This Adventurous Age

Adventures travelling and working around Australia.


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2015 Travels July 14

TUESDAY JULY 14       BEFORE WE LEAVE…

Back in Lightning Ridge, in May, we’d seen the promo material for the annual Opal Fest, in late July, decided we’d return for this and stay a couple of weeks. Apart from the Fest, there was the draw of better weather than at home, and being in a place we really enjoy. I had managed to get us a booking into our preferred site at the caravan park.

Bus was serviced, cleaned and ready.

John made a type of box step, to make getting into Bus easier for us both. It was a big step up from the “landing” area to the main floor level. John’s creation was shaped so the bi-fold door would still close while it was in place.

Clever step creation…

Of course, medical matters required ongoing attention. The improved healing of the leg ulcers that really got happening on our last trip, had continued, so there was no issue with going away again. I hoped to come home completely healed! Doctor was still making adjustments to my blood pressure medications, and was not completely happy about the interval there would be between her checks, but I promised to take twice daily measurements myself. I had stocked up on all the dressing stuff needed for leg.

John did not get off so well. He was booked in again, in September, for surgery to remove some more skin cancers.

The dog went for her twice-yearly bath at the Animal Aid Centre, a couple of days ago. For a brief period, she will not smell so doggy! Of course, she resisted the process, which took two people to manage. If she liked baths, I wouldn’t have to pay to have it done….

Now, all except the last-minute stuff was packed and we were ready to go.


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2013 Travels November 22

FRIDAY NOVEMBER 22     BAIRNSDALE TO HOME     303kms

We left the Bairnsdale park at 9.30 am and had a very normal run through Gippsland, with no further interruptions from the smoke alarm.

Had no stops at all. From the freeway turn off at Pakenham to home, via Eastlink and Canterbury Road, took us less than an hour. In fact, we were home, unhitched, parked up and unpacking within the hour. What a difference a freeway makes…

 Couey seemed a bit bewildered to be home.

I did some shopping and washed a basketful of dirty clothes, from Bus.

Of course, we were home in time for tomorrow’s pennant bowls, so John headed off to the club for a practice and to check the teams.

This had been a short but varied and enjoyable trip, one for which our Bus was the ideal rig. We had decided, during this trip, that we would have mud flaps fitted to the back of Bus, to help protect the Terios front which was showing some stone chips, and also to put a lockable fuel cap on Bus.

STATISTICS

Kms travelled:  1741kms    

Cost diesel:     $423.59

Cost accommodation:  $394.80    (10 nights)

Accommodation discounts gained:  $16


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2013 Travels September 16

MONDAY SEPTEMBER 16     YASS TO SUTTON     68kms

As soon as it was business hours, John phoned the RACV, who passed him onto the NRMA, for advice about tyre repair. He wanted to find a place that had the equipment and knowledge to deal with a vehicle like ours. Yass, being by the Hume Highway main route from Sydney to Melbourne, was much more likely to have same than a smaller town. John was told of a tyre place, which he then phoned, and was told to drive around there when we were ready.

Having two wheels on each side at the back, meant we could drive Bus – very slowly – without changing the flat tyre. It was only about a km and we were there at 9am. Had to disconnect the Terios, to fit into the yard, and also because Bus would have to be backed out and one is not supposed to reverse when flat towing.

Of course, it was raining.

The tyre man was an old-style expert – it is getting harder to find this sort of expertise these days, with the growing dominance of big chains and franchises in so many fields. His company did a lot of truck and bus tyres, which was really reassuring. This was new ground for us, after all. He found the seam on the tube had split, which he said was old age and not related to my driving mishap. Not sure I totally believed him, but it did make me feel a bit better.

We bought a new, heavy-duty tube, plus two spare tubes suitable for the front and back wheels, that we would carry packed away in Bus, “in case”.  He also sold us flexible valve extensions which would make checking tyre pressures on the inside rear wheels much easier. He said our tyres should be inflated to 75 on the front and 65 on the back. They had been well under that. We had never questioned the pressures Bus came with when we bought it – assumed that the dealer’s service centre had been correct.

The lovely man even crawled under Bus to check the pressure of the spare wheel, and he checked the age of all the tyres. They were 2012 vintage, which was good to know.

So we were mightily impressed  with the service and found his charges most reasonable. We each slipped him an extra $10 to buy himself some liquid refreshment of his choice.

Once Bus was under control, John phoned daughter and they sorted out visit arrangements, so it was with lighter spirits that we drove on to Canberra. John said Bus handled differently – and better – with the changed tyre pressures.

Again, faith in the GPS, rather than this human navigator, let the driver down. We were heading for a caravan park at Sutton, to the NE of the city. “She” had him turn off the highway and take suburban streets, with lots of tight roundabouts and much Monday morning traffic, through Gunghalin. We eventually reached the Federal Highway near Sutton. It might have been the most direct way, but it sure as hell wasn’t the easiest.

The way into the Eaglehawk Holiday Park, where we hadn’t been before, was not the easiest, either, with a confusing slip road to navigate.

I had only been able to book a powered site – no ensuites available. It was a long, narrow site, terraced from the next one. It cost $32 per night. We had to unhitch the car so John could back onto our site, because of the position of the cement annexe slab.

The park was huge, with only a few van sites of any sort. The couple of ensuite site buildings were at one end of the large grassed oval, away from where we were. There was a section for permanent residents, up the hill, then many rows of cabins and bunkhouses. The establishment was very geared to tour and school groups, with a dining hall as well. It was all very modern, well laid out and clean. The oval would have been great for dog exercise, had it not rained the whole time we were there.

Sutton site. Little buildings with caravans, in background, were the en-suite sites.

John had made arrangements to meet the grandsons and their father at a pool in the centre of Canberra, at 4pm. We found our way there alright – the GPS was a help!

We watched the ten year old train for a couple of hours. He did 4.3kms in that time! We were greatly impressed. John got some quality Grandad time with the eight year old, who wasn’t swimming, due to an ear infection. He helped with some homework. The boys attended a school that ran the International Baccalureate Program; it was very obvious from the nature of the homework the Grade 2 boy had to do, how much more rigorous this curriculum is, and how much children attending “ordinary” schools are not challenged to reach their capabilities. Even the fact that the boy had about an hour of homework to do at all…. This issue of low expectation and hence reducing standards is a long-time hobby horse of mine.

By the time we left the pool, to follow SIL and the kids on their way to pick up John’s daughter from work, it was dark as well as teeming with rain. There was peak hour traffic, rain, lights coming from all directions, the roads were unfamiliar, and we were trying to follow a “local” who didn’t adjust his driving to wait for us. Canberra drivers are not friendly people! Rain made the side mirrors on the Terios useless – a flaw we had not had occasion to discover before.  John ran over a traffic island barrier thing he didn’t see, at the government building – some very loud clunks.

By the time we’d followed the family to their apartment building, we just wanted to keep on going, back to the safety of Bus, rather than make the planned brief stop for drinks amidst their tea time preparations.

And that was a horror drive too. GPS took us via the Madura Road, which was the logical route – except we hadn’t come in that way. There were lots of roadworks, flashing lights, confusing signs, last minute lane changes in the still-heavy traffic – and the heavy rain. It was really scary, and John did well to get us back to Bus without an accident.

We were supposed to go to the family, for tea, tomorrow night. I told John there was no way he was doing that drive again, in these conditions. He should go alone and get a taxi back. He actually agreed with me – a sign that the drive had indeed been horrendous.

Our – late – tea was pasta and bottled pesto.


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2012 Travels September to December 2012

THE REST OF 2012

In September, friend M departed for two months in Italy, France, England, returning via New York. Her travelling companion was a long time friend whose wife – a great friend of M’s – had last year suddenly died.

Each to her own – I was not at all envious of M’s overseas travel, but took great interest in her emailed bulletins.

John spent a lot of September detailing Truck preparatory to selling it. My contribution was to wash – by hand – the sheepskin seat covers. God, those things are heavy when wet. If I’d thought there were dust remnants of our far-flung travels in the crevices of the van, there were even more in those seat covers. It took a heap of soaking, and about ten changes of the water in the trough to clean them. I could measure the depth of sludge left behind, at the start, with a ruler!

That damned ulcer on my leg kept on being hard to heal, and at times was extremely painful too. Twice weekly trips to our doctor’s practice nurse became times to dread, because of the pain caused by her dressing changes. Eventually, after a few different anti-biotic courses, there was improvement and healing. I even tried applying very expensive manuka honey to the wound – and, boy, did that sting. Much pain for no gain though.

I had researched, online, to try to get an idea of the value of our 1996, well-travelled Defender. John had thought he’d get maybe $7000 for it. He was amazed when I told him to double that! It did have a lot of extras fitted to it, and apparently there was a bit of a cult following for them. Our model was particularly valued because people didn’t want the later version with more complex electronic systems, that could and did go wrong. That really was a pleasant surprise. Also, it seemed that Landrover would soon stop selling Defenders in Australia because their design and structure did not allow them to meet the new safety standards.

Our sixteen year old Defender all spruced up ready to sell

We had nibbles on Truck as soon as I advertised it, in early October, and within a short time our (mostly) trusty old vehicle was on its way to a farm in Tasmania! As with the van, I was sad to see it go. It had taken us to so many wonderful and out-of-the-way places, over the years.

Since coming home from our first Bus trip, I had been researching and considering options that would give us greater mobility when parked up with bus.

In the past, John and I had been rather scathing when we saw motorhomes towing cars behind them – on trailers or their own wheels. We’d made comments along the lines that such travellers might just as well have become caravanners! How wrong was I?

My first thought had been that my little old Holden Barina might be suitable to take away with us. But John did not like my car – it was too low for him and he battled, these days, to get out of it. We had to have a higher car, he said.

We had rejected outright the idea of towing a trailer with a car on – that would have been too much like caravan towing. I did not like the idea of driving on and off a trailer, and could also see parking the trailer in some caravan parks as problematic.

That left what, in motor homing parlance , was called flat towing. And, boy, was that a complex topic to get my head around. To begin, basically the vehicle would have to have manual transmission, for some complicated issue to do with transmission workings in automatics. I took the word of the experts, but John took some convincing, loving automatics as he did.

Then, I discovered the issue of weights and ratios. Sounds complicated? It is. Essentially there are rules to ensure the motor home is not towing a vehicle that is too heavy for proper control, with the gross weights of both vehicles being key. Eventually I got my head around the rules and the maths of it all – not my strongest ability – and discovered that we would be looking for a car no heavier than 1500kg. When I thought about the towing combinations we had seen on the road, it seemed that a lot of motor homers were well outside the legal limits.

The field was limited. Very limited! I’d been secretly thinking that I might get a lovely brand new diesel Grand Vitara out of all this. Not to be – they weighed about 2 tonnes.

Eventually I decided that a Daihatsu Terios was the way to go. Light enough. High enough off the ground for John. Reviews had extolled a surprising capacity for handling challenging roads and terrain, having some sort of differential switch that almost approximated 4 wheel drive. The only catch was that importation of the Terios cars ceased in 2006. So, we would be looking for a used one.

I was then to find that they were a very popular car for flat towing, and thus in considerable demand for a superseded brand.

There were a few advertised for sale. But too many of these had done upwards of 200,000kms. John was also browsing the car sales sites, and liked the description of one he found: 2004 model, only done 45,000kms. Sounded too good to be true. But then, my 1986 Barina had only done 60,000kms in the 25 years that my father and then I had owned it.

There was a catch: the Terios was in Adelaide. Undeterred, John flew there, was very impressed by what he saw; next day had the car checked by an independent mechanic, and bought it.

He then set out to drive it home. By the time all the checking and paper work had been completed, it was into the afternoon before he set off. Via phone, he told me he’d overnight at Keith and hope to get home the next day. But there was no accommodation to be had in Keith. By the time he reached Bordertown and found a motel room, the night time driving qualities of the Terios had been well tested.

The Terios and John reached home the next afternoon. John raved about how lovely it was to drive and insisted that we go straight back out again so I could have a drive of it. He was right – it felt great, but having a narrow wheelbase and being quite tall, it did take some getting used to cornering.

Even better, from John’s viewpoint, it had air conditioning.

We had to get a Victorian roadworthy certificate done – no problems – and then take it to be registered in Victoria. So the little white Terios gained a nice new set of number plates.

It had, apparently, come from Port Augusta, where it had been a town run around for an elderly lady. That location could possibly also help explain its one obvious flaw – someone had keyed along the driver’s side. I’d read somewhere of that being a problem in car parks there.

My Barina was detailed by John – it was not as hard as Truck had been. I did not need to wash its lambswool seat covers because they were put in the Terios. When we turned up at the mechanic’s for the third roadworthy inspection in two months, I think he suspected we were running a used car business on the sly. The car was old, but looked pretty good, and had that low kms reading. It sold and I was happy with the price.

My elderly car ready for sale

The next complexity in all this was what A-frame hitch would we use to tow the Terios behind Bus? There were two main  brands available. I was attracted to the one that was Australian made, initially, but the experience of some users suggested they could be more difficult to use. So, eventually, we bought a Ready Brute. This had the advantage of folding up at the back of the towing vehicle, when parked up – thus being out of the way of being tripped over. Anecdotally, it was easier to hitch up on uneven ground, or if vehicles were not quite exactly aligned – a big plus. There was an accredited fitter fairly locally – another definite plus. He was able to order the hitch for us from the importer, plus whatever bits and pieces would be needed to make it all operational.

The existing tow bar on Bus proved to be too light and was fitted to Terios by the hitch fitter. So the cost of a new tow bar for Bus was added to the already considerable cost of the hitch. There was a base plate specific to the Terios to be fitted, that the hitch fittings would then go on. A brake system cable was part of the kit – operated by inertia somehow, when the towing vehicle slowed down, not directly by the driver. A little red light was fitted on Bus dashboard – this would light up when the Terios brakes were applied while it was being towed – a bit of a fail safe against them locking on.

Something else we hadn’t known when we embarked on all this was that some electrical works were needed to make the 24volt Coaster compatible with the Terios.

At different times, both Bus and Terios went to the hitch fitter for all this work. When all was done, we went in Terios to pick up Bus – and get a hands on demo of how to hitch the two together. It didn’t look too hard. I hoped that wasn’t a famous last thought……

The hitch and associated works ended up costing us nearly as much as the Terios itself.

Terios hitched up to Bus.

Another issue loomed – we would have to find a place that could carry out servicing and any works on the Coaster. I had assumed that a Toyota dealer would do this – but found out that not all service  centres have heavy duty hoists, needed for a vehicle of this size. Our local one did not. But Bus had been serviced just before we bought it, so that problem could wait a while.

By December we were back to having two cars in the carport and one Bus in the parking bay – i.e. normal. The travelling rig was all ready to go again. We did an occasional local drive, to places like Warburton or Healesville, for the sake of giving the bus a run.

Of course, it seemed that, these days, we could not get through the year without things medical and surgical popping up again. Late in November, John had a shoulder reconstruction, not because of an abrupt injury such as had caused mine, but just age-related wear and tear. That necessitated two nights in hospital – a city hospital of course. It couldn’t be the slightly more convenient Epworth Eastern. So I battled the commuter and city traffic for three days. Driving in Melbourne had become such a pain!

Couey fretted for the two nights that John was gone. Guess dogs do not have a “coming back” concept. Of course, she was rapturous when he reappeared.

Dad’s back…..

A few days after this surgery, John woke up and found it hard to breathe. There was pain in his “bad” leg, so his immediate thought was of blood clots – yet again. Because his breathing was so laboured, I called an ambulance and he was taken to Box Hill Hospital. I joined him there and we waited in Emergency – and waited – and waited. Eventually all that showed up was an old hardened area of blood clot behind the knee. At 8pm we left to go home. Not a great day! Episodes of troubled breathing continued and an overnight stay in another city hospital ensued – more commuting for me! No definite diagnosis could be reached, except that maybe the symptoms were due to anxiety about getting blood clots again.

I became the sole household driver again, while John’s shoulder healed. This was hard on us both, particularly because he was never a good passenger. I didn’t take kindly to the constant flow of instructions – turn indicator on, change gear, don’t brake so hard, don’t turn the corner so sharply…..and so on. It would be early January before he started physio.

And so ended 2012…..

Xmas present 2012


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2012 Travels July

JULY 2012     WE BUY A BUS

In June, out of the blue, John said to me “Well, I might as well get some enjoyment out of this bus of yours, so let’s buy it now!”  This mystifying statement seemed to come out of nowhere, to me, so he had to explain.

Back last year when he was doing it tough in ICU after the heart operation, he’d asked me what I would do when he “croaked”. Right then, I was trying hard not to think about that possibility, so I just gave a flippant answer: “Oh, I’d sell the house, buy a bus and go travelling.” I didn’t think any more about it, but a seed had obviously been planted….

In July, we found our bus. Even better, we found it in Melbourne, without the need to go looking interstate with attendant complications of things like registration. Although, several treks from our outer eastern home across to where bus was, in Campbellfield, sometimes seemed akin to an interstate trip, in Melbourne traffic.

John was browsing web sites and found a converted Coaster advertised on the site of a Winnebago dealer in Melbourne. Nothing would do but immediately going to have a look at it – on a Sunday, over in Campbellfield. I was surprised that someone from the dealership, nroamlly closed on Sundays,  even agreed to that.

So off we went. What we saw looked really interesting. Very clean and in great condition. The dealer rang the previous owner and let us speak to him. It had been a bus, from new in 1996, for an agricultural college out of Geelong. He bought it from them in 2002 and had it professionally converted, intending to travel long term. But his retirement kept getting put off, and so it had not been much used. Then, last year, they took it to Townsville and discovered that his wife found the steps, and climbing into the passenger seat, too difficult – she wanted a Winnebago, with a passenger door. So it had been a trade in. It definitely looked out of place, sitting in the showroom amongst several massive Winnebago motor homes, with all their bells and whistles.

Bus as we first saw it

Professional conversion – tick. Low kms for a diesel, at 245.000 – tick. The much desired HD 6 cylinder engine – tick. No apparent areas of rust – tick. Solar set up and storage batteries – tick. Exhaust brakes – tick. Two way fridge – tick (I don’t like gas fridges in RV’s). Plenty of cupboards – tick. On the down side – the two single beds were on the narrow side. I wasn’t wrapped in the flowery pattern of the curtains and upholstery – but that could be changed. On balance, a great deal to like. We were both already licensed to drive vehicles over car weight, so that was not an issue, as it was for some people looking to buy converted Coasters.

This decor would not have been my first choice!

The salesman said he could do us a good deal. We arranged to return on Tuesday (bowls on Monday!) for a test drive and came home very impressed.

John duly took it for the test drive, really liked the power of the engine, but found a couple of things needing fixing – like a wheel alignment needed. Some bargaining ensued and we agreed to buy it at a price we thought was fair, with a reversing camera thrown in – to be fitted. Bus had to have roadworthy certification and service done, so it would be a couple of weeks before we could collect it. There would be a three year mechanical warranty on it too.

So we signed up and the paperwork was all done – and home we went. Kind of dazed – couldn’t quite believe what we’d done, hoped it was the right decision.

As a result of the roadworthy findings, Bus was fitted with new brake discs and two new front tyres.

On Wednesday 25 July, we drove across to Campbellfield to pick up our new toy, driving my Barina car. The Service Head took us all over the Bus, explaining how things worked – so much to try to assimilate. This had all sorts of luxuries that our van hadn’t – like a hot water service, and a bathroom containing shower and toilet. My head was spinning. Fortunately, there were quite a few instruction booklets that had been passed on by the previous owner.

John realized that the promised reversing camera had not been installed. So we went for a wander, and had lunch, while waiting for that to be done. Then, I left to drive my car home at a time to avoid the traffic build up from mid-afternoon.

John phoned at 3.55 to say he was about to leave the dealer – just in time to hit the traffic build up, in an unfamiliar vehicle! But he made good time and said the Bus was great to drive, though the steep hill up to Mt Evelyn had it down to second gear – not quite as powerful as he thought!  He phoned again from Mooroolbark, so I would be out the front to guide him into the parking bay when he arrived. Well, he swung the bus wide to enter our gates and then straight up into the place that had been the caravan parking bay. No worries! Just so easy. Bus fitted nicely, with OK door access. Very pleasing.

It fits…….though we would need to keep the neighbours’ trees pruned.

Our “bus” buying focus had been on converted Coasters because, in all the time we’d spent up north and in the outback, we’d seen how widespread their use for transport was, and how much punishment from rough roads they could absorb. Adels Grove had used Coasters for their Riversleigh tours – and that road could be woeful at times. Many aboriginal communities across the Top used them for travel from the outstations to the local towns – like across the Gibb River Road to Kununurra. I’d driven school bus Coasters on bush tracks in Kakadu and Litchfield National Parks, as well as around Darwin. Getting mechanical work done, if needed, should be easy – much more so than on the Landrover!

Whilst all of the bus buying had been going on, John had been given the chance to buy his brother’s 2008 VW Passat, as brother was buying a new car. It was offered to John at the price the dealer was giving as a trade in. Too good to pass up. We would have to tart Truck up and sell it, eventually. In the meantime, the bank accounts looked quite sad!

I was kept busy, arranging vehicle insurances, Roadside Assists, freeway tags and the like.

The end of July saw us with four vehicles parked around the place – Bus, Truck, Passat, Barina…..

So began a different style of travel, one we hoped would be as enjoyable as the previous experiences had been, albeit in more “civilized” parts and at a more sedate pace.

The next decision – where would we go for our first trip with Bus?