As they reach the end of their nomadic journey around Australia, Wal and Lynda give the final verdict on how their touring setup fared on their epic Hema Nomad Explorers adventure.
For some, 7 weeks and 4000kms through 4 states would be a dream journey all on its own. For us, it was the journey ahead of us to get home to Queensland and finish our Nomad Explorers adventure. And while we are definitely homeward bound, we chose to treat this trip as the former: a unique section of our journey rather than an ending.
South Australia is a pretty state, with green rolling hills, canola fields, rugged mountains, rivers and lakes, not to mention many welcoming towns both small and large. Having heard from many that freedom camping isn’t well catered, we were surprised to find just how many options were available. Along the Eyre Highway, highlights for us were Tcharkuldu Hill, Kooma View Old Farmhouse and a variety of options at Kimba, and we saw many more too.
Shopping was a must in Port Augusta, the first sizeable town we had seen in a while. Having stayed in town earlier in the year we decided to head out to Spear Creek Caravan Park, a member of the Family Parks group. Yet again we were in for an unexpected treat. With all the facilities offered by a traditional caravan park, this is a working sheep station with bush sites scattered throughout the property. While we chose a powered site close to the office, we felt as though we had the place to ourselves; further on there are true bush campsites with total privacy. Firepits are dotted around the property, a sunset seat is located looking out to the Spencer Gulf, there are walking tracks and 4WD tracks, as well as farm-raised, saltbush-fed lamb for sale. While our time was limited this trip, we will be adding Spear Creek to our favourites list, and we will definitely be back.
As we headed into New South Wales we encountered the Big Wet. I doubt anyone in Australia was unaware of the continuous rain, flash flooding and riverine flooding that impacted the southern states for several weeks. As we traversed NSW, attending several events, we encountered water over the road, road closures, campground closures and more. While this was sometimes inconvenient, we were able to access good information and stay safe. It was sad to see the previously healthy canola fields slowly become waterlogged. New South Wales was so green it reminded us of Gippsland - or even Ireland. As Nomad Explorers, we found ourselves on country roads we may never have taken if not for the flooding, and the trip was all the more enjoyable for it. We have learned to expect the unexpected and enjoy every moment.
Our trip was capped off with 4WD shows in Dubbo and Sydney and the Deni Ute Muster. Sharing our travel stories at these events reminded us of just how many places we had seen, friendships we had forged and kilometres we had covered.
Reviewing our setup
We set out ‘prepared to explore’, or so we thought. We selected our tow vehicle, the Ford Ranger, and off-road caravan, the Sunland Patriot, as the ideal rig for the planned trip. Were they ideal?
The Ranger averaged over 20L per 100km - not ideal - so perhaps it is better suited to a less taxing towing situation. It did however do the job with no major issues and is still going strong. The accessories we chose were all well used (except the awning). We found the airbags enhanced the ride with the van on the back, which we were appreciative of on Australia’s outback roads. One of our most worthy investments without doubt were our Recaro seats, which cocooned our ageing backs throughout the long trip; I doubt we could have done some of the long days and rough tracks back-to-back without these. The inverter was well-used keeping our devices charged, as well as for charging our drill and chainsaw. In order to reduce our overall GCM to 6 tonne, we removed the winch and the rear drawers. We didn’t miss the winch, as we never intended to enter really difficult terrain. We did however miss the drawers, sometimes feeling like a contortionist extracting heavy items from deep in the tray. Overall the Ranger was a good choice, but we would consider something with a higher GCM and more torque to match, or at minimum set the Ranger up slightly differently if we were doing it over again.
The Sunland Patriot 186 van served us well. Even with all our added extras, we started with a tare of 2.4t and a payload of 1000kg. There were occasions where we thought an extra 2-feet in length would be nice, with a pantry and wider table, but we chose the length to give us maximum flexibility around where we could go and that made the compromise worthwhile. We were extremely happy with our diesel cooking, heating and hot water, as with all the wet weather we encountered we found ourselves cooking inside more than usual. We appreciated the airbag suspension on many an imperfect site, and even found items accidentally left on benches stayed in place on the move. We added a home-made wood box to the drawbar, then used it constantly; there is nothing like a campfire at the end of a long day. One of the best standard Sunland features is without doubt the large shower with well thought out drainage, while the huge storage box is also a winner.
Meanwhile, we are happy to report that our power set up turned out to be a perfect fit for our needs. The 3000-watt inverter, along with Redarc battery management and 320 amp hours of Revolution Lithium battery, powered up the coffee machine, toaster, and even the Dometic soft start air conditioner at times. Coming back to the fact that conditions were often overcast, we found our power supply coped well with our ‘glamping’ demands. The generator was unused and will likely be relegated to the shed. We replaced the manual jockey wheel with a BOS jockey unit operated with a power drill, which was a real back-saver. Regardless of whether we were towing on a highway or a corrugated track, up a mountain or on the flat, the caravan didn’t miss a beat. So even after this epic adventure ends, we will continue to enjoy our Sunland Patriot van for a long time to come.
One thing we learned – and many other travellers will agree – is that we definitely over packed at the beginning of our trip. We will be reducing the kitchenware, clothing and a few larger items before our next trip. The one item we used all the time was our Shuttle Chef. With an abundance of vegetables on hand and quarantine looming way back in April, we cooked up a stew. Arriving at our destination, dinner done was a revelation. From that day we made all manner of meals in the morning, ready to eat at the end of the day. We will never travel without it again. Perhaps not surprisingly, we didn’t use our BBQ very often at all, which was due to a combination of bad weather and a big travel schedule. It will definitely be coming on the next trip when we will have more time on our hands to cook up a storm. Our ‘must-acquire’ is a perfect mid-sized steamer saucepan to replace our three imperfectly sized pots.
On paper our trip plan looked cruisy, with two nights in many places and three in some. In reality, we often scrambled to do our housework and admin. Two nights really only means one full day in any place, which was unfortunately a reality in our action-packed schedule. We would slow down considerably if we had our time over. Our future travel will likely see us spending a lot more time in each region - I think perhaps 3-4 years to get to the places we haven’t been, and those that we skipped through too quickly. There might also be some gold prospecting as a hobby.
For anyone wondering how much closer we are to completing our travel bucket list, the reality is that it just gets longer and longer. Each experience and conversation whets the appetite for more experiences and places. Over the course of 2016, we have learned a lot about caravanning and even more about ourselves - though mostly we have learned just how much we don’t know, and that there is almost always someone out there who does. And while we are in the home stretch of our Hema Nomad Explorers adventure, we’re already reflecting on the trip that has been and the journeys to come. We have made many friends this year, and we’re hoping to meet up with plenty of travellers in our ongoing nomad adventures. We hope to see you out there too!