Let them eat cake… ummm… bread!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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24 days until leave commences, 27 days until departure…

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!

 

This little piggy went to market…

We three piggies went to the Moreton Bay Caravan and Camping show recently with the intention of buying ourselves a new piggy. But not the kind that oinks, rather the kind that burns! (there may be some crackling involved too…)

OzPig is a great little beast – useful for both heating and cooking. We’ve been eyeing them off for a while now, and with an Easter trip coming up that may get a bit chilly, we thought we’d make the most of a possible ‘show special’ and head on down to the Redcliffe Showgrounds to see what the OzPig crew had to offer us. OzPig is like the camper’s equivalent of a brazier but a little more fancy. It is fully enclosed and has a chimney with a spark arrestor at the top of the chimney. With the optional vented door and off-set chimney kits, you can essentially have a wood heater you can use under your annex. Best of all, fires in the OzPig are considered ‘fully contained’ which means most national parks will still allow you to use the OzPig even when fires are not permitted. Ticks all the boxes for us 🙂

The OzPig looks like this:ozpig_stock-photo

When you pack it away, the legs and chimney all come apart and fit inside the unit itself so the whole thing ends up being slightly smaller than a 9kg gas bottle. The dimensions are 41.5cm x 36.5cm x 41cm and the unit weighs about 17kg.

In addition to being a heat source, the OzPig will also be an additional cooking surface for us. If we set up camp where there isn’t a fire pit close by or we want something with quick and easy access to the camper, we’ll set up the OzPig and put the camp oven on top. I’m very much looking forward to trying out some of the great camp oven recipes I’m finding, including these from the OzPig website. (Note: while the OzPig brand also make a camp oven, the price for theirs is ridiculous so we’ll settle for the good old cheapie we’ll pick up at a camping store.) I can also make pizzas on the OzPig BBQ plate – outstanding!

Here we are bringing the OzPig home and setting it up for the first time. It seemed a bit odd setting up a fire in the pool enclosure but we were keen to give it a go. We needed to make sure the firewood was the right size (the OzPig people say the size of a soft drink can is the perfect size) and it’s fair to say that our fire-lighting skills are a tad rusty. But we got their in the end 😉 No doubt we’ll get plenty of practice on the road – the Tasmanian in me certainly remembers how to run a good fire!

One of the things I loved the most about our test run of the OzPig was the smell – I’ve completely forgotten how much I love the smell of wood smoke and how much it reminds me of camping and the Australian bush (thankfully I don’t have any traumatic memories about bush fires etc so I can be innocent in my love of the smell). I’m really looking forward to using this little piggy more in the months to come.

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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 😉

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.]