A Surprising Week

Hurricane Harper

Hurricane Harper

I’m not mad keen on them, but if I had to name the thirteenth week of our adventure, it would be the Week of the Surprise. Some good, some not so good. Some – well, you’ll find out.

Let’s start with the good.

1. Watching the mighty South Sydney Rabbitohs win the NRL Grand Final for the first time in my lifetime. That was pretty special, even if we weren’t there but were in a caravan park in Airlie Beach surrounded by backpackers who had absolutely no idea what was going on.

2. How much I really enjoyed Airlie Beach. I thought it was going to be a bit touristy, and it is don’t get me wrong, but the colour of the water well and truly made up for that. We could probably never afford to live there in a million years unless we lived in one of the van parks, but that doesn’t mean I’m crossing it off the list.

And then, the not so good.

1. Opening my cutlery drawer and watching a mouse crawl out of it. It took me a minute to work out what was going on, because mice in the cutlery drawer isn’t something that generally happens, unless you’re Snow White I guess. Anyway, I was less than impressed, and the cutlery all got a big dunk in the bucket of Milton.

2. The squashed spider on the chopping board. I can only assume that Spidey had been attached to the pumpkin I pulled out of the vege box, and then as I rolled the pumpkin to cut it, he met an untimely end. RIP Spidey, and another contender for the Milton bucket.

And finally

Harper is at an age where she’s starting to make a few connections about going to the toilet. We let her have a fair bit of time with no nappy on to encourage her to work it all out. She also likes to jump in and out of the tent when we are setting up or packing down, because it’s not difficult enough to do without having to worry about squashing a toddler.

We packed up and left Airlie Beach, and on arrival at Carmila Beach started to set up the tent. The initial unfold and getting the poles in is a two person job, so I jumped in to help Matt in what’s a pretty familiar routine now.
And then I stepped in something squishy.

Yep, Harps had pooed in the tent 280km earlier at Airlie Beach, and we had unknowingly wrapped ourselves up this little present and brought it with us.

Suffice it to say, no nappy time will be a bit more strictly supervised from now on.

How was your week? Step in anything you shouldn’t have?

Free Camp Friday – Carmila Beach, QLD

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It’s a bit wild and woolly here today, and we’ve seen our first rainfall since driving through Tully about 6 or 7 weeks ago. We were actually a bit worried about getting the tent wet again, as we’ve found that it can be a bit leaky after a prolonged dry period and seems to need that bit of reseasoning every now and then. Luckily, we escaped the 3am downpour with no rain coming inside the tent.
Carmila is one of those Queensland beaches where when the tide goes out, it really goes out. About a kilometre and a half. I think we were the only people here who weren’t eating fish for dinner last night as the soft plastics weren’t really cutting it. Luckily, there’s a petrol station up the road where you can buy bait, so we’ll see how that goes today.
There’s no drinking water here at the camp, but again just up the road (about 5km or so) there’s a water point where you can fill up. We stopped in here in July and it was chockers, but it’s emptied out a bit now and this time we managed to snag a spot on the beach front. We’ve had some pretty spectacular views of the lunar eclipse the other night, and another beautiful moon last night. It’s quiet, it’s beautiful, it’s free (72 hour stay) and it’s possibly my favourite camp so far.
Carmila Beach is approximately 100km south of Mackay. Suitable for all sorts of campers, however there is some pretty soft sand here, so heavier vehicles/2WD are probably best off up the top of the site. There are couple of toilets here, but they’re a bit of a hike from the further away camp spots so BYO – there’s a dump point here too.

Fridges and Freezers and Eskies – Oh My!

We’ve come to the conclusion that our current food storage solutions just aren’t cutting it. Admittedly, when we left home 3 months ago, our food requirements looked a little bit different from what they do now. And admittedly, living in a camper trailer is maybe not the best time to make massive dietary changes, but it’s just the way it’s turned out.

So where our 60L fridge was coping just fine when we were eating a heap more legumes, now that Harper’s tummy and my immune system seem to be saying no to beans, it’s bursting at the seams a bit.

We’ve been finding that we’re only able to carry about 5 days worth of fresh food which is not hugely practical for some of the more remote places we’d like to go, and it’s also expensive as our top up shops turn in to full shops and blow our budget right out of whack.

What we really need is a freezer, but that’s not really an impulse buy when you’re trying to live more frugally! So, while we’ve decided to put a savings plan in to place so that we can get a freezer in before next dry season when we plan to head to Arnhem Land, it doesn’t help us much for right now.

So, for now, we’ve gone with a vacuum sealer. I toyed with the idea of one before we left; I even borrowed one to see what I thought – and never got around to using it. We gave it a burl in the camp kitchen yesterday (although with only a 120W draw we would be ok to use it with our inverter and not drain our battery too much) and I was pretty impressed. It’s definitely created a lot more room in the fridge, and although getting it done was a little time consuming it’s certainly no more so than having to trek through a supermarket.

We’re hoping to get a fortnight out of this shop; if we do we’ll have cut our expenditure by $17 a day which is pretty huge when you think about it.

After all, a dollar saved is another day sitting on a beach somewhere.

PS – We’re nominated in the 2014 Bupa Best Blog Awards – check out our fancy badge!

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Free Camp Friday – The Bend, Coen

Cape York is home to some pretty pricey camping, but there’s a heap of free and budget options as well. One of those free camps is The Bend at Coen, 3km north of town.

The Bend is one of those rare free camps that is suitable for tents, trailers and vans. We stopped there on the way north and it was pretty busy, but by the time we came back down a few weeks it was practically deserted – in fact when we pulled in there was no one else there!

We did have a dip in the water, but like all waterways in Far North Queensland it pays to be on croc watch.

There’s no drinking water so BYO, and the pit toilet known as Windyloo Is possibly the stinkiest I’ve encountered – it will make your eyes water! We used creek water for our doing the dishes and having a wash.

Coen has a couple of fuel points and general stores that are not too expensive but only have limited lines. The pub is reasonably colourful – it’s called the SExchange – but also has a lot of historical information and photos from Coen’s past.

There’s behind the pub or at Charlie’s Mine, which we’ve since heard from other campers is a bit of an experience. But if your budget needs a day or two of not spending money (as ours frequently does!) The Bend is your best bet.

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Lake Wabby, Fraser Island, QLD

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When we went to Fraser Island in May, to be honest Lake Wabby wasn’t on our must-do list. The Champagne Pools, Indian Head, a return visit to Lake Mackenzie and Central Station were absolute certs, but other than hearing about people hurting themselves throwing themselves down the sand, I didn’t really know much about it.

We happened upon a couple of the other sandblows on a meandering 4WD through the middle of the island one day, and decided that while we were there, we may as well check it out.

We got to the lookout, and Matt hopped out of the car for a quick recce, as Harper was asleep and my number one rule of parenting is “Never wake a sleeping baby”. He was back in a flash though, and insisted the view was worth risking the fury of the overtired baby for.

He was right.

We wandered about a kilometre or so through some rainforest, the boys in their best safety boots (i.e barefoot) lifting up rocks and bits of bark hoping to spot a lizard or snake. Lake Wabby is accessible from the eastern beach, but this way was very pretty, although an exceptionally steep uphill climb for the last little while. Totally worth it though, when you get to the top of the hill and see this.

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Pretty sure Cai thought he was in Tatooine for a minute there. And the best bit was, we were almost the only ones there. Apart from an older couple, of which the gentleman was nude sunbathing which I didn’t realise when I set up not too far away with my 3 million children.I only noticed when he got up to move away down the beach, which he managed to do without a wang flash, and the kids were none the wiser.

Being May, it was pretty cold, but we braved a dip anyway. Lake Wabby is the deepest of Fraser’s lakes, but there’s still plenty of shallow water for the kids and/or less confident swimmers.

It was quite simply a breathtaking spot, one of the many on the island, and I can’t believe we nearly missed it. Make sure you don’t – Lake Wabby is definitely deserving of a spot on your Fraser Island Must Do List.

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What’s your favourite spot on Fraser Island?

Contingency Planning (or A Tale of Too Many Kilometres)

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Before we ran away from home, we discussed the hypothetical situations that would see us have to temporarily abandon our trip. It was probably the most logical thing we did in our planning stage, which was less planning and more having a beer and looking at photos of Cape York. Anyway, we talked about having a slush fund in case we had to go to a funeral, or what we’d do if the tenants trashed the house, or if one of us got sick (me) or eaten by a crocodile (him). And we talked about what would happen if our team, the mighty South Sydney Rabbitohs, made it to the NRL grand final.

We’ve contingency planned that one ever since we left Sydney almost eight years ago. We’ve always said, if we make a grand final, we go to Sydney. But given that the last time Souths booked a grand final berth was five years before I was born, we’ve never had to use it.

Until now.

When we are 2000km away.

Without, like, jobs and income and stuff.

Driving 2000km to watch a game of footy sounds absolutely ridiculous. Because it is. But that doesn’t mean I don’t want to do it.

Because this isn’t just any game of footy. This is the game of footy I have been waiting for my whole life.

Matt is being all practical and logical about why it’s a ridiculous idea, but a) logic has no place in footy b) everything we do is unpractical and illogical and c) he once drove from Brisbane to Sydney to buy a snake.

Matt said he doesn’t want me to hate him for saying that we shouldn’t go, and I said that was ok because I have heaps of other reasons I could use instead.

I don’t know what our contingency contingency plan is. Maybe we’ll try to find a caravan park that will show the game. Maybe we’ll find a campground within walking distance of a pub. Maybe heart will override head and we’ll end up gunning it down the coast.

It’s going to be a long week.

Cleanliness is next to….absolutely losing your marbles

If being clean all the time is something that ranks highly on your list of personal attributes, this is probably not the lifestyle for you. It had been sometime since was last had an actual running water shower; we’ve got our solar shower bag and there’s always the good old wash out of a bucket, but actual running water with variable temperature – not so much.

I actually don’t really notice all that much until I have to go somewhere that other people are not covered in a layer of dirt and smelling like fire. Like the supermarket. Or one of our four (so far) hospital runs. We look enough like the Griswalds as it is, so yesterday en route to the supermarket we stopped in at Home Hill Comfort Stop for a wash.

If you’ve never been to Home Hill, it’s a great little stop. The 48 hour free camp itself is just parking bays on the road, so not really a spot for tents or people with a thousand kids. But if it’s just two of you in a van, it’s fine.

Across the road though is the comfort stop with 5 minute hot showers, toilets, BBQs in the camp kitchen and a coin op laundry next door.

Harper had fallen asleep in the car on the way to town, so we agreed the boys would go first while Mackenzie and I stayed with her, and then we’d go when they came back. And what followed was a fantastic example of the difference between having a shower when you’re a dad, and when you’re a mum.

Matt came back from his shower beaming. That shower was the best thing that had ever happened to him. He didn’t know what to do with all the hot water. I was going to love it. He’d never felt so clean.

I was getting pretty excited about the shower at this point.

And then Harper woke up. And suddenly my two person shower with Kenz was a two person plus a toddler shower, which quite frankly is a far less appealing thought.

Have you ever seen a greasy pig chase? That’s a bit what having a shower with a toddler is like. She’d fallen over twice before I even turned the water on. I wouldn’t recommend trying to shave your armpits with a baby on your hip unless you actually are a contortionist. In the end, I gave up and hoped for the best.

I was still a bit dirty, and not particularly relaxed, but I was cleaner. Which at this point is really all I can hope for. Until next time – which will be dad’s turn to take the toddler.

I did however manage to snap before and after photos of my feet.

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Morning Tea with Bill and Betty

As of today, we’re looking after Funny Dunny for a couple of weeks. The Tait’s are moving on and have handed over the huge box of dunny roll and the rego book to us. The official caretaker, Bill, comes down once a week to empty the donation box and check on things, but they like having someone around to keep an eye on things. And for now, that’s us.

Bill’s wife Betty invited us up for morning tea this morning. Things like that are always a bit tough for us with our dietary restrictions, but Betty has grandkids with a heap of food allergies too, so she didn’t bat an eyelid when I walked in with my plate of coconut pikelets and assortment of toppings.

We were a little late getting there because the kids were filthy, and when we were introduced to the mayor I was glad we’d spent the extra five minutes getting rid of a layer of dirt! Bill and Betty’s place is beautiful, with views over the beach and lush gardens. Their entertaining area is sort of half indoors, half outdoors, and I can certainly think of worse places to spend a morning.

Bill has a couple of fantastic BBQ ovens that he has built himself out of old kegs and other bits and pieces. He was a cane farmer for many years and a fitter and turner by trade. And now, he collects bits and pieces and turns them into giant BBQ works of art. He’s even on occasion brought them down to the campground for a big cook up.

Bill and Betty have two little dogs, and Bill brings them down to the campground with him. One is a tiny little black and white thing called Possum, and it seems that Possum is Harper’s spirit animal. Harps was beside herself when she saw Possum out the window today and chased her around all morning. Pretty sure Possum heaved a sigh of relief when Harper went home.

It’s funny to look at the other side of free camps – the administrative side. Bill showed us a tool that he’d found inside the donation box where someone had tried to rip it off. They reckon that since they started keeping a record of rego numbers (which they did after a theft) that people seem more likely to put their $5 in the box. We talked about what sort of improvements could be made to the park, and we might even help out with a bit of maintenance if they can get it approved. We also talked about the fact that council are only likely to hear from the unhappy campers, so we’re making sure we fire off a few positive emails to try to help keep these free camps open.

So we’re here for a little longer, minding the visitor’s book made from handmade paper, cleaning the dunny and maybe even hosting the occasional happy hour. If you’re passing through, stop in for a night or two and say hello.

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Sunday Roast – Mrs Tait’s Stewed Melon

It’s been a bit quiet around here this week. I’ve been battling with an unwell baby who seems to be having a reaction to just about everything she eats at the moment with lots of sore tummies and sleepless nights as a result. It’s a road we’re familiar with given Cai’s medical history, but even though we know where to go and what to do this time around, as a parent you can still feel pretty helpless.

So we didn’t do much this week. I did a lot of reading and thinking and planning, but that doesn’t always make for earth shattering reading! I did, however, finally get around to making Mrs Tait’s Stewed Melon.

Richard and Bernice have been great friends to us the past couple of weeks. Always good for a fishing tip or a beer around the campfire, they’ve raised and camped with their own kids and understand that sometimes the baby screams or the kids are ratty and there’s nothing you can do about it. Bernice pointed out all the melons growing wild near the campground. One of the other campers had given us a jar of jam made out of these melons last time we were here, and Bernice was experimenting with her own recipes. She was also stewing them, which Cai gave a big thumbs up so I thought I’d give it a go.

I still don’t know what sort of melons they are, but all the locals eat them and no one’s been poisoned yet. I made some tweaks to the recipe Bernice gave me, but seeing as how I don’t know what the melons are called, I’m giving the recipe her name.

And seeing as how you’ll probably struggle to find these nameless melons, swap it out for the stewing fruit of your preference (apples etc)
Also, there’s no really strict measurements as it will depend on how much fruit you’re using and your own tastes re the spices.

You’ll need
Your fruit – skins and seeds removed, cut into small cubes
Sugar – I used rapadura
Whole cloves 6 or 7
Raisins – organic sulphur free – 2 tablespoons
Cinnamon stick
Star anise
Rind and Juice of 1 lemon and 1 orange – I only had oranges so used the juice and half the pulp of 1
Fresh ginger finely chopped

Then you
Sprinkle your fruit with sugar, cover and leave overnight. Mrs Tait also soaks her raisins in brandy or port, but I left that bit out and they still softened up beautifully.

The next day, cook the fruit in own juices, adding your lemon and orange rind and juice and your spices.

Cooking method and time
Because we have small and expensive gas bottles for cooking, I try to use as little gas as possible. I did try bringing this to the boil and then finishing it off in the thermal cooker, but it does seem to need the more direct heat. Mrs Tait did one batch in her pressure cooker that came out quite well. In the end, I put my saucepan (no lid) inside the camp oven and hung that from the tripod over our fire which stewed it right down beautifully. It’s not the world’s fastest process, but luckily I don’t have anywhere else to be.

Cai was eating this just straight out of the jar, but you could add to breakfasts, yoghurt, custard, rice pudding etc depending on your diet.

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I didn’t add the final photo – it’s not all that glamorous really, but when it’s all brown and soft it’s all good!