Inspired by the travel blogs of others as well as my own nerdy love of all things data, I collected the odd piece of information here and there during our ‘Big Lap’ year. This was not to manage or maintain a budget of sorts, but simply to understand where the money and resources went and exactly what happened when. The following is a dry dissection of a detailed spread sheet I kept over the year. Caveat emptor!
Map of our route, showing camp sites – low resolution.
Map of our route, showing camp sites – Warning large file, high resolution.
We were away from our home in Newcastle for 372 nights. Of these, 18 were spent sleeping in beds other than our own. This included a week in an apartment with Kris’s parents in Broome. To manage the high price of caravan parks in Australia, we free camped for 42 nights, stayed on family and friend’s properties for 66 nights and stayed in national parks for 62 nights (although Victorian and NSW National Parks are dearer than many caravan parks). This left 24 nights at farm stays (basically budget caravan parks) and 172 nights, or 46% of the trip in caravan parks.
The cheapest caravan park was $10 a night at Hermannsburg in the Northern Territory’s West Macdonnell Ranges, and the dearest by far was Cumberland River along the Great Ocean Road in Victoria at $93 a night for an unpowered site. Cairns Big 4 was definitely the most luxurious (and incidentally is voted No.1 in Australia). Accommodation accounted for 15% of the total trip cost, the third highest cost behind food at 19% and site seeing at 21% (this was skewed hugely by a flight over the Bungle Bungles in WA). We stayed at 147 different camp sites. The average stay was 2.5 days and the maximum, at Kris’s Uncles farm near Tarcutta, was 13 days.
Our longest stay in any state was 127 days, or 18 weeks in WA, followed by 57 days in Qld, 53 in the NT, 51 in Vic, 44 in NSW, 41 days in SA and just 4 days in the ACT. We passed three times into NSW, twice into the ACT, Victoria, SA and the NT, and had 15 trouble free border crossings. We even caught the dreaded SA to WA border fruit fly Nazis on a good day and were allowed to keep the children, who’d just eaten a load of fruit!
We traveled on average 189 km between camps on each travel day. Our biggest travel days were 619 km followed by 622 km crossing from the NT to Qld to get to the Cloncurry Rodeo. Our shortest trip between camps was just 29 km in Perth. Overall, we spent 441 hours in the car, just over one hour each day over the whole trip, or 3 hours on travel days. If the boys were missing, it was common to find them both reading in the car. Stockholm Syndrome alive and well. Without DVD or other dedicated electronic entertainment, we killed time listening to Stephen Fry narrating all seven Harry Potter books, interspersed with Roald Dahl, times tables, ceaseless question time, music and that old chestnut, eye spy.
Betsy, our well-loved 2006 manual turbo diesel 100 series Landcruiser, took us 36,398 km around the country, of which 27,763 km, or 69% were with the caravan in tow, the remainder being in day trips. The worst roads were around the north of WA, especially the road to Cape Levique from Broome and some of the side trips along the Gibb River Road in the Kimberley region. We traveled about 3800 km on either corrugated dirt or sand, the longest stretches being 1022 km along the Gibb River Road, 757 km along the Plenty Highway from western Queensland to Alice Springs and 527 km from Coober Pedy to Leigh Creek along sections of the Oodnadatta Track.
I carried out four services on the road, using 44 litres of oil. We used our Bush Ranger Supermax air compressor constantly on dirt roads, varying tyre pressures from as low as 15 psi in sand dunes to 43 psi for highway travel. Pressures were regularly reduced to 25 – 30 psi on the van and truck with corrugations. This made a huge difference to ride comfort and mechanical wear and tear. We plugged one puncture on the caravan at Mt Tom Price in WA and had one blow out on the Oodnadatta Track in SA. The Mickey Thompson tyres on the 4WD performed faultlessly, reducing about 6 mm in tread depth over the year, that’s about 6000 km per mm wear. The car tyres were rotated twice. Low range was used constantly for slow van maneuvering at camp sites as well as for steep 4WD climbs and rock crawls. The car sustained no damage apart from the odd scratch. Despite using our proprietary home made stone guards, which I built in Port Hedland, there was noticeable stone chipping on the front and underside of the caravan.
Our 4WD used 6224 litres of diesel at an average price of $1.40 a litre, 14% of the total trip cost. Our cheapest fuel was $1.10 /l in Melbourne and the dearest was $2.09 /l at Mt Barnett, along the Gibb River Road. With our 20 litre jerry can we had a safe cruising range of 900 km with 165 litres of motion lotion on board and we averaged 18.4 l/100 km for the trip. This dropped to 15 l/100 on dirt roads when our road speed was roughly 70 kph. I constantly calculated fuel burn, and our closest shave was arriving at Ceduna with just 9 litres of fuel on board. Too close. We refueled 86 times. The average fill up was 73 litres and the maximum was 150 litres.
We picked up a load of bad fuel at Merimbula in NSW. This caused a fault in our engine computer (ECU) which caused an injector timing system fault. A flushed fuel filter and reset ECU fixed this improbable occurrence. Next time I’ll invest in a second filter and water trap. This was probably the biggest bullet we dodged (it would have cost about $4500 for a new injector pump, which one mechanic said we needed – thankfully he was wrong). We also replaced one of our 740 CCA car batteries under warranty, just 4 days before warranty expiry. We also suffered a cracked 120 watt solar panel at Halls Gap in Victoria (cause unknown) which was replaced by the supplier, ‘Coast to Coast RV’, free of charge outside of warranty (suggesting a known fault). Jayco, our van manufacturer, attended to every warranty issue promptly and without question, including replacing a faulty brake drum in Adelaide and 4 snapped wheel studs in Bunburry WA. That was an exciting day.
A summary of daily costs.
Dust eats everything, which meant three gas regulators being replaced whilst under warranty. We consumed 80 kg of gas during the year and on average, each 9 kg bottle of gas lasted 18 days of cooking and free camping (running the caravan fridge). Whilst we free camped often, we used our Thetford portaloo at just three camps. The rest of the time we relied on either drop loos or very occasionally, ‘bush burials’.
Speaking to other travelers, our fuel consumption was the equivalent lowest of any 100 series turbo diesel. This was potentially my slower driving style sitting on 85 – 95 kph, our lighter caravan weight and the fact that our car is stock (many owners install an aftermarket computer ‘chip’ in a vain attempt to obtain more power and torque for the same fuel consumption. It’s a lie). On flat roads, the EGT (Exhaust Gas Temperature) averaged 350 C (probe is located after the turbo but before the dump pipe) and we sat on about 0.7 bar turbo charger boost when towing. During climbs, boost increased to the maximum 0.9 bar and EGT regularly rose to 450 – 500 C. On one very steep climb, EGT peaked at 616 C, meaning the exhaust manifold would’ve been glowing nicely!
We checked the 4WD weight at a certified weigh bridge at Nerada Tea at Malanda in north Qld. It was a hefty 3.32 t fully fueled and loaded with four passengers. This is 705 kg above the kerb weight and just 60 kg under the gross vehicle mass. We also checked the total loaded weight of the truck and van at a public weigh bridge at Alice Springs, which was 5.40 t. This indicates the van was 2.08 t, meaning we were carrying 595 kg of clothes, bikes, books, food, water and other crap in the van. This bridge was not certified, so could be out by +/- 10%. I carried 41 kg of tools in the car, and 10 kg of recovery gear. All tools were used at some stage to repair or maintain either our 4WD, our van or the vehicles and vans of other travelers. Our Warn XD 9000 lb winch was exercised monthly, but was not used in anger.
Considering the storms, cyclones and bushfires around the country in 2015, the weather was very good, our average daily maximum temperature was 29 C. Tropical cyclone Marcia in Yepoon Queensland provided a rare tail wind for us across the Nullabor. We had a few days of 43 C in South Australia, southern Western Australia and two weeks of 38 – 40 degrees around Alice Springs and the centre. The lowest temperature was -0.8 C at Thredbo Diggings in the Snowy Mountains. It rained or drizzled on 35 separate days including 10 days of continuous showers and little to no sun whilst free camping in the Pilbara region in northern WA. Our excellent 120 watt solar panel and 100 Ah battery kept chugging away without charging during this period. We narrowly missed cyclone Quang around Exmouth in WA. The downside being poorer water visibility and reduced fish life at Ningaloo reef.
Retentive? Just possibly. This is a small part of the Excel table I created to track costs.
We walked 590 km on dedicated walking tracks, which I tracked using a GPS app on my phone. I estimate we walked double that around camp sites and towns. Unfortunately my 15 year old Scarpa hiking boots died early in the trip but were replaced by a fabulous pair of Keens in Perth. October, which included the Macdonnell Ranges, Uluru, Kata Tjuta and the Flinders Ranges, was our biggest walking month at 108 km. The boys rode their bikes pretty constantly, but I managed just 133 km on my bike for the whole year. With the adult bikes on the roof of the 4WD, they were a real pain to get down and were not used often enough. Burrs were a constant problem with the boys bike tyres constantly requiring repairs.
Water, which is scarce north of Carnarvon in WA, was our lifeline. For campers, no water is available to wash cars or vans in remote areas, even drinking water can be difficult to obtain. Essential items were our reversible 0.5 micron ‘Best’ silver water filter, which processed 5580 litres of water and prevented any illness. At least 70% of the water we processed was artesian bore water. Our caravans two 84 litre tanks were refilled 57 times via the Best water filter and the second carbon taste filter for crystal clear water all year. We also carried 12 litres in the car at all times to drink and in case of radiator failure.
Our Thermos brand Shuttle Chef was used for everything from slow roasts to deserts, and this, along with our Weber Baby Q, meant we always ate well. Over the year, Kris lost 200 g and I put on 600 g. I blame my weight gain on my Navy ration of one beer per man per day perhaps. Our 184 litre Dometic absorption caravan fridge was excellent, but struggled in high temperatures. The Waeco 44 litre car fridge also performed flawlessly and was set at 2 C all year. It is designed to switch off on preset low battery voltage to protect the car battery, which it did several times. Our least used items, apart from the adult bikes, were hard copy Camps Australia and Free Camps books, a few obscure cooking items and some tools (which of course Murphy dictates I would have needed if they had been left behind). We used Wiki Camps exclusively and found it excellent everywhere, no exceptions. I needed two jump starts and I started about half a dozen other vehicles. The rule of the bush is; if you break down, head to the biggest, meanest 4WD you can find, they’ll have the most tools on board!
We took two 7′ fishing rods and used these for beach, river and coastal fishing with varying degrees of success. As always with fishing, the cost of tackle and bait far exceeds the cost of the fish you catch. But the boys and I had great fun, especially James, who likes catching but not eating fish!
Excluding time-lapse images, I took 13,188 photos and 2,246 video files. In total 292 GB worth. I also took 140 high quality sound recordings of our magnificent environment at various locations using a Sony ICD-SX713 sound recorder with a home made wind sock. I took a Nikon D7100 digital SLR, five lenses, a flash, a carbon fibre tripod, a remote release and various filters. Other cameras included three water proof action cameras, including one GoPro Hero, one Panasonic water proof point-and-shoot camera and a backup Sony point-and-shoot camera. I took my Lowepro Nature Trekker AW camera backpack on most walks. This weighs 8 kg without extra water and comprised the DSLR, three to four lenses, the tripod, filters and one action camera. The boys took 2L bladder packs on longer walks, leaving Kris with a back pack full of extra water, lunch, snacks and a snake bite kit. We took an Iridium 9505A Satellite phone on a Pivotel contract free plan. This was used once in anger. We considered it cheap insurance. It was bought and sold on eBay.
To stay in touch, write the blog and to edit photos on the move, I took my Sony Vaio i5 laptop, three 10.1″ Android tablets and a Telstra 4G modem. The modem worked well, even in marginal reception areas. Kris and I also used our Telstra smart phones (of varying intelligence) for calls, weather checks and data tethering when reception permitted. Telstra provides the only coverage outside of regional centres, no exception. Photos were backed up onto two separate portable hard drives. I fitted a 23″ LCD TV in the van and we occasionally played family movies and tuned in the TV to catch the news about a dozen times all year. I don’t think we missed anything. Nothing failed, but dust got into nearly everything meaning constant vigilance and cleaning.
Now who said statistics isn’t fun?