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 The GRAYnomad Chronicles :: #020

Editorial

During the course of this issue we drive down the east coast, spending most of our time visiting friends.

It's great to catch up with people, but this "visit fest" is very tiring, what with all that entertaining.

Still it could be worse, we could be working :-)

One thing we notice about the east coast is the urban spread. There's just so many people that the towns are merging, not to anything like the extent that is happening in the USA or Europe, but merging nonetheless.

Highways that I remembered as being two-lane tracks, with even smaller tracks leading to beaches where you could camp, are now eight-lane motorways.

And camp on the beach?, forget it.

 

 

Sat 30 Aug 2003

At midday we leave Bargara but it's not until 1:30 that we actually leave the town of Bundaberg just a few kilometres away, due mostly to the time spent filling some gas bottles at Bunnings.

We planned to get to Peter & Marie's today, but it soon becomes apparent that we're not going to make it, so, on reaching Gympie we decide to call it a day.

The Matilda service station, just out of town, has a very nice picnic and wetland area adjacent. We pull in there for the night.


Our duckpond campsite at the rear of the roadhouse.

Sun 31 Aug

Arrive at P&M's, settle in to "our" spot under the workshop's awning.

Mon 1 Sep

Still in maintenance mode, today we had all the batteries out for a spring clean (well it is the first day of spring). Tomorrow I'll replace various oils in the motor etc, and then I think we're done.


Batteries getting an overhaul on the floor

I know it seems that we spend a lot of time working on the truck, but that's only because we do spend a lot of time working on the truck :-)

Any large motorhome based on a old bus or truck is bound to need a fair bit of looking after, but also we've really been going through the "shakedown" period for the past year or so.

In general the vehicle has performed perfectly. Over two years of living in it, we've tuned a few things, and we've fixed a few things, but we're very happy with Wothahellizat.

The first time we dropped in to Peter & Marie's to work on the truck we were here for three months, the next time it was three weeks, this time it's three days.

Maybe in future we'll just drop in for a cuppa.

Hopefully that's an indication of the way things are going with regard to working on the truck, because I have to say, I've got things I'd rather be doing.

This evening we watch Getaway, a show purportedly about reasonably-priced travel locations.

We've watched the show many times over the years, and it seems to be the same every time. Far from being about budget options, we find the prices to be astronomical.

How about a tour around an old house?, just $210 for the day. Or you can stay in another old house, just $420 a day...EACH.

That's our total annual accommodation budget for a single night. Hmmm, where do I sign up?

I guess this type of show is not aimed at the "not working, living on a budget, tight arse" demographic.

Thu 8 Sep

We leave P&Ms, probably for the last time because the place is up for sale, and drive into Brisbane.

I try to impress upon Peter and Marie that their new place must have a large workshop, otherwise where would we work on the truck?

Steve and Madeleine (two of our long-term friends from Canberra) have recently moved to the sunshine state (and I mean "recently", the phone was only connected yesterday, and there's still no gas) so we are going to visit them.

We find a nice spot for the truck, near a park and only about a kilometre from their house, and ride up to find a very impressive mansion. We stay for dinner (Indian takeaway, no gas remember) and make use of their phone line to do a little web surfing.

Fri 9 Sep

After an early morning tea with our friends we hit the road again, to visit some more friends.

Scott and Chris have just moved out to Russell Island, and we're dying to see their new house.

Scott meets us on the way to the barge and hops in the truck for the one-hour trip over Morton Bay.

The barge stops at three other islands before Russell. After one of the stops, where a couple of trucks leave the barge, we have to move Wothahellizat to re-balance the vessel. As I reverse under full lock there's a loud noise from somewhere in the vicinity of the offside wheel.

Oops, the boat's side wall is closer than I thought.

The house is placed just 100 or so metres from the bay, with nothing but a grassy park between it and their boat's mooring. What a great spot, and what a lifestyle they'll have when they stop work.


Wothahellizat in one of its favourite spots, overlooking the water. Scott's boat is the larger one in the right-hand photo.

We park the truck right on the edge of the bay, then spend most of the day playing snooker on Scott's new table.

Scott and Chris built the majority of the house themselves. After a year it's nearly finished and Scott's had enough. "I'm sick of having to solve problems" he says. That was the exact expression I used myself recently.

It's probably a common feeling with people who tackle a large construction project. At first it's great to figure out how such-and-such fits onto whatever; how to use a widget for a different purpose by filing a piece off here, and adding a piece there; or how to hang that bifold door in such a way that it doesn't hit the bar fridge.

But after a while you just want to be able to open the door and get a bloody beer.

Sat 6 Sep

Today we explore the island on a motorbike.

When we first viewed a street map of the area it looked as though the entire island was covered with roads. In fact there's not that many, at least not in the normal sense of the word "road".

A very large proportion of the street signs point to half-formed dirt tracks. Some even point into virgin bush.

Maybe the local council gets paid according to how many street signs they've erected.

There's also been a sense of humour at work here. One street, no more than twenty yards long, and barely wide enough to ride a bicycle down, is called Sunset Boulevard.

Years ago I remember a real estate scam whereby many people from down south bought land sight-unseen, only to find that the "land" was in fact immersed in seawater twice a day.

I think an expression being bandied around at the time was that someone "bought one acre, of which two acres was under water".

Well it seems that this all happened right here, on Russell Island. That may explain the large number of vacant lots with water frontage.

Sun 7 Sep

We spend the morning messing about in boats. Scott has to do some maintenance on his 34' Clipper which is moored just offshore in front of the house.

After that I make a gadget that will allow me to create proper 360-degree panoramic photos. Then I discover that the small 12v battery that drives the winches is making a strange noise.

I climb under the truck and find that the battery is quite hot. I remove it, top up the water, clean the terminals, and replace it.

Later, after dinner and a few games of pool, we return to the truck to find that the lights are dim, the 12v system is down to 9.5v, and there's about 10 amps being drawn from the main battery bank.

I climb under the truck once again and disconnect the 12v battery. It's obviously developed an internal short circuit.

Of course there's no battery shops on the island, so I'll have to take the barge over to Australia (as the locals call the mainland) to get one.

Tue 9 Sep

Today I need to get a replacement battery but you don't just drive down the street to your neighbourhood battery shop when on a small island.

The next barge leaves at 10:50, it takes over an hour to reach the mainland. Then I have to ride into Capalaba to buy the battery, and back again just in time to catch the 1:15 barge back to the island.

Just after 2PM I finally get back.

It's certainly an idyllic lifestyle here, especially if you're into boating. But you pay for it. That's over three hours to buy a battery, plus the cost of the barge fare.

NOTE: The barge fees are $11.50 per metre. That's $138 for our motorhome and usually around $50 for a car.

As the sun sets I wander along the shore looking for photos.


Some picturesque sights along the shore.


And some not-so-picturesque sights along the shore

Wed 10 Sep

It's high tide and Scott wants to take the boat for a spin to blow the cobwebs out. As there's no jetty, it's much better to go out to the boat at high tide, so you don't have to schluck through the mud flats.

We just drive the boat "around the block", or around Karragarra Island, and back to its mooring.

It's good fun and Chris has been pushing to buy a boat for a while. I wonder if we can A-frame one of these babies behind the truck.

We spend most of the the remaining day helping with some of the finishing work on the house.

Later in the afternoon Scott's cat gets into a fight. It's obviously a bit shaken, and maybe even hurt, so it hides under the neighbour's house, and cannot be coaxed out.

Scott is thinking that it may need to go to a vet, but once again, we're on an island, there is no vet. If the cat does need medical attention it'll be a one-hour barge trip, plus a drive, at the least. That's of course as long as it's not too late, and the barges have stopped running for the night.

As I said before, it's idyllic here, but you pay a price.

Fri 12 Sep

We leave the island today. It's been great to stay with our friends and it's very restful here, but the road calls, as it has a thousand times before.

The other day we booked on the barge and the only vacancy for the entire day was the 4:40. This will put us back on the mainland at about 6, too late to be heading off on the highway, so we plan to camp in the carpark at the barge jetty.

We get to the barge ramp very early because I want to be first in the queue. This should mean that, as a heavy vehicle, we go directly onto the barge and straight to the other end with no messing around.


Waiting for the barge. Note the "no living in temporary accommodation" sign. Still there's nothing temporary about Wothahellizat, we plan to have it for years

It's a good plan, which works right up to the time it's put into action.

NOTE: The approach ramps to the barges can be very steep, and they are met by equally steep ramps lowered from the barge.

The result is a deep V-shaped culvert that will cause grief to most motorhomes with low clearance and/or long overhangs.


The approach to the barge. It doesn't look that steep, but vehicles with low clearances would have trouble

The barge is early so we sit patiently at the front of the queue. Eventually the deck hand drops the rope and, while not actually waving us on, sort of looks at us, implying in my mind that we should drive on.

We move off along the jetty and the other vehicles follow. Half way down he indicates that we should stop, then runs up and says that he needs to get a car on first. "Which one?" I ask. "Doesn't matter, any car".

Of course nobody can get past us, so we all have to reverse.

He singles out a car and it drives through. Then he instructs me to drive onto the barge and park on the left-hand side.

Based on how I've seen them load these barges, I'm sure we should be in the middle, but hey, waddoo I know.

I park on the left.

I've no sooner killed the engine when the captain comes down from the wheel house.

"I'll need to put you in the middle", he says.

Bloody hell!. He goes to the rear of the truck and waves me back. I can't see down the side of the truck, and to confuse matters I'm looking directly into the sun.

Bang!

The offside wheel hub hits a pipe. I hope it's not an important pipe, because I'm sure it's the same one I hit on the trip over the other day.

We eventually get squared away and settle in for the trip.


People are always asking us if the truck floats! Here's proof, it does.


Taking on more vehicles at Lamb (or possibly Macleay I've forgotten) Island.


Heading towards the mainland, the smaller and faster passenger ferry can be seen ahead

At around six we dock, and Wothahellizat gets it's feet back on dry land. We drive into the car park and settle in for the night.

Sat 13 Sep

Early this morning we ride over to see Tony & Tricia. They're on the verge of hitting the road full time, and paid us a visit in Caboolture a few weeks ago.

At that time they didn't own any mobile accommodation, but they've just taken delivery of an enormous 5th wheeler, and we'd like to see it.

When we get to their place we find the "Montana" shoehorned into the narrow driveway. It certainly looks big, but we're both blown away when we get inside.

I swear that it's bigger inside than out. With two slide-outs, and a ten-foot ceiling, this thing just looks huge.

They've had it imported from the US, and Aussie regulations demand that a door be fitted to the left side. All this is done by a company in Ballarat.

Tricia has to go to work, and we have to be on our way, so it's only a short visit. Hopefully we'll meet them on the road.

I've often thought that 5th wheelers are the best of both worlds (ie. caravan and motorhome). They are as large and as stable as a motorhome, are more easily reversed than a caravan, and you have a vehicle to gad around in.

The only thing I don't like is the inability to get from cab to home without going outside.

We return to the truck and, after a short drive around some back roads, we reach the M1 and turn south towards the Gold Coast.

The motorway is eight lanes for the majority of the trip, then drops to six, and finally to four, before turning back into the old highway, just south of Currumbin.

At Banora Point we turn off the highway and park near another friend's, Vicki. As is the case with most of our friends we can't park in their driveway, so we find a spot behind a local facility, getting permission from the owners.

I've known Vicki since forever, and we go over some old times with the help of a few drinks. Kaleb and Erin (Vicki's teenage kids) are both very musical which I guess is not surprising because Vicki used to be in a band and Peter, the kid's father who died a few years ago, was a very accomplished guitar player.

It seems that music is in the family's genes, Kaleb very skilfully plays an Eric Clapton number for us.

Sun 14 Sep

A fairly relaxing day with a picnic at the beach.


Nice-looking daisies and coastal scenery near Kingscliff

Mon 15 Sep

Vicki has a broken ironing board and an old bed that's too large for the recyclers to pick up.

Sounds like a job for Rob the handyman.

We brought the ironing board down to the truck last night, so this morning I weld the broken part.


Welding the ironing board

Then we cart the board and assorted tools up to the house and cut the old bed into three pieces.

It's all easy enough if you have the tools, but if Vicki had to get a tradesman to do these jobs it would cost a lot.

Tue 16 Sep

Finally, after several weeks, I'm going to see the Terminator 3 movie.

We've borrowed a "frequent viewers" card so we'll get in cheap, and sussed out where the local cinema is, now all that needs to be done is ring the cinema to get the showing times.

They have a 1300 number but of course this doesn't work with mobile phones, so after some ado we find them in the CD phone book and I dial.

"Just ringing to see what times Terminator 3 is showing" I say, "Oh Terminator 3's been and gone" is the reply.

Add another movie to the growing "movies I've missed" list, a list that includes every movie released in the past ten years.

Wed 17 Sep

I thank our hosts who've kindly let us stay in their grounds then, at about 10, we break camp and make our way to the highway.

The day is spent driving towards Grafton where we are visiting still more friends.

There's been vast improvements in the roads around here since my last visit. The highway is still largely two-lane but the surface is new and there's plenty of overtaking lanes.

The worst section is probably around Brunswick Heads.

It seems that the NSW police are getting serious about speeding, every few kilometres there's a sign about the use of speed cameras etc.

One of the most common signs asks "How fast are you going now?". Not very fast as it happens, and thanks for rubbing it in.

I planned to stay at a rest area I remembered near Maclean, but we arrive to find that it's been upgraded to a visitor information centre with a pokey little car park and a "no camping" sign.

We continue to Cowper and cross the river into Brushgrove, where we camp in the town common.

Tomorrow we'll go into Grafton to stay with some more friends.

All this visiting is getting quite exhausting :-)

Thu 18 Sep

I met Bob & Jackie when I lived in Grafton in the late 70s, and helped with the renovation of their house.

Twenty-five years later they're still renovating. I accuse Bob of being a serial renovator, to which he pleads guilty.

Sat 20 Sep

Bob and I spend a large part of the day shooting the bad guys on his "Blackhawk Down" computer game.

I haven't played a computer game since the original "Space Invaders" so I'm a little rusty, but soon get the hang of it.

At about midnight we're a bit bleary-eyed and call it quits. I return to the truck (parked outside on the street) to find that Chris has had visitors.

Apparently some of the locals youths were banging the side of the truck. They must have thought it was empty, because when she opened a shutter and yelled at them to "GO AWAY" (or words to that affect) they bolted.

Sun 21 Sep

We leave Grafton this morning and continue south.

We decide to drive on the back road to Coffs Harbour, via the small town of Glenreagh. Apart from preferring the quieter country road, I have ulterior motives for this choice of route.

About twenty-odd years ago I spent the day photographing the railway station at Glenreagh. At the time the station was active, and there was much talk about restoring the nearby line to Dorrigo as a historical train ride for the tourists. To populate the restored line, a lot of rolling stock and steam engines were to be brought up from Newcastle.

I expected that, by now, the station would be a bustling centre for historical train buffs.

Imagine my surprise and disappointment when I discover that, not only has nothing been done, but that the station is no longer used, and has fallen into ruin.

There is a small amount of rolling stock on the siding, in a decrepit state, but the station's platform has been demolished and all the associated buildings are in a very bad state.

In apparent contradiction the the state of the facility, a rather weather beaten sign at the entrance declares that the site is to be renovated over the next three years.


Some of the buildings at the Glenreagh Station.


A motley collection of rolling stock...


...and old machinery.


Looking down the tracks towards the station. On the left is the scene as it is today, on the right as it was twenty years ago. See a page with both photos side-by-side (opens a new browser window).

We move on, eventually camping in a rest area south of Coffs Harbour.

I have literally just finished the above paragraphs when a Harley look-alike motorbike pulls up. The rider is a Glenreagh local who saw us drive through town a few hours ago.

Apparently his wife said "What's that" as we drove through town, (I did inform him of the correct pronunciation for the truck's name).

Apart from discussing the truck, we talked about the railway station. He informs me that there is another shed further down the line, and that they have enough track to run short trips on a "trike" before long.

As to the station renovation?, he reckons it will be another ten years before that happens.

Mon 22 Sep

Today is a fairly lazy day, we do drive, but only for a couple of hundred kilometres.

I'm finding this east-coast driving to be more stressful than I'm used to. What with the hills, the winding roads, and the incredible amount of traffic, it's not much fun.

Admittedly there are quite a lot of overtaking lanes which help.

At about four we pull into a rest area just north of Taree. It's a large area and there's already a motorhome in residence, so we park at the other end.

We do this for various reasons, firstly, we like our space and don't like being too close to other campers; secondly, most other campers feel the same; and thirdly, there's a chance the other camper will turn on a generator.

And sure enough, shortly after we arrive, we hear the distant purr of a generator.


We park as far as possible from the original occupants of the rest area

Tue 23 Sep

At 5:30 we wake, and because there is nothing else to do we drive. And we drive, and we drive, until about 2PM, when we figure we've had enough and decide to stop at the last rest area before Sydney.

I've never tackled Sydney traffic with the truck before, and think that a good night's sleep might be in order before doing so.

Unfortunately there is no signage for the rest area in question, and before we can react we've shot past the entrance.

Between here, and the frenetic city traffic at Hornsby, there's nothing but divided, no-exit freeway. It looks like we're going to "do" Sydney today, like it or not.

At 2:30 we enter the hustle and bustle and proceed along the "Cumberland Highway". I use the quotes because there's really isn't any highway. The Sydney authorities have pulled the same trick that their London counterparts did years ago.

It's very simple really. You identify a "ring road" to bypass the city, and you show this road in blue on the map in such a manner as to appear as though there's a nice big freeway.

In fact the ring road is the same old crappy road that's been there for 50 years, it's just got a new name.

Why didn't they follow the Parisian's example, the Peripheral really is a motorway that circles the city, and makes it easy to get from one side to the other.

Anyway it's not too bad, unless you break down, as has an elderly lady we encounter at about the half way mark. The road has high walls on both sides, there is nowhere for her to go.

As the traffic banks up and squeezes into the two remaining lanes, the poor old dear simply stands there, hands under her chin as if in prayer, and waits for help (which hopefully is on its way). My first though is to stop and, if not actually get the car going, at least give her someone to talk to. But to stop the truck at that point will only make matters worse.

I hope things turn out all right for her.

Forty-five kilometres, and an hour and a half after leaving one freeway, we're free again and on another, heading towards Canberra.

All in all it went well, with me concentrating on the driving and Chris navigating, we had no hassles or arguments, not even a raised voice.

Within a few minutes we see a truck broken down on the freeway shoulder. As we pass Chris says that he looks like he needs help.

I stop and walk back. The truckie and I meet half way, "Need a hand?" I ask. "I could do with a block of wood for the jack", he says, "but it's all right, the tyre people are on their way...so, you're on your way back to Canberra eh?, still got the Perkins in that?".

Bloody hell, is there anyone in Australia that doesn't know about Wothahellizat?

We finally pull into a rest area at 5:40, that's over twelve hours driving with only two short stops, and including a stretch through the city traffic.

I'm pooped, it's definitely beer o'clock.

Wed 24 Sep

Once again we're up in the wee hours, 4AM this time, and once again we have nothing to do, so Chris finds something.

She notices that there's about 5 amps being drawn from the batteries. We normally have a 2-amp draw for the fridge, but what's causing the other 3 amps?

I start disconnecting everything, one at a time, to isolate the cause. Eventually I decide that it's a problem in the right battery bank, when isolated it's voltage drops to 22.5.

I lift the floor to investigate and find that one of the battery terminals is touching the metal hold-down. Ooops.

Problem fixed, and, inadvertently I fix another problem.

For about three days the rear-vision camera has been flickering, to the point where it's unusable. I've prodded and poked, even swapped monitors, but could not determine the fault.

Yet, as we leave the rest area I notice that the image is stable on the monitor. I can think of no direct connection, because the monitors run from a different power source, but the touching battery terminal must have cause a disturbance in "the force" that affected the monitor.

And, in another aside, as I said I swapped the rear vision monitor with the one we use for security inside the house. They are the same, with one small exception, the rear view monitor has it's image reversed so it looks as you would expect in a rear vision mirror.

The security monitor's image is not flipped, and now I see cars approach from behind then appear to overtake me on the wrong side. It's very unnerving, and the reason a rear vision system should have a reversed image.

At around 2PM we go to pull into one of our favourite spots on the banks of Lake Burliegh Griffin, Canberra's focal point, only to find that it's been bollarded off. Another good camp site succumbs to the ubiquitous bollard. We move to another site on the other side of the lake, so far this spot has escaped the bureaucrats bollard, but it can only be a matter of time.

The weather is just terrible, a howling gale that makes it very unpleasant outside, and difficult to ride the motorbike.

We haven't seen weather like this since...hmmm, since last time we were in Canberra.

I must say we're starting to look back on our time in the north and north-west with longing eyes.

The east coast, with it's hoards of people, it's frantic traffic, it's bad roads, and it's bollards, is, for our money, just not the place to be.

 

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