Helping out with goats: From udder to market

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The first goats I met after we turned off the corrugated side road and onto the beautiful tree lined drive way, were freshly slaughtered on the back of a ute, ready to be skinned and hung, then butchered to feed the family and the army of volunteers and students who find themselves at Bookara Goat Dairy. This was our first foray into volunteering, we used the worldwide site Helpx to find farms, households, accommodation businesses etc who need you to do a few hours work a day in exchange for accommodation and food. We were heading North of Perth so when we found Bookara Goat Dairy in between Dongara and Geraldton, it sounded like a unique opportunity that we couldn’t pass up.

Some of the goat herd and two impostors

Bookara is owned and operated by Mark and Cate Weston and their 3 boys, who live in a spacious converted shearing shed on the farm, they established their goat farm in 2012 from an intial herd of about 100. In our 2 week stay we shared jobs with Claire and Pauline from France, Moltja from Germany and 2 Vet Students Ash and Vinci from Murdoch University so quite a house full! We of course retreated to our Motorhome at night, but the others were accommodated in a combination of spare rooms, a caravan and a cosy tent on the veranda. Although there were possibly too many people for the jobs required, it made for a rich and fulfilling experience, especially at dinner time when the 13 of us would be seated on the long table enjoying a sumptuous meal and lively chatter with a fire blazing in the background.

There were two main jobs on the farm; milking the goats and making the fresh milk into cheese in the process room. Milking the goats involved moving the 140 odd mainly Saanen herd, and two jet black alpacas (who thought they were goats) in from a large paddock on a neighbouring farm. They were calmly herded beside the railway line and down the long driveway with the help of the working dogs; Pippa. Jojo and Ricky into the Dairy in a converted barn. The Dairy used a herring bone set up able to milk 12 goats at a time while they munched on their lucerne , and only took about 5 minutes to extract the milk once the 2 cups were placed on. I had experienced cows being milked in herring bone sheds in my childhood, which as I recall was fraught with danger from bodily fluids raining down on you when you were in the pit, however goats seem much more cleaner and usually calmer beasts to deal with. Once the whole herd has been milked, there was the clean up of the yard and Dairy, then the goats (and 2 alpacas) are returned to the paddock, to feed and spend their time looking for weak spots in the fence so they can break out of their large lush green paddock and play chicken with a passing train. Unlike cows, the goats were only milked once a day, usually after breakfast and would take around 3 hours to complete, at which time lunch would be looming.

Leigh in action at milking time

The process room involved a lot of cleaning, all equipment and containers had to be thoroughly scrubbed with detergent before being rinsed and put in a bath of sterilising solution before being used or placed back into the coolroom. Cheese-making involved pouring the fresh milk (usually on the day of milking) into a large vat and with a sprinkle of rennet and calcium, heat, time and maybe some salt and vinegar, a lot of care and love. this milk would turn into some glorious cheeses. Bookara specialised in goats curd, Persian and pressed feta, Haloumi, ricotta, drinking yoghurt and fresh milk. Most of the time is spent packing the cheese into tubs and labelling etc. They sell their wears at 4 Farmers Markets in Perth each weekend, and direct to a number of cafes and Restaurants in WA as well as the Geraldton Farmers Market up the road each Sunday. We had the privilege of being cheese sellers on a wet cold quiet Sunday, but because of the quality of the product it still sold well, with many regulars returning each week to buy the cheese. It was a wonderful experience to be involved in the whole process from udder to market and something we would not have dreamed of doing if it wasn’t for Helpx.

Steamed up making Riccotta, and using the finished product to make pancakes

There is all manner of odd jobs and chores to do around the house and farm too; Leigh and I shared the jobs with Leigh usually heading out in the morning whilst I Entertained Emily, often getting Lunch and Dinner ready, and then we would swap in the afternoon and I would do some farm work. Being in the rural community, neighbours help each other out, so Mark subcontracted some of house to work on a neighbouring sheep and cattle farm to help with tailing and vaccinating lambs which was a great experience.

For us our biggest delight was seeing Emily adapt to farm life, she really thrived in this environment; she loved playing with the 3 boys when they came home from school, as well as interacting with all the adults in her own adorable way, she became the centre of attention, and she doesn’t shy away from attention! We have been lucky so far; as a 2 year old Emily will give most foods a go, this included Bookara’s range and she developed a real love for their natural probiotic rich yogurt, demanding Ogurt every morning! Emily loves animals and there are 4 dogs at Bookara which she adored and quickly learnt their names, as well as 2 cats; Panda and Scratchy which lived up to her name but that didn’t deter Emily either. Then there were all the goats, Emily would usually make an appearance at milking time in her unicorn boots, feed the goats by hand, and be in the ute when herding them back to their paddock, yelling commands to Jojo and Pippa from the back seat. To cap it all off she witnessed some chickens hatching out of their eggs in an incubator; never a dull moment on the farm.

Emily and Pippa

We couldn’t have asked for a better introduction into Helpxing, and are grateful for the Weston family’s generous hospitality and accommodating our situation, we never were quite sure that we were contributing enough between us, but we got stuck in and hopefully helped in some way. This will be the first of many volunteering positions, and if we end up heading back down the WA coast we will be sure to pop into Bookara to help out again.

Time to get to work

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Experiences of a travelling Chef

We picked Margaret River in Western Australia’s South-west as a place to stop and work for a while, there wasn’t a lot of science in our decision, but I new there were a lot of restaurants, cafes and tourists so probably a lot of jobs on offer coming into the summer season. In a previous life when I lived in Perth I drove the Bussell Highway down to Margs as the locals affectionately call it, on a number of occasions to sample its lush wines; vineyards such as Leuwin Estate, Voyager. Vasse Felix and Evans & Tate are known the world over. Fast forward 17 years since I was last here,r, and there are many more players who have taken advantage of this micro climate which is very favourable in producing premium wines, not to mention a handful of micro breweries with eateries attached, distilleries, chocolate shops, Olive Oil producers, and cafes all of which has contributed to the growth of Margaret River township.

Our suspicions proved correct, after putting myself on a Margaret River Facebook Job site, a lot of interest was generated and job offers followed. We made our way from Perth stopping in the lovely seaside town of Busselton for a few days which gave us an introduction to the beautiful coast line on offer down this way. Apart from Vino, Margaret River is famous for its waves, there are countless rugged and beautiful beaches, all of which have a gnarly surf break or two with names like Boneyards and The Womb, that attract surfers the world over. In recent times sharks have also renewed their interest in these waters which has lead to the cancellation of some major surf tournaments.

Margaret River is funnily enough is named after the river which also goes by the name of Margaret. Margaret was supposedly early pioneer John Bussell’s Niece and you cross her before you hit the town centre, the river is surrounded by a nice park which is the starting point for a gentle 17km walk or cycle trail to 10 Mile Brook Dam. You can also cross the footbridge and gaze into the murky depths of the tea coloured river, if the light is right you may see some large marron (native freshwater crayfish) who bask in the reassurance that they are protected in this part of the river when yabbie season comes around, you may even see the very rare hairy marron whose last remaining habitat is Margaret River.

Our first base in the Margaret River area was the Gracetown Caravan Park which was a beautiful introduction to the area; more a bush camp with sites dispersed amongst the trees, kangaroos with joeys in their pouch grazed fearlessly near campers and an outdoor cinema showing family favourites on the weekend. A short drive down the road is the beautiful coastline with a protected small beach in Cowaramup Bay for swimming and frolicking and the infamous Northpoint surf break out to sea for the experienced board rider.

Travelling mode over it was time to get to work, the first time for me in about 4 months. in the end I chose Amelia Park Restaurant, in actual fact it was chosen for me as the other serious offer evaporated by the time we arrived in Margs. Amelia Park Restaurant sits among the vines at Amelia Park Winery in the Wilyabrup area north of Margaret River. A large modern building less than 2 years old with a grand entrance: A herbaceous wall, water features and an impressive large door way that leads you into a very smart dining space, with 2 modern chandeliers, art work and seating that would not be out of place in any Michelin graced restaurant. The star of the show here however was the view looking through the wall of large windows out to the vibrant green vineyard and the wooded hills in the distance.

Amelia Park Restaurant is owned and operated by Blair and Renee Allen who have carved out a great reputation in running restaurants and kitchens in the state’s South-west. After spending time in this kitchen I have never worked with a Chef who works as fast, methodically, efficiently and as neat as Head Chef Blair, his pace almost had the whole kitchen running. He is the first to arrive and the last to leave the kitchen. The menu has a French influence but uses local ingredients such as Wagin duck, Manjimup Marron and Venison from just down the road. Everything is made from scratch and every dish is innovative, and balanced with flavours and textures. The engine room of this kitchen is the WA made Zesti wood fired electric oven, like a furnace when stoked up, and used to cook most of the meats to give a wood fired note, as well as the house made sour dough loaves in the morning , and more gently braise the lamb shoulders long and slow overnight to melt in the mouth consistency.

This was the big league for me and a bit out of my comfort zone, Blair and the team needed an extra pair of hands over the busy festive season, he also arranged one of the chefs to pick me up each morning for the 20 minute journey from Margaret River to work; when your only mode of transport is also your house, it makes it a bit hard on the family if you have to bring them to work with you each day. We stayed at the Margaret River Tourist Park who were able to put us up for the whole of the summer even know we arrived relatively late to expect a site over the busy festive season.

Amelia Park only does lunches (apart from the odd wedding or function in the evening) so we had about 3 hours prep time before the action starts, we could do up to 200 covers between 11 and 3:30 so it was all about the prep. I worked in the Pastry and Larder sections, Pastry is more of my thing so was happy working away there making each component for deserts, petit fours and functions. Larder was a different story, this section made all of the starters and Entrées as well as many of the side dishes; lots of prep, lots of components and very busy during service, Kim from Korea was in charge, he worked like a machine and was a hard task master. Over time I got up to pace with the flood of hand written checks that would fly in, timing and organisation were key to keep on top of the chaos, and some times I was half a step a head of Kim which was satisfying. The Menu although complex was intelligently designed to be able to be prepared and plated in very quick time, meaning on busy days, tables could be turned over within the relatively short lunch window.

The spacious open kitchen was well designed by Blair and thoroughly cleaned down at the end of service by all chefs, it was spotlessly clean and needed to be as it was on show for all to see. On occasion there was a satisfying cool glass of Eagle Bay ale to be had after a busy day in the kitchen, enjoyed on the deck overlooking the vineyard.

This region is exceptionally busy over summer, but as the kids head back to school business starts to slow down, unfortunately as I was a casual employee my hours slowed down too. Many people who call this town home need 2 or 3 jobs to make a living and manage the ebb and flow of the tourist and viticulture seasons. For us it was time to move on after nearly 3 months in this beautiful corner of Australia, key the Littlest Hobo theme song….

Western Australia Wanderings

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Our first month on the road

The day we took delivery of our motorhome was a taxing one; getting what seemed was the KB Campers Express motorhome orientation as prospective customers lined up for Greg’s attention, driving into the middle of the City of Perth during peak hour to pick up Leigh and Emily, head back up the Freeway to the Northern Suburbs to a Kmart to kit out our van. We hurriedly collected what we thought we would need, also some groceries, had our first meal as Motorhome owners in where else but Joondalup McDonalds sometime after 9pm. We arrived at the underwhelming Kingsway Tourist Park well into the night, the back of the van was full of clutter, all we needed to do was find the kettle, 2 cups, and make up the bed with our new linen, all that achieved with Emily asleep, time to relax…….. blahhhh! the sound of Emily projectile vomiting over the brand new linen , welcome to travelling with kids full time Australia folks.

Day 2. Kingway Tourist Park

Those first few days, maybe weeks and even months were very stressful, we never really had time to reflect on what we had achieved , we were living our dream! It just didn’t quite feel that way, living in a small space, a new vehicle to worry about, money being spent at an alarming rate and where to go ? What to do? We didn’t have a concrete plan, all we knew is we wanted to be in Melbourne for Christmas (as I write this from Esperance, WA 5 months later obviously that didn’t happen either), so we thought we would head to the South West of Western Australia and slowly make our way East.

Coogee Beach

Our first couple of weeks were spent around Perth just to get use to the Motorhome and if we had any teething problems we were close to the Dealer to take advantage of the 3 month Warranty. We moved to the well appointed Karinyup Waters Resort in Perth’s Northern Suburbs, with its 3 beautiful tropical landscaped pools (2 heated), numerous play parks and a jumping pillow and wetlands abundant with water fowl Emily was in her element. We also spent some time in Coogee on the southern out skirts of the City right next to the beach, as well as the odd trip to the historical town of York to park our rig in my Sister’s driveway.

We did have a few teething problems during this time including: the occasional warning light coming on, broken tail light, house battery not holding charge, leaking fridge, wheels not aligned and few other bits and pieces all of which KB Campers happily fixed, or attempted to do so – the fridge and a water leak is still something we are trying to overcome. We finally felt confident we were kitted out and ship shape to start the travelling.

We headed south from Coogee and to stay at Martins Tank Campsite in the Yalgorup National Park, our first foray into unpowered camping. We finally felt like we were travelling and living the simple uncluttered life we were craving, the van handled well on the long dusty corrugated road into the National Park. which has a number of shallow salty elongated lakes surrounded by tuart and peppermint woodlands, and close to the golden sands of Preston Breach. This was a lovely relaxing 3 days and a great place to introduce Emily to more Australian Flora and Fauna; kangaroos wandered through the campsite frequently and the night gave way to a family of ringtail possums in a tree next to our van. You don’t stay in this area without visiting the Lake Clifton Thrombolites; rounded rock like structures formed by microorganisms who secrete the calcium carbonate from the calcium rich groundwater as the photosynthesise. Cocoon springs to mind as you see these rounded objects sitting just under the lakes surface. We took advantage of our Wikicamps App and the Lake Clifton Tavern Landlord’s generous hospitality to let us stay for free within the Tavern’s grounds.

We continued South to the city of Bunbury, yet another nice caravan park in Koombana Bay , yet another jumping pillow – Emily’s playground apparatus of choice, although she is still fine tuning her method to get airborne. What is a feature of many of the towns we visit in WA is the amazing playgrounds and Parks, the one in the bay at Bunbury had recently been redeveloped and was extensive with structures and terrains for all ages, and beautifully landscaped.

We continued to experience fridge problems so made the decision to return to Perth, we couldn’t get it seen to for about a week so we thought we would take the long way. We headed towards WA’s apple growing capital of Donnybrook, Leigh found a free camp at Ironstone Gully Falls on the way. It seemed a nice spot, we were the only ones there, the falls were more of a trickle at that time of the year but it was picturesque and lively with bird life. A large car pulled up but no one got out, maybe they were on the phone. We thought we would check out the one facility in this campsite: the long drop toilet, with that a large man stepped out of his car and started a conversation, he seemed very friendly and we had a long conversation during which at some point Leigh and Emily retreated to the van to leave me to be sacrificed if this turned into a Wolfcreek moment. The conversation continued as he got closer and closer, subject matter included fish n chips, meat pies, his brother in Busselton and his house in Collie, however after closer inspection of his car I would conclude this was his main place of residence. I managed to break away as we had exhausted the conversation on car maintenance and made it back to the Motorhome unscathed. We had lunch, kept the doors locked and revisited the Wikicamps reviews of this site, of coarse we had no phone signal just to add to the atmosphere, we realised the date was October 31 – Halloween. With still no fellow campers arriving we coolly drove off and headed to Donnybrook.

When we were soon again connected to the world we discovered our friend made frequent appearances in the lives of campers at this spot in varying degrees of sobriety, we escaped unscathed and he was probably just a lonely man looking for a chat but it goes to show how your senses are heightened when in unfamiliar territory.

This was a blessing in disguise as we happened upon a magic spot near Donnybrook called Thomson Brook Winery owned by the very welcoming hosts Pam and Terry. Donnybrook is famous for growing apples and stonefruit but there are now swathes of vibrant green vines emerging on the landscape. Thompson Brook is small vineyard nestled in a valley along a dusty road and surrounded by ponds and rivers and the remnants of the old apple orchard. In front of the cellar door is a large grassed area where the owners kindly let self contained caravans and motorhomes stay for free. We had a great position overlooking a field of ageing and neglected apple trees occupied by a community of rainbow bee-eaters who fluttered between branches on the hunt for, I guess …. bees.

When staying in awinery the closest attraction is the cellar door, and this may havebeen Thomson Brook’s strategy when opening those heaving iron gatesto Grey Nomads and the like; to generate more sales. It only seemedright to sample the vintage and if palatable to repay our hosts mymaking a few purchases. Terry’s delivery was down to Earth andjoyful with his faithful golden retriever at his side, this tastingwas a lot less pretentious than you would find at the more renownedlabels, and to top it off the wines are good. We enjoy a port,memories drift back Kings Canyon 4 years ago; after dinner servicesipping on the warming elixir, relaxing around the remnants of a fireunder a million stars of a clear central Australian sky. ThomsonBrook’s Port is a moreish one and their wines are good too. Wespent several days here and explored Donnybrook and the surroundingenvirons including the peculiar Gnomesville, home to thousands ofgnomes and other garden ornaments that people have placed in amongstthe forest over the years, unfortunately the area was flooded earlierin the year with many gnomes being swept away. Emily enjoyed playingin yet another fantastic park, which in size and facilities seemedout of proportion to the small town of Donnybrook.

Leaving the apple capital of Western Australia we passed through some pretty valleys, small farms, vineyards and orchards, some selling their wares at the farm gate, we headed north-east towards the Coal Mining town of Collie, where the valleys gave way to dense forests and then into the vast wheat belt and our stop for the night; Wagin – famous for its duck production and the Big Ram. We utilised another cheap camp at the show grounds. The Wagin show is a big deal in the rural community, and like Donnybrook’s playground, the vast complex of the show ground seemed all out of proportion to the size of the town, and when the show is not on (most of the year) you can park up for the night for a few dollars. The Big Ram was hopefully the first of many of the “Big” statues that dot rural towns around Australia that we will visit on our travels, he is an impressive site with all the bits intact to conclude yes he is a ram. Behind the ram is a landscaped park with ponds and other water features complete with the odd water lily and occupied by a few carp and ducks. The water was a muddy soup, maybe stirred up from the heavy overnight rain, but at one end of the pond and amongst the weed a massive yellow fish rested just under the murky surface, taking the saying a big fish in small pond to the extreme, it was impressive and we didn’t even see the entire length of the serpent! Maybe on a future visit to Wagin we will see the ram is not the only animal immortalised in concrete.

Next stop the historical town of York for the weekend, a nice night of Jazz in the park, some much enjoyed coffees and food at the Flour Mill Cafe before hitting Perth and another (what would later prove fruitless) attempt to fix our leaky fridge. We visited Whitfords Shopping Centre while the work was being done for hair cuts and to fill in some time. My hair cut was a lot quicker than Leigh’s treatment, so I took this time to test the Facebook waters to see if there were any demand for chefs in Margaret River. After kitting the van out which seemed to be an ongoing task, and travelling about in no particular direction the bank balance was looking a bit vulnerable so it was time, a lot sooner than expected to stop and work. Within hours of posting on the Margaret River job site I had a lot of interest and 2 offers so we were Southwest bound.

How to buy a Motorhome ….should I say, how we bought a Motorhome

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Life on the road , Blackwood River, Augusta,  WA.

When we started “planning” this adventure knowing that our starting point was going to be in Perth, we began trawling the net for used motorhomes. We realised we may not find one in Western Australia that fits our criteria of price, size, condition and required features, as the majority of the population lives on the other side of the Continent, thus more choice. We were prepared to head East to find our new home on wheels, as that is what it was going to be, so we had to get this right and not settle for something because that was the only one available at the time. We were looking for a motorhome in good condition that could comfortably house the 3 of us, probably a 4 berth, bucket loads of storage, set up for free camping; that is contain a shower and toilet, kitchen, preferably with solar panels so we didn’t need to be plugged in to live, but air-conditioning when we are plugged in. The pointy end – the vehicle needed to be in good condition, not too many kilometres on the clock and a good service history etc, how hard could it be?

Where do you start? Gumtree of course, it is probably the best window to see what is out there in a desired location, most private sellers list here (why wouldn’t you it is free) and so do the dealers, so it gives you a good snapshot of the market. We also joined various Facebook groups for selling Motorhomes.

What we soon began to realise when we started this venture, not only looking for Motorhomes for sale but researching this whole lifestyle, is that Australians have a love affair with caravans, and their reasonably new off-road cousin the camper trailer. They seem to have had a renaissance, from a vehicle for that stereotypical basic 1970s family summer holiday being towed by a Holden Kingswood or Ford Falcon, to this shiny massive dual wheeled, high wheel base apartment sized trailer with every feature of a small house and a price tag to match being, towed by the latest large 4WD (as they are now too heavy to be towed by anything that resembles a standard car).

So why not join the revolution and get a caravan? There is certainly a huge choice in the second hand market. The main reason is that we have never towed anything in our life, and with towing comes reversing, it is an art form when done well and hats off to all the caravan owners I now see on a daily basis backing their huge rig into a tight spot on their first attempt. All I can imagine is the opposite and picturing myself after 30 unsuccessful attempts in front of a growing crowd of seasoned caravanners. I am sure it is a skill that can be learnt and one day we may too get a caravan as I am quite jealous of some of the set ups I see. Price is another reason, there are families out there that are successfully travelling Australia who have paid less than us for the caravan and towing vehicle, but you can spend a descent chunk of our budget alone on the van, and then you need to buy a reliable “tug” that is up to the task of towing your desired van. Apart from the initial set up cost, there are 2 lots of registration and insurance, more tyres, and more service costs which needed to be taken into consideration too. In our case we arrived in Australia with 3 suit cases and planned to buy and kit out a motorhome from scratch, most families would plan this over a number of years and start to acquire the tools required bit by bit whilst still working so cost was a big factor for us. Lastly we enjoy travelling in motorhomes and campervans, we have hired them and travelled in both New Zealand and Australia and feel we can live for a long period of time in one whilst travelling.

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A Motorhome we hired in Tasmania 2017

When we arrived in Perth the number of motorhomes for sale on the internet had significantly decreased; back in Scotland we could look at what was available from afar but not do much, until we got to WA. We were considering anything as long as it seated at least 3 people and had our required features, and there is many examples of different forms a Motorhome can take, from the conventional 4 -6 berth you see for hire, to converted buses and smaller ones that are built on the back of utes. We also thought we would prefer to buy private as you would expect the price a bit cheaper and usually if some one has owned a motorhome for their own use instead of an ex hire vehicle they may have added some extra features such as better solar, extra storage etc. So all these options were available until we hit sunny Perth, just our luck.

We still hit the ground running, the day after we arrived we visited KB Campers in Wangara which wasn’t far from where we were staying, they specialise in reselling ex rental Motorhomes in all shapes and sizes. We were met by Greg who seemed very friendly and helpful – as all good Sales people should be, they too had recently sold a lot of their stock but had a few vans available, one well above our price range, one within but we thought was a bit tired and maybe too small, and then one “out the back” that had just come in; a 2010  Mercedes Lake 5 berth Motorhome. The price was at our upper limit but seemed a lot less than others we had seen as it was being sold on behalf of the previous owner, we liked the condition of the interior and all the features it had ticked all the boxes, the only problem it had done 310000 km which seemed too high for us, I realise diesel engines have a long lifespan if well looked after but we had set a limit of 200000km, no real science or mechanical theory there, just a figure we thought reasonable. Anyway that gave us an idea of what was out there and our searched continued.

Those first 2 weeks we had booked an Airbnb and hired a car and was part Motorhome shopping and part holiday, we couldn’t be spending hours driving criss crossing Perth everyday, we had a 18month old to entertain as well. We did go to some other dealers, none specialised in just Motorhomes like KB Campers, most were Caravan dealers that had the odd one, and when we told the eager Salesman that we were here to look at Motorhomes you could instantly see the enthusiasm drain away, and we would never see them again. What we did learn or was told in those weeks was that lower kilometres means a lot more dollars, Mercedes are more expensive than Fords, don’t but Fiats, buying privately doesn’t mean you will pay less and people selling stuff on Gumtree don’t always seem that keen to reply to your questions. We did look at only one private sale that our Airbnb Host Nicole put us on too, it was a small truck style motorhome, over 30 years old but had everything you would need including a generator, it was a good price but a vehicle of that age really needs an owner with a bit more mechanical nous than we have.

With almost 2 weeks up and nothing much happening we decided to go back to KB Campers to have another look at the Mercedes, our heart sunk when we couldn’t see it in the yard as we pulled up. All was OK, It was away at the panel shop getting a bit of bumper damage put right but was still up for sale. We had to wait a few days before we could have good look at it and take it for a test drive. We were still impressed, it drove well too and our next step was to get an independent inspection done, we used Phil at AAC Inspections. I spoke to Phil and others at length about the mileage on the clock, and everyone felt that wasn’t really an issue with these engines if well maintained. Being Ex-hire the first thing most people say is that they have been thrashed by people who don’t care as its not theirs, have you ever followed a rental motorhome (not including Wicked Campers) on the road? Usually driven by a cautious mature European tourists and once you drive one of this size with everything rattling in the back, I’m not sure how you can “thrash” it. Australia is a big country with lots of open road so the majority of those kms are “easy” coasting along without strain at around 100 km/h, besides Hire companies want to keep them on the road so they are well maintained and monitored.

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Our first Caravan Park: Kingsway Tourist Park, Perth 

The Inspection came back mostly favourable, the main issues were a broken shock absorber, a muffler in need of repair, a possible oil leak and a split gas pipe. KB Campers were happy to fix everything that was highlighted in the report which was good service, they also offered a 3 month warranty on all parts of the vehicle, and a Year Warranty on the Engine and Transmission. We were happy to go ahead with the sale and within about a week we should have our new home on wheels.  This couldn’t come quick enough for us as we had been in Australia for about a month now, and when you are staying in an apartment in the city you feel and spend like tourists so we were looking forward to living a more frugal lifestyle and get into a routine as much as you can when you are moving about the country in a Motorhome.

What we had bought was a 2010 Mercedes Sprinter 2.2 Litre Turbo Diesel,  Auto Lake (ex Maui Hire) Motorhome. Its main features included, 5 berth, 5 seats, Air conditioning (when plugged in), 80W solar panel (not big enough for our needs but will update) Shower and toilet, 4 gas burner and grill, Microwave, TV, 12V USB connections, Gas hot water. 82 Litre fresh water (could be bigger) and grey water  tanks, with heaps of storage.

The day came to pick up our new home, all the issues had been supposedly fixed, I handed over a rather large bank cheque and Greg talked me through all the features. Having hired a similar Motorhome a year ago I was sort of familiar with a lot of this, however Greg was on his own with customers queuing up and this part of the process was very rushed and the one area where we felt KB Campers let them selves down. This later became evident when the first time I tried to take the awning down, it took several hours and many google searches and Youtube videos before I cracked it; perhaps if he had gone over things a lot more slowly more would have sunk in.

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Is that a sheep on our roof? The “Big Ram”, Wagin, WA

Amongst the stress of driving a large vehicle on city streets and wondering where we were going to stay for our first night, should have come the excitement that our dream had come true, the start of an adventure, the start of a new lifestyle; what was on our mind however was it is Friday afternoon we have a motorhome but no bedding, no cutlery, cups, plates, cooking utensils, no food etc etc, we need to kit his thing out, where’s the nearest Kmart?

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Our first unpowered  site; Martins Tank Campsite, Preston Beach WA

Sun, surf, Eagles and a missing meerkat

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The last week in Dundee is now merely a blur, how Leigh and I got everything done I do not know but it went down to the wire. We painted rooms, cleaned carpets, shifted furniture, gave furniture to charity as well as numerous bags of toys, clothes and general clutter, sold a car, sold a “travel system” (pram), cleaned, re-siliconed a bathroom and completed a long list of little DIY tasks that had been on the back burner for a couple of years. After all of that there was little time to spend with friends and family to say good bye, and I felt sorry for little Emily who must have wondered what was going on as the only house she has known was slowly dismantled.

Our first stop on our journey back to Australia was Dubai, there only seems to be 2 seasons in this Emirates hub; really really hot summer and hot summer, we pitched up in the former and as we headed out of Terminal 1 at  1 am it was a stifling 37 degrees! Our sanctuary for 5 days was the 25th floor of the Hyatt Regency Dubai Creek, we couldn’t fault the place, nice big room, great food and the staff were friendly and helpful. Emily poured on the charm to anyone who would give her a little attention (and some who didn’t), saying bye to the entire restaurant after breakfast or dinner was a daily ritual.img_4875

Much of this stopover was about having a relaxing break after the hectic month we had had, but it is in our nature to get out and explore, we had stayed here a year ago for a couple of nights so had done a whistle stop tour of the main attractions but never spent any amount of time at any one place. Dubai doesn’t really lend it self to getting out for a walk; with 42 degree days and the concrete jungle intersected by busy roads and freeways, you really need some sort of transport, and the hotel offered a daily shuttle service to the Dubai Mall. What ever your opinion of modern architecture is, Dubai is impressive, from pearling backwater to this large futuristic city-scape with a vast infrastructure. Because it is built on a flat desert there is no natural back drop behind the glistening sky scrapers, and with the identical gold metro stations suspended in mid-air and other weird and wonderful structures you get the feeling you are in a science fiction movie.img_5105

Dubai Mall is up there as one of the World’s biggest, but once you are consumed into the bowels of the labyrinth you could be in any modern shopping centre in the world, most of the shop names are familiar, there are just more of those out of reach boutiques here where the price tags start in four figures and rocket up from there. We are not big shoppers but we are big fans of eating, unfortunately Dubai Mall’s food offerings didn’t quite match the scale of its shopping experience. What it does have that most malls don’t is a large walk through aquarium and zoo, complete with sharks, penguins and crocodiles (not in the same tank) and is well worth a couple of hours. The Dubai Mall also has access to the World’s tallest building the Burg Khalifa; we zoomed up the 125th floor (in the worlds fastest lift) you can go up to floor 148 if you pay a fair bit more, the views were spectacular especially the extent of the water features and fountains that surround the Mall. If you are a more prepared than we were, I recommend booking an Aquarium and Burg Khalifa combo online to save a Dirham or two.img_5108

One place that had caught our eye form our vantage point on the 32nd floor whilst having breakfast was Children City, a large complex surrounded by a lush park boarded by the Dubai Creek. Upon investigation it looked a great spot for Emily to burn off some energy; a large soft play area and a hands on science and history centre for bigger kids. It is also walkable from the hotel which was easier said than done in a 43 degrees day, poor Emily melted. Children City? More like Child Village on the day we visited, I think we were the only ones there, apart from a large contingent security guards and staff, but we all had an enjoyable afternoon there before brisk walk back to the air-conditioned comfort of the hotel. Emily and I went back to the park in the late afternoon, when the park comes alive, lots of little kiosks selling drinks and food and various rides for kids, still very quiet, more stray cats than people, who are also kept hydrated with water feeders dotted around the park.img_4987

So that was Dubai, a nice wee break for us all but we needed to get back to work and find ourselves a Motorhome in Australia. Emily travelled well on both flights and Emirates did a wonderful job on both legs by finding us 3 seats together ( under 2s aren’t allocated a seat unless you pay for one) so we were able to spread out and she always slept through meal time, and was even able to watch a movie or two.

Home for the first 2 weeks in Perth was an Airbnb in Sorento close to the white sandy Northern Beaches, it was a lovely Studio complete with deck and lemon tree at the back of Nicole and her family’s home and had everything we needed. Out the front was a beautiful fish pond with with 4 large Koi Carp and many smaller fish, we couldn’t go past it with out Emily wanting to have a look and when satisfied a wave and a bye.img_5271

These first 2 weeks were part holiday and part Motorhome shopping, Perth is very spread out so it was easy to do long distances and not leave the city’s environs, we were north of city centre and unfortunately most of the vans on offer were South so we had to be mindful of Emily’s comfort especially as she is no fan of sitting in a car seat. There was one place close by called KB Campers so we paid them a visit on our second day, they sell mainly ex rental motorhomes, there wasn’t much in our price range, but they showed us one that had just come in that we really liked: (We ended up buying this one but it took us almost 3 weeks to do the deal – that’s another story/blog).img_5288

Between Motorhome hunting we dipped our toes into the Indian Ocean on more than one occasion; at the rugged Burns Beach with waves crashing, the calm protected waters of Hilarys Boat Harbour and Australia’s only licenced beach; Fremantle’s aptly named Bathers Beach. The weather was warming up and Emily absolutely loved it, you have to hold her back as enthusiasm for being in the water takes over. We visited many a park for Emily to run off a bit of energy, including Perth’s jewel in the crown; Kings Park which was at its best with the spring wild flowers all in bloom.img_5206

We also visited Perth Zoo, and ended up buying a zoo pass that will get us into all the main zoos in South Australia, NSW, Victoria as well as Perth of course. The day we were there a baby meerkat went missing, we had nothing to do with it, and initially wild birds were blamed. I did notice when we were looking at the meerkats there was no one on lookout (usually a meerkat climbs to the highest point to warn the others of any danger), so slack security there, they must be getting a bit complacent in the zoo environment. The birds were off the hook when the missing kitten/pup was found over 100km away in Beverly, Police were investigating if it was stolen…….it wasimg_5226

Speaking of birds of prey we arrived in Perth in the middle of Eagles mania, not the feathered variety but the team of 18 men who run around a large round field chasing an oval red leather ball, kitted out in Blue and Gold, called the West Coast Eagles. This is Aussie Rules (AFL) and it was finals time, Perth’s West Coast Eagles had made the Grand Final against the passionately hated Collingwood Magpies from Melbourne. I first settled in Perth in 1994 and arrived at the same time of the year, the Eagles won their 2nd premiership that year, but I had no interest and equally no understanding of the game back then, this year they won their 4th Grand Final and although I had been away from watching this game for sometime I was able to rekindle my passion whilst viewing a classic contest. We joined the 40 – 50000 fans at Langley Park to welcome the victorious team back to the West the following day, our Hotel at the time was a stones through away so it seemed a good cultural experience for the family to enjoy.img_5316

So that was our first 4 weeks away from Dundee, enjoying the mostly balmy Australian spring sunshine, the great outdoors but always with one keen eye on Motorhomes for sale, not loosing sight of the big picture.img_5380

No van and not much of a plan

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cropped-nicks-photos-2262.jpg“No need to fall on your sword”; that was the reaction after a robust discussion with my boss when I decided to hand in my notice. I wasn’t falling on my sword just seizing on an opportunity during a moment of frustration to deliver the news that I had been dreading.  I had planned to do this the following week in a more by the book style resignation letter, followed by the discussion when it would best for me and the company to part ways.  There was no such discussion, in two weeks time I had worked my last shift  and still had nearly two months to go before we jet off from Scotland to the sunny shores of Australia, to travel that vast country full time in a motorhome!  Easy to write in a sentence but still unbelievable that this dream of ours will soon become reality.

Two months not earning a salary, but on a positive note plenty of time to plan our trip, to get two properties ready to rent out, to pack up, and to have a few days here and there to visit places we have always wanted to, but never got round to whilst living in Scotland.  So why as I sit here a 7 days before departure we are surrounded by a cloud of stress, dread and trepidation? The list doesn’t seem to be getting shorter and none of those day trips to the beautiful Scottish countryside have materialised, and what planning? On September 7 at 2:15pm however we will be on a plane leaving Glasgow Airport, everything will be done and we will be ready to start our big adventure.

Why the Change?

We: My beloved partner Leigh, a Dundonian (she’s from Dundee in Scotland), and a Postie for Royal Mail, our 17 month old delight (and Boss) Emily and myself; Nick a Kiwi  Chef have always wanted to spend some time together living in Australia.  Both of us have a long history with this country, we have both lived, worked and travelled the country extensively before our paths crossed on the Dorset Coast in England 6 years ago. Once we got together it was our ambition to return to the big brown land and we did this in 2014 spending the majority of the time working in the beautiful and limitless  outback near Kings Canyon, Central Australia.

We decided to move to Dundee in 2015 for a year or so to spend time with family, that year turned into almost 4 years and a baby,  and before we new it we had stepped into a “normal” routine of working, dealing with the day to day chores to being a successful family and investing to increase the household clutter. Normal to most but for us it was a little foreign, the 5 or more years before we met and during our time together we had been essentially on the move, most of our work involved  live in accommodation, our worldly possessions fitted into a backpack, and we were always looking forward to the next adventure.

I work as a Chef, a great vocation when travelling, but when God was handing out the 37.5 hour working week, I think the chef representative must have been out the back having a smoke, as it seems quite acceptable when on a (modest) salary to put in  55 to 60 hours a week with no breaks!  Now many chefs revel in this, like its a right of passage, a badge of honour, but with alcohol and drug abuse rife within the industry, as well as a rise in mental illness something needs to change; a subject for another day perhaps.  I can appreciate a young chef wanting to put in the hard yards to grow their career, and grasp some of the fantastic opportunities that exist, I’m not afraid of hard work, but I am in a stage in my life where I want more of a balance.  Having only 2 quality days a week to spend with my Daughter, and no days off together with Leigh is unacceptable when we are in a position to pursue an alternative

We are what is classed as “mature parents”, both in our 40s, we are both fit and healthy but those long hours have taken there toll on me, we just want to spend more time together, simplify life and share in some wonderful experiences together; probably part of the brief for everyone of those families travelling Australia for an extended period of time.

We love Australia, we haven’t seen a lot of the country but we have seen more than most. We have set foot in every State and Territory and experienced many of the country’s icons such as Diving on the Great Barrier Reef, we have sailed  the Whitsundays and paddled steamed the Murray River, Driven the Stuart Highway and the Great Ocean Road, watched  the Sunset over Ularu  and  Mindil Beach, spotted platypus in Tasmania and crocodiles in Kakadu, we have stood on the tip of Cape York and atop of the lighthouse at Cape Leeuwin and many points in between.  We look forward to exploring more of this huge country, but for us the main motivation is to change our lifestyle. and Australia travelling in a van provides an excellent landscape to do this.cropped-nicks-photos-18652.jpg

Why a Motorhome?

For a few years we have had a desire to move to Tasmania, seems to be a trend among Australians too, maybe its the cooler climate, the green wilderness or the cheaper house prices. For us it was all of those things, but as a cook, Tasmania has undergone a bit of a food renaissance, with some great producers, natural resources.  followed by some wonderful chefs and restaurants, which I have been observing from a far. The only problem neither Leigh or myself had stepped foot on the Apple Isle.  To rectify this last year we travelled to New Zealand and Australia to introduce Emily to family and us to Tasmania. For our week in Tasmania we hired a 6 Berth Motorhome, we had hired the small campervans as a couple before but never a serious self contained unit.  Tasmania looks a small speck to the south of the mainland on a map, but it is big and even bigger on attractions and experiences.  We loved our time in the Motorhome, and 7 month old Emily adapted beautifully (apart from an incident with a chicken in Hounville) to life on the road, but they were long days trying to cram in as much as we could, and get to our final destination each day.  What if we could slow this down, have no deadlines, if we like a place we could stay longer, if we want to sit on a beach all day we could.

My romantic view of life on the road involves sitting outside the van in the late afternoon sun, surrounded by loved ones,  beverage of choice in hand, not care in the world, and the only job is to decide where to go tomorrow. The only time on that 7 day trip where we almost reached this state of contentedness was again in Hounville at a wonderful caravan park that was bordered by a gentle flowing river. In that river platypus were rumoured to frolic, being my favourite Monotreme (sorry Echidnas) I was keen to spot one and joined in the local past time of gazing purposefully into the river looking for any ripple or disturbance, trout were quite prolific in that river too so there were many ripples, I wasn’t successful that evening but just the atmosphere of that beautiful sunny spring afternoon still lives with me now and the following day I spotted all be it briefly my first platypus in the wild.  Its these sort of memories we want to have the time to create.

I had heard of the Grey Nomads – retired folk towing their caravans around Australia, following the sun, I was aware that Australians seem to be born with this instinct that one day they will complete a lap of their country; like a circular pilgrimage, but I thought a family travelling Australia full time with a toddler was  groundbreaking, until I hit Facebook.  There seem to be hundreds of families, usually with 3 or 4 young children on the move around Australia, some taking 6 months, most over a year and some indefinitely. There is a myriad  of Facebook groups for what we are about to embark on, ones for finding work on the road, ones for buying or selling a van, and for pages from families sharing their experiences a long the way, this has been a great source of information and inspiration for us, that this pipe dream of ours is very possible and on a variety of budgets and circumstances.

For us we have only considered buying a motorhome, I realise most families opt for the caravan or camper trailer and 4WD towing vehicle, and there are some wonderful set-ups out there. I have never towed anything in my life going forward, let a lone having to reverse a large caravan into a tight spot with seasoned travellers looking on. Apart from that, I think economically the motorhome is better for us, and we have enjoyed our time in them in the past.  I know the debate Caravan vs Motorhome rages on, there are pros and cons for both, but as long as we can find a functional motorhome which is set up for free camping we will be happy.Nicks photos 1931

The “Plan”

We will leave Scotland on September 7, spend 5 nights in a swanky hotel in Dubai, arrive in Perth WA on September 12, have 2 weeks accommodation and car hire booked, look to buy a motorhome, these are all certainties, what happens after that is an unknown and quite frankly a bit scary. Why Perth? I understand there is probably more selection of second hand motorhomes in the Eastern States but my Sister lives near Perth, it is also the destination on the shortest possible flight we can take from Dubai, and with a 17 month old toddler, without a seat this is quite important.  From our internet searches there are a range of motorhomes for sale, but if we can not find what we are looking for we will continue our search Eastwards.

Once we find our desired steed which hopefully will be a 4 berth motorhome, reasonable mileage with shower and toilet for free camping,  aircon and hopefully many more added extras, we plan to head east to Melbourne for Christmas and then to Tasmania where we hope to break ourselves into Australian summers gently. That’s our plan as flimsy as it may sound, and  when I read of other families whose trips are years in the planning I start to get the shakes, then our faith is restored when I read hear about other families who  set themselves up and head out the driveway 6 weeks after making the life changing decision.  In defence of our rather simple master-plan until we find our motorhome we can’t really plan the detail; we wont know what funds we have left until we need to work, where we will start from etc etc.   Apart from the detail that is also the attraction of what we are about to embark on; we can decide where we go and  what we do as the mood takes us.

The only constraint is money as it always is, we live pretty frugally in a house so we think we can replicate this on the road. once we are confident with our set up we can stay at free camps and National Parks with the aid of  our Wikicamps App. We will investigate volunteer positions and house sitting,  and when we need to we will have to stop for a little while and work.  There are always places needing Chefs and Leigh is keen to revisit her  berry picking days around Dundee as a kid by getting on the harvest trail.  No we have not been meticulously planning our trip with spreadsheets, lists and itineraries but we have been “researching” for months; there is a huge resource out there on social media mainly from families who are doing or have done what we are about to do, and several of these include job sites for travellers with families who are looking for a short term position before they are back on the road

Maybe our biggest challenge will be keeping Emily occupied, happy and safe. At 17 months she is into the adventurous stage and wants to climb on everything, including up  ladders! She loves being outdoors, splashing in a pool and will spot a bird in a second {or googoo as she calls them) whether its a distant seagull, an abstract picture of a penguin or ostrich, or the Twitter logo, so Australia sounds right up her street. Potty training in a van could be interesting, but we wont be the first to do this and there is always the network of our fellow travelling families to call on for advice if we need it. Emily may not remember her early “Gypsy” life travelling around Australia but we hope the experiences we have, the life we live and the people we meet help to shape her character in a positive way.

This adventure is a big gamble for all of us but we are very confident it will pay off, we still have lots to do this week to get ourselves packed up, as well as  the emotional farewells to loved ones, but we can’t wait to get travelling again. Looking forward to a bit of R&R in Dubai before we start this new chapter. We hope to keep you posted regularly on our travels and the places we go, the things we see and the food we eat.

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