Memoires of a tour of Australia
Latest highlight of the trip
Its the beginning our third month in Australia, and really the start of our new adventure. The first two months have been taken up with a holiday in Far North Queensland, changing our minds on what we want to do in this tour, and getting the right outfit to suit the new plan.
We feel that we are now set up for the trip and are ready to face whatever obstacles come our way. We have the right outfit for it in a car and caravan, and have most of the equipment we need for the outback and the northern territory. That is most of what we think we need, but who knows what we actually need? I suppose we will find that out along the way.
One thing we are struggling with is getting breakdown cover. It is different here, in that each state has its own breakdown service and you have to be a resident of that state to be eligible to take their cover. As we are not permanent residents of any state, we cannot take the cover. Although we have emailed the RACQ (the provider for Queensland) to see what can be done as both our car and caravan are registered in Queensland, so who knows, we might get somewhere yet.
Today we visited Bribie Island, which is accessed via a bridge about ten minutes drive from the Beachmere caravan park. And it was a lovely place with white sand beaches everywhere. And we stumbled upon another housing development, this time with berths out the back for your yacht or boat. They were something special and Hannah was practically drooling!
This afternoon was spent doing a practise hitch up with the caravan and making a check-list so that hopefully we wont forget anything in the morning. It went pretty well and we got some good advice from Les and Rod, so we are all set for the off now. Just ordering a Chinese take-away for dinner, as for one we are both tired and cant be bothered to make any, and two the Chinese does the best ribs which are tempura battered and we cant resist one more portion before we leave!
Left; Red Beach, Bribie Island, QLD.
Centre; Han eating lunch on the back of the Cruiser.
Right; Han's idea to advertise the website in the sand on Red Beach - a great idea I thought!
Well what a day! Getting set up took us over two hours and then it took us five hours to get to Bundaberg, but we made it safe and sound.
We didn’t have too many issues getting set up, as we had done the practise and had written out a check list yesterday – we would recommend anyone new to caravanning to do the same, it really does help. And off we went, on the road to nowhere! We have no restrictions, no time limits (other than chasing the sun), nothing tying us down; Freedom we hope. The driving was an experience though! As soon as you strap a big box onto the back of your car, all the horses under the bonnet seem to run away scared, and leave you wondering where they went and when they might come back! But after we got over the shock and realised that we would have to rev a lot more, we were OK. Then we hit the highway and found that whenever we got to a hill the car lost all power and we struggled. I honestly thought there was something wrong with the car, and Hannah was getting very stressed. We were travelling about 85kph to try to conserve fuel, but I gave it some more to see what would happen and the change was immense. We hit 100kph and the car totally changed! We hit hills and it went up and over fine, dropping only about 10kph instead of the 20-30kph it was dropping before. So we concluded that the car needs to be over 2500revs to get the most torque from the engine, and the rest of the journey went well. Especially after we stopped and had lunch and an energy drink – they sell one called Mother here, as in the mother of all energy drinks – and it is amazing! We both felt like we could take on the world after we drank it!
We pulled up at the caravan park about four and prepared to manoeuvre onto the pitch. We had it under control and were doing well, but then out came the helpers! Some were helpful and were just plain annoying, but we got onto the pitch in one go – not bad for newbie’s!
A quiet day again today; other than job searching and food shopping we haven’t really done much. The job searching is still proving fruitless, pardon the pun. There are loads of farms here, but too many people, so the work is snapped up quickly – we are on a waiting list at one farm so who knows, maybe we will get something. If not we will plough on to Darwin and see what we get on route.
Also, we have uncovered a fault in the van – the battery charger wont work when hitched up to the car, it will only work on mains power, so when we are travelling along the battery is draining and is not being recharged. This is a big problem for free camping, and means that we need to take it into to a caravan repair place before we can go any further – Harry is finding one for us. This means a day needing to be spent sorting the caravan when we really need it for job searching, but it cannot be avoided as we are now 370kms from where we bought the van.
One thing to mention is just how different the caravan parks here are to the ones in the UK. Here you get a concrete slab that you pull the caravan alongside, and you use the slab for your chairs and table etc. Also, everyone gets there own water tap and waste point so that the vans are basically plumbed in, like a static caravan would be.
What can I say another day of limbo!!
Spent the morning doing basic bits and bobs. We both washed and polished the car as we wanted to get a protective layer on her before entering the sandy west. Cleaned around the caravan and generally tidied up, as small spaces do easily get messy and dirty when you are walking in and out of them all day long. After a sarnie we set off in to Bundaberg, to yet again sort a few things out. We set off to look for some charity shops from a list provided for us by the tourist information, where we hoped to buy some work clothes . This proved totally useless, as we didn’t manage to find decent clothes in any of them. Things did pick up however when we visited a very interesting man called Ivor Rojahn, a retired gentleman who produces signs from his house in the Bundbarg suburbs. We needed to see him to get a sign printed for the back of the van, stating our UHF channel. He has achieved so much in his life, that I think we can only be in awe of. Having passionately worked as a surf life saver for most of his life, and achieving many accolades in surfing and canoeing, he really did have a story to tell. So welcoming and kind we found that he not only produces signs, but some really great pieces of art work. If only we had the money we would have bought some.
After leaving there we went off to find a CB radio and found a fantastic deal at a local 4x4 accessory place. The car is booked in tomorrow to have it fitted. We eventually feel like things are beginning to move forward and can see some light, or should I say road, at the end of the tunnel.
Left; The Cruiser After a Polish.
Right; The New Van in all its Glory.
Well for a change to what has become the norm lately, we have had a stress free, worry free, and thoroughly enjoyable day today.
We got up early, had coffee in bed, drove into town and dropped the car off at the 4x4 place about 10. We did stop at a shopping centre on route to swap some clothes we bought the other day. I managed to get another cheap work shirt - $8 – cant beat that eh. All cotton too! Whilst the car was in for the UHF CB to be fitted, we had a walk into town and got a pot of tea for two at a café for $4. Then we got some lunch at a fish shop - $9 for two portions plus a bottle of water. You really can get a bargain when you shop around, as we have to do on our limited budget.
We also managed to find a bottle shop in town and bought 4 bottles of red and two sparkling white for $37. And they are Hardy’s too so no cheap rubbish. When we got home we worked together to fit the jerry can holders onto the back of the caravan, which went very well with no arguments or crossed words. And we really enjoyed it too, which hopefully means that will have no issues working together when we eventually do find work.
We tasted a little of the sparkling wine and enjoyed it so much that we promptly headed to buy some more – we picked up six more red and six more white, to make sure that we are stocked up for the outback.
Tomorrow we leave for Rockhampton, and we are going to call into a solar power supplier to get a quote for panels for the van, which will mean that we can free camp and can save thousands on site fees. Well that is the theory anyway.
What a day!
We got up, got everything packed away and got the van ready for towing. We set up the car, set the towing gear up and got hitched up. Then we had a shout from a neighbour telling us our tow ball wasn’t engaged and that we had set off it would have come loose. Not good for Hannah’s nerves – she is struggling to keep calm as it is, until she gets used to the towing. As it was, the hitch was connected properly, it was just a slightly different system to what the chap had on his caravan so looked to him as though it wasn’t on properly, but then better safe than sorry I suppose.
After the shock of that we set off and stopped out on the road to check that the load levellers were working properly. We were not happy, as the back still seemed to be heavily weighed down. We decided to go on a bit and see how it went. As soon as we got moving the car seemed to jerk back and forth as we were building up speed – Hannah was panic stricken! So again we stopped to check and I adjusted the levellers. But still we could not get it right. Then Han spotted that the tow ball was not sitting right in the hitch – it was not flat, it was on an angle. We determined that it needed taking apart and adjusting, so we abandoned getting to Rockhampton, and settled for Gin Gin, about an hours slow drive up the road.
We pulled into the caravan park about 11, and managed to get a drive through site, so no reverse parking or manoeuvring, just nice and simple, pull straight through into position. And we set about sorting the tow ball which took about an hour, but when we hitched it back up it was flat instead of being on an angle and seemed to be lighter on the back end of the car. Hopefully it is now sorted and we will set off again tomorrow.
We had lunch outside in the sun, and then went for a walk to the dam and took some lovely pictures of the lake. And it is so peaceful here, nothing but the birds chirping. This is what the trip is all about and is a far cry from the stress of setting up the outfit. Hopefully our days will be more like this from now on in.
We met another lovely couple, who helped us to determine the correct tyre pressure on the car, and the chap was in awe at the condition of it. He said it was one of the best he had seen of its age and was in immaculate condition, and that it should get us round OZ without too many issues. He is from a farming background and gave us loads of tips on how to drive it properly, how to tow without losing power, and how to keep the water that is present in diesel out of the engine, which apparently is a big problem if left unchecked. Something we did not know!
We had a few drinks outside whilst the sun set, something we have not done for a while, but will be doing more now we are sorted.
Left; View from the lookout at the caravan park
Right; View from the dam wall
Up at six and a quick coffee whilst we got the van ready for the off. Got it all done in under an hour and manoeuvred the car into place ready to do the final hook up – then Hannah called out for me to stop, and pointed at the right front tyre – it was almost flat! After yesterdays issues we were flabbergasted that it had happened. As it happened it was only a loose valve, which Ron, the chap we met last night quickly sorted for us and used his compressor to pump the tyre up. And off we went.
What a difference – no juddering or banging, we are within 10mm of the unladen height if the rear suspension (which is good apparently), and the front hasn’t changed at all. The ride is far smoother and the car copes much better, even on hills. We have cracked it and our confidence is now up for towing.
We got to Rockhampton about 11 and called into the solar place for a price. And to run what we want we would need two panels, another battery and an inverter, which adds up to about $3000! We just don’t have that sort of money.
We were stumped as to what to do. Then it hit me – why not just buy one panel, fit it myself and use that to top up the extg battery, run the lights and the TV. Then get a small generator to charge up the laptop, phone etc and run the microwave if the need arises. We got the panel, all the necessary bits and bobs to fit it, and a small generator for $1740! Job done!
On the way to the caravan park that we are staying on for next few nights, we had to tackle a mountain range! We had to go all the way up it in second gear as it massively steep and had very tight corners – what an experience that was. Got to the site and got set up, and found out that the local annual show is on tomorrow, with horses etc, so we are going to go along and have a day out.
Up nice and early, had a coffee in bed and then got ready to go to the show. We called for some cash in town and got to the show for 9. It was $8 each entry fee, but the parking was free so not too bad. There didn’t seem to many people there, but it was well organised, with a large ring for all of the horse bits and pieces, a separate ring for the cattle, plenty of food and drink stalls and what they called sideshow alley, which was stalls selling clothing and bric a brac etc. Although disappointingly they didn’t have any stalls selling fruit, veg or meat, which was one reason we went.
We had a good morning watching the horse events with Hannah commenting freely on the talent, or sometimes lack of it, of the competitors, saw all shapes and sizes of horse from miniatures that you would swear were actually dogs, to giant things that looked like they could eat the other horses! And there was a bull in the cattle ring with the biggest pair of balls I have ever seen, which I couldn’t help but point out to Hannah, in my usual not so subtle manner!
We left around 12 and went in Rockhampton to return the bike rack we bought the other day, as it doesn’t really fit the bikes properly and we think we can do without it for now. We got a compressor for the tyres instead, along with a fuel can for the generator, which are probably going to be more use to us. On the way back we went up the side of the mountain again, but stopped to take some pictures this time.
We got back to the van and decided to sit out with a cuppa and a biccy. Then a large bird appeared and stood staring at Hans biccy. Then another two arrived and also started at her biccy! She was getting scared and stood up to shoo them away, only to find that they chased her round the table and wouldn’t leave! We both had to get inside the van to get away from them and couldn’t go back until we had finished the biscuits!
Another thing we thought of today, was that we haven’t seen rain for over two months now – not since we first landed in Brisbane! How weird is that for poms!
Camels at the Mt Morgan show
The view from the lookout on the way to Mt Morgan
Last night was interesting; I woke in the middle of the night absolutely convinced that the van was rolling away! I was rushing around desperately trying to see out of a window to confirm it. Even when I came fully round and Hannah assured me that we weren’t in fact going anywhere, I was still convinced that we were. I took me ages to get back to sleep after that!
The day got better though and I managed to get the solar panel fitted on the roof, with a lot of help from Han, and it is working perfectly well, for now anyway. We haven’t had so much joy with the generator though; we got it unpacked and put away in the generator box at the back of the caravan, and we can smell the petrol fumes inside the van! And whilst it is annoying and makes the van stink, it is extremely dangerous, so we boxed it back up and will be taking it back tomorrow!
We also checked the tyre pressures with the new compressor, emptied a litre of oil out of the car (it was over filled), tidied the van, did some washing and got everything packed up ready for the off again in the morning.
Got up at seven again and got the van ready to go. But before we could leave, we had to go into Rockhampton to take the generator back. We were intending to swap it for another, but they didn’t have any in, so it was either a refund or pay extra for another make. We decided on the refund! And the chap that served us was a miserable bugger! No apology for it not working, no help in finding an alternative, just a glum face and an unhelpful demeanor.
Got back to the van, hitched up and got away for just after ten. We had already called about the roadhouse job, but unfortunately it had gone, so no luck there. We headed for Blackwater, as we had been told that the supermarket there was hiring. After ten minutes of driving around looking for it when we got there, we found it and went in. And once again disappointment; no jobs going after all. So off to Emerald to see what we could find there.
We are staying at the Show Grounds for $15 a night, including electric hook-up. And its pretty good really, basic, but safe and well patronised. We had a few issues hooking up the electric and water, which meant a trip to the local hardware shop for bits and pieces and more money spent, but we got sorted and unpacked. Another night spent job searching, but we must be getting closer to getting one now!
Spent the morning doing more job searches and getting basically nowhere. We cant find anything in this area, and every roadhouse we ring either has no vacancies, or wants us to stay for a minimum of three months, which we don’t want to do, at least until we are desperate. We did, however, find out that there is a lot of mango picking work in Darwin in about four weeks time, and we are heading that way anyway, so will see what we think when we get there. We also applied for a job at McDonalds online and will await the response, which might take up to two weeks.
We had a look around town and got ourselves a wide brimmed hat each to keep the sun off, as it is really intense here. We then spent the afternoon planning the trip to Darwin; where we will stop, what to see along the route, and what to see in Darwin. We were invited to have a drink with two other couples in the evening and had a great time. They were telling us all about Tasmania and it sounds lovely, so we will definitely be going there. And one of the ladies used to have her own business making jams and chutneys, which she sold a few years ago, but she still made it on occasion and gave us a jar of chilli sauce – it is beautiful. We had some on our dinner.
Today we left Emerald heading to Darwin, and tonight we will be staying at Barcaldine. Hannah had picked out a nice looking site that has live music of an evening, so we were looking forward to that.
We got hitched up without any issues, said our goodbyes and hit the road for nine. The trip was good, although it got very hot midday and we were getting quite fractious with each other – we will have to make sure we only travel in the mornings whilst it is so hot. Anyway, we got to the site for about one and tried to maneuver onto the pitch. That didn’t go so well, in fact it was a bit of a shambles and we ended up in a bit of a mess. We both know what to do, but we are struggling to get onto the same wavelength with the positioning, but a bit more practice is all we need.
After a few minutes we were on and got set up, only to find that the water tap was three pitches away and our hose wouldn’t reach. We borrowed a longer one from the site owner, after a few minutes of conversation with her, and even that didn’t reach. We finished up borrowing an attachment from an old chap on the next pitch, joining the two hoses together and filling the tanks instead of hooking up to the mains. What started out a really good day went sour quite quickly and I think it’s the heat. Its very difficult to function in it, so we need to get used to it quickly before we try to work in it in Darwin.
We waited for the music to start and were ready to go over if it was any good. They were serving ‘billy tea’ (made in a billy over the fire) and damper (bush bread), which we were obviously going to partake in. But when the music started, we remained in our seats – it was dire! It was country, which isn’t really our thing, but when sung by someone like Jonny Cash, is excellent. They were not Jonny Cash – more like very bad pop idle rejects! Well one of them could just about sing, but the other two were truly awful. And the songs were very downbeat for what was supposed to be happy country.
Today we had a walk around town to see what was on offer. We walked out onto the main street, had a bit of an argument, and spent the next half hour walking around separately looking at the old buildings and the ‘Tree of Knowledge’, more on that later. Thankfully, I saw sense and apologised and all was forgotten. We did our shopping and put it all away in the van.
The ‘Tree of Knowledge’ is a large Ghost Gum and sits outside the railway station in the middle of the main street through town. Shearers and Pastoralists were involved in an industrial battle in 1891, whereby unions were insisting that they should be able to dictate who could work in the shearing sheds, but employers were arguing for ‘Freedom of Contract’, whereby they could engage any worker on negotiated contract. The tree came to symbolize this time and place in Australia’s history. Sadly though it was poisoned in 2006 by an unknown and has never recovered. An architecturally designed memorial now sits over the withered remains.
This afternoon we managed to find a good lead for some work in at the McDonalds in Mt Isa – my dream job as an avid fan. So fingers crossed we might be able to work there for six or eight weeks and get some money saved before we progress into the Northern Territory. If we can’t find anything there we will be forced to pick the Mango’s in Darwin, which in this heat is not something we are looking forward to.
This evening we braved the noise of the music and sat with the crown, awaiting our billy tea and damper. It was well worth it, and we even had a talk from a local tour guide about the local area. He told of the great adventurers that opened up the country and started up the massive stations. He also told us how all of the west is fed by water from the ‘Artesian Basin’ and that without it, there would be nothing here. The towns are fed by bore water from the basin and it has been running for over a hundred years and the basin holds enough water to fill the Sydney harbour 140000 times!
The Tree of Knowledge in Barcaldine
What a difference a day makes! Today has been really good; we had a walk around town, had a picnic lunch and spent the evening in the pub with the locals!
The day started well enough with coffee in bed, although we missed the alarm going off as it was in the car! Never mind, everyone needs a lie in once in a while. We planned the journey right round to Perth; how many days it will take to get between places, how many days to spend at each place and how far our money will go, but it is all dependant on getting the job at McDonalds in Mt Isa. Who would have thought that we would be relying on getting jobs at McDonalds to get by! But we will give it 100% if we get it, as we would anything.
We looked at the booklet for Barcaldine, that we got from the tourist information in Emerald, and found what we thought would be a nice spot by the river to have a picnic lunch. Little did we know that in the winter, due to that being the dry season, the river would be completely dry and we would in fact be having a picnic lunch by a groove in the ground! But anyway, we got on with it and it was very nice in the end. But on a more general note, we think the booklets produced for each town are a little bit misleading and should be taken with a pinch of salt. They show lush green vegetation, but fail to tell you that it will only be there in the summer, which is too hot and humid for anyone to visit during. And to be honest there isn’t much to do here, so it is maybe a two night stop at best; we are here for three, this being the last night, and we are glad to be moving on tomorrow.
Tonight we had a meal and drinks out at a local pub, and it was fabulous. We couldn’t really afford it, but it was necessary to boost moral, keep us happy and show us what the locals in the outback were really like. And I can report that they are friendly, funny, happy and lively people, that will welcome you in and talk to you until you stumble off into the night. We spent most of the night talking to a local chap called John, who made me howl frequently, although that is not too hard. He even managed to get what we were trying to tell him wrapped right around his neck which us both laugh hysterically; Han was trying to tell him we were from England, and then when we tried to explain how England and Scotland were separate, he thought we were trying to say that Scotland wasn’t part of the UK and started shouting it out all over the bar! We thought we might get killed, but it was funny and we survived. And the barman looked just like Pan Head, a very good friend of ours. We thought he had flown over to surprise us, but sadly not. He looked just like him and even walked like him, but there is only one Pan, and he needs to get himself over here, he would love it.
Anyway, we have had a good day and it has cheered us up again. We will push on and se what Monday brings with regards to a job. If we can get that sorted we can really get the trip going strong.
We were up at six and off for seven today, and we did 550km’s to get from Barcaldine to McKinnley. That wasn’t our initial destination, we were going to stay about 60km’s back down the road, but when we heard what was here, we had to drive that bit further.
We set off along the road out of the caravan park, got no more than five minutes along, and all of sudden ‘morning Matt’ came over the CB. We were stunned, we have not spoken on it yet, let alone someone actually speaking to us. I responded and the chap behind very kindly asked if it was OK for him to overtake us, we kindly obliged him by moving over a bit. Our first encounter over the airwaves, and a bit thrilling to be honest, maybe a bit sad, but who cares!
We made it through Longreach and pulled into Winton for a fuel stop and to have lunch, and we found a lovely bench under shade for that job. It was on the way to Winton that we saw the sign that made us change our planned stopover location. It read as follows ‘Caravan Park at Walkabout Creek, home of Crocodile Dundee, 380kms’. We knew it was somewhere on our route but didn’t know we were this close to it.
We arrived around three and got set up. I went into the ‘Walkabout Creek Hotel’ to pay for the site for the night, and it is full of pictures of Mick Dundee, not surprisingly I suppose. But it not what I expected; it is not what is shown on the movie, the bar area is very different and the building itself even looks different. But I will take their word for it and enjoy the fact that we are staying at Mick Dundee’s place for the night! We sat for an hour or two and almost got swallowed in afreak sand storm, that seemed to come out of nowhere, but only lasted a few seconds. It was scary though, believe me!
For a few days, up until yesterday, we have been quite fractious with each other, Hannah has been quite down and emotional and has been missing home a bit, and we have been struggling to deal with the very intense heat. But yesterday and today we have been very happy, which I am putting down to a combination of drinking more water to cope with the heat, the lead on the job in Mt Isa, and looking forward to seeing the Territory and WA now that we have planned the trip a bit more.
We didn’t get up too early today, as we only had around 250kms to drive and couldn’t check in at the caravan park until after twelve anyway. We got under way for about half nine and after about half an hour got another call over the CB. This time it was a chap that was taking part in the Variety Queensland, which is a ten day drive from Brisbane to Alice Springs. And your car has to be over thirty years old to take part! We chatted for a while and then he overtook us and went off into the distance. About ten minutes later another voice came over the radio and said ‘I hear there is an interesting pom out there’, to which I replied ‘there is a pom, well two actually, but I am not sure about interesting’. The voice on the other end was a lady from the media car and we chatted for a good while about the trip, their event and Australia generally. We swapped website addresses and they are going to do a small piece on us, so we will be watching their site intently.
We arrived in Mt Isa around twelve thirty and decided to go straight to McDonalds and apply directly with them, as we had been advised to do when I spoke to one of the managers on the phone the other day. We waited a good ten minutes to be served at the café section (which was quieter than the main counter) and eventually were told that we needed to see a manager. No real clue as to who that may be, or where they were, just that it wasn’t them that could help! Charming! Anyway, we queued up for the main counter and asked again, only to be told that they would get back to us this week or next, which is not much use to us.
We headed off to the caravan park, got checked in and unhitched. But even that didn’t go too well as the site was too sloping at the front so the van wouldn’t come off the ball. So we ended up setting up a bit further back on the pitch meaning that our door is not over the concrete slab and so we are once again treading dirt into the van. What started out as a very good day has somewhat gone downhill, but we try to remain positive.
I put a call in to the McDonald restaurants in Darwin and they are all hiring. We have applied online to all three and should have a response tomorrow with any luck. So if that goes well, and we don’t find anything here in the mean time, we will head straight to Darwin and do some site seeing as we are working. It would work better for getting out of Darwin before the wet season anyway, so who knows, might be the best thing anyway.
This morning was nice and relaxed with coffee in bed again. Tomorrow we plan to set off early on the road to Darwin, which is about four days driving, but we will stopping in Katherine for a few nights so should get to Darwin on Sunday.
We got a few more bits and bobs for the cruiser, to make sure that we are as prepared as we can be for a minor breakdown; fan belts, grease for bearings, coolant etc. Not having breakdown cover we have to be prepared.
A quiet afternoon checking over the car and van, getting packed up and planning the trip to Darwin over a glass of wine, saw us into the evening. I am looking into changing over to wordpress for the website, which is supposed to be easier to use, better for the search engines picking you up to lift ratings etc and generally easier for us amateurs to manage, but I must confess it is beyond me at the moment. I cannot seem to get it working properly, but I will persevere, or else just abandon it in favour of doing it all myself from scratch as I did before.