Two weeks on the road – Ollie’s first big trip – Part 2

This post is divided up into two parts because I don’t know how to write like Hemingway. You can find Part 1 here.

Pins are our overnight stops, orange for camping.

Day 9 – Sunday 8 September

Rosie was still not feeling 100% on day 9, so we had a chill day at home, mostly in front of the TV. We did duck down to Aldi for a quick shop, but found people lined up outside due to a power outage. So we drove 5 minutes down the road to the next one.

Pizza for dinner from Paolo’s Pizza Bar. Recommended. That night we watched the latest Jack Whitehall travel series with his dad. (I’m a ghost – whoo).

Suburban van

Day 10 – Monday 9 September

Rosie and mum went out for a mani/pedi while I looked after Ollie. He took ages to get to sleep, but a little trip in the van had him down eventually. Afterwards Rosie and I went down to the Esplanade and Nanna got to babysit. Rosie got a Thai massage and I got a haircut. Rosie’s massage wasn’t that great, it was ruined by them wiping the massage oil off her at the end with cheap paper towels. My haircut went much better. Afterwards, we stopped in at Tres Salsas for some lovely $10 margaritas in the sun. Highly recommended little restaurant if you’re ever down that way, the trio of dips were quite good.

Babysitting Ollie went well, with a nap included as a bonus. That night we went to the Hervey Bay Boat Club, because it’s impossible to visit Hervey Bay without going there at least once. Dinner was okay, but fantastic scallops for entree. We put far too much money through the chocolate skill arcade machine, as always. Rosie won the most chocolate easily.

Day 11 – Tuesday 10 September

As we were leaving this day, we were up early. Ollie had slept well for once as well. We were all packed up and in the car by 8.57am, so three minutes ahead of schedule. A big thank you to mum and dad for their hospitality and generosity while we were visiting.

Coming out of Hervey Bay we were immediately slowed down by every single slow caravan in QLD. They only go at the speed limit when being overtaken apparently.

Apparently Pauline Hanson is a thing up here?

We were forced to find a place for lunch by a grumpy baby that had made a mess of himself in the backseat, so we headed back to Maroochydore. We ended up getting some supplies at the Woolworths close by and got a quick (and a little spicy) Asian lunch at the Junk! restaurant, which is recommended. Back on the road, we discovered the joy of QLD roadworks and traffic.

Our next fill up, we were surprised to find every petrol station has put its prices up at least 20c for some reason, so U98 was now $1.87 per litre. We had to fill up, but I just got U91 at a still very overpriced $1.65. We’re not sure if the nearby bushfires resulted in some opportunistic gouging by petrol station owners, but I wasn’t particularly happy about it.

Mirror baby

Rosie found a likely campsite in the hills in the Byron Bay area, so we headed there as the sun was beginning to set. We drove on through to the National Park along some of the narrowest most poorly maintained bitumen roads the van had ever seen. The views of the setting sun with the nearby bushfire smoke in the air was very pretty though.

We got to the entrance to the Nightcap National Park only to find a small handwritten sign saying the road to the campground was closed. We went up anyway to check it out and confirmed it was closed (with no sneaky way around). Fortunately, there was an alternate route to go around the whole canyon area and come into the campground from the north, but it would have been nice for NSW National Parks to update their website. The detour was about 30-40minutes, which was frustrating as we were only 2km from the camp originally!

As I’m writing this, the NSWNP website still says the road will only be closed until 9 September, but talking to a truck driver that was working on the road the next day the road won’t be open for weeks.

So with the sun completely set and another 30 minutes of awful mountain roads to deal with, we took it slow, turned on all the vans spotlights and made our way to set up camp in the dark. We got to the Rummery Park Campground around 6.30, and set up camp fairly quickly. The built in LED strips on the van really do light up a big area so we could see what we were doing pretty well.

We were the only ones at the campsite that night and it was a little creepy being surrounded by very tall trees and sub-tropical rainforest without having seen it in the light of day.

We started the day in t-shirts and shorts, but the night quickly cooled enough we needed jackets and thermals. As we cooked dinner (lamb chops), a little Long-Nosed Potoroo with no fear came up and started sniffing around for scraps.

Lamb chops may be his favourite things in the world.

He actually started eating the grass that Ollie had spilled some baby formula on. He had a little scar, but wasn’t very bright as he got spooked once and ran straight into our tent, bouncing off and then running away in the complete opposite direction!

Rear of the van, plenty of light and everything is in easy reach.

We settled in fairly early after a long days driving and were quite warm, despite overnight temperatures getting to around 7 degrees. Thongs and socks are acceptable in that type of weather, by the way.

Little nest setup works well, just blankets between two mattresses to create a small hollow.

Day 12 – Wednesday 11 September

We woke up to a lot of birdsong that morning, early as usual. I took Ollie out for a bit of a walk to let Rosie sleep in a bit more.

There was no one else at the campsite, but there sure was a lot of different birds. Lots of kookaburras, currawongs and some abnormally large cockatoos.

We were packed up pretty quickly and on the road by 8.30am, keen to see the canyon we’d only glimpsed last night as the sun was setting. Before getting back onto the dirt road out, we asked a truck driver with some roadworking gear when the road that’s closed will be fixed. He said it will be at least a couple more weeks.

We went back to the Minyon Falls lookout and put the drone up for the one and only flight of the trip. This is a great view and would look pretty spectacular in the setting sun I think.

Raw footage, no editing.

We drove back down the twisting, poorly maintained roads back to Mullumbimby, which was a town we’d driven through the night before that Rosie liked the look of. Well, being so close to Nimbin and Byron Bay, it’s safe to call it a little ‘alternative’. We looked around a few places for breakfast before deciding on The Other Joint. The entire town was packed with parked cars and people were everywhere – very unusual for what seems just like a standard country town. The food at the cafe was good – they have a very nice garden out the back with a lot more tables.

Everywhere in town there was signs saying ‘fluoride removed’ outside all the shops and on a water vending machine. Considering this is the same region that had a measles outbreak at the same time we were there, preventing us from going into Byron itself, I’m not sure they’re fully into modern medicine. Rosie loved the town, but I couldn’t see myself fitting in 🙂

Great pastries

Just on the highway we filled up again, with prices still high but not as gougy as before, and then settled in for another longish drive down the highway. After last nights after dark setup, we were determined to get to a campsite during the day this time. We stopped in Grafton for a quick and dirty maccas (the first of the trip) and a stretch. I cannot recommend Grafton in any way based on our previous experiences there. We loaded up with some dinner supplies and continued on down south.

Originally we were heading for Hats Head, which has a funny name and also has good reviews, but that would have got us there a little later than we liked so we settled on Gumma Reserve, just outside Macksville. The campsite itself is just near the river, close enough to hear the ocean, but because of a tidal creek that runs parallel with the coast it’s actually a 30minute drive to the sand. The campsite was filled with grey nomads all pulled up and packed in close to each other taking up the creekside camping sites. We settled with a site away from the nomads on the other side of the road next to a big flowering banksia tree.

We set up very quickly on the sandy soil and then wandered over to the creek to sit, have a wine and let the sun set. Ollie crawled around shoving as much sand and dirt and leaves into his mouth as possible.

Dinner that night was a stirfry that worked out pretty well. We had a few nocturnal visitors as soon as the sun went down – a couple of fruitbats came into a nearby tree and started jumping about, and we saw a small sugar glider getting nectar from the banksia we were camped near.

Sugar glider, pre-using our tent as a runway.

We saw some other possums as well. At around 7.40, a lady with a head torch came up to us and asked us for money for the site. $17 cash for two people for one night wasn’t great considering the facilities. Every grey nomad had their own portable fire pits out that night, despite a total fire ban for the state. The lady collecting funds should have known this, but she didn’t ask them to put out the fires.

Ollie went to sleep pretty early and we soon followed. Rosie fell asleep mid-conversation at about 8.30, so I guess she was tired. Temps dropped down to about 8 degrees that night, but we were toasty in our sleeping bags. We had a noisy night though, with the sugar gliders and the flying foxes fighting over the nectar from the banksia tree. The little sugar gliders were using our tent as a launching runway, which was a bit startling in the middle of the night.

Day 13 – Thursday 12 September

We woke up early (surprise) with the tent covered in pollen and twigs. Looked like the animals had some fun overnight.

See the giant tree of nectar next to the tent….
Bushfires made for some interesting photos, this is the sun rising through the smoke.

We spotted a tawny frogmouth asleep in a nearby tree, so he most likely contributed to the noise last night. We packed up, filled up with petrol in Macksville (prices almost back to normal) and continued on our way.

The tent fly was filthy with leaves and quite wet due to overnight dew, so I stuffed it into the roof bag. Once it’s warmer, I just open it up over the van and it dries out pretty quick. The roof bag was pretty handy overall and didn’t really add that much to the fuel usage. We’ll be using it for more trips I think.

Back on the road, I had a brilliant idea. How about we travel to the Hunter Valley (only 366km) and stay there in a motel for two nights as a last little holiday before we get home? We’d even do some wineries on the Friday. Rosie found and booked the accommodation on the way.

We stopped for a second breakfast (its not brunch because we didn’t drink) at Bundaelah (no idea how to pronounce). A small cafe there did a very good breakfast menu, including a startlingly good innovation of hollandaise sauce on an egg and bacon roll.

We then let Ollie stretch out at a small park in town (got a wave from another Delica) before doing the final stretch of road towards the Hunter. Smooth driving with decent traffic, but a lot of smoke in the skies from bushfires.

We were staying at Pokolbin Village Accommodation, mostly due to proximity to wineries and price. It’s a nice enough motel, but overpriced. Facilities were clean, but the floor was very creaky, the bathroom had some broken fixtures and crap square taps and the walls were very thin (nice work to the couple in room 201). But it wasn’t a tent and it had a shower, so we liked it just fine.

Being just across the road, that afternoon after settling into the motel, we went over to the Hope Winery to taste some wine and possibly beer. Ollie was at maximum cuteness and charmed the two winery girls that were helping us out. We found one standout wine, bought a bottle and proceeded to drink a glass of it while watching the kangaroos bounce away from the japanese tourists that were chasing them for selfies.

Back in the motel, I had a small nap, Ollie had a slightly longer nap and Rosie had chips and a few glasses of the Hope wine while watching trashy TV. Not a bad afternoon. That night we went out to the winery next door for dinner at Goldfish.

We had a very nice dinner that included zucchini flowers, margarita pizza and seafood pasta. Ollie wasn’t very helpful though which meant we were constantly distracting him. Still, not a bad dinner all up and the food was lovely.

Day 14 – Friday 13 September

On this Friday, we had an entire day to tour the Hunter Valley wineries and not worry about travelling. We decided to drive ourselves as the last time we visited the Hunter we did a tour bus experience and while good, the wineries we visited were a bit commercial for us. We prefer to find the smaller, more interesting wineries, and Rosie was determined to find a good red wine this time. We started the day with a pie and sausage roll at the Pokolbin Village bakery which were very good.

The map above show where we went, mostly to wineries that had the word ‘Hill’ in their name, or to places that had been recommended to us. The itinerary was:

  • Lambloch Estate and Cider House – very good wine and cider, excellent host
  • Hungerford Hill – was a recommendation, but not our style. Weird building is supposed to look like a wine barrel. Host could have been more interested and engaged. Not recommended.
  • Ernest Hill Wines – very small vineyard, lovely host, good wines including reds. Recommended.
  • Veranda Restaurant – Quick lunch, though baby was tired and grumpy. Great food and service, had the tasting plate. Very nice.
  • Piggs Peake – this was recommended by a friend and was very nice. Good wines, huge variety, large tasting area and a great host, Ollie played with a puppy. Highly recommended.
  • Blueberry Hill – best host of the day, Rosie’s new best friend. Lovely small tasting room, good wines, very nice views. Highly recommended.

After a long day of sampling wine, we headed back to the motel and just had some takeaway thai food from Oishii, based just down the road. Thai was okay, not spectacular. Early night for us, with Rosie trying very hard to put the baby to sleep and walk away on very loud creaky wooden floorboards.

Day 15 – Saturday 14 September

Today was the day we were getting home, so we packed up early and got back on the road. We didn’t want to travel the same way through Sydney/Newcastle and particularly wanted to avoid Pennant Hills Road, so we decided to go the longer back way through the Blue Mountains and Wollomi National Park. That turned out to be an excellent decision. The road itself is very winding and twisted, but well maintained. We saw two lyre birds running across the road while driving through. The scenery is lovely as well, and with a 7.30 start there was no one on the road.

We stopped at the ‘Grey Gum International Cafe’ for a coffee and some breakfast around 9am. They had surprisingly good coffee, but were setting up for a motorcycle event of some kind so it was a bit of a madhouse. ‘Sweating my damn tits off’ was the quote of the day from the lady behind the BBQ.

As we got closer to the outskirts of Sydney, we messaged some family that lived in the region and payed them a visit. They live in Kurrajong Heights, which is a fairly spectatular suburb with some very steep roads. It was great to see them again and we got a tour of their new house. The three small dogs in the house all had very different reactions to Ollie.

With that all done it was time for the last leg of our trip home. We got onto the M7 and Hume without much drama (just usual Sydney traffic things) and drove the last 300km home in a few hours. Once we got home, we were greeted by a very fat cat – we think our lovely house sitter had been bonding with her with bits of food!

Dusty and tired, but home safe.

Eight loads of washing later and we were settled back into Canberra life, even having a drink with friends and family on Sunday afternoon.

Days of washing to do.

The boring stuff

The van did amazingly well for this particular trip. I did top up the oil in Hervey Bay, as the V6 is starting to burn a tiny bit which apparently is a common problem for these Mitsubishi engines. The solar panel stopped working on the way up, but that was partly cheap panels and probably also my dodgy mounting system. The new soldered wires are more flexible and seems to be working well in keeping the solar operating. The solar is nice to have, but not essential anyway.

The van does have an interesting trick where the alternator output when in drive and stationary (like at traffic lights) will dip quite low, particularly if the air conditioner or headlights are on. Because I’ve still got the voltage sensitive relay (VSR) in place from before getting the DC/DC charger, this voltage drop will cause the VSR to disengage, powering off my dashboard accessories and cutting power to the DC charger. I’ll remove the VSR which should fix things, but I need to look into why the stationary idle doesn’t automatically increase engine revs when it detects low voltage output. Revs in park and when in motion are fine, with alternator output a full 14.4 volts as expected.

We had a little issue with the rear electrical junction box for USBs and under-tailgate lights, but that turned out to be a loose wire that was easily fixed. The 45L water tank under the van was leaking the entire time, but not enough to worry about and we never ran out of water even though we only filled it up twice, once in Canberra and once in Hervey Bay. That’ll be the next thing on the list to fix up.

Fuel consumption was about what you would expect for an under-powered 18-year-old petrol brick. We needed 11 fuel stops all up, averaging only 318km before filling up again. Average fuel consumption was 14.55L/100km, which isn’t great but is pretty good for the van. Best fuel usage was 13.14L/100km, worst was 15.79. We used a mixture of 91, 95 and 98RON petrol, depending on pricing and availability, with not much changing in fuel economy between them. You do notice a little bit more power on the 98 though, especially up hills. Most expensive fuel was $1.69 for 91RON (98RON was $1.84!) when the bushfires were still gouging people. Overall we travelled 3504km in total.

We really upped the tyres pressures this trip. 43psi all around seemed to be about right, with the rears going up to 47psi after driving for a while. We had to adjust our TPMS system to convince it that 47psi isn’t a cause for alarm.

The new sleeping bags, Coleman C-3’s, are amazing and highly recommended. Much wider and taller than a standard bag, I sleep well in one without needing to scrunch. Fabric is very nice as well. The self-inflating 10cm thick 4WD mats are still comfortable and we ended up making a space between them for Ollie to sleep in, which worked very well. We probably won’t bother with the travel cot again if we’re staying in the tent. The bumbo is excellent for camping as always.

The Aldi instant up tent is still holding up and we’re proficient at setting it up quickly now. Taking it down is still slower, but it helps if you have somewhere else to store the fly if it’s wet or dirty. The drill in tent pegs are still a novelty but I think they work much better than standard pegs – the screws seem to bite better into the ground compared with a standard smooth peg. The van camp lights are still very handy, and big thanks to Dad for letting use and keep the crucial cable that I had left at home (2m cigarette plug to 2.1mm DC power male, with optional dimmer).

The next question is, do we want to do it all again for Christmas? We’ll see, but if we do we’ll try do more of the inland route. Thanks for reading!

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