Books and Movies – Quick Reviews

Ok some quick reviews of what I’ve been reading and watching when I haven’t been fixing stuff…


Apehouse by Sara Gruen – Mmmmm… Not terrible but barely inspiring. The story of bonobo chimps who learn to communicate with humans and then get stolen and used in a reality TV show… Skip it I suggest…

Unbroken by Laura Hillenbrand –  the biography of Louie Zemperini – a pretty inspiring and gritty story of a runner, soldier, POW, alcoholic and Jesus follower. Worth a read – easy reading but pretty gut wrenching at times and perhaps a bit drawn out in places.

The Redbreast by Jo Nesbo – a crime thriller and I’ve forgotten the storyline already… I enjoy Nesbo and his Harry Hole character, but find his stories a bit complicated to follow at times.

Nemesis by Jo Nesbo – as above, but a bit harder to follow the story… I actually enjoy the diversion these books bring, but they are far from top shelf.

The Little Coffee Shop of Kabul by Deborah Rodrigeuz – pretty easy reading, I’m half way thru and enjoying the less complex storyline after Nesbo.


Selma – a bit disappointing. I had hoped for more, but it lacked some of the punch and inspiration I was thinking would be there. 5/10

Wild – one woman’s personal journey both physically as she treks a long trail in the USA and as she seeks to deal with her demons following her mums death and her subsequent melt down. It was engaging but the moral didn’t resonate with me at all. It seemed that the message of the film was that all the crap and messed up stuff we do in our lives isn’t actually negative, but it’s what shapes us into who we are. Hmmm… Maybe but perhaps we’d be better off not getting into dodgy stuff in the first place?… 5/10

71 – wow this one took me back. Set on the streets of Belfast in 1971, a British soldier gets left behind by his platoon in the middle of the battle zone. The complexity and messiness of the situation makes his recovery difficult. This is a gritty movie that can be brutal in places – but then that makes it all the more real. 8/10


Home Handyman Holidays

The down side of taking off with a van that is an unknown quantity is that you aren’t too sure quite what works and what doesn’t.

So I’vimagee been amateur caravan repair man for most of this trip as I’ve discovered what does and doesn’t work, or what did work when we left but has since come unstuck!

First there was the smelly toilet incident… where we discovered that wee was leaking into the compartments below. Ech… After a couple of false starts thinking it was just the toilet overflowing (and where I spent a lot of time cleaning), I discovered it was the seal that had gone and the local caravan guy had one in stock so I attempted a fix. All good now and $200 saved.

Then there was the exterior light that wouldn’t work so I was about to replace it. I found one of the right size, but in the fiddling with it trying to get it off it started working again. Loose connection?… It works fine now so I didn’t buy the new one.

Then we arrived at our site to discover water leaking out of our main water input. Weird… It meant that when in 12v power the water pump would kick in for a second or two every few minutes to replenish what was being lost. Annoying…. Eventually I traced it back to a leaking non return valve by the water pump. So my knowledge of solenoids suggested it may need a bit of jiggling – technical term I know…Again a bit of fiddling – opening and shutting it – sorted it out – for now at least. It may need replacing in the future but one less issue for now.

Then… Yep more…

Danelle announced one morning that ‘this piece of metal just came off in my hand’… as they do… It was the handle to a small ‘scupper’ roof vent. It was a piece of cast aluminum that had cracked and the caravan guy wanted over $200 to replace the whole vent. Fortunately I had my cordless drill and was able to duck down to Repco to pick up some suitable fixings to repair it. I don’t think we will need a replacement as this has got it sorted.

This caravan came with a slide out bbq – which was really useful until the gas burner stopped working. I don’t know how these things work and the screw holding it together had been damaged so I ended up drilling it out and disassembling it. Once I cleaned out the crap it flamed up beautifully.

And then there was the planned and intended repair of the kitchen wall. The previous owner had taped up a vent only to discover when he pulled it off that the material around it wasn’t laminate after all… So it left an ugly mess and I managed to get the van cheaper because of it. One morning in Broome while the kids were schooling I spent the time painting over the mess and now it looks great – better than the rest of the van in fact!

There was the faulty 12v outlets which turned out to be a blown fuse caused by a dodgy 12v appliance. The fuse looked intact so I spent an hour tracing wires only to go back to my starting point.

The upside is that I know the van pretty well now and reckon I can fix most stuff that goes wrong.

The car has run really well, except when punching into the wind but as we left Broome we discovered the air line to the Poly air bags had come loose and the bag had been squashed between the springs. I removed the wheel and reattached the line while getting mauled by sandflies out at Port Smith. After pumping it up I discovered it had a slow leak so once we got to Exmouth I pulled it all down and immersed it in water. It turned out the leak was a dodgy connection right at the nipple. That was a relief as the air bags have really helped balance the load on the old girl.

I’m not sure if it’s Jayco quality control that is the issue or just that it’s an 8 year old van, but I do seem to have done a lot of fix-ups while away. Either way it’s all good until the next problem 🙂

Random Travel Thoughts

Last year as we travelled Ireland and Spain I found myself missing the regular trek north and the wonderful ruggedness of the country up here. So we have come back to enjoy it yet again.


Our first week was spent with our good friends the Wesleys in Exmouth, staying at the Exmouth Caravan Park in town. Its always a challenge to know where to stay in Exmouth. Town is convenient but busy, while the other campsites out of town are cheaper and more remote, but a bugger if you forget the milk…


We spent the first week surfing, fishing and hanging with friends, but I find caravan parks hard when you are packed in tight and there is a lot of noise. Still, it was a good week and then we began the trek further north. Originally we spoke of the possibility of Darwin and even coming back thru the middle, but with a realistic top speed of 100ks/hr and a more regular speed of 90 the driving felt slow and we quickly ditched that idea.


As the rain fell we drove out of Exmouth with the plan of simply driving until we saw blue sky. Our first stop was a freebie overnight at Robe River – we drove a fair way in and tucked ourselves away at the back of the ‘main drag’. What was a quiet night turned very windy around 4am and ended up being noisy as the bed ends I had simply draped over the tent section of the van, flapped around. It was nice to be back in the more remote camping – even if there were 50 other vans of grey nomads.


We stopped in at Karratha for supplies and then cruised thru to Point Samson where we booked in at the Cove Caravan Park – really nice and good value for a family ($51.00). We fished a bit, chilled and read and enjoyed some walks on the beach. Two nights was plenty and the kids wanted to get thru to Broome before the school holidays ended and they had to get back into the school-work.


We went from here to Hedland for lunch and a refuel and then decided to drive until we had had enough. That happened about 20km past Sandfire in a small gravel carpark where we pulled up for the night. Aside from the occasional car passing, it was beautifully silent and the night sky was spectacular. We got there just before dusk and got set up. It had been hard driving as we were smashing into a strong easterly headwind the whole way and the old cruiser was struggling to stay at 80kph. I did flog it in 3rd gear for a while doing 2700 revs but the fuel economy went from 18/100 to 25/100 and we didn’t gain that much.


That section made me rethink my car. Maybe we need a more grunty beast for future trips?… That said, when you only tow a caravan a few times a year and rarely for these distances it may not be justified. It lurks as a possibility… But my preferred option is to wait until Ellie gets her license and then pass it on to her as a daily driver. I can then get a late market dual cab. Danelle thinks the car won’t suit a 17 year old P Plate girl, but I think its just the sort of thing to unnerve any blokes who may be after her!


From the roadside stop we cruised into Broome, looking forward to warm days and light winds. We pulled into the Seventh Day Adventist overflow park, where we had stayed 3 years previous. We had really fond memories of that trip, partly from the friends we made, but also because it was such a fun time.


This week in Broome felt a bit ‘meh’. I hadn’t realised we were in the dodgy part of town last time, but on this occasion we noticed it. The first night we heard music pounding thru the suburb and we figured it must have been a pub or outdoor concert. (Its that time of year right?…) The next night (a Saturday) it happened again and kept going until 5am. It would fade away and the suddenly pump again. I began to think it wasn’t a concert… On Sunday night I went looking for the source and found a rundown house 4 streets away with a few blokes on the patio. It didn’t look like a place you’d go and say ‘hey – can you dial it down a bit’, so I rang the cops who shut it down pretty fast. This happened on another couple of occasions and in the end we left a few days earlier than planned as it became annoying.


In Broome the kids were back at school so morning were spent in the library with afternoons for fishing or beaching. Its still hard to beat a Broome sunset and we enjoyed a few of them on Cable. While there I met up with a bloke off the 60 Series Facebook Forum – that felt odd – he initiated it and was a really nice bloke, but it did seem a little weird to be meeting someone on the basis of a shared vehicle interest!


While in the van park I also met a bloke called Kevin, who was clearly a person of faith (from the signs on his van) and a man with quite a story. He is an itinerant evangelist, living on the smell of an oily rag and traveling where the wind and spirit take him and his wife. We chatted for a bit and it was good to make a connection as I was needing some human contact outside of the family.


We drove out of Broome with the intention of heading to Port Smith. We had heard it was a beautiful place and although there were some sandflies it would be worth the visit. At the turn off from the highway we stopped to get something out of the boot and discovered the airhose to the Poly airs had come loose which meant we were dragging the bag end somewhat. We drove the 20ks into the caravan park and set up – discovering quickly that we were being mauled by sandflies.


Danelle and kids took refuge in the van while I took the wheel off the car and tried to fix the airbag. It seemed fixed so we went for a drive down to the beach where there didn’t seem to be such a high population of midgies. On return I dscoverd the airbag had a leak so it was going to need some more attention. Not until we hit Exmouth again though… Four days later I am still scratching around 60 sandlfy bites and wishing we had never turned in!


We had hoped to spend two nights in Port Smith, but after 15 minutes we revised that to one and got moving early that morning bound for De Grey River about 90 ks north of Hedland. Now we had a strong tailwind and the old girl was sitting easily on 95-100 and doing 16/100 which was much nicer. We pulled in at DeGrey and enjoyed a beautiful peaceful night there. From DeGrey it was back to Robe as our final stop before tracking back to Exmouth. By now we are very good at the set up and pack up routine and having two teenagers makes the process fast and easy. Each time we stop at a remote spot Danelle and I come alive, but we need to balance that with the kids who wonder ‘what we are going to do?’


We left Robe and trundled on thru to Exmouth again where the sun was shining and the surf was flat. Bummer…


We pulled back into the same van park for 5 nights and now that’s its not school holidays the crazy factor has gone. Its mostly grey nomads and travellers. We have noticed that since hitting the road we have heard virtually no British or South African accents! Not so many of that crew in the northwest. But plenty of Aussies and Euros on the road.


We managed to snaffle the final spot in the Caravan park – which seems kinda weird – but it really is that popular up here. We are here until Saturday, when we will head out to Cape Range and try to score a national park site for a few days. From there we will cruise slowly back home. While the weather at home is ugly there is no rush, as up here it is magic every day.


Once home Danelle and I take off to Koh Samui for a few days (Aug 12-16) and then we will hit the road again and head south. We’ll take the van and use it when we can, with some nights in chalets if its really cold and wet. Small confined spaces like caravans aren’t much fun in pouring rain.


So far the van is working out well and we think it’s a keeper for a few years at least, and while the car didn’t do so well into the wind I’m going to do some mods when I get home to give it some more grunt. A boost controller under the bonnet and some tinkering with the fuel ought to bring out the best in it.


Anyway – that’s a bit of a trip update for anyone who cares to read…

Getting Older & Getting On

If I had to give you my best family memory it would undoubtedly be the 6 months we spent travelling around Oz in 2009. We planned imagefor it a year ahead, got well set up and then enjoyed every minute. Even with some personal financial troubles back home, it still lingers as my fondest memory.

What it’s meant though is that every other trip has been measured alongside it – and it’s hard to stack up. Last year in Ireland was awesome and that is also a great memory, but interestingly I was missing the northern journey that had been part of our life for the last 5 years.

So as we planned this trip it was with an unconscious sense of wanting to replicate some of that enjoyment.


But… Our kids are now 6 years older and much less inspired by the thought of 8 weeks away with mum and dad. Even before we left there were groans of ‘do we have to?…’

On the one hand I was stunned. ‘Yes! You do!… And you ought to be grateful you can!’ is my instinctive response. And on the other hand both Danelle and I remember a time when we no longer thought family holidays would be enjoyable, in fact I don’t remember going on a family holiday after the age of 13 and Danelle has memories of doing it grudgingly.

So it’s been a different experience thus far and there have already been plenty of moments where I have wanted to say ‘Stuff it – lets just go home,’ because grumpy children are about as much fun as hemorrhoids. We won’t be going home though as I think the challenge is to push thru it and figure out how we function now as a family.

Our first week in Exmouth was great, spent with the Wesley family, close friends from way back and good company for all of us, as well as having the cousins in town. So the kids had their fair share of connection – even they did manage to look on the dark side at times. Danelle was able to relax and I was able to surf. In the words of Darryl Kerrigan ‘everyone kicked a goal’.

But still the questions come… Where are we going next? What is there to do there? Who will be there? Answers like ‘a river’, ‘read’ and ‘hopefully no one’ don’t cut it. The kids would rather stay in van parks than free camp, and while we need to do a bit of that, we love the experience of being somewhere remote and isolated – even if those places are harder and harder to find.

We have had some conversations about what we all need on a holiday, but it gets hard to keep thinking of one another when it isn’t going your way. Sam has had the occasional bout of negativity about pretty much everything and Ellie just lets us know she is bored with a loud sigh.

Yes – I could play the dad card and read them the riot act, tell them to get a grip and realise how lucky they are… I could, but I don’t think that’s the answer. A big stick doesn’t result in a happy family – just a family that conforms – for a while.

I’m also aware that I am pretty selfish on holidays and want some of my own needs to be met – needs for silence and solitude and space -which are often at odds with the kids needs. And then there’s Danelle who really needs a good break and who needs to let go of a bit of anxiety. So far so good, but she has felt the strain too.

At first I was just pissed off that my holiday was being ruined by grumpy selfish kids who couldn’t see their own privilege, but I think reality is that we all just see the world a little differently depending on where we are. Who would have thought that in trying to provide them with a great time away I would be frustrating them?…

So the next 6 weeks are a time to figure out how we function better as a family and to agree that we will try to navigate these new waters of teenage years with grace and kindness towards one another, rather than just going our own way.

Next year the kids go back to school and we are forced back into school holiday routines for at least 5 years. I feel ill at the thought of it… But from here on I am guessing it will be holidays with friends in peak times and in busy places and my needs for solitude and quiet will be met in other ways.

My hope though, is that in 10 years time when the kids are adults, they will want to join us occasionally when we go on holidays – that they will like the thought of being around us and will feel able to come and go easily, but I imagine the likelihood of that happening will depend on how the next few years pan out.

Road Test – Jayco Expanda and HJ61 Cruiser

We hit the road just over a week ago for the start of two months leave.

A couple of weeks prior we bought a new (to us) caravan which raised the anticipation levels a bit and also the anxiety levels a little as we wondered what we would discover about it as we travelled. Fortunately there have been no nasty surprises and only a few minor repairs needing doing.

On our trip round Oz in 2009 we often saw people with Jayco Expandas and envied their extra space and ease of set up & pack up. The thought of an onboard toilet and shower was also attractive so when I spotted this one on Gumtree one weekend it was hard to refuse with a long break coming up. It was $25k not neg and I ended up saying no… until a text message came asking if I’d buy it at $24k. So I did and then sold the generator for $500, making it a very good buy. I figured if we didn’t like it we could sell it when we come home and maybe even make a profit.
So far it’s been really good, although with two big kids who don’t sleep well together we have been creating a makeshift bed out of the dinette table each night to ensure everyone wakes up happy. We looked at bunks, but they are pretty squeezy and we figured we could make this work. The big win has been the hot water system that means we no longer have to boil the kettle to do the dishes or even wash hands. It’s also been good to have extra storage space, the roll out awning and larger seating.
The only real hiccup was with the toilet cassette… After a few days the toilet got smelly and I eventually discovered that the seal from toilet to waste cassette wasn’t sealing so wee was leaking thru… Blech… I had two clean ups to do before I worked this out as I initial thought it had just been overfilled. Google and Expanda forums helped me track the problem and fortunately Exmouth caravans had the part in stock and I was able to fit it. No more stray wee…
I imagine this van will do us for a few years until the kids move out or decide they no longer want to go camping… or hang with us… Right now we still get on fine, but they miss their friends and mum and dad might be nice people (in a nerdy kind of way) but they aren’t fun like friends would be.
The fuel economy has taken a hit going from 14/100 with the camper in tow up to between 16-18/100 depending on how I drive. Still – that’s pretty acceptable for a 1987 car I reckon. It’s like a brick on wheels towing a block of flats!
The cruiser sits on 90-100 pretty easily but driving into the wind yesterday it struggled to stay above 80. I could have flogged it to get to 90, but I imagine it would have slurped the diesel. 80 is slow…

What I did notice is that my air con has been losing coldness in longer drives. It starts off cold and then becomes ‘cool’ after an hour or so. The evaporator under the dash seems to be icing up, but I’m not sure of the fix and I’m reluctant to give it to someone up here who may not know either. I rarely drive for longer than an hour these days so I hadn’t spotted it around town. But it’s definitely going to need attention when we get home. If we had another 6 months of hot weather I’d be a bit more concerned but I can ride this out.
We replaced the cruiser battery yesterday after a near miss with a toilet stop. We left Exmouth in the rain on Sunday and stopped on the North West coastal highway for a break and left the lights on for 5 minutes. It only just cranked back over and after a couple of other near misses I figured a new battery was in order before we got caught out.

I guess the cruiser doesn’t tow like a late model car but she does pretty well and is good to drive.

I’ll make my judgement on the van at the end of the trip!