Lara’s big test
As you all know we finished building Lara which means it was time to put her to the test. And what better way to do this than a roadtrip?
The plan was to leave on Australia Day (26 January), but as we had been flat out until that day we actually spent the day packing her. Now, normally that is a matter of throwing some clothes and food in, but as we had never actually packed her before it took a little longer. We had to add tools too, crockery and cutlery and other things for the kitchen, and a whole heap of other things that will now just remain in Lara, ready for the next trip.
After loading her up (we had plenty of space left) we left on Friday, and by the time we stopped for lunch we had uncovered our first issue. The fridge wasn’t working properly. We checked connections and fiddled with it until the hum of the compressor was heard. All good again and off we went. We camped our first night in a small national park and caught up with friends in Wooli the next day who were there for the long weekend. Together with Hugh, Mingyuan, Zu (their dog), Josh, Laurene, baby Emma and Laurene’s parents we went swimming and snorkeling. At night we slept in Lara in front of their cottage. The nights were hot and we tested the fans to keep us cool at night, they were so good!
We followed the coast down, stopping along the way where we found interesting places to go for a walk, and camped either in national parks or in random, beautiful places without another soul in sight. This is what all the hard work was all about, freedom. We were enjoying the walks and encounters with wildlife. Mostly birds, but we spotted a pack of dingoes too in the sand dunes of the Myall Lakes NP.
We decided to visit Simon, Jacqi and Lizzy in Sydney, driving through some severe rain storm the entire route through Sydney. We copped 65mm of rain in 2 hours, a proper downpour and a great test for Lara’s waterproofness.
Did she pass the waterproof test? Unfortunately not. Water was dripping in from the solar cables where they enter the palace. We put a bucket underneath it and some towels and spent the evening with our friends, we would deal with this later. The weather improved and we continued south through the Royal NP where we spent some more time fixing the fridge again, before driving along a bit of road that Jon was keen to see (and drive). It features in several car ads apparently and sits away from the cliffs above the ocean.
More bird watching, runs and walks along the coast until we started driving west towards Canberra. We have a few friends living there, including three who we were meeting in Bright later in the trip for the travel film festival. As we had limited time, we only contacted the friends we weren’t going to see in Bright. We very briefly popped in to say hi to Tom Anna before catching up with Jake and Lucy. The next morning we managed to catch up with Olga for breakfast in the wetlands. And that’s where we got rumbled. Ella spotted Lara on her morning walk as she was parked at the wetlands and posted the picture on the Bright film festival whatsapp group.
As we had to wait a bit before we could see the fridge electrician we decided to catch up with B-listers Mark, Ella and Benji that night. Unfortunately this is when Jude decided to get food poisoning so she spent the next day mostly in bed and in the bathroom. We’ll spare you the details.
With the fridge now fixed and glorious sunshine so we didn’t have to worry about water coming in, we drove on. We popped in at Tony and Carmel’s place (Tim’s parents), checking out their Defender 130 and camper slide-on. So good to compare notes with fellow Defender crazies.
As we were meandering our way to Victoria through the NSW Alps, it had just snowed in the Alps so Jude’s ugg boots came out and we could also test the comfort of Lara in the cold. She passed with flying colours, but we think we will add a sheepskin rug on the floor to keep our toes warm when it is cold.
In the Alps the bikes finally came off the bike rack and we enjoyed our first ride in months. We’re very happy we found a bike rack that works on the tow hitch. It looks and feels very sturdy and we love having bikes with us on our trips.
We finally made it into Victoria as we were inching our way closer to Bright. We loved this area of Victoria. Lots of mountain bike and hiking trails, great campsites, awesome little towns with interesting breweries, but best of all were the mountain creeks. We used every one of them we came across for a swim or a dip, it became our daily ‘shower’.
Before getting to Bright we were catching up with Pete and Bec on top of Mt Buffalo. We hiked some of the trails and went for swims in the refreshing Lake Catani, together with their 8 year old twin girls Laura and Lucy.
And then it was time to head to the travel film festival in Bright. We were meeting everyone for breakfast at the Black Bird café so everyone could meet everyone. Guy and Cheryl (who told us about the festival) were there from Brisbane, Kerry came over from Sydney and her friend Corinne drove up from Melbourne. Mark, Ella and Benji drove over from Canberra and Jo came up from Warragul (also in Victoria). It was a perfect start to the festival. We also bumped into Kym and Lynn outside the café who had also come down from Brisbane. Steve (Jo’s brother) came up for a day and of course Pete and Bec and the girls also joined. So all in all we had a lovely bunch of people in Bright.
The movies started that afternoon and we settled in for a very leisurely three days of watching movies, eating ice-creams, quick lunches in between the movies, walks through town to get to the next venue, dinners together, beers at the local brewery and many, many swims in the creek that runs through town. As Jon would say; “The sun shone and it was a perfect weekend with friends”. Our favourite movie was 972 breakdowns, but we enjoyed many others, as well as the talks from the two camel ladies (Robyn Davidson who wrote Tracks and Sophie Matterson who wrote The Crossing).
All too soon the weekend came to an end and we were saying goodbyes. We spent a final day with Kerry, Jo and Benji before they said goodbye too. We then caught up with Nick and Lily who live in Bright before heading out for some more hiking in the Victorian Alps. We packed up our overnight packs and hiked up to Federation Hut, Mt Feathertop, across Razorback and back down to Harrietville for a refreshing bath in the creek. Another day we hiked to the top Of Mt Bogong, the highest peak in Victoria (you can read more about that on the Peaks of Australia blog, including the photos) and then it was time to leave brilliant Bright.
We had no real plans, but had to start heading home slowly. We decided to check how long it would take to get to Adelaide as we were really enjoying catching up with friends everywhere and we hadn’t seen our friends in Adelaide for a long time due to covid. It was only 10 hours, so we started contacting everyone to see who was there that weekend and we turned Lara west.
Unfortunately about halfway to Adelaide Lara decided to demand more attention. She split a turbo hose and we spent the next days trying to get it fixed. Daniel from the Land Rover garage in Romsey came to the rescue and managed to get us back on the road to Adelaide. The 10 hour journey had turned into a 5.5 day trip, but we got there in the end.
We did manage to test two more of Lara’s features during this unwanted and unscheduled stop. The washing machine (brilliant) and using the inverter whilst charging the battery with solar. We had 2 laptops plugged in, we ran the washing machine for several loads including spinning (all on 240V), the nighthawk for our wifi was plugged in, we had two fans going as it was hot, and we were charging some batteries. Despite the loads, the battery stayed at 100% charge with the sun shining. Solar charging was working really well, definitely a pass for those two tests.
We caught up with Jo and Michael on our first night and they invited us along to an Adelaide Fringe Festival event. We hadn’t even realised it was on! We enjoyed the hospitality of Coopers, enjoyed their beers (favourites definitely the XPA and the Pacific Pale Ale) and laughed so hard during the Party in the Spiegeltent we had tears running down our cheeks. It was the best medicine after feeling quite bummed during Lara’s breakdown.
Over the next few days we caught up with Dimi, Troye, Ang & Jamie, Andrea, Tom & Linda, Andrew & Prue and Paul & Heidi. Unfortunately Ted & Sarah and Angelo were all traveling this weekend so that didn’t work out.
We also managed to head to the hills and spent time with Alix and Adrian, and of course Gus and Banjo. They had also booked a Fringe Festival event and luckily there were still tickets available so we joined them for Electric Skies, together with Bill (Alix’ dad) and Kate (Alix’ sister who knows Ella – it is a small world!).
It was time to head home, we had lost 5 days so there wasn’t much time to explore things en route, but we still wanted to dip our feet into a tiny slice of the outback, so we decided to head to Broken Hill, from where we would explore the Menindee Lakes and then follow the Darling River towards south east Queensland. But that plan was thwarted too due to all the recent floods. We could drive towards the Menindee Lakes (over 100km from Broken Hill), but the national park was closed. So all we could do was camp at a nearby lake and then return to Broken Hill the next day as both the tracks along the Darling River were still closed because of flooding too.
So we decided to head north instead, to Sturt NP. We would then be close to the Old Strzlecki Track too which we wanted to explore. We enjoyed the tracks and wildlife, including lots of birds, through Sturt NP, but not so much the flies that all descended on us as there was no other human being around. We briefly stopped at Cameron’s Corner, the spot where three state borders meet: Queensland, New South Wales and South Australia. There’s just the one roadhouse there and a small post indicating the exact corner close to the dingo fence.
The dingo fence is one of the longest structures in the world. It stretches 5,614km and started its early days as a rabbit proof fence (which didn’t work). The idea is to keep the sheep in southern Queensland save from attacks from dingoes. There are still dingoes south of the fence however (we saw them in Myall Lakes NP as well as in the Victorian Alps), so it’s effect is dubious at best.
From Cameron’s Corner it isn’t far to Merty Merty where we could turn onto the Old Strzelecki track. It’s now mostly gravel with some sections still just a track through the sand. We enjoyed those sandy sections. There are a lot of nodding donkeys and other gas and oil wells in the area, which is why the roads are being upgraded. We arrived in Innamincka at the end of the Strzelecki track to find reception to check some messages for the first time in days and the beautiful Cooper Creek with lots of birds and large gums.
We filled up, failed to find an ice-cream, and drove on to Burke’s grave. We walked along the Cooper Creek to the grave and enjoyed more of the birdlife around there. We drove on to the Dig Tree where we camped for the night, again on Cooper Creek. As there is plenty of water at the moment, the bird life was great. And being in the middle of nowhere the stars at night were amazing. We loved being all alone out there.
The Dig Tree is the location where Burke & Wills left some men way back in 1861 whilst a smaller party went on to explore a route to the northern coast of Australia. Upon their return four months later they found the camp empty as the men had left that morning. They left some provisions and carved the word DIG in the tree to indicate where they could find the food. Both Burke and Wills later died along the Cooper Creek due to a lot of miscommunication.
From the Dig Tree we drove home on tarmac all the way! (the tarmac runs all the way from Innamincka, with just the road to the Dig Tree still being dirt) We stopped only to do some shopping, bird watching and to eat. It’s 1300km from the Dig Tree to Esk and we enjoyed our last two campsites in Lara. We tested her shower too as we hadn’t had the opportunity for that yet. It worked beautifully and we felt very refreshed going to bed that night.
So, you might be asking, did Lara pass her test? Are we happy with the way the maiden voyage went? And the answer would have to be a very easy yes. Despite some hiccups along the way (fridge issues, blown turbo hose and a leak in the roof) we think Lara worked brilliantly.
We were incredibly pleased with the comfort of the bed, the way the interior works, the amount of storage space and the setup of the kitchen box. We loved having the bikes with us, the shower is great, the electrical system seemed to work just fine, the setup of the cab was good and having a washing machine prooved very handy. And, as a bonus, she was also completely dustproof.
All our hard work (and that of many others), and many hours of blood (only a little), sweat (buckets) and tears (plenty) have finally paid off. Thanks Roland and Sue for providing us with the opportunity of a lifetime! We are forever grateful for your generosity and patience. We could not have come to this point without you.