A year in numbers – The Big Lap vital statistics

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!

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Map of our route, showing camp sites – low resolution.

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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.

pie chart

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?

Vehicle Modifications


Without having any real preference or brand loyalty, I ended up buying a late 2006 HDJ-100R Turbo diesel manual Toyota Landcruiser GXL. I bought this at a local auction, and whilst I was convinced at the time I wanted a Prado, I was attracted by the excellent condition, presentation and amount of kit on the cruiser, the cool colour and the magnificent 1HD-FTE turbo diesel engine. the best and last of the non-common rail turbo diesels. It came with a Warn XD9000 winch, 2″ ARB lift kit, Toyota tow ball, ARB bull bar, driving lights, fog lights, red polyair rear air bags, side steps, snorkel, GME 40 channel UHF radio and 6.5 dBi antennae, full service history and importantly, new Mickey Thompson STZ Baja tyres. It had 182,000 km on the clock and was a very good price.  The only other items I’ve added are a 2100 x 1200 aluminium Rola roof rack and a set of custom rear drawers with a fridge slide. Both of these I bought on ebay for a few hundred dollars each – bargains. The attraction of the turbo diesel was resale and economy. The turbo diesel typically carries a $10,000 price premium over the six cylinder or V8 models, but uses about 25% less fuel. Therefore, over the 40,000 predicted kilometres of the trip, we’ll save $4,100, therefore I’ll have to rely on resale value, not fuel economy savings. To save the difference in purchase price, we would need to travel more than 97,000 kilometres over the life of the car (this data is based on 31,000 km of real fuel economy data and accurate pricing around Australia – we’ve averaged 18.6 l/100 and fuel is on average $1.53/l, unleaded is invariably 5 c to 10 c/l more expensive in the outback).


In the Landcruiser range, I wanted the GXL model built after 2005 to ensure we got the dual air conditioners (single compressor on the engine, two separate condensers), a must for outback comfort for the boys in the back! I was lucky enough to get a November 2006 build, which was the very last of the 100 series. It has Sahara LED tail lights, more modern dash and Sahara chrome rimmed instruments, etc. The massive downside with the HDJ100R model (4.2 TD) is that it will NOT communicate with OBD or OBD2 (On Board Diagnostics) communications protocols, supposedly standard on all vehicles in Australia since 1998 – instead it uses a proprietary Toyota code. I wanted this to be able to access engine error codes and other useful information, such as accurate engine and oil temperature, oil and fuel pressure, voltage, boost, comprehensive trip computers, etc. Preposterously, only the Sahara has a trip computer in the Landcruiser range, so to understand fuel economy, an OBD scan tool (ScanTool, UltraGauge, etc.) would have been mandatory. Instead I had to rely on a primitive device called a fuel gauge! In some cases, we were more than 500 km between refuelling stops, so distance to empty can be critical. Knowing this also allows you to purchase fuel judiciously, i.e. at the cheapest location (using a crowd sourced iPhone app such as the excellent ‘Fuel Map’), rather than topping up ‘just in case’ at every location. Over the trip, we have found differences of over 20 c per litre in less than 100 km. A considerable cost saving when we typically put 100 to 130 litres in the tanks. The GXL has a 94 l main tank and a 45 l sub tank. I also carry a 20 l jerry, always full, and occasionally cycled through the tanks. This gives us a 900 kilometres range, this changes by ±100 kilometres respectively with either a tail or head wind. I typically ignore the jerry can, saving that for emergencies only.


I bought the car about 14 months before the start of the Big Lap. The reason was to  make sure we knew everything about the car before the trip, and to allow me to fit things I knew I wanted, such as roof racks and a rear drawer system. The Cruiser also came with the factory stereo and speakers, as well as the butchered remains of a Bury GSM phone booster and aerial. The Bury phone system boosts mobile reception by a few dB, but only when there is some… other travellers I’ve spoken too feel they are a waste of money. They also must be connected to the car stereo, which may limit installation choices. I went the far simpler after market install option with Bluetooth. I soon removed the factory 6 stacker CD MP3 player and replaced it with a Sony head unit. Luckily the slot was double DIN, meaning plenty of aftermarket choice.

The following modifications were completed before the trip:

Installation of a boost gauge and EGT Exhaust Gas Temperature) probe. This pyrometer is screwed into the exhaust pipe after the turbo charger, but before the dump pipe. This allows accurate measurement of how hard the engine is working, and allows me to cool the engine down properly before switch off. It typically runs at 350 degrees C towing the van on the flat at about 90 kph (cruise). This corresponds to about 0.5 to 0.7 bar turbo boost pressure. Boost is limited to 0.9 bar in the 1HD-FTE turbo diesel engine. The EGT gauge has seen 616 degrees climbing the Adelaide hills towing the van. This was at full boost in third gear on a 40 degree day. As the probe is installed after the turbo, you would expect exhaust gas to be up to 200 degrees hotter on turbo inlet side. I also had the EGR (Exhaust Gas Return) system cleaned. These are installed to reduce emissions and cause headaches and deteriorating economy if not cleaned after 200,000 km. Mine was actually pretty clean.DSC02681

 I found a custom built rear drawer system on ebay for $400. I had this measured carefully by the seller to ensure it would fit my Waeco CF40 compressor fridge. It did. I then bought and modified a rear safety cage from a Ford BA wagon. After cutting out the bottom cage, and bending the side legs, this fitted perfectly and allows access to the rear AC controls located in the roof.

Copy of P1020358 DSC02205

Next was the stereo. I removed and sold the factory stereo, which sounded okay, but does not support Bluetooth, ipods or much else. After much research, I bought a Sony 612BT 6″ touch screen stereo. It plays DVD’s, connects and displays the iPhones’ display via HDMI, has Bluetooth and supports a reversing camera as well as two other camera (RCA video) inputs, which I used for cameras on the van. I installed some additional tweeters over the factory speakers, which improved their sound immensely.


 The old factory stereo – sold on ebay for $60!



Because the GXL Landcruiser runs the Sahara wiring loom, I took advantage of this and installed door courtesy lights behind the red translucent blinds installed in the doors. Not necessary, but it’s a nice touch.


12 x LED light arrays bought on ebay for $1 each. Glued in place with silicon on a flattened peace of tin can – works perfectly.


A big and very cheap change was to replace the interior dome lights with 48 panel SMD LED’s. These were about $4 each. They produce much more light with almost no heat. I also replaced the rear wagon dome light and map lights. Total cost was about $12. It took about 30 minutes to change every globe with an LED.


A common problem with Landcruisers is that the drain flap in the air filter canister falls out. This is meant to drain water out after very deep crossings, but if missing, works in reverse and can let water in. A piece of aluminium and silicon fixed this.

P1010938Because I have the manual, I wanted to be able to manoeuvre the van in low range without having the centre diff lock engaged. This avoids cork screwing the transfer case or axles. There are a few ways to achieve this. I did the common ‘7 pin mod’. I have a switch under the fuel tank switch which allows the CDL (Centre Diff Lock) to be either OFF, or in AUTO (If left in AUTO, it engages automatically when in Low Range). Access to the pin cluster on the Transmission Relay is under the passenger glove box.



Our Home for 2015 is a 2014 Jayco 14.44-4 Expanda Outback. The van has had fewer modifications than the Cruiser, probably because we only picked it up in August 2014 and have had less time to ‘play’. One thing I did install was a fridge vent fan. This helps eject heat from the fridge upper compartment. This helps fridge performance immensely. I used a 125 mm sealed computer fan which draws 120 mA and is connected via an old computer thermatic controller, meaning it varies fan speed (and current) depending on temperature.


I fitted a 600 VA (non pure sine wave) inverter on the factory Jayco 100 Ah GEL battery. This has its own cooling fan and rarely uses more than 10% of capacity (i.e. 60 watts), but it does work the system pretty hard, so I tend to wait until I have full sun before it gets switched on. The 120 watt factory solar panel more than copes with this.

I also engaged Real Caravan Solutions  (http://www.realcaravansolutions.com.au) to install a 4 lpm electric water pump and charcoal taste filter in place of the rubbish factory plunge pump. This has not failed in the 10 months we’ve been on the road. Service, knowledge, professionalism and value are exceptional. Alex can assist with every caravan modification you could possibly want or desire.

Things I wish the van had:  At least two more 12 v outlets around the van as well as a 5 V 2 amp USB charge panel. There is only one 12 v 10 Amp socket located under the TV. This is stupidly inadequate. No USB charging is provided. Everything these days is USB charged. I also wish I had installed LED strip lighting in the cupboards and shelves. The shelves are deep and quite dark. At night a torch is required to find anything. A small LED reading light above the behind the fridge and under the cupboards would be excellent. This would allow the grownups to stay up and work or read whilst the kids fall asleep. To reduce the purchase price, we did not install a radio or TV aerial. Jayco’s prices for these have a whopping markup ($1200 for a DVD capable stereo with 4 cheap speakers and $490 for a TV antennae). I did however elect to get a second 9 kg gas bottle, Alko ESC (Electronic Stability Control), outside fold down table, second 84 litre water tank and level monitor – all mandatory choices for the type of travel we’ve done. If a factory radio is installed, you lose an upper cupboard. However, one could easily be installed in the cavity above the fridge without any space penalty. We watch very little TV, but an MP3 capable radio would be nice (we use a high quality Bluetooth speaker connected to either iPhones or a small FM radio/MP3 player). This is okay but clumsy to set up.

The other side . . .

We have made it all the way to the other side of Australia!  Now I guess we are just coming home – but very slowly.  About as fast as we left home really.  It’s taken about this long (4.5 months) to really settle in to the trip.  There have been ups and downs, really good bits and stressful bits, but no parts yet that we have really hated.  All our “adventures” are being recorded in the Travel Blog section, so click on that tab if you’d like to see what we’ve been up to.  Usually it’s running about a week or two behind as it takes a while to collate and edit it all.

We are about to tackle the famous Gibb River Road (GRR) and have our fingers crossed that the car and the van hold up to 680km of corrugations. Then it will be onwards towards Darwin.

August 2014 – It’s HERE!

Wednesday 6th August 2014:

On Monday 4th August, we were all organised to pick up the van – except for one part, the cashola!  I popped down to the bank, only to be reminded that Murphy is alive! It was bank holiday. And so, because we couldn’t bump the allocated time slot for the hand-over, we still drove the 24 km out to Jayco at Heatherbrae, had our 1 hr instruction session from ‘lounge-suit Larry’, received the idiotic set of seven (7), yes SEVEN individual keys for the van, as well as the instructions and useless 3 1/2 minute DVD, and trundled home. Today was now the big day. We popped back out to Jayco, returning nervously, and with much muttering and unsolicited passenger advice with our new baby in tow.

Incredulously, after school pickup, both boys ran straight past the van (parked imposingly out the front), and straight into the house! To their credit, once they actually noticed the van, they were both very excited! Of course the first question was “can we sleep in it tonight?”.

June 2014

Wednesday 18th June 2014:

In the first week of June we finalised the options list for the Jayco van. Very exciting. Apart from the Alko Electronic Stability Control, all we’re adding on is the Fiama twin bike rack, external table, dual tank water tanks and level gauge and second gas bottle. We considered the Jayco stereo options (a.k.a ‘wroughts’), but the cheapest option for a low quality (and I mean an eBay Chinese special for $65) MP3 player and 2 cruddy speakers was $400, and the dearest option, that played DVD’s and had four speakers, was $1300! I bought a ‘JBL Charge’ portable Bluetooth speaker from JB HiFi instead for $170. Great quality, loud, clear, 12 hour battery life, micro USB charging, versatile and completely portable.

Planning has ground to a slow halt. I have however, purchased a 10” Android tablet for Kris – ostensibly for planning, although it seems to be used mainly for watching Master Chef…