Thursday, 31 December 2015

From one extreme to the next


We Segals are known for our love of going from one extreme to the other. In 1987 we moved from Bronte in the Eastern Suburbs of the great metropolis of Sydney to a 100 acre property in tiny hamlet of Maryvale, rural Queensland. In December 2014 we bought a Toyota Prius; fuel consumption 4.5 L per 100 km, 10 months later we bought the Beast; fuel consumption 4.5 km per litre. We certainly don’t do things by halves.


In May this year we drove to Melbourne and back in our Prius, travelling about 4,000 km and spent about $345 in fuel. A few days ago we returned from a 5 week journey in the Beast along the east coast to Lakes Entrance in Victoria before turning North and traversing the Great Alpine Way, winding up to 1820 m above sea level to Mount Hotham before descending the other side towards our destination – Cobram, where we spent 3 nights at the very delightful RACV Cobram Resort with our elder son, his wife and our two perfect grandchildren. We returned via the Western Plains of NSW. All up we probably covered a similar distance but the fuel bill was slightly higher. I think the first time we filled the tank we spent more than the entire journey in the Prius.


30 odd years ago hubby had to get a truck licence as part of his job and after having religiously renewed it over the years has finally found a valid use for it. The Beast is an 8 gear, 12 tonne, 4x4 MAN truck that requires a truck driver’s licence to operate. After we return from a trip to South America and  a cruise to Antactica early 2016, I will be sitting for my test sometime in March.  Then I'll be a real truckie. The Beast has seen a few conversions in its 8 year existence. It was initially fitted out as a tour bus for camping tours across the top end of Australia. Later is was bought and converted into a fully-fledged motor home and now we have bought it and are making changes to suit our travelling lifestyle.

We have encountered various obstacles along our recent journey, from cascading diesel from our fuel tank in Grafton to a broken down freezer in Port Macquarie, conveniently fully stocked at the time, and then half way through our trip, after descending from Mount Hotham, out of the blue, a Bogan in a black Pajero decided to bump into the Beast. After having stopped for the night at a free camp along the banks of the Ovens River, next morning, we were half way to Wangaratta, travelling along the highway and as we passed the Happy Valley turn off she came out of the small country road without stopping to give way to us. It was one of those seconds that seem to last for ages, we could see her but there was nothing we could do but hold our collective breaths and wait for the impact. She collided with us on the driver’s side right into the compartment that houses our 400 litre diesel tank Luckily not a drop was spilled and no one was hurt. Although we were certainly shaken by the event, and the Beast suffered severe bruising, we were able to continue on our way to rendezvous with our family in Cobram.



Australia is known as a land of extremes and the weather on our trip did not fail to live up to the reputation. As we were approaching Cobram, on the border between Victoria and NSW, the weather had been pleasantly mild, but all that was soon to change. For the following week the temperatures fluctuated between bloody hot and Hell on Earth at which time our brand new generator died leaving us without the option of air-con while bush camping in the hottest parts of the country. Most days wavered around 38-39° C and then the day we arrived in Dubbo it mercury plummeted to 22°C and rain fell for a few says. A welcome relief.

Our dear friends from Brisbane, John and Jana and their children, Oliver and Josie were driving south to spend the holidays with family and met us at the Dubbo City Holiday Park. It has been lovely having the opportunity to meet friends along the way and in the 5 weeks we were away we managed to meet up with quite a few old friends, some of whom we only get to see once in a blue moon.

During the last leg of our trip we spent 25 and 26 December in Boonoo Boonoo National Park, one of the highlights of our trip, thanks to a great tip from my lovely artist friend Kay, who turns 93 years young tomorrow. Happy Birthday Kay. 


Boonoo Boonoo lies about half an hour north of Tenterfield and boasts a beautiful camping area by the meandering Boonoo Boonoo River that offers various swimming holes before it tumbles over the Boonoo Boonoo Falls. It was quiet and relaxing and we celebrated hubby’s birthday there on the 26th with birthday "cake" and a romantic dinner on the banks of the Platypus Pool; heavenly.




But now we must return to the rigors of retirement living and have a month at home before flying to Chile to start another adventure. So as the clock tick over and we slip silently into 2016 I wish you all a Happy and Healthy New Year.


Thursday, 17 December 2015

Self- Plagiarism


Since I last blogged we have suffered through 5 days of temperatures in excess of 35 deg C.
While we were at Cobram living a life of luxury with electricity and a swimming pool to boot, the heat seemed a lot more bearable. The grandchildren were also a welcome distraction. Since departing yesterday....(was it really only yesterday) the heat has increased to 38 and 39 degrees C, and while yesterday our campsite was charming, the river resembled wet cement and was less than enticing. To combat the searing temperatures I turned on our outdoor shower and after waiting for the temperature of the water to drop to just hot from third-degree-burns scolding,  stood under the shower fully dressed, then let the breeze turn my clobber into an evaporative cooler, a trick I learnt on our first trip around the block. I have plagiarised my own blog from back in 2009. So if you missed it then or have simply forgotten, here it  is again. You can read it while I submerge myself in the cooling waters of the mighty Murrumbidgee River as it flows by the Beast at our latest campsite outside of Darlington.

Blog from 2009

They say necessity is the mother of invention and because of the heat and our habit of free camping with no power connection I have had to be inventive. I have devised a new portable evaporative cooler. I took a much-loved sarong that I bought during my first ever visit to the Woodford Festival held in the Queensland Sunshine Coast hinterland during the last week of December each year. I soaked the sarong in a basin of water, wrung it out then draped it over my hot naked body. (This is best done in private). Usually if there is just a whisper of a breeze it acts as an evaporative cooler, causing my body temperature to return from sizzling hot to something approaching normal. See my concept design below.




But my new invention needs some improvements. The single length of fabric is only suitable for use when reclining. To cover the entire body so that you can walk around and do things, I suggest stitching two lengths of fabric together or using a single bed doona cover.


As it is almost impossible to see anything through the fabric I propose cutting a viewing panel in the fabric and to stop the ingress of flies and other pests, stitch a patch of gauze or fly wire over the viewing panel. See the detail here.


To keep the fabric hydrated I tried many options, I found the water bucket on the head gave me a headache after an extended period so I suggest inserting a water bladder.



Then all you need do is jazz it up with some funky fabric and you have the all new Body Evaporative Reticulated Cooling Aid or BERCA.
See my production model here.


Do you think it'll catch on?


Wednesday, 9 December 2015

To be Forewarned.


We had travelled north from Lake Tyers traversing a small section of the Great Alpine Road and had just about finished setting up camp at the Ensay Recreational Grounds when a farmer pulled up in his ute and, in a slow, country drawl declared, “I just want youse to know there’s a 6’ King Brown living under that building” he indicating with a sweep of his right hand towards the wooden structure hung with an engraved timber sign, “Ensay Bowls Club”, though by its dilapidated, unloved appearance I would hazard a guess that there weren’t a great many bowls players left in this neck of the woods. Perhaps, over the years, they have been picked off, one by one by the King Brown and dragged kicking and screaming, to its lair among the timber stumps under the bowls club. (At this juncture I will divert from my tale to inform all those non-inhabitants of our wide, brown land that a King Brown is just one of many deadly snakes that inhabit our great island home. We don’t have many guns, but we certainly make up for it with plenty of ferocious wildlife.)

I was contemplating telling him that this information would have been handy 30 minutes earlier, before I, camera in hand, had wandered off in search of old things to photograph. Attracted as I am to old rusty things, luckily for hubby, upon arrival at the campsite I immediately spied an old water tank with more holes in it than Oscar Pistorious’ defence. It was conveniently locate on the side of said Bowls Club and thus deserved closer inspection. So, wearing perhaps the least protective footwear I possess, a pair of crocs, I walked right around the old building, surrounded in dead vegetation and discarded lawn furniture.


Upon returning to the Beast, my first load of washing was finished and ready to hang out to dry, (yes there is a washing machine in our motorhome). The sunniest spot to erect the clothes horse was, yes you guessed it, right alongside the aforementioned Bowls Club/killer snake residence, where hubby obligingly, and blissfully unaware of the risk to life and limb, hammered in several tent pegs into the legs of the clothes horse and I blithely dallied over the arrangement of my wet laundry, and OCD that I am, it required several attempts to get to my liking.


Had I been forewarned I probably would still have taken as long to hang my washing out as I am more OCD than faint hearted when it comes to facing off with killer snakes. When we had our farm 30 odd years ago, a King Brown slithered into our packing shed, where I worked on a daily basis, bunching and packing boxes of Carnations destined for Brisbane florists. I was faced with the dilemma of either having him disappear into the mountain of empty packing boxes and other paraphernalia that inhabit farm sheds, or take matters into my own hands. I chose the latter and, armed with no more than a garden shovel, proceeded to make diced reptile out of the pesky King Brown.

So now, I venture close to the Bowls Club to retrieve my now dry washing, albeit a tad warily and I say, “Be afraid King Brown, be very afraid. Chop, chop”.


Thursday, 26 November 2015

Be Prepared

I always thought that I would have made an excellent boy scout, had I only been born with some dangley bits.


Before departing for a 6 week jaunt down to Victoria  I filled our new motor home with every possible utensil we may need along the way, I filled the freezer and pantry with food so we wouldn't need to shop every day, I downloaded some awesome apps to help us find campsites, cheap fuel, Maccas, the most direct routes between A & B, fun games to play when the internet was unavailable and others to keep my grey matter functioning. What I didn't pack was a spare fuel tank for when ours sprung a leak in Grafton, nor a spare freezer for when ours gave up the ghost and died 4 days into our trip; still chock-a-block fool of frozen meat.

After departing the Woody Heads campground in the Bundjalung National Park in Northern New South Wales on Wednesday, I referred to the cool Petrolspy App to located a service station along our route to Nambucca Heads. Grafton offered the cheapest Diesel along the way so we pulled into the Caltex station and Hubby popped the cover to our fuel tank to discover diesel cascading down the side of the tank. Aghast, he was at a loss to explain this sudden phenomena and we resorted to seeking the assistance of the attendant to direct us to the closest diesel repair place in town, just 4 kilometers away.


After much deliberation and head scratching, the mechanic started to infer that he wouldn't have time this side of Christmas to even look at it. We grovelled sufficiently for him to take a closer look and after an hour he had found the culprit; a leaky fuel intake valve which he promptly replaced while we filled our faces with a counter lunch at the pub next door. His bill (not including the lunch) came to just $50 plus GST, and we were on our way again.

We had intended making it all the way to Nambucca Heads were we had arranged to meet some lovely old friends for afternoon tea, but by the time we were roadworthy again there was no way we would make it in time so we used the cool GeoWiki App to find a nearby campsite and discovered a lovely one in a farmer's field beside a dam and set up camp for the night with a mob of kangaroo for company.

Next day we finally made our way to Nambucca Heads and thoroughly enjoyed meeting up with our old friends Ann and Mike. I first met Ann in a North Sydney drawing office 30 odd years ago, when the phrase "back to the drawing board" still had some meaning, "Back to the CAD machine" simply doesn't pack the same je ne saia quoi

There are some people we meet along life's path who we instantly click with and are able to pick up where we left off with after not having spoken for years on end and Ann and Mike are two such people. I always look forward to renewing our bonds with them whenever our paths cross.


After an extended morning tea that turned into lunch we finally headed off towards the next splendid campsite at Crescent Head, in Goolawah National Park. After a long stroll on the beach and a light supper we noticed freezer thermostat was slowly climbing. With no user manuals, mobile phone reception nor internet connection we were at a loss as to what to do next, and we could only sit and wait till all the meat defrosted before our very eyes. 

In the morning, as soon as we decamped, we headed to civilization; well, Kempsey actually, and frantically started making phone calls. The fridge installer was in Sydney and could not offer a solution, No refrigeration mechanics were available this side of the Black Stump and no motor-home repairers even recognised the state-of-the-art marine fridges that were installed in out motor-home. Then at last Google came to the rescue with a manual to down load, It offered me the option to change the settings on one of the other two fridges to run as a freezer. 

At our next destination, Port Macquarie we finally conceded and booked into a powered site at a caravan park where Hubby set about cooking all the meat which was in varying stages of defrosting.

Kilos of mince, chops and sausages delicately BBQ'd to perfection and we are finally able to say that most the meat was rescued. Anyone for a fresh kebab?



Thursday, 20 August 2015

Return from Paradise


About 48 hours ago we walked back into our home in Brisbane after 10 days abroad. The first 24 hours were a blur after our sleep deprived bodies gave into the effects of sitting in Cattle Class of an all-night, budget flight from SE Asia.  As soon as we sat in our comfy recliners, in front of our large screen TV, our eyes lids became heavy, our heads began to droop and soon we were off in the land of nod.


Our latest journey took us to an island in the Andaman Sea, Koh Yao Noi, roughly halfway between Phuket and Krabi in Thailand. It’s great to be able to travel to distant lands and meet a variety of people and learn of their culture and way of life, and to remind ourselves of our good fortune to have been born in this time and place.


In the last 48 hours I have enjoyed drinking water straight from the tap (faucet), brushed my teeth and rinsed my mouth without fear of becoming ill, flushed my used toilet paper down the loo instead of having to place it in a bin by my toilet to remind me of mistakes I made when choosing my last meal. It’s ultimately the little comforts of home you miss most when travelling that remind you of your good fortune.


The island resort was far from your average Thai village, it was mostly secluded from the general public, hence no hawkers to disrupt our peaceful existence. The only Thai people we encountered were employed by the resort and thus paid to be nice to us and to pander to our every whim. Most spoke some English, some very fluently. The resort of Paradise Koh Yoa employs most its staff from the local village, taking them straight from school and teaching and training them on the job. It gives the locals a way of getting ahead that they would otherwise struggle to do. The best wage in the village is as a fisherman, the next as a worker on the rubber plantations. In most cases, whole families are involved in collecting rubber, as the income one person can obtain from tapping is usually insufficient to raise a family.


In the local village the main street is lined with small shop fronts, selling mainly food or touristy souvenirs. Many also dispense gasoline on the sidewalks from drums tapped with hand cranked bowsers or by the litre in recycled soft drink bottles. Work Place Health and Safety is unheard of and has no jurisdiction here. A few have basic safety precautions (note the fire extinguisher in the bottom left hand corner); most have none.


Although, due to its geographical location, this Island was spared the ravages of the Boxing Day Tsunami that devastated much of the region in 2004, there are still reminders and warning signs that Mother Nature can be unpredictable.


The bay is dotted with Limestone islands jutting out of the sea, many with sandy white beaches and azure coves tempting us into the water. Tiny fishing boats congregate on the waters surrounding them, dragging nets to catch prawns, crabs and lobsters. 


National Park officers now control the islands and charge each visitor about $10 USD to visit, as I snorkelled around several of them and saw sparse numbers of fish and only dead, bleached remains of what was once coral, I can only surmise that they have shut the gate after the horse has bolted.




Monday, 10 August 2015

Our first day in Paradise, Koh Yao Noi

The sun had newly risen on our first day in Paradise. I threw back a quick hit of caffeine before grabbing my camera and heading out the door.


As I stepped outside the humidity hit me like a wet washer and my specs fogged over, as did my camera lens, still accustomed to the cool dry climate of our air-conditioned bungalow. It took nearly twenty minutes for it to acclimatise to the muggy tropical morning.



I headed towards the sandy cove where day beds lay in neat rows waiting for the wave of tourist to awake and claim them.


Tiny, translucent crabs scuttled across the sand, diving into the safety of the burrows ahead of my approaching feet.


Butterflies fluttered between the many beautiful flowers that thrive on the island, quenching their thirst on the nectar while a quite minion of workers busied themselves, raking the sand sweeping the paths and generally making the resort picture perfect for the new day.


I met hubby meandering along the path heading to the restaurant and after gorging ourselves silly on the buffet breakfast, clogging our arteries with all the wrong food choices, we spent the remainder of the day by the tranquil pool, dividing our time between dips in the cooling water and vegetating on the comfy day beds, reading and snoozing.

To cap off a very relaxing day we enjoyed cocktail hour at the aptly named "Sundowner’s Bar" by the water’s edge while the sun slowly set, sipping on exotic beverages. Paradise indeed!
It’s a tough job; but someone has to do it.


Monday, 4 May 2015

A Near Death Experience


Today we embarked on a short road trip. We are driving to Melbourne and together with our son, his wife and two grandsons, continuing on to Phillip Island a mere 2,000 km away.  It’s been a long time since we were last travelling across Australia and as usual we find ourselves going against the flow. As we head South towards Melbourne the road, in the opposite direction, appears to be a super highway for Annual Grey Nomads , a term I coined for the older southerners who make the annual pilgrimage north to escape the cold, wet, Melbourne winter.
 
 

If it wasn’t a 4x4 towing a caravan with a tinnie (a colloquial term for a small aluminium boat) on the roof heading north then it was road train. A road train are semi-trailers with 2, 3 or sometimes even 4 trailers in tow and can vary in length from about 27.5 m (90 ft) to 53.5 m (176 ft). Combined, they make up about  90% of traffic we encountered.
 
 

We have travelled nearly 500 km today from Brisbane to Moree. At one point, as we were flying down the Newell Highway (speed limit 110 k.p.h.), there appeared to be a slow moving road train ahead of us in the distance until, as we got closer, we discovered that it was actually barrelling towards us on our side of the road, overtaking three other road trains in its path. We almost became some grotesque hood ornament on its 2 m high radiator grill before I pointed out to hubby that it was in our lane and on a collision course with us. Two vehicles travelling towards each other at 110 k.p.h would give an effective impact velocity of 220 k.p.h., if both vehicles were of the same size and mass, but the road train was probable somewhere between 20-30 times the size and mass of our new Prius. I didn’t actually have time to do the maths as too the likely outcome before Hubby fairly stood up on the brakes, pulled as far onto the shoulder as possible without hitting any trees as the triple trailer road train whooshed past us. Our vehicle veritably shuddered in its wake as it careened down the centre line of the highway pushing another road train onto the opposite shoulder.

And we lived to tell the tale….only another 1500 km to Melbourne. Let’s hope they are not as harrowing.