Port Macquarie NSW

From Sydney, we headed towards Brisbane, NSW and the Gold Coast.

Our intention was to route through Canberra, the capital of Australia, but we decided to save that for our return trip, since it was more “inland” and we wanted to go along the coastal route as much as possible.

We got a pretty late start out of the caravan park, so our first day was a relatively short one. With the help of our WikiCamps app , The Rock Roadhouse was chosen as our free, overnight stop.  We were the first of the van dwellers to arrive for the night, but were soon joined by many.  Upon arrival, most chose a respectable distance between vans, and all was good in the world until about 11 pm when a rental van of three girls from Germany decided to park between us and our neighbor, and proceeded to open and close their doors and speak at full volume for at least the next hour.  Even in RV living, or camping, we have all had THAT neighbor once in a while.

Vans At Rock Roadhouse

Yes, that is a gas station/restaurant that has been made to look like Uluru. Hence the name “The Rock” Roadhouse.

After a quick breakfast, we headed to the Seal Rocks lighthouse to see what we could see.

Seal Rocks Lighthouse
Seal Rocks Lighthouse

On the walk up the very steep path, we took a break to let others pass:

It's just not a hike without a reptile in our path
It’s just not a hike without a reptile in our path

The views were stunning:

From the Lighthouse
From the Lighthouse

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Back on the road and heading up the coast, we came upon a lovely beachfront town by the name of Port Macquarie.  It had numerous free camping opportunities, as well as a reasonably-priced caravan park.  There were surfing beaches and hiking trails listed as points of interest, so that it became our first real stop for the state of New South Wales.

Here is what Town Beach looked like upon our arrival:

Town Beach at Sunset
Town Beach at Sunset

The first night, which was really supposed to be the only night, was spent in a parking lot along – you guessed it – by the river, next to a hotel.  It was quiet, and had public restrooms just a quick 3 minute walk away.  There were two or three other backpacker vans, and we were treated to an evening show of flying foxes heading out for a hunt.  There seemed to be thousands of them, and David tried to get a picture with his camera on the night vision setting:

Flying Foxes - Nightvision
Flying Foxes – Night vision

Here is what they look like during the day –

Flying Fox Port Macquarie
Flying Fox Port Macquarie

That is a picture I pulled from the internet, as I did not seek them out during the day. Suffice it to say that they are very large, and there is a plentiful colony that lives in a nature reserve in Port Macquarie.  The night show was impressive.

The weather in Port Macquarie is magnificent! One would not suspect it is late Fall, with the water so lovely and inviting, and the days around 80-85 degrees F.

We expected this to be an overnight stop, but the beach and town were just so lovely, that we spent the next 6 days lounging around, hiking, getting caught up on library wifi, and generally feeling like we were really on vacation, or “holiday” as they call it here.

The town is really cute and has a little something for everyone – major chain grocery stores and a mall, a lovely library with free internet, a modern art center that doubles as a visitor center, boutique shops and day spas, as well as numerous ice cream and coffee shops.  The jewel in the crown was the magnificent beaches and walking trails. All of this was within walking distance of our overnight parking places.

One could see why this is the home of the Australian Ironman competition, which unknown to us, was completed the day before our arrival.  The competitors cleared out by our day 3, and we felt as if we had the town and beaches to ourselves.  The township of Port Macquarie was established in 1821, with many buildings from that time still intact.

As Port Macquarie became our home for 6 nights, between the great caravan park and the urban camping friendly parking lots, we averaged $7.60 AUD/night.  Of course, that does not factor in our daily shared $5 AUD soy decaf flat whites.  Yes, David has not only stopped giving me grief about drinking coffee, but I am sharing my drinks with him.  It is a change in attitude I can live with!

Some of the highlights of our time here:

  • The Town Beach and an ocean that I actually went wading into, multiple times. (I don’t swim, and rarely go into bodies of water, so this was really meaningful to me. I even got knocked down by a wave, but got back up and still played some more:
Port Macquarie View
Port Macquarie View
  • The Koala Hospital and the Hello Koalas Sculpture Trail were both sources of entertainment. The Koala Hospital allowed us an up-close look at the care and rehabilitation of sick and injured koalas.  It is the only facility of its kind in the world, and is run by donation and volunteers.  The Sculpture Trail comprised of 50 unique koala sculptures placed in various places around town and the outlying area.  These sculptures were created to celebrate the largest coastal koala population on the east coast of Australia.  While I did not go about seeking these out, I took a snap of each one that I encountered along my way:
Koala Trail
Koala Trail
  • The Coastal Walk from Town Beach to Lighthouse Beach was a doozy through beaches for all kinds from surfing to fishing to dog-friendly to naked, with a rainforest canopy and a goanna sighting at a birthday party! The reward for hiking 10 kilometers across beaches and through rainforest paths: steps to the lighthouse!
Tacking Point Lighthouse
Tacking Point Lighthouse

On our final morning in “Port”, we shared Town Beach with our mothers, as we called them to wish them a Happy Mother’s Day.  One last look:

Mother’s Day beach photo
Mother’s Day beach photo

It’s been two weeks since we have seen Hannah, and I am ready to invade her space again.  We probably won’t take more than 3 days to get back to Melbourne; at least that is my hope.

It’s always a G’day Down Under,

Nancy

Sydney

We arrived in Sydney on a Sunday afternoon, and expected traffic to be less hectic.  Along that same thought, we headed to famous Bondi Beach. After paying $7/hr for parking, we walked around, took some pictures, and wondered what all the fuss was about.  I guess we are a little jaded, or maybe because the beach wasn’t filled with sunbathers and merry makers, but we just didn’t see the draw.  It felt excessively touristy, but we did find the pool at the edge of the beach a neat touch:

Lap ool at the beach
Lap pool at the beach

It took us over an hour to get out of the city and into our caravan park. It was so nice to be parked in a lovely site at Lane Cove River Tourist Park. The park staff was very helpful at check-in, the amenities blocks were clean and plentiful, and we were given a nice site with lots of room. The park was quiet, while also providing free internet access in the game/TV room.  For $37 a night, it was a bargain for the location alone.  Everything else was icing on the cake.

We headed into Sydney on the train the next morning.  Thank you, Alex and Sarah (previous owners of Spotto) for the Opal card with credit on it! We will pass these on to Hannah to use up the balance when we leave. The trip took about 30 minutes, and it was a relief not having to deal with traffic, parking, etc.

A free walking tour of Sydney started at 9:00 a.m., so we joined it.  Our tour guide, Lydia, grew up in Sydney, and had historical tales and secret passages to share with us.  The tour was 3 hours in length, but we left it halfway through, as we were near the Harbor at that point, and wanted to go at a quicker pace than the tour.  But we would recommend it to future Sydney visitors, as it is a great way to learn about the city.

Here are some of the places we visited:

Birdsongs
The Forgotten Songs art piece

Forgotten Songs was an alley art installation. “Forgotten Songs commemorates the songs of fifty birds once heard in central Sydney, before they were gradually forced out by European settlement. The calls, which filter down from the canopy of birdcages suspended above Angel Place, change as day shifts to night; the daytime birds’ songs disappearing with the sun, and those of the nocturnal birds, which inhabited the area, sounding into the evening.” If there weren’t so many people talking as we walked through, we would have really enjoyed it.  And we tried to find this on our way back to the train station, but could not locate it.

Seal of Australia
Coat of Arms of Australia

A little tidbit about the Coat of Arms of Australia: the two animals, the kangaroo and the emu, apparently cannot walk backwards.  Well, that is what our tour guide told us!

Of course, we visited the Sydney Opera House.  One can’t miss it coming over the bridge on the train, and it was a major part of our visit.

Opera House Selfie
Opera House Selfie
View from afar
View from afar

One can’t really see the size when viewing it from across the water.

Getting Closer
Getting Closer

But once upon it,

An Entrance Door
An Entrance Door

It is clear that it is many pieces.

Here is an up-close view of the outer shell of tiles whose reflection makes the buildings shine:

Tiles
Tiles

It was a beautiful day and we walked all over the downtown and harbor area.  On our way back to the train, we spotted these fellows enjoying a game of chess:

Park Game
Park Game

Now that we have experienced Sydney, we are pretty much finished with going into downtown areas for awhile.  The highlights of the day were the meandering walks through the botanical gardens and the trek around the harbor and around the opera house.  The lowlights were definitely the search for vegan food (we ended up with veggie sushi) and the packed malls.

We are now off to the Gold Coast, in search of some sun and white sand beaches.

It’s always a G’day Down Under,

Nancy

Spotto’s Electrical System

The Electrical Layout

The following describes Spotto’s electrical system as far as I know.  I’m sure there are aspects of the system that I missed or don’t know about so please cut me some slack.  Thanks.

Spotto has two 12 volt batteries.  The first is a regular car-starting lead acid battery that lives under the driver seat.  This battery is sealed so I don’t need to add water – thank goodness.  The second battery (house battery) is an AGM Deep Cycle battery.  It’s also sealed and is an Exide MSDC24 92Ah 20hr.  The starter battery – does just that – it starts Spotto.  The house battery powers all the lights, the inverter, the USB port, the water pump and the refrigerator.  There are two banks of three switches,  there is a volt meter to check battery level, a USB port and an outlet powered by the inverter.  The inverter is a 300 watt pure sign wave inverter that lives behind the head of the driver seat.

Electrical Diagram
This sheet was left by the original (French) electrical system designer.

 

The Switches

The first bank of three switches (left side) control the following from top switch going down:

  • 1. Dome light close to cab
  • 2. Dome light above bed
  • 3. Refrigerator.

The second bank of three switches (right side) control the following from top switch going down:

  • 1. Inverter
  • 2. USB Outlet
  • 3. Not used – until now!

I converted one of the unused switches so that I could cut power to the refrigerator at night right before we go to bed.  Previously I had to get up, open the slider and go out to the back of the van, open the rear door and push the off button on the fridge itself.  The fridge isn’t accessible from the inside of the van.  A real hassle when you are about to fall asleep.  We have to turn the fridge off at night because unfortunately the house battery does not produce enough Amp Hours (without being charged) to keep the fridge running that long.

Switches and Outlet
The Power Bank

The Charging System

As normal, the van’s starter battery is charged by the alternator.  The house battery is connected to the starter battery via a Dual Battery Isolator.  It is also charged when the van runs – same as the starter battery.  I also purchased a portable 120 watt solar charger that I hook up when it’s sunny and we are not moving.  I connect it directly to the house battery so only that battery gets charged.  The portable unit comes with a built in PWM solar charge controller as opposed to an MPPT controller.  A PWM controller is usually better for small systems.  Finally, we have a voltmeter with a toggle switch to check the current voltage of each battery.

Voltmeter with Toggle
The Volt Meter

 

House Battery with Isolator 2
The House battery and The Isolator

In this photo: the house battery and, in the back, the Isolator. This battery lives on the floor below our cabinets directly behind the drivers seat. Notice our spare 25 liter water tank to the right.

Spotto Charging
Spot Charging Her House Battery

No Worries,

David

George, Coober Pety, and Marla

 

I don’t want you to get the impression that we are just blowing through the bank account and spending those hard earned Amazon and KOA wages with reckless abandon. Yes, we bought the van, but that will prove out to be less expensive than if we had rented one, or a rental car and lodging. Yes, we are taking a road trip that is over two weeks long, and driving thousands of kilometers. (What? You don’t follow the metric system? 1 kilometer = 0.62 mile. Or 1 mile = 1.6 km) But we are saving money by using an app called Wiki Camps that helps direct us to free or inexpensive parking sites along the way.

This frugality is measured by a couple of indulgences, too. But because we don’t generally eat out (who can find vegan, no oil meals in the Australian Outback?), fuel and groceries are our greatest expenses. We will see how many nights we can stay in free sites vs paid. That is part of the fun.

The town of Kingston SE in South Australia sponsors a free campground right across from the town jetty. We stayed here and walked about 8 km/5 miles down the walk/bike path along the water’s edge, and around the town.

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Spotto Blending In
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The Kingston SE Jetty

In the morning, David went for a run while I walked through the little downtown area. I know you will find this hard to believe, but of the 4 coffee bars/cafes that I found, only one was open before 8:00 a.m. What a sleepy little town! But honestly, it was probably for the best. I mean, check out the presentation of this “mini” donut and coffee:

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Not My Order, Scout’s Honor! But I had to take a picture!

Looking through this selection, I took away a Hot Cross Bun:

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And as we rolled out of town, I grabbed a picture of another slice of Australia – the Giant Lobster. I wonder if the Bar Harbor KOA would like one of these?

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Must give the kids nightmares!

Continuing on the free camping tour, we next stopped at Spud’s Roadhouse outside of Pimba, SA. This is technically a rest area sponsored by 4 local towns, but Spud’s is there to sell Gatorades for $5 AUD, juice popsicles for $2.50 AUD, and other good stuff at crazy prices. We popped in for $15 worth of silly, and caught up on the local news while we avoided the flies outside. These flies would be our constant companions for days, but we did not know it at the time. They apparently are on the tour of South Australia, too!

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Toasties and Coffee in the Roadhouse for Brekkie!

As we continued on towards Alice Springs, we stopped to get diesel in Coober Pety, the opal mining capital of Australia. While I was paying the tab (Did I mention that you pump first, then pay? They even have signs that ask you not to move your car before paying. Remember when we weren’t in such a hurry?) David was approached by George Baker, a local Aborigine miner. George wanted to know all about David and his van, and then asked David if he had any money. George received a $5 AUD bill, and David asked if he could take George’s picture. George instructed David to take a picture with him, then one with the van. He was difficult to understand, but David took the pictures as instructed.  When I came out and climbed into the driver’s seat, George asked me for $10 for his children. I used to get very scared and completely stressed out when strangers approached me, but time on the road has made me realize that we are all in this together, part of the human race. I did not give him more money, but I did shake his hand, chatted with him as best as I could understand, and we were on our way.

Here is George Baker and Spotto:

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Our night’s stop was at a Caravan Park in the town of Marla. For $20 AUD, we had a safe place to pull out the solar panels, get showers, and cook up some dinner. It was a nice place to take a break, until the police helicopter started buzzing around, and two police cars parked near the little motel onsite. It turned out that we were smack in the middle of a search for a missing healthcare worker, whose stolen bush ambulance was stopped in Coober Pety that morning, and had been tracked in the area where we were staying. But that activity was soon replaced by the 8 fishermen, two boats, and various camping cots that were being assembled near us. We moved, and had a solid night’s sleep.

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Catching Some Rays
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Mmmm, Dinner

In the morning, we walked past the live news crew who decided to set up their remote in front of the restroom building. Hope they got my good side!

Another day of driving paid off with our arrival (finally!) in Alice Springs. The story of our visit to the geographic center of Australia will have to wait until our next post.

G’day from Down Under,

Nancy

A Sinkhole and a Blue Lake

 

Making the trek to Alice Springs more about the journey than a sprint, we set out on a leisurely pace, and decided to stop when we saw something that might be of interest.

As we passed through the town of Mount Gambier, a Point of Interest sign directed us to the “Umpherston Sinkhole”. Who could pass up a sinkhole?

Now, as we will see, this is no ordinary sinkhole. A beautiful park surrounds this geographic anomaly, and, as this is my first physical sinkhole visit, I suspect this one is very unique.

The Welcome Sign
The Welcome Sign

For those of you reading this on something smaller than a 52 inch screen, the sign reads:

“Welcome to Umpherston Sinkhole

This park is the remnant of a late 19th century garden of which the sinkhole was the focal point. The garden was developed by James Umpherston on part of his property known as The Caves

The park has been developed by the City of Mount Gambier in accordance with Umpherston’s original intention to establish the sinkhole for the enjoyment of visitors and the townspeople of Mount Gambier.”

We read the sign, went past the limestone statue,

Photographic Evidence That I Read The Sign
Photographic Evidence That I Read The Sign

And what a sight!

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This is huge! And what a great way to develop something that could be ugly and unsafe into a beautiful, useful place.

From inside:

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There was a lovely platform and seating area, too, as well as a bbq/picnic area. I thought it would be a popular place for a wedding. David thought it was completely inappropriate for that kind of ceremony. “It started in a sinkhole, can’t get much lower…” Maybe I should set up a poll. Discuss.

Driving a few kilometers down the road, we are pointed to Blue Lake. Now, back in 1992, David and I had the pleasure of bicycling around Crater Lake as part of our Cycle Oregon route, and so we have seen the biggest, baddest blue lake there is. So, we were game to see the Aussie version. Up the observation tower we climbed:

The Struggle Is Real
The Struggle Is Real

To see:

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Maybe it was the cloudy, sprinkly day, but this little guy was blue, but not very photogenic.

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And with that, we hit the road again, excited to see what next random stop we will make.

G’day mate,

Nancy

Spotto’s Water System

Spotto has a simple fresh water system built into her kitchen.  It consists on a 40 liter container with a bottom brass fitting and a clear plastic hose connector to a small 12 volt electric pump.  The pump pulls the water from the tank and pushes it through the faucet.   The drain water is collected in a removable aluminum bowl set into the kitchen countertop.  There is no drain.  Drainage is performed by manually “picking up the aluminum bowl and tossing the water”.  Like I said – it’s all very simple.  The hardest part is refilling the 40 liter container which lives under the bed.  I fill it with another 40 liter container that I keep next to the house battery compartment or from a couple 10 liter bottles we use for drinking water.  I use a funnel to pour from one container to the other.

The only problem we have is that the pump loses its prime.  There is an air leak that I can’t find so I solved the problem another way.  I added another clear plastic tube to the top (fill point) of the 40 liter container.  To re-prime, all you need do is blow into the tube.  This adds pressure into the tank and forces some water into the line between the tank and the pump.  This clear plastic pipe is easily accessible under the bed just behind the kitchen counter.

Spotto Sink
Sink and Faucet. The switch next to the faucet activates the water pump. The faucet is adjustable and swivels.
Water Pump
Sink and Faucet. The switch next to the faucet activates the water pump. The faucet is adjustable and swivels.
40 Liter Tank
Sink and Faucet. The switch next to the faucet activates the water pump. The faucet is adjustable and swivels.

No Worries,

David

Spotto’s Kitchen

Spotto has a built in kitchen in the back.  Most of it is only accessible via the rear hatch door.  From the inside we can get to the counter top but that’s about it.  The kitchen has a sink with an electric water pump that pulls water from a 40 liter tank that lives under the bed (see post on Spotto’s Water System).  There is a 14 liter Waeco Thermo Coolpro Cooler that works on 12 or 24 volt DC.  The kitchen itself slides out about two feet from the back of the van.  Two small wooden pegs hold the kitchen in place.  When the pegs are removed the whole thing slides out on two roller tracks.  Also, the Cooler/Fridge slides out on it’s own tracks.  There is ample storage for dishes, utensils, spices and such.  We have a portable propane single burner cook top.  The propane canisters used by the cooktop are easily purchased in most grocery stores.  The canisters are not cheap but they are simple to use and very convenient.

The van also came with another one burner propane stove that sits upon a 1lb propane tank.  We’ve never used it but it’s a good back up.  The counter top space it quite large and has worked great for us.  It’s really nice that the tail gate door opens upward and protects you from rain while working in the kitchen.  The only issue we’ve really had has been the wind blowing out the cook top flame.  We’ve learned to point Spotto into the wind when we know we will need to cook.  This way the cooktop doesn’t get wind whipped and go out.

 

Kitchen 1
Kitchen when retracted.
Kitchen 3
Kitchen when retracted.
Kitchen 2
Kitchen when retracted.
Kitchen 4
Kitchen when retracted.

No Worries,

David