One thing that we LOVE to do and that is to travel. We have an amazing caravan, a Jayco Expanda, its 18 feet long and each end drops down to make queen sized beds and there is also a push out wall. The area where the push out wall is was originally a sofa, we have put in a bench and a washing machine. We decided that we needed a washing machine in our van after using a lot of Laundromats while we were on our honey moon. Our previous van also a Jayco Expanda was a pop up and did not have a spot that we thought would suit a washing machine.
The van has a 200 watt solar panels, inverter and 300amp hours of UPS batteries, I have tried to find out about the use of these batteries being used in this way but have not found out much information. It is very much a design of Bills and it works incredibly well. We have a friend whom has a Snap-on tools truck were Bill has installed the same type of set up, almost 2 years on and they batteries are still going strong!! These batteries are majorly put to the test in the Snap-on van as they are charged and discharged daily, certainly not what a UPS would be happy doing but seems to be happy doing. I just know that we can do just about everything we want, minus using the washer and air con and we don’t have to worry for weeks, in fact we are yet to flatten the batteries. We do get some looks when we are in the middle of nothing and we are playing Wii golf!! LOL
Our van is fully equipped with all the things that we need and want, in fact we believe we have “the van” for us, there is only one thing that we would change from this van to the next and that is outside speakers!!! We have a washing machine, shower toilet, central heating and so much more, we have the freedom to literally go anywhere that the van can be safely driven on, so no excessive 4WDing for us!! We are so lucky to be able to go so many places, our van is set up so that we can go anywhere, we love it so much. We also get to meet amazing people along the way too.
When we set this page up it was to talk about our love of caravanning, our intentions are to talk about places as we go to them and not so much about places we have been to. We have been to so many places over these past few years and we have loved them all. There is something really special about being in the middle of nowhere and sitting by a campfire, glass of red and just relaxing.
A friend of mine whom reads this blog and Merlots blog has just gone and bought a van, similar to our first van. In the weeks of searching, buying, setting up etc. there has been many messages flying back and forth. So as a result of all these conversations I thought I better update this page and add in some more information that Bill and I have found important for us and what we like to do when we are camping.
When you go camping we firmly believe that you should be very mindful of the footprint you are making and the one you could be leaving behind. We also feel that you do not need every single gizmo and gadget known to man. Yes we know that going to a caravan and camping show that is filled with some of the coolest toys possible, but think, where are you going to store all this stuff?? Will you use it??
In saying yes we do have a few toys, but we use them, use them a lot in fact, we have whittled a few things down and added over time to get to the set up we have now, a set up we are pretty happy with.
Camp Cooking Bill and Dee style
We have a few things we love to cook with, one of them that we only take out now in a group is The Road trip Gill is an AWESOME bbq/stove, so don’t get me wrong here it was just that bit big for just Bill and I and was a bit of a pain to clean. It can be run using gas or butane, so all in all very useful. You can also use it a few ways, flat grill for eggs and grill for steaks and so on, or uave one burner boiling up some spuds while your snags are grilling alongside. We have used ours quite heavily and I am sure it is going to get a lot more use over the years.
Recently I have seen a more compact version of the Road trip grill and I think that a lot of people with limited space would love this. It is made by a company called U-bute, it is a double butane stove with a grill attachment, it all fits really nicely into a carry case. We just recently saw one and it looks very sturdy and very compact, so if space was an issue one of these would be wonderful. As Bill and I have a butane stove and a grill we have no need for one of these, well if the grill died we would most certainly consider one of these. I have the site open and can see that for Christmas 2011 they have a sale on, also in the last couple of weeks I have seen a couple of the voucher sites like Scoopon have then on sale too
We mostly use the butane stove and the Companion Grill grill we got for $40 at Kmart (since then we are yet to see the same price) This grill cooks a great steak and is awesome for the brekkie fry ups, it’s not very big so might be a problem for more that 3 people. I just had a quick look at the site and can’t find the model that we have but there is a model that is round, I anticipate that it would work in a similar fashion to our one. We have still seen these at camping shows and variations too, we have cooked many meals on this, its easy to clean and takes up very little space.
Another face is the Cobb Cooker, this little baby cooks wonderful stews and roasts, I have heard you can cook cakes on it too but we are yet to do this. It is powered by head beads or “cobble stones” which are basically recycled coconut shells. They keep their heat for a few hours so roasts and stews are a perfect choice. Its not the most hottest of cookers, so as we found cooking a steak does not get the best results, but as you a having something hot for some time and a steak only takes a few minutes its a bit wasteful. If you go to the website you will see that there is so much more than what I have listed here that you can do with this. My beautiful nephew has one of these and swears by it as one of his best camping tools.
Then there is the Ecopot, it is a thermal cooker or in a nutshell a powerless slow cooker. There are a few different brands available on the market and we spent time comparing each one, we decided on the Ecopot as the pots that are used to cook with all had proper cooking bases whereas the competitors didn’t. The Ecopot was by FAR the most solid of construction and by far the best quality in our opinion. We have only had the chance to use it once and it was most certainly put through it’s paces. We made a big pot of soup, brought it to the boil on the butane stove, put the pot and lid into the ecopot sealed the lid and put it in the thermal carry bag. We opened it all up 6 hours later and I was worried that it might not be hot enough so I put it back on the stove, to my astonishment it boiled almost INSTANTLY!!! It had held an almost boiling temperature for 6 hours!! Now if we were in summer it may not be such a feat but we were in winter and the day we made this dish it was 2 degrees!!
So if you have a really busy day make up something the same way you would in a slow cooker, brown off your meats, add your stock etc., bring it to the boil and let the Ecopot do the rest. I do stress making sure things are properly browned off and brought to a boiling temperature as you are not adding any more heat, only maintaining it, so if its not hot enough to begin with, it will not be hot enough to finish with and you risk being food poisoned. For families that are out and about all day coming back to camp to a hot piping meal like this is just perfect. It holds in all the flavour and moisture as it is sealed up, as there is no power the food will not burn either, great for all those people who burn water!!
And finally our most fave toy to cook with, the Ozpig or as we have nick-named it, Thomas the Tankbeque! Who or what is Thomas the Tankbeque I hear you say?? Well its actually a type of pot belly stove made by Ozpig.
We nicknamed it Thomas after Thomas the Tank!! Not very original but it suits us. We love our Ozpig, it’s a great way to have a good warm fire and cook a meal as well as keep it all contained. Thomas has cooked us many a wonderful dinner, from steaks (which he does the best) He will even boil the kettle for you while keeping all around him warm as toast. When you are done with Thomas he pulls apart and fits into a nice little carry bag.
While we are talking about Thomas we will talk about why we love him so much outside of just being a great cook
One thing that annoys both Bill and I to the max is when we arrive at a campground and every few meters is a fire spot. We do not understand why people don’t use the ones that have already been established. When this was first typed we were are at a campground just outside of Rutherglen and without getting up off my chair I can easily see 5 fire spots all of them within a few meters of one another. If I took a couple of steps towards the back of our caravan we can easily see more than a dozen, yet again all within a few meters of one another. It’s not a pretty sight to see all these burnt patches dotting the area. We have since learned that it takes many months for the ground to heal from this too. So all in all we find it to be pretty destructive . It strikes us both as odd to not use the existing spots and even odder that all these spots are above the surface and not dug in as per the rules of this particular camp spot.
We adore our Thomas as there is nothing left behind to say we had a fire while we were here. Thomas keeps us warm and cooks great meals, he also uses sod all wood too!! We were at the Police Paddocks just outside of Rutherglen for 10 days, there was a lot of felled branches so wood availability is pretty good. When we got here we would have spent the best part of an hour gathering some branches and leaves and we still have plenty to suffice our needs!!
I need to add that we don’t have the fire going 24/7, this is yet another thing that we find to be a bit of a senseless waste. We have been to a number of camps and witnessed people burning fires from the moment they get up till the moment they go to bed. They are not using the fire, often they are nowhere near the fire other than to top it up. It’s just strikes us as so odd to burn log after log after log for no reason. If it was cold or they were cooking food or heating up water it would be fine but just burning it is so odd. We do understand how nice it is to sit by a fire in a group and just enjoy the “bush television” but as previously mentioned seeing people burn wood just out of habit and not out of need is just wasteful. We need to be as responsible as we can when we are out in nature and look after this wonderful land that we have.
Going back to talking about the Ozpig, it too has given us a bit of a giggle. We are both seasoned campers, we have been many a place and seen many a contraption that people have used for fireplaces. Popular things have been the base of washing machines, Steel drums and recycled gas bottles.
The Oz pig was fashioned on a 9kg gas cylinder, there are a number of variations of it around too. We would also love a $1 for each and every time we have met the “inventor” of it. We have both lost count of the amount of people that have told us they are the inventor or they invented it and their idea was stolen. From what we can see is that someone made a BBQ out of recycling a gas cylinder and others copied the idea. Then there someone saw the concept, worked on it and Ozpig was created. I do not see how an idea has been ripped off or stolen just a person whom has seen an idea and run with it after putting up an utter bucket load of money to be able to do so!! Earlier this year while camping a person walked into our camp spot, pointed to our Ozpig and then went on a 45 minute raging tangent about how his idea was stolen! He told us all about his design and how his worked, his design was nothing like the Ozpig. His was a 9kg gas cylinder that was upright and cut in half with the upper being used to stand the whole thing up and a wire grate on top to cook food on. It is very much not the “same” as an Ozpig although it is still a great idea but nothing overly different to the many other bush bbq’s we have seen over the years. I just told him if he thought that his idea was so amazing why did he not put the money up to patent the idea? Needless to say we was not impressed and walked off in a huff.
What to take with you?
We try to keep things to what we need, we also try to have things that can be used in a couple of ways so that we can minimise what we take and maximise what we have taken. Below is a fee things that I have thought off the top of mu head so I anticpate it’s a list that will grow.
We tend to keep to meals that we would normally cook at home too. Being that we are camping we just alter the way we would be cooking those meals!! We also try to keep to less refrigerated items if anything keep to what we can consume over about 4-5 days at most. We have seen in the past people filling their fridge and freezer to the point of stuffed, the freezer stops working or there is issues with power and they end up loosing a lot of food. We are forever confused seeing so many people have their fridges set to battery power and solar, they have batteries that are well under what the fridge will use and then they end up running a generator for several hours per day to top up the power. We have asked people why and we have gotten responses such as “but using battery power is free, if we use gas it costs” while they are setting up a genni for yet another 6 hour stint….. the mind truly boggles, but each to their own. We do what works for us and we use gas when free camping and electricity when on powered sites, in fact I am not sure if we have ever just used 12 volt.
We have a decent camping first aid kit that we bought on eBay, we believe a well stocked first aid kit alongside some basic first aid knowledge is a must. You are out in the open and anything can happen, sometimes you may be a little way from help, possibly no phone range too, It pays to be careful.
We use LED lamps and torches they are nice and bright and use very little power, we even put a little light on Merlots collar at night, he seems to enjoy it. The picture below is in fact a photo of Merlot with his light on his collar walking about, the red stripe in the background is a car going past.
We also take a portable heater with us, not all sites will allow for the Ozpig and if we want to sit outside and enjoy the outdoors and not get cold it’s fantastic, there a a couple of models available but we like the Kovea “Little sun” Butane heater. I was not able to find the manufacture’s site but if you Google the name you will quickly find many places that sell it, they are about $150. We have had ours for a few years now and it has been wonderful, we used to use in in our old van as there was more ventilation, though we are not sure if there was enough, so please check all this beforehand. We also have an small ceramic box heater that we have also had for a very long time, unlike the Little Sun it does not have a tilt cut off, sadly. Good old father in law has the heater by his feet and knocked it over several times and ended up burning and melting a brand new drop sheet, of course it was the heaters fault and not his, despite being told numerous times to be careful. Hrmph!
We also like to bring along snuggle rugs we have some wonderful fluffy ones that we bought from Aldi that have been wonderful to keep the cold off all the places Thomas cant heat and great for extra bedding warmth. While camping in Tumbarumba almost 2 years the nights were incredibly cold, we didn’t have the diesel heater then so as much as I love the cold this was a tad too cold, so the snuggle rugs were great for sitting outside and enjoying the fire but great for the extra warmth.
Collapsible water carriers are also wonderful, they take up very little space when stored and most carry about 20 litres of water, they are great for drinking water, cooking water and so on. We also have a collapsible water tank this has been incredibly useful when we are at sites for more than a few days. If we had to fill the van up with water we would have to pack up camp, so using the water tank save us this, means we can stick about a bit longer too. Our tank is 200litres, we can’t fill it to the top but we fill it to a little over half way, this combined with a few collapsible water tanks means we literally fill van again!!!
Camps Australia book this book is often referred to the bible for camping, almost everywhere you go when free camping you are bound to find someone who has the book. We now have number 6 but began with number 4. We loaned some wonderful Dutch tourists number 4 and rather than post it back when they finished using it (it would have cost a fortune) they passed it on to other fellow travellers. I would like to think that those people would have done the same too. It’s a wonderful book jam packed with great camp spots, it is incredibly informative too. We have a journal so to speak that we write in a bit about each site that we have been to. What one may think is amazing another may not like. We found this out at a spot just outside Dubbo, it was packed full, barely a spot to park, needless to say we left and found a much better spot on the other side of Dubbo. In fact we were there for almost a week and only saw one couple! The spot was huge, open, had toilets, a shed, it was wonderful, it did have an honesty box of $5 per night of which we are more than happy to pay. It was also not too far from the Open Plains Zoo that we had a wonderful time seeing. I guess some people would rather be on top of one another and have a free spot than be out in the open and pay $5 per night. If the $5 per night spot had not been available we would have looked at a caravan park as being on top of one another crammed in like we saw is not much different to how we feel at some caravan parks.
Some things that Bill and I follow
From our previous van to this one combined with more knowledge and confidence we now camp almost solely at free and cheap camps. Many of these places are near small towns so as a rule we will always buy something from the town to put back in. In Gooloogong we went to the pub a couple of times and bought take away from the local shop and some basic things like bread and milk. In Baralaba we bought a number of things at the general store and when we were told about the local butcher we bought a bunch of things. The quality of the meat that we have found at a lot of country butchers has been amazing, we love it, it is so much better than a lot of the stuff supermarkets sell!
We like to minimize our footprint as much as possible so we make sure we keep the area clean and tidy, often tidy up the mess others have left behind too. If free spots are not looked after one day they will not longer be there. We love these camp spots and it would be horrible to see them gone, we would love to go around Australia and if we can’t mix it up between these sites and van park we just will not be able to afford it. These site bring in a lot of people to places they would not normally be, also bringing money to tiny towns too. Recently we were told a story where people were camping at a free spot, they went to the local cafe and bought a handful of things as well as some morning tea. The person behind the counter was really friendly and helpful till she heard the people she was serving were camping at the towns camp spot. She got all in a huff saying that she wanted the spot shut down cos it did nothing for her business…. WOW! What do you all the person that just spent money there… then another customer walked in asking when the pub was open, she then tried to get the person to stay offering them alcohol. So she totally dismissed that people came to her shop to buy things that would not have been there if not for the camp spot and was more than happy to take business away from other people in the town!!
Often we have arrived at a spot and its a bit late, many times we have found a small bundle of wood that the previous campers have left. This little pile is a godsend, helps us get our fire started for the evening and one less thing to worry about. So because of this we will leave a bundle behind for the next camper. We were at a camp ground not far from Wagga Wagga and noticed that there was a rather large felled tree, it had dried out enough and was ready for chopping. Bill spent a few hours chopping the parts of the tree up and I carried what I could and we put it under this concrete table looking thing to keep the wood out of the elements. By the time Bill had finished there was plenty of wood to go round for a number of days…… or so we thought as two groups of campers did something I mentioned a little earlier and had fires going all day. One person was off fishing for hours and his partner was inside their van, so no one at all benefitting from the fire, every 1/2 hour our so he would put down the rod and stock up the fire again. The other campers were the same, sat inside their vans or were nowhere near the fire but walked back to the fire to put more wood on it. *sigh* So please be mindful of the environment and try not to waste things
Generators….a pet hate though we do have one we very rarely use and we mean RARELY, we have heard people say this but they will have theirs on every damned day, for things like cooking toast, or watching tv, charging up a drinks fridge, powering a bread cooker…… While packing up from camping in Baralaba while on honeymoon I went to the toilet and there was a literal deafening roar of generators, for the life of me I could not understand why till I paid a bit more attention to what was going versus covering my ears from the noise and nose from the noxious fumes…. Every van had a bread maker perched on a table, humming away doing whatever it is a bread machine does. Basically one person said “my bread is the best”, followed by another and so on and they were all having a bake off of who’s bread was the best. Now if they were at a powered site it would not have been so much a bother, but more than a dozen of them all going at once was very over the top. I asked someone why are they making bread when there is a wonderful shop only 100 meters away, the response “I don’t want to pay $3.50 for bread” *insert stunned blank face here* Umm how much is the bread mix and how much does it cos to run the generator for 3 hours??? Another place we were camped at some fellow campers would wake at 7 – 8 am and turn the generator on and it would stay on till 11pm at night or till they went to bed. Why all day?? So they could watch TV and keep food cold. They had no battery system on the van so they were 100% reliant on the generator. We did not understand why they did not go to the caravan park about 1km up the road cos it would have been so much more cheaper and less annoying to all those around them. At the end of the day we like to get away from the hustle and bustle, we like to enjoy the environment, the peace, the quite and relax. When a generator is thumping away in your ear all day and night is feels like you are in the city caught in traffic. So as a result of our dislike for generators we have made sure that we have a battery system that suffices our needs and then some. A regular topic of conversation when we are away is what we use for our power, just recently Bill had heads turned as he was using the little electric chainsaw to cut up wood and we did not have a generator going. It gave us a bit of a giggle to be honest. We urge people to really look at the battery and charging system they have, look at how much they are relying on using a generator and factor how much it is harming the environment. Work on getting a better system, adding solar and so on. Solar panels really have dropped in price and if you go to places like Battery world you can get some great prices. If you have to use a genni put it behind a tree, put it somewhere where it will affect the people around you the very least.
I hope this page has been helpful, we will try to keep updating and adding things as we can… Bill and Dee