KEEPING ON CAMPING WHILE YOU CAN…
by Tim Bowden
KEEPING ON CAMPING WHILE YOU CAN…
Turning 78 was a big shock. Now I am in my 79th year with the big 80 just around the corner. I mean that is seriously OLD!
So I said to my life’s partner Ros (who is running three years behind me because she hasn’t managed to catch me up over 48 years of marriage) it is time we went camping again. It was March, but this stinking hot weather has to end soon – won’t it? Let’s head south to Victoria from the sweltering mid-north coast of NSW for two weeks with our trusty Series 80 diesel Landcruiser ‘Penelope’. (I have travelled with two women for many years now.)
And our Goldstream Sovereign wind-up camper, is dubbed ‘The Palace’ because that style of camper seemed so luxurious when we look back to our Kombi days
in the 1970s, when we were much younger. We rattled around in the split-screen Kombi, full-length roof-rack, towing a 6 X 4 trailer on various outback
trips for eleven years from 1974.
In the late 1990s we acquired Penelope and our first off-road camper a Jayco Flight we dubbed ‘The Manor’. Four travel books followed, Penelope Goes West – On the Road from Sydney to Margaret River and Back (1998-9), Penelope Bungles to Broome (2001), The Devil in Tim – Penelope’s Travels in Tasmania (2005) and Down Under in the Top End – Penelope Heads North (2008). Now we tend to travel for shorter periods and not write books. It is more restful.
Even so, there have been unwanted recent adventures. Like getting lost in 2013 on the Gary Junction Way (which wasn’t) in pissing pouring rain, legacy of an out-of-season cyclone, on our way to Marble Bar and damaging ‘The Palace’ in the process. Realising we had never ‘done’ Cape York, we set off in 2014 only to get unseasonal rain in June just as we got to Laura, still on the bitumen. We sat in the camping ground behind the Laura pub as 51mm came steadily down, and then watched refugees in their red mud-caked rigs limp into the camp ground with horror stories of bogged road trains blocking the only road to the north and so on.
Still bruised by our 2013 wet desert disaster in WA, we made a pusillanimous but in our view sensible decision to wimp out of Cape York and go home. Gluey red mud and a stuffed up track did not seem attractive, in fact – if you will forgive me – it was a kind of watershed in our resolve not to do any more ‘courageous’ journeys. Perhaps it was time to act our age and do more sedate trips.
Fast-forward to 2016, and a field-testing of our new style of shorter less testing camping excursions. In this case, two weeks in Victoria (via Canberra to see the Tom Roberts paintings in the National Gallery, and on to Wilsons Promontory then work our way back to New South Wales up the south-eastern Victorian coast.
However we quickly realised that there is no difference in packing for a two-week trip than a two months excursion. But we did it nevertheless. It was still stinking hot, with temperatures over 30 degrees C as we headed down the M1 to bypass Sydney and on to Canberra. After only two hours on the road, Penelope’s air conditioner decided to cark, condemning us to blasts of hot air relayed through the fan system with no cooling. It was not pleasant. But we made it to our caravan park in Queanbeyan by 3.15 pm. (The national capital was chockers because of the Canberra Day long weekend which had not been foreseen.)
It rained in the night, and this continued into the morning as we splashed our way to the National Gallery. Now our style of camper is not all that much fun in the rain, because you have to fold in wet canvas walls over your beds. Exploring the weather in Victoria on the internet we discovered it was rain almost everywhere for the next seven days on the southern coast. It was not possible to find out what happened after that. We decided to go home.
That decision was reinforced when we hitched up the next morning, and Penelope’s diesel engine (which is gas assisted) pushed puffs of auto-gas up through the bonnet, just in front of the driver. I stopped the engine, and raised the bonnet to see liquified gas dripping down on the grass under the engine on the inside of the front wheel. This was potentially a VERY dangerous happening. I shouted to my life’s partner to turn the gas system switch off (we operate perfectly well on straight diesel fortunately) and things calmed down. (And yes, Allan Whiting, I am aware of your opinions on gas-assisted diesels.)
We had left Boomerang Beach early on Thursday morning, and by Saturday afternoon we were home again. Our house seemed very comfortable – particularly with rain forecast locally for the following week. By the end of Sunday we had unpacked everything, and began planning to get our mechanical failures fixed.
Our next two-week camping trip, north this time into southern Queensland, is planned for late April and early May. Perhaps this time we will be away for longer than two nights. But we do plan to continue driving and camping until physically unable to do so. On our terms!
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