Friday, 27 July 2012

Allan and Patricia have returned...

I received a phone call from Allan yesterday to let me know that they had just returned from a BIG trip and THEY were the ones spotted neat Winton!
Waiting on more details so watch this space...

Wednesday, 25 July 2012

How Well do Free Spirit Caravans Cope on Rough Roads?

I received and email from Annette and David (SOON to be picking up the new van-watch this space!)
They were at this year's Brisbane Caravan and Camping Show (at the Free Spirit Stand) and were often asked "how well to Free Spirit Vans cope on rough roads"?

Well if a referral to this blog doesn't satisfy your curiosity, here's the latest communication that Annette has received from G&T...

 We are in Normanton and have been out of touch for some time, doing part of the Savanah Hwy. Yes we were in Alice on the long weekend, what a small world we live in. It was a fun few days in Alice as the Finke to Alice races were on, we've been there many times before, but it's always good.

We have done just over 25 hundred Ks on some of the roughest and dusty roads you would ever want to travel, our beautiful van has scratches along the sides from trees and scrub and impregnated with red dust so we have really put it to the "off road " test. Garry is super impressed with the way it towed and handled over rough terrain (sand, rocks, gravel, bull dust, creeks) he recommends the air bag suspension.

 In the last month and a half we have only spent 12 nights in van parks, we really love being self sufficient and able to go anywhere and feel confident. As for all the girly inside bits I am very happy with the way contents of cupboards etc rode, all the appliances worked when we got into Alice on power. 

Wine and Champers glasses in tact. Dust proofing, which was very important to me is excellent EXCEPT for the cup board under the sink and fridge where pipes pass through the floor where red dust leaked in, fortunately it was contained to the cupboard. Garry sealed it with silicon which fixed it and we will give Ralf some feed back on it. Also, we have the electric techno step which copped damage from stones, it needs some protection, some sort of flap in front of it would help. All things considered we give FS a bit thumbs up.

 (So do I!) FB

Monday, 23 July 2012

Which 'Free Spirit' has been spotted near Winton?

Mike and Helen ask...

"Guess what has been spotted in our friends travels in outback Qld (the same couple that were parked next to G and T in Cooktown?)  Got a text from them today with photo of another beautiful looking Free Spirit van being towed by a white 70 series Toyota ute with canopy. We think they may have been around the Winton area. Don't know who they are but we bet they are very happy in their new FS van. M & H" 

Martin and Sue post from the Outback....with great pics!

We are in Birdsville travelling from Caloundra, via Chinchilla, Roma, Quilpie and Windorah. We thought we would come to Birdsville before the races to enjoy the area while it was quiet and not too many people around. When we arrived we found out that the Nissan Patrol club was celebrating the 50th anniversary of the first 4WD to cross the Simpson Dessert (a Nissan Patrol of course). Ther were 300 - 400 people in town all intent on having a party. If you cant beat them join them I always say, although being a toyota owner in this crowd does have its draw backs.

Birdsville at last, I can recommend the beer. 

 Fancy seeing James Reyne and Darryl Braithwathe in Birdsville. (great concert for us oldies).

Nissan Patrol club festivities.

Big Red conquered.
Cross that one off the Bucket list. If you want to cross the Simpson Desert like that Patrol did 50 years ago you have to negotiate over 1100 of these sand hills.

Camped on the Ward River near Charleville

The old fire blanket to stop the stone guard getting melted by the exhaust trick. Didn't work all that well

Free camp 130 Km's from Windorah. 

It pays to check the weather before setting up camp.

The Road to Birdsville The view is fron Dion's lookout. 

The Betoota Pub. The town officially has a population of 0.

Ahh well the Birdsville Pub is open so I better go and make sure the beer is still ok.

Sue and Martin

K&L ...the journey continues...

Lake Argyle, Katherine 14 to 20 July

We are slowing down. We stayed three nights at Lake Argyle and three nights
in Katherine.  Our booking for Darwin was made six months ago and is not
until the 20th so we will have a bit of a rest and fill in time.  Darwin
caravan parks are at greater than capacity and people are telling us they
just could not get caravan accommodation in Darwin and have had to leave.
Those travelling clockwise appear to be merging in the top end with those
going anti clockwise.
Due to our added trip to Home Valley we lost our booking at Lake Argyle
despite ringing to say we would be a day late and could we still have our
remaining two days.  The answer was categorically no.  If we did not turn up
for the first day of the booking we would lose it.  We went out on spec
anyway and managed an overflow site with no power and no water.   No
hardship as we can manage self contained camping much longer than a few
Carried out maintenance; washed van and car and they are no longer red
brown, greased underneath van, swam in pool (see photo), visited the Durack
Homestead which has been rebuilt stone by stone removed from the original
site now under water beneath Lake Argyle.  The dam was built in the 1960's
and the lake was flooded to capacity much sooner than expected catching
authorities by surprise.   
The planned removal of the historic Durack homestead and out buildings could
not be completed before the flooding and so we have the main homestead
authentically restored but equipment and outbuildings are now a dive site.
The Ord River scheme for which the dam was built has not been the success
government hoped for so there is plenty of water for the Kununurra region.
Some say the system could supply southern Australia with water and looking
at it and seeing evidence of how much water goes down these great rivers in
the wet season I could believe it.  A pipeline is needed!
Our three days in Katherine was extremely restful also social but I am sure
quite boring to relate. Les bought a case of beer, had to show his license
and is probably on some sort of alcohol register.  
We are now in Darwin for the next ten days.  

Photos; a better pic of Pentecost crossing with Cockburn range in
background, Lake Argyle, Argyle Dam, Pool with Lake Argyle in background,
rebuilt Durack homestead on new site

Saturday, 21 July 2012

K&L: El Questro and Home Valley

Karen and Les continue their adventures in the beautiful WA Outback...FB

(Karen and sure to check out Helen and Mike's comments..2+ posts below)

El Questro, Pentecost River and Home Valley 10 to 14 July

We listened to advice about the terrible conditions of the road to El
Questro and once again that we should consider a bus tour, from Kununurra ,
but having been down that track before (no pun intended) i.e. Purnululu bus
trip, we decided to go to El Questro caravan and all.  We have now decided
that most road reports are very subjective and after considering all advice,
it is better to find out for ourselves.
After leaving the bitumen of the Great Northern Highway, we travelled along
the Gibb River Road from the eastern end, 33k of indifferent,  gravel, some
roadwork's and detours, some bumpy and corrugated road but we have come to
expect that of much used gravel roads. The 16k access road to El Questro was
what you would expect; stony, dusty, a few dips but had some nice water

We booked into station township for two nights, no power or water,  find
your own site which wasn't easy as it was packed,  $45pn, $40 wilderness fee
one off, a bar and small shop. There are gorges, springs and 4X4 tracks,
horse riding if so inclined and of course TOURS.

Despite the expense we had two relaxing days here.  We went to the bar both
evenings and listened to what ever live music was on and enjoyed that.  We
visited Zebedee Springs hot pool and had a very pleasant breakfast cruise on
Chamberlain gorge.  Having decided to make up our own mind from now on, on
where to go and how, we decided to travel a bit further along the Gibb River
road to experience the Pentecost river crossing.

We were told by many coming in to El Q from the GRR from the west that the
100k just before El Questro was horrible, "the worst of the entire trip" and
we could only believe them.  Reception staff at El Questro told us that the
Pentecost crossing was subject to tide and gave us tide tables to calculate
and that at one stage bothered me more than the road reports.  Fortunately
we spoke to a ranger who said "not at this time of year".  Great!  because
the tides didn't suit daylight hours. 

Almost all the vehicles coming in were towing camper trailers not caravans,
and many had suffered tyre damage but we considered the risk could be
managed.  We left El Questro early  and arrived at the beautiful Pentecost
River crossing mid morning after thirty three kilometres of the worst road
we have experienced so far.  The crossing itself was fairly shallow, rocky
and very bumpy.  The scenery is magic.  We then travelled another twelve
kilometres or so to Home Valley Station.

We so enjoyed our two days there.  The temperature was forty degrees in the
van when we pulled up but taking a powered site we managed to cool the van
with the air conditioner in the evening and spent the days in the resort
class pool.  There is a pretty good restaurant with top class food, as good
as you will find in tropical QLD.  All considered it was as good as El
Questro minus the gorges and springs.  

And two days later we drove back across the Pentecost crossing along just
graded road to Kunanurra and on to Lake Argyle.

Photos; Chamberlain Gorge, Pentecost River crossing (I hitched a ride on the
way back to photo Les crossing) The grader crossing with his house and
equipment trailer, making a road train, to continue grading along the GRR

Thursday, 19 July 2012

The Bungle Bungles...

The latest from Karen and Les and a tale of the bumpy bus in the  Bungle Bungles...this one made me laugh! FB

Hello from Bungle Bungle Caravan Park, Purnululu National Park, 9 July.

What a lovely place this is.  The caravan park is actually part of Mabel
Downs station who allow entry to Purnululu National Park and the world
famous bee hive formations that are the Bungle Bungle range.  This park
otherwise can only be accessed by air.  The weather now is very hot and dry
and whereas we have power (and water from a bore) we don't want to tax the
poor generator which we can hear in the near distance by using the air con.
This area has only generally been known since the 1940's which demonstrates
how isolated the north of Australia was until quite recently.

Since tales told of the rough road out to the Purnululu National Park
causing wrecked tyres, cracked bull bars and lost spots (driving lights) we
piked out and booked a 4X4 bus tour.  The cost rationale; one driving light
costs $500 let alone any other bit.  One other tale, tall I'm sure, is that
in one of the water crossings it is nice and flat and not so deep now as you
drive over the tops of "Wicked Vans" and if you listen carefully you will
hear muttering in German and French.

Never again! 

Yes the road is rough and like Pitt Street with 4X4's but the
comfort of the 'cruiser, would have been far healthier for neck and back.
The driver's commentary relating history, politics which included the 'live
meat crisis' and pastoral leasing, jokes, tall tales and true was
entertaining.  It is two hours drive to the information centre at the
entrance to the park through scrub and cattle country. We drove another half
hour to the start of the first walk.

We walked four kilometres over sand and rock bed between the bee hive
formations to Piccaninny Creek lookout which was in full sun and so hot,
then on to Cathedral gorge, where the last section was thankfully in shade.
Cathedral gorge is like a huge cave of great height with an opening at the
top, a sandy floor, and has a small pool which is still fed by small runnels
of water following the concave roof and walls. It has fantastic natural

Lunch, and a short rest was followed by a drive to the other end of the
national park to Echidna Gorge. A two kilometre walk along a dry river bed
of small to medium river stones lined with palms required a rhythm and
concentration so as not to lurch along like a drunken sailor or worse.

Echidna gorge is a narrow high walled gorge with two flights of manmade
stairs at the end leading up to upper hidden spaces.  Way above, palms line
the top of the walls. A magic place and thankfully shaded by the high walls
so was beautifully cool.

The return drive seemed a lot rougher and longer possibly because the
corrugations and bumps were harder to see in the setting sun?  No rocking
required getting to sleep tonight.

Tomorrow we move on to El Questro station.

Wednesday, 18 July 2012

Karen and Les: Broome to Halls Creek...

The latest update from Karen and Les has them negotiating the GRR, a few fresh water crocs and a circus!  Spectacular photos guys. FB

Photos: Wingana Gorge, Tunnel Creek
8 July  Purnululu
After leaving Broome we drove the short distance to Derby (200k) visited the
information centre to enquire of the Gibb River Road generally, the Western
200k and the eastern 150k particularly and the Fairfield Leopold Downs road
which passes the famous Wingana Gorge and Tunnel  Creek.   Using the latter
road would allow us to camp at Wingana, take the van to Tunnel Creek, move
on down that road to Fitzroy Crossing saving quite a few kilometres of
backtracking, whether back to Derby or on down the Gibb River Road.
Speaking with the Information Centre who gave reports of vehicles turning
back on the Leopold Downs Road we went in to the Shire Developmental
Services Department and spoke to an engineer who had driven the road the
previous day.  His advice "take it easy... working on the road...high
clearance required".  Our plan now settled; we would do Western end of the
Gibb River Road and cut down to Fitzroy Crossing via Tunnel Creek and on to
Purnululu National Park, double back on the Gibb River Road eastern in order
to visit El Questro.
This proved to be a great plan.  Most of the western end of Gibb River Road
was made difficult only by the narrow strip of bitumen requiring half the
rig to move off on to the dirt to allow frequent oncoming traffic, also with
half rig in the dirt, to pass.  The 23k into Wingana Gorge on the Fairfield
Leopold Downs road was agreed by everyone to be worse than any part of the
Gibb and after many k's it is still up there for us.  We lowered tyre
pressures for both car and van for this 100 kilometers.
The walk along the sandy shore of Wingana Gorge was spellbinding for the
height of the cliffs, the many "freshies" crocodiles basking in the last of
the sun and then of course the sunset.  Magic! These crocodiles were all
sizes up to 2mts and they seemed totally uninterested in us, only opening
one lazy eye to look for a minute as we passed.  The campground was packed.
I mean really packed.
We were up and on our way to Tunnel Creek at sunrise the next morning aware
that we needed some room for parking the rig before the crowd.  It was a
good decision as our walk through the creek was uncrowded, with only our
torch for most of the way.  Continuing along the road was no better but no
worse and had a few water crossings, one of which was a quite steep step
entry.  We negotiated it just fine, slowly.  We did touch, with the Hayman
Reece hitch, which is obviously our lowest point. The only casualty of this
road was the water container on the drawbar split.
The last 46k into Fitzroy Crossing (after pumping up eight tyres) was on the
Great Northern Highway. We refuelled here and regret not stopping at a very
pretty van park on the river but due to our early start it was early to
stop.  On to Mary Pool  free camp.  We thought Wingana was crowded.  Mary
Pool was ridiculous! Both dump point and loos were at capacity.  Now that is
a worry as the next dump point is 500 k's and three days away. We needed to
top up with diesel at Halls creek before going into Purnululu.
It was Sunday, only one service station open in town, one diesel bowser with
one long hose and one short.  On one side a road train was filling.   On the
other a long line of caravans queued behind a small circus truck who when
finished would not hang up the short hose. He was surrounded by cross
RV'ers.  It turns out he was waiting for the rest of the circus who duly
arrived, got in behind the road train which moved off.  Both hoses guarded
by circus men were then handed in turn to circus road trains only.  All so
they could use the one Coles fuel discount docket.  Last seen they were
arguing the point with the service station staff.  What a circus!  
Next  Purnululu and the Bungles 


Friday, 13 July 2012

Sue and Martin have LEFT the building!

Well, it had to happen, the bittersweet day for the folks at Free Spirit, when a newly completed van turns out of the driveway for the last time and winds its merry way off in the the wild blue yonder. Sue and Martin are finally on their way to an adventure of a lifetime. Wave as you see them go by!

...And during this time, 'Free Spirit' won yet another award from from the Manufacturing Skills QLD, for their innovative manufacturing and for the transference of new skills to a new work force and for a good layout in the factory (or something like that!)  Congratulations FSC! FB

Monday, 2 July 2012

Broome Sweeps Away the Travel Dust for Karen and Les...

The latest from Karen and Les has, as their destination,  a well deserved 7 day stopover at Broome. And some great stories to share along the way! FB

1st July
We are at last in Broome! Last night was our first night in Broome and
believe me after 9 dusty days outback of Marble Bar to sit on the beach,
watch the passing parade of camels and riders silhouetted against the sunset
and the sun setting over the sea, with a glass of cold sauvignon blanc was
We left Waroora Station campsite on the beach mentioned in our last email
and drove into Exmouth for fuel.  Exmouth is an upmarket, touristy area and
is at the end of an 80k peninsular but we don't have enough fuel to make it
to the next roadhouse.  Cape Range NP lies on the western coast of the
peninsular but it was a long drive out, and very popular.  We were advised
to go out at 7 in the morning, queue and if anyone left any of the full
campsites the ranger would let us in.  A bit of a lottery! 
We moved on to Giralia Station for the night instead. Getting some tips (as
you do) from fellow campers going the other way who raved about Karajini NP
we began to consider the possibilities but if you look at your map of
Australia you will see it is a long way. As poor Les said "we drive hundreds
of k's, fill up and drive hundreds of k's again"!  However we have now
decided to turn inland at Nanutarra roadhouse and head for Karajini NP.
We are travelling now along the North West Coastal Highway, being passed by
4 trailer road trains and crossing many cattle grids.  A sedan with trailer
in tow overtook us at great speed and we just happened to notice a few
bedrolls and fuel cans, unsecured, bouncing around.  Soon after crossing a
grid, we drove around a bedroll on the road and knew exactly where that came
from.  A 'U' turn later we had secured the bedroll and hoped at Nanutarra,
the next roadhouse, to reunite said bedroll with owner.  It is a pretty safe
bet that all travellers have to stop at each roadhouse for fuel.
Sure enough there were our travellers mourning the loss of the bedroll.  We
were offered a beer but 10am is a bit early for us.  On to Karajini via
Paraburdoo and Tom Price, stopping in a roadside camp just outside
Paraburdoo a fellow camper told of a short cut to Marble Bar, "dirt but not
too bad" so another spot decision was made to go to Marble Bar.  The road
was lonely, 168k long, varied from wide stony gravel to sandy tyre tracks
with three intersections and no signage.  We met two aboriginal ladies 100k
on, in a 4wd who reassured us we were indeed on the Marble Bar road.
We then decided to drive 80 odd kilometres east of Marble Bar toward
Carawine gorge to a Vets retreat camp to meet up with friends.  More dirt
roads and so dry.  We had a great night, returned to Marble Bar to refuel
and moved on via another dirt road short cut (more defined and only 78k)
back to NWC highway.  Mostly dry cattle country but we found an oasis in the
De Grey River crossing enroute.  A 500k day found us turning off to 80mile
Beach Caravan Park.  Picture 4 caravans making their way along 12k of dirt
road leading to the most beautiful white sandy beach trying to stay out of
each other's dust cloud being overtaken by a twit in Ute with trailer on.
(Seems they are everywhere! FB)
Another 500k finds us here in Broome for 7 days.  The trip log is now at
12,400k. More of Broome later...
Les and Karen
Ps. The artwork Giralia Station was done by the friend we visited out from
Marble Bar

More beautiful photos:
Moffits art, Dales Gorge Karajini, road to Marble Bar, De Grey
River, Cable Beach