Oct 8, 2007

Gulf Savannah Trip 2007


Most trips involve a bit of planning, routes to be taken, and things to see and do, approximate costs need to be calculated and the time involved needs to be arranged to coincide with holidays. Not for Vickie and Myself and our good mates Kimbo & Nerida, this was all semi arranged over the mobile phone as we were camped along the coast at Ningaloo WA and they at home at Newcastle..

Us: “We are thinking of upgrading our van to an off road with ensuite”

Them: “We are thinking of doing the same”

Us: “Well we will have to catch up when we are over”

Them: “Sure, look forward to it.”

That was about as planned as we got,


Fast forward twelve months and we were at Kundra Park taking delivery of our 19’ Bushtracker Off Road van, Kimbo & Ned who had recently bought a 17’ Kedron Top Ender were already on the road out far Western Queensland way heading for King Ash Bay & Borroloola. Knowing that we would be pushed for time to meet them there we arranged to meet up around Lawn Hill in a few weeks time, again nothing was planned as to the exact date but it did not surprise us that just 30 minutes after setting up camp at Adel’s Grove that who should drive in but them. Happy hour started immediately and tall tales were told of both our adventures so far.

Kimbo and Ned had come to Adel’s Grove via King Fisher Camp, part of the Bowthorn Station and we had travelled in via Camooweal, the dirt road we followed was dusty and corrugated and it sounded like the station tracks they travelled through were no different. Great! We both like getting off the bitumen, why else would you own Off Road vans and we both enjoy fishing and Kimbo had the tinny and King Fisher camp had the Nicholson River so it was decided to head back and check it out properly.

The station track to King Fisher Camp was easy to navigate to, just follow the track and the KFC signs, who would have thought Kentucky Fried Chicken was way out here we joked. We travelled through open pasture with big fat cattle grazing to narrow sandy tracks lined with trees and river crossings, none of it was difficult. Kimbo tows his Top Ender with a well set up 100 series Landcruiser and we tow our Bushtracker with a Ford F250 with oodles of grunt, both vans have more than adequate clearance and strength to cope with any conditions, the only restriction with these rigs as to where we could go was the physical size.

KFC was a welcome sight, especially after staying at Adel’s Grove, which was a dust bowl in comparison. Green grass, shady trees and running water greeted us as we were directed to our camp spot. Both our vans are self sufficient for power, with 4 solar panels on each roof we positioned ourselves so that we could get the sun for the better part of the day, awning’s out, fire lit and drinks poured I thought to myself, good friends, great camp spot, it just doesn’t get any better than this.The boat came off the roof and we gave the river a good workout over the next four days, but to our disappointment there were no Barra apparently the water temp was too cold for them but we still had fun catching many sooty grunter and big fat cat fish.

We thought we were on a roll when pulling our nets revealed two large cherubim, the girls started salivating about dinner and encouraged us to put more nets in but alas they were the only two we caught. We did spot the largest freshwater croc we had ever seen but before I could take a photo it had spotted us and headed for the water.

Leaving KFC we travelled out on the station tracks to meet up with the Gulf Savannah Highway and head for Burketown. The road wasn’t to bad, enough corrugations to keep us alert and hardly any other traffic, Just past Doomadgee we encounter a long stretch of bulldust, I was travelling in front and at times we were engulphed in the fine red dust as the wheels found the pot holes, I picked up the UHF hand piece and called Kimbo to hold up whilst I stopped and got the camera ready for some action shots. A couple of minutes later found me squatting down in the middle of the track with six and a half ton of rig heading towards me, looking through the 300mm lens and firing continuously on the shutter it
Bappeared as if it was a war scene with bombs detonating around the Cruiser & Van, Kimbo found one hole that seemed to swallow up the whole rig, it was very impressive.

Burketown was very windy, we had intended to camp down by the Albert river, but having a chat with others it appeared the winds were set to howl for a week or more so we decided to stay in town for the night and catch up with some washing and shopping. Next day we headed for Normanton, we were in luck the Rodeo was on that weekend and we were all keen to experience that. The entrance fee which included camping at the Rodeo grounds for a very reasonable $5, if you ventured outside the grounds it cost you another $5 to get back in and if you stayed longer than three nights it was then $25 a night, a great incentive to get people to visit but then move on.

The rodeo was fantastic, the weather was hot and the riding was hotter. Everything from young children riding camp draft & poddy calf’s to a one armed elderly guy riding a wild buck jumper, we were charged by one wild bull that almost sent me tumbling backwards off my chair as I was looking at it through the camera lens and it appeared to be a lot closer. We had intended to take a trip on the Gulf Lander train but instead we spent the three days just taking in the action at the Rodeo and thoroughly enjoyed it. We know we will be back one day so the train can wait till then.

Leaving Normanton we took a look at Karumba, we were disappointed to find it so busy and what camp spots were left were small and uninviting, we treated ourselves to a lunch of barra & chips and headed out of town to find an overnight camp spot. The Gulf Development road took us through to Georgetown, one of the best butcher shops is here and we took advantage of some lovely 1″ thick steaks. We travelled on down to Forsayth and Cobbold Gorge, which was all dirt, and gravel roads that were in dire need of a grader, in fact the grader was sitting on top the low loader being readied for the job. Camped at Cobbold Gorge we visited the Gorge itself on the tour, very nice but less people to a tinny would have been more comfortable, the rock formations due to the river flooding over thousands of years was spectacular. The 2nd night we were there it poured, 2″ of rain came down and it looked like the roads out would be closed to traffic, before that happened we decided to make the break and head out, we were immediately followed by a tour bus and 3 - 4 vehicles towing camper trailers. The drive out was interesting, luckily the F250 had some chunky mud tyres fitted and with it’s large wheel base it made light work of it, not so Kimbo who was sliding and having trouble getting traction with his more conventional AT tyres. By the time we got back out the rigs were looking very ‘used’ so we decided to keep on going and take the back track out through Einasleigh to Mt Surprise, more muddy black soil caked the underneath of the vans & vehicles.

We stayed at Mt Surprise Van Park initially but then moved out to O’Brien’s Creek, a Topaz fossicking area that allows camping. We had a great time there in between showers of rain, we were determined to find our fortune or the Mother of Big Topaz, the enthusiasm left after 3 days and finding out that topaz was inexpensive to buy and one 170ct uncut specimen we looked at could be purchased for $45, Kimbo and I decided it wasn’t worth busting our guts for. Onto Ravenshoe, the highest town in Australia, and we think the coldest, wettest, foggiest as well! But it was an interesting town and camping for a gold coin donation at the local railway yard, well you can’t beat that for value. It is also a good town to base yourself and explore the many waterfalls in the district; we never get tired of looking at beautiful scenery. On the Sunday the steam train takes tourists for a ride, we preferred to watch it rather than take the journey.

Through Atherton and onto Mareeba where we stayed at the Rodeo Grounds, an excellent venue that is well populated with the Motor Homers as it is not fancy but its cheap, Danny the caretaker is a likeable character and the grounds give security for leaving your rig and exploring the district. We were starting to travel to fast and needed to slow down so after giving the rigs a good wash and top soiling the show grounds with all the mud from underneath we decided to take a visit to Palm Cove just North of Cairns, of course none of us thought how busy it would be being peak tourist season, we managed to get in but only for an over night stop.

Cairns down to Townsville, we called in and visited many places, I was hoping to visit Tinaroo Dam but it wasn’t to be, next time with my own boat perhaps. We were heading to Burdekin where Peter & Noelene Shadforth were hosting a Kedron Caravan Gathering on their sugar cane farm, we were invited as we had once owned a Kedron and we were travelling with Kimbo so that was reason enough, It was going to funny being the only Bushtracker in amongst 40 Kedron vans and their owners, we were up for it though and don’t mind the stirring at all.The gathering was excellent, the hosts had thought of everything from marque’s to Porta loo’s, even going to the trouble and expense of erecting lights & power, 3 of the nights were catered for with a different theme each night, tours of the farm explaining how the sugar cane is grown & processed, even a longer day trip out to the Burdekin Dam which was overflowing at the time. The high light though was a helicopter ride, Peter’s nephew has an agricultural business and fly’s a Bell Jet Ranger, he took groups of 4 up for an overview of the farm and the camp area, the ride was very exciting to watch from the ground but once it was our turn Vickie asked for it to be WILD!! Well, he turned and looked in shock and said MILD? Vickie yelled back WILD, he powered it through every manoeuvre imaginable and whilst Vickie, Ned & Sam, [Neds daughter] screamed in the back seat I was in the front taking photo’s and just laughing myself silly, as we were dodging the tree’s I thought to myself Oh Well, it’s been a good life should it all end now! An absolute blast and thanks to the Shadforth’s & KOG group for having us.

It was getting close to the time when the girls were flying home for a few weeks to catch up with families so we headed to Townsville and readied for their flights. Kimbo and I were going to hang out the couple of weeks they were away and try and catch that elusive fish but that is another story.

P.S The nine month wait for our new Off Road BushTracker was worth it we love it, the F250 with it’s big 7.3lt V8 Diesel made an excellent touring tow vehicle, with 26,256klms travelled, 5453 litres diesel used at a cost of $7146, an average cost of $1.32 per litre and an average economy of 21 litres per hundred, it was not cheap but we travelled in comfort and safety with the big Ford F250 towing an estimated weight of 3.5 ton, we saw a lot of Australia and we think it was worth every cent.

Mar 1, 2007

The Rig


The new set up above 


Latest Update
We recently changed vehicles, we now tow with a Landcruiser VX 200 series, i am going to miss my rugged basic Ute for its simplicity but the 200 will suit our aging bodies requiring more comfort, i have my doubts that it will be as good as the ute has been but plenty of friends have them and love them, time will tell i guess.


We have now owned ten Cruisers since 1984 when i bought our 1st HJ60 Landcruiser, since then apart from a very short six months we have always had a Cruiser, everything from a HJ75 Troopy, 61 series TD wagon, 75 series Ute, 5 x 80 series ranging from a 3F petrol to 1FZE Petrol, diesels and turbo diesels, we have also owned a 2004 Ford F250 for 4 years which we sold in April 2010.

A story on the camper trailers that we have owned can be found under our Camper Trailer History

For towing my preference is for the turbo diesel model, i like the low down grunt these engines have for towing and off road work but you have to be aware that services are more frequent than petrol vehicles, usually the price is dearer when new but you can recoup the difference at resale, the fuel cost itself is generally dearer though in reality it should be a lot cheaper as it is less refined, supply and demand governs the sale price the consumer can handle they tell me.

Well after having so many Landcruisers and gone from what we believe to be the best built camper trailer on the market to the comfort of a caravan where do we go from here? The F250 was a great tow vehicle but it's physical size became to compromising on where we wanted to go and the ease of parking when it became to visiting cities & large towns. I was at the stage of looking around at our options, i had decided i didn't want another station wagon and started to look closer at the Toyota V8 Ute's.



I saw one advertised on the net and made inquiries, the Ute had heaps of extras fitted and cost over $100k to fit out, my initial inquiry was simply to mention it was a very nice set up Ute but overpriced, the feedback received confirmed what had been spent on it and the many extras fitted. Two weeks later i received another email letting me know that the Ute was still for sale and price had been reduced dramatically, i arranged to go look and the rest is history.

Owning two vehicles meant the F250 had to be sold, we advertised it on the net whilst in Qld but didn't get any serious replies, so we decided to drive everything home to WA and sell it there which we did without any trouble.

The Ute above has now been sold and we now own a Landcruiser VX 200 series wagon TTD


The Caravan:

A 19' Bushtracker



The van is built for fully self contained isolated travel, with 4 x 82lt water tanks 3 of which are non potable and one potable, 4 x 125w solar panels with 4 x 100a/hr AGM batteries, 40amp solar regulator, 50a/hr Battery charger. Everything is 12v, lights which is a mixture of fluro & LED, Waeco RPD 190lt fridge / freezer, 19" LCD TV with a Pioneer cd/dvd player, internal & external speakers. The en-suite is hand laid fibreglass it combines the Thetford toilet as well as the shower and is quite spacious with flikmaster taps & fittings. Twin flojet pumps the water, a Webasto diesel heater warms the van and a Dometic A/C keeps the van cool on those hot days, but you do need 240v and for that we have a Honda 2ui generator.

These vans are built to a high standard with the framing being boxed 3mm aircraft grade aluminium that is welded & riveted together giving incredible strength & flexibility. All the things such as wiring, water pumps, hoses that are hidden away are all very neat and well laid out




Our van is a tandem axle with 4000kg rated Simplicity Suspension which is a true load sharing suspension, this van simply walks over obstacles. Everything about the van is strong, the interior cabinetry is dove tail joined, the exterior chequer plate is 2.5mm thick and not just for show but a proper body armour including a water proof door to enable water crossings up to a depth of 1.2mt.

They are not a light weight van but considering the build strength and components they are not as heavy as some other brands, ours came in at 2620kg tare. I have made some custom changes to the van, removing the heavy power jockey wheel and welding in a plate & bracket for the Trail-A-Mate hydraulic jack / jockey wheel, these are great and makes leveling and hitching the van a breeze.



In the under bed storage area i made a shelf where the Satellite dish is stored. I changed the welded on access steps to a removable type as they are prone to being damaged when taken off road as they hang down slightly lower than the chassis rails, now it's a simple 2min job to take them off or replace them.

We made one decision we regretted and that was opting for the Coolabah awning, after three months we came to the honest realization that it was a pain in the butt so we had it removed and a roll out style fitted, which is far easier to use and maintain.

Feb 21, 2007

Our Camping History


MILITARY OFF ROAD STORAGE TRAILER 1991

After years Tenting and trying to fit everything into a vehicle that a young family needs to take along camping, but also keeping in mind that great Australian dream of travelling the Outback we started looking for a trailer that could carry our gear and be robust enough to tow anywhere. This we found in the hills of Perth, a German Engineer makes his own trailer and fulfils his travelling bug every year only to sell it upon his return and make another with a few changes. We answered his advert for "Serious Camper Trailer Purchasers Only" and were pleased with what we saw, it came with a one minute Freedom Tent and no expense had been spared in the materials used in building the trailer, this was one trailer that would be there till the very end. Nothing was going to stop us now, BUT we soon realised we were still having to erect tents and the more space we had the more we took and the vehicle was still packed out. Our friends at the time had an old windup camper and in retrospect we should not have bought this type of trailer with a young family but something like they had, if we were going to tow why not tow something we could sleep in, so the decision was made and we started looking. We traded our military style trailer on a 92' Jayco, we were very pleased we received the same as what we paid for the trailer and also got to keep the freedom tent.

JAYCO CLASSIQUE DOVE OFF ROAD 1992


We owned this camper for 6-7 years [I can never remember exactly] during that time we towed it over to Queensland and up and down the East coast, the North West and South Coasts of WA, also up along the Gibb River Road. As a family camper it was great, we loved the reasonable compact towing size but was constantly amazed at how much room we had when it was set-up with both beds extended. We had no troubles with the Jayco, but as our trip became more adventurous and the roads and tracks rougher the internal cupboards which are only stapled together started to come apart, I fixed that by building new cupboards out of 8 ply and gluing and screwing all joins, I also converted one of the seating areas into more storage space as by this time our children had grown up and stopped travelling with us. I built an external compartment and had a roll out generator fitted inside that. Dust was always a problem and the more we towed it to isolated places the more fed up we became with everything being covered inside with dust, plus there was only the two of us travelling now so we looked around for a 'fair dinkum' off road camper trailer.

KIMBERLEY KAMPER 2000:


After owning a purpose built off road storage trailer and then the comfortable Jayco we thought we knew what we wanted when we started to look at dedicated off road camper trailers, Because there was just the two of us and we wanted something dust proof and quick to put up and we quickly narrowed our choices down to Campomatic, Aussie Swag & Kimberley Kamper, In all honesty if your looking for that style of camper between the three of them I don't think there is much in it. The end decision for us came down to the fact that ARB Perth were the distributors for KK and I knew ARB management very well and they had a camper on display, the other brands did not have Western Australian distributors at the time so it meant buying sight unseen.

After the live on board comfort of the Jayco the KK was a bit different as basically it is a glorified tent on wheels [and I'm not being nasty by saying that] but it is simply a bed inside a canvas room, with little area to place a table and chairs if need be. The canvas flapped a fair bit in the wind and required tying down on both sides to get some tautness, the zippers rattled and drove us crazy till we taped them over, The kitchen is outside in the elements so 99% of the time the annexe needs to be erected to give shelter from wind/rain or sun, Storage space consisted of 1/2 a front mounted box and what you can fit in the sealed locker under the bed and under the bed itself. We were happy to find it was 99% dust proof and waterproof but it needs a plastic sheet over the bed to stop the canvas soaking through to the mattress when closed up wet. The suspension seemed a bit hard, certainly not a supple suspension which caused it to skip a bit on rough tracks, I had matching wheels & tires on the camper 285x75x16's and that reduced the tire to guard clearance so I made some spring packers to fit on the coils to regain the clearance, the hydraulic disc brakes seemed like an excellent design but was not without fault, One of my main gripes is the draw bar weight, It is excessive one of the reasons no stabiliser legs are needed but it places a lot of weight on the towbar of the tow vehicle also the weight made it hard to man handle around on soft ground. I carried a 3.45mt aluminium boat on the roof rack of the KK and whilst it made it easy to flip over I preferred the Campomatic idea of laying the boat flat rather than at a 45 degree angle or thereabouts. A 9.9hp Yamaha outboard was mounted on the front, the outboard needs to be in a cover or it gets covered in mud and dust. There was negligible stone damage to the front of the KK or the rear of the tow vehicle, the stone protection screen works well but the camper suffered quite a bit of damage down the RHS from stones being deflected by the boat loader. We owned the KK for 18 months, towed it along the CSR, Holland Track, along the Ningaloo coastal tracks and also through the Kimberley's twice, we paid $23k+ sold it for $20k. The only problem we had was the brakes fell apart allowing the pads to drop out and the callipers wore against the rotors, so no brakes for majority of CSR and Kimberley trip the cause was a faulty handbrake mechanisms apparently and warranty covered the repairs. The reason why we sold was we saw friends Ultimate Camper and that convinced us we could have the comfort of the Jayco and the strength of the KK combined.


ULTIMATE CAMPER 2003

Love the look or hate it, it's certainly a sleek aerodynamic shape, The manufacturers spent years making and designing luxury motor boats and the experience in that has lead them to a similar design for an Off Road Camper Trailer. Made of composite materials it is very easy to maintain and keep looking good, it has absolute truckloads of storage space, an inside kitchen for those crappy days [though we always prefer to cook outside with campfires or gas where we can], a lounge that seats 4 easily, an inbuilt 90lt Fridge, King-size bed with 360 degree ventilation and views, excellent ground clearance, an 83lt water tank with the option of further 50lt, The chassis is BHP Duragall and the suspension is Sugar Glider Independent with Lovell springs and Koni adjustable shock absorbers, all fittings and fixtures are marine grade stainless steel. The flip over bed makes a handy shady spot underneath, we rarely put up the awning unless we stop for a few days to a week, No 240v though they are looking at that as an option and it can be requested when placing an order.
It has enough weight on the towbar to make it tow great, but light enough to pick up the front and stand it on its bum for hosing underneath and moving around. The Ultimate is very quick and simple to set up and close up, with no problems closing it wet, the canvas is totally waterproof. You can carry a tinny on the roof but it involves removing it every time you set-up, we now choose to carry the tinny on the roof rack of the tow vehicle with the outboard mounted on a swing away wheel carrier it suits us better as we can set up camp and get the boat to the water wherever it is and whenever we want. We purchased the Ultimate in January 2003, base price was $25k, we went East to take delivery and spent 2 months travelling around, mostly bitumen apart from ten days in the Victorian High Country being shown around by a 4WD Group where it handled the conditions easily, also another two months in the Kimberley's travelling the same tracks and roads the KK did the year before. The Ultimate did suffer a collapsed wheel bearing on one isolated track that necessitated a bush repair and a new swing arm being sent over. We are the only owners to have suffered a collapsed bearing in 260 Campers I was told so I put that down to just bad luck.

KEDRON CROSS COUNTRY 2005



Well it was just a matter of time before we decided to go for comfort plus, we found we were staying away longer and ideally wanted to be fully self contained going the solar route so we started investigating the choices we had in full sized caravans. We definately wanted something that could handle all the roads & tracks we could throw at it, pointless having a Van if you cant take it places we thought. A good mate of ours already owned a Kedron ATV van and we started to ask many questions of it and the more we found out the more interested we became. He informed us of a couple of vans at the factory that may interest us and after seeing the photo's and specifications we made contact with David at Kedron. Dave was most helpful and we came to an agreement to purchase a 18' [16" 6" internal] Cross Country. The van had been built for a recent Brisbane Caravan / Camping show and had been spec'd up even more than its usual high standard, we had Dave add further things to it such as an extra 120w solar panel to give us three in total. Another 130a/rh Trojan deep cycle battery was added to the usual two, a larger 3 stage Centaur 40amp battery charger was fitted. The suspension and wheels were changed to suit the 100 series Landcruiser, five 60lt water tanks have been fitted. It has an external shower and hot water system, 150 lt Vitro Frigo Compressor fridge. The layout is a front kitchen with entry door, L shaped lounge / dinette and north / south facing island bed, gave us lots of bench space and storage.

BUSHTRACKER 19' 2007



Time to get serious with an off road van, After 12 months with the Kedron we decided that caravanning was definately for us, but the one thing we regretted not having with the Kedron was an inside ensuite, We obtained quotes from Kedron and Bushtracker for a new Van and once we compared prices we decided to visit the Bushtracker Factory and see how well built they are we decided to order the Bushtracker, again it is fitted out for independent living with 4 x 125w solar panels; 4 x 110a/hr AGM batteries, 190lt 12v Waeco RPD refridgerator, Webasto Diesel Heater, Dometic A/C, full fibreglass ensuite, 4 x 82lt water tanks, and has the luxury of fibreglassed waterproof ensuite. Plenty of bench space in the kitchen, a large U shaped lounge / dinette, and a yacht style Queen sized bed gives us the internal space of a 21' van, A 19" LCD Tv, Stereo, internal & external speakers provides the entertainment. A dual axle Simplicity suspension rated for 4000kg and large 12" electric brakes. Workmanship and attention to detail is excellent, I would be lying if i said we have been trouble free but what problems we have had have been rectified by us or the factory. Since taking delivery in May 2007 we have toured Qld for 8 Months and in 2008 we spent 6 months in Northern Western Australia. In January 2009 we hit the road with no time limit.

Feb 20, 2007

G'Day

G'day and welcome to our site,

We are known as
Nik N Off because of our custom number plates on our vehicle and that describes our lifestyle.

We have travelled extensively throughout Australia over the past 20 years, Our camping history can be seen here, our trips started off a few weeks a year, progressing to a couple of months, then six to eight months, In January 2009 fully aware we were not getting any younger and with Mick suffering from a chronic back condition we 'hit the road' to enjoy ourselves whilst we can and spent the next five years traveling throughout Australia. We then took a year off to catch up with maintainence at home and for Mick to undergo more spinal surgery. Our intentions are to share our time touring Oz and catching up with grandchildren, Our home on the road is a Bushtracker Off Road Caravan towed by a V8 TTD Toyota 200 series VX.

I have had a few articles published in Western Angler & Caravan & Motorhome magazines and i enjoy writing, photography & fishing, some of my photo's can be found here.

You can navigate our site via the previous posts links on the right hand side, We welcome any comments & suggestions.

Contact can be via email mickATniknoff.com .. Substitute the AT for @

Cheers
Mick & Vickie