Van Improvements

Van Improvements

Sorry for interrupting your scheduled reading about our adventures in COVID-19 locked down Tasmania but this morning up on the big island (mainland) Egg has been picked up by Delica Garage for it’s 3rd visit to Johno’s workshop. I figured it was therefore as good a time as any to publish our list of services/modifications that we’re doing to get Big Lap ready. I’ll put the costings in too when I have them but Matt keeps forgetting to send them to me.

First Service

After buying Egg which you can read about here we did what all good second hand car buyers should do and took it in for a service. It turned out the couple that sold it to us had done exactly the same thing after they bought it from the importer so the garage already knew our van. They gave it a once over and made us a list of possible problems and improvements we could make to the van in the future.

Second Service

Following the absolute smash fest that was Spicers Gap Road (whoops) Matt took Egg into the Delica Garage for a second going over. Because our first visit showed that there were no major issues this time we were more interested in upgrading and fixing a couple of niggles. To say it was lucky that we did is a huge understatement, the weight of the internal build combined with our enthusiastic 4WDing had resulted in the transmission mounting breaking at 3 of the 4 connection points. We were one mount away of having it drop out…eep.

Along with remounting and reinforcing the transmission we upgraded to a new thicker radiator, added and engine guard, and completely replaced the springs so that they were correct for the weight of the van. This inadvertently also lifted Egg no word of a lie probably close to 15cm which looks absolutely ridiculous and means I now need to do a silly hop to get into the passenger seat.

Matt’s Water System

One of the things that we first noticed the van was lacking on our camping trips was a water storage system. We have been using a supermarket bought container of water which we have been placing on various chairs and logs. It is awkward and has resulted in spills on more than one occasion.

We ended up spending quite a lot of time debating water with Matt trying to convince me 30L was enough and me trying to convince him that was unacceptable and we needed at least twice that amount. We looked at jerry cans on the roof or mounted on the back, we looked at installing a pipe around the top of the roof rack for showering but ultimately we ended up settling on a 55L tank that slotted down the side of the van beside the draws and under the bed, and if we get desperate for showers/emergency water we will have a couple of back up camp shower bags.

The water system is still a work in progress as Matt is putting together a pump system and various connections so we can get water out with the press of a button. Once it is done I will get him to write up about it because it is that complex it’s beyond me.

Cooking

The van came with two single burner stoves that we accidentally crushed on our third overnight trip. I replaced them with a Coleman Fyreknight Hyperflame Camping Stove which in turn meant that we needed gas bottles rather than small canisters. For ease of lifting and carrying Matt installed 2x4kg gas bottles on the roof in each rear corner. I’m stoked that I don’t have to go to bed worrying about gas in the van. Matt is currently looking at how he can run a gas line from the roof so he doesn’t have to keep climbing up to get the bottles down.

Third Service

That brings me up to where we are now. We’re still in Tassie but off to pick up Egg and drive her down the coast in just over a month. I’m so so excited to get her back. So before we bring her down we thought it would be a good idea to arrange one last visit to the Delica Garage Qld, which will be the last time Johno sees it before we go on the big lap. It is sneaking up on us so fast!

So the plan is that we will get the timing belt replaced and overhauled including all the little bits and bobs that go with that (spark plugs, seals etc) and have a bash plate installed to the front to protect the underside of the van. Johno is also going to look at our windscreen squirters and take off the stupid side steps that we smash on absolutely everything when we’re off road. We were also going to get a long range fuel tank installed but the shipping couldn’t get it to Brisbane in time so we’ll get that completed when we are on the road and going through Geelong.

Planned Upgrades

  • Re route the fan so it’s not running over the engine.
  • Snorkle (probably not though because Matt thinks it is silly)
  • Bigger tyres as with the lift our current ones make the van look like a toy car.
  • Bullbar (maybe ++ $$$)
  • Mosquito netting.
  • New awning (ours got broken at Freshwater Campground).
  • Long range fuel tank.

Post Op Goomburra

Post Op Goomburra

I’m lucky with a lot of things in my life, I have a great job, caring husband, house to live in and never have to worry about food on the table but the one area where I lucked out on a bit was my health. I’m one of the 1 in 10 Australian women with endometriosis. Yay! Bit of a TMI but I’m telling you this because if I didn’t have surgery and end up taking too much leave I wouldn’t have been able to go on this van trip so there is a silver lining.

For something different and because we were both on leave we left town in the middle of the week after I’d finished catching up with my dietician. We drove out to Main Range National Park picking up some firewood on the way and set up camp at Poplar Flat.

Despite the recent slicing and dicing I felt really good in the morning so we headed out on a bushwalk on the 6.5km Cascades Circuit Track. It was a beautiful hike with multiple creek crossings, ferns, and tropical palms stretching into the canopy. I was particularly enthralled by the huge birds nest ferns up in the trees, make sure you look up!

After a rest in the campsite and a bit of lunch we took the van out for a short drive to the Mount Castle Lookout. Certainly worth the 900m of steep walking track to peer out across the valley and towards Brisbane.

Back at camp we spent a lazy afternoon lying around in the hammock, reading books, starting a fire, and discovering the wonders of getting flat breads to crisp up over flames (delicious).

On our way out the next day we stopped in at Lowies for a pizza snack. Lowie was an absolute character, he’d built his fantastic cafe/restaurant entirely from scratch with his sons help. I could have spent hours there talking to him and going over the amazing details of the building and the odds and ends scattered around. Matt ended up buying a book which amused me. In the entire time we have been together I think I’ve seen him finish two books which he has now outdone in the few months that we have had the van.

Heading towards Brisbane we decided to swing by the Spicers Gap 4WD track for a bit more off roading. After a quick bit of research most sites rated it as easy so we figured that we would be fine. Oh my word I do not know on what planet that road is ‘easy’ but it certainly wasn’t this one. The track was rutted beyond belief, like lose-the-side-of-your-van if your wheel slips into it ruts that I think would have been up to my waist if I found the urge to stand in the mud at the bottom. When the road wasn’t rutted it was unbelievably steep and rocky, or was littered with woah-boys that had a side-step-scraping gradient if you approached them on the wrong angle. Absolute madness but to Matt’s credit he handled it like a complete legend, and to Eggs credit they made it look easy (I contributed nothing apart from being nervous and getting out a few times).

We stopped at the top and took in one final lookout view from Governors Chair before slowly making our way back to Brisbane.

Add: Turns out Spicers Gap road nearly caused the transmission to fall out of Egg. We took it to the Delica Garage for a service and 3/4 mounting points were broken…eep.

Campground Review

Poplar Flat – Another lovely Queensland National Parks campsite and as the name would suggest pretty flat. There were lots of really nice spots and we were very happy with our area hidden away in the trees. There were drop toilets but no showers. $6.15 per person per night 7/10.

Crows Nest, Bunya Bunya, and a Crushed Stove

Crows Nest, Bunya Bunya, and a Crushed Stove

I’m really starting to fall in love with the feeling of freedom and relaxation that I have each time I get into the van and this Friday was no exception. After an earlish finish at work I met Matt at home and we took off towards Esk. We stopped in town at the first pub for dinner (on the slightly cryptic advice from a police officer that breatho’d Matt). What a great pub! The food was awesome and well priced and the place had a strong community vibe. We ended up singing happy birthday to at least 5 locals and bought some meat tray tickets to raise money for the Esk school.

Post dinner Matt got to put his newly installed light bar through its paces and boy did that thing shine. We don’t plan on doing a huge amount of night time driving on the big lap due to the kangaroo hazard however if we need it it’s there. We arrived at Crows Nest National Park unscathed, set up camp, took a moment to look at the stars and then popped into bed.

The next day started off with a crunch. When we bought the van it came with a couple of single burner gas stoves, nothing fancy just the $20 ones from bunnings and those little lock down gas canisters. I’m really paranoid about gas in confined spaces and will not sleep in the van with the canisters or stoves inside so each night I take them out and pop them underneath the van. This morning they met their demise when I didn’t want to get out of bed and asked Matt to drive closer to the picnic table so he could make me a coffee. We both forgot about the stoves and so Matt drove over the top of them crushing them beyond recognition. Fortunately for us Crows Nest had gas BBQs for us to cook our breakfast on.

Following all that excitement we went for a bushwalk down to Koonin Lookout. Unfortunately I don’t have any photos of this or anything else until about 10am on Saturday morning because someone (it was me) forgot to charge their camera battery. Of course because I am a passionate landscape and wilderness photographer and particularly enjoy taking photos of birds the universe rewarded me with a stunning kingfisher which spent 30 minutes diving in and out of Bottlebrush Pool 5m away from us. I spent the first 5 minutes kicking myself for my lack of camera but the little fella was too entertaining for me to stay angry.

On our way to Toowoomba to pick up a new camp stove we stopped in at Crows Nest and had a wander about. We were pleasantly surprised to find a cute and pretty town where, despite the early hour, people were getting out and about. Interestingly Crows Nest is reportedly the only town in Australia named after an Aboriginal, in this case a man named Jimmy Crow that lived in a hollow tree. We stumbled upon an amazing factory that was making fizzy drinks and syrups and had been since 1903. The owner went out of his way to show us how the drinks were made and talked us through the carbonation process (the water is sprayed into pressurised CO2) which was basically the opposite of a sodastream. We spent way too much money there on a variety of technicoloured beverages for the road.

In Toowoomba BCF I ended up buying the Coleman Fyreknight Hyperflame Camping Stove, it was a pretty expensive piece of kit but it’ll be the stove that we take with us on the big lap. I’ll do more of a review of it when we’ve had more time to get to know each other but so far I’m really impressed!

We drove out of town and on towards the Bunya Mountains where we would be spending the night. The countryside was flat and dry which was nice in it’s own special way. The Bunya Mountains seemed to pop out of nowhere and suddenly we were climbing into the hills. Matt absolutely nailed the timing and we arrived right on golden hour. It was breathtaking looking at the country spill out below us with the occasional Bunya Pine poking out of the forest.

There are 3 campgrounds in Bunya Mountains National Park, Dandabah, Westcott and Burtons Well. Burtons Well is by far the most scenic however only Dandabah allowed campervans so the choice was made for us. We set up our spot and relaxed in the sun where we were joined by some of the adorable red necked wallabies.

The next morning we woke up to frost…in Queensland. It got down to -1 which is a record for the 4 years we have lived here. We packed up the van and drove down the road to the Burtons Well camping area where we started our hike up to Mount Kiangarow to see the view and the grasstrees. Mount Kiangarow is the highest point of the Bunya mountains and is definitely worth the effort. The forrest was full of birdlife (including Australia’s smallest bird, the Weebill). We caught up to another couple of walkers/twitchers who were searching the trees for the elusive Paradise Riflebird .

Rather than walking the whole way around the ridge and then having to walk back up the road to the van we drove down to Westcott and started the walk out to Koondail lookout. Around 15 minutes in I saw some movement in the tree up ahead and a flash of blue sure enough it was a paradise riflebird searching for lunch. I was beyond excited but I could not get a good photo of him (see bird butt below). The rest of the walk was stunning, filled with beautiful views, a swooping peregrine falcon and for some odd reason huge numbers of prickly pears.

Back in the little town of Dandabah we made a beeline for The Bunyas cafe and a much needed afternoon coffee. Open between 9am-8pm on most days this cosy little spot served up a great flat white and their dinner and lunch menus looked fantastic. We spent the rest of the afternoon relocating our campsite to the slightly sunnier side of the campground and then sitting in the warmth reading books and enjoying the wallabies.

On the way out of the national park the following day we came upon a group of 3 blokes next to a broken down car. They’d been working on a farm out near Crows Nest and had borrowed a car to drive up and camp for a few nights. Unfortunately the car was a dud. One of the guys thought if he could get a part in town he might be able to fix it so him and one of his mates jumped on the bed in the back and we turned around to Dandabah. Matt dropped me and the less mechanically inclined fella back at the campground and I spent the rest of the morning sitting with our neighbours, chatting, and drinking the coffee they made me. The man whose name I have forgotten is the owner of a Townsville pineapple farm and his partner runs the servo and a caravan park. They gave us a brochure so we will try and pop in an visit some time.

While Matt was away the camp ground was visited by a satin bowerbird, king parrots, a bush turkey, and a couple of crimson rosellas.

With car part in hand Matt returned, we made our farewells and then got back on the road and headed quick smart back to Brisbane to get ready for the work week to come.

Campground Review

Crows Nest National Park – I quite liked this small camping area (13 sites) but I couldn’t see myself staying there for any longer than 1 night. There just wasn’t that much to do. Facilities were limited but it was neat, tidy, and quiet. $6.55 per person per night 6/10.

Dandabah – This camp was made up of a open grassy area with vehicle access to sites. It was very close to a restaurant, cafes, and a small general store which made it super convenient. All our fellow campers here were really considerate and there was a huge variety of wildlife. The shower block and toilets were well maintained and hot showers were free! $6.55 per person per night 9/10. Loved it here.

From the Hidden Valley to Noosa North Shore

From the Hidden Valley to Noosa North Shore

It is proving to be a bit of a challenge fitting trips in around both of our jobs so we have decided to get the most out of it we will leave on Friday afternoon post work and return on Sunday giving us two nights of fun rather than one.

On this Friday Matt picked me up from work in the van which gave me an opportunity to show it off to my boss. We drove up the coast to spend the night in Hidden Valley Camping at Grow Mad Plantations, an active macadamia farm. Glen and Sharon (the owners) came out to greet us and sold us some great firewood (we have quickly learnt there are big differences in firewood quality). Our campsite was down in the gulley surrounded by rainforest and away from the main camp area. It was a little bit boggy because of the recent rain but was otherwise perfect. We quickly became very grateful for the firewood as the temperature dropped to a chilly 5 degrees.

We packed up early the next day after a breakfast of bacon and eggs and continued to drive north making a quick pit stop at a random Saturday market somewhere around the glass house mountains. I bought some fresh fruit to have as snacks for the rest of the trip.

When we arrived in Noosa we needed to fill the van up which is a pretty standard activity but as we drove away I noticed a really strong smell of petrol. At first we thought that Matt must have got petrol on his shoes but the further we drove the stronger it got until it was eventually unbearable and even worse when the window was down. 3km down the road from the servo we were forced to stop and low and behold Matt had forgotten to put the petrol cap back on and left it behind. With all our fingers and toes crossed we turned around and made our way back to the petrol station where a kind soul had handed in our cap (whomever you are thank you so much).

Petrol cap firmly back in place we paid for our vehicle access permit ($26.40 for two days), camping permit ($14) and ferry ticket ($7 one way).

On the other side of the river we were greeted with sand and lots of it, which made sense as we were now in the southern end of the Great Sandy National Park aka the Cooloola Recreation Area. The word Cooloola comes from the local indigenous word for the sound the wind makes as it whispers through the branches of the coastal cypress pine tree.

Our route of choice was the 60km Cooloola Beach Drive which would take us to our camping spot for the night on the far northern end. The going was not overly challenging with minimal wash outs and generally hard packed sand with a few softer areas. We were entertained by hundreds of whales breaching and various birds of prey gliding over the cliffs (brahminy kite pictured).

We stopped for lunch in a shady camping area where I also had a bit of a nap in the back of the van prior to moving on to our next attraction.

Almost the entire length of the coast is lined with stunning multi-coloured sand cliffs in every shade of cream, brown, orange, and yellow that you could imagine. The Aboriginal legend of how they came to be is that “way back in the dream-time there lived by the beach a beautiful, black maiden named Murrawar who fell in love with the Rainbow who came to visit her every evening in the sky. She would clap her hands and sing to this lovely Rainbow.

One day Burwilla, a very bad man from a distant tribe, stole Murrawar for his slave wife. Often beating her cruelly and making her do all his work while he sat in the shade admiring his terrible killing boomerang. This boomerang was bigger than the biggest tree and full of evil spirits.

One day Murrawar ran away and as she hurried along near the beach, which was then all flat, she looked back and saw Burwilla’s boomerang coming to kill her. Calling out for help she fell to the ground to frightened to run. Suddenly she heard a loud noise in the sky and saw her faithful Rainbow racing towards her across the sea.

The wicked Burwilla attacked the brave Rainbow and they met with a roar like thunder. The boomerang died instantly, and the Rainbow shattered into many pieces, which fell to the beach forming the coloured sands cliffs which are still there to this day.” https://www.rainbowbeachinfo.com.au/visitor-information-centre/

Of all the coloured sands Red Canyon was the most impressive. The intensity of the dark orange sand against the pale white of the beach and the blues of the ocean was just stunning. We carefully climbed around this beautiful place taking in the views. Before making our way up the final stretch of beach to our camping site for the night.

Although the day was sunny and still the weather forecast was suggesting a night time storm influencing Matt and I to opt out of the clearly very popular beach campgrounds and move inland to Freshwater Camping Area. We parked up, set up camp, and did the 1h walk to Freshwater Lake through the impressive scribbly gum forest. While climbing on a log I managed to disturb a little snake into the water and as we sat enjoying the view a pale-yellow robin joined us.

Back at camp we sat around, did some reading, extracted a huge green katydid from our bed, had dinner and went to sleep.

After a restless night of rain and wind we woke to find that our gross, mouldy, orange awning had not survived the night. Neither of us were very upset about this as it is a truly filthy thing however it was a bit annoying when after breakfast we had to pack it away (in the rain), and couldn’t because the pole was so bent it wouldn’t lock back into the van. Matt used his brute strength and the crook of a tree to straighten it just enough so that it would fold away.

Freshwater Rd was the most direct route to Rainbow Bay so we took it deep through the forest and fog and back to civilisation.

Matt and I were feeling a bit under the weather due to a lack of sleep so we popped into a cafe at Rainbow Bay for a couple of flat whites. The weather was still pretty miserable and the beach was unappealing swaying our decision to opt out of more 4WDing and hike to Carlo Sandblow instead.

The Carlo Sandblow is a 15 hectare mass of sand created by the wind and dunes. We didn’t spend much time there as the rain kept rolling in however it was an impressive sight and one that I’d be keen to visit again in better weather.

On our way back home we stopped twice. Once to take some photos of what I can only describe as a fogbow and a second time in Lake Alford Recreational Park.

Campground Review

Hidden Valley at Growmad Plantations – A beautiful site run by a lovely couple. I actually wish we had had more time to spend at this camp, make use of the facilities and meet more of the animals but it wasn’t to be. $37 per night per couple 7/10.

Freshwater Campground – Despite the horrible weather we experienced at this site and the damage to our awning I actually think this was the best spot we’ve stayed at thus far. The environment was beautiful, the sites were big and flat, and there was heaps of space that gave a very secluded feel to it. The hot showers were a huge bonus and cost $1 for 4 minutes which turned out to be more than enough. There are also free gas BBQs in the day use area. $6.55 per person per night 8/10.

Water Water Everywhere

Water Water Everywhere

Condamine River Road is a 20km 4WD track through the center of the Cambanoora Gorge near Killarney in SE Queensland and it is where we headed next for a day trip to test out the river crossing capabilities of the Delica.

Our first stop for the day was the Ipswitch Nature Center, a cute little wildlife park in nearly the center of town. Entry was a gold coin donation but we ended up giving a bit more, both being animal lovers, and both of us being really impressed with how well looked after all the critters were. If you have a spare 30 minutes – 1 hour I’d strongly recommend dropping in.

The drive out to the gorge was absolutely spectacular. Matt was not in a stop-for-Annie-to-take-a-heap-of-photos mood so I did my best shooting out of the window. The area is predominantly used for cattle farming with some forestry also present.

Next came the river crossings. There are 14 along the 20km stretch which is why the area is so popular with 4WDing. On our way in we were given 5 minutes of entertainment by a bloke in a mercedes AWD trying and failing to get across the first shallow crossing…probably don’t drive the road unless you have a high clearance vehicle.

The crossings are (in order) First, Second, Double, Mawhirts, Bullocky, Flaggie, Rocky, Mill, Reis’, Heywood’s, Billy John’s, Andrew Evan’s, Long and Watson’s Crossing. There were two that were a bit challenging (Second and Long) but Egg handled them all like a pro. We stopped for lunch of cheese, dips, and bread next to one of the crossings and watched the traffic roll through.

Another great day on the road!

Testing Egg Out

Testing Egg Out

And just like that we had a van. Matt decided to hit the ground running and get some 4WDing in ASAP so a few days later I found myself bumping along the road feeling like a queen looking over every other car in sight. Delicas are bloody tall!

The Egg, as I previously mentioned is a 2005 Mitsubishi Delica Chamonix. It was built in Japan where they are predominantly used to ferry people up and down ski slopes. Ours came complete with a snow melting window and an internal fan that it routed over the top of the engine (I’m sure this is great in cold places but not in Brisbane). It is also a 4WD and when I say 4WD I mean a proper high clearance, low range, take it on a beach and over rocks 4WD, not a 4WD that can manage some slightly rutted gravel. This thing is the real deal.

The Germans had spent an unbelievable amount of time and care converting the van into a touring machine. The bed is huge as Karl (the boy German) would have easily been over 6 feet tall, and sits on top of the draw system which has a full kitchen area and storage, fridge, table, and yet more draws for storage at the back. Behind the drivers side chair there is a battery that hooks up to the solar panel which is mounted to the roof. The windows are covered in home made curtains with a pattern comprised of happy jellyfish in purples, blues, and pinks. Karl was stung by a blue bottle the second time he went to an Australian beach so they made them for him to remember that lovely event (German humor).

Anyway enough about the van and back to the trip. The drive out of Brisbane was pretty dull but we stopped at the edge of Lake Samsonvale for lunch which was lovely. We made our first meal of ham rolls with tomato and cheese and sat on a picnic table in the sun watching waterbirds and listening to children shriek. Matt wanted to make our way through D’aguilar State Forest via 4WD and then down through the Glasshouse Mountains to our campground for the night so we headed off into the hills and to my first ever experience of 4WDing.

I have got to say as a 4WD virgin I found the entire thing to be seriously nerve wracking and a couple of times I had major misgivings about the entire plan. I imagined myself accidentally tipping Egg off a ledge or getting wedged between rocks without another human for miles. But it all worked out well. The only thing that nearly brought us to grief was a log that had fallen across the track. Not an issue for literally any other type of car but a big problem for our 2m+ van. Matt managed to sneak under by lining up into a ditch on the right hand side and carefully easing it through.

With the sun going down we had to call it early and get back onto the asphalt. We arrived at the campground just as it was getting dark which gave us enough time to unsuccessfully attempt to light our first fire (Matt blamed the wood).

The next day we got up and I eagerly started cooking our first camp breakfast. Bad news we forgot a spoon for stirring the eggs in our non stick saucepan, good news I made a replacement out of the lid from a tupperware container. As Bear Grylls always says, improvise, adapt, overcome. We were joined for a while by a pair of friendly kookaburras.

After breakfast Matt wanted to go for a walk up the creek. The water was murky and still which resulted in some really beautiful reflections. There was an abundance of bird life, beautiful plants (which I took too many photos of) and you could be certain the river was full of fish.

Post walk we packed up the van and started to make our way back to Brisbane via the back roads of the Glasshouse mountains. On one particularly rough gravel number in the middle of nowhere we stumbled upon a woman in a van stopped on the side of the road so we checked on her to make sure she was ok. Not only was she fine she gave us a CD of her great music and a sticker, perfect #vanlife moment. I’ll let you know her name when I can find the CD…it’s somewhere in the van.

Overall we are both beyond stoked with the Delica and our first little trial and have already started working out where we are going next. I can’t wait!

Campground Review

(I’ll try and write up a bit about each campground we stay in)

Coochin Creek Campground – Located in the Beerwah state forest just over an hour out of Brisbane (or 4 hours if you go inland and start mucking around on 4WD tracks). As far as campgrounds go it was really lovely. The place was really busy because it was the Mother’s Day weekend but the spaces were a reasonable size and it still felt like we had a lot of room. There were clean toilets (that ended up all getting blocked on Sunday morning), fire pits, electric BBQs and a launch for kayaks. We both really liked the creek setting but apparently the mozzies can be a nightmare (not an issue for us). $7 per person per night 6/10 (not terrible, not amazing).