School Holidays K.1 – Hervey Bay – April 2024

With this being Ollie’s first real school holidays, we were kind of stuck with two weeks that we needed to fill with care for Ollie. With a cheeky public holiday in there (ANZAC day, 25 April), we figured we could spend some time up in QLD to visit my parents and get a few days of child minding out of the way. Having learnt from previous trips, I took a day off before we headed off to prepare the van and camper for our biggest trip yet. There were a few little technical things to finish off and some basic checks to do.

Unfortunately there was a bit of sickness the night before with Ollie and Rosie, but we ended up on the road around 11.15am after both of them bravely rallied (plane flights were too much at short notice). So with both the camper and van loaded up, we set off on our long drive up the east coast of Australia.

The drive up the Barton Highway and then the Hume was a bit of a first for the van. We’ve not done any real motorway travelling while towing, or even with the new engine. We were happily surprised that the van had no real issues with maintaining speed at 110kph, or even overtaking slower vehicles. All things considered, the extra power and torque from the new engine let us drive at roughly the same speeds we’d been doing with our old tent setup.

We stopped in Pheasant’s Nest for petrol, only 220kms from our last fillup. I was very surprised to discover the van had managed 15.8L/100km – very similar to what I get around town using the van to get to work. After a bit of traffic on the M7 (as usual), we made it through the NorthConnex tunnel and emerged on the other side of Sydney. Unfortunately, but fairly typical for this part of the world, it started drizzling as we headed up towards Newcastle.

Rosie found a nice little campsite just past Newcastle via Hipcamp. We stayed that Thursday night at ‘The Buckett Way Camp n Stay‘ – which definitely was chosen for its name more than anything else. A fairly clean and tidy site, it’s mostly used for overnights for people heading up the highway. The amenities were good and clean, but the showers cost $1 per 3 min (coins available from the owner), and the highway noises were fairly consistent throughout the night. Very big mozzies as well, something that was consistent the entire trip.

Just as we finished setting up and starting to cook some sausages on the BBQ, the proper rain came and we had to retreat underneath the camper overhang to finish up cooking.

The next morning we woke up to clear skies. We quickly packed up and set off back up the highway trying to get a few more kilometer’s under our belt.

Ollie learning just how big Australia can be

That morning Ollie learnt a rude lesson in quite how bit Australia is when we passed him a road atlas and showed him how far we had come and how much further we had to go.

We pulled into Macksville for lunch and got some fish and chips; Ollie was being a jerk though, so we weren’t able to get any icecream.

With the bypass roads going through this area finally finished, there’s no longer any 50km/h parts of the M1 that winds through small towns. This part of the highway used to be the most tedious, with frequent stopping, tractors and narrow bridges, but now it’s the same as all the other parts of the M1.

Heading up the highway Rosie booked us a stay at a caravan park in Byron Bay, mostly because we’ve never actually been able to go into that town since Ollie was born due to its famous lack of vaccinations. We figured staying at a place with a giant bouncing pillow and water park might snap Ollie out of his mood.

It didn’t, but it was a nice enough caravan park. The facilities were good and there was a lot of birdlife everywhere. There were significant mozzies everywhere, so the infamous ‘thick wick’ candle got brought out. Dinner was a top little brainwave from Rosie – chicken salsa quesadillas. We got to hear people returning after a big Friday night out at 12.30am and 3am – it certainly sounded like they had fun.

The next day after packing up and rehitching the trailer, we set off down the road. Unfortunately the next petrol stop we had to make was just before the QLD border in Tweed Heads. We were forced to pay $2.35 per litre for 91 RON petrol, a new record. All the surrounding petrol stations had similar prices, but it still stung to be paying 45c per litre more than other fillups. The poor guy behind the counter was not popular and looked nervous.

$2.58 per litre for premium fuel. Ouch!

Back on the highway, we crossed into QLD, with the rain coming back with vengeance. Ollie was not impressed and barely looked up from his Nintendo Switch. With it being Saturday, the traffic heading north up the M1 from Gold Coast through Brisbane and then up to the Sunshine Coast was fairly light. Given we’d been trapped on that stretch of road for hours during weekday rush hour, this was a big improvement.

At around 2pm we arrived at Hervey Bay and handed over our surly 5 year old to his Nanna. The camper was manoeuvred up onto Dad’s lawn (pride and joy, it’s like a golf green), with only a bit of wheel spin damaging some tiny patches. It was wet and rainy still – not my fault.

The rest of that afternoon was spent resting up after 3 days in the car, catching up on sleep and relaxing. Dinner was an excellent lasagna.

Breakfast away from the small child!

The next day (Sunday), Rosie and I went out shopping together. Nothing essential, just nice to be out of the house. Once we got back we found Ollie had been exposed to the world of Spyro the Dragon, a classic game that I was called on a few times to help him beat a couple of bosses. We helped out hanging up a few pictures, routing some cables for the TV through the wall and fixing up the TV sound to use the soundbar.

Rosie and I thought that those jobs deserved a reward, so several bottles of wine were drunk. Dinner was steak on the BBQ, but impossible to tell if it was porterhouse or scotch filet (joke).

The next day we logged into work from my parents house. We worked until around 11.30, when we said our goodbyes to my folks and Ollie and headed to the suburb of Torquay on the Fraser coast. We’d booked an apartment at the Grand Mercure Allegra for the next two nights to work from while my mum looked after Ollie. It worked out well, with the apartment being big enough that we could move around if we both had meetings that we needed to dial into. It was pretty close to a couple of cafes and pubs, as well as the beach, though we didn’t get out and about as much as we would have liked due to work. Still, we could see the ocean from our balcony, even if we were stuck looking at spreadsheets and emails instead of visiting it.

After 2 nights at the hotel, we packed up and went back to my parents to catch up with Ollie again. He’d had a great time while we’d been away, visiting the aquarium, taking the dog for walks and charming an entire ukelele club.

That Wednesday afternoon we managed to get Ollie a guided tour of a police boat. He was very impressed with everything, but he did have questions as to why the police would need guns? A big thank you to the QLD water police that let us have a poke around their brand new $2.4m boat for a short time – it was an excellent afternoon and something Ollie will definitely remember, even if he does explain it to others in Paw Patrol terms.

In the evening we headed down to the boat club for a family dinner on our last night in Hervey Bay. The club is undergoing some renovations, but the food was about the same. It was good to see everyone together, but for Ollie it was a bit much – he fell asleep on Rosie immediately after dinner.

The next morning was a slow packup as we were only heading down to the Sunshine Coast. We left my folks and headed south, taking a tourist road down from Maryborough through the Tuan State Forest. We ended up in Tin Can Bay, a small little town. Given it was ANZAC day, the RSL was in full swing. We stopped at ‘Kindy Beach’, but with the tide out it was just a mangrove flat. We ended having lunch in a park bought at the local IGA, the only thing that was open.

After lunch we drove on down to Gympie, then through to the Sunshine Coast to visit some friends for a quick overnight catchup. Ollie and Rosie got to meet Teddy, an awesome and fearless little dude.

The next morning we said goodbye to our friends and then got back into the van on a miserable rainy morning. We’d decided to go down the inland route back to Canberra as the weather was forecast to be raining on the coast and Rosie and Ollie hadn’t been down that way before. We set out with the aim of getting to Goondiwindi that day. It was an ambitious ask, given all three of us were a bit under the weather with various maladies. We got to Yarraman, had a bit of lunch from a local bakery, and then picked up some supplies from the IGA.

A few more kilometres down the road we realised that we probably weren’t going to make it into NSW that day, so instead we found a likely campsite just south of Dalby at the Broadwater Conservation Park campgrounds. Rosie was keen to stay in Dalby, but then looked up the crime stats for that particular town.

The campground turned out to be excellent, with great views over a lovely lake and a lot of birdlife in the area. We choose a space a bit away from everyone, but another caravan still managed to pull up right behind us. Dinner that night was chicken stirfry. We had a fire in one of the provided half oil drum, but then the wind picked up so we then everyone had an early night.

Apostle birds that came to mooch some toast

The next day I work up pre-dawn. After watching the sun come up over the lake, I woke everyone at 6.30 and we were on the road again by 7.30. We quickly ducked back to Dalby for some more petrol, then headed southwest to Moonie and Goondiwindi with the goal of making it as close to Dubbo as possible that day.

We made it as far as Gilgandra, just north of Dubbo, after a quick stop in Narrabri for some cheeky Macca’s. We stayed at a the Gilgandra Caravan Park. It had some decent reviews and the prices were fairly good. The place itself was fine, nothing special, but we found some massive prickles in the grass. By found, I mean that I managed to fully step on one that was tracked into the camper. These weren’t your standard bindies; they were more like smaller rose thorns. Their presence meant that some of the other guests weren’t able to walk their dogs around, and we had to warn Ollie to not go outside in bare feet or socks.

The caravan park set up a fire that night in a communal fire pit. Me and Ollie started it up and a few people came past and said hello. I ended up in a conversation with some Gippsland farmers (“Primary Producers”), but went to bed around 9pm. We left the fire going and some other campers came back from the town and sat around it singing for a while.

Breakfast of champions

The next morning, after the coldest night so far, we packed up and headed on the last leg home. Google Maps took us an interesting way that avoided Dubbo entirely, so we ended up on a lot of backroads and single lane highways. But we still managed to get home without any incident after around 3150km of travel all up. (Plus we all had the first Monday back off as well to get settled and organised for a new term of school).

Backroads means tractors

A big thank you to our Sunshine Coast friends for letting us crash for a night, and a special thanks as always to my parents for helping us look after our little guy. It was great to see all the family up in Hervey Bay and the only real downside was some of the ailments that all three of us suffered from.

The terrifying thing is that we have to find things like this to do every 10 weeks for the next 13 years of Oliver’s education…

Boring technical stuff

Our fuel usage varied a lot on this trip. All up we made a total of 12 fuel stops, stopping on average every 256km. Mileage was around 17L/100km, which I’m pretty happy with. It turns out on the freeway at 110km/h, the van and camper combo uses only slightly more fuel than the unloaded van travelling to work in Canberra.

The new camper batteries and new charging system worked well also. The van now charges the camper directly from the 200AH deep cycle, rather than from the vans starting battery. This means the van can continue to charge even when the van is off, and the van’s alternator doesn’t have to push out an additional 30A while driving along. This might have something to do with the better fuel economy? With the solar on the roof of the camper and van combined, and a total of 440AH to draw from, it would seem any electric capacity worries have been resolved.

Just before travelling I wired in two reversing cameras – one for the van and a wireless one on the rear of the camper. I just cobbled things together from old eBay purchases I’d put away over the years. Unfortunately there was far too much electronic noise to get a good signal for the camper video feed. I’ll need to check out a digital system or something a bit better quality, as some rear vision would be awesome when changing lanes and reversing.

The van used a bit of oil while driving, but it’s due for a change anyway. I really should have thought to top up on the way back, but I only noticed a louder rattling when we pulled up back at our house.

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