Tuesday, 17 October 2017

Remaking our motorhome, if we did it again

It's been a year since we bought an old school bus and finished converting it into a motorhome. And it's been a whole year that we've been living, and travelling, in this bus RV that we call Blu. 

So, if we were to do the conversion again, but with hindsight, what would we change? It's a good question. 

We wouldn't change much. We love our layout, it's a spacious design, and something that other motorhome and caravan owners always comment on: "wow, this is roomy!"  

We seem to have adequate storage space too. Some people think it's not much but if you've come from a smaller motorhome (like we have with Blac) or the backpacking lifestyle (which I was doing before meeting H) then Blu has lots of storage space. 

We love our choice of windows with a couple of exceptions: 
1) the sliding window beside the drivers seat is too high. 
H possibly should have installed it as low as possible in that space. Lower would have made it easier to check for cyclists and easier to buy tickets at toll booths/ferry ticket booths/ entrance gates. 
2) on the passenger side we don't have an openable window up the front where the passenger normally sits. I wish we'd installed a sliding window there. Sometimes to talk to people we may have pulled up along side of, or sometimes to simply open it while we're travelling and smell the fresh mountain air or take in a sea breeze. 

This photo, showing our camp on the Robinson River a while back, shows the drivers front sliding window is rather high.

This photo, showing our camp on the Robinson River a while back, shows the drivers front sliding window is rather high. 

Our electrical system is great and we've been able to live off-grid for an entire year! We have 1300 watts of solar feeding into a big 600amp hour lithium battery. So it's great, but, in hindsight, a 400amp hour battery would have been enough. Also, if I did it again I think I'd buy the battery from an Australian company. This Chinese one has been fine but in the end I think it cost almost the same as buying Aussie and if we'd bought Aussie we'd have been dealing with people who could hopefully answer our questions better. 

Being that we have so much power I do believe that we could have installed an induction stove instead of the gas cooker that we have. This would simplify the set up a little more: we wouldn't have to obtain and store gas, wouldn't have needed gas certification, and induction stoves are quite inexpensive now. 

I'd like to have an insect screen on the door but all my suggestions for this get knocked back by H. 

And next time, I don't think we'd install a single draw in the whole motorhome. We actually only have one, for the cutlery (knives, forks, etc), but it's been a nuisance. 

I think that's all we'd change. All in all Blu has been very much a success. 

Sunday, 8 October 2017

Cleaning up the outback & making money.

We recently did a little bit to help cleanup Australia's outback which also put some cash in our pockets and gave us exercise too. So, a triple Win!

I regularly go for a morning walk and as I do I pick up some rubbish and dispose of it responsibly. Fortunately, in most parts of Australia I just get to pick up a couple of items    Unfortunately in Cape York Peninsula I started walking with a bag to carry more, and this continued into Queensland Gulf Savannah region. And then, we got to the Northern Territory (NT). Read on!

We hadn't long been in the Northern Territory (near Borroloola infact) when I realised how much 'gold' was lying around. By this I mean empty cans from a popular beer: XXXX Gold (pronounced: 'Four X gold'). 

The NT has a 'container deposit scheme' where if you return (most) drink containers you get 10c each for them. Glass bottles, plastic bottles, aluminium cans, juice and flavoured milk cartons have this refund scheme. If you look at the side of the containers it should tell you if the refund applies. 

So, I went picking up rubbish, and Hendrik soon joined me (and ended up doing far more than me). We didn't just pick up the refundable items but picked up other rubbish too in a bid to clean up the countryside. Most the discarded litter was refundable, so it seemed only fair to pick up the little bit of other stuff too. 

After the first morning I learnt to carry more bags.
After the first collection I learnt to start carrying more bags. 

A website tells you where the collection points are and a few of the rules. And I want to say that although each depot has final say on what they'll accept we found the depots we went to to be very lenient. But do have your recyclables sorted: plastic bottles separate to glass (for which a milk crate is best) and aluminium separate too. The depots prefer cans uncrushed (it helps their machines) but we picked up squashed cans too (and shook the dirt off and out of them) and had them accepted. It's at the depots discretion. 

We actually returned collections to a depot 4 times and made $180 ($AU180 = $US135 = €120, all approximate). With our combined hours considered I recon we made about $15 per hour. A 'real' job might pay us more, but we still reckon this is good money. 

Sometimes we'd park Blu and I'd go one direction along the road and H in the other. After an agreed time (like 15 minutes) we'd cross the road and turn back. Some areas are particularly good. Start doing this and you too will start to see the 'Gold' everywhere!

Wednesday, 13 September 2017

Visitors, bucking bulls, and boxing.

We've been very lucky this year and we've (so far) had 4 parties of friends come and spend time with us. We really do like it when friends are wanting to, and do, come and visit, but the experience has taught us a lot too. 

This years experience has taught us that visitors should spend a maximum of 3 nights with us. We learnt this with our first visitors (who spent 12 days with us) but we failed to apply the lesson with our last visitors (14 days) so I'm writing it here in an attempt to apply it more successfully in the future. 

The stress that a longer stay causes us probably has many reasons: 
a) we're used to it just being the 2 of us. 
b) we're on an indefinite period of time for travel, so our speed of travel should probably be slower than persons on 2 weeks leave and flying in from the other side of the world. 
c) I feel responsible for making sure the guests have a great time in my home country, and this really stresses me. 

So, note to self: maximum 3 nights and we should tell the visitor-to-be this when they are planning their visit. I'm wondering how other overlanders feel about visitors?

With our most recent visitors we did do some great sightseeing. Here's what we did:

First we went spent 3 days at the Mount Isa Rodeo. The rodeo was Awesome! I'd been to rodeos before but this is the biggest in the Southern Hemisphere. The big screen helped with explaining the rules, showing the chute action and showing replays. Events were varied: bullriding, bronc riding, steer wrestling, barrel racing, roping events, and buck jumping were just some of the events. And there was live music too. Everybody else in our group of 5 we're all novices to rodeo events and everybody enjoyed the action. 

In our little convoy (our visitors had hired a Campervans) we travelled up to Burketown. I hadn't wanted to go to Burketown in August as I'd wanted to visited there a month later for the Morning Glory cloud (it's a weather phenomenon), but I felt that we couldn't waste our visitors time and Burketown, with a festival on, might provide some entertainment.  When we got there I was excited and glad we'd come: Fred Brothy's Boxing Tent was at the festival! As the last remaining boxing tent in the world, it travels to outback towns and was something I'd heard about but never witnessed. 

As well as the boxing tent they had a rodeo (quite different to the Mount Isa one, with predominantly indigenous competitors) and some top country music acts performing (Katherine Britt and Troy Casser-Daley). The night's entertainment, first the musicians then the boxing tent, was very good and it made for a far later night than we are used too. 

When the 4th generation Fred Brophy banged his drum and told the rules we were surprised how many people threw up their hands to volunteer to fight (against one of Fred's men). Even some women fought. Neither H or I would normally choose to watch boxing but Fred Brothys boxing tent is more of an historical and cultural event. It's fun, and Fred made sure no-one got really hurt. 

Then we went to Lawn Hill National Park. It is one of Queensland's most spectacular parks but less visited because it's so far from where the bulk of the population live and tourists visit. It's a spectacular Gorge with waterfalls, great hikes, canoe hire, and boat tours available. We had found (on Cape York) an inflatable queen sized mattress so we floated that up and down the beautiful waters of the Gorge as well as enjoying the hikes and swimming. Each evening a massive colony of flying foxes flew over. 

Scenery wise it was a great couple of weeks. And with time maybe we'll all forget a little of how stressed and nasty I was to everyone. 

Next time, I hope we'll remember to only offer a short stay. If your reading this and you're a friend or family member that intends to visit: you're welcome! ... just briefly. 

Monday, 28 August 2017

Traveling the Savannah Way

It's been a while since I last wrote, I just haven't felt like it. I struggle to write posts about our travels in Australia: like it's too close to home, or too personal. So, this will be a summary. 

After we reached Cape York we didn't waste much time coming South again. We spent one night camped near old Somerset, on the beach, and it was lovely for the corals, rock art and a little bit of shipping activity that we saw. The very next day we started South. 

Once again, we had a little trouble getting off the Jardine River ferry as our overhand is a little too long for such an angle, but the damage wasn't much and H was able to fix it up easily. 

Continuing South we'd thought we'd go to a place on the Eastern coast called "Captain Billy's landing" but everyone advised us that it was too windy to get much enjoyment from, so we skipped it. We drove in past the Heathlands Ranger Station to take a look vehicles going through the famous "Gunshot" (thoughest 4wd section of the Old Telegraph Track). Here we drove 30kms of bad corrugations only to reach the intersection of the Telegraph Track and find the trees too close in for us to drive any further! So... 30kms back on those same corrugations. But, it mightn't have been for nothing as I think I saw an Eclectus Parrot. 

At Laura we stopped and did a tour of the Quinkan Galleries. At $160 per person it's overpriced but it is considered to be possibly the best indigenous rock art site in the world, at least in the top 10, and we were keen to have a look. Despite the price the art site had a definite WOW factor, and it felt special too. 

Some Quinkan Art

Some Quinkan Art

Our next tourist site was the Chillagoe caves, with tours run by National Parks the price was good and the quality of information excellent. We did 2 of the 3 caves that were available as guided tours. We also clambered into one of the free caves and I chickened out at the entrance to another. Chillagoe is a lovely small town, with a unique feeling to it. 

From there we followed the Savannahlander train route South and West and had the classy historic train catch up with us when we swam in Copperfield Gorge (at Einasleigh) and at its terminus at Forsayth. It makes a weekly trip from Cairns to Forsayth and back. 

Savannahlander Train crossing Copperfield Gorge

Savannahlander Train crossing Copperfield Gorge

We skipped Cobbald Gorge as we really thought that $98 per person was too much and it probably not special enough. Some road friends (people we'd met multiple times on the road and become friends with) said we'd made the right choice (they'd done it) but other people would no doubt disagree. 

Georgetown's Terrestrial Centre and its display of minerals was beautiful. In Croydon, unfortunately most of the historic buildings were closed for renovations so we could only view them from the street but Queensland's oldest continually run General store was open, and it's a treasure! 
A sign inside Queensland oldest continually run store.

A sign inside Queensland oldest continually run store. 

We stopped in Normanton both on our way to and way from Karumba. It's got some lovely old buildings, especially the train station and the building that houses the visitor centre and museum. The Gulflander train was also in at the station. (We've decided we're not so into train rides, but like to see the old trains and buildings). 

Karumba is famous for sunsets. We'd accidentally caught up with the road friends mentioned earlier and so, with them, enjoyed the sunset view from the tavern on the first evening and did a very good sunset tour (with historic talk, crocodile spotting, drinks and prawns) on the second evening. The tour was just $50 per person, by Ferryman Cruises, and excellent. During the day we also visited the Barramundi Discovery Centre and really appreciated the education they gave us about Australias most famous fish species. 

From here we left the Savannah Way as we were meeting friends for the Mount Isa Rodeo.  But, we did return to do just a little bit more after the rodeo. 

Sunday, 30 July 2017

Reaching the Northern tip of Cape York

We reached the tip of Cape York Peninsula 5 weeks from when we did the Bloomfield Track, and it took us just 4.5 days to return to Mareeba. When we got to Bamaga, we went even just a little bit further North by taking a ferry to Thursday Island (without Blu). 

Some people had warned us that Blu might be too big to do the final part of the road to the tip, but when we stopped at the Croc Tent (souvenirs and info) and said we're in a bus she advised us "buses go here, here and here" whilst pointing at a map. Excellent, the tip was included, as was Somerset, where I'd also chosen for the days itinerary. 

Once again Blu handled the roads with ease and when we met another bus coming the other way (once) we backed up a bit to find a place to get over. Overall, the roads were mostly wide enough for 2 vehicles and only one part was steep. 

We crossed deeper water elsewhere on this trip, no worries.

We crossed deeper water elsewhere on this trip, no worries. 

Our moment of hesitation came when we reached the end of the road. There sides to the road were overflowing with parked 4wds, and we wondered how we'd ever turn Blu around. But by the time we'd walked to the tip, taken the 'we are here' photo, and returned there was lots more room to turn around and so it wasn't a bother. 

So many vehicles at the end of the road!
 So many vehicles at the end of the road! And Blu, sitting big. 

After visiting the tip we headed to Somerset. It's a place with a very interesting history but there really isn't much of that history left to look at. Furthermore the trees have grown and it's difficult to see what it once would have been like. 

Below Somerset there's a lovely campsite (access allowed with having paid for a Jardine River ferry), overlooking Albany Island, where we stayed overnight. From here you can make a difficult scamble over rocks at low tide to see Aboriginal rock art in a cave. We also enjoyed the corals at low tide... whilst keeping an eye out for Crocodiles. 

So we did it! H, Blu, and I made it to the tip! It wasn't difficult, but sometimes the driving was 10-30 kilometres per hour. 
The obligatory photo at the top of mainland Australia.
 The obligatory photo at the top of mainland Australia.