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|Trip Summary, 2004 (Apr-Oct)|
During the first month we made rapid progress from Sydney to Katherine via Rockhampton. While passing through Mt Isa we toured the specially built underground tourist mine showing how a mine is laid out and operated. Continuing across the Barkly Tableland and north along the Stuart Highway we crossed the boundary (reputedly at Renner Springs) between monsoonal northern climate and conventional seasons in the south. Once we reached Katherine we were into the early Dry Season but the weather was cooler and wetter than local inhabitants regarded as normal and the Northern Territory newspapers moaned and groaned about the cold and wet until early June when the typical weather with warm/hot days, cooler nights and no rain settled in. We completed a boat trip in Katherine Gorge with its excellent information centre, then moved on to Berry Springs and the Territory Wildlife Park, another attractive venue which really needs at least two full days to see everything. In Darwin we visited Crocodylus Park devoted to crocodiles, mainly estuarine ones. Darwin was a surprise; most large cities have limited interest in tourists but Darwin took tourism very seriously and was far from dull. We spent a week at Jabiru in Kakadu National Park, finding that a frustrating experience; attractions in Kakadu range from outstanding to ordinary but they are treated equally as all being world-class so there is some disappointment at some attractions which are fairly ordinary. This criticism doesn't apply at the Yellow River which was a remarkable boat trip.
Leaving the Northern Territory via Timber Creek we drove to Port Hedland via Kununurra, Fitzroy Crossing, Derby, Broome, Port Smith and 80-Mile Beach Caravan Park. The dry season had settled in by now and daytime temperatures were between 30 and 34 degrees, rain was unusual but sometimes there was overnight dew.
During the trip we bought 2,898.10 litres of unleaded petrol for a total cost of $3,130.09 at an average of 108.0 cents per litre. Overall fuel consumption was 13.2 litres per 100 kilometres. As a planning figure we could expect to travel between 450 and 500 kilometres on a tankful of petrol but weather, terrain, road conditions and speed could substantially change this figure. Most expensive petrol was 142.1 cents per litre at Caiguna on the Nullarbor Plain; isolated roadhouses generally charge more than 130 cents a litre. For the entire trip an average of $19.27 per day was spent on petrol. The Falcon towing the A-liner does not have a particularly good range for Australian conditions and we were often in the position of having no choice but to pay whatever price was being asked.
The Falcon towed the A-liner without difficulty. The car's air-conditioning was erratic when we left Sydney and progressively failed over the next weeks. It was repaired on our second visit to Katherine; while the car was in the workshop a product recall repair was made to the steering at no cost. The long-standing problem with rough running after filling the petrol tank to overflowing was finally explained (at Katherine) as a design issue with the solution to not fill the tank further than the automatic cut-off. I was told that any additional petrol flows past the fuel metering devices and is injected into the cylinders as excess fuel to be burnt; that would explain clouds of black smoke from the exhaust after over-filling. A 90,000 km service at Geraldton showed that the front brake rotor needed immediate replacement. By then the rear tyres were showing wear, but were still legal.
We towed the A-liner on 56 days of the 161 day of the trip. The longest day's towing was for 565 kilometres from Tennant Creek to Mataranka. Only one other day (529 kilometres from Norseman to Madura) involved towing further than 500 kilometres. Our usual practice was to travel for the morning, set up the A-liner at our destination, have a late lunch then spend the afternoon sightseeing. For nearly half of each towing day on this trip the A-liner was towed between 201 and 300 kilometres.
We stayed in caravan parks for every night of the journey spending $3,239.45 in total with an average of $20.25 per night for the whole trip. Club membership (Big4, Top Tourist and Family Parks of Australia) saved a total of $176.00; roughly a dollar a day for the trip. The highest price we paid for a caravan site was at Jabiru in the Kakadu National Park where we paid $25.00 a night (no discounts available); from Fitzroy Crossing to 80-Mile Beach a single night costs $24.00 (or $24.20 at the 80-Mile Beach Caravan Park). When they are available, weekly rates are attractive usually involving a free seventh night, and are reduced even more by any additional club discount. The lowest we paid for a site was at Geraldton where we paid $14.56 a night at the weekly rate plus Big 4 discount.
There are many areas of Australia, especially in Western Australia, where stopping in roadside 24-hour stay areas would have been preferable if we had been equipped for free camping.
Caravan parks in northern Western Australia were usually heavily patronised in the dry season. A large number of caravans are being sold around Australia but few new caravan parks are opening; as well, many parks are converting tourist sites into onsite cabins so the number of sites per park is declining. If these trends continue it will become harder and harder to find vacant sites. Although a growing number of caravans have their own showers the demand on hot water systems in amenities blocks made lukewarm showers too frequent. In the Northern Territory, southern Western Australia, Queensland and New South Wales this was not a problem. We also noticed differences in towing vehicles and caravans between northern Western Australia and the rest of Australia. In northern Western Australia there was a high proportion of large 4WD towing vehicles pulling fixed-top full size caravans; the 4WDs not towing full-size vans had quite big pop-tops behind them. Sedan tow-vehicles (such as our Falcon) were in the minority. Once we reached Geraldton pop-top caravans towed by sedans (usually Falcons) were in the majority and then 4WDs became unusual.
Awning and Annex
A-liner Towing and Weight
A Hayman-Reese weight distribution hitch was used at all times and the A-liner towed exceedingly well. The rear end of the Falcon may be down a little and will have to be watched in future; whenever possible the weight in the van boot is reduced. Weight was often re-distributed within the A-liner as new items were bought or we worked out better ways to do things.
Our diet settled down to cereal and a cup of tea for breakfast with rolls or sandwiches for lunch and a cooked meal in the evening. This would vary sometimes with a take-away pie or pastie for lunch or sometimes take-away fish and chips for the evening meal. At about 9 p.m we would have hot chocolate and milo.
A-liner Domestic Equipment
A-liner domestic equipment was refined and improved as we travelled.
The 90 litre three-way absorption refrigerator was excellent running on gas or mains electrical power. It was a little small but adequate in size. The 12-volt car fridge on the floor of the Falcon behind the driver's seat was used for apples, soft-drink and tablets. The A-liner fridge was not particularly good when running on 12-volts from the car and after several hours of travel the fridge was often not particuarly cold. The reason usually given for this poor performance is that the wiring from Falcon battery to the A-liner refrigerator is not heavy enough gauge; we stopped using the 12-volt supply and switched the fridge to gas before setting off each morning (taking care to turn the fridge off before we went into a petrol station). Before leaving on this trip I had carefully prepared a canvas screen to put over the refrigerator ventilation grids in the side of the A-liner after reading how direct sun shining on those vents in the tropics can make the refrigerator ineffective. It wasn't needed or used.
¶ Television - and aerial
Our small Orion television receiver has worked well. It is carried in a purpose made box on the the back seat of the car and placed above the drawers inside the van door while setting up. The aerial with masthead booster, powered along the aerial cable, is carried in a plastic storage cube in the A-liner boot and attached to the top of its aluminium extending pole by inbuilt u-bolts. A Television Reception Guide book lists, for each town, city or village, the channels available, the power and location (latitude and longitude) of the transmitter, and the transmitter polarisation. Transmitter location and van location are roughly plotted to determine the direction the aerial should be pointed and a magnetic compass is used to determine that direction. The polarity of the aerial is set in accordance with the reception guide. The direction of other aerial in the park is also checked but these can often be pointing in apparently random directions. A couple of rules of thumb have been determined: If the picture is acceptable but the sound keeps cutting out then the receiver aerial needs to be turned to get better sound (by trial and error); If the picture is ghosting, shadowy and flickering for much of the time then the polarity of the receiving aerial is probably wrong.
¶ Green Mats
The green interlocking mat squares proved invaluable on sandy or wet sites lacking concrete annex slabs. They reduced the amount of sand and mud tracked into the van.
¶ Table, stools and chairs
The two small folding tables we set off with proved inadequate and in Dandenong at the end of September we bought a larger roll up metal table which is remarkably stable yet folds and rolls up into two pieces which fit under the bed. Our two folding chairs are good for lounging but we bought a couple of lightweight aluminium folding stools in Dandenong as well.
¶ Hot plate and skillet.
We had bought an electric skillet on our previous trip and bought an electric hot plate on this trip. The electric jug has been in use for several trips. Having the skillet and hot plate allows us to cook entirely on electricity while in caravan parks and thus not use our own gas. Used on the new roll-up table they have been very useful.
¶ Water Filter
The water filter installed on the inlet water hose worked well until Winton in Queensland where the town water supply is bore water tainted with sulphur. This seenmd to overwhelm the filter which didn't work again. I was able to buy a replacement filter in Darwin but it appeared not to work although it was installed the same way as the previous one. I removed the filter completely somewhere in Western Australia but kept all the bits and pieces.