Ningaloo Trip 2013: A tale of woes

Wednesday, Jul 31, 2013 at 15:54

ExplorOz - David & Michelle

This is a retrospective narrative as the trip is now over and we are home.
As family, friends, and long-term readers of ExplorOz would know, Ningaloo has been our family winter getaway location for the past 8 years, although we only go every second year, so this trip was our 4th family trip to the same spot.

The journey for us from Perth is about 1200km with the majority of it just a tar blast on the Indian Ocean Drive and North West Coastal Highway, however the final stretch on the Ningaloo Road to the camp-sites should not be underestimated.

This trip became one of our more "eventful" ones, where we were reminded of the old saying "expect the unexpected" so I guess my message to all is that one should never forget Murphy's Law - "that anything that can go wrong, will, and that it will go wrong at the worst possible time."

And so begins my tale of our trip to Ningaloo 2013...

Day 1 - Friday 5th July

Last night (Thursday) we were very pleased with our state of packing, having successfully secured the final things in the boat and 4WD by 3pm before the kids got home from school. And I mean everything was done - there was nothing to do but put bodies in the seats and drive off. We were all on track for our 3.30am departure.

After dinner, David suggested it would be even more convenient if he didn't have to hitch the boat to the 4WD in the dark morning so he went outside to hook up the boat ready just to drive off in the morning. Unbeknown to me, there was a drama unfolding out there and David really hurt himself but I couldn't hear his calls out for help. He was very lucky and managed not to severe a leg but when I found him, he was cut and bleeding from the elbows, shoulder and back and the boat trailer draw bar was flat on the road behind the car - not hitched the back of it! The trailer's dolly wheel had collapsed under the weight as he was trying to hitch it and as the draw bar hit the ground, the bow of the boat had bashed him as it came down with a thud. Not only that, but the trailer light wiring had been caught under the draw bar so was broken. So instead of an early night, David was outside in the 3 degree freezing night air repairing the wiring and using the trolley jack to get the trailer back up to the height to allow him to hitch it. That was the beginning of a series of bad luck episodes for this trip. I think he did get to bed about 10.30pm.

Departure morning went very smoothly. At 3.45am we pulled out of our street with our neighbours Shelley, Justin and kids Grace & Alex (5 & 7) in their Pajero and their new camper trailer (Leisure Matters) following behind. Kids in their onsies, snuggled up with their pillows and blankets. Life is good - we're on holidays - yay!

Travelling with kids, a dog, a very heavily laden boat trailer, and a brand new camper trailer, we agreed to stick together so whenever anyone needed to call a stop, we'd all stop. The first call to stop came atJurien Bay at 6am, where we pulled in under the lights of the Caltex service station and the boys checked the rigs. David says to Justin, "yep my trailer is going well. Hubs are cool". Unlike this same trip 2 years ago, the hubs on the trailer were burning up and we lost 3 or 4 hours doing roadside maintenance, David was just taking precautions and warning Justin to do the same with his trailer. Justin checks his and the call comes back "Ahh, David." "Yes Justin". "The hubs are hot". " bleep . Better jack it up and take a look".

David and Justin had already had the trailer hub discussion so this was an interesting turn of events. By this, I mean David had explained the trailer hub repair that slowed down our last trip to Ningaloo so after taking delivery of his new trailer Justin had apparently done the necessary hub checks - ie. he took one side off and found sufficient hub grease in the packing, so didn't check the other. Sure enough, remember Murphy's Law? Well, the side that was hot today, was the unchecked side of course. However, this can't be Justin's fault - he bought a brand new camper trailer and not expect the hubs to not be well packed with grease. Thankfully, there was no major damage was done to the bearings yet, so they only had to repacked the hub grease (purchased from the servo we'd just stopped at) and we were able to move off - but it was a long 1.5hr stop that spat in the face of our early departure.

From this point, we're driving along the Indian Ocean Drive when we heard something like a leaf rattling in the engine bay of our Landcruiser. When we stopped, we were just near Dongara where the IOD rejoins the Brand Highway. Lifting the bonnet David found 2 broken fan belts - 1 of the 2 alternator belts, and the air conditioner belt. That seemed a bit strange, as we'd only just had our car fully serviced and new belts would have been part of that. David gave it some quick consideration and decided that because the alternator was still charging off the remaining belt, it was fine to continue. He knew he had spare belts tucked well away in the back, so it could be fitted later, maybe at camp tonight.

Unfortunately, the last remaining belt gave way before we reached Geraldton and just as we came to the overtaking lane up a hill the dash warning lights all came on and within seconds there was steam billowing out from under the bonnet. At 90km/hr with a heavy boat trailer behind us and Justin following behind, David could only make an evasive maneuver, which meant pulling off the road to stop immediately (to a chorus of horn toots). When he opened the bonnet, he found it was only steam and not smoke but with the last alternator belt gone, the engine had overheated and blown hoses. It didn't seem too much of a problem at that time as Dave knew he had the spare belts and the hoses simply slid back into place. After unpacking everything that was so nicely packed out onto the side of the road to get to the spare belts, he found he only had 1 belt after all, but as it was only about 5km to get into Geraldton, he figure he could fit that to get us moving again and sort it out in town.

So he set about fitting the belt and found it very tight and fiddly inside the engine bay, but he got the job done. He topped up the radiator with water (about 5L) and turned the engine over, he found water spurting out of the metal pipe (the inlet pipe) to the engine. Very bad now. Here's a video (sorry for the poor quality)...

At this point, it was apparent the problem wasn't going to get sorted without more parts so Justin unhitched his trailer and the boys drove into Geraldton in the Pajero to see if they could buy the necessary parts, leaving Shelley and I with the kids to feed and entertain. JetBoil and good planning with my roller drawer meant I could serve up steaming hot bowls of noodles, soup and crackers to the family. We were very lucky to be so close to Geraldton as we also had mobile service range so the boys were able to talk to us by phone.

Eventually, they came back with a new outlet pipe, radiator coolant, and alternator belts. There was no aircon belt to be found in Geraldton today for our vehicle but it was a workable solution to get this holiday on the road again!

It was all taking so much time eventually Justin's wife suggested that instead of waiting by the side of the road doing nothing, they should drive off into town and see if they could buy some fresh food and cold drinks and for us to join up when we were done. About that time, a 4WDing by-passer stopped to offer some assistance in the form of moral support and nods of approval at the process and correctly timed shakes of the head when things looked grim. He was a local but there seemed little he could do, because towing the 4WD wouldn't get the boat into town and there was no way we were leaving it by the side of the road to be picked over by the next enterprising car load. So David just had to persevere. The big announcement finally came that it was done and the final job was to top up the radiator with coolant. But that's when the real problem became apparent - the radiator was leaking. Seems the damage from the overheating was more extensive that we'd noticed.

This meant a call back to the Walfords to nut out what to do next. David asked Justin to go to the NatRad radiator service place they'd seen in town, and ask if there was any chance someone was available there to take a look at the car if we were to bring it in. David guessed he'd get one chance to drive the vehicle again before doing any further damage so he wanted to get a driveway lined up where we could bring it in and where there would be some chance of getting a repair done.

Meanwhile, he asked me to put a call into the TLC service centre in Perth, who had done our major service including new belts, new radiator etc a few weeks ago and towards whom David was firmly pointing the finger! After a brief summary over the phone, Murray agreed that if we could get it fixed in Geraldton then they would cover all costs under their service warranty but they were completely puzzled as to what had gone so wrong to cause all this in the first place as they were adamant they had done a brilliant job on our vehicle and that there could have been no fault in workmanship etc. In fact, Murray called back a few times with various questions and suggestions and wanted to be sure that NatRad had all the parts to complete the job today - offering to send parts up from Perth the next day with a driver. It made a huge difference to have both the team at Natrad being so attentive and helpful and TLC back in Perth taking full accountability for getting us on the road again.

The NatRad people were amazing. We must have been extremely lucky as they pulled in all their team and everyone there made it their mission to get it sorted and get us on the road. We used their toilets, we parked our vehicles and trailers, and sat around under the trees for 3 hours with the kids and dog feeling completely disconnected and helpless. David was swearing he'd never let anyone service his car again (as he usually does it himself). All the while, TLC back in Perth called a few more times to follow and try to talk through the scenarios of what could have caused these faults. They weren't happy to know they'd been at fault for our ruined trip and were taking every effort to not let it lie. They even suggested, getting one of their mechanics to drop in to see us to check the vehicle over the next day as he was about to leave Perth too heading up to the North West with his family on a trip but we didn't think that was necessary now that NatRad were on the job but they were definitely taking full responsibility for it.

By 4.30pm we got the good news that the job was done and we could leave. Quite a few problems were found but thankfully they were able to pull out the radiator, re-crimp the base, replace hoses, and clamps and other bits & bobs and get us moving before closing time. Apparently, without an alternator belt there was no movement over the engine sensor to warn of engine overheating and the build up of pressure had blown all the hoses and pipes and the base of the radiator. David has since reflected upon this, as he suspects the radiator cap should probably have popped before this. He also says that if we'd had the temperature sensor product from our Business Member - EngineSafe, we would have had an early warning.

All up, about $600 of parts and service (combining the parts and first batch of coolant put in at the roadside, plus the Natrad bill). We paid on a credit card (which TLC said they'd reimburse asap for us), re-hitched the boat trailer, gathered up dog and kids and headed off to a lovely camp we've stayed at before but never planned on being at tonight. Just 30kms north of Geraldton we pulled into Coronation Beach shire operated camp-ground just in time for a great sunset.

Clearly, we'd had a significant setback to the timings we'd anticipated for travelling from Perth to Ningaloo station. We had planned to camp tonight at Gladstone, about 50km south of Carnarvon - making a distance of around 850km. Instead, we'd travelled only 450km and 14 hours. It would mean another roadside camp before we could get into Ningaloo but at least our vehicles and trailers should be 100% now?!

Day 2 - Saturday 6th July

We had an easy camp and easy meals and the Walfords new camper trailer seemed to get put up and down in pretty respectable time and they seemed to look very comfortable to me. It had been a very cold night however, so in the morning we all awoke grumbling about how many layers of clothing we'd slept in. Shelley also announced this was her first time ever staying in the same clothes without a shower for 2 days. That comment really surprised me and I suddenly realised what a step this was for their family to go from caravan park camping to coming away to beach camping at Ningaloo. It might really make or break them. I was silently hopefully it wasn't going to spoil our friendship but who cannot make comfort compromises when you get to be at such a beautiful place as Ningaloo? Only time would tell...

Today's getaway went fine. We stopped at most of the roadhouses for coffee, food, & toilets. At Billabong we went to the southern of the two cafe's and had terrible coffee. On a narrow stretch of the North West Coastal Highway (probably somewhere north of Wooramel I think) a truck heading south let his wheels run over into the dirt verge and a stone flicked up and cracked our windscreen. Just a small star but with a running crack about 10cm long that looked set to spread across the windscreen.

About the same moment, we hear Justin give a call over the radio. "I've got a dash warning light". "What is it?". "4WD". "Better stop then". The sensor for 4WD was coming on despite not engaging 4WD but the service manual gave a fix to override it, which worked for a while but then it would come back on. All the way from there to Carnarvon with patchy 3G mobile data service Shelley tried to research possible reasons and solutions but the best advice was coming from a post in the ExplorOz Forum (LOL) which gave them the confidence this was a bit of a known issue with their model and could be overlooked for now. Still, it seemed a bit odd, given they've had the car for years and its never happened before. Why is everything seemingly going wrong for us on this trip? Unfortunately, it was too late for anyone to be contacted in Carnarvon on a Saturday so they had to live with a bit of internet information to give them the assurances that the vehicle was going to be ok. They too, had only just had their vehicle in for a service - with a new clutch put in 3 days before the trip departure, so any oddities with their sensors and wiring was going to be pointed at the Pajero service centre.

We spent way too long in Carnarvon going to toilets, and getting fuel & supplies supplies but we had to fill all the jerry cans for boat fuel, Walfords needed water, and because we hadn't planned on another roadside camp, we needed some ingredients to make an easy meal (rissoles & salad). We were all just hanging our hopes on fishing tomorrow but knew we'd only get so far as Lyndon River roadside camp tonight so there was no rush now. At this point, I realised how very little much food I had brought in case of no fish and Shelley made me second guess myself over this so I bought a lamb roast, rissoles, potato gnocci, chickpea burgers, salami, & chorizo sausage. My confidence was shattered so I wasn't going to take any more chances.

It was approaching sunset when we pulled into Lyndon River, but it was a simple set-up and a pleasant night and everyone is going well so far considering. The camp-site area has expanded past the hard base out into the softer soils since we've last stopped here so it makes camping much easier for those without a van or motorhome.

Day 3 - Sunday 7th July

This morning we enjoyed another lovely sunrise with shattered cloud patterns but we've managed to escape rain this whole trip north. It's still rather chilly but we're all looking forward to getting to the beach soon!

Turning off the bitumen at Ningaloo Road signs suggest letting air out of tyres and people that don't are the one's that tend to get into strife. With our heavy load, we chose to reduce our tyre pressures to about 27 psi all round on both vehicle and boat trailer (the use of tyre deflators makes this a much quicker job).

The rough limestone and sandy road with lots of potholes, grids, jump ups, and corrugations winds its way down to the coastline through rugged goat & sheep grazing pastures dotted with orange termite mounds. Towing our heavy boat on trailer, we travel at about 50km/hr on this section. Sometimes faster to ride over the corrugations, but often adjusting speed to slow down at hill crests, grids, potholes and sand drifts. Once the road meets the entrance gates to the Ningaloo station visitors are directed to check-in at the station homestead - a very basic affair. After the necessary paperwork, and payments, you receive a key to allow you to access the locked gate access to your choice of the 4 camping areas on the station (Winderabandi Point, Jane Bay, South Lefory, North Lefroy/Point Billie). The track becomes even slower going at about 30km/hr and in many sections the track is single file which makes it a little tricky when big towing rigs pass one another heading different directions. But holiday courtesy usually prevails here so someone will pull off the track to let another pass. For us, the first locked gate is our turn off and from here its just 4km to the beach front where signs insist tyres pressures need to be reduced further (down to 20 psi) as it is softer sand from here.

There had been a flood of rain through here two weeks ago and so the sand was quite firm. We pulled into our allocated camp-sites around 11.30am. When we got out to check out our sites, Justin says "so I've got no 4WD". "Oh". Let's hope that's not going to be a problem doing the water run through the dunes, and that we can still get out to visit the Whaling Station...for now, it was something we just had to forget about. He got in, so he should be able to get out ok and if we stick together our 4WD can pull him out.

Other than a stiff breeze making tent and gazebo set-ups a bit annoying, we got the camp together, made some ham, cheese & cucumber sandwiches, and then David started to make up the mooring lines and set the anchors to launch the boat off the beach. At long last - we were here! Now let the good times roll.

For our first night at Ningaloo, we cooked up the roast lamb I'd bought in Carnarvon in the Cobb Cooker with some sweet potatoes and expected it would be fish every night from here on.

Day 3 - Day 15: Sunday 7th July - Friday 19th July

For the duration of our stay at Ningaloo we camped in the one spot at South Lefory Bay, so it was a relaxing plan and nothing like our usual "on the go" 4WDriving adventure trips. As with any good holiday, the day's blur into one so I won't itemise each day but try to summarise for you what daily life was like (with a few pics), not that I'm trying to make you feel too jealous.

Firstly, just for the record I should explain that both David and I should be in training for an upcoming half ironman (70.3) triathlon. Typically, these should be 18 week training programs incorporating about 9 hours of swim/bike/run/strength training sessions in the early weeks. At the time of starting our holiday, the race was 18 weeks away. We still keep up our cycling over winter but the swimming and running sometimes drops off a bit and David has been attempting to recover from a neck/spine injury so there wasn't a huge amount of pressure to do too much on this holiday. We did manage to run 9 times out of the 12 days we stayed there but we encountered a lot of winds that made swimming and kayaking a bit unpleasant unless you picked the right moment. The running was good however - we go out on the trails behind the camps early in the morning before breakfast running on the sandy/corrugated driving tracks with some undulations. We usually cooled off with a short swim still fully dressed in our running gear (which doubled as "clothes washing"). In addition to our neighbours, we also planned our trip with another triathlon family from Perth that we previously met on a Ningaloo holiday, so it was great to catch up with them again and do a few runs together. Funny - they live in Perth but we spend more quality time together in one week at Ningaloo than we do in a year back at home! Our kids really got together well this time, with their kids Zac (10), Cassia (13) and our Leah (12) especially enjoying a lot of common interests and they got to go out fishing on the boat and Zac was actually the first to catch a Mackeral (his largest fish ever, but unfortunately undersized so had to go back).

The fishing started well on the first day with Zac catching the throw back Mackeral, Justin's catching his first Spanish Mackerel (a keeper) and a GT. It was great to be eating freshly crumbed mackerel fillets in our fish & salad wraps dripping with beetroot, pineapple, tartare sauce. Yum! Lunch was followed by mackerel korma with pearl couscous for dinner. It set the scene for our fishing beach holiday quite nicely and we were all expecting more good catches. But unbeknown to us, our fishing luck had run out as soon as it started, and in total I think only 6 fish were landed and brought back to shore throughout the entire stay, which was very surprising (and disappointing).

Our typical day would start with a run and maybe a quick swim, followed by breakfast and then 2 fishing sessions per day around 10.30 and 2.30. The fishing from South Lefory Bay really needs to be done out past the reef as inside the reef is a shallow lagoon with a sandy bottom ranging from 3-6m depth and not much fish can be caught there. Shore fishing is rarely productive, so only the kids really bother.

There are 3 natural breaks in the reef - one is almost straight out from our camps that David is most comfortable using fixed landmarks for navigation, and there is also a more northern one nearer Winderabandi Point. We don't have marine charts or a plotter on the boat, just a depth sounder and our windows tablet with inbuilt GPS we use for in-car navigation running OziExplorer. It's enough for this sort of basic navigation but not enough to find the southern channel which can be treacherous and is a much bigger trip (but where we believe more fish were being caught this year!).

Our boat is 5.4m and has a big inboard engine that needs a minimum of 800m water clearance so we are careful when navigating the reefs. The middle channel that we use to get out is only about as wide as the boat and the water is only 1.5 - 3m deep as you charge through the wave sets in the channel trying to ride on the back of a wave keeping a watch out for any unsuspecting bommies! It can be exciting in some conditions ;)

Given the previous 3 trips here were marked by extensive fishing success, we couldn't at first understand what was going wrong when day after day no fish were being caught. It might sound selfish to sound disappointed, when on each boating outing you'd be guaranteed to have a pod of whales right alongside the boat, and they did catch marlin, and many fish that got away or were eaten by sharks just as they reeled them in to the back of the boat. It goes without saying, that once again, David didn't jump off the back of the boat with his snorkelling gear as he's been wanting to do for years!! The problem was that we actually planned to rely on the fish for feeding the family so I had very little food that could be made without fish as the main ingredient! At the beginning of the second week Shelley and I took the kids in our Landcruiser back to Coral Bay to pick up some meat & more boat fuel (in the jerry cans), as they were using up so much fuel in the desperate search for fish!

In some ways, the fishing overshadowed same of the fun we would normally have been able to have. Because just 1 big Mackeral (22kg+) would feed both families for quite a few days and take the pressure off. So, we didn't get to use the boat for as much water-skiing, or towing kiddies on tubes, or snorkelling, or squidding as after 2 big outings, the boat driver was too tired. It was also very windy nearly every day so even if we did have enough fish to have the time for play, conditions weren't exactly perfect for water-skiing anyway.

The kids didn't seem to care - they dug holes, splashed and swam, and collected shells. Their favourite activity was the night-time crabbing however. After dinner, they'd take off with buckets and headlamps walking along the waterline to grab and catch the ghost crabs. At first, we sent an adult on these excursions, especially as little Grace is only 5, but soon they were perfectly capable of doing it themselves and even teamed up with the neighbouring kids at other camps for a mass onslaught against the poor little crabs. No lives were lost however, as the game was catch & release. The task was to catch more each night than the night before and the record finished at 68!

Whilst only 2 Mackeral eating fish were caught, they did catch a few excellent tuna. One day they brought in both a blue-fin tuna and the much larger and better eating yellowfin tuna. As we've done in the past here, we ate a fair bit of this tuna raw (as in sashimi) dipped in some lovely sweet soy sauce.

The kids would often cast a few lures off the beach at sunset and Chardae surprised us all by catching a lovely King George Whiting that she proudly ate that night. Her first solo catch. Her squeals of delight as she landed it was priceless. I love this photo (see below).

My favourite fish recipe of the trip would be my raw marinated fijian tuna. The recipe calls for 1 cup of lime juice, 100ml of coconut cream, and some capers. You simply pour all that over the raw fish (filleted and cut into bite size pieces) and chill overnight. Using a slotted spoon I placed the marinated fish pieces onto wraps with salads and a little of the reserved marinade. It was very tasty and both kids enjoyed it too. A definite one to do again. Note to Jacqui if you're reading this - your local limes were very juicy, thank you they were perfect for this dish!

All the fish kept for eating on this trip were caught by Justin so David completely lucked out, with his one and only catch being the tiny squid. Hundreds of dollars of boat fuel, countless hours spent motoring up and down the reef, enormous energy and effort in twice daily fishing excursions and runs out through the reef in variable conditions didn't seem to make the fish want to bite. David was furious but we ran out of time.


We must give mention to TLC Auto Centre in O'Conner. Despite the dramas no doubt caused from faulty belts used in the recent service, the attention they gave to our dilemma in Geraltdon was astounding and when I tell you what happened next you'll think I'm pulling your leg but I'm not - this really happened. So remember I told you that Murray offered to send a mechanic up bring spares and check out the vehicle? Well the "mechanic" arrived one day at the Ningaloo station (all the way from Exmouth where he was stopping a few days en-route to Karratha, then Broome with his family of 3 kids and the wife). We got a call from Phil asking for us to meet "our mechanic" at the can recycling point. It was totally out of the blue, and David was out on the boat fishing! I did as I was bid, and sure enough the lovely Jason and his family had made a special trip on behalf of TLC to give a first hand check of our vehicle and discuss exactly what went wrong. After getting the story, and getting the list of expenses, they handed over $600 cash and said "we can't possibly have you out of pocket on your holiday. We're so sorry this spoilt your holiday. Please bring in back in when your back in Perth so we can check it carefully before your next trip". WOW - who does that?! Whilst there was clearly some sort of stuff up - you couldn't have asked for better service than that. Turns out, they believe they have a batch of faulty belts - similar thing happened to another vehicle not long ago so they want to track down the problem.

People who don't do these sorts of holiday often ask me about hygiene. I'm perfectly happy to proclaim I only had one shower (using our Twine hot water system), haha! But of course, I swam in the water everyday. My secret weapon, is the H2No towels (shameless plug for product we sell, but they are the best invention). David and I used 2 each per day (one for the mornings, one for the night) and it makes all the difference in the world. Just as I slide into bed, I would wipe over my face to get rid of any salt, and fresh up all over. In the mornings I would do the same. I also used Mitchem deodorant daily so the H2No towels takes off the residue daily too to avoid any irritations. I wax, not shave, so don't have hair regrowth issues when away and together, I find that personal hygiene at bush camps isn't that difficult after all. Mind you, water is not really scarce although there is effort involved to get water. Artesian water is available from the dune area so you just need to bring your electric portable pump to drop into the hole and a few 20L drums to cart it back with. We transfer 60L to our stainless water tank inside the vehicle (has a gravity feed tap for ease of use to fill water bottles, cups, pans etc), and I keep a couple of 5L jerry cans around the cooking area for topping up the dishes etc.

We made two runs to get water during our stay but that 4WD problem in Justin's car decided to be a problem on the second visit when the winds left soft sand drifts that required 4WD to get through. Here's some photos of the various recovery attempts - finally backwards worked! That was the day were were heading for a visit to the Whaling Station. Unfortunately, they couldn't get their car across the dunes (with a 4WD transmission) that day so we all missed out, but we did get to go up to the lookout.

This year we substituted the OB for a WB. The OB (Orange Box) is a Tropical 110 litre ice box we have used on the three previous trips supplied by our travelling companions at the time (Greg, Melissa and kids). As these guys were not coming on this trip we researched the best replacement product and were quickly pointed to the WB (White Box) an Evakool 110 litre fibreglass model. It was great and when we left was fully loaded with 3 1/2 blocks of tin beer, a carton of G&T tins, wine bags and of course block ice. This lasted well and we were able to keep using the WB for 9-10 days no problems. Yay! something that did not fail or break on the trip.

On the final day before pack up we finally got an opportunity to go snorkelling on the reef just off the sandy point a short walking distance from our camp. We found a massive blue starfish, many colourful reef fish, clams and other marine delights. We were also joined by half a dozen dolphins. A perfect day to finish the trip.

However - from here, our luck turned bad again....
Despite a reasonable pack-up and getaway on Saturday mid morning (10.30 at the homestead), Justin discovered a problem with his trailer suspension when we got out to collect his bond refund - the wheel guards were sitting low on top of the wheels on one side and upon inspection they found missing leaf springs!!! Justin back-tracked in his vehicle to see if he could pick up the dropped pieces, while David tried to figure out what had happened and how they could get the trailer road-worthy again. Scrounging around in the various bits of odd and ends and abandoned old trailers around the homestead, David found a some parts he could fashion up should Justin come up empty handed. About 2 hours later the Walfords returned with most of the missing parts of his leaf suspension and David was able to start putting it all back together. It seems the problem was that the centre bolt that holds the leaf springs together had dropped out - because it had been put together with the nut at the top, meaning when the nut worked it's way loose, the bolt dropped loose allowing the bottom 3 springs to simply fall away. You can imagine the language directed at the lazy mechanical assembly of Chinese camper trailers! It was 4 hours from arrival at the homestead to the time we pulled away but they only drove 100m when Justin called out on the UHF radio that the trailer was now crabbing sideways, not pulling straight. David was distraught to find he had put the suspension back together back-to-front, so the whole trailer had to be jacked up again, wheel off, suspension off and turned around, and put together. However, whilst they were doing that, they noticed the other side didn't look the same and can you believe it - the bolt had also dropped out of the other side and they were about to loose the springs off that side too. The bolt was gone, so they took one off another part of the trailer and put it in place. It was 5.30pm and we had moved a total of 15km that whole day. Kids and dog were amazing - adults shattered. We had to continue forward and hope to just get off the station, off Ningaloo Road and onto the highway and possibly camp at Lyndon River.

We still had to inflate tyres, go through gates, and travel over the terrible corrugations so we expected it would be another hour or so. We didn't expect for the spare wheel on our boat trailer to sheer off its mounting bracket and land in the middle of the road for the Walfords to come across. Shelley carried it in her lap in the passenger's seat until they regrouped with us - during which time David did a trailer inspection and found the support arms for the boat had dropped but he was able to fix it (just more problems and more time we didn't have).

Shelley and I decided we may as well crack open a bottle of wine when we reached the highway (we were not driving) to muster up some wifey good humour to get through what was sure to be an eventful night. So it was pitch dark by the time we turned onto the highway and we decided to drive on past Lyndon River road-camp a further 25km to reach the Minilya Roadhouse - a quick check in my Hema road atlas confirmed the opening hours were until 9pm so we agreed tonight was a night for a roadside dinner of burgers or anything we didn't have to bother preparing. We arrived at 8.30pm (closing at 9pm) after dodging kangaroos (and even hitting one) so it was time to stop and camp. Whilst the boys refuelled the cars, the girls got the dinner orders going - burgers for 8 please! They were fantastic staff - accommodating, cheerful and compassionate to our bad day. Camping alongside a highway with passing trucks is never fun but we didn't complain. We were done for the day.

The following day, we were away at 7.30am with our next stop Carnarvon for fuel, food and catch up with the internet world and phone calls. The drive to Perth that day was monumental - about 1100km but we made it home by 8.30pm with no further dramas - other than to unpack and clean up and do it all again. Yes, you read it right - we are off in less than 2 weeks on a desert trip. Heading to Maralinga with Stephen Langman and a crew of fabulous ExplorOz members (a first-time meeting for most of us, putting faces to names we've known for many years).

Our next blog should be from the road as we head out this Saturday for a 2 week trip - Perth to Maralinga and then a bit of a mystery drive guided by Robin Mathews (Maralinga Range Tour Manager) along Aboriginal Business Roads (normally closed to people like us ;)) into the Great Victoria Desert, joining up with the Anne Beadell Hwy, and into the WPA, Emu etc and back to Maralinga down the normally closed Emu - Maralinga Road.

Oh, there was just one final thing - that little star crack in the windscreen I mentioned... well, it opened up the first night we came back to the cold of Perth and we had to replace the windscreen. Murphy's Law - anything that can go wrong, will... and it will happen at the worse possible time. Be prepared my friends, you can never plan for the unforeseen.

Written by Michelle Martin

David (DM) & Michelle (MM)
Always working not enough travelling!
BlogID: 5150
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