Category Archives: Camping and Caravanning

A lesson in reversing the van…

For most of my adult life I’ve always wanted to visit the town of Seventeen Seventy, locally referred to as “1770”. There’s something rather dreamy about visiting a sleepy seaside village named after a year. A tiny town, situated roughly 500km north of Brisbane and surrounded on three sides by the Coral Sea and Bustard Bay. It was the second landing site of Lieutenant James Cook and the crew of the Endeavour in May 1770 and is a huge part of Australian history.

The road into 1770 and nearby Agnes Water was not what I’d expected. I’d imaged a windy, coastal road that took in the beautiful vistas of the ocean. Instead, it was surrounded by dry, dense and rugged bushland. The little towns, like Rosedale, our picnic lunch stop, felt quite deserted and very remote.

As we arrived at the town of Agnes Water we checked Wikicamps for a good spot to stay and found a place called ‘Horizons Kangaroo Sanctuary & Camp Ground’ – 4.5 stars is almost as good as it gets, throw in some wildlife and the kids will be over the moon. We drove through the gates and the dirt road leading into the property gradually became narrower, more winding and then suddenly…very steep. Too steep. The X-trail could not pull the weight of the van up the hill and as the front wheels started slipping we decided it wasn’t safe to go any further. This was new. 100m up the hill with a ditch on one side and a drop off on the other the only way was down. We had to reverse. ”Just take a few deep breathes everyone”. I climbed out, worked out we had about 1 metre to work with and very slowly started guiding the car and van down the hill. Seriously not for the faint hearted! The kids didn’t fancy going off the edge – I’ve never seen them move so fast. They jumped out and agreed to meet us at the bottom.

We were doing ok until two backpacker filled campervans arrived behind us. You can just imagine their faces when they realised there was no way around and that they too, had to reverse. Fifteen gruelling minutes later with a small audience by now and we were back where we had started. I’m not sure if you know this but some campers just love watching the ‘newbies’ try to park and reverse their vans. They pull up a chair, make a cup of tea and watch the show. No pressure. Sometimes we get it right and sometimes (like yesterday) we get it horribly wrong. You’d think we’d have it mastered by now! We are getting better, I promise.

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As for our wildlife camping idea, it was obvious that we were not going to be able to spend the night there so we headed off to the first available campsite and found ourselves on a flat, gravel free surface, right on the beach in 1770. A small wooden fence was all that separated us from the beach. The view over the bay was spectacular. This is one of the few places in Queensland where you can watch the sun set over the water. As we walked along the sand that evening, fishermen standing in the water and nearby pelicans hoping to steal a catch forming a backcloth of silhouettes, we now fully appreciated why this was such a popular holiday destination.

After breakfast the following day we took a leisurely stroll along the beach to a heritage listed site, a cairn situated on Round Hill. The cairn stands on the site where one of Cook’s crew carved the date on a tree near where they came ashore.

Rockhampton was our next destination and as we wanted to get there before dinner, we quickly packed up and headed straight off. We were going to have dinner with good friends that we hadn’t seen in years. There is only one way in and one way out of Agnes Water and 1770 and it’s quite a long, monotonous road. If you’re planning on visiting, allow yourself a few days there at the very least and don’t forget your fishing rod!

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I’d like to share a tip for all the future caravanners out there. A lovely family that we met on the cruise ship gave us very valuable advice when it comes to reversing a caravan. The person guiding the driver stands in front of the car and van reversing, facing the driver. If you want them to reverse the van to your left, call out ‘pull left’ at which point the driver pulls the steering wheel to their left and if you want them to reverse towards the right, ‘pull right’. It has saved us from embarrassment numerous times but especially in 1770!

 

You never know what you’ll find

No two adventures are ever the same.

Have you ever been to a place and had the time of your life only to hear that someone else went to the same place and had a completely different or even unpleasant experience? Could this be a combination of a person’s expectations, timing and maybe even a little bit of luck?

Our caravan adventure continued north on the Bruce Highway and when we saw the Childers turn off decided to take it and see what was there. Childers is a small rural town, about 60km west of Hervey Bay and is surrounded by thousands of hectares of sugar cane and avocado farms. Right across the road from where we had stopped to have a break was The Childers Historical Complex. This was just what we’d wanted to see! My son’s class had been on an excursion to a historical village soon after we’d left, he was so disappointed that he’d missed it. I’d hoped that this would make up for it. Some of the towns many historical buildings date back to Queensland’s early pioneering days so the historical village was in fact a real hidden gem. We had the whole place all to ourselves and for $3 we got a personalised tour of the complex. Our guide took us around the original Isis Central Mill School, a worker’s cottage, the Waluma Post Office, a general store and two steam locomotive displays. He then even took the time to unlock the garage and show us some of the old tractors and horse drawn wagons. The old general store was our family favourite. The kids were allowed to touch the items on display and they even had a go on the old cash register.

We picked up a ‘Southern Queensland’ guidebook from the local tourist information office and after a quick read through decided to head next to Woodgate Beach, described by Tripadvisor as ‘Queensland’s hidden secret’. A 16km white, sandy beach with crystal clear waters. When we arrived there, we were the only people on the beach besides two locals who were fishing with a small net. They’d caught some Whiting and heaps of bait fish. We all chipped in and helped them throw the bait fish back into the water which pleased the pelicans who had positioned themselves well for a feast. Three eagles, including an enormous white-bellied sea eagle swooped down within a few metres of us to collect the rest. We couldn’t believe how close we’d gotten to these amazing birds.

Our stop for the next two nights was at a fantastic campground in Elliott Heads, a town in the Bundaberg region of Queensland, situated at the mouth of the Elliott River. We’ve been using Wikicamps to help us finds the best places to stay. It’s a great app which has proven to be a very reliable and easy to use resource. Coral Cove, a few kilometres north of Elliott Heads has a reef offshore, popular with snorkelers and we heard divers coming up saying they’d just spotted some turtles.

Continuing our journey up to Bundaberg we passed fields of strawberries, sweet potatoes and sugar cane. Fresh produce can be purchased from little stalls alongside the road and it works on a good-will system where you just take your produce and drop the money into a billy can. We could see the trains running alongside the sugar cane fields and when we arrived at the Bundaberg Rum Distillery many of them were lined up, one after the other. The smell of sugar in the air was so strong and impossible to ignore. We didn’t do the tour of the distillery but instead decided to spend this time at the nearby and well-known Bundaberg Soft Drinks factory, home to the famous Bundaberg Ginger Beer. For $12 we got a family pass into an interactive tour of the history of ginger beer. The kids loved the old apothecary and hearing about how people sometimes got the recipe wrong and accidentally caused their homebrewed mix to explode. We loved this place and would recommend a stop here, young or old. After our tour, we were treated to a tasting of all their soft drinks, including the not yet released, delicious, Tropical Mango flavour.

Mon Repos, a short drive from Bundaberg, was a place we had wanted to visit for two reasons. Firstly, the Mon Repos Conservation Park supports the largest concentration of nesting marine turtles on the eastern Australian mainland and has the most significant loggerhead turtle nesting population in the South Pacific region. If you travel here in the summer months you can take an evening tour with a Queensland Parks and Service Ranger and witness them nesting or if you’re lucky enough, watch the tiny hatchlings dig their way out of the sand. Secondly, it was on Mon Repos that Bert Hinkler, the first man to fly solo from England to Australia, taught himself to fly as a teenager, in a glider made from pieces of wood, bicycle wheels and an ironing board.

Bundaberg’s many historical buildings are well conserved and much to my delight, still being utilised, even the old post office. The city’s art gallery is a great place to spend some time with the kids and on this particular day, was displaying aboriginal art from the National Museum. Another space in the gallery, known as “The Vault”, transported you to Antarctica as you lay on seal shaped bean bags listening to the sound of penguins in the distance, while penguins ‘popped out’ of the 3d artwork. We could have stayed here all day.

There is something quite liberating about going to bed not knowing what experiences the next day will bring. We are loving it. We don’t set any expectations on tomorrow and are just happy to be together, learning new things and embracing every opportunity.

“A mind that is stretched by a new experience can never go back to its old dimensions.” Oliver Wendell Holmes Jnr.

 

Exploring Southern Queensland

“Home is where you park it.” – Kay Peterson

Before now, the longest we’d ever camped for was three nights and the last time we camped in a tent, the rain, cold and constant damp was just too much for our liking. Hence, the caravan. If we were going to survive for longer than a week, we needed to be off the ground at the very least. To be honest, we were so time constrained in the weeks leading up to our departure that on the day we left we hadn’t taken the van on a test run (something many friends advised us to do). We hadn’t towed it more than 100km, tried to get it up a steep hill or had any idea how to reverse or park it. But we had a strange feeling that we’d figure it out along the way. John Lewis once quoted, “If not us, then who? If not now, then when?”. I’m happy to report that we’ve adjusted to life in the van, we’re getting better at parking and right now, we wouldn’t be anywhere else. 

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If you’ve been following the blog you’ll know that this is the first ‘road trip’ post after our unforgettable cruise. This, being the second part of our adventure, an 80-day road trip around as much of Australia as possible. Nothing, except the ferry to Tasmania had been booked and we left with a rough idea of where we wanted to go. This first leg of our epic drive through Queensland took us from the Gold Coast to Maryborough. We have visited many parts of the Sunshine Coast before so our only stop here this time was Tewantin, home to the Big Shell and just outside it’s better known neighbour, Noosa.. There is a lot to see on the Sunshine Coast and if you’ve never been to this region before you should definitely allow some time to visit the popular towns of Caloundra, Mooloolaba, Maroochydore, Maleny and ofcourse, Australia Zoo!

Noosa’s main beach is set in a pristine bay and boasts crystal clear, calm waters. With the dark green backdrop of the national park to its right, it makes for an unforgettable day out with your family. If you’re a foodie then you’ll love all the trendy outlets that have popped up since our last visit, many of whom make some incredible dishes from locally grown organic produce.

We hiked through parts of Noosa’s National Park which winds along the coastline, offering beautiful vistas of the turquoise waters which lie below. We saw several whales in the distance and were keeping an eye out for the turtles that inhabit these waters. A very private and unspoilt beach, Tea Tree Bay, awaits you as you make your way to Dolphin Point. What I particularly loved about this state forest was that the parks service had done a great deal to ensure that the history of the area be preserved and was reflected on well displayed information boards paying tribute to the aboriginal tribes and their ancestors who inhabited this area before European settlement.  A visit to The Big Shell and a relaxing walk up to the Timbeerwah Mountain Lookout, just outside of Tewantin, brought a close to a jam-packed day of exploring. The lookout offers 360 degrees views over the sunshine coast and many locals, equipped with picnic blankets and dinner were setting up for a spectacular sunset.

As we continued north we decided to make our next stop the town of Gympie. We discovered a large museum which offers an insight into the region’s gold mining history. Next to the museum is a lovely park, home to many different species of birds. We saw turtles and the kids spotted a flying fox, hanging right above our heads! Gympie’s flood history over the past 100+ years has been recorded on a marker next to the gold museum. We couldn’t believe how high the waters rose back in 1893.

The little town of Bauple, the ancestral home of the Macadamia Nut and just off the Bruce Highway was on our list of places we wanted to visit. The town’s museum was one of the best we’ve ever seen for children. A gold coin donation is all that is required to experience the towns pioneering past and the early history of the Tiaro Shire. The museum, run mostly by volunteers offers a huge quantity of memorabilia and many other items ranging from telephones to cameras, kitchen appliances and typewriters. My husband and I felt a bit old as we could remember some of these things being used in the homes we grew up in!

Our final stop on this leg of our journey was Maryborough, located on the Mary River and once home to P.L. Travers, the author of Mary Poppins. If you’re a big fan of the book you’ll want to visit during the annual Mary Poppins Festival. The town centre boasts many heritage building and the historic Maryborough Railway Station dated back to the 1890s.  I love seeing historical buildings being preserved for future generations, displaying the excellent workmanship of a long-gone era.

I wanted to share a great tip that experienced campers told us before we left. One of the best ways to save money on a long road trip in Australia is to camp at showgrounds. Most towns have one and I’m not sure if you’ve been camping recently but it’s not cheap. In fact, some campgrounds have charged us over $70 for a night and others have quoted us $84.  Showgrounds charge around $20 a night and offer a hot shower, power, clean drinking water, have all been safe and the gates remain open till late, which is great if you’ve miscalculated the driving distance and arrive in the dark. The Maryborough showground was no different and had heaps of space for the kids to run around. They loved the horses in the nearby paddocks and spent the early morning climbing the fences and playing tag. They are a really good alternative if you’re just looking for a place to sleep before heading off again in the morning.

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Restoring the van down under

Our 2000 Jayco Eagle caravan suits our family’s needs just perfectly and we really do love it but these things are a lot more complicated than they look! Having never owned a caravan before or spending much time in one has not served us well and we definitely have a new-found respect for all you caravaners out there.

We haven’t even left yet but we’ve already come to realise that the caravanning and camping community is an awesome one. We have met some of the kindest people along the way who have taken the time to help solve our problems or suggest someone who can. Then there’s the world wide web and the many people who’ve done the homework for us, we love you Youtube! What did people do before the internet?

Here are some of the things we’ve learnt so far.

Doing your checks

Finding the van of our dreams wasn’t as hard as we’d thought it would be but before we handed over any money we made sure we did a REVS check. This told us if the van had ever been written off, was stolen or had any money owing on it. We used a website called www.revscheck.com.au (make sure the one you use is relevant to your state). It was quick and inexpensive and could save you a lot of money and heartache.

Roadworthy & Gas Certificate

When purchasing a registered van you need to ensure that it’s roadworthy and comes with a valid roadworthy and gas certificate. Check with your state’s transport department but in Queensland, this is not your responsibility, it’s the sellers, and if they try to bypass this process don’t accept it. For two reasons:  Firstly, you can’t get it registered in your name without a certificate and if you arrange this yourself you will be responsible for any repairs required. Secondly and most importantly, when you drive the van home for the first time you want to make sure you’re going to get there safely.

Electrics

Once it’s registered and insured, you want to do your own safety check. Ofcourse, if you’re not comfortable with this, getting someone who is reputable and qualified to do the job is highly recommended! We began our check with the electrics and made sure all the lights and indicators were working…in our case our travelling lights weren’t. A few light bulbs later and we were right! Next, we connected power to the van and made sure all the interior lights, power points and the fridge were working. We found that the cable which connected from the van to the car had some exposed wires and needed cleaning and covering as dirt had settled into them. This is just maintenance but can cause all sorts of problems along the way.

Tyres

There’s a rectangular date stamp printed on the tyre sidewall which tells you the week and year of manufacture (in our case it was 4802). The tyre was 15 years old! Tyres don’t have an actual use by date but some sources in the tyre industry do recommend that if the tyre is older than six years old and there’s visible cracking then it’s time to change it. We ended up replacing ours.

Brakes & Bearings

We need a.. what? Well this one was a bit more complicated. Firstly, we had to make sure the van had brakes. The X-trail we have is amazing but it’s not the biggest car and the Eagle does weigh over a ton which could make going downhill super fun! In Qld, if the trailer has a GTM (Gross Trailer Mass) of more than 750kg it must have an efficient braking system installed. Ours had electric brakes. Lucky!

These brakes will only work though if you have an electric brake controller which in our case needed to be installed into the X-Trail. Cha Ching! We decided to go with the Redarc Elite system as it had excellent reviews and we found it easy to operate. I managed to tow the van and recalibrate it myself, and if I can do it then seriously, anyone can. Unfortunately, the brakes weren’t working very well though, even though we’d recently had the van serviced. Turns out the magnets were really worn and the drums needed replacing. The wheel bearings were borderline but as we’re going to be travelling long distances thought we’d replace them just in case.

Rust

Our van isn’t a dinosaur just yet but we do live close to the ocean so it did have a bit of rust about, especially underneath. We treated it and painted it with a rust prevention paint which you can buy at any hardware store to prevent any further corrosion.

Inside the van

Canvas Walls

Dreaded mould! The sight of this stuff makes me shiver but as this is quite a common problem in these types of vans we were able to find some great advice on how to deal with this issue. It took us two days to clean and treat the canvas using a 30-second mould killer from Bunnings. You have to be quick with this stuff as it can bleach the canvas but we found it worked better than the other recommended treatments that we first tried like vinegar, salt and oil of cloves. Just make sure you rinse it all out with fresh water afterwards. NOTE: this does damage the water-repellent so we did need to re-waterproof the canvas. We used the Coi Leisure Aqua Proof product from BCF.  It was very easy to use and dries clear. Judging by the age and condition of the canvas prior to this process, I’d say it needed it anyway. A bit of seam sealer on the edges and it’s all ready to go!

Sleeping arrangements

The van has two beds on each side, a queen and a double, a lounge area that converts to a king single and the dining area that folds down and turns into another single bed so it’s definitely big enough for the four of us. The mattresses were in excellent condition but we steam cleaned them anyway to make sure there was no mould hidden inside.

Some minor repairs

A few handles needed repairing, locks replacing and some cushions re-upholstered. The gas bottle on the van was very old and full of rust so it too had to be replaced. The awnings needed cleaning and repairing and with the help of some awesome guys at The Canvas Place in Brisbane, they’re as good as new.

All of this might seem like a lot of work but we don’t think it would have mattered if the van was 5 or 15 years old. What we’ve learnt is that vans need to be cared for and well-maintained if you want them to be reliable and comfortable and if you need help along the way, just ask! There are tons of people out there who are willing to lend a hand.

We have exactly two weeks to go before we leave, now we just need to work out how to pack for the next five months!