-bookings” camping world). It was our first rest stop camping experience and it was actually quite pleasant. We got there around 2.30pm so we were able to pick a good spot with a shelter and table which reduced the amount of stuff we had to unpack for the night.

[Note – it is worth pointing out here that I am now 150% convinced that we are buying a caravan as soon as we can afford it. The differences between the two modes of travel are never more noticeable than when you pull up to a 24 hour rest stop. If you are in a camper trailer, you huff and puff and have a tanties with your partner, then a more significant argument where maybe one of you walks away in disgust, then you make up and eventually you get the camper level and set up. Caravan folk pull up, put the stabiliser legs down, open the door and pull out their chairs. End of set up. “Save your marriage, buy a caravan”.]

It was with some degree of excitement that we approached the sign to mark the start of the Gibb River Road, and then the turn off for ELQ. We had seen both of these things so often on the DVDs and television shows we’d watched to help plan this trip that it was great to finally be seeing them I the flesh. The drive in to ELQ was corrugated dirt roads (groan) but we let the tyres down (again) and made our way without drama. There were a few water crossings but nothing too substantial and eventually we got to ELQ nice and early. Our plan worked and we secured a lovely shady camping spot down near the Pentecost River. You were allowed to source firewood from anything that was laying on the ground around the property so Charlotte and Brandon went off in search of something for our fire that night (not that we really need it – it only gets to about 15 at night around here!). I couldn’t stop laughing when Brandon came back dragging what looked to be a giant tree trunk. Turned out the joke was on us – for whatever reason, this log left a bitter burning smell through everything. Its ash was very light and flighty and it covered our camp with ash and filled our camper with this disgusting stale-ashtray smell. We don’t really know exactly what sort of timber it was (it was a little porous inside but we don’t know if it was a boab branch or not…) but whatever it was, I’d recommend you never burn it near your campsite!! There is one sort of tree around here that is apparently nicknamed the shitwood tree because when it’s burned, it smells like dog poop. This wasn’t quite like that, but it was equally as noxious.

img_5506

img_5509

We stayed at ELQ for 4 nights and had a lovely time exploring their surrounds. El Questro is essentially a large working cattle station but they have turned themselves into a major tourist attraction in the dry season. There is a fancy homestead you can stay in if you have muchos $$ or else you can slum it like the rest of us in your own camping set up or in the onsite tents. There are lots of gorges on the property that you can walk to (after a short drive), there’s a bar and restaurant, horse riding, helicopter sight-seeing flights (also muchos $$) and cruises. Every night we’d wander up to the bar for happy hour from 5pm and listen to the musician playing that night and relax under the stars. It was here that we discovered Matso’s Ginger Beer. I’ve never really been a big ginger beer fan except for in punch but I decided to give it a go on a whim and I was so pleased I did! It was so refreshing and tasty. And then I discovered that Matso’s brewery is in Broome! Hold me back! A quick google search told me they did brewery tours on Wednesdays and Fridays so we knew we had to stay in Broome long enough to cover at least one of those days! On our final night at ELQ they put on pizzas – they must have known I was experiencing withdrawal after my less than tantalising pizza experience in Kununurra.

img_5515
Happy hour!
img_5520
My new favourite drink
img_5517
There are only a few places I’d be willing to be seen in public in ugg boots – clearly ELQ is one of them!

img_5524

We did the walk to El Questro gorge and it was magnificent. Charlotte had a swim in crystal clear water that looked incredible. The fish even came up to her to say hello!

img_5530

img_5526

img_5529

img_5525

img_5527
This was what the whole trip was like – climbing over rocks and boulders – it killed my poor foot 😦

img_5535

img_5532

img_5528

Unfortunately, the walk involved scrambling over quite a number of rocks and boulders and was quite hard on my foot. It really tested me and I was barely able to walk by the time we got back. The walk was about 1.3km in each direction and just about all of that involved putting your feet on rocks or boulders and not on an even surface. I was in a world of hurt 😦 I strapped up after we got back to camp but it really made us have to think twice about our future walk plans.

Brandon’s shoulder and back were also playing up thanks to long hours in the car and then heavy work setting up the camper each time we stopped (refer above comment about needing a caravan!!!). To top it off, we seemed to be having some small problems with the batteries in our car not holding charge as well as we’d like and the engine running a little hotter than we’d like. No one single issue was a big deal on its own, but put together, they all made us question the sensibility of taking off to tackle 600km of corrugated road in the middle of nowhere with the car not running smoothly and bodily aches and pains that were leaving us feeling less than enthusiastic about the walking and adventures to come.

We discussed the situation and ummed and ahhed and came up with the decision that we’d not do the Gibb River Road in its entirety. We would double back to the Great Northern Highway, south down past the Bungle Bungles, through Halls Creek (where we got some supplies) and start to head north to Fitzroy Crossing and then turn off at Windjana Gorge/Tunnel Creek, heading north west from there. We’d visit Tunnel Creek as a day trip and set up camp somewhere on the other side. The (dirt) road in to Windjana continues and meets up with the Gibb at its northern end so we’d still see the end of the Gibb but be closer to civilisation should anything happen. As we weren’t feeling up to doing much walking, it seemed silly to just drive the Gibb, possibly at risk of damage to the car, just for bragging rights.

We left ELQ with a small sense of disappointment that we weren’t going to see the full Gibb experience but it was a sensible choice and we knew we were doing the right thing in the long run. We spent another night in a 24 hour rest stop south of the Bungle Bungles (by the way – that same bushfire was STILL burning). This rest stop was next to a lovely flowing creek so we were able to put our toes in and freshen up a bit. Most of these sort of rest stops have drop toilets but no water – so no way to wash your hands or shower etc. You need to supply your own for that sort of thing. And the drop toilets take on a bit of a smell after a certain time of day once business starts to pick up so you need to be quite resilient to bad smells if you want to stay in a rest area 😉 By morning they have usually sorted themselves out though so you’re safe if you can make it through the night 😉

img_5549img_5551img_5552img_5550

From there it was on to Tunnel Creek. On the road in we saw a few different long-dead cars left on the side of the road. Hadn’t really seen that since we were on the Cape so it was a bit of a surprise. Even more surprising was seeing that one of the dead cars was an 80 series Landcruiser!

img_5565img_5564

Gosh – what a remarkable place Tunnel Creek is! During the wet season it would be almost completely under water but during the dry season you can walk through the entire cave (with headlamps). There are parts where there is some deeper water you need to wade through, and we had some reptilian company during the walk in places, but it was well worth the effort. It was largely sand we walked on so not as difficult as our past walks. And being underground it was extremely cool and walking through the water made it quite refreshing.

img_5577img_5580img_5586img_5567img_5572img_5574img_8689

On the recommendation of some of the others we talked to, Brandon and Charlotte walked a little further at the end of the cave to see some Aboriginal art on the rocks further up. It was probably a little less grand in scale than Brandon had been expecting, but it was impressive all the same.

img_8692

img_8691

img_8693

(This wily-wily came up in the parking lot as we emerged from the cave – it really looked like a mini twister and had a few kids running for cover!)

After here it was an easy drive to Derby where we got fuel but we didn’t have a good feel about the place so we kept going and ended up setting up for the night at a roadhouse further down the road. It was all you could eat BBQ night and they had cold beer – sounded OK to us! That stop marked 3 overnighters in a row for us and (a) no set up arguments and (b) it was done in the dark. We’re clearly getting used to this!

The next day we pushed on to Broome – and back to civilisation. I’ll leave that for another post 😉 But needless to say, we found the Matso’s brewery! J

Weeks/nights on the road: 5 weeks, 6 nights.

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’ 😉

17498537_10211205747992995_5179292218230530190_n
Down the driveway and on our way!
IMG_4429
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.

IMG_4430
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…

IMG_4443
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.

IMG_4447

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 🙂

IMG_4473
Party guests getting into the theme
IMG_4474
Brandon doing his best ‘houso’ impersonation
IMG_4475
Just a bit tired from the long drive the day before
IMG_4477
Me and the birthday girl
IMG_4478
Brother and sister 🙂
IMG_4479
Charlotte was in heaven – the lounge was full of helium balloons! Here our sentimental family toy ‘Mooey’ is having an ‘Up’ moment…
IMG_4482
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!

IMG_4484

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…

 

A tour of the camper

For anyone who may be interested – this is the set up we started with on Friday of last week. It changed a bit over the weekend – I’ll do another ‘tour’ video by comparison when we camp over Easter. That will be completely off the grid, with our own power and water supplied (and toilet and shower).

Postscript: We bought the blue Dune chair for Charlotte but have since taken it back for a refund as it wasn’t as successful as we hoped. She kept sitting in our chairs! So we will buy her one of those instead 😉

Welcome…

Welcome to our new blog, Hazelwoods on Tour. We are a family of 3, husband/dad is Brandon, wife/mum is Zoe and daughter Charlotte (we also have two fur children, Lucy-Lou, our Jack Russell Terrier, and Dobby who is a miniature dachshund).

teppanyaki
The Hazelwoods
image003
Lucy
img_3498
Dobby

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

In 6 months we will begin our own ‘big lap’ of Australia, taking some long-overdue long service leave to drive anti-clockwise around this great country we call home. Leaving from our home in Brisbane, we’ll travel north to Cape York, then across the top of Australia to see Katherine, the Bungle Bungles and Lake Argyle. Then we head to Broome, and travel down the West Australian coast to Albany in the south, before starting the eastern trek across the Nullabor (hopefully with time to head up to Uluru). After a quick stop down in Tasmania we turn north and head back home.

cropped-map-of-australia.jpg

We have started this blog as a keepsake of our trip, and to allow our family and friends to share in our adventures as we complete our amazing journey. We are starting the blog now, in January 2017, to include our preparations and the lead up to our departure. We have a lot to do to get ready, including learning how to set up and pack up our brand new camper trailer! We plan to do a lot of weekend trips away between now and when we leave; we don’t want any surprises and we need to know exactly what to expect with the camper while we’re on the road. It will be a long way to turn around and head back if we have forgotten something!

We hit the road in July and that point we will write regular blog posts, including photos and videos of the places we go and the incredible things that we see. Our friends, family and anyone else who might be interested can follow our lap and see what we’re up to while we’re away. Charlotte will also do some posts, to stay in touch with her school friends and show her class what she has been up to while we are on the road.

So why not click the “follow” button and check back with us from time to time – our adventure is only just beginning!