Having first arrived on the Atherton Tableland on 18th July, we finally leave (and leave a little bit of our hearts behind as well) on 17th October. Gordon now has his sights set on attending the CMCA Rally in Narrabri – not especially for the rally but more to catch up with our many friends, most particularly Highway Wanderers.
And this is where we learn that s/he who holds the steering wheel holds the power! Before we even left on this wonderful journey, we agreed that the maximum distance travelled in any one day would be 250km and the maximum driving time would be 4 to 4 1/2 hours.
Day 1 – 9:30am Mareeba to The Junction (Camps7 #219) – 230kms, all good
Day 2 – The Junction to Charters Towers – 348kms, not so good
Day 3 – Charters Towers to Botanical Gardens Emerald – 478kms, definitely bad
Day 4 – Emerald to Floodway 40k N of Surat – 451kms, still bad but not as
Day 5 – Surat to Gwydir C’Park Moree – 396kms, still bad but coming down
Day 6 – 110kms to Narrabri by 11:30am – now that’s more like it!!!
Just over 2,000kms in under a week! Needless to say, there was not a lot of time along the road for photography!
We surprised quite a lot of people with our arrival, mainly because we had said we would definitely NOT be there because we were going ‘Across the Top’. As those who have followed previous posts will know a week or so in Mareeba turned into a full three months, so we had to leave the tropics before ‘The Wet’ arrived as wet, humid weather is not conducive to happy campers – especially as we much prefer to freedom camp where we can enjoy happy hours around a communal campfire and meet our fellow travellers, unlike caravan parks where you rarely even meet your neighbours, let alone become better acquainted.
The first person we saw was ‘Mother Hen’ (from Highway Wanderers) who literally threw herself around my neck – thanks for the backache that stayed with me for weeks, Trish!
That afternoon at happy hour there was much hilarity as we caught up with some members we had not seen since first meeting them at BlazeAid in Monto back in May.
Happy hours generally have a theme – Mad Hat Parade etc. This particular one was our “Talent Quest” and brought out some really brilliant performers . . .
Another ‘must see’ at any rally is the ball, and this one was no exception. The theme was “Gangsters and Molls” and the Highway Wanderers made a HUGE Grand Entrance! There was a ‘Police Car’ and on arrival the CEO of the CMCA – Rudi – was arrested. The entire committee (of HWs) had obviously toiled long & hard with the table decorations -
. . . and the setting of the tables was most capably overseen by Mother Hen (above R).
Highway Wanderers is one of, if not THE largest chapter within CMCA and we well and truly made sure everyone else knew we were there! We had 12 tables and there were many members cutting up the rug (or grass, really) long into the night . . .
The final day of the rally saw the Highway Wanderers have their AGM, and group sausage sizzle – and we met many more members all of whom have the same lust for life and a desire to make the world a better and happier place.
The slide-out was still giving troubles, and as Narrabri is only 170kms or so from Tamworth where there is an Agent for Ultima Fifth Wheelers (which is Toad Hall’s breeding), we decided to head there and have the issue sorted once and for all. We rang Tow World Tamworth who made an appointment for the Wednesday, so we stopped in at Lake Keepit (which was just Keepit Dam during my childhood in Tamworth) for a couple of days while we waited.
The dam was at less than 30%, and during our stay dropped even further to under 24%. The drought is taking a massive toll on all our farming communities, and as time will tell it will only worsen over the coming months. The day before our appointment at Tow World we rang to confirm a time – only to be told they couldn’t fit us in on Wednesday, could we leave it until the following Monday. Well, we were at their mercy so arranged to stay at Lake Keepit for the duration. In keeping with their request, we arrived at Tow World (on Gunnedah Road) at 08:30am and dropped off Toad Hall. “It will probably take most of the day” they said, “so come back about 4:30”. As my Dad is buried at the Lawn Cemetery further out along Gunnedah Road, we bought some flowers and headed out there to tidy up and pay our respects . . .
My Dad’s plaque (Clem Hughes Titcume),
flanked by his Father (Stephen George) and his Mother (Neita Mabel)
As can be seen by the rapidly drooping roses, the heat endures . . . November in Tamworth.
We returned to Tow World at the appointed hour, only to be told that the slide-out no longer worked AT ALL! It had been working, albeit not perfectly, when we delivered it for an adjustment and now it doesn’t work at all? How is that a ‘repair’? Never mind, there is nowt can be done except return on the morrow with the expectation that they would be true to their word and have it functioning by mid-morning. The Magnolia Inn is just a little further out on Gunnedah Road, and quite close by so that is where we stayed the night. It is also where we all (my siblings, in-laws etc) had stayed back in 2003 when my Dad had passed away and we had been welcomed back to Tamworth as though we had been in constant contact since we first left back in 1968. I was saddened to learn from Kathy that her mother had passed away & she was now the proprietress. She too, welcomed us warmly and allowed us to keep our cockatiels on the veranda.
In due course, we returned to Tow World only to be told once again, that there was a ‘problem’. I shall not bore you, dear reader, with gory details and blow by blow descriptions, but suffice to say this scenario was repeated over and over for the next week or more. Meanwhile, we booked in to a cabin at the Paradise Tourist Park (paradise-tourist-park.nsw.big4.com.au) until such time as the repairs were completed. The staff were particularly helpful and friendly. They were very understanding that we couldn’t give them a final check-out date, so allowed us to leave our booking open-ended. Whilst here I had a brain-wave and contacted NRMA Premium Care. Well – I simply cannot praise them highly enough. They undertook to cover all costs of our accommodation until we received control of Toad Hall once again. In the end, this came to over $890 – no small sum in anyone’s language!
After ten days – yes TEN DAYS – and Toad Hall was still in worse repair than when we had first taken it to Tow World, Gordon confronted them and said “Put the bl**dy thing back to a drivable condition & let me out of here!” – or words to that effect! They quibbled and carried on, but in the end we agreed to part with $2000 to cover their labour costs and left. They had regularly been using a forklift to manhandle to slide in and out and had caused quite a litany of damage – some of which took some time to come to light. For starters, there was the fact that the mechanics/electrics of the slide-out now no longer worked at all!; then there are the gouges all along the slide, the broken cover over the power inlet point, holes drilled through the wall of the slide-out into the inside of the motorhome, grease marks on the walls, floor and furnishings . . . please I simply cannot go on, it is so distressing to rehash it even now (March) after all this time. Suffice it to say we hobbled back to the coast to Moonee Beach (Coffs Harbour) to the home of my middle daughter & her family where we begged B&B until such time as we were able to have PROPER repairs carried out and resume our journey. And let me leave NO DOUBT in anyone’s mind, that my opinion of Tow World Tamworth can be no lower and the only recommendation I can make of them is to steer as clear of them as possible. Whilst at Paradise Tourist Park, we met & spoke with another couple who were back in the area visiting but had previously lived there – and that was their opinion as well.
. . . And North Again!
We called Carafix on the Gold Coast (where we had originally purchased Toad Hall), explained the situation and were pleased to hear that Paul & his tradies would be able to take care of it. So . . . off we trundled up the Pacific Highway again & delivered motorhome for further repairs, having told them we wouldn’t need it until around the 12-13th December so they didn’t feel the need to do a rush job. We duly received a call from Paul on 11th Dec saying we could come to collect. On arrival, he showed us more of the damage which had been done at Tow World including internal damage to the motors which drive the slide out and a severely bent shaft. He also ran the slide in and out several times, explaining that there was a bit of a hitch, that it wasn’t riding smoothly but he was as happy as he could be with it and he didn’t see that it would cause any further problem. So we parted with another $3,800 and off we went. As it was well after 3:30pm when we left, and the unwritten law of the road says to be off the road by 4, we opted to stay on the Gold Coast for the night and head to the Sunshine Coast the following day. We booked in to the 19th Avenue Caravan park for the night – just up the road from Highway Wanderers’ President Dave & his wife Jan – and spent a lovely evening with them over a quick’n’easy and thoroughly delicious pasta meal. The following day we wended our way through Brisbane and then on to the Sunshine Coast.
Not in any quick time, though – it would appear road maintenance crews are the same the world over. They simply do as they are told when they are told. Apparently there was a pothole in the right-hand lane of the M1 just off the Gateway Bridge so, even though it was (again) after 3pm on the last day of school term (and Friday 13th to boot) they chose to close two out of three northbound lanes and as a consequence it took one hour and forty minutes to travel 2.3 kilometres! However, once passed the ‘work’ zone, we were quickly on our way to Maroochydore State School (MSS) where, as CMCA members we were to be ‘camped’ for the duration of the school holidays – power & water for $12 a night!!! And, much to the chagrin of some of the fellas, right next door to Sunshine Plaza Shopping Centre – over 230 stores/eateries etc and including a 12 Cinema Complex!
At its peak, the school housed 60+ motorhomes and all moneys raised go straight back to the school and its students. In the past the campers have provided funds for a new tractor/lawn-mower for the grounds, a new sand-pit and outdoor play area as well as a host of iPads and a myriad of other benefits. It’s a win-win-win all round – the ‘grey nomads’ have a safe and cheap place to stay over the holidays, the school has the benefit of the grounds not being vacant and open to vandalism and the money raised goes back into the school community. Another benefit is that the caravan parks can cater to their preferred demographic of young families with children, without us ‘oldies’ clogging up their parks. (Not that we WANT to, but most coastal areas are closing freedom camp area more quickly than you can say ‘self-contained’)!
MSS became home for many Highway Wanderers over this time, and we had a wonderful “all hands on deck” Christmas Feast for the Misfits. We started with brunch – bacon, eggs, toast, hash browns, beans, orange juice (add you own champers if desired) tea, coffee & lots of love & laughter. Then back again for “Lunner” (a combination of Lunch & Dinner) which kicked off at about 4pm with fresh prawns followed by leg ham carved by one of Santa’s helpers, bbq chicken, wombat (wombok, but we Australianised it) salad, tossed green salad, pasta salad, potato salad and coleslaw. Once again accompanied by one’s own choice of beverage. Following a respectable break to allow all that to digest, it was time for dessert – ice-cream pudding, real pudding, mini-pavlovas, brandy cream (my very own secret recipe), fruit salad, fresh cream and custard. All this feasting, all day for just $25 per person. But wait, there’s more – there was enough of everything left for dinner the next night for everyone. The Catering Corps consisted of four wonderful & capable ladies who organised and prepared everything and then conscripted serving and clean-up teams so the load was shared by everyone who enjoyed it.
And the gang’s all here . . .
Waiting patiently – with beautifully covered tables
The Fab Four Catering Corps with Helpers
The weather was gloriously typical of the Sunshine Coast – bright and sunny – but slowly the heat and humidity ‘got’ to a few of us, so after years of asking Rob (the man in charge) to install a pool for the pleasure of the visitors all to no avail, Georgina decided to take matters into her own terms and with my help installed one in (well – next to) her own motorhome. So now we have “Coco with Pool” -
Sadly, time passes and we all must move on – to all points of the compass. The school was re-opening to the children, its rightful owners, on 28th January, by which time we all were required to ‘vacate’ our holiday lodgings. The day before Gordon & I thought we had best ‘test’ the slide-out not for any particular reason, but to be prepared & ready to move out. GRRRRR. ARRRGH!!!! Have you guessed yet? That’s right – it refused to budge! There was another (HW member) who also had an Ultima 5th Wheeler (different model to ours) so we asked his opinion. Together we all came up with – NOTHING! We had the books and manuals out, ‘googled’ it, the works. Nothing bar brute force could move the bl**dy thing, so we all decided to just wait until we HAD to and then push, shove, grunt & man/woman-handle it in. Paul (the other member) was from Tin Can Bay and recommended “Crossroads RV” in Gympie for us to contact in an effort to have it looked at, and so with gritted teeth and baited breath, that we did. Not before the stress of the whole situation got to both of us (at one stage I took my own blood pressure & it came back at 146/120 – not good by any matter or means!).
Well, how loudly can I praise Tony and his team from Crossroads RV. For starters, Paul had phoned ahead to let them know we would be coming in, and when we didn’t arrive the day they expected they rang Paul to see if we were having further problems and might need them to come out to us! When we did arrive, they offered for us to stay in Toad Hall, set up in their premises, using their power and water, for the duration of the repair. A far cry from the other mob in Tamworth! As my youngest daughter lives in Gympie we were able to say ‘Thanks, but not necessary’ and spend the time with Courtney & her 15month old daughter. Tony and his head mechanic Bill went over everything with us, all the trials and tribulations we had had, and assured us that they had the matter well in hand. Needless to say, after what we had been through, we hoped so but weren’t to be convinced until the job was done!… So, we handed Toad Hall over on 29th January and went to stay with Courtney. By the time Tony called on 5th Feb to say the job was complete, we were on tenterhooks. And also a little wary about just how much we were up for this time. Our fears were needless. The job was done and not only that but they had noticed a couple of other little things which they tidied up ‘while we had it’. One of these was, to my mind, no “little” thing – it was a stress fracture in the weld on the underneath of the gooseneck! They didn’t actually discover this until just before we were to pick it up, but they welded it anyway and there is absolutely no sign of it on the bill!!! Now that’s what I call service!
After hitching up again, we returned to Standown Park ( standown.com.au) – halfway between Gympie & Tin Can Bay. We decided we could stay here a while & take stock, whilst thinking about how to replenish the poor bank account, after yet another $3,600 spent on the slide-out. (If your maths is as good as mine, you will see that that is more than $10,000 in about three months – and no, we are NOT made of money). We also tested the slide-out EVERY day, just to make sure there were no problems. Whilst we were cooling our heels thus, our dear friends Roy & Georgina rang to see if we were interested in doing a ‘house-sit’ at Maryborough for three months. Well – it couldn’t have come at a better time so we took a little drive up through the forest to meet John & Marion and find out what they wanted from us, & to see if we measured up (not having done any property sitting before). Well, well, well! Who should also be visiting John & Marion the same day we did? None other than the Wonderful Willa & her hubby Allan. We were very pleased to see them again, and to see that Willa is walking very well following her recent knee surgery. When at Monto, and again in Narrabri, Willa was in a great deal of pain and none too sure if the planned surgery would be the cure-all she hoped. Thankfully it has been. With Allan & Willa as well as Roy & Georgina vouching for us, John & Marion were only too happy to leave the care of their property in our hands, so here we are – in Maryborough to see out the end of the wet prior to resuming our journey north in early June. So until then . . .
Live the Life You Love . . .