I just know there are going to be a great many caravaners and campers out there who are going to be mortified by this, but I have to admit it, I really do love Caravan Parks. To pinch a line from Forest Gump, they are just like a box of chocolates. You never know what you’re going to get.
Take the park we are at right know. It’s at a place called Cresent Head, NSW. It is right on banks of an estuary and beach and is an ideal location to get away from the city and enjoy a seaside getaway. It’s also a fairly big park and the layout ensures you have only just enough space for yourself. That said, some sites are quite cosy so you will have little choice but to say hi to your neighbors. I don’t really mind this as more often than not, fellow RVers tend to be kindred spirits and we generally really like the people we meet. There are times when that’s not the case but you make the best of the situation. Right now, our current neighbors are lovely and we have shared a couple of happy hours and afternoon teas with them. We had a very windy night a couple of nights ago and I made sure they were OK in their roof top tent. They were appreciative of my concern. I really get a lot out of this sharing and caring attitude that seems to exist in caravan parks.
Caravan parks are also a great opportunity for a sticky-beak at a plethora of other caravans and RVs of every size, shape and age. Most RVers are only too happy to show off their rigs and share the modifications they’ve made and the accessories they have had success using. We have learnt so much from talking to other park residents over the years.
Theres so much you can learn just by introducing yourself to others at the caravan park. Where to go to get a good meal, where the fish are biting, what are to better attractions around the area and, most importantly, where else they have been on their travels that might be included on your next itinerary…!
Of course, there is always the regular entertainment of watching people packing up and leaving and, more importantly, the new arrivals as they attempt to park their massive rigs into the smallest of spots. Kylie and I just love Witching Hour…!
As I said at the beginning, there’s a lot of travellers out there who don’t like caravan parks. Yes they can be expensive, amenity blocks can vary greatly in quality and cleanliness, park rules can be a bit restrictive and, sometimes they can be occupied by undesirable tennents. But these days there is so much information available online to give you a good idea of what a caravan park is like and, using applications like WikiCamps, you can see what parks are available in a set location, compare prices and even read comments from past tennents. There really is no excuse to not find a great caravan park in any location these days.
With the trend in free camping growing exponentially, the days of viable caravan parks may be on the slide and I admit, we are making more of an effort to free camp these days, but I think for convenience and social interaction, caravan parks will always feature on our itineraries in one way or another.
Everywhere we have travelled we have seen many campers using a Webber BBQ, usually the Baby Q. It seems to be the perfect size for portability as well as being capable of cooking a sufficient quantity of food for two to four people. So when we ordered the new van, we opted to fit a Baby Q on a slide out in the tunnel boot.
This has proved to be an excellent choice however I have struggled a bit with it to cook basic meals like bacon and eggs or potato chips and chopped onions. These are not really suitable for cooking on an open grill and the half hot plate made by Webber is too small to be very useful.
To solve this, we purchased a set of silicon bbq mats and these have proven to be the perfect solution. They have transformed the Webber into an every day cooking appliance.
So now, in addition to perfect roasts and char grilled steaks, we can now cook bacon and eggs with ease.
To start you off here’s my method for cooking perfect bacon and eggs. Click here.
The silicon matts can be purchased from eBay or any variety store that sells BBQ accessories.
I love photography and I especially love taking photos of the beautiful places we visit on our travels. For years I’ve carried a digital SLR camera with me along with an assortment of lenses and filters. It has allowed me to take some truely spectacular photos. But this comes at a price. The camera and all its accessories need a bag big enough to carry all the gear and protect it from the elements. It can also be quite fiddly changing lenses and keeping the dust out in the process. It’s not really suited for impromptu photos. Using an SLR camera is about taking time to be creative to capture the true essence of the subject.
For those random moments that happen every day, the camera on my smartphone is much more usable and available when the opportunity presents itself. The images cannot be compared to those from the SLR, but they are more than adequate for sharing on social media or even publishing on the web. Add to that the sofisicated image editing software that comes standard with iOS or Android and you really do need to ask if the smartphone camera is all that we need for capturing our holiday snaps.
Now, a new camera technology is becoming popular. Drones with digital cameras onboard allow us to take photos from an entirely different perspective. I’ve been experimenting with our Parrot drone and the results are nothing short of spectacular. The problem with the drone is its not really suitable for every occasion. You can’t just launch the drone anywhere. Trees, weather and other obstacles can make flight difficult.
So what camera or cameras should we chose to take with us on our travels. Well, that’s not an easy question to answer. For many, the smartphone can pretty much take any photo we would want. For others, the flexibility of interchangeable lenses and exposure control allow us to exercise our creativity more than a smartphone can. A drone might be an added level of complexity for only the real dedicated photographer chasing a truely unique perspective.
If your thinking about extending your photography beyond your smartphone, we’ve take a deeper look at what can be achieved with all three types of cameras. You can read the article here.
So, to answer the original question, is the SLR camera dead? Well that’s up to the individual to decide what they want from their holiday photographs. For me, I would not be without my SLR camera.
At the moment, Kylie and I are one week into our first big trip in the new van and you would be forgiven for thinking we are on our first caravan trip. We’ve made all the classic mistakes. Perhaps after all these years we’ve become a tad complacent or we’ve just been a bit unlucky. One thing is for sure; a pre drive checklist could have saved us a bit of frustration.
One thing hasn’t helped and that’s been the weather. For the first three days of this trip it has rained almost constantly. Mostly when its been time to set up or pack away and, because we’ve been in a hurry to get out of the rain, we’ve probably rushed things a bit.
Mostly it’s just the little things like forgetting to take the hose fitting off the tap at the caravan park or forgetting to turn off the tap before removing the hose. I copped a face full of cold water on that occasion. Probably the worst mistake we made was to leave the four seasons hatch open while driving in the torrential rain. It was opened after we set off the smoke alarm cooking bacon for breakfast and nearly setting alight a tea towel in the process…! Fortunately the only result was a bit of wed bedding and a fine spray of rain water in the living area. Nothing a wipe down with a couple of towels couldn’t fix. Considering the whole vent could have blown out, we got off lightly. Kylie discovered some new words in her vocabulary on that occasion..!
There are some things that cannot be avoided even with a checklist. Plugging in the power cord into the inlet without lining up the plug properly was a simple mistake anyone can make. Fortunately, we carry enough tools to fix little problems like that. We also discovered all the 12v system inoperative at one stop. I checked every fuse and connection to no avail. I was completely stummped. Using the process of elimination and a good multimeter, I was able to trace the problem to the solar controller having a power isolation function that is activated at the power meter. One of us must have pushed a wrong button at some point and switched everything off. Good to know we can do that…!
At the end of the day, a checklist that you religiously go through before every drive will help avoid a lot of issues. Knowing your van and being able to diagnose and fix minor problems is also essential.
After all, it wouldn’t be any fun if everything went according to plan. Where’s the challenge in that?
There’s one thing that has always annoyed me about our caravans and campers; the jockey wheel.
I have not been able to find a system that I have completely happy with. The camper’s we’ve had used the swing away variety but I’ve found the pivot mechanism to be a weak point resulting in bending of the wheel. Both caravans have had the removable unit that is attached using 2 screw clamps positioned in the middle of the A frame. These are awkward to get to and the clamps are damn fiddly. Then you have the problem of where to store the jockey wheel when you’re on the road. I never really found a good spot to store it where it wasn’t in the way of other stuff. What I wanted was a jockey wheel that I could leave in the holder but could retract it so it was is out of the way when travelling. Well I’m glad to report I have found such a device.
It’s called the BOS 370 Jockey Wheel and it is absolutely brilliant. It uses a geared winding mechanism to raise and lower the shaft. The ends are interchangeable depending on what unit you buy. I went with the straight base plate instead of the traditional wheel as the team at BOS advised that it is not really useful for a huge van like ours. You can also attach extensions to the base plate in order to cater for uneven sites. The mechanism can be operated by either the hand winder or using an ordinary clutched battery drill, the later make raising and lowering your caravan a breeze.
Best of all, once the base plate and any extensions have been removed using the quick release cotter pins, the shaft can be fully retracted sufficiently to allow the unit to remain in place. No need to remove it from the clamps. To me, this is the best part of the system.
We’ll be giving the BOS unit a good workout shortly on our up and coming trip to Stradbroke Island so we’ll do a complete review later. For now, if you’re a bit frustrated with your existing jockey wheel, the BOS370 may be worth a look.
Having a keen interest in all things caravanning and camping, I spend a bit of my spare time scrolling through various facebook groups and caravanning forums. More often than not, they are a great source of information as well as ideas for this blog. Recently I have noticed a troubling increase in the number of posts that advocate for completely unsafe practices particularly when it comes to 240v mains power. The old argument about plugging a caravan into a domestic 240v 10 amp power supply is the most common. Others are about the use of generators and inverters. These topics seem to start off innocently enough with the original poster having a genuine question to ask but many of the replies that follow just defy belief. It is incredible the number of people who suggest that making up your own power lead with a 10 amp point at one end and a 15 amp plug at the other and try to justify its safety and legality. I have even read a post from one person, whose son was supposedly a qualified electrician, claim it was a totally legal thing to do. I cannot imagine any self-respecting electrician making such a claim especially when the laws about this are so clear.
Other troubling advice I have read suggests to grind down plugs so that they fit the smaller outlets. Others suggest that drilling out the power point to accept the larger plugs is also acceptable. Fortunately, many forum and facebook group administrators have recognised the issue and are now deleting these posts. Apart from the fact that people posting such advice are actually incriminating themselves on a public forum, the possibility that someone could actually think this advice is correct and act accordingly means lives are put at risk. The question of liability in such an event would be very interesting indeed.
There is another troubling side-track that has also emerged from these posts. That being the behaviour of some caravan park managers and their blatant disregard for electrical safety. Some allegedly have been handing out illegal power cords and instructing their tenants to use 10 amp outlets for their RVs. Worse is the tenants have actually been using them…! Truly staggering behaviour.
It is so important that we are all aware of the laws and have a clear understanding of what is safe and what is unsafe. This is especially true for the novice and the experienced caravanner alike. We have an article on electrical safety with pictures of the sort of things to look out for as well as a summary of the laws in question.
In essence though, the advice is very clear and simple. No one should be doing any work beyond changing a fuse or light bulb on anything 240v related unless they are a qualified electrician. Any electrical work must be accompanied with a certificate of electrical safety. Don’t listen to the trolls on forums and facebook groups. Only use electrical products purchased from reputable retail outlets.
If in doubt, talk to a reputable and licenced electrician. It really is that simple.
With our impending trip to Stradbroke Island rapidly approaching, I thought it was about time I got busy with some additions to our Landcruiser, Olaf.
First off was the installation of a ScanGuage to monitor Olaf’s vital information like transmission temperature and fuel use.
Next was to put some 12v power outlets in the rear storage area so we can run our fridge and other accessories.
As with anything we do to Olaf, Kylie doesn’t want it to look like the DeLorean from the movie Back to the Future. She wants everything to look stock and no holes drilled in the trim. Fortunately I managed to do this with both which made my life a lot easier.
I’m pretty happy with the results. More detailed notes on the installations can be found at the links below.
Having previously owned both diesel and petrol vehicles and also having towed with both, I thought I had this question well and truly sorted out in my own mind years ago. These days, I think the answer is not so clear cut. Let me explain:
I once owned a Land Rover Discovery V8 petrol 4WD. When I had it, I was earning a pretty good wage and I had never experienced owning and driving a diesel before. The only diesels I had ever driven were naturally aspirated Landcruisers and Patrols and these wouldn’t pull the skin off a rice custard. As a busy sales rep buzzing around the state, I needed something that was capable of keeping up with Melbourne’s traffic. The Disco was a lot of fun to drive. The 3.8l engine was small by V8 standards but, shuffling through the gears, it revved pretty well and propelled the large 4wd very nicely indeed. It would never set the tyres alight but, for a 4wd, it was very respectable. The noise from the exhaust was also quite pleasing. All this performance came at a cost. A hefty one. 80 litres of fuel would be gone in 450ks. That’s 17.7l/100ks on a good day….! For a boy who had not owned anything bigger than a 2l Camry, this sort of fuel consumption was a shock to the system, and the hip pocket. The limited range was also a major headache when venturing off road. Even a short weekend in the Victorian Alps had to be planned to include a fuel stop along the way at some point. Failure to do so would leave my heart in my throat and my eye on the fuel gauge. Not a lot of fun. When I started towing even a modest load, the story was even worse. 20l/100ks on the open highways was as good as it would get with our sub 2t Bush Hopper trailer in tow. For outback travel, this sort of range was completely unsatisfactory. I had to do something.
I changed the V8 over to a diesel version of the same car. The Discovery with the 300tdi engine was a complete revelation. For a 2.5l 4 cylinder diesel engine, it had sufficient poke to keep up with the traffic. It was not as quick as the V8, but it didn’t feel like it lacked for any power, such was the low end delivery of its substantial torque. Best of all, you could give the engine the beans all day and it would consistently return fuel consumption figures of 10l/100ks every single fill up. That’s twice the V8’s range. Towing the same trailer, this figure would rarely rise above 13l/100ks. I was very happy and kept this car for over 11 years. As far as I was concerned at the time, anyone not driving a turbo diesel 4wd was kidding themselves.
Other 4wds at the time seemed to confirm my theory. The 80 series Crusiers were mainly being bought with the 4.5l straight six and even with twin cams and multivalve fuel injection, they still sucked down fuel at rates comparable to the old Disco V8. Even when Toyota and Nissan started turbo charging their 6 cylinder diesels, their fuel consumption wouldn’t get anywhere near the Disco’s.
Move time along another 10 years. The good old Disco was gone and we were 8 years into owning a Nissan Patrol 3.0CRD. Time had come to upgrade to something with a lot more grunt and towing capacity. I was still convinced a diesel was the way to go and we eventually settled on a 200 series Crusier V8 diesel and it hasn’t disappointed us in any way thus far. Its fuel economy is remarkable given the power this engine produces. It’s a fantastic vehicle. However there are a few caveats on this. Its fuel use can get into the higher end of the diesel spectrum if you give it the beans on a regular basis. We don’t drive it like we’ve stolen it, preferring to enjoy the relaxed nature of the big 8, but I have no doubt that if we were to partake in the traffic light drags a bit more, this consumption around town would go into the 13l/100k territory. That is still not bad for a 2.6t V8 auto full size 4WD…!
With a van on the back, obviously fuel consumption increases. Our Roadstar Safari Tamer is near on 3.5t fully loaded and this can see our fuel use increase to between 17.5 and 22l/100ks. By today’s standards that’s fairly high for a diesel but it’s not unreasonable. Many factors come into play here. Road conditions, prevailing winds, higher speeds all conspire to increase our fuel use.
So…back to the question of petrol or diesel. Until recently, there wasn’t a lot of choice if you wanted a full size 4WD. The 200 series cruiser was basically it and the petrol variant gulped down fuel like it was happy hour at the brewery. I’ve read about one fellow who’s petrol Cruiser managed to gulp down 39l/100ks driving into a stiff head wind towing less than 3t…!! He said he could actually see the fuel gauge move as he drove along.
Now there’s a new Nissan Patrol on the market, the Y62. Its 5.6l V8 is, by all accounts, a gem of an engine. Its capable of sedan like speeds and can effortlessly tow big loads up to 3.5t. But early reports about its fuel consumption quickly scared off buyers. I saw one report where a tow test resulted in fuel consumption of an eye watering 34l/100ks…! That’s around 450k range from 150 litres of fuel. Fuel consumption on that scale is nothing short of frightening.
The Y62 Patrol has been with us for a while now and it seems some of those early reports may have been a bit anomalous. Still more recent reports and feedback from actual users varies greatly but in real world conditions, for a given circumstance, the Y62 will consume anywhere between 5 and 7l/100ks more fuel than a diesel 200 series Landcruser. But the Patrol can be purchased for around $20,000 less than a Landcruiser of similar spec. You can buy a lot of fuel for $20,000….! Actually, at around $1.50 per litre, that’s about 13,000 litres. Even at 20l/100ks, that quantity would be sufficient for around 65,000ks to get to the breakeven point. Looking at those sort of figures, why the hell would anyone buy a diesel Landcruiser?
Well…the answer to that is simple. How many people would actually put aside $20,000 in the bank purely to be used for fuel over the lifetime of vehicle ownership? Not too many I don’t think. It’s just not a practical solution. No matter how you look at it, you still have to put fuel into that large fuel tank and you’ll be doing it more often than you would with a diesel powered vehicle. Then there’s the outback travel thing I’m always on about. It is still possible to have to travel 500ks or more between fuel stops. If you want to avoid smaller isolated fuel stops, you could increase those distances to 800ks or more in many instances. As a result, touring range starts to become a real issue. Then there’s the availability of unleaded fuel. The Y62 loves higher octane 95RON. While it is much more widely available than it may have been 15 years ago, it may not be available everywhere. Even in some remote areas, petrol may not be available at all. You be forced to fill up with Opel fuel or Avgas. Both of which have their own nasty issues. On the other hand, diesel is literally available everywhere.
Now I can hear the chorus of petrol owners out there carrying on about fuel contamination and water in diesel and, yes I acknowledge it’s an issue, but, I maintain that it is far easier to eliminate this risk by the use of additional filters. Further, the fact a diesel has more chance of getting to major fuel stops separated by greater distances reduces this risk considerably.
At the end of the day, the decision is up to the individual and what they value most. If you’re not venturing too far away from the major centres and you can live with more frequent trips to the bowser, then save your money and buy the Patrol and enjoy that glorious V8 engine. But, if you’re travelling outback, towing a big load and want to get further on your litre of fuel, then the extra investment in a diesel is the way to go.
You hear all the time about how people buy an off road caravan and rarely, if ever, use it for its intended purpose. I would say that is true for a great many owners of off road caravans. Some of us actually do want to take our vans into the terrain they were designed. It sounds easy enough, just take that track to your favourite campsite and live the dream. Unfortunately, the reality is not as simple as it may seem and even a modest 4WD track can become extremely challenging with a 3t caravan in tow.
I have been towing camper trailers all over the country for around 20 years and I have done so in some very extreme off road conditions. Cape York, the Kimberley region, even some of the goat tracks around the local camps in Victoria. Some have been difficult especially with a camper trailer in tow. Others have not caused me to raise a sweat. Overall though, nothing has really given me serious cause for concern. I thought I had off road towing down to a fine art.
Then, last weekend, we took the Safari Tamer to a bush camp in Bonnie Doon in, Victoria, near Lake Eildon. Access to this bush camp was down a narrow track, about 2kms in length. It was a little rutted and, under normal circumstances, it would not have presented a challenge. But there had been a fair amount of rain in the area prior to our visit and the track was pretty muddy and slippery when we arrived. Still, nothing I wouldn’t have thought would have been difficult at all. But put a huge 3.5t caravan on the back of the Crusier and it completely changed the situation. We made it to the campsite with no issues in the end but the experience has taught us some very valuable lessons that we will need to consider for our future off road caravanning adventures.
First off is the sheer size of the whole rig. Lengthwise we would be approximately 12m long so that makes negotiating tight corners very challenging and when the track has even slightly deep ruts, it can be difficult to get a sufficiently wide enough turn to avoid the caravan scraping some trees on the side of the track. The van is also very tall. Low hanging branches suddenly become an major issue. Having a spotter to ensure you have sufficient clearance is vital in these situations. The van is also very wide. There were a couple of gates we had to pass through along this track where there were mere centimetres clearance either side.
Having a competent tow vehicle with strong 4WD capabilities is also vital in these off road situations. I know that sounds obvious but when you consider that we triggered the Cruiser’s traction control in some places, you can begin to understand that a less capable vehicle, although completely competent in normal conditions, may very well have struggled. To be fair, Olaf was still wearing highway terrain tyres which were always going to be challenged in really wet and muddy conditions.
When we arrived at the campsite, we were confronted with a whole set of other issues. We had to find a suitably sized, flat camp site that the van could fit onto that still had sufficient clearance to get out of at the end of the trip. With trees all around, the room for manoeuvring was extremely tight. At one time I came very close to damaging the awning on a tree trunk. It took a couple of goes but we managed to get out unscathed.
I guess the point of all this is that while we had a great time with our first serious off road caravanning experience, it certainly has taught us some valuable lessons. If you’re planning on taking your off road caravan into the kind of terrain it was designed to go, you really need to be ready for the challenges that you’ll be presented with. Careful planning is required as well as a greater sense of awareness and anticipation. You cannot just blindly drive down a track and expect you’ll find a suitable spot to camp and then be able to get out when it’s time to go home.
We spent last weekend at a very special place, Yackandandah Victoria. It was my birthday weekend and I was keen to show Kylie this beautiful little town in Victoria’s north east. Unfortunately, the weather was not so good. An East Coast Low which brought horrible weather to NSW and Queensland had ensured a steady stream of rain fell on the little town. It didn’t let up all weekend.
In most other circumstances, this would have been a terrible weekend but for us it was perfectly fine. In fact, we really enjoyed it. Here’s why…
In our Resources Section is some advice on Essential Caravan Features and number one on that list is a make sure you get a comfortable interior. One that, it you do experience torrential rain for 2 or 3 days in a row, you won’t go stir crazy or feel claustrophobic being couped up inside your van or camper.
When we were looking around at caravans, we tried to imagine what it would be like to have to spend an extended amount of time inside the van. Were the seats comfortable enough to sit in for an hour or more? Could the TV be seen from both the bed and the table at the same time? Was there sufficient windows to allow a good view outside and provide that all-important natural light? Was the bed spacious enough to accommodate both of us and the three dogs together? Could one of us still use the kitchen without getting in the way the other trying to watch TV? All the sort of things you would take for granted inside a house that, at first, don’t seem that important in a caravan or camper but become a real issue if you’re stuck inside for the duration.
Now while we were in Yackandandah, we weren’t completely restricted to caravan park. We did manage to get out a bit and explore the area, but we did have to spend extended periods in the van while it rained outside and I’m glad to say our confidence in the Roadstar’s interior lived up to our expectations.
We were comfortable at all times and even the girls didn’t seem to mind too much being locked up inside.
I put this comfort down to 3 things in particular:
The café lounge with the extendable foot rests is quite large compared to many others and very well padded. It’s very easy to get into a comfortable position.
The offset layout of the kitchen in relation to the lounge means there is sufficient space to walk around each other without compromising on bench space.
The windows are quite large and, combined with the big skylight, allow plenty of natural light into the van.
So, just to reaffirm our advice to anyone looking for a new caravan, camper or motorhome. When you see one you like, take the time to sit in it and just imagine what it would be like to stay inside for a day or more. Try to do the sort of things you would normally do together in a house. You will soon get an appreciation for what it would be like and whether or not you could actually do it without going completely mad.