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 The GRAYnomad Chronicles :: #025

Editorial

The other day I purchased a book, it's called "The World's Top Wildlife Photographers". As the name implies the book features the work of some very good photographers. There's none of my images in the book though, a serious omission that I must point out to the publishers, but that's not why I mentioned it. No really.

Towards the beginning of the book is a fantastic photo, by Cherry Alexander, of some penguins standing in a surreal landscape of eroded iceberg. It's a great shot, and quite well known, but what fascinated me was the fact that these birds can just live in this environment. No matter how cold, or windy, or wet it gets, they have everything they need in their little bodies.

Later I went for a stroll, it was a very cold and windy evening on the west coast of Tasmania, so I didn't go far. As I returned though I noticed the truck sitting stoically on the edge of the beach. Inside I could see Chris preparing dinner under the warm glow of our incandescent lighting.

I realised that no matter how bad the weather is, we have our own little space capsule that keeps us warm and dry. In fact, within the confines of the truck we have everything we need, rather like the penguins.

OK so we need 14 tonnes of technology and some money in the bank, but it's kind of the same.

My point is (at last) that this motorhoming lifestyle is almost completely self sufficient, we are free to drive pretty much anywhere we like, and free to live pretty much anywhere we like.

And you can probably do the same, it's easier than you think. Just sell the house, sell all the crap you've been hoarding, bugger off, and find your own pristine beach somewhere in this big country.

 

 

Sun 15 Feb 2004

We leave Sundown Creek this morning. That's the end of our time in the north-west.

After a couple of hours we pull over into a rest area for lunch.

After eating I'm sitting in my chair when I here "Hello" from outside. Looking out the window I find that Craig (our fisherman friend from Rocky Cape) has pulled in.

He's been out fishing, and in fact was out yesterday in the gale. He only has a tiny dinghy and "nearly lost it a couple of times". He had to leave one of his nets out over night as it was too rough to pull it in.

It all worked out though, and he now has two tonnes of fish to show for his trouble. With a nice catch like that, and the money it will earn him, he's having second thoughts about selling the shack at Rocky Cape.

He offers us a fish but I say I wouldn't know what to do with it. No problems, he'll fillet it for us.

He scrapes some dried "something" from the timber tray of his truck to create a clean(!) working area, then proceeds to fillet the travally. Within a minute or so we have two boneless fillets, ready for the frying pan.

After that we chat for a minute then he heads off, down to the pub for lunch.

We continue along the highway, eventually pulling into our spot on the river at Devonport.

Mon 16 Feb

I'm having some film developed today and it won't be ready until late afternoon, so we'll stay at Devonport for another day.


Nice evening light on the Mersey River.


A pelican gets harassed by a silver gull

Tue 17 Feb

At last we're heading to Cradle Mountain. Cradle is a "Mecca" for landscape photographers, and I had intended to spend a few days walking around the mountain. However I'm not actually feeling that energetic at present, so I doubt that the bushwalking gear will see the light of day any time soon.

I do however want to visit the Wilderness Gallery, a gallery devoted to outdoor photography, located just outside the National Park. I've had photos hung there for over a year now, so I'm dying to see the place, and also the other photographer's work.

We drive up into the mountains, the drive is through undulating farm land until the town of Sheffield, but then the road enters the mountains proper.

After 15 kilometres of winding mountain road we come across O'Niells Creek rest area and stop for a cuppa. It's a very pleasant spot though, and we decide to stay for the night.

At around beer o'clock a women rides up to our window on a bicycle. "My partner's OD'd" she says with tears welling up in her eyes. "I've called an ambulance, can you keep an eye out for them?".

Half an hour later we see flashing lights approaching. I run out towards the road, flag them down, and point them in the right direction.

Wed 18 Feb

Today we plan to camp somewhere near Cradle Mountain then ride in to see the famous peak. We've heard that the price of camping in the campground is $30 per night, for that amount we'll find somewhere else thank you very much.

We park the truck in a large gaveled area on the corner of the turnoff to the National Park, then get a bike out.

We ride into the park, it's a nice sunny day and we actually get to see the mountain. I'm told that's unusual, it's normally shrouded in cloud.

To be honest we're not that impressed, the midday light is flat and, from a photographic point of view, the scene is dead boring.

After doing the tourist thing we go searching for a campsite. We've been told that the nearby Lake Lea is a good spot, but we find that it's not really that great, at least not worth driving down to.

There is a nice spot just down the road, about a kilometre from the turnoff, on the banks of the Isis River. Eventually however we decide to stay right where we are.

During the evening the wind picks up, eventually becoming a full-on gale. Our neighbours (Derek & Joyce, a couple we camped with near Geraldton over a year ago) have their son with them and he's sleeping in a tent next to the van. At some point during the night the tent collapses, and Derek has to extract his son from his canvas body bag.

Thu 19 Feb

The Wilderness Gallery is located just outside the national park at Doherty's lodge. It has photographs on display from some of Australia's best nature photographers. There's some of mine there too.

I spend the entire afternoon looking at the photographs, and getting to know the people at the gallery. Pat Sabine, the director, I've dealt with many times via phone and email but it's good to actually meet her. I also meet Dave and Craig, two other members of the staff.

We seem to have a lot in common, Dave is a photographer, and Craig's a semi-retired computer type.

The wind is still howling, we had planned to take a roundabout way back to the north east, via the high country and the west, but the weather has caused us to start looking at maps for an alternative. It's just too cold.

Fri 20 Feb

We stay at the Cradle turnoff. I want to revisit the gallery, but it's raining and windy, so we just hibernate inside.

Just after lunch the weather abates, or appears to. It's only two kilometres to the gallery, I should make it before the next downpour.

I get about half way before the first drops fall.

I spend another few hours looking at photographs and chatting with the gallery staff. I do like it here, but can't stay forever I suppose.

When I return to the bike I notice that the tyre is flat again. I ride home slowly but decide to deal with the tyre at a later date, in a warmer and more convenient place. I won't need it for a couple of days anyway.

Sometime during the night the wind picks up again, it's really howling around the truck.

Our current plan is to head east for another month or so, then get on the boat back to the mainland. However, if the weather is no better over on the east coast, we may forget the "month or so" and just get on the boat.

Sat 21 Feb

The truck won't start, it's been too cold over night (7° this morning inside the truck) and I'm sure the batteries have never fully recovered from their total discharge while I was in the Tarkine.

After some ado with the generator and battery charger we finally head off.

We drive down the first hill, across the flat and up the next hill, almost.

While crossing the flat I noticed a slight loss of power. As we start to climb the hill the power loss becomes more obvious and I find myself changing down gears sooner than I would expect. Near the top, I have to change down to first gear, not unknown for us on a steep hill, but this isn't a steep hill.

Eventually it becomes obvious that even first won't do, I depress the clutch with a view to changing into low range to get us over the hill, but the motor stops.

It refuses to restart, and we're in the middle of the road on a hill.

There's no shoulder to pull onto here, the nearest being about 300m back down the hill. With no motor I've got no compressor and, very shortly, will have no air as the reservoirs on these old trucks aren't very large. With no air my spring chamber will engage the emergency brake, and we will stay right at that place until the problem's fixed.

I release the brakes and start free wheeling backwards, trying to reach a spot where I can pull off the road, and trying to use the brakes as little as possible, because with every activation I can see the air pressure drop.

After a minute or so the pressure is almost gone so I pull off the road as far as possible. We're not at the bottom of the hill but the slope isn't too bad.

Chris jumps out and chocks the wheels.

Now what?

I think about the symptoms and decide that we had a fuel starvation problem, and the most likely cause is a blocked fuel filter.

After some investigation that does appear to be the problem. I don't have a spare and so try to clean the old one.

An hour later the filter is back in place and we start to bleed the lines, with little success.

At about this time a minibus pulls up. The driver's name is Dennis, and he owns a fleet of busses.

He has a look and reckons that the filter is still no good, he's got some in his workshop in Wilmot, about 30k away. If I want to ride down I can have one.

He gives me directions, which I promptly forget, then heads off.

We preserver for a while but it's obvious we're wasting our time, so I have lunch and get a bike out.

Trouble is the tyre's flat, and we have no motor so no compressed air to inflate it. No problems, I'll get the other bike out.

It won't start, probably because it hasn't been ridden for months.

Still, this is one reason I wanted two identical bikes, the parts are interchangeable. I pull the front wheels off both bikes, swap them, then ride down to Wilmot.

When I get there I have no idea where Dennis lives, so I ask the local store owner if she knows.

"Yes" she says, but is not forthcoming with any more information.

"Can you tell me?"

"Oh sure, take the first left then it's the third house on the left".

I follow the directions and arrive at Dennis' in a few minutes. He has a filter, it's not the same brand, but compatible.

We cut open the old one to find that it's full of gunk, it's amazing that the truck has been running at all.

We chat for a while, then it's back on the bike.

On my return I install the new filter and we once again proceed to bleed the system.

This time things work a little better, and before long the motor is firing.

We drive another 3k to a flat area on the side of the road and pull over for the night.

Sun 22 Feb

We start early to get the steep gorge road at Cethana out of the way.

When we hit the top of the gorge I engage 2nd gear and the exhaust brake, it's then a case of feet-off-all-pedals until we reach the bottom.

The exhaust brake is a godsend, breaking the truck at around 13kph for the entire 20 minutes of the downward trip.

We meet several cyclists slogging up the hill, some wave, some nod, but most don't have any spare energy for pleasantries. With little or no luggage I assume that they are part of an escorted tour and are being followed by a support vehicle.

Sure enough, when we reach the very bottom, we encounter the vehicle and some more cyclists preparing themselves for the climb.

Feeling that they may be in need of encouragement I lean out of the window and shout "Nearly there". I'm sure they appreciated the gesture.

Seconds later it's our turn to go uphill. Still in second we just plod away, actually finding it faster to go uphill than down.

In second gear the truck sits on about 18kph for the entire, very steep, climb.

After about quarter of an hour we reach the top of the climb and pull over for a cuppa.

On two occasions during the day, while pulled over on the side of the road, we notice bumble bees hovering around the cab. Maybe they think it's a huge purple flower.

Late afternoon we pull into our favourite spot near the creek in Launceston.

Mon 23 Feb

Today is spent browsing the shops, and it cost us a fortune. You see we spotted a great little TV in a shop window and went in for a look, walking out $400 poorer twenty minutes later.

Still it could have been worse, we nearly bought two so we could watch different shows at the same time. How stupid is that? considering that we seldom have reception anyway.

In lieu of the second TV I decide to buy some photography books.

Tue 24 Feb

Most of today is spent installing the new TV. It's a 12v appliance so I run a power line and an aerial coax through the wall to a point near Chris's chair. While on a roll I repeat the procedure to my side of the truck.

The TV is a tiny 5" LCD model that uses less power than one of our light bulbs. Our old television required a new bulb a month or so ago. The bulbs cost $850, so needless to say we didn't buy one, and to be honest we haven't missed it much, we almost never watched it anyway. Still it is good to catch up on world events occasionally.

We planned to leave Launceston today but didn't finish the installation until about 3 o'clock so decide to stay another night.

Wed 25 Feb

Up at 7:30, a quick cup of coffee, fill up some gas bottles at Bunnings, and hit the road.

TIP: We find that Bunnings hardware stores are consistently the cheapest place to fill gas bottles, and they usually have a nice big car park.

Our plan is to return to Friendly Beaches today. Tomorrow we're meeting up with a film crew who want to film us for a new lifestyle show, then we'll head up the coast.

At about 3 we pull into our old spot overlooking the beach. There's another camper already here but we park a reasonable distance from him.

As usual I start chatting to some people, this time two women from Sydney, but the guy from the camper is hanging around, his body language indicating that he's a bit agitated.

Eventually he approaches and makes it clear that he thinks we are too close. I disagree, and anyway we can't fit anywhere else.

"But I had this area to myself", he says. I sympathise but still insist that there's nothing I can, or indeed will, do about it.

He invites me over to his van to "see what he means". I follow, and on arrival I see that not only is his view totally unobstructed, but in fact we're behind him. He would have to peer around the corner of his camper to see us.

"See!" he says.

"Well actually now I'm here I don't see" I reply.

This tos and fros for a while with no resolution, so I return to talking with the women.

Minutes later he returns, "Don't worry about it, I'm moving up there". He packs up and moves off.

I do feel sorry for the fellow, we don't like people camping too close either, but really feel that he's being unreasonable. This is a very popular spot, if he wants to commune with nature and no people he should head off into the wilderness.

Eventually I go inside and settle down with a cuppa.

Before long we hear engines. I look outside to see four motorhomes pass by and pull into the same spot our erstwhile neighbour moved to. They park right near him.

Minutes later he's back. There's just too many people he says, and rather astutely realises that most of them will be hanging around our truck at some point.

I didn't have the heart to tell him that there'll be a film crew here tomorrow.

Thu 26 Feb

We spend some time tidying up the truck then just read and watch the waves. At about five, just as I'm thinking it's happy hour, the camera crew arrives.

As the light's good they do some of the stand-up work with Justin doing the presenting, and Bernie operating the camera. Then we shoot some footage of me using the large format camera.

Eventually the light dies and we adjourn to the lad's motorhome for a beer or two.

Wed 17 Feb

More filming this morning, then at about lunchtime the lads leave.

NOTE: The show will be called "Motorhome Safari" and will start in June but, initially at least, only on Tasmanian TV.

I eat, then ride down to the Freycinet Lodge to upload some changes to the web site.

As I'm leaving town I spot Justin and Bernie's motorhome parked outside the pub.

I pull in just as they emerge from the building with a slab of VB. "Would I like a beer" asks Bernie. Would I like a beer, does a wombat poo on a rock?

We talk about the film industry and they reckon I should be doing short stories on video, even indicate that they'd buy said stories from me.

The idea does appeal to me a lot, but it's quite expensive (by our standards) to get started, plus a long learning curve to master the video format.

I'll have to think about it.

Sat 28 Feb

Chris wakes me to say that there's some good surf and another "serious looking" photographer on the beach.

I grab a long lens and head down to the rocks.


To go in, or not to go in, that is the question.


Waiting for the next set.


The surfers catch some good rides.


And some not-so-good rides

After a while the serious looking photographer approaches, and we chat about photographing the surfers and his new digital camera.

It's Kip Nunn, a well-known Tasmanian photographer.

Kip invites me to visit him at his house in Coles Bay.

Later, as the sun sets I go looking for some wallabies.


A little Bennett's wallaby. These are also known as red-necked wallabies, and, in some of these photos, you can see the rufus colouring that gives them this name.


Amazing sunset light on the hills and clouds.

Sun 29 Feb

The surf and surfers are up again this morning, as is Kip, further along the beach.

I head down onto the rocks again with a camera and long lens.


There's more boogie boards than surfboards today.


This young silver gull had been squealing at its parents for days, but to the best of my knowledge no food had been forthcoming.

A woman walks past, we get chatting and it turns out that she's Kip's partner. I say that I plan to drop in either today or tomorrow, then I remember that tomorrow is a work day.

"Does Kip work?" I ask.

"No he doesn't work, he's a photographer", came the reply.

I couldn't have put it better myself.

After lunch I ride back to the Freycinet Lodge to do some more work on the web site. Then I drop into Kip's for a couple of hours yapping about photography.

Tue 2 Mar

I get up early and wander along the beach.


Two shellfish racing across the sand.


Bubbles in a tidal pool.


Seaweed bauble on the sand

After breakfast I do some small maintenance jobs on the truck, then go for a walk. I don't get far though, within seconds I'm rushing back to the truck to grab my camera. I've found an echidna, Australia's version of the spiny ant eater.


Echidnas are incredibly cute little marsupials, and the only ones to mate face to face, I wonder why?

Later I find a little beetle struggling to get up a rock, and some of the local wallabies emerge from the bushes.


'Ere, wot you lookin' at then?

Wed 3 Mar

We are supposed to leave today but it's too nice looking at the waves, after an hour or so I get restless and head off along the rocks.

For the first time I have a close look at barnacles. I've never paid them much attention before, but find them to be quite fascinating.

The young ones look like their shells are made of small sharks teeth.


Young barnacle and muscles

The older barnacles are much rougher, and in many cases have others of their kind growing on them.


Much larger barnacles, with another barnacle growing on the side.


Shells in a tidal pool.

After a while I spy a cormorant preening itself on the rocks.


A cormorant preens itself on the rocks.

I photograph it for a few minutes, then it takes off. Before long though I notice it fishing nearby.


Fishing amongst the kelp

It soon becomes apparent that it's heading my way, so I sit and wait, knowing that it will probably emerge from the water and dry its feathers.

I'm correct, it flies to a rock not far from my position, and spreads its wings.


Drying its feathers

In general cormorants are very wary of humans, and will not come anywhere near us. But this one seems almost friendly. After a while it approaches to within just a few metres, giving me a nice display from all sides, as he dries, preens, and inspects the rock's covering of muscles.


Poking around the muscles.


And finally flying away.

After a while the cormorant takes off, and I resume my exploration of the rocky foreshore.


Amazing structure of a spider web's anchor point

I meet a couple from Germany, they have a Unimog camper and are on their way around the world. So far they've been through Europe, the top of Africa, across Russia, down through China to Singapore, and across to Australia.

Some trip, and not without it's trials. On one occasion the entire vehicle was dropped from a crane while being unloaded from a ship.

The house part of the truck was destroyed in the fall, and they had to rebuild it. Not an easy task at the best of times, but apparently there's no caravan industry in Malaysia, so obtaining parts is next to impossible.


The German's Unimog camper. A small, but very capable-looking vehicle

Thu 4 Mar

Finally we drag ourselves away from Friendly Beaches and drive up to Bicheno. It's still windy so we drive inland a bit, to Douglas Aspley National Park.

Finally, nestled in amongst the forest, we find a place with no wind.

There's some short walks here which we take. On our return we find two other motorhomes have arrived.

As it's nearly happy hour I allow my arm to be twisted, and sit down with a beer to talk about motorhome stuff.

Fri 5 Mar

It's beautiful calm and sunny morning, I think we'll stay at Douglas Aspley.

I take another one of the walks through the park, then tinker with the computer.

Sat 6 Mar

After a short drive through Scamander we pull into Shelly Beach, the surf and weather are lousy but there's plenty of surfers checking out the waves anyway. Apparently this is a good surfing spot, and they expect some decent waves tomorrow.

We'll hang around and find out.

Mon 7 Mar

Adrian and Carrol find us and drop in for a cuppa. They stay most of the day then return to St Helens.

Tue 8 Mar

After three days at Shelly Beach we give up on both the weather and the waves and drive into St Helens.


A pelican takes off from the river at St Helens

Thu 11 Mar

Today is a maintenance day, we also appear to have a leak in one of our fresh water bladders.

After a ten minutes or so I've removed the bladder from its place under Chris' chair, and have it on the grass outside the truck.

I inflate it and search for leaks with soapy water. No luck. We do find two small pin pricks that look like they could be leaks, but there's no bubbles from the soap.

I patch them anyway, then leave the bladder in the sun for the rest of the day to cure the patches.


The inflated water bladder, with curing patches, drying in the sun

Meanwhile I perform some routine maintenance.

Just as I'm winding up the day Frank & Helen pull in. They drive what must be Australia's largest slide-on. We met them at the Barcaldine rally two years ago, and we've crossed paths a couple of times since.


Frank & Helen's motorhome looks pretty normal at first.


Until you see the house slide off. Possibly Australia's largest slide-on

Chris was inside when Frank disconnected the house, and emerged just in time to see him drive away, without the body.

She thought it had fallen off.

Fri 12 Mar

Today we occupy ourselves with some more maintenance and a general cleanup of the storage bins.


Our home brew warming up in the sun

At the end of the day, while cleaning up around the truck, I notice a beetle struggling through the grass.

It's in the shade which is no good for a photo, so I move it into the brighter light. I also notice that the truck is reflecting the afternoon sun in a nice manner, so use the reflection to fill in the shadows.


A beetle ignores gravity in the grass. The great light is caused by Wothahellizat, a 14-tonne reflector just out of the photo

Sat 13 Mar

For a few days now we've had a rodent in the truck. At first I thought it was a mouse, but then we started to hear it gnawing at the woodwork.

The noise was loud enough to wake us the other night. This is no mouse, it must be a rat.

Now I have no real problem with animals living in the vehicle, but the trouble with rodents is that they are constantly chewing on things, and one day it will decide to make a meal of some 240v wiring or something else important and/or dangerous to him and us.

The rat has to go.

We search the entire truck, finding traces of our little freeloader everywhere, but of course not the animal itself.

We do have a trap that will catch mice alive, but it's too small for rats, so we'll have to try poison. I don't like doing this for two reasons, firstly I don't want to kill the little fellow, and secondly I don't want to find a rotting, maggot-ridden rat behind a wall in a week's time.

Still we can think of no other option, so the baits are placed and we get on with our day.

Our deck folds up to the rear of the lounge room, covering the rear window and creating a gap between the deck hardware and the glass. When the deck is raised our view through to the rear is fairly boring, being just the deck floor and handrails.

At around 11:30, while tinkering on the computer, I look over the screen at the rear wall of the truck. I can see through the glass to the folded, deck, the handrails, and the world's largest rat.

The rodent is walking vertically down one of the rails, he's fully six inches long in the body.

I leap to my feet and open the rear window, but he has already scurried into a hole, and back inside the lounge room wall.

For the past few days we've been removing all his food sources and I'm hoping that he is hungry and was actually searching for a way out. To help him along I lower the deck and place some food just in front of the hole.

 

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