Filling in the map – Dec 2023

With Ollie’s preschool on a 5-day fortnight and Rosie’s mum settling into some regular treatment, we had a few days up our sleeve to head out of town. Rosie chose a fairly arbitrary destination based solely on the weather. We ended up heading to Mulwala, near Yarrawonga on the Murray River (NSW side) as it was one of the only areas ‘near’ Canberra that was free of rain and storms.


We set off on Sunday morning with a minimum of food and drink packed. We figured we’d pick things up on the way there or once we were settled at the caravan park. Ollie got handed the tablet as soon as we were on the ‘fast road’, which I’ll admit might not be good parenting, but we didn’t hear a peep out of him until at least Bookham, where we pulled over for a rest stop and a bite to eat. Back on the road we continued down the Hume Hwy. The van was doing well pulling the camper at 110km – this was the first time we’d really dealt with freeway speeds. It was using a lot of fuel and was a bit noisy, but we weren’t the slowest on the road and we were making decent time.

Our next stop was for lunch at Holbrook. We stopped there mostly so Ollie could see the submarines they have on display. We also needed fuel, despite having filled up in Canberra earlier that morning. For those interested, Holbrook is 296km from our house, giving us a fuel economy of 17.45L/100km. About what we expected, but annoying when you only have a 60L tank.

We poked around the submarine for a bit, then went to the large service centre at the south end of town for food. Unfortunately only the bakery there was open, with all the other food stores closed. We had a couple of pies while Ollie had a chocolate eclair. I was getting fuel at the time, so I’m not sure why he ended up with that for lunch.

Aw, out of order speed check

Back on the road, we passed over the border to Victoria, then turned west on the B400 towards Rutherglen and Yarrawonga. Once in town we did a bit of shopping for food and grog, then continued 10mins up north back into NSW to the caravan park we’d picked entirely arbitrarily. We had to cross a very narrow bridge to get over Lake Mulwala, a very popular water skiing destination we were told.

A lot of straight roads on this trip

We were staying at the NRMA Yarrawonga Mulwala Holiday Park for 2 nights. We’d chosen it because it was close to a large body of water, wasn’t due for rain that week and had a swimming pool. Fortunately for us, the park itself was quite nice, with large grassy sites, clean amenities, a good rec room and two pools to choose from. It was quite quiet due to it not yet being school holidays as well, which made a huge difference to our stay.

Ollie immediately wanted to go for a swim after we found our powered caravan site (no unpowered sites at this park). Rosie took him for a swim while I set up the camper, something that really doesn’t take much time at all usually. This time though I found a bunch of water that had made it’s way into the camper during some massive storms earlier in the week. It was only a few cushions and some warm weather gear we store in the camper full time, so that all dried out very quickly spread out in the hot sun.

It was very warm already, in the low 30’s. After a swim we sat down for some food. Ollie had 4 sausages in one sitting – a record for him. We used our little BBQ instead of the provided outdoor barbies.

Weirdest charcuterie board ever.

Ollie then ended up in the rec room watching the original Space Jam with a bunch of young blokes that had been fishing all weekend in the 2023 Cod Classic competition. He was originally just watching it with me, then ended up watching the movie with the boys as they had dinner. I found him at one point trying to snuggle up to a complete stranger, but the young fella just laughed about it. They were all keen for Ollie to experience Space Jam for the first time.

Myself and Rosie had peppered steaks with Caesar salad – a very satisfying meal with some red wine and beer on top. We sent Ollie to bed fairly early as it had been a big day. We only lasted a few hours later ourselves. That night we were both surprised with how quiet the caravan park was. Little traffic on the road, all the guests were passed out by 11pm, the birds were all roosting and the pets were inside caravans with their owners.

The next morning was a fairly lazy start for myself. Rosie and Ollie on the other hand set out exploring the caravan park after breakfast. Ollie rode his new Sonic ‘big boy’ bike, complete with training wheels and pedals. Once I got up and was semi-awake, we packed up for a big day at various things to do around Mulwala and Yarrawonga.

First stop was at the Purtle Park Adventure Playground. Ollie had a good play here and was very impressed with the old locomotive that they had put nearby. The playground is right on the lake, and while it is an impressively large body of water, there seemed to be dead tree trunks everywhere in the lake. It definitely gives off the impression that it’s a man-made lake, rather than a natural feature. Apparently the lake was created in 1939, so those trunks have stood there showing where natural red gum forests used to be for 80 years.

Ollie tired pretty quick of the playground, so we headed back across the border to the Yarrawonga Foreshore Reserve Playground, which had a waterpark that was very enticing on such a hot day. Unfortunately, the water park part of the playground was closed. Nothing about the closure on any website that we could find.

Let’s go to the closed water park!

After a walk along the lake for a bit, we headed into the town to buy some more supplies for the trip. Loaded up with some extra clothes, an inflatable crocodile (named Sally for some reason) and some colouring books, we went back across the border to the very large Lake Mulwala Water Ski Club for lunch.

When we got there we found bingo being played in the main bar area, so we set up outside at the restaurant part where we could watch Ollie on yet another playground. This time he had new matchbox cars though, so he loved it.

Lunch was nuggets and chips, an Aussie burger, arancini balls and a pepperoni pizza. The food and service was great – we highly recommend this club to others.

Back on the road, we stopped at a local butcher and supermarket for dinner for that night, then headed back to the caravan park. It was quite a warm day, about 33 degrees, so we immediately went into the pool with our new crocodile pal. Sadly, the camper fridge door shelf was broken after too much food and drink being stuffed in there. As the sole place to store prosecco bottles in the camper, we immediately made use of the park’s communal kitchen fridge.

That afternoon was spent in and around the pool area, with Rosie sneaking away to read her book in the (air conditioned) rec room. Ollie soon found her though, and snuck in to watch the tablet next to/on top of her. More pool followed later in the afternoon once the weather had cooled down a bit, and we spent a bit of time talking to a family in the warmer pool.

Back at the camper, we had a few more snacks and Ollie set up a racetrack for his new matchbox cars. Dinner was steak and sausage for Ollie, and marinated lamb cutlets with a tabouli salad for us adults. The mini BBQ did very well – two excellent dinners in a row. After dinner Ollie went to bed and we played a modified version of a card game we’d found called ‘Bin Chicken’. Ollie helped out for a bit, then we all went to sleep.

The next morning we packed up the camper and van and headed out onto the road. We’d planned to go a different way back to the Hume Hwy just for some different scenery and some more squiggles on our travel map. We set off east down Spring Road towards Corowa, staying on the NSW side of the Murray. We weren’t keen on staying in the Riverina area as the forecast was for 37 degrees and no wind.

We had a great breakfast at Doc Yarrum Cafe on the main street of Corowa, then got some supplies at the Woolworths across the street for that night’s camp. We filled up the van on our way out of town, then headed up north on Hopefield Road towards Goombargana (awesome name).

Ollie was very impressed with the road trains

Google maps was taking us on a fairly interesting route down a lot of rural backroads, but it was mostly nice and flat and the camper wasn’t fazed by any broken pavement or sudden potholes that popped up. We headed east to Walbundrie, then Culcairne and Morven before finally popping out onto the Hume Hwy a little north of Holbrook.

The quality of the roads went from this….
…to this….
…and eventually to this – single strip of tarmac, but it got us to the highway.

About 100km up the Hume, we turned right onto the Snowy Mountain Highway to head towards Tumut and Talbingo. The hills on this stretch of road are a lot steeper than we’d been on before, and the van did have to drop back one or two gears on several steep inclines. We got to Tumut with no issue and filled up the van again, just in case the smaller towns further up the mountains didn’t have any fuel.

Quick pit stop

We continued up the Snowy Mts Hwy and it got steeper and steeper. We were holding up some empty logging trucks on some of the steeper inclines, but the van didn’t seem to mind too much about the hills as long as it could find the right gear and revs. Finally, after a long steep climb through Blowering, travelling next to the very large Blowering Reservoir, we made it to our destination just before Talbingo – the Jounama Creek Campground.

On the journey we’d noticed a bunch of other campsites we’d not been to on the Reservoir; hopefully we’ll get a chance to explore these locations in future trips. The Jounama Creek Campground was chosen fairly randomly again – it was on the way back to Canberra, there was no forecast of rain or storms, and the pictures on the website looked pretty nice.

Driving into the campsite, we found a great spot that we’ll definitely be returning to. The camps are right on the river and are quite spread out. We did get caught out heading up the road looking for the absolute best campsite though – eventually we went past the end of the campsites without realising and started heading up the 4wd track into the mountains. Not a big issue normally, but with the camper on the back we had to keep going up to try and find a place to turn around. Eventually we did find a spot that was wide enough to do a many-point-turn, and we headed back down to a very nice site away from people and close to the toilets and the water.

We left the van and camper hitched together, which saved a bit of time setting up but means it’s a little more tricky to access stuff in the back of the van. Again the set-up time was fairly consistent at around 15 minutes. Once set up, I needed a bit of a lie down after a fairly intense day of driving. Rosie and Ollie went down to the creek and braved the cold waters to play with the Sally (the new crocodile). Once I was refreshed, I joined them and we spent a very nice afternoon under the river gums eating, drinking and occasionally venturing into the creek. I even found time for a shave, which was difficult without a mirror but the van windows were reflective enough.

The BBQ was brought down to the riverside for dinner, with Ollie having the last of the sausages and Rosie and I enjoying some ‘snacking steak’. Ollie may have knocked both of the sausages onto the ground, but I managed to save one via Dad reflexes.

Ollie then helped set up the firepit. It wasn’t a cold night, but it was nice to have a friendly fire to sit in front of. After Ollie went to bed, we ended up using the grill attachment on the fire pit for the first time ever to cook some kranskys. They turned out pretty good – went very well with red wine.

The next morning we had a lazy one getting up. We packed up the camper and headed off around 10am, heading up further into the mountains to Yarrangobilly Caves. These were only 50km up the road, but Ollie managed to get a sleep in on the way.

When we got there they had a big sign up at the entrance saying ‘Not suitable for caravans’. I made the decision that we were a camper trailer, not a caravan, and headed down the fairly long dirt road to the Yarrangobilly visitor centre. The road was in good condition and was 2wd accessible, so the camper had no problems even on the tighter turns.

Just checking it’s still behind us
We even caught up with some slow sedan

At the visitor centre we found out that the caves were closed for self guided touring, but we could wait a bit for a guided tour or just check out the cave entrances. Given it was a hot day already and Ollie would definitely not be entertained for an hour on a full tour, we hiked down the short path to the caves.

Once we got there we were blown away. We were able to walk into the first 30m or so of each cave, and we could see the big archway caused by the enormous sinkhole between the two cave entrances. It was well worth a visit, both for the view and for the huge difference in temperature between the hike down and the caves. We always forget how cool cave air is, no matter how hot it may be outside.

After poking around a bit we headed back up the hill and then took the van back to the main road. We headed off across the Snowy Mountains towards Cooma. We could have taken the back dirt road from Adaminaby through the Namagi National Park, but we were a bit hungry so we kept on to Cooma. A quick lunch at Macca’s, then we headed back down the Monaro Hwy towards home where we immediately turned on the air con as it was a very warm day.

A lot of straight roads on this trip

For a trip organised solely on weather patterns, we ended up having a great time. I think we all preferred the national park camping compared to the caravan park, but both locations had their benefits and perks.

Boring technical stuff

All up we travelled around 1000km in total, requiring 4 fuel fillups and averaging 18.54L/100km. Not great, but about what we expected. This was a hard trip with all the hills and mountains, so hopefully this is the upper limit of what can expect for any future trips with the camper.

There were a couple of issues that I’ll need to sort out with the van and camper setup after this trip:

  1. The van’s permanent solar panel has packed it in and will probably need to be replaced. It lasted slightly less than the first one at 2.5 years. I’ll check it and see if there’s any loose connections I can solder back together.
  2. The camper has a 110L Vitrifrigo fridge currently installed, and it seems to be using an awful lot of power. While it was quite a hot trip, I wouldn’t expect that amount of power would be needed if things were working well (almost 60Ah in one night). I’ll need to do some more testing, but it may be that I either need a new fridge or to reconsider how much battery power I have available in the camper. I’ll check the fridge is venting well first though as a first step.
  3. The fridge lost its bottom door shelf, so I’ll need to see if I can jerryrig that back together with some tape and rivets/screws.
  4. The camper getting water in it is a bit of a worry, but apparently it’s a common issue and simple to solve by parking the camper with the nose high so the water drains off the back, not pools at the front. We’ll look at a cover as well in the short term, and possibly a carport for storage longer term.

Thanks for reading.

Scott Written by:

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