Our Story

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  •        The Old Girl And the new Looks good

                   From this in 2001 to this in 2007- What a difference. And yes, it is the same van.

      We bought it with no annexe (a roll out awning was added) and without a fridge (will explain why). This really was a gem. No body damage, outer skin in better than average condition and the inside amazing. Only 12 months previously a new ceiling had been installed (the right way by removing the roof of the van and installing ceiling from above)

      All this including 5 brand new white sports rims and brand new light truck tyres for only $9,800-00.

      There where a number of renovations made, all with the purpose of making life a little more comfortable. At the end of 14 months on the road, we were very happy with them all, but especially the washing machine and having a lot of battery power on board. The best times we had were in National Parks and free camps. It is now nearly 2009 and we still have the caravan as well as an Off Road camper trailer that we are currently using.
      Let me tell you right now, there is no perfect type of accommodation for which to travel in. While the caravan was comfortable, there were restrictions to where we could go. If we had our time again we would have also added a 'Roof Topper' tent to the the car for those times we needed to leave the caravan and head off without it. We tried to do it with very basic camping gear and to be quite honest, it was a fairly miserable. So now we have a caravan, a camper trailer and we will soon be getting a roof topper. That should cover almost every situation.
      So below are some of my thoughts.

      Inside the van

      This is our little home away from home except for our extended trips on the road. It was really in great condition when we bought it and considering its age we couldn't have been happier. As mentioned the ceiling was new (put in by the previous owners who happen to be the owners of 'Caravan World' - the van yard not magazine!!) and the lounge covers had obviously been updated at some stage - they'd done away with the lovely brown stripey number. Our alterations to the inside have included new curtains, converting the bottom bunk into storage with pull out baskets and the essential porta-potty, installed a safe under the seats in the lounge and the cabinet around the fridge (located at the end of the dining area, under the T.V. and microwave). This houses all the media technology (TV, video and DVD) and all the electronics that allow us to monitor batteries, solar panel input, power output and the water level of both the water tanks. Behind the fridge/cabinet is a little alcove with more cupboards and a convenient place to dress. A curtain can be drawn across this section when the children are in bed. The kitchen is well equipped with gas hotplates, grill and full size oven, a pantry and plenty of storage space.

      Inside Van Inside Van

      Inside Van Inside Van

      The reason this van has so much room inside is due to the fact that our bed folds up into the wall (with bed fully made - see above) which leaves plenty of room and a huge lounge able to sit at least 10 adults. Our friends call it the "party van". Also plenty of floorspace for the kids to play when needed.


      The reason we didn't want a fridge was because we have a passionate dislike for gas/electric fridges. I like my beers cold, luke warm just doesn't cut it I'm afraid. I honestly believe that a 12 volt compressor fridge is the only way to go. The down side is that they take power to run them. That means batteries, solar panels and possibly a generator is needed. That all costs money. The only advantage of a gas/electric fridge is that you only need a couple of gas bottles when off power.
      We bought a 220 litre Westinghouse and had it converted with a Danfoss BD 50F compressor installed. The fridge operates at about 2-3 degrees Celsius and the freezer at minus 15 degrees Celsius even up north when its unbearably hot. Now that's a fridge. For an extra $70-00 we had a 3 speed switch installed that changes the compressor speed. This means in cold climates we can make the compressor runs slower and therefore use less power. In really hot weather or when the fridge has just been restocked we turn the switch to high which means the compressor runs at higher rpm and cools down quicker. With the compressor on 'Medium' it draws approx 4-5 amps which includes cooling fans. Cycling at 50% we use anywhere between 60 to 100 amps per day depending on ambient temperature and fridge usage.
      As well as the van fridge we also have an 85 litre "Evakool" fridge /freezer. This is a beautiful unit that draws only a few amps but gives us that little extra fridge or freezer space that you sometimes need for those extended trips away. While we are using the camper trailer the Evakool is our only fridge /freezer.
      If you are looking for portable fridge/freezer make sure you check these out. While they might be slightly more expensive than others on the market you have to compare apples with apples. What stands the Evakool apart from the other is its full fiberglass construction, resulting in lower temperatures being maintained for less power used. I am 100% happy with the quality and efficiency of this unit, and it's Queensland made. Can't beat that.


      So where does this power come from.

      On board both the caravan and camper trailer we have 2 x 110 amp hr N70 case Gel Cell batteries = 220 amp hr.
      These are kept charged by either a 20 amp True charge battery charger (3 stage) when connected to 240 volt supply, 2 x 120 watt Kyocera solar panel (portable), a 150 watt two faced solar panel (permanently mounted on the roof) and a Yamaha 1 kva sine wave inverted generator. The batteries are also charged from the car while on the road. As you can see we are very self sufficient and can have extended stays away from power. A note about the use of generators. In nearly all National Parks and State Forests the use of generators is prohibited. There are a couple of reasons for this.
      The first is the noise factor for other campers and visitors.
      The second reason is the possibility of sparks from the exhaust starting a fire. Both these reasons are valid.My challenge was to come up with a solution to both problems. This was achieved by building a sound proof generator box in which the generator is housed and run. The box is made from 12mm structural ply and lined with triple layered sound acoustic foam/rubber. This is very expensive and also heavy but works well. A large 240 volt exhaust fan (running off the generator) is in one end of the box and an exhaust baffle at the other end. The box is mounted in the back of the car on 160 kg draw runners and is run in the car with the rear doors partially closed. The sound level is extremely low and there is no possibility of sparks starting fires. As you can see from the photo below the generator box is on heavy duty runners and can be pulled out of the car. The generator can then be started and then slid back into the car while operating.

      Sound Proof Generator Box

      Yes this means my generator is still prohibited in National Parks but is safe and is not annoying to others. This box cost over $500-00 to build but means the generator can be used when required.
      Nobody should be using the cheap 2 stroke generators that are available everywhere these days, as they are very noisy, smokey and could start fires. If you can't afford a good 4 stroke generator don't buy a cheap one. You will annoy someone.


      Recieving of all e-mails and updating the web page is achieved via a Dell Studio XPS laptop computer and a Telstra mobileNext G wireless card.  A number of towns now provide 'Free' wireless internet connection either available in local parks or libraries which we log onto. This is a great community service and something that I am sure will become more common in the future.
      We also have a Next G mobile phone, that works well but is complety useless unless you are in a town. In most of  NT and WA mobile phone reception is non existant. You really do need another form of communication, if for no other reason than your own personal safety.
      The choice is then either a satellite phone (the Telstra Iridium is very good) or a HF radio. Once again it is personal choice. The HF radio is a little more expensive initially (if bought brand new) but has no ongoing expenses and is extremely reliable. We scored a second hand Codan 9323 and a Codan auto tuning aeriel and we bought a new 18 plug, butt plug aerial as back up. This radio also has the ability to make and recieve phone calls, send text messages and emails which is an added bonus.
      A personal EPIRB is also very good insurance if you find yourself in real trouble. The new style will set you back around $500.00


      Extended trips away with young kids does necessitate a few creature comforts.They include a 'Lemair' fully automatic 3 kg washing machine which is accessed from an external door on the off side of the van (pictured).To entertain us on rainy days we have a 34cm TV, video and DVD all with surround sound stereo. Other gadgets included a CD player, microwave oven, air-conditioning and roll out awning.Camping is great but roughing it- Well, not quite.

      Laundry The Patrol


      We tow our little holiday house with a 2004 Nissan Patrol ST 3 litre turbo intercooled diesel with an automatic transmission, snorkel and an upgraded 2" suspension kit.It tows our van that weighs around 2800kg with ease giving us about 16 litres /100klm. Not bad. The car has a 'Tekonsha' brake controller fitted. As a little indulgence a wide angle reversing camera has been installed on the back of the van with a rear view mirror mounted 4" colour screen in the car (See in photo below above top window of van). This gives me a tremendous view of where I have been and if any vehicles are behind us. A great safety issue with an 8ft wide van.We have also removed the back two seats of the car and I have built and installed a floor to roof storage system. This now allows us to neatly store all that gear including the portable solar panel, the Evakool fridge and the generator box as well as a few other bits and pieces. A place for everything and everything in it's place. Very important in a caravan.

      Car Storage

      The down side was that rear view mirror was then useless. Side mirrors are good but it is still nice to see what is directly behind the car. This problem was easily solved by installing a small colour camera inside the rear door window of the car connected to the colour LCD rear view mirror mounted screen. Now I have a perfect view of what is behind. Money very well spent. To communicate with other travelers or truckies a GME TX 3400 split face UHF radio does the trick.For the man who has everything including a wife that seems to continually send you down dead end streets and into impossible situations I have the answer.An in-car satellite navigation system. We have installed the Navman S30 into the Patrol and may I say its magic. So far it has looked after me very well and has kept me on roads that actually have an open end!!!. They are getting cheaper and cheaper and if you cover a lot of miles in unknown territory they are worth the $400.00. I have recently had a real battle with the service department of Navman, with the service I received being the worst I have ever experienced. Next time I will be looking at another brand that will hopefully care about it's customers both before and after they have taken your hard earned money.

      Camera on back of Van

      During our trip in 2006 we met many many outstanding people, many of whom we still keep in regular contact with. One such families was the Hammonds. Bryan and Jane own a Caravan Business in Eden NSW. On our way home we stayed with these guys and while there used there work shop and Bryans expertise to install complete new suspension, a new longer draw bar and raise the van 75 mm (see November 2006). You could not believe the difference that made to the van. Then in September 2007 we visited again, this time completely resheeting the van and adding a front boot, as well as many other improvements (see 2007 update).

      The van has now been totally transformed and not only looks like new, but is as good as new. These are outstanding friends.


      As I stated earlier, there is no perfect form of accommodation while travelling. Do you get a caravan, motorhome, 'off-road' van, a roof topper or a camper trailer? That's a tough decision that I will leave up to you. For us, going off-road to visit those little gems at the end of a dirty rough track, called for something robust that would do the job. In 2007 we searched and searched for a camper trailer that had everything we wanted. Our inclusion list was long but fairly basic. We wanted it tough, but not over the top. There is no point starting out with something that is so heavy that you are unable to pull it out the other side of a creek crossing. Do you get a hard or soft floor camper? With children the choice was an easy one as the hard floors, while superior just don't have enough room. They are really designed for two people. Our trailer is 7x4 ft, has a 75 x 50 mm frame and a 100 x 50 mm drawbar. The debate about suspension was something I agonised over for ages. Beam axle and springs, independent or Alko. Which is best, which will stand the punishment and which can most easily be fixed by your average bush mechanic, or worse, me. Again this is a personal choice but we went for an expensive, good quality, Australian made beam axle and spring setup from Vehicle Components in Brisbane. We have now traveled thousands of kms over some very ordinary dirt roads and it has worked perfectly. What would I go for if I had my time again? Most likely exactly the same.

      The camper before solar installed The camper The camper

      The axle has parallel ford/ford bearings, electric brakes and Nissan Patrol rims. If possible it is important to have the same wheels as your tow vehicle. We have two 60 litre water tanks underneath, 2x 4.5 kg gas bottles,  2 x Gell batteries and 2 x 120 watt solar panels mounted permanently on the top of the camper, being regulated by a Plasmatronics PL 20. When set up the solar panels are supported by gas struts and can be adjusted to any angle depending on the position of the sun. The trailer has a swing out tailgate with kitchen attached. It's simple but effective. We are able to carry 2 x spare tyres on the trailer, one at the front and one at the rear if needed. The drawbar is longer than normal, has two large boxes on it and is protected by a stone guard. The canvas work was done by Traditional Canvas in Bundaberg and is high quality and is standing up to the tourture very well.

      The trailer looks the part on the road, is easy to set up and is standing up very well to whatever we throw at it. The 'Beast' as we call it is our home away from home when the caravan just wouldn't cope. It is so much nicer than tenting with the added bonus of being able to carry a pile of gear. There is a link about our camper in 'Links' on the cover page if you are interested.

      My only word of warning is be careful what you buy if you actually plan to go off-road. Some off-road' campers I have seen being sold would struggle on the bitumen. Remember if you go remote, it will cost you a small fortune if you need to get your trailer recovered. Shop around, spend a bit extra and enjoy a stress free off-road adventure, you won't regret it.