Friday, 31 January 2014

Pondering the packing!

We started camping five years ago. I've been admiring our camping statistics and reviewing past glory

Each year I tally our camping nights (and total nights away also). It's great to see how far we've gone, in the face of life's interruptions.

2009 - 19 nights away (9 camping)
2010 - 55 nights away (39 camping)
2011 - 33 nights away (15 camping)
2012 - 17 nights away (8 camping)
2013 - 0 ...

Nothing?!  Yep.  Aside from our stint in temporary accommodation, we stayed put.  Well, we moved to Hamby Home(in)stead and then relished having a home again.  A home with responsibilities of cat(s), chooks and calf - though we did enjoy many day-trips exploring our new area.

So.  We've fox-proofed the chooks as much as possible.  The cow's grown-up.  (Sort-of).  And we are currently free for some longer adventuring.  We've started this year wonderfully.  Four nights away already and at this stage another 70 or so planned.  And that's not even the first half of the year!

We won't be camping the whole ten weeks but there are plans for some touring while away.  In our absence, chookies and cow will holiday will our landlady who will also keep an eye on Hamby Home(in)stead.  As usual Keegan (Erin's rainbow lorikeet) will come with us.  This time the cat will come too.  If he doesn't cark it.  We'll find the cat-harness but hang off buying his tent till just before departure - just in case.

How does one pack for 70-plus nights?  I'm not entirely sure.  We'll be camping en route and have other trips planned, so will need all the usual gear (for bush/non-powered sites).  The majority of the time we'll be based in Louie's shack (150km from the nearest large town), so will need different stuff for that. 

On our previous trips, we've taken most of our groceries with us.  Obviously that isn't possible this time due to the extended length of our stay.  There will be extras needed too - cat food and similar necessities as well as school paraphernalia for Vaughan.

I've made a start.  I started a list!!

Saturday, 25 January 2014

Dingo days ...

We enjoyed a lovely outing today to the Dingo Discovery and Research Centre at Gisborne, not too far from home.  Nick had spotted a flyer for the fundraising wildlife show while out and about. 

Everyone agreed we should go - and we are very glad we did. We've attended many wildlife shows, watched a lot of nature documentaries, been long-time zoo members and held an annual membership to the Australian Reptile Parkwhen we lived on the Central Coast.  Nick and Erin were both WIRES carers before our relocation to Victoria - and Erin is continuing her zookeeping studies.  We always enjoy seeing native animal displays but often the information presented isn't new for us.

Vaughan was a keen participant during the show, surprising some of the adult audience with how much he knew.

One man asked which school our son attended but much of Vaughan's knowledge was largely gained outside of school. As early as daycare, Vaughan's heroes were Steve Irwin and David Attenborough (respectively known as "the crocodile man" and "the chameleon man")!  He regularly volunteered in shows at The Australian Reptile Park and has soaked up lots of information from various sources (including our many camping and outdoor adventures).

It's always good to learn something new though and I really liked seeing the flexibility of the two dingoes on display.

I was unaware they were double-jointed (useful for hunting and protecting themselves against injury).  I'd only recently learned of the black/tan colour variation.

Tours of the facility (including a dingo encounter) were available but we'll go back later in the year for that experience.  The sanctuary is only open by invitation, however we are now on the mailing list and will be advised of future events and open days. 

Friday, 24 January 2014

Things are not always as they seem!

I liked the huge emu sculpture on the outskirts of Lockhart - and my family loved that I initially identified this trio of young emus (then grouped together) as a large, three-legged, upside-down dead animal!

A mistake easily made from a distance?!

Lockhart Lunch

The distance from Wagga Wagga to Lockhart is 64km and we arrived just after midday.

We called it lunch-time, bought bread from the main street bakery and then picnicked in Wal Alexander Park (that had been opened the day after Nissa was born)!

It was a short walk from the park to the public toilets.

We remembered seeing some of these sculptures exhibited at Sydney's Central Station in 2012. 

The dragon now sits beside the entrance to Lockhart's small caravan park.

It seems Lockhart holds an annual "Spirit of the Land" festival where fantastic "farm sculptures" are exhibited.  I reckon we should put that event on our wishlist!

Pack-up points!

Departure was just before 11:00am, almost three hours after we commenced packing.

We certainly hadn't been working flat-out though - and I even had time for a shower (with hair-washing) before checking-out.

The quicker pack-up was heartening as we intend to do some travel camping soon.  For overnight stays, we would use our larger tent and wouldn't bother with gazebos, mats or ensuite.  If extra shelter were needed, we could use Elmer's awning

Elmer's awning proved very useful during this pack-up - as did Nick's new trailer box.  We still had shade after dismantling the gazebos, which was much appreciated in the heat.  We were also able to use the tables as working areas till the very last moments (because access to their boxed travel compartment was so easy).  Hooray!

Matting up!

Our interlocking camping mats travel on Elmer's roof, laid out to cover the area of his roof-rack.

They are bulky and a bit of a fiddle to pack, so before leaving home Nick queried whether they were necessary for the trip.  We were very glad of them on-site though as they provided clean, comfortable flooring and prevented a lot of dry grass, dirt and other muck from entering the tents.

It's always interesting when packing up to discover how many creepy-crawlies have been residing under tents and mats.   As well as the two geckoes in the ensuite there were many, many earwigs and a large centipede - as well as a few beetles. 

Some camping mat advice - make a note of where your mats were purchased and buy additional sets from the same place.  Although they look the same, they aren't!  Sizes and interlocking patterns vary, so aren't compatible.  We had around thirty larger, matching mats as gazebo flooring.  The six smaller mats did not match, so were joined three-together to use in front of each tent.

On with the ensuite packing!

Understandably, we never feel greatly enthused about breaking camp and although awake earlier, we didn't rouse ourselves for the packing task till around 8:00am.

Vaughan slept on, so missed seeing the two geckoes that had been camping under the ensuite flooring!

When Nick was packing the trailer for this trip, he set up the ensuite to check all was in order - and then couldn't pack it down again, so needed some YouTube revision!

Erin and I both wrestled the ensuite on the morning of our Wagga departure, while Nissa watched on. I'd picked up my camera, hoping for some shots similar to our infamous Mill Creek series but success was achieved fairly quickly. Of course, that was great for time-management but not nearly so amusing!

In the (camp) kitchen ...

We don't usually stay in caravan parks - and chose to stay without power this trip, so as to spread out more than a powered site would allow.

When checking-in we were advised there was a brand-new camp kitchen on site, just three weeks old.  In the heat, it was very easy to wander over and use the on-site facilities rather than setting up under our gazebos.  We had a simple BBQ on our first night.  Nick and Vaughan cooked the meat while the girls and I bought salads from a nearby (air-conditioned!) supermarket.

We shared dinner with family on our second night.  I'd pre-made hamburger patties for the trip and marinaded steak also.  They were defrosted and cooked on one of the stainless steel BBQ plates, ready for our home-made hamburgers and steak sandwiches.  I think they'll feature regularly on camping menus.  Yum! 

I'd planned to have a cooked breakfast one morning, before realising how hot the weather would be.  We ate cereal instead and cooked our breakfast provisions for dinner!  As we were a party of seven again that night I used both hotplates to cook hash browns, bacon, chorizo, sausages, tomatoes and mushrooms.  By the time all that was done, I was over cheffing and enlisted Nick to cook some of our chookie eggs just before serving!

On our last night Nick and I bought ingredients for Mexican wraps.  I cooked one kilo of mince on the hotplate, mixing it with taco seasoning while browning.  I hadn't tried that method of cooking before but it worked well.  The girls prepared salad vegies and guacamole - and it was a very nice finale dinner.

Most people staying at the park were in caravans and the camp fridge was empty when we checked it.  Given the heat and the power being drawn by our fridges, we used the camp kitchen freezer to ice water - and took over space in the fridge also (carefully labelling everything as per the printed rules).

Thursday, 23 January 2014

Cute family!

Our main reason for visiting Wagga was to spend time with family. Between socialising, keeping cool and floating down the river, we didn't get around to much else!

We were away four nights, which gave us a good test of our new equipment. The Thumper worked wonderfully in transit but struggled to maintain both fridges while stationary, so Elmer was run periodically through the day/night to compensate. Temps were around 42 degrees though and one fridge was discovered to have a dodgy seal (which resulted in it running constantly, drawing far more power than usual). The seal will be replaced now that we are home again. Solar panels (to work with the Thumper while camped) are high on the wish-list and will be acquired when finances allow.

Our laptop was purchased prior to relocating, so hadn't been camping before.  It was packed hurriedly (because I wasn't sure I should take it), so wasn't fully charged on first use at camp.  That's something we can improve on next time.  Our Wi-Fi gadget worked well, though night-time visitors dancing on the keyboard interfered with photo editing/internet access!  Those same visitors helped themselves to raisin toast and climbed all over our tables, chairs and gazebos!  Lucky they are cute!

Go the Gumi!

As well as spray bottles, I'd packed water pistols and three body boards. 

The boards were very useful when floating down river but we found ourselves envious of other swimmers using inner tubes - or gumies as they are known locally.

Nick wasn't greatly keen but we were insistent and won him over!  A few people had vaguely advised a gumi would probably cost around $10.00 -$15.00. 

While out on other missions we called into a tyre shop.  It was left to me to do the talking, so I smiled brightly and stated our desire to float down the river.  The very pleasant salesman asked how many tubes were required and we suggested two or three, though no price had been discussed.  He said that bigger tubes had gone (in the lead-up to the annual Gumi Race) but he would see what he could do. 

When he returned, he asked me to hold out my arm and plonked four tubes onto it - freebies!  How good is that?!  We were super-impressed and after thanking him profusely, left the shop with huge grins.  Doesn't take much to make us Happ(ier) Hamby Campers!

Sadly, there are no photos of us floating down the Murrumbidgee in/on our gumies and bodyboards.  It very pleasant though - drifting on the river with various birds flying overhead, dipping into the water and so on.  Some exertion was necessary at the launching site and again when returning to the small beach landing area, as the current was quite strong in places. 

The strong current claimed a victim during our stay.  On our last night, a rescue helicopter searched along the river for a 19-year-old man who had sank into the water, while attempting to swim to the other side.  We thought of him often while packing up and as we travelled home.  The extensive search continued over the weekend.  His body was found on Monday.  A very sad loss.

Are you feeling hot, hot, hot?!

The temperature was in the early 40s throughout our stay at Wagga. Yep, it was hot - and no, our tents are not air-conditioned! 

We swam in the morning and again in the evening but relied on shade and our spray bottles during the middle of the day. 

Luckily Vaughan was keen to provide us with regular mistings and/or drenchings - and he was a fan of the park's large sprinklers, so remained wet as often as possible.

Sleeping was difficult as the temperature remained high well into the night.  I took a spray bottle to bed but the misting effect didn't last long.

Tuesday, 14 January 2014

Welcome visitors!

We had lovely possum visitors around 9:00pm - a beautiful welcome on our first night!

This female came with her young offspring and both were quite happily eating cherry tomatoes - until Nick offered them some banana!  The mum was obviously very comfortable around people and would take food from our hands but her youngster was happier much further away, eating out of the limelight.  Erin found another banana-loving possum up a nearby tree and we spotted many more during our stay.

Swift setup ...

We arrived at Wagga Wagga Beach Caravan Park a little after 5:00pm.  Yes, it was still very hot and it didn't take Vaughan long to drench himself under the sprinkler!

It was good to see each tap had a water container, so the many birds were able to drink freely.

We chose a shady area and started to make camp about twenty minutes after arrival.  Our new tents were easy to set up and everything was more or less organised by 7:00pm, when we headed down to the river to cool-off!

On looking over those times, our new tents and stretchers (with mats) made for a much quicker set-up than previous camping trips.  We erected our ensuite between the two tents, to use as a changeroom during our stay.  I don't think it's been taken away since our Mill Creek camping weekend in July 2011, so it was good to have it used - and being able to step into a private change area was great in the heat (as the tent windows stayed open throughout our stay).

Lockhart Lap

There were more neat metal sculptures at Lockhart, just 42km up the road from Urana.  It was nearly 4:00pm and still very hot, so we stayed in the car and did a quick lap of town, for the most part viewing the artwork from the comfort of Elmer's air-conditioning!

Run into Urana

It's about 116km from Tocumwal to Urana.  We arrived a bit after 3:00pm and were pleased of another short break. 

It was still quite hot, so more spray bottle mistings were very much appreciated! 

Keegan was sprayed several times as he waited on the grass beside Elmer - while the rest of us used the public toilets at the lovely park in the main street.  There were wasps in the ladies loo, so we picked the cubicle where they were least active!  (Vaughan has just informed me there were even more wasps in the men's toilets)!

We noticed the neat corrugated iron sheep on the way out of town.  Nick turned back, so I could take some photos.  The metal horse looked  similar to some we had seen during our Ironfest visits and we wondered whether the same artist had made him/her. 

Tocumwal Tucker ...

We spotted the Tocumwal Foreshore Park as we crossed the Murray River from Victoria into New South Wales. 

The park looked a good spot for lunch, so we stopped - along with many others.  Given the temperature was around 42 degrees, all the shady tables were taken, so we set up our vintage picnic table under a peppercorn tree.  There was a metal table close by but it was in full sun - and no-one really wanted the midday sun on their face!  (Of course once we were set up, most of the other diners departed and there was then a choice of sheltered tables)!

As part of my menu-planning, I had poached chicken breasts and then frozen them a couple of weeks prior to our departure.  The meat was still a little frozen but didn't remain too icy once sliced on the table!  Our chicken and salad wraps were much appreciated by most of the party.  (Typically, Vaughan ate chicken and wraps - separately)!

You can see Vaughan holding a spray bottle in the larger photo.  Erin's rainbow lorikeet, Keegan, was sprayed regularly while travelling but we all benefited from a light misting when sitting outside!

Best of the Rest-stops ...

The standard of roadside rest areas varies greatly - as do the associated public toilets.  The Burrawan State Forest loo sticks in our memory even now as one of the worst.  (Yes, it was of the non-flushing variety but we know from our Kwiambal National Park experience that's no excuse)!

We stopped at Burrawan on the way to Nambucca Heads in January 2010. I walked in and straight back out again, determined to wait for a better alternative but sadly my bladder lacked that same determination!   Another traveller described it as "hard core, dude"!  Yep, that was accurate!

In contrast, we were quite impressed by the Calder Woodburn rest area.  The generous shaded parking was very welcome in the heat - and the buildings were definitely far more aesthetically pleasing than the usual block-like structures, though some cleaning was definitely warranted.

The round cubicles had huge stainless steel doors, which required a great deal of oomph to manoeuvre.  I exerted force to exit mine and laughed when Nissa stumbled out after doing the same.  A fellow traveller was struggling to shut her door, so I offered to thump it closed and she was happy to accept assistance!

On the road again!

Given it had been such a long stretch since our last trip - and we'd stayed up late celebrating Nissa's arrival the night before - we were quite pleased to depart home before 10:00am!

We'd achieved a lot since 7:00am.  The last of the packing was finalised and trailer attached.  Nick and I even managed to put corned beef in the thermal cooker before departure and pack it securely for travel. It was still very hot much later that night - but that's another story.

It wasn't long after leaving our driveway that Nissa stated something had fallen from the roof.  Nick stopped, reversed and surveyed the roadside.  The only obvious thing was a pair of scissors, so he picked them up and we continued - even though everyone wondered how a pair of scissors had been on the roof!

Sunday, 12 January 2014


We love our dual-fuel lantern! It throws amazingly bright light and we use it even when we camp with power.

Sadly it's globe was broken during our interstate move. While several of the large-chain camping stores stock generic replacements, none are large enough.

We've ordered a globe direct from Coleman but it may not arrive in time for this trip. Nick has fashioned an unbreakable alternative, following a method we spotted a while back. (These mesh globes are commercially available via various retail outlets but again they are not large enough for our lamp).  

A rummage in our storage container today revealed a length of mesh, leftover from Vaughan's stick insect enclosure.  Thirty minutes later the prototype was ready.

The lantern is currently lit as we test Nick's handiwork. Fingers crossed for success!

Fueling up ...

Soon after buying our trailer (in December 2009), Nick set about modifying it. 

One of the first things he built was a small storage box

The box has housed various equipment since, on the road and at Hamby Home(in)stead.

Elmer has two fuel tanks.  The main holds 95 litres and we can carry a further 50 litres in his second tank.  A long-range fuel tank will hold 166 litres.  At $1,000+ it (like many things), remains on the wishlist! 

In the meantime, we'll make-do with four 20-litre jerry-cans.  They will just fit in the small storage box.  We won't need them for our impending short-trip but they'll definitely be used for our next Yowah adventure.  (If there is no fuel at Yowah, it is a 65km drive to Eulo).

Stretching out the comfort!

When we first started camping in January 2009, Nick and I used what I call "an airbed on legs".  There is a photo of a single version here, which is the style Nissa and Vaughan have been using since July 2010.

We were still using our "airbed on legs" for our last Warrumbungle camping adventure.  The air mattress deflated repeatedly through the night though, so we were "resting" on the pole supports more often than not!  That discomfort aside, the purchase of our new tents prompted us to think about our bedding options while camping.

Earlier this year Nick and tested a double stretcher - alone and with various mattress configurations.

After further research we bought two single stretchers instead. Nick shortened the end bars of each one today, so the pair sit snugly together.

We've had a quick test of the new set-up (including the 4WD mats) and it does seem to be far more comfy than the "air bed on legs"!  Hooray!

Box-ed trailer!

Nick's box is nearly done.  He showed off it's capacity just now.  Two tables and four chairs fit nicely with a little extra room for ... something! 

The side door will make access easier, which is handy as there are plans for a small box to ride on top of this one.

The catch is pretty flash!  The previous box was fastened with an elaborate rope knot, which you can see here (click on the photo of Erin and Keegan).  Of course the quality of the knot depended largely on who tied it!

Saturday, 11 January 2014

Bedding in the box!

Nick commented that packing for this trip is like starting out all over again. Yep. He's right!

Following the loss of one of our camping chairs en route to our first Ironfest, Nick built a storage box on the front of the trailer before we headed off to Yowah in July 2010.

That box served us well - and is still in use, currently storing a bale of straw near the front door. It can't be moved though for fear it will fall apart!

Nick built a new box today. This one has a side opening door, to make accessing our four chairs and two tables easier.

The body of the box is made from plywood, cut (more or less!) to Nick's measurements by local Bunnings staff.  The mounting blocks are pieces of recycled timber from the previous box and our wonderful "dump shop".  As you can see, at least one used to be part of Megan's bed!

Spot the table!

During our 2010 Yowah visit, our lovely neighbours used these lap tables while dining round the fire.

We were impressed by the idea and sought to acquire some for ourselves - at the right price! Ours were bought from op-shops and garage sales.

I think the most we've paid for one table is $4.00, though I'm sure they retail for more and these days you can buy similar laptop tables that have a light! That's a bit flash for us! We're happy with the basic, second-hand version. Four fit in the spotted bag - and one stays in the back of Elmer for Vaughan to use while travelling.

Friday, 10 January 2014

Wash the dishes, pack the dishes!

Our last camping expedition to the Warrumbungles  was almost 18 months ago.  A lot has happened since, not least the fact that we moved interstate - and into Hamby Home(in)stead!

The majority of our belongings did a three to four month stint in storage between states and in the shuffle our camping gear has been well-shuffled!  Nick and I are now starting to round everything up, clean and re-organise it, in preparation for a few nights away to test our new tents - and new Thumper!

I've already done quite a lot of menu-planning - and frozen some meals/meal components in preparation for our time away.  Of course, I'm keen to make life as easy as possible so the chef gets a holiday too! 

Today I washed all our camping cups and plates.  We have a set of eight plates, bowls, thermal cups and plastic beakers.  In addition to the standard enamel plates, I have four deeper dishes that are handy on occasion.  I've also used them at home for making pies and deep-pan pizzas! 

While I was focussed on washing-up, I gathered our camping wash-tub, dish-drainer and assorted necessities.  (The tub needed a serious scrub as it had been used to carry potting mix and wood-ash in recent times).  There's still plenty more packing to do but I've made start - and that's a good thing!

Cool wiring!

After having Elmer's tyres fitted, Nick drove round to an auto-electrician and paid $25 to have the very last Thumper wire installed.

The Thumper is now properly connected to Elmer's electrical system, which means the unit charges only when the engine runs.

Tyred out!

We had a big day yesterday - attending a magic show in Melbourne (where Nick and Vaughan both assisted), picnicking at Williamstown and then exploring a nearby rock beach.

I needed an evening nap when we arrived home but Nick and Vaughan were busy.

While I was napping, they re-seated Elmer's wheel bearings and changed all the wheels around - in preparation for today's visit to a local tyre centre (to fit the bargain tyres recently bought via eBay).

Elmer's looking pretty schmick now!

Thursday, 9 January 2014

Non-slip and slide ...

Nick has bolted an angled bar on either side of the fridge.
Nick was on a roll yesterday. After finishing the shelf unit and basic "fridge slide", he went on to ensure the Engel doesn't move from it's allocated area during transit.

As you can see, the solution is practical - not pretty!

Wednesday, 8 January 2014

Shelving the Thumper!

Nick's been busy today, doing the necessary wiring for our Thumper - and installing a shelf in Elmer's rear compartment for the Thumper and our fridges to sit upon. 

The larger tent will slide under the shelf, so as to be easily accessible when we pull into a camp site.

It is intended that the Thumper remain in Elmer, strapped into position against the cargo barrier.

Nick cut a small section from the mesh, so terminals may be accessed from the cabin side of the barrier, which will enable various accessories to charge while in transit.

As much as we would like proper fridge slides for both Engels, the cost ($250 and upwards each) is a sticking point.

As a cheap fix, Nick is trialling a very basic system where the fridge sits upon a base of ply, which seems to slide fairly well over the shelf.

Friday, 3 January 2014

Blast from the past: The Princess!

I mentioned in an earlier post (when discussing our plans for an extended Yowah stay) that Vaughan will be celebrating his 9th birthday there - as I did many years ago!

Mum very kindly hunted through the extensive slide archives and battled with technology to scan these shots of me wearing the fondly-remembered birthday crown. In my memory it was far more splendid and golden - and less like the wallpaper that Nick has likened it to!  (We do have some vintage golden wallpaper, so perhaps I could fashion Vaughan a 9th birthday crown and take some similar celebratory photos in March)!

These photos were taken on my younger brother's birthday (eleven days after mine), hence he is holding his cards. I distinctly remember him making the one on the left as part of our correspondence school work, using aluminium foil for the number 7 and cutting a little Mickey Mouse or Donald Duck graphic from our small collection of heavily-clipped magazines. It seems from other photos that he may have received a mining pick as a birthday gift. I expect Vaughan would be just as happy with one of those!

Thumping good value!

Our Thumper arrived today! The courier delivered it right to the front door and carried the main box, all 36-plus kilos of it, under cover. I was impressed that a) it had arrived so soon after our online purchase; b) that the courier had actually delivered it without any rigmarole (several companies have said our house doesn't exist!); and c) that I didn't have to lug the heavy box!

What's a Thumper?!  It's a you-beaut portable dual-battery system. I reckon it sounds like a cross between Bambi's companion and the Energiser Bunny!

"Thumper is the perfect option for those who either have no space for a traditional dual battery system or would like to have the freedom of a portable system that can be easily seperated from the vehicle with a massive jumpstarting capability. Most commonly used for powering 12 volt refrigerators & lighting the applications stretch only as far as your imagination."

Elmer does have a dual battery system but it hasn't lived up to our expectations - and needed some modification/repair.  In light of those issues, Nick had been looking at alternative systems and was almost set to buy an Ark battery pack during one of the major camping store sales.  Fortunately for us he decided to undertake some further investigation.

Nick's fine research meant we bought our Thumper (including bonus lighting pack) at the best possible price, via the manufacturer's eBay listing.  We bought at auction, so paid $200.00 less than the buy-it-now price - and received an extra $550.00 worth of product for our investment!  Yes, we are very happy campers!

The main feature of the Thumper is that will be fully charged in two-hours while driving - and can be charged while fridges etc are plugged in (unlike other systems). The batteries don't have to be fully discharged before charging, which is another bonus.  In time we can buy solar panels to feed into the battery when we are camped.

Another feature is that by using an inverter, normal 240-volt appliances can be powered by the Thumper.  We already had an inverter and used it this afternoon to run my sewing machine, as a test.   Given Elmer is in need of a new battery, we could try the Thumper's jump-starting capability tomorrow - just for fun!