A Sabbatical Adventure – Araluen and Moruya – Jan 2024

This trip was kind of a last little attempt to get some holidays in before going back to school/work. After a long time off work spent mostly in Canberra, we needed to get away. I’d found a highly rated free campsite in Araluen, just south of Braidwood, so we decided to go down for a few days with the potential to keep going on to the South Coast for a night afterwards.

Ever since we’d gotten the camper we’d had a problem with where we stored bags of clothes for everyone. We’d settled on keeping them in the back of the van, which freed up space in the camper but we were still rummaging through duffle bags trying to find clothes and personal items. To fix this I’d found some basic plastic drawers at Big W that seemed to be what we need. These were connected together with double-sided tape and a few bolts, then covered in a thin layer of MDF and carpet to make them look a bit less scruffy. The unit was then screwed into the fridge slide on the heavy duty drawers. All up for less than $100 and weighing in at only 10kg it fits our purposes very well. We each get two drawers and the fridge slide lets the back drawers be easily accessed without reaching into the back of the van.

We set off on a fairly overcast Saturday morning, quietly confident that the BOM forecast would be incorrect for the rest of the week (hint: it was). The road to the coast was fairly busy, so we got held up behind a slower caravan. That doesn’t really bother us though, as a slower trip is less stressful and we can blame the guy in front of us for holding up traffic.

We made it to Braidwood around lunchtime, so we stopped for some lunch and to pick up some supplies. Unfortunately there was a classic car show on in Braidwood at the time, so there was a lot of people and vehicles around. We found a park around the back of the block and then headed to lunch at the Albion Cafe. They did a pretty good toasted sandwich and egg/bacon roll, definitely recommended.

We then went to the local IGA for some food and grog. Once we were all loaded up we headed down south towards Araluen. The road down is steep but has recently been fixed up and is wide and well maintained. Just before Araluen itself is the Araluen Creek Campground, a free campground that was apparently designed to bring outside traffic to the town given Araluen Road had been washed out and was out of action for 3 years, only opening up again in Oct 2023.

The campgrounds are large and flat, with wide open grassy areas between casuarina pines. The grass was fairly overgrown when we went there, but that’s to be expected after the rain we’ve had this summer. When we arrived there were already a number of campers set up and dotted around the outsides of the grounds. The sites closest to the creek were taken, but we found a nice little clear spot in the middle away from everyone and close to the toilet block and creek. As we turned off the van and opened the door we were hit with the noise of the local cicadas – they were very loud and vocal throughout most of the daylight hours we were at this site, but you quickly get used to them.

Not shown – noisy cicadas

We stayed hitched up to the van and set up the camper, then went for a walk down to the creek entrance closest to us. The creek turned out to be exactly what we were looking for – the water was a little warmer than in the mountains, it was shallow enough to not have to worry too much about Ollie, there was good shade all along the creek and there was a variety of sandy and rocky areas.

After a little swim and look around, we went back to the camper for some food and a bit of a rest. That afternoon we headed back to the creek, this time loaded up with chairs and a few cold drinks.

After another good swimming (blubbing?) session, we went back to the camper for dinner. Ollie helped set up the fire in our little fire pit. It probably wasn’t cold enough for a fire, but it’s nice to have one. We put the grill in place and cooked some sausages over the flames. It worked pretty well and was quite novel for Ollie, but we should have waited a bit longer for the coals to build up before starting.

Dinner for myself and Rosie were some lamb chops, Turkish bread, tzatziki and chilli sauce. The lamb was cooked on the BBQ to avoid any more inconsistent sausage incidents. This dinner worked out really well. Not much happened after that other than a few quiet wines around the fire and a relatively early night.

The next morning, after coffee and breakfast, we headed down to the creek for a quick swim. It was forecast for 36 degrees this Sunday, so we didn’t want to be there in the full heat of the day.

This time we headed up the river a bit to a wide sandy area, where Ollie proceeded to bully us into building a dam for him. After a good cooling dip we unhitched the van and headed into Araluen town, about 3km down the road. The pub opened at 12pm and we were a bit early, so we ended up watching a bit of amateur cricket while we waited for it to open, much to Rosie’s disgust.

36 degree day – ended in a draw!

The pub isn’t very big, but has a nice atmosphere. It’s a little similar to the Nerriga pub in size and facilities. We got a steak sandwich, a burger and some chips – not cheap, but quite good and they hit the spot.

After picking up a few more takeaway drinks and an icecream for Ollie, we headed back to the campsite and basically went straight back to the river with the chairs and drinks. Everyone made friends with a stick-obsessed cattle dog called Loki who was bounding around the creek.

After that final swim, we ended up back at the camper, lit another fire and cooked dinner up. All of the campers from the night before had left, so we pretty much had the entire campground to ourselves. It was another early night, fortunately with the temperature dropping significantly compared to that day.

That morning we had a bit of a sleep in before packing up the camper and van. Rosie did ask me once she emerged out of the camper if we were in a hurry to pack up and leave, to which I replied that it was already 9.45am so there’s not a lot of point of hurrying now.

Rosie’s rock pile

Once we’d packed up we headed further south-east into the Duea River Valley along the recently reopened Araluen Road. We’d been down this road a few times in the past and knew that while it was dirt with some tricky hairpins in places, we shouldn’t have any problems with the camper.

The drive down the road turned out to be quite a nice one, cruising along at around 60kph for most of it. We got stopped for some construction crew about halfway down, but they were nice enough to pull their trucks over so we could overtake. We almost ran over a small red-bellied black snake, but managed to avoid him. On the way past though he did try and bite the van though, so maybe I shouldn’t have swerved.

Araluen Road basically ends up directly in Moruya, another town that we’d been to a few times before. We found a little food shop and had some banh mi’s there, then headed down to the Ultimate Camper factory just outside of town. We were looking for a canvas cover for the camper when not in use, and we ended up with a headboard attachment as well so we can lean up in bed. They ended up giving us the wrong poles for the headboard, so I had to make a trip out to swap them the next day.

Parked up in Moruya

Once that was all done we went back to town and dropped into the Ingenia Holidays Moruya caravan park. We chosen it mostly on price – the other caravan park closer to the river was asking for $130 for an unpowered site for 2 nights, while this other place was $37 a night. Both were well reviewed though and we had a very nice time at the riverside park (with a pub next door, definitely part of the decison process).

We got allocated a space right out the back of the park, overlooking some pasture and paddocks. Once we were set up and settled, me and Ollie went for a look around the park. We found a giant jumping pillow which Ollie thought was the best thing in the world. He liked it so much that we decided to stay another day. At around 5pm we headed to the local pub next door and had a few drinks and a pretty good feed.

Expresso martinis and margaritas on tap. Fancy

It started raining while we were in the pub, but not that hard and we got back to the camper fairly dry. Once Ollie was set up in bed, Rosie and I enjoyed some drinks sitting down underneath the camper foldout watching the rainclouds move over the paddocks and the mountains in the distance.

BOM had forecast a 25% chance of up to 2mm of rain for Moruya that day. Overnight we got 9.4mm.

The next day it was still overcast, but we decided to chance it and headed down to Shelly Beach at Moruya Heads. Ollie had a great time checking out all the rockpools and shells washed up on this beach. We headed back to the van and went back to town to get some lunch and dinner supplies for that night.

Back at the caravan park, we let Ollie roam around and make friends with some other kids. He was in the pool (supervised) for over 2 hours playing with a bunch of kids, so we were pretty happy we’d decided to stay another night.

Dinner that night was a Madras curry that was cooked in the Billy Boil for a couple of hours. It turned out very good, with plenty of leftovers. Everyone had an early night that night, though I managed to have a few cheeky beers by myself with the largest mosquito candle in the world burning next to me.

The next morning’s packaway was fairly simple. We were out on the road and pulling into Broulee beach at 9.30am for a last swim before heading home. Ollie loved this beach, and after some sandcastle/water trench building he managed to drag me into the water for some of the more adventurous waves. He loved this beach, so I think we’ll need to make a few more trips to the coast this year than we’d planned.

Coming home we headed up into Bateman’s Bay, got some Maccas to eat in the car there (very busy), and then headed up the Clyde Mountain. Things were going great heading up into the mountains until Ollie mentioned that he really had to use a toilet. We managed to find a downhill section with enough space to turn off on the side of the road, but the poor kid wasn’t able to perform his first ‘bush poo’ on the side of a busy highway for some reason. So we get back in the car and make a mad dash up the mountain and then back down again to Braidwood, the closest public bathroom on our route. 19 minutes later we pull up, but alas not without having to throw out a pair of undies.

He was not impressed.

The rest of the trip back home was uneventful, and we came back to a very affectionate cat who had missed us a lot. It was an excellent trip and a good end to our time off. But we weren’t home for long – our next camping trip was only two days later.

Boring technical stuff

This was quite a difficult trip from a technical point of view. The fridge in the camper continued to chew through the power, and with shady campsites and cloudy skies I had to resort to powering the camper via the van’s deep cycle battery.

After a long trip, the inside of the van can look a bit cluttered.

That wouldn’t have been a problem, but the Ridge Rider DCDC charger that I’d chosen was extremely conservative with how it provided power from any source. Doing tests later I found that it was not able to push out the full 20 amps it was advertised to do. Even connecting a 40 amp charger directly to its DC input would result in a maximum of 17 amps being pushed through. In order to get around this issue and to push in enough amp hours to keep us running, I resorted to a very inefficient method of transferring power between two lithium batteries.

I ended up plugging in a 240V extension cord into the van’s 600W invertor, then connected the 15A Victron AC charger to the camper battery via crocodile clips, bypassing the dodgy DC charger. It meant the power was converted from DC to AC and then back to DC, but it worked and we pushed enough power into the camper to keep the ice cubes and zooper doopers frozen (essential).

As I mentioned, once I got back home I tested the Ridge Rider DCDC charger and found it was probably the cause of the issues I’d been experiencing. I took out some of the vans electrical system with known good components and hooked it up, and was able to charge much more effectively over the same wiring and setup that the Ridge Rider struggled with. It wasn’t just the DC input, the solar input MPPT was pushing out less power as well.

I took the unit back to Supercheap Auto and they were quite helpful. As they didn’t have any more units in stock, they gave me store credit which I immediately used up on a battery for our Kia (it was dying). I’ve temporarily moved the 20A Renogy DCDC charger from the van to the camper, and it works very well pushing out a solid 20 amps. I’ve also upgraded to a completely separate EPever 30A solar charge controller which is much more configurable and is excellent at pushing in amps even with other charging sources connected (something the other unit really struggled with).

Since changing out this system and giving the battery a full charge from a proper charger, things seem to have improved. The fridge seems to behaving itself in terms of power usage and I can arrive home or at camp with a fully charged battery now, something that the other unit was never able to do.

Thanks for reading.

Scott Written by:

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