So on a cold and drizzly Friday afternoon, we left Ollie with his grandmother and headed off for another shakedown trip for the camper trailer. We chose Wee Jasper because we’re familiar with it and the road in, so we knew it would be a good test for the van, the camper and my towing skills.
The trip out of Canberra and onto the backroads heading to the Yass Valley went pretty well. The van was towing the camper well, and despite the slippery conditions it didn’t feel sketchy or dangerous with the extra weight at the back. Once it started raining a bit more I put the van into 4wd though, just for a bit of extra traction.
The road to Wee Jasper is very tight and winding, with narrow roads and a fair few dangerous hairpins. The road conditions were pretty bad as well, with lots of hidden dips, leans and patches. The camper followed along with no issues at all; the suspension, brakes and brand new narrower all-terrain tyres meant the ride was probably smoother than what we experienced in the van.
Once the road turned to dirt, the camper continued to behave as well. It seems to have a very similar or identical track to the van, so it turned out pretty easy to avoid potholes and erosion channels. Both the van and the camper got filthy though – very tough looking.
We found a good spot at Micalong Creek away from everyone, but still easy walking distance to nearby toilets. The camper took only a few minutes to set up, despite the rain starting to fall a bit heavier. Another good test for the camper – it survived some quite heavy rain over the weekend with no leaks inside that we could find.
Given it was late afternoon, we set up the fire pit and kept warm.
Rosie had decided to make damper to go with some soup, so she set out making it in the vans tiny kitchen.
Flour immediately coated every flat surface in the van, leading to a new rule that damper would only be made outside from then on.
We’d forgotten any shovels or tongs for the fire, but we just kept rotating the camp oven and in about 40 minutes we had fresh cheese and chive damper to dunk in our soup. A great success, even if it did fall apart a little and have a consistency close to dumplings.
Less successful was me forgetting my own chair. I remembered Rosie’s and even had one for Ollie, but forgot about mine. Fortunately a milk crate and a cushion makes a pretty good camp chair.
As the wind and rain picked up that night, we retired into the van for a relatively early night without any children around to wake us up. That night the temperature dropped to almost zero, but we were pretty rugged up and warm in the camper with a lot of blankets. We didn’t even need to use the electric blanket.
That morning we had a slow start to the day, only getting out of bed around 9am. We pottered around doing our own things until breakfast.
Bird watching is hard – I’m not sure I see the appeal.
After breakfast we headed up the road to a walking path that we’d not been down before. It followed the river down to the Swinging Bridge area, with lots of downed trees and mossy rocks.
After heading back to the camper, Rosie read for a bit more and I did some crosswords. At 11 we jumped into the van and headed back to Wee Jasper to visit the distillery that had opened up relatively recently. It was quite busy and the staff were run off their feet, but we ended up having a few cocktails and enjoying the warmth in the tasting room. The cocktails were very good – highly recommended.
After a stroll around the distillery grounds, we headed back to the campsite for lunch and a few beers. When we got back we’d noticed the wind must have been intense while we were away, as the front awning was completely blown apart. Fortunately none of the plastic connectors or fibreglass rods were broken, just strewn about. We searched for a while for one of the connectors and found it 5 meters away on the complete other side of the camper, so obviously the wind had really picked up.
Rosie cooked up some taco meat with a great homemade marinade in the Billy Boil, a thermal cooker that slow cooks your food with residual heat. We’ve used it before, but not for a long time, so it was good to see it still worked and was still really easy to use. I used the time to jack up one side of the camper that we’d found was on a slight lean. This was an easy enough process using a bottle jack and some pieces of wood that came with the camper for this purpose.
The rest of the afternoon was quite lazy as we waited for some friends to come down and visit. Once they arrived (with a spare chair for me), we got the fire going, had a few beverages and chatted. The tacos were excellent, with the meat tender and juicy having been cooking all afternoon.
That night we stayed around the fire until the rain picked up, then continued with more drinks in the camper. While it’s cosy, it is possible to fit 4 adults and a medium scruffy dog in the camper. Another test passed.
We got to bed at some time that night, with me and Rosie quite warm and comfortable. That night was quite cold, definitely below zero, but the camper kept in a bit of heat. We did have a bit of condensation though, but that’s fairly standard for cold nights when there’s no airflow.
We had another lazy morning wakeup, with our friends getting up well before us and putting the fire on. One of our friends was very ill, possibly due to something she had drank the night before. She continued to be unwell after they left early, and from what I understand well into the next night.
With so much condensation and moisture on the canvas, we had a lazy morning waiting for the sun to come up and dry things out. Pack up took around 30 minutes all up, mostly because of how many clothes and blankets were strewn about in the camper.
WIth the trailer hitched up, we set off back to Canberra. Again, the camper towed very well on the dirt roads and the twisty roads around Wee Jasper. We filled up with petrol on the way home just to see what the fuel consumption had been for the trip. This time backing the trailer down our steep driveway was a fairly simple process, but I will be installing a camera soon to assist with this process. All up it was an excellent shakedown trip for the Ultimate, and we ended up with a list of things that we should pack and include next camping trip. A big thanks to our friends for coming down with us for a night – we’re sorry we may have made you sick 🙂
Boring technical stuff
A big test for this trip was the new battery and electrical system I’d put into the camper. The original system worked fine, but the controller was 10 years old and the batteries were 2 x 105Ah AGM batteries that weighed 30 kg each. By removing these AGMs and replacing it with a 120Ah LiFPO4 lithium battery, I saved 45kg and got a reliable battery that I can use all the capacity of. AGMs should really only be used to around 40% in order to preserve them, so the new smaller battery really has about the same or more capacity as the two I removed.
Because the 15A Redarc controller for the electrical system was old, it didn’t like certain solar panels and it didn’t have a charging profile for lithium batteries. I replaced it with a 20A DC/DC charger from Supercheap, a Victron charger and a fairly sophisticated battery monitor from Aliexpress. The monitor comes with a colour display that gives more information than the Redarc, and also has Bluetooth capabilities so I can check the campers power level without having to open the back door.
The cabling of the new systems was fairly simple, with a lot of the original wiring being able to be used. There is a 5 amp difference in this new system from the old one, but the wiring in there was quality and should be able to handle 20 amps with no worries. The van will be wired up soon with an Anderson plug to charge the camper while driving.
For 240v power I have a 40A charger and a 15A silent waterproof charger to choose from. I’ll probably take them both on big trips and choose which one I use for the van and camper depending on the campsite we’re at, what time of day it is and how much power we need to top up.
The camper used 50% of its 120Ah battery from Friday to Sunday, with only limited solar input given the cloudy skies. The 200Ah van battery was barely touched by the centre console fridge, and could easily have topped up the camper batteries via the DC/DC charger. I think we’ll be right for power for our big trip, but there is room for another lithium battery in the camper if we need it.
The camper came with old mud terrain tyres on 200 series Landcruiser rims, sized at 285/70R17 (about 33″). These tyres needed replacing, so I ended going with some basic Diamondback all terrain tyres in a 265/70R17 (31.5″) as a replacement.
The narrower tyres should provide less rolling resistance while towing, while the new ATs should grip better on road in wet conditions. The tyres are now very similar in height to my vans 265/70R16s (30.5″), but unfortunately I can’t interchange the van and camper wheels and tyres due to the different stud pattern. I didn’t notice much of a difference in the new tyres while towing, but it’s good to have some piece of mind before a big trip. The weight difference was considerable as well.
Overall the camper keeps impressing us. The next big test will be Dragon Dreaming at the end of September for a full 5 days.