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|Trip Summary, 2006 (Mar-Oct)|
On departure from Penrith we headed to Adelaide via the Sturt Highway, then went to the mouth of the Murray before returning to Penrith to collect our daughter and taking her to Wagga Wagga for her graduation at Charles Sturt University. After the graduation we set off via the Murray Riverland (Berri), Burra and Port Augusta. Then across the Nullarbor to Norseman, Esperance and Albany. While crossing the Nullarbor we had our first experience of a strong headwind increasing fuel consumption and reducing the distance we could cover on a single tankful of petrol. Weather was beginning to break as we arrived in the south-west of Western Australia so we tended to make short stops in places to decide whether we would return at some future date. The Fitzgerald River National Park near Hopetoun is one of the places to return to for a longer period to look longer at the wildflowers in the spring. We were in Albany early in May; the weather was then autumnal enough for us to head north to warmer weather.
After a few days on the edge of Perth (in the Swan Valley) we drove north along the Great Northern Highway inland through Dalwallinu, Mount Magnet and Meekatharra to Newman. This route took us out of the wheat belt into progressively drier areas and to the Hamersley Ranges in the Pilbara. While in the Pilbara I visited iron ore mines at Newman and Tom Price as well as impressive Karijini National Park lying between the mining settlements. Next we drove west (and downhill) to the coast road and then north to Dampier. The Pilbara had received good rainfall during the recent wet season and wildflowers were out in numbers. The number of acacia species seen beside the road is remarkable.
Leaving Broome we headed across the scenic Kimberley to Kununurra via Fitzroy Crossing and Turkey Creek. While at Kununurra we went for a boat ride on expansive freshwater Lake Argyle. From Kununurra we crossed in to the Northern Territory and drove to Darwin via Timber Creek, Katherine, and Batchelor (with magnetic termite mounds in Litchfield National Park).
After a week or so in Darwin's unpleasant humidity, we set off south via Katherine, Daly Waters Pub (home of the famous beef and barramundi meal), ThreeWays and Barkly Roadhouse to Mt Isa. Judging by the decreasing number of caravans and motorhomes on the road the tourist season in the north was just about over at the end of August when we arrived in Mt Isa. From Mt Isa we detoured into the Queensland Outback driving to Winton via Boulia along Beef Development Roads (Boulia claims to be on the edge of the Simpsons Desert, and the diversion there was an introduction to a different world). Then to Longreach, Barcaldine and Emerald. By the time we reached Emerald we had left the inland plains and were in the Great Dividing Range which is very wide in southern Queensland; here we turned south to Springsure, Roma and St George then east to Dalby on via Toowoomba to my sister-in-law's place at Tamborine. We stayed for about a week at Tamborine before going to North Haven down the Pacific Highway to spend some time with friends. We left the A'liner in storage at North Haven and returned to Sydney without the caravan.
We spent 222 nights in the A'liner (223 travelling days) to bring our total in the A'liner to 687 nights. Of the 223 days on the journey only 63 (28%) were spent actually on the road with the A'liner. All nights were spent in caravan parks except for two nights free-camping on the Nullarbor Plain, another night free-camping between Tom Price and Dampier, and eight nights at my sister-in-law's property. We spent ten nights at South Hedland, nine nights at Port Smith, three weeks at Broome, eight nights at Kununurra, nine nights at Darwin and 12 nights at North Haven.
The longest distance the A'liner was towed in one day was 596 kilometres on the Nullarbor crossing from near the WA/SA border to a rest area 79 km east of Norseman. On the previous day we had towed the van for 560 kilometres from Ceduna. The van was usually towed for one, two or three days in succession. On four occasions it was towed for four days successively; across the Nullarbor (1,477 km), through inland WA to Newman (1,193 km), Darwin to Mt Isa (1,604 km), and Barcaldine to St George (542 km).
This was the first long trip using the Ford Territory towing vehicle and I had to get used to different gearbox settings for towing. After leaving Fitzroy Crossing on 3 August I used Performance mode on the gearbox for normal cruising; before that we travelled in normal setting changing to Performance mode on hills or when more power was needed (for the occasional overtaking). There was a minor increase in fuel consumption with the revised gearbox selection but the improved performance made that worthwhile. The trip computer in the Territory returns petrol consumption at the time and averaged since the last reset; this allows figures for petrol purchased to be separated from petrol consumption. I usually selected 88 or 85 kph on the cruise control as a compromise between fuel consumption (lower speed means better consumption), and getting somewhere in the day.
Procedures for packing the vehicle settled down during the first month. The car fridge was behind the driver's seat initally, but was subsequently moved to the rear decking to improve ventilation around the fridge compressor. Progressively during the trip the fridge was enclosed in additional insulation to reduce the demand on the fridge battery. The fridge was run as a freezer for most of the journey and demand on the battery in the tropics was high, with the freezer running on an undesirable 100% duty cycle for most of the time in the tropics. Drawers made to hold various bits and pieces needed during a trip were excellent but, if not carefully secured, the drawers would come open while driving and rub on the rear window shading; they also squeeked while we were driving.
Average fuel consumption (towing and not-towing) overall was 15.3 litres per 100 kilometres (6.6 kilometres per litre). Consumption when towing the A'liner was 16.2 litres per 100 kilometres (including Performance mode and Normal setting on the gearbox), consumption when not towing was 13.5 litres per 100 kilometres.
The Western Australian government's FuelWatch service was extremely useful while in that state. FuelWatch requires petrol stations to set a selling price early in the morning and maintain that price all day. The price to be charged is reported the previous day and is included in an e-mail sent each evening to registered users advising the price of petrol next day for up to ten places/brands/types. The system does not include every rural petrol station and some roadhouses are excluded, as are some townships (such as Tom Price and Paraburdoo), but overall the FuelWatch service makes fuel planning more practical by making available petrol prices for the following day.
Accommmodation (caravan park sites) cost $4,599.35 for the trip at an average of $20.72 per day. This total allows for club discounts ($210.45 for the trip) and a weekly rate on two occasions saving a further $63.70.
Average daily expenditure on accommodation plus petrol was $44.13 ($20.72 for accommodation and $23.41 for petrol). On our first trip around Australia from April to October 2004 (161 days), we spent $19.27 per day on petrol and $20.25 on accommodation (average of $39.52 per day)
I had installed mud flaps on all four Territory mudguards before we left Sydney; these worked well to keep mud splashes (usually associated with road works, since we didn't experience much rain) from the car body. The routine 15,000 kilometre service on the Territory was completed by the Ford dealer in Esperance, WA on 2 May 2006. In Broome I had a dust deflector fitted at the rear of the roof to try to prevent dust settling on the rear hatch while driving on dirt and gravel roads. This deflector worked to the extent that dust no longer gathered inside the door upper part; some dust (but less than before) still settles on the outside of the back window and on top of the windscreen wiper blade. Unfortunately, dust still accummulates inside the bottom of the rear door and falls out in a dust curtain on the head of whoever next raises the rear hatch/door.
The right front tyre was punctured by a screw while we were in a Perth shopping centre and the Territory ran on the spare until the puncture was repaired in Tom Price. The spare wheel is a full-size iron wheel which looks out of place among the other alloy wheels. Handling the heavy spare wheel in and out of its stowage under the back of the Territory is fairly difficult and would be unpleasant if the driver was wearing good clothes. At one stage I was sitting on the ground using my feet to push the heavy wheel onto the frame it sits on underneath the vehicle. But that is preferable to having the spare wheel inside the body (taking up storage space) or on the back door. By the time we reached Darwin there was a noticeable shimmy in the steering wheel: I could not recall having hit anything hard enough to upset the steering alignment. The Territory was put in for a steering alignment at the tyre place used by the Darwin Ford dealer and the shimmy disappeared.
The 30,000 kilometre routine service was completed at in Sydney shortly after the trip ended. Before the service the front tyres were noticed to be more worn than the rear ones and particularly the inner and outer edges of the tread were scuffed. Front and rear tyres were changed and wheels balanced (new weights were added!!). I was told that wear and scuffing on the front tyres is caused by sideways movement induced by steering - presumably a function of the AWD having the front heels being driven as well as steering. The wear was not related to towing the A'liner. Territory tyres were kept at 40 psi all round for towing at medium speed.
A'liner Towing and Weight
After the unpleasant experience on our first long trip with the Falcon in 2003 - resulting in the vehicle needing new springs and enhanced shock absorbers and prompting the purchase of a Hayman-Reese weight distribution hitch - I keep a careful eye on weight distribution and ball weight. We began this trip with a ball weight of 130 kg - an excellent figure and the van towed well. Before we left I took a lot of time setting up the Territory hitch receiver to ensure that the A'liner towed level and that effort payed off with no towing problems.
¶ PVC Tube Stowages
PVC tubes 100mm in diameter were fitted to the chassis at the back of the A'liner. One holds grey water pipes, one holds the poles for the annex on concrete. These are effective and useful and will be retained in the long term. A third 100 mm PVC tube holding 15 litres of water worked but was not compatible with the overall plan for weights in the A'liner and was left in Sydney in April 2006.
¶ Additional Petrol
Two storage containers were made for the rear bumper during the early part of the trip. When used for petrol each added about 20 kg to the weight at the extreme rear of the van, weight this far back is useful to balance the van. Petrol in the drums was poured into the Territory petrol tank as required during longer legs. On balance, it is doubtful if this additional petrol is needed permanently. In the more populated parts of Australia where there are sufficient petrol stations the drums were a nuisance but in the more remote area having extra petrol sometimes meant that expensive roadhouses could be bypassed and longer sections could be planned without needing to include petrol stations. Territory range while towing the A'liner is not very good and headwind, poor road surface or hilly terrain increase petrol consumption, sometimes unexpectedly and alarmingly. Knowing additional petrol for more than a hundred kilometres of towing is available contributed substantially to my peace of mind. The compromise solution is probably to retain one drum and use the other container for holding the awning and annex in an accessible, but out of the way, stowage.
Radio and Television
¶ Radio Aerial
The radio installed in the A'liner with speakers under the bed continued to work very well. Before this trip the long aerial on the rear bumper had been replaced with a short rubber-covered aerial mounted on the back edge of the A'liner roof. This worked for a couple of weeks then failed completely. A replacement bought in Echuca worked well for the remainder of the trip; the feeder cable had failed, not the aerial which flapped in the wind and looked most vulnerable.
¶ Television Aerial
Before leaving Sydney on this trip a replacement television aerial had been acquired. The television aerial was a Saturn 3000 vertical circular plastic aerial which was allegedly omni-directional and could handle UHF and VHF, vertical and horizontal polarisation simultaneously. In practice it is not omni-directional but does handle both polarisations and UHF/VHF simultaneously. When we were in the coverage of a local and a wide area station, or two wide-area stations, using different polarity and located widely apart it worked well giving us a number of stations with good picture quality. The aerial is far easier to handle and erect than the Explorer it replaced. I also bought an Explorer bolt-on fitting for the van A-frame which holds a vertical pole firmly in place; that works well and is worth the money spent on it. After some months experience with the Saturn aerial it had settled down to working reasonably well but was not overwhelmingly convincing. There appeared to problems with aerial leads or with loose or intermittent connections in the power injector at the back of the television. Eventually some aerial problems were traced to a couple of faulty leads and very poor performance of the A'liner wall connection.
The wind we experienced along the WA coast made the television aerial wave around alarmingly and I set-up guy ropes to stabilise the aerial (photograph above right). A television aerial with guy ropes is an unusual sight.
By the end of the trip our refrigeration arrangements had settled down to having the three-way fridge in the A'liner for normal use, running on mains electricity in caravan parks and on gas while the van was being towed (making sure the gas was turned off before we entered a petrol station to refuel). The Engel fridge in the back of the Territory was running as a freezer containing meat bought at known high quality suppliers (Kununurra and Longreach), and used for ice-cream if the A'liner fridge freezer compartment was full. The blue car-fridge (a 12-volt absorption fridge) was used as a cooler for apples, carrots and drinks; this was plugged into the A'liner when camped and into the rear 12-volt socket in the Territory while moving.
¶ Table Cover
A fabric cover for the roll-up table was bought at the Eighty Mile Beach. This is usually used in conjunction with a rubber mat under the fabric and on the aluminium slats
¶ Insects & Bugs
We have adopted several approaches to deal with insects including the apparently harmless, but annoying, ones attracted to light at night as well as the biting/stinging sandflies, mites, midges and mosquitoes. A Mortein vapour generator runs for much of the time in the A'liner (when we have mains power); this has been proven to kill insects after about an hour; flies get groggy in about the same time, they appear not to die but get so lethargic they can be swatted. The effectiveness of the Mortein vapour on sandflies, mites and mosquitoes is unproven but it certainly makes us feel better when we see bugs falling dead from the ceiling of the A'liner. When the biting/stinging insects are likely to be around one or two citronella burners are left outside the door of the A'liner to discourage them from entering. When Mary is bitten, or stung, by a bug she uses Moov ointment which definitely eases the itching. The remaining item is to prove that a 'folklore' mix of one third each Dettol, methylated spirits and baby oil deters sandflies and mites from attacking. We tried a Dettol and baby oil mixture but it was unpleasantly oily.
Telecommunications & Navigation
A CDMA mobile telephone was used throughout the trip. Coverage is surprisingly good with most inhabited areas, even a handful of houses, having coverage. Coverage sometimes extends well beyond (up to 25 kilometres) from villages; but the CDMA network is still far from national coverage. Text messaging was used regularly and voice calls were made as required. Telstra may replace the CDMA network in the next few years so the CDMA phone might have to be replaced eventually.
Access to the internet was needed for e-mail, for regular banking - mainly making credit card payments and checking bank account balances, and for updating the weblog I established to inform the family about our movements. The lap top was fitted with a Telstra BigPond wireless card in the PCMIA slot which connected with BigPond Broadband via the CDMA mobile telephone network. There were two different underlying technologies - 1xEVDO was the more advanced one available in Sydney, Melbourne, Wagga Wagga, Albury and Darwin and providing reasonable data throughput, apparently independent of wireless signal strength. The other technology, named CDMA 1x, depended heavily on signal strength but there was some other factor limiting data throughput - probably the data network supporting the CDMA network and the interface with that network. Whatever the cause, data throughput on the CDMA 1x network varied widely from quite good (rarely) through barely acceptable (most of the time in WA) to barely usable, and requiring lots of patience, for e-mail and banking but unusable for blog updates (all the time in Queenland).
The bracket for the Magellan Global Position System was bolted on the dashboard on the right side of the steering wheel in the Territory. From this position under the sloping windscreen the GPS receiver can see enough of the sky to receive sufficient satellites. The GPS provides accurate speed at all times. Elevation above sea-level is also displayed; elevation information can be useful indicating whether the road is climbing or descending and affecting petrol consumption. For a couple of days in Port Hedland one or two satellites were out of service and GPS performance became erratic until the faulty satellites were replaced. Non-availability of GPS underlined how useful it is.
Awning and Annex
The shadecloth triangle over the kitchen window continues to be an excellent idea and is usually put up every time we stop.
Despite disenchantment with the annex on our previous round-Australia trip, we have realized that the awning/annex combination can provide useful shelter from sun, wind and rain and so it has been retained. The large shadecloth shaped to shade the door side of the A'liner has been retired (after a last use at the Eighty-Mile Beach caravan park).
¶ Concrete Slab
To secure the awning tent poles when we are on a concrete slab, horizontal aluminium poles are bolted to wooden blocks at the base of awning poles and secured to tent pegs driven into the ground beyond the edge of the slab. Additional adjustable aluminium poles between the base plates help keep them in place during wind and can be used to tie-down the bottom of the annex.
In hot tropical weather two small fans enhance the natural air circulation in the van, usually making the interior quite pleasant.
Setting up the awning for a stop lasting only one or two nights has always seemed too much trouble. In Kununurra we tried erecting a small (about 2 metre square) tarpaulin along half of the roof line using the normal awning tent poles (long and one small) and guy-ropes to hold up the outer edge. This worked very well to give limited shade over the doorway and was particularly effective if there was already shade from a nearby tree over the side of the A'liner. For short stays (one or two nights) this is an excellent option for shade/shelter over the A'liner door.
¶ Fixed Poles
At Port Hedland strong wind pushing against the annex canvas bent the long tent pole which could not be straightened satisfactorily so had to be replaced at Broome. Strong and gusty wind along the WA coast frequently made the awning flap and bounce forcing the poles down so the pole length had to be corrected. On a trial basis I put in fixed length poles to see if that would need less fiddling - they did.
Our return to Sydney in October 2006 marked the end of another delightful trip in Australia. The Ford Territory has proven an excellent towing vehicle providing a high level of comfort for driver and passenger. The all wheel drive ability was particularly useful allowing us to travel with minimal concern on gravel and dirt roads. The A'liner continued to be an excellent caravan which is easy to tow, quick to set-up, and comfortable for two people. We spent 222 nights in the A'liner on this trip bringing our total in the A'liner to 687 nights.
Distance covered by the A'liner (15,967 kilometres) and Territory (25, 141 kilometres) have bought our total distances up to 61,073 for the A'liner and 88,049 kilometres for the towing vehicle (the previous Ford Falcon and the current Ford Territory)