First anniversary of ‘the rig’

One year ago today we picked up our rig from Lithgow and headed for Bathurst. The grass was white and crisp on our first morning, and we froze.

It’s been a great year. Next week should see us heading for South Australia to do our first bit of work – about 8 – 10 weeks on the wheat silos. Training starts on the 7th October. The season’s short so hopefully bearable. It’ll be a new experience for us both, and that’s what we want now from life – new experiences (preferably ones that have us saying, “what a pleasure!”) We’ve had lots of occasions to say that over the past year, and in fact it’s becoming one of our favourite sayings.

The rig has evolved and changed somewhat since we picked it up. We’ve had new lifter legs fitted, new axles and new tyres, by necessity rather than choice. At the same time we had a huge storage compartment fitted to the underneath of the van. It’s like a very big tunnel boot, and holds most of our outdoor furniture. The outdoor table and chairs used to travel on our bed and I was constantly worried what creepy crawlies we were bringing into the van with each pack up. This is proving to be a priceless addition. It’s a massive amount of extra storage and holds a multitude.

The two single mattresses have been replaced with a pillow top double recently. It’s very comfortable and better than having the two singles zipped together. Both TVs have been replaced. We’ve changed our original barbecue for a Baby Q, which we love, and this week we bought one of those little portable glass turbo ovens. We’ve only cooked once in that so far – roast pork. The crackle was the best ever, and the potatoes were brown and crisp. Very entertaining to sit outside and watch the pork cooking too.

Currently, we’re trialling doing away with some of the seating and increasing our kitchen area. We have seating for 6, yet the kitchen is barely adequate. It makes sense to reduce the seating by two seats, and increase the kitchen and bench space. We haven’t made any permanent changes yet until we check which of two options is the going to be the most suitable. Living in a caravan isn’t free of maintenance or update expenses. Can’t complain though, it’s a lot less than in a house.

We’ve put some plans in place for the next year, including a 6 – 8 week trip to the UK and Italy. It’s our 60th in May, so we’ve booked ourselves a 12 night tour of the Amalfi coast through to Puglia (not sure if I’ve spelt that correctly – the heel of Italy’s boot). It’s a small coach tour with only around 16 passengers, and it goes to some main tourist destinations but also quite a few villages that are off the beaten track. We’ve read lots of reviews on different tour companies, and Amber Roads sounds like it’s the real deal. Fingers crossed that our homework pays off and gives us lots of occasions to say, “what a pleasure”.

We combining that trip with going to see Paul’s dad and cousins in the UK. It’ll be rather nice to have some time to spend there this time, knowing we don’t have to rush back to work.

We’re going to try out the premium economy seats on Cathay Pacific. It’ll cost a bit more, but we’ll forfeit stopovers, so should end up costing around the same all up. It won’t be anywhere near as good as business class of course, but hopefully better than normal economy. Anyway, it’s only money – not that we have that much of that, but what we have is no good to us once we’re gone. We figure about half our life time to earn it, and the other half to spend it sounds about right. Not sure what happens if our maths is way out though, and the 2nd half ends up being greater than the first half – guess there’s still such a thing as ‘pauper’s graves’…. LOL!!!

Repairs almost completed

We’re still in Newcastle. We took our Travelhome to get the front lifting legs replaced with the new, stronger type now being used on their Travelhomes. We also arranged to get a large storage locker added to the under frame, as well as a general safety check.

Safety check picked up a major problem. Both axles were slightly bent, which had caused major damage to three tyres on their inner side. As we haven’t driven over any large bumps or done anything that could have caused the damage, we figure it was possibly already like this when we purchased the van. Bit of a shock as no damage was evident. Also we had someone do the bearings in the caravan prior to moving into it, so it should have been picked up then.

Luckily it’s been picked up now and no real damage has been done (except to our bank acct). It could have been disastrous should two of the tyres have blown at once, and from the damage that was occurring, this was quite a possibility had we continued driving with it.

Travelhome have been terrific. They work on the van during the day, and then move it into their yard for us to use over night. So, we haven’t had the additional cost of finding alternative accommodation whilst the repairs are carried out. They’ve also had someone come out to service the fridge and the diesel heater which had some minor problems, and along with the new tyres and a couple of other things, are not adding a percentage to these costs. We’re grateful for that, as the repairs are costly enough as it is. Never mind, any home has it’s maintenance costs, and a caravan is obviously no exception.

We’re only waiting for the new tyres now which should be fitted early tomorrow, and we should be on our way by mid morning. We’re probably going to head for Port Stephens to have a look. The whales should be around there at the moment. It’ll be nice to get back on on the road again, and although most of the repairs won’t show any noticeable difference to us, the storage locker will. Currently our outdoor table and chairs are on our bed while we’re travelling. Now they can go in the storage locker, making packing up much easier on the morning of travel, and also making one night stops much simpler.

Freezing our butts off on beautiful Lake Macquarie

After a whirlwind trip through the centre of Queensland and into NSW, we’re now in Newcastle awaiting repairs to our rig on Monday. Central Qld was an interesting experience. Drought stricken for sure, and different altogether to being on the coast. We love the coast, but seeing the interior was enjoyable  all the same. We most likely wouldn’t have chosen to go there if it hadn’t been for our needed repairs. So, I’m reminded once again that clouds tend to have a silver lining if you look for it.

We arrived on Friday and are staying at a lovely caravan park, with our van backed right up to the lake. We lay in bed this morning watching the horizon turn red as the sun rose over beautiful Lake Macquarie. Believe me, tucked up warm and snug in bed was the best place to be watching it from. It’s freezing. The sky’s blue and clear and the sun’s shining. But the wind cuts right through you.

The view we woke up to each morning.

View of Lake Macquarie from our rear window.

We can’t take the van off the car until we’ve had the legs replaced. The manufacturers had loads of trouble with the legs we currently have on the van, so we’re getting them to replace them with the type they use now. While they’re doing the legs, we’re thinking of getting them to add a storage box to the undercarriage. These are now standard on all their caravans, and it’ll mean we can store our outdoor table and chairs there for travelling, instead of laying them on our bed. Until the repairs are completed, we’re travelling on foot. So, we’re having a few enforced, ‘Life of Riley’ rest days.

Paul washed the outside of the van today, while I gave the inside a good clean. Amazing how much red dust has found itself into every little crack. We think we have it all clean, but then when we travel the bouncing down the roads shakes more out. The joys of the nomadic lifestyle!

We’ve just been for a lovely, bracing walk on the banks of the lake. We both had beanies on, and I had trackies on along with a tee shirt and two polar fleeces. It took about half an hour of walking before I’d warmed up enough to unzip my top fleece. It was worth it though. There’s loads of black swans and mallard ducks, as well as other bird life on the lake, so really pretty. Even though we enjoyed it,  Paul says he ‘didn’t sign up for this’. I agree, our plan has been to follow nice weather. But as we’re finding out, our plans are fluid, extremely fluid. It won’t be long till we’re heading north again to find warmer weather.

Not all a bed of roses!

The past week or so hasn’t been so good, starting with the failed leg on our Travelhome when we first arrived at Kakadu.

After that we had to leave Edith Falls earlier than we would have liked after hearing back from a job agency in regards to a station job in SA. The agency had checked our references and recommended us to the station for the job. So, we took ourselves back to Katherine to await the phone call. After four days we had still not heard anything.

Whilst in Katherine we found another station job for us both, and this one sounded like it would be a beauty. We phoned the managers, and followed up with our resumes. They wanted someone to start on the 7th August. So, we arranged to arrive at the nearest town no later than today, and to go out to their station for an interview. We then made a mad dash of over a thousand kilometres (for a job interview – crazy, I know), to the NT/QLD border. We were under the impression from the station manager’s that we had a damned good chance, and we liked the sound of the jobs for us both. We figured we could do the job, and it seemed like as long as they thought so too, the job was going to be ours.

We arrived in Camoorweal (the closest town) yesterday,  one day earlier than arranged,  and contacted the station via email to set up a time for our interview today. Then we set about unhitching the Travelhome. The second leg failed! Result is we can’t risk unhitching from the car until the legs are operational again. It’s almost a 3 Tonne vehicle and to have it supported fully by car jacks, well the mind plays havoc with the disaster that could eventuate. So, we were faced with having to turn up down the dirt station road for our interview with the full rig. Not ideal, but we figured it wouldn’t be too much of a drama.

We went out for a nice dinner at the Camoorweal pub, the one highlight of the past week. On our return we opened our email, and the station managers had saved us the bother of taking the rig out, they had hired someone else that morning, almost two days before we were due to arrive. Needless to say, we weren’t  impressed.

So, what to do? We’ve been making enquiries, and getting replacement parts for the Travelhome is proving difficult, although I think Paul has now tracked them down. Dilemma is, Travelhome has stopped using these legs as they were less than ideal. Replacing them with the same seems foolhardy, given the amount of use they’ve had and failed, (less than 12 months use in total).

There’s a lot to be said for having a Jayco (or Junko as Kelv calls them) Being common on the roads, I doubt repairs cause the grief our current needed repairs are causing. But then again, we’ve just met a couple who lost their caravan in unexpected cross winds that flipped their rig over. That’s a lot less likely to happen with a fifth wheeler. Fifth wheelers feel a lot safer to have behind you, so we get back to same with whatever you have – every rig involves some sort of compromise. For us, the fifth wheeler is still the best compromise of all, simply because of that added element of safety.

We’ve decided the best course of action is to go to Newcastle and speak to the manufacturers. We’re hoping they’ll either replace the legs with the type they’re currently using, or else they’ll recommend someone else who can. We have a few other niggles with the Travelhome that we also want looked at, and being in the back of beyond makes that difficult. With normal caravans there’s an easier chance of repairs in out of the way places I should imagine. We’ve tried to phone Travelhome, but that’s also difficult in the back of beyond. We can never get to speak to someone directly, which means they always have to phone us back, by which time we’re either out of range again, or would prefer to be out of range.

We headed into Mount Isa today, and as soon as our phones came in range messages started to come through. We still haven’t heard from the SA job, but the agency contacted us for another couples station job, this time in Kununurra. We were initially interested, but after a couple of hours thought, we decided we don’t really need this twoing and froing across the country, at least not yet. So we phoned him back and said to count us out for this one as we want to continue on with our travels to Newcastle.

It means we can’t unhitch anywhere so it’s going to be a travel only trip without any real chance of getting out and seeing anything. It also means we’ll have to go via the inland country route so as to get big drive through sites which will allow the rig to remain hitched up.

We don’t need to be in a rush to find work, at least not for a long while yet. It’s me rather than Paul who has been researching and following up on jobs, and as Paul said today, why??? and I asked myself the same question. So, we’re going to step back for a while, get the rig sorted out, and then go back to taking time to smell the roses, and seeing this lovely country again.

Thank goodness for Paul’s calm sense of reason. I was becoming a fliberty jibert, and was rocking the apple cart for no good reason. So, much as we’re both peed off to say the least at the managers of Rocklands station, and also the SA station for not even contacting us, perhaps it’s a good thing.

Fingers crossed now that we get some satisfaction from Travelhome. It seems a bit drastic to have to travel almost 4000 kms to get our caravan repaired. Perhaps we’re being more knee jerky than we need to be, but we are probably in one of the most remotest parts of the country and to get to anywhere involves travelling thousands of kms. So, we figure we may as well just go to the people most likely to get our rig sorted properly, the manufacturers.

Problems with Travelhome

We arrived at Kakadu and couldn’t get one of the front legs on our Travelhome to raise the caravan up off our ute. After several attempts Paul realised there was a major problem, so came up with a make shift solution using our car jack to support it. Not ideal, but it will do until we hear back from Travelhome.

Paul has taken the leg apart and there is a stripped thread inside it. Hopefully, we’ll be able to get Travelhome to send us the spare part to Katherine Post Office. Paul’s pretty certain he’ll be able to repair it himself easily enough. Being in the back of beyond though, getting the part is going to be the biggest problem.

We’ve heard how good Travelhome is in there after sales service. I just hope they live up to their reputation. Moving from place to place using a car jack isn’t going to be ideal, plus getting attention for having a peg leg on our van doesn’t impress us much.

Tweaking our belongings

Four months on the road and we’re learning what’s essential and what isn’t. We took our rig over a weigh bridge in Bunbury and fully loaded it’s close to half a tonne overweight. We figure with a 5 tonne rig we can possibly get away with that. If not, we’ll have to change the vehicle I guess. Shame the Hi-lux isn’t rated higher, it’s more than capable of pulling around what we have. We don’t even know the vans behind us most of the time, and towing the fifth wheeler we sit on around 90KPH, and around 2000 revs. It’s doing 12.5 – 13 litres per hundred when towing, which most people think is pretty damned good. I think the aero dynamic shape of the Travelhome helps that a lot.

We know we have to be careful to keep the weight from increasing, or possibly even reduce a few things if we can. We had been looking at changing our air con, but that would add more weight, so we’ll try and live with what we have. A roof unit would be more efficient, but with shady sites and moving on with the seasons, we think the one we have may be just adequate.

We are constantly in ‘cull’ mode for anything that’s not performing as expected or anything that’s not getting used and not likely to be used.

This week we replaced our 5 month old barbecue with a Baby Q. The Baby Q roasts and bakes beautifully, so is more efficient that the one it’s replacing. Because it roasts so beautifully we’re going to find a new home for our heavy, but much loved cast iron camp oven. The occasional access we have to camp fires on which we can use it, doesn’t justify it’s weight when we can cook all the same things and more often on the Baby Q.

When we first moved into the caravan it felt like it was short on storage. It’s a pleasant surprise to find out that’s not the case. But we do have to be constantly vigilant. Almost weekly, we clean and tweak our belongings. This week it’s the camp oven, replaced barbecue and a surplus table. Last week it may have been a tea pot, or/and a couple of cups that we find we’re not using and not likely to use. Next week, it may be a couple of t/shirts and a few pairs of knickers. We both have more than enough clothes, so it’ll be a while before we have to replace things that are starting to wear out.

Another thing that’s pleasantly surprising about living in the caravan, is that I thought there would be lots of times when we’d feel like the other half was ‘under foot’. That rarely ever happens, in fact it makes me wonder why the hell houses are getting so big. This feels absolutely big enough for two people. It’s quick to clean, and because we don’t have spare storage space, we can’t spend money on shite that sits in a cupboard or garage, forced economy!

Rather than adjust our house to fit unfavourable climates, we can just up wheels and move to where the climate’s better. Moving into this really does get needs and wants in prospective. There’s room here for me and mine, and room for friends and family when they visit. Entertaining isn’t any harder here than it was in a house, in fact with park ablution blocks, pools, and camp kitchens, it’s easier, we have all the mod cons for our guests and don’t have to clean any of them.

Self sufficient

At Lucky Bay we started to realise what it means to have our 2 x 150 watt solar panels, our 1500 watt inverter, Ctek battery charge and our generator. I can’t pretent to understand any of it, but after a few days at Lucky Bay without power and a bit of time to start looking at our own energy supplies, Paul started to work it out. There’s no shortage of willing and able blokes in camp grounds all willing to share their knowledge as well.

Firstly we took the fridge off gas and had it running on 240 volt from the inverter. However that was a mistake, the fridge draws to much power and ran our battery charge right down. The next day was overcast so re-charging the solar panels was slow. That’s when the generator came into it’s own, a couple hours of running that and we were fully charged once again and the fridge was back on gas.

So, we found running the big fridge isn’t possible from our own power source, but the things that are possible amazed me. I used my thermomix for making dips, we ran our TV and charged all our phones and computers, and I used my hair straighteners, all with hardly a change to the battery charge level.

As our microwave is only 850 watt we think that’ll be okay, but aren’t sure if we’ll be able to cook with the thermo mix yet. I still have to check the wattage of that before I try it, and I haven’t as yet tried the washing machine.  Those things are still be tried yet.

Currently the only things we know for sure it won’t run is the big fridge and my hair blowdryer. The fridge runs very well on gas and it takes hardly any gas, and as long I let me hair dry naturally, I can still use the straighteners to make it look passable.

This all means we can lived in a very civilised manner with only a few exceptions providing we have sun. When we don’t have sun, we can still be very civilised by using the generator.

Compared to our last caravan in which we had to boil a pot for hot water, I am amazed at how far removed from the pioneer feel this is. We really could live very well and for a very long time in one place providing it’s sunny, there’s a water supply and our cupboards are stocked. The biggest problem though of course is often there isn’t water, so once the water in our tanks is nearing it’s end we either have to look at finding a way to bring water to us, or move on to a water supply.