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.

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Our camp site at Tostaree
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Tostaree Cottages are very picturesque
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Can you spot our camp?
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I’m still deaf from Charlotte’s squeals of delight
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Our transport
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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.

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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!)

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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.

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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 😉

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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!

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Using air to attempt to push a beach ball through a hoop – very hard!
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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
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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).

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

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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 🙂

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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.

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Our set up at Double D
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Lovely veggie garden
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Ponies
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I loved this emu statue – made from thatching
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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.

 

A little southern comfort… (for a Bacardi drinker)

Leaving the Dampier Peninsula and starting to head south was really exciting for me. I had been waiting for this next leg of our trip for ages and I was really looking forward to it. I don’t think Brandon felt the same way – the first half of the trip was certainly what he looked forward to most, whereas the second half was likely to be my favourite bit.

We left Broome on the Great Northern Highway and headed south towards 80 Mile Beach (yes, it’s 80 miles long). The landscape was so incredibly flat – I hadn’t seen anything like it before. Brandon said there was a lot of wind around blowing us about the road. It was rather surreal. 

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Nothing but flat landscape for an entire day of driving.
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There’s not much at 80 Mile Beach – it’s just a caravan park and a beach. And the beach isn’t good for much other than fishing. The surf is absolutely full of sharks, rays and stingers so swimming is a big no-no. Surf fishing is all it’s about. And shells. Lots and lots of shells. Charlotte was in shell heaven 🙂 

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Looking north up the beach.
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Looking south down the beach.
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We came over a hill and were greeted with water so amazingly blue it was incredible. Unfortunately (for Charlotte) there was no swimming on this beach.
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Brandon caught a ray – one of hundreds that swam in the shallows of the beach.
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The volume of shells on this beach is just amazing – it’s a beach that people drive over all the time to get to the fishing spots, but new shells just appear over the top of the crumbled ones.
 

I quite liked 80 Mile Beach. The community of campers was really friendly – we set up right in the middle of the caravans, next to the toilets, and had lots of folks (mostly retirees) saying hi to us. Every day around lunch you’d see all the grey nomads drive their quad bikes (!) down to the beach with their rods ready to go. 

80 Mile Beach is where our jockey wheel finally gave up the ghost. It had been playing up ever since Musgrave Roadhouse due to something silly we did and ever since then it buckled and needed to be beaten with a steel mallet every time we wanted to use it. Not surprisingly, it got sick of this mistreatment. 80 Mile Beach was our 26th destination, Musgrave was our 6th so that’s 40 times since then it has been bashed black and blue. Poor thing. Anyway on setting up at 80 Mile Beach it gave up altogether and it’s innards haemorrhaged and it was deemed unfixable. We used bricks and blocks that the maintenance guy found for us to replace the jockey wheel for our 3-night stay. Finding a new one became our next mission.

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Our battered and broken jockey wheel

A few hours on the phone, a few messages to my friend in Port Hedland, a few posts on a caravan and camping FB forum we belong to and we’d located a place in Port Hedland who could order us the exact same wheel and have it in Port in time for our arrival two days later. (A big shout of thanks to the lovely caravanners at 80 Mile Beach who saw my post on the FB page and wandered over to offer advice and support – love this community!)

I’ve decided the next time we travel, it will be with this sort of style…


This bus (above) was towing this boat (below) and under the boat was an FJ Cruiser – that’s the way to go!!


In typical WA style, the sunsets over 80 Mile Beach were magical…

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Unfortunately the end of our visit at 80 Mile Beach was marred by my starting to feel really unwell (as I talk about in another post) and I essentially retreated to the camper for 24 hours with lots of moans and groans. Brandon and Charlotte packed up on their own, bundled me in the car and we made for Port Hedland. 

After a rather nauseating three hour drive (which says more about my condition and nothing about B’s driving!) we arrived at Amanda and Jamie’s place and were quickly made to feel at home. For the first time in 2 months, Charlotte slept in her own room (which she quickly destroyed)! I could go to the toilet without (a) opening a zipper or (b) walk for 5 minutes, we could lounge around and watch television and, importantly, go to the doctor. Just as important was the fact Jamie was about to start one month on leave and within a few hours of arriving he and Brandon were out on Jamie’s boat fishing. All was once again right in the Hazelwood world.

With one of our lovely hosts, Amanda, on our last morning in Port. We’ve known each other since we were 7 years old!

Turns out, we arrived just in time for the 2017 Port Hedland Game Fishing Club Blue Water Classic fishing competition. If we stayed a few extra days, Brandon and Jamie could fish that together. Recalling my early departure from Kooljamin, I was quite happy to give him this fishing time (and give myself more recovery time now that I was feeling better). I feel bad for Amanda who I’m sure had wanted us to do more together but I just needed some r&r and to move slowly. So thank you Harris-Thornton household for helping the Hazelwoods get their groove back. Five days of fishing for Brandon and lots of doing nothing for me (and a new jockey wheel) and we were ready to tackle camper life once again. Oh, and we’re pretty sure Jamie caught a prize-winning mackerel on day 1 of the comp but as I write this we are still awaiting official results!

Charlotte was most taken with ‘Kitty’
New jockey wheel! Shiny!
Preparing to release a catfish
Possible prize winning mackerel weighing in at 27.6kg!
Shark mackerel (biggest he’s caught)
Brandon is looking more and more like an old sea captain every day! Needs a haircut!
Whale blowhole!
Jamie fought a shark for an hour and a half!

Weeks/nights on the road at this point: 9 weeks.

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…).

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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!