Sunday, September 30, 2012

The Duties of a Caravaner - Rooster to Feather Duster

When you buy a caravan and head off into the great Australian towns, the lower level duties still have to be done ... it's not all beer and skittles. For example, the caravan has to be swept, you still need to wash clothes (although ironing isn't a priority), prepare food, wash dishes, and now, empty the chemical toilet.

The latter is a new role for me. As I contemplated emptying our toilet capsule, I recalled the expression, "Rooster one day, feather duster the next". Although as head lecturer of prisoner education and in other positions I had never considered myself a big shot (or a rooster), I was well above emptying toilets other than that act with which we are all accustomed ... pushing the flushing button and letting physics take over.

Well, our shiny new caravan has a chemical toilet capsule. For those unfamiliar with them, I won't go into detail, but the capsule is self-contained and can be removed in one piece from the caravan and taken to a dump point and ... yes, you guessed it, the contents can be dumped.

My mate Michael Dougall just had to accompany me and take some "action photography" of me extracting the toilet canister, towing it to the dump site and dumping its contents. Fortunately, as you'll see in the photos, the capsule has an extending handle and can be towed like a travel bag. (The mind boggles and it lends another dimension to the expression, "taking the piss")

From this experience I have promulgated Caravaners' Rule One: If someone else provides a toilet, you never, ever use your own.

Remember that rule if you become a caravaner.


PS: I thought an appropriate advert for this page would be my range of Colon Cleansing Review e-books.

Thursday, September 27, 2012

What do sullage pipes, microwaves and shower taps have in common?

You're right, they probably have nothing much in common except when they don't work.

Despite the Blue Sky Caravan company's four hour quality control process, gremlins got into our Sharp microwave and shower tap. The former didn't work no matter how hard we tried and the shower tap leaked as soon as we turned on the water supply. Much to their credit, I telephoned Bellerine Caravans and they arranged for us to tow the caravan to the Blue Sky Caravan factory north of Melbourne to have repairs made. The microwave was replaced and the tap fixed.

When we ordered our caravan many months back, I gave no thought to needing a sullage hose that is required to get rid of shower and sink water. Why would I think of such trivia?

Here's where mate Michael's experience came in. He gave me a heads-up about needing to buy a sullage hose, which I did as part of our set-up purchase. I bought an expensive flexible, black rubber hose 25mm in diameter which rolls flat into a special container for storage. All I had to do to use it was to buy a fitting to connect the 25mm hose to the 40mm discharge pipe underneath the caravan.

In the photo you can see the "gaggle" of plumbing bits that went into getting it up and running. It cost about $18 for connections to come up with a solution.

Why am I telling you this? Well, one day you may buy a caravan and you'll need to know all there is to know about sullage hoses.


Sunday, September 23, 2012

Picking Up our Blue Sky Caravan

We'd spent a week or so at Keynton in Victoria and another few days with friends at Geelong waiting patiently to collect our caravan. It was something akin to being a kid and waiting for Father Christmas to slide down the chimney.

There'd been a few days delay in pick up, but it gave us a little longer to get our Toyota Prada 4WD fitted with a dual battery pack, electric braking system and tow bar preparatory to hooking up the van. We did that at ARB Geelong where the service was excellent and we also bought a set of load distribution or stabilizer bars. At almost $4,000 it was a tad more expensive than I had imagined, although we knew the work had to be done and we had budgeted for it.

Although we'd brought a lot of cutlery and equipment from home (a car full in fact), there was a lot more we had to buy. Another $500 for wheel chocks, sullage and fresh water hoses, tent pegs, extension mirrors for the car and so on and we were ready to collect the van. Because we had too much stuff for the one car, our friends came to the Bellarine Caravan site with us and brought some of it with them.

Our van, which we had seen a week earlier, was waiting patiently for us all shiny and new with a "new everything" smell inside. If only someone could can that smell, they could make a fortune.

Graham, one of the caravan people gave us a tour of the caravan and explained all the ins and outs ... how to erect the TV antenna, how to lock the  ventilation hatches, turn the water heater to gas, put chemicals into the toilet, all the time giving helpful hints and tips that would make our life as Nomad Caravaners all the more interesting and less challenging. That took almost an hour. At about that time it began to rain.

Next I had to hook the van up to the Prado. Staff member, Dave brought a bag of tools over and showed me how to set up the Hayman Reese towing equipment complete with stabiliser bars, once again advising me of the safety tips and traps. I stood there with an umbrella as it rained quite heavily for most of the time. When it was all connected, we set up the extension mirrors and although I could hardly see anything in the rear vision mirror, we drove out of the caravan site and up the Ballarat Highway in late afternoon traffic.

We had planned to travel only 15 km to a caravan park to stay for a day or two and get set up. Also, our friends were picking up a Blue Sky caravan the same as ours and theirs was to be delivered the next day. We arrived at the El Dorado Tourist Park on Ballarat Road and fortunately were allocated a drive-through site. (I'm yet to practise the reversing!). As it was still raining quite heavily, friends Michael and Gayle suggested we leave the van and return home with them and stay overnight. For that we were very thankful and although we were looking forward to sleeping in our new mobile home, realised it would have been a disaster trying to set up in the rain.

The next day we went back after the rain had stopped and spent a day or so finding spaces for socks, cutlery and getting all the other things settled in. We spent the first night in our caravan and as we were both exhausted went to sleep early and slept comfortably.

Michael and Gayle joined us in their Blue Sky van which they were fortunate enough to pick up on a rain free day. Damn ... some people have all the luck.

Next post, I'll tell you about the things that didn't go well and how lucky we are to have experienced friends to help show us the ropes of caravaning.


Monday, September 03, 2012

Starting Out as a Grey Nomad

Having retired from the workforce, this week Christina and I head off to Geelong in Victoria to pick up our new Blue Sky Caravan on 14 Sep 12.

It will look similar to that shown in the photo at left and promises to be an interesting experience. Neither of us has had much to do with caravans. We have a lot to learn about life on the road with our fellow "Grey Nomads" of whom there are apparently almost 70,000. That is, at any one time, 70,000 people are travelling here and there in caravans. Fortunately Australia is a large country with plenty of room and roads.

The caravan weighs just over 2,000 kg and is within the 3,000 kg towing capacity of our Toyota Prado turbo-diesel 4 wheel drive. We have to learn the art of carrying only what we need and not what we think we need so that we don't overload the caravan or the car. We have a collection of plastic and melamine plates, cups and wine glasses etc. Now I have to learn all about gross vehicle mass, ball weight and how to drive safely pulling a caravan. Given that so many other people can do it and they can't all be professional truck drivers, I'm sure I'll get there.

Reversing into caravan parks and maintaining the caravan are also skills that we will both need to learn. And then of course, we have to learn to live together 24/7 in such a small place. A tad smaller than our house!

Our first touring stint will be around the southern parts of New South Wales and in Victoria as we check out all the equipment, fittings etc of the van. We want to remain close to Geelong just in case we have to return to have warranty matters repaired. It's a long way to Geelong from Alice Springs.

We plan to return home in mid-November and take off for Western Australia in May next year.

I will be posting updates on where we are and what we are doing and hopefully some interesting commentary about parts of Victoria and neighbour state New South Wales. Keep your eye on our blog if you are interested in learning about our travels.