One of our Derrygoround bucket list items was a trip to the Western Plains Zoo, we trekked up from the coast over two days (found a nice free camp on the way for an overnight - Cassilis rest area) and then stayed at the Red Earth Estate winery, just behind the zoo. More like a home camp with great wine and dumplings, the kids loved chatting with the Chinese owners in Mandarin.
The main aim of our trip was of course the Zoo, the kids reflected on the visit by making their own clips videos. Check them out below
They had lots of fun making them and learnt a heap along the way.
It's been almost two weeks, (so much for weekly updates) and things are going swimmingly. it's been busy, cold, relaxing, stressful, entertaining, educational and fun.
Our first week was mostly visiting family and friends with a bit of just us camping thrown in. We left Brissy Saturday the 3rd of August (a couple of days late) but we started, a slow trip down the M1 past the Gold Coast. We visited an old work friend and Arlo's Grade 2 teacher, Clare, for lunch and a visit to her house and nearby beach.
We then moved on to Lismore and stayed with friends Abby and Jos. It was a tight squeeze (almost bottomed out) getting into and out of their driveway. The kids had a great time (as did the adults) and it was a shame to leave the next day.
Not a bad place to slip and slide, and the middle of winter too.
Then it was a quick run down the coast to Macksville to stay the night with cousin Mick, who put on a cracking lamb roast for us.
We then made our way down to Myall Lakes National Park, where we managed to scrape onto the barge, caravan and all, and found a peaceful camp site for the next two nights.
It really was a spectacular spot, right on the lake. Ducks, swans and a friendly dingo walking about, the nights were cold but it was our first real camping night on our derrygoround.
Beaches, lakes, coastal rainforests, bush walks, sunsets, camp fires, flat batteries, learning, quiet and bbqs; we loved this spot and would love to return.
We then dumped the toilet, as you do after three days of limited facilities, at a dump site with the best view we have seen so far.
Then we headed down the road to stay with Tanya's old work colleague, Mark, and his family in Newcastle. More dogs, more kids and a warm fire as well as an introduction to the game of Trouble for Arlo and Galen (we have been scouring op shops to find our own game).
Having a coffee with Mark on Lake Macquarie the next morning, Mark checked the weather and let us know of a severe weather warning: a coming cold front with 90km/h winds that were going to lash the area over the next couple of days.
Yes it was a bit windy and not great weather for towing a 2.5 tonne sail in the shape of a caravan. In a bit of a mild panic we "slowly rushed" down the motorway to my aunt and uncle's place where we holed up for the night and caught up with cousins, second cousins and even third cousins (does such a thing exist?).
We got a lot of caravanning advice from Ken and Wendy, had heaps of laughs and managed to survive the wind.
Then it was on to The Entrance where we had our first experience of caravan park (sardine) living. At least we didn't need to the park the van, as they have a guy on a tractor do that for you. When we arrived we had the option of having a waterfront site, which sounded great, but the lady at the counter said you might want to check it out first as it was a bit breezy, a quick walk down and we decided some shelter would be preferable.
My sister and her family came up for the weekend and we had a super, (but cold) family weekend, with nice beaches, lighthouses, great food, cousin time and lots of stories, games and catch ups. By the time the family left on Monday the weather turned around and we had a lovely afternoon sitting by the river (everyone else had left by then too).
We then left the coast and headed up the Great Dividing Range to our first free camp, basically a rest stop halfway between Newcastle and Dubbo. Very cold, horrible toilets, but the scenery was lovely, we got to have a fire and the price was great. The beauty of being self-contained is that you really don't miss out on any luxuries.
Waking up to a temp of -4 Celsius certainly lends itself to a slow start!
Once we had thawed a little we made our way to Dubbo, where we checked into the Red Earth Winery for the next three nights. Power, water, good wine, homemade dumplings and a great view were well worth the cold weather.
We also managed a trip to the old Dubbo Gaol to give the kids a bit of an Aussie history lesson. Arlo was not too impressed and got freaked out by the cells (especially solitary confinement), animatronics and conditions, Dad got freaked out by the price and Galen loved it and couldn't stop asking questions.
Our first two weeks have certainly been a learning experience for all of us, while being lots of fun and well worth the effort.
Next up, the reason we came to Dubbo in the first place.
After a hectic five weeks of set up, we are finally ready to get started and make a lot more mistakes. It's been a bit busy,
Buying the van.
A Newlands Tourista 610. We didn't plan on buying new, but it was too good a deal: end of financial year discount, set up for free camping and lots of extras thrown in. We spent more than we budgeted for, but that means we get more back when we sell it, right?
Then the car.
2006 100 series LandCruiser. A bit less than we budgeted for, but that allowed us to get some new, good (expensive) tyres and some minor repairs done. It's petrol so it will cost us a bit more on the trip, but repairs will be cheaper and we already saved on the purchase. right?
Next, insurance. RACQ membership, a small scare when we thought our van wasn't registered, and car servicing. Then there was the endless shopping for stuff, camping (we can't take the van everywhere we want to go), BBQ (most cooking will be done outside), extra fridge/freezer, bikes for the kids, washing machine, chairs, tables, camp stove, storage containers, tools, filters, gas bottles, sleeping bags and so much more. It seemed like we went shopping every other day.
We did a towing/reversing course.
Well worth the time and effort, even if we still don't don't know what we are doing.
Did a test run to the Sunshine Coast and K'gari (Fraser island).
Where we also got to test our camping set up.
And our sand driving and general 4WD skills.
We learnt so much in that week, toilet capacity (and how to empty it), which gas fittings we need to connect the BBQ to the van, the right way to set up and set down the awning (some friendly grey nomads helped us when I thought there was a clip to hold up the awing to the van, when no such thing ever existed), not to leave the hot water cover on when you leave the van for a couple of days (those things get knocked off), it is probably best to sit quietly and listen even if you don't agree with what people are saying at a communal fire pit, the best way to make toast on a BBQ, a second car battery needs a working solenoid to charge from your first battery (so your extra fridge can work), sometimes the kids need some food and down time, we practised towing on the open road, filling the car with van attached just to name a few things.
It was a great week, where we caught up with friends and got a taste of what was ahead.
We got back with a list of things to do, bike modifications, minor car repairs, more shopping, we got our van and car weighed and found out we were over our allowed weights, a bit of panic set in, (how could we lose 100kg of stuff)!
A call to a caravan engineer who verified our van ATM could be increased, got us an upgrade with new compliance plates (we waited around two extra days for this to happen) so now we have plenty of extra wiggle room, most importantly we are safe and legal.
We also learnt that you should always triple check the van when towing, we left a stabiliser down and made a nice furrow in our sister (in-law's) yard, while also managing to bend the pins so it couldn't be lifted up, I had to quickly unbolt it. It needed to be repaired (hopefully we won't make that mistake again). Of course this happened when I was running late to get the GVM check done.
We have shopped, argued over buying cheap stuff vs where can we put it in the caravan, shopped, adjusted Arlo's bike so it now has a quick release wheel (allowing us to transport the bikes in the car) visited more shops to get floor matting and extra tools. We have planned our first two weeks or so, then changed plans because of having to wait around to get things done or to work in with the plans of friends. Our only certainty is that our plans will change.
We are now ready to head south and start our big adventure, we are hanging near to the coast because we are sure there will be plenty of things we still need (stone guard), things we need to get done and so many things we haven't even thought of yet. Our house on wheels is ready to roll and so are we.
Tomorrow we head off on our lap. It's hard to believe that it has all come together and we can actually live this dream. These past few weeks months have been hard. Saying goodbye to friends in Malaysia, imposing ourselves on family (for which we are SO grateful) while we get ourselves organised, researching, hunting and buying, buying, buying. We knew that the set up would cost a bit of money, but the cash hemmorhage just doesn't seem to end. First it was the caravan (yes, we bought a new one instead of secondhand, and we paid more than we intended, but we were happy with what we got and can somehow justify the expense because we'll get more back on resale, hopefully!!), then there was the car. Then there was everything else on top of that...
The camping gear: tent (75% off the marked price from Anaconda - but Anaconda always seems to have a sale, so these tents may always be 75% off), extra tent pegs as we'll be camping in sand at times, mallet to hammer in pegs, seam sealant (the tent was cheap, I don't trust it to keep us dry!!), airbed (we had two singles, so just needed one more double), pump to inflate the mattresses, sleeping bags, camp stove, gas bottle, cast iron camp oven, and more.
The car gear: compressor for inflating and deflating tyres, four new tyres, servicing, a list of things the mechanic says we will need sooner rather than later, recovery gear in case something goes wrong (will we know how to use it??), 12v fridge/freezer for camping, tools (will we know how to use them??), and more.
The caravan: anti-theft lock, padlocks for the gas bottles, plastic storage boxes to store everything, Ziegler and Brown bbq, pillows, kitchen utensils, food, cleaning products, toilet chemicals, first aid kit, snake bite kit, fans for free camping when we can't use the aircon, washing machine, stoneguard*, towing course and towing mirrors**.
The fun stuff: bikes for the kids (including new helmets, lock, spare inner tubes, tool to remove the bike tyres, and still need to go back to change the front wheel of Arlo's bike to a quick release), Springfloats, cricket set (we weren't looking for one, but there was one for sale at the Salvos store for $1).
And there's so much more. We're still debating where to put a bike rack (on the car or on the van, and if on the van, at the front or the back, and if on the car, do we use a Pacific frame that can attach to the tow ball while towing the caravan, and will that put too much weight on the tow ball or do we just put the bikes in the back of the car and will they fit....?). We're wondering if we need to get a snorkel fitted (that's a quick $700, but don't worry, they'll install that hollow piece of plastic for that price too!!).
We've bought a lot of things on Gumtree and Facebook Marketplace. Got a great deal on the Ziggy, got excellent sleeping bags for the kids, a super cheap camp stove with gas bottle (that was out of date and was going to be cheaper to buy a new one than get that serviced, so we donated that), four 10L water bottles for free, and more.
We've been in and out of op shops constantly over the past week. Teatowels, regular towels (to wrap things that might break), laundry baskets, cooking utensils have all come from there.
Ikea did well out of us for a lot of our kitchen and bedding needs.
We've also bought a lot online (washing machine, cast iron camp oven, Kölner fridge) and become frequent visitors to Anaconda, BCF, Down Under Camping, Super Cheap Auto, Bunnings and Jaycar. Sure, we've bought some things that weren't vital (such as solar powered garden lights that we'll put near tent or awning pegs, or the camp oven that we'll be cooking damper in) but still, the list of necessities just seems to grow rather than shrink over time.
*Geoff bought a stoneguard from a guy on Gumtree. As soon as he got it home we wondered how we were supposed to attach it, and after looking at pictures of other stonguards, I was convinced he got one for a camper trailer and not a caravan because it was too small. Yay, that's another $120 wasted... though thankfully the seller will take it back, so then we'll go to a proper dealer.
**We did a great towing course yesterday, though the first thing the instructor said to us was the towing mirrors we had bought (from Super Cheap Auto) were crap and he just happened to have a set of proper mirrors he'd sell us, so the towing course was instantly $150 more expensive (but he had a point, even I could see his mirrors were so much better). Happily, SCA gave us a no questions asked refund.
Then there's the biggie. We bought a 2006 V8 petrol Landcruiser. Petrol. Currently fuel prices are hovering around $1.50 per litre, and that's in the city. That's one thirsty car towing around 3 tonnes all around the country. Perhaps we need to pick up seasonal work as we find it to fund this trip.
We've been back in Australia for nearly two weeks now. I keep telling myself we're home, but really, home feels like 6,000+ kilometres away. We're all doing it a bit tough here. The kids have their sad moments, usually to do with missing Malaysia, our house, our friends, and I feel the same. I knew this part would be tough, and it isn't any tougher than I expected, and I know we've just got to push through and finish all the awful preparation before we can really get started on our trip.
After three days in Australia we bought our van. We had done all the research on second hand vans and knew what we wanted - only to end up buying a new van! We got a good deal (end of financial year) though there was a fair bit of compromising and I am waking up in the middle of the night wondering where we are going to store everything (it's a pretty small van for a family of 4), why did we agree on a van with no bathroom sink (though it does have a toilet and shower...), and what do we do about fans in the van for cooling us at night when we're off-grid and can't use the air-conditioning (since our van has already been built, it's apparently a bit of a problem to retro-fit fans exactly where we want them). But we love the van and we collect it on the 16th, after which we can share more details.
A few days ago we bought our tow vehicle - a 2006 Landcruiser. We picked it up yesterday and took it for a test run to the Gold Coast (not because we wanted to - we needed to return the rental car). The car is big, and very thirsty, but it'll have no issues towing the van, so we're happy about that.
Today we got the kids wheels of their own. Two new bikes that are finally the right size for them; in Malaysia they had both been riding bikes with 16" wheels for far longer than they should have. They spent the rest of the afternoon riding up and down the street, working out how to change gears and getting the hang of big bikes. And yet, Galen still got a bit sad, and said he wished he could have bike races on his new bike with Dylan, our neighbour in Malaysia.
All the new toys are not making the transition from a fairly sedentary life in Malaysia to a nomadic life in Australia easy or fun, but once we're fully on the go, it's hopefully going to be all worthwhile.
We took a break from packing up the house to celebrate our big girl yesterday. She's now done the biggest lap nine times. Congratuations on nine laps around the sun, sweet Arlo.
I was up so late making the big birthday cake, I completely forgot our traditional breakfast-in-bed cupcakes. So quick microwave cakes in cups (sprinkled with edible silver glitter) had to suffice. I hope this isn't our go-to in the van, because they weren't so nice. Kids liked them though.
We're downsizing, which means SMALL presents!!
My design brief (too much Masterchef!) for the cake was forest floor. And it had to be green. She was happy...
Celebrating nine at our happy place, Sunway Lagoon, with good friends. We will miss this place, and these people, but love the memories we continue to make with them.