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|Trip Summary, 2005 (Jun-Sep)|
We were away for 100 days, 99 nights bringing our total of nights in the A-liner to 457. We drove the Falcon for 12,323 kilometres during the journey, 9,215 of them towing the A-liner. At the end of this trip we had towed the A-liner for 43,133 kilometres and driven the Falcon for 60,559 kilometres on caravan trips (including the A-liner towing kilometres)
A total of $1,648.65 was spent on caravan parks. Of the 99 nights, 10 were free camping on the side of the road, five were at my sister-in-law's place and the remainder (84) were in caravan parks. The longest stays were for 11 nights at Townsville and for 10 nights at Bundaberg. We stayed at Mackay twice, for 10 nights and 5 nights with a week at Cape Hillsborough between. Club memberships saved $98.40 and weekly rate at five parks saved a further $95 (weekly rate is often seventh night free). Average expenditure on accommodation for the trip was $16.65 per night.
The A-liner was towed for 32 of the 100 days. The longest consecutive spell of towing was for seven days from Alice Springs to Richmond (Qld), via Three Ways, Daly Waters, Cape Crawford, Barkly Roadhouse and Mt Isa. During these seven days the A-liner was not unhitched and was towed for 2,432 kilometres. The van was towed for six consecutive days from Sydney to Port Augusta (1,525 kilometres) and for five consecutive days from Port Augusta to Uluru (1,349 kilometres). During these long sequences of towing we free camped overnight, usually in promulgated rest areas; we used published rest area guides to plan stops for lunch and overnight as well as for periodic breaks.
Our introduction to free camping was valuable. We were particularly surprised to see how often fresh water was available at roadside rest areas; while labelled as not fit to drink it could be used for washing and meant that potable water carried in the van and car would go further. We are now confident we can free camp across the more remote parts of Australia such as the Nullarbor, Stuart Highway and through the Kimberley/Pilbara where caravan parks are few and far between and often provide limited or poor quality services. The very short set-up and pack-up times probably ensure that free camping may be preferable if rapid progress is required. But, as far as we are concerned, free camping has the downside that water availability and quality, as well as electrical power, become ongoing concerns that are rarely an issue when caravan parks are used.
We bought 1,663.97 litres of unleaded fuel for $1,959.86 at an average price of 117.8 cents per litre. We used an average of 16.8 litres of petrol per day and spent an average of $19.80 per day on petrol. Petrol prices were influenced by the Queensland government price support of 8 to 9 cents a litre, by Woolworth's and Coles' vouchers (saved $32.36) in Queensland and New South Wales, and by a worldwide increase in the price of unleaded petrol at the end of the trip. The Falcon achieved 13.5 litres per 100 kilometres for the entire journey (7.4 kilometres per litre). Most expensive petrol on the trip was 144.9 cents per litre at Barrow Creek on the Stuart Highway; but the standard price in Sydney by the time we returned was up to 138.9 cents a litre.
Fuel economy on earlier trips had showed variation in the distance achievable on a single tank of unleaded petrol. This variability was suspected to be caused by additional load on the engine imposed by attachments such as the car air conditioner, the caravan refrigerator and the small 12 volt car fridge carried in the car. Both refrigerators are thermo-electric devices reputed to be heavy users of electricity and neither uses a thermostat to control operation; they run continuously using a heating element to drive a cooling cycle. On this trip fuel readings were analysed on two separate occasions to confirm that powering the A-liner refrigerator from the towing Falcon incurred a penalty of 20 to 25 kilometres on a full tank of unleaded petrol. Another probable reason for variation in fuel consumption is the car air-conditioner.
Average daily expenditure on accommodation plus petrol for the entire trip was $36.45.
The A-liner was trouble free throughout the trip. The Hayman-Reese 250 Kg weight distribution hitch worked extremely well damping out bouncing of car and van and transferring some van weight to the front wheels of the Falcon. Measurements at Townsville on 11 July showed that connecting the hitch lifted the front of the A-liner by 35 mm and the rear of the Falcon by 30 mm while the rear of the van went down 24 mm and the front of the Falcon went down 16 mm.
Tyre pressure for the A-liner has been a subject of some discussion on the A-liner Internet site prompted by conflicting recommended tyre pressures from the van manufacturer and the tyre manufacturer. After some experience with the van bouncing at lower pressures I had selected 38 psi as standard for the van. Based on recommendations from Bob Jane in Penrith, Falcon pressures were 35 psi for the front and 38 psi for the rear. On this trip I applied a test I had found on the NRMA Internet site for determining correct tyre pressure for a caravan. This involved measuring the increase in tyre pressure after running for 100 kilometres; if the pressure was correct the second reading should be 4 psi higher than the cold reading before departure. Applying this test confirmed that the Falcon tyre pressures were about correct but the A-liner tyre pressure should be slightly higher and I increased the cold tyre pressure to 40 for the A-liner.
The Falcon had a couple of problems during the trip. First was a grating sound from the front end of the engine bay first heard as we crossed from South Australia into Northern Territory. This grew louder as we continued but nothing was visually wrong under the bonnet. The sound seemed to be associated with the accessory drive belt (previously known as the fan belt but in the Falcon this belt drives a range of accessories). We continued to Uluru Caravan Park and, as soon as we were set up there, I took the vehicle to a repair firm nearby where the noise was quickly diagnosed as being caused by loss of fluid in the power steering system. I was given a small quantity of fluid to stop the noise. Thereafter I had to regularly top up the reservoir; the system was losing about 100 millilitres every 200 kilometres driven. Interestingly, I could buy fluid meeting Ford specification in some K-Mart stores. I booked the vehicle into the Ford dealer in Mackay shortly after we arrived there but the booking list was full for the time we had planned to stay in Mackay so we returned to Mackay to have the power steering repaired.
By the time we arrived in Mackay the lock on the front left hand door had stopped working and that was also repaired by the Mackay Ford dealer. Unfortunately, the door lock wiring had to be re-done; that took several hours and resulted in the internal light fuse being blown and the van brake controller working erratically. I replaced the light fuse next day but the problem with the brake controller was not repaired on this trip and fairly careful driving was needed given the uncertainty concerning operation of the A-liner brake.
We had used low-power, hand held two-way radios (Uniden UH036SX 40 channel) for communication between vehicles while on the move. These proved ideal for use between vehicles in convoy with a range of one or two kilometres. We used channel 12 as a private channel until Mount Isa. While travelling by ourselves we set one radio on channel 40 to listen to truck conversations, hopefully about road conditions. In practice, this was not particularly successful as we could not understand a lot of the talk and what we could understand was irrelevant. On one occasion, when we were held up for more than 20 minutes on the Pacific Highway in northern New South Wales while an accident was cleared away and I expected to be able to hear what was going on as truckies chatted amongst themselves, we heard only one call and that was not informative at all. But the hand held radios worked well and we now have no thought of installing an inbuilt radio.
In the first few days of the trip we had an interesting encounter with a feral cat. On the Barrier Highway about forty or fifty kilometres west of Cobar we passed a dead wallaby on the right hand side of the road being eaten by some birds and a feral cat. As we passed the carcass the birds flew away from the road but the cat (possibly unused to feeding on roadkill and only doing so because of the drought) raced across the road immediately in front of us. The car's front right wheel hit the cat with a thump; then the car's right rear wheel passed over it with another thump followed by a third thump which I thought was the van wheel passing over the body. Since the animal would certainly be dead after those impacts I didn't stop. But the third thump was the cat's body being impaled on the right front stabiliser leg of the A-liner; knocking off the plastic foot in the process. I was unaware that we were carrying the cat's body until our companions behind us said on the two-way radio that they could see something hanging under the van. When I pulled over there was the cat's body hung up on the leg with blood and gore around it. The body was cut away with the small tomahawk carried in the van. Then we pulled into Meadow Glen Rest area, where fresh water was available, to wash off the worst of the cat residue. I am used to being watched while working on the A-liner but this was the first time the watchers (my wife and our travelling companions) stood seven metres back. The postscript is that several days later in the Ayers Rock Caravan Park a scavenging dingo started licking the A-liner stabiliser leg where the cat had been impaled.
An interesting observation in the first month of this trip was that through South Australia and the Northern Territory road kill was now being eaten far more by larger birds of prey (such as eagles and large hawks) as well as the usual kites and ravens. We were told this has been caused by the calici virus destroying the rabbit populations in those areas and forcing birds of prey to turn to road kill. The downside for drivers is that these bigger, heavier birds can only take off into the wind and if the wind is blowing across the road then they will take off across the road and gain height very slowly, possibly directly in front of an oncoming vehicle.
July and August were interesting for the realisation of how much of Queensland is devoted to growing sugar cane and of how much coal is exported from the Bowen Basin through Gladstone and Hay Point near Mackay. The poor state of Queensland roads was also clear. I continue to be amazed that Western Australia can build good roads over very long distances while Queensland cannot even build the Bruce Highway north of Gympie to an acceptable standard for the main road in the state.
The weather was not particularly good for the trip. There was a handful of lovely days, and some days were not too bad, but we experienced high winds for days on end or rain and cloud. This is the third year in a row that locals have told us that the rain we were standing in is "very unseasonal" and "doesn't usually happen". The weather was generally cool enough not to need to power the van refrigerator while we were travelling.
Awning & Annex
A couple of guy ropes run from eyelets in the long sides of the awning down to pegs in the ground proved effective in reducing flapping of the awning in strong winds. If left alone this flapping can lead to guy ropes loosening and become disconnected from poles.
¶ Main Shadecloth.
The main shadecloth covers the long side of the awning providing shade and privacy. The method of securing the shadecloth at the base was finalised as rubber rings into small tent pegs in the ground connected with eyelets in the shadecloth by small 'D' connectors. This seems to give the right amount of tension to hold the shadecloth without sagging but not to stretch it.
The number of rainy days led us to revise our attitude concerning the canvas annex we bought with the A-liner but have not carried with us on the last few trips because of the high temperature and humidity which build up inside when it is erected. Instead of the canvas annex we have made a large, shaped piece of shadecloth which hangs on the long side of the awning to give us shade and privacy. But the shadecloth is not waterproof; when it rains for any length of time much of the area under the awning gets wet. In future we will bring both the annex and the shadecloth; we will use the annex to keep out rain and the shadecloth when we only want to keep the sun out.
The attachment to the runners on several curtains over A-liner windows had broken where plastic strips had not been strong enough for normal use. I sewed the curtains back onto the runners and re-threaded those curtains.
I screwed a broom holder onto the rear wall of the van boot to hold the handle of a broom we bought to sweep slabs and matting squares.
The foldup chairs we use have proven to be uncomfortable under many circumstances so we bought folding directors chairs with a folding side table. These are easier to use and more useful as seats.
Rubber matting squares have proven their worth repeatedly when laid outside the A-liner door, particularly when a site without a concrete slab is very sandy or gets wet and has water underfoot. I bought several more to provide a large rectangle of flooring under the awning. I discovered that linked mats can be stowed neatly and comfortably in the van boot.
¶ Television and Aerial.
The accessories needed to set up the television are now carried in individual bags stowed a plastic tool box on top of the television box in the car back seat.
The blue portable refrigerator/cooller proved to be effective for keeping fruit and vegetables provided it is kept powered. If only run for a few hours a day, even on an apparently cool day, the interior temperature rises too high to keep apples really fresh.