Kylie and I couldn’t wait for our first big trip in the new car and caravan. We had been planning it for a few months and so our anticipation levels were high as the time approached. Our plan was to give the new Landcruiser with the Safari Tamer in tow a good test without going too extreme. That meant a mix of free camping and caravan parks. We weren’t wanting to head off road on this occasion. Our two main destinations would be Nth Stradbroke Island and Crescent Heads in NSW. We’d been to Straddie before and were excited to return. Crescent Heads was completely new and looked amazing.
There were a few other things we were trailing out on this trip. The Safari Tamer is a big van and I had wondered how easily it would be to tow on long distances. With the previous van hitched behind the Patrol, I felt exhausted after about 400ks driving. 500ks in one day was pretty much the limit. The few short trips we had done before in the new rig suggested we should be good for slightly longer distances. We also wanted to see what sort of fuel economy we could expect with the caravan fully loaded. This trip would teach us all this and a lot more as it turned out.
We left home pretty much on schedule, as Kylie likes it to be, and were headed for Narrandera in NSW, a distance of about 400ks. It would be a big day but we had got on the road before 10am so we had plenty of time up our sleeve. What we hadn’t considered was the weather. It was atrocious with strong winds and torrential rain the whole way. It didn’t slow us down too much but we did have to be very careful especially with all the water on the roads. After a lunch stop in Finley Park, we made it to our free camp in Narrandera without any problems.
The second day is when we started to think that perhaps we had reverted to being caravanning nubes all over again. The next morning, because of the rain, we tried to cook breakfast inside the van. Well…bacon and eggs causes a bit of smoke and even with the exhaust fan going on full, we managed to set off the smoke alarm. To deal with the issue, we opened up the 4 seasons hatch. Unfortunately we forgot to close it before we headed off. The rain only got heavier and at our lunch stop in West Wyalong (a place I shall never go to again as I have nothing but bad luck there), we discovered our error. The whole inside of the van had a decent covering of water spray which made Kylie invent some new words, none of which can be repeated here. Again, we were fortunate that was all that happened. The hatch could so easily have been blown out. In the end all it took was to dry everything with towels and no damage was sustained.
Our next stop was a couple of days in Coonabarabran. We were booked into a stargazing night just outside of town held by a local astronomer. With the weather being the way it was, we were not confidant it would go ahead. We pulled into our caravan park, which was a wet and muddy mess, and started setting up. Then I heard Kylie call me to come inside the van. Apparently none of the lights were working. I checked the fuses and they were all OK. Then I realised we had lost all 12v power to everything. This was a full scale emergency as everything in the van, including the fridge, runs from the 12v system. I checked everything without finding anything wrong. I sent Kylie off to see if she could get in touch with an auto electrician. While she was away, I pulled out the electrical panel and tested all the wires. Everything looked OK. There was just no power. Then it dawned on me. The solar controller monitors the power usage and has a power isolation feature. I went through the menu and found the setting. Sure enough, it was off. Changed it back to ‘on’ and everything came back to life. Later we discovered the power meter connected to the controller has a remote switch to turn off the 12v power. Kylie had been checking the batteries after the free camp the night before and had inadvertently switched off the power. Another lesson learnt.
We also learnt that I am rubbish at predicting the weather. The clouds cleared up just in time for our stargazing tour and we were not disappointed. It was absolutely spectacular. The guy who conducted the event was every knowledgeable and he even took a great photo of the Swan Nebula with my SLR camera. We really had a great time and thoroughly recommend this to anyone visiting the area.
The next day we went onto town to pick up a few supplies and have a look around. The weather continued to be rubbish but it didn’t stop us enjoying Coonabarabran. That night we went to dinner at the Chinese Restaurant which, surprisingly, was absolutely delicious. The next morning, again under torrential rain, we started packing up. We were in a bit of a hurry as our next stop was Tenterfield, a distance of 460ks. In my haste I had forgotten to turn off the water tap and, when I took the hose off, I copped a face full of water. Not that it really mattered, I was soaked from the rain anyway. I also managed to leave the tap connection behind. Lucky I carry spares.
We had to get to Tenterfield by about lunch time as Kylie was ultra-keen to visit the Saddler, made famous by Peter Allen’s song of the same name. It had been closed the last time we were in town and she was bitterly disappointed. We only had one night in Tenterfield so we had to arrive in time to check into the caravan park, set up and get to the Saddler before it closed at 2.30pm. We made it with plenty of time to spare and we can thoroughly recommend visiting the Tenterfield Saddler. In fact, I encourage everyone to do so as its future is uncertain. Its currently maintained by volunteers on a shoestring budget. With no funding other than the small entry fee and profits from the memorabilia on sale, it may be forced to close in the not too distant future.
Also worth a visit is the Tenterfield Railway Museum in the old station, a quick 5 minute walk from the caravan park. If you’re a train buff like me, you’ll find lots to explore including old trains, rail trikes and various vintage farm tools. The gardens are also a delight. It’s a great way to kill a few hours before dinner.
The next morning we were headed for the Brisbane suburb of Cleveland to catch the ferry to North Stradbroke Island. Again, timing was important as we had booked a spot on the 2.30 ferry and we could not miss it. Being such a big rig, there is limited space available on the ferry itself. We were also meeting up with friends from Canberra. As it was, we made it to the ferry port with time to spare even after stopping at a shopping centre along the way to pick up some supplies.
Now anyone who has boarded a ferry with a big van will know that depending on the angle of the entry ramp relative to the road, it can prove a bit of a challenge. We were a little anxious given the size of the Safari Tamer but we needn’t have worried, we made it on easily although as you can see in the pics, it was a tight squeeze once on board. The ferry trip was very pleasant. We were lucky to score the new catamaran which features a lounge deck with snack and drink bar which made the 40 minute trip go by very quickly. Once across to the island, we had a quick drive to our campsite at Amity Point. We’ve been here once before and absolutely loved it. It’s close to most of the attractions on the island but also isolated enough not to attract too many crowds. There’s a jetty close by, convenience shop a short walk away and, if you’re inclined, a seafood wholesaler down the road where you can get some enormous prawns to feast on. We spend just over a week here and thoroughly enjoyed ourselves.
Stradbroke Island is one of those places where you can just hang around and do nothing without feeling guilty or thinking you’re missing out on anything. There’s not a heap to do on the island itself although there are plenty of areas to go bushwalking, sightseeing or find a nice meal. The area around Point Lookout is absolutely beautiful and during the Winter/Autumn months, it’s possible to see whales breaching just off the shoreline, or pods of dolphins right up near the rocks. Our favourite pastime on Straddie is to do a spot of fishing. The jetty is probably the best place although there’s plenty of surf fishing off the beaches as well. Unfortunately for some reason, the fish were off the bite this visit.
After our time on Straddie, we headed for our next overnight stop in Ballina before heading on to Crescent Head, near Kempsey in NSW. We had been talking about staying in this area for some time and were really looking forward to it. I’m glad to say we were not disappointed. Crescent Head lies about 20km south east of Kempsey at the end of a narrow winding road that you need to take some care on especially if you’re towing a large van. The town is small but has good facilities including a general store, tavern, country club and a great caravan park right on the banks of the Killick Creek estuary. We had booked early and secured a sight right on the creek. It was absolutely beautiful. The only problem is the sites are quite small so if your neighbour has a large caravan, you could be in for a close encounter. In fact the whole park is quite cosy and when its busy, it seems like everyone is almost on top of each other. This generally didn’t bother us as we had great neighbours during our stay.
One of the attractions in the area is the Slim Dusty museum back in the Kempsey township. I was a little reluctant to go here at first, especially for the cost of entry, but I was pleasantly surprised at how interesting it was especially the exhibit of Slim’s car and caravan. If you’re into Australian country music, you reaaly must visit the Slim Dusty museum.
After spending a week at Crescent Heads doing pretty much nothing except fishing, eating, drinking and happy hours with the neighbours, we started the homeward leg of our trip and headed on to Tamworth.
Again, if you’re into country music, as Kylie is, you will find plenty to see and do in Tamworth. It is without doubt the country music capitol of Australia. The Country Music Hall of fame is a real highlight. Walking through the facility takes you on a journey through the history of country music in Australia. Other highlights of Tamworth include the local Sevices Club and, surprisingly, the Paradise Tourist Park where we stayed the night. This caravan park would have the best facilities of any we’re seen. Absolutely brilliant…!
After Tamworth we headed for Cowra. Unfortunately the massive amount of rain they had experienced in this area had finally caught up with us and we found ourselves facing the possibility of being stuck in Cowra as the Lachlan River peaked that night we arrived. We had planned a free camp by the river but that was under water. The caravan park in town was being evacuated. We were very fortunate to secure one of the last 2 sites available at the only other caravan park about 5ks out of town. That night we went down to see the spectacle of the river peaking and to have some dinner at the local pub.
Here we found out that we may be fortunate enough to get out of Cowra and through the town of Young however it could be a dangerous trip as there was a lot of water over the road. We left the next morning confident that our mighty cruiser and off road caravan would handle anything thrown at them.
It was all a bit of an anticlimax. By the time we got on the road, the water had receded and we had an uneventful trip all the way to Glenrowan. We could have kept on going all the way home but we decided it might be nice to have a look around Glenrowan and be fresh for the drive home the next morning.
Glenrowan is a fantastic town loaded with a rich history thanks to the infamous 1880 siege involving the Kelly Gang. Its worth doing the walk around the town to the many historic sites and reading about the last days of the Kelly Gang. The caravan park in Glenrowan is also a real treat. Excellent sites and facilities at a very reasonable overnight price. The next mnorning we headed home, with Kylie taking her first go at driving with a caravan in tow, which she did perfectly.
This trip was our first extended holiday with the new caravan and the cruiser and we’re very pleased to say both performed exceptionally despite the best efforts of their owners. I am now a total convert to an automatic towing vehicle and we are both really enjoying the additional room inside the Safari Tamer. Fuel ecconomy for the trip varied between 18 and 22l/100ks which, considering the conditions we encountered, I thought was pretty good.
Cannot wait for the next big journey.