Food, glorious food…

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tetris food packing success 😀

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

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

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

4 more sleeps until departure…!!

Let them eat cake… ummm… bread!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

File 6-6-17, 2 44 55 pm

24 days until leave commences, 27 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!

 

Decisions, decisions…

This past weekend, Brandon and I sat down and started to do some route planning. We don’t have a lot of time for this trip and we want to make sure we don’t end up driving through the night just to make a certain destination by a certain time. We will also have to book our Spirit of Tasmania crossing early so we needed to get an idea of where we’ll be along the way.

We sat down with the hard copy HEMA maps, the e-version of the same maps, Wikicamps, Google and a number of other resources. It was a slow and arduous process and unfortunately, the end result is that I’m more depressed than excited 😦

Australia is a big country, did you know? Wikipedia suggests Highway 1, which circumnavigates mainland Australia, is 14,500km long. Add another 2000 for circumnavigating Tasmania in full, plus another 3500 for the interesting detours or bypasses we may need to do. We have 4 months, say 120 days, which is an average of about 170km per day. Doesn’t seem like much, eh? But don’t forget to take into account the fact that in some places, like Cape York, it might take us 5 hours to travel 50km. The first month of our trip is just going to be spent getting from Brisbane to The Tip of Cape York and part way back down again. And at the end of Every Single Day we have a camp to set up.

So on the first pass of our plan, to get through everything we want to do we will need to spend only 1 night in most places, travel for 6-7 hours each day and have little opportunity for adventure or spontaneous sidetracks. Our trip will be mostly about driving, not about seeing. Really? Is that how we want to spend our precious long service leave? We soon realised a trip like that would end up causing more stress than it relieved and I’d be glad to be home! Scratch that. Take 2. We are going to need to cut some stuff out.

Pretty much the only thing I really wanted to do with this trip was see Uluru. But that was posing a problem for us. It’s location smack bang in the centre of the country meant it was going to be a bit of a detour to get to, taking up precious time in a limited budget of days. Finally I realised I had to give up my dream of seeing Uluru on this trip and instead we’ll make a run out there another time during school holidays. Similarly, Brandon really wanted to do the Gibb River Road across the top of the Kimberley in WA. This iconic 600-odd kilometre stretch of 4WD track is a must-do for most ‘big lappers’ but the unpredictable road conditions and necessary slowed pace add days on to our time budget that we simply can’t spare. So out that goes as well. The new plan is more forgiving and allows for timeouts and spontaneous side trips. It’s still not ideal, as it’s really very difficult to see everything in four months but it is better than the rushed first attempt.
The (rough) plan so far is:

  • Leave home on 19 July, heading north. Stop in Cairns for a few days to see family and friends.
  • Take a month to ‘do’ the Cape, arriving in Normanton in the Gulf around 17 August.
  • At this point we head west and make our way to Katherine Gorge.
  • From there we go to Lake Argyle, The Bungle Bungles and Wolfe Creek crater (no, I haven’t seen the movie, nor do I plan to see it. Ever. Period. End of story.)
  • Now we head to coastal WA, visiting friends in Port Hedland and seeing Monkey Mia
  • We continue south, by now it’s mid-September, and we’re heading for Albany and the Stirling Ranges to see the spring wildflowers.
  • We begin to head east across the Nullarbor, making our way through SA and western Victoria, ready to board the Spirit of Tasmania on 21 September.
  • We start our Tassie trek in the north-west, visiting Queenstown, Strahan, and the Franklin River region.
  • (At this point we might head south to Hobart and the south west – not sure yet!)
  • Next it’s over to the east coast to meet up with friends for a communal camp at the Bay of Fires before heading to Devonport and boarding the Spirit again on 7 October.
  • By now our trip will be coming to an end as we make our way north, stopping at the Dubbo Zoo and The Dish (now that’s a movie I HAVE seen and would gladly see again.)
  • Finally, we crawl back home around 19 October, ready to go back to work on 23 October!

Phew – I’m tired just thinking about it!

But here is my question to you… what places would be on your Must Do list if you were planning your own big lap? What spots or places of interest should we make sure to see? It’s possible they are already on our list but we’re keen to hear from others so we don’t miss something impressive 🙂

Ok – back to the planning… *sigh*