About us…

We are a family of 4 from the Mornington Peninsula. 

Dad (Anthony) is 42, but will be 43 by the time we hit Esperance.  A birthday picnic on the sand at Lucky Bay is on the agenda.  Not a bad spot to have a birthday, eh?  I’ve been saving up as much annual leave as I can muster over the last few years and have timed this trip to coincide with my long service leave as well.  Just shy of 4 months off is what i’ve got saved up.

Mum (Kellie) is 38.  She works as a part time model and supermum, but has had to give up her day job as P.A. to ‘The Hills’.  She’s lucky enough to work with family friends and, although they don’t know what they’ll do without her, they’ve agreed to let her have the same time off as unpaid leave.

We were married in October 1991 and that means our 20th anniversary crops up while we’re on this trip.  I reckon we’ll be around Mallacoota for that event.

#1 son (Blake) is 11 this year and it is his last year of Primary school.  #1 daughter (Hannah) has just turned 9 before we go and is in grade 3.

We’d debated long and hard over whether we could do this trip and school the kids at the same time.  We feel that the time is right to do this with Blake not yet in High School.  The trip starts at the beginning of school holidays and ends halfway through the last term, so they’ll miss one and a half terms.  Not a lot in the grand scheme of things and they’ll see and learn about so much along the way.  They’re both good readers already and they’ll be reading plenty of books as we go around too.  They’ve both got good academic results over the years and we’ll be endeavouring to keep their spelling and maths up to scratch as well.  They’ll both be adding to the blog as we go around and practicing their photography and writing skills that way.

About the van …

The van is a Jayco Expanda 16.49-1 outback with precious little done to it to prepare it for the trip.  It’s got a bigger fridge, full oven, twin 9kg gas bottles, 100AH battery, Heater and Aircon, LED lights throughout, stone guard … and thats about it.  It’s chock full of goodies for the trip though.  Chainsaw, Generator, Upgraded radio, TV, CB, 3G router, Inverter, tool chest, etc.  We’ve had the van for 2 years and it has already done plenty of trips away to sort it all out.

About the car …

We were going to be taking a Ssangyong Rexton away as tow vehicle.  It’s been the tow tug for the last two years and hasn’t let us down at all.  It tows the van really well.  It’s already been kitted out with almost everything I wanted to do to it for the trip.  I’d had heaps of trouble getting someone to make a decent bullbar for it and also got quoted a ridiculous price for a snorkel and a few other mods that I knew were half the price on other 4×4’s.  The Rex has 160,000 kms on it so its future reliability was also under question, even though it hasn’t really missed a beat since we’ve had it.  I had to get a windscreen once and it took 2 months … Other than that it popped the turbo hose off once and … thats it … all the gadgets still work, the interior still looks good despite the punishment it gets.  I regularly get 800 km from a tank around town, but about 500 while towing.  There are a couple of legs on this trip where 500km range was pushing my luck a little bit.

So … since it’s lease was up at the end of May I took a look around at what else could do the job and not be any fuss to mod in a hurry before we go.  Disco, Prado, Pajero, Pathfinder were the main targets.

I’d had my heart set on a vehicle that could pull 3 tons … but thats a really limiting choice and super limiting on the wallet too.  Since the van we have now and any other van for the foreseeable future would be under 2500kg then I widened my search.  This opened up a heap of other choices, all with their pros and cons.  The eyes fell on a Toyota Prado and it ticked more boxes than the others, for what we wanted.  Disco was too pricey and also a bit of a maintenance issue away from the blacktop.  The Disco will get you there, but will it get you back?  Pajero has the best engine for the price, but Kel didn’t like it much when compared with the Prado for features and looks.  The 3rd row seats appear an afterthought and would have been ripped out for starters.  The pathfinder was given a good look as it’ll tow 3 ton and does it well.  Prado again beat it on fuel range and features and it’s way bigger inside.  Prado was going to be the 2nd most expensive of the choices though.

I got one priced up in the spec of choice and had started to get the paperwork together when … Japan’s disasterous earthquake and tsunami struck.  No chance of getting a Prado from the Orix dealer now as they didn’t have any stock and there wouldn’t be shipments from Japan any time soon.  Another dealer came to the rescue though, matching the Orix price and also having one on the showroom floor in the colour and spec I wanted.  This hopefully means delivery around April 1st, which leaves plenty of time to get her adapted to her new job.

The main reasons the Prado got the nod were the huge 150L tank.  This gives it about 1400 km range without towing and maybe 800 km with the van on.  Power, torque and weight were on par with the Rexton … it’ll at least be able to do the towing job fine, on paper.  It’s a Toyota.  It’s got favourable reviews for its abilities off road.  Parts, Warranty, Modability are all excellent.  It’s got ‘nearly’ all the toys I had fitted to the Rex and it’s got some other ones I hadn’t thought of too.  All its external cameras are a bit of a gimmick I think and the reversing one promises to be a bit useless for hooking up the van with.  I’ll still need an extra screen to act as rear view camera for the van.  I’ve had a tradition of ripping out the standard stereo system that comes with my previous cars, but this one is really integrated … as is the trend unfortunately.  But its actually a good system, in terms of features … I’ll reserve judgement on the sound quality.  It’s roomy and comfy inside and, since the car will be the daily home for us all for 4 months, this was a big consideration.

Mods and accessories on the list in the first weeks are:

  • Smartbar bullbar.  Seems like all the bullbars for the Prado 150 have more cons than pros.  They’re either heavy enough to warrant a suspension upgrade, which may muck up other vehicle stability systems, or they’re big enough to obstruct the forward cameras, or they’re just plain ugly.  The Smartbar is a good compromise.  I still wouldn’t call it pretty, but it’s unobtrusive.  Can hold a winch.  Doesn’t block the camera too much (and it might get moved anyway).  The Smartbar, despite being ‘plastic’ has some good attributes.  It’ll withstand a roo hit as good as an alloy bar.  It is also somewhat self repairing in that it’ll try and revert to its previous shape after a hit, just by leaving it in the sun for a few days.  It’s also a little bit cheaper and a lot lighter.  A steel bar is about 80kg or more, a Smartbar is about 30kg.  30kg up front won’t necessitate a suspension upgrade … which makes it a LOT cheaper.  In short: Toyota bar = Ugly Dame Edna looks, alloy, no winch … ARB/TJM bars = Heavy steel, suspension upgrade to hold a winch.  Smartbar = Compromise.
  • Hayman Reese Towbar.  There’s a fair bit of variety on the market for towbars.  The factory one looks ok, but may not be up to the task of holding a weight distribution hitch.  Many of the other good solutions are from interstate … which leaves me with Hayman Reese.  Not that thats a bad thing, all other cars I’ve had have also had them.  It’s also designed to work with the WDH.  The design is similar to that once used on earlier Prado’s that had a few failures, but they’ve figured that out and the new ones look quite good.  It’ll need custom wiring to cope with he 12 pin plug on the van.
  • Dual battery system.  Well, actually, triple battery system.  The main vehicle battery gets augmented with a dual battery system and AGM AUX battery.  This battery circuit is then wired to the fridge output on the 12 pin plug and also a high capacity 12V outlet in the rear of the car.  Strangely there’s no 12V socket in the boot as standard … but it does get a small 240V 100W inverter … go figure?  The 12V in the back will have sufficient gauge wiring to power an Engel and other accessories and be independant of the starting battery.  Triple battery?  There will also be a 50A anderson plug on the back of the car to hook it to the battery in the van.  This’ll provide 200AH of free-camp power if needed to both the van and also the car auxiliary circuit.  The starting battery chemistry is designed to work best kept above 90% full, the AGM batteries in the car auxiliary and the van are designed to be run down to about 20% capacity and also rapidly recharge.
  • Snorkel.  To improve fuel economy and also to give us a bit better wading depth.  The Prado has a 700m depth standard versus the Rextons shallow puddle, but a snorkel is still a great addition.
  • A battery monitor.  This is part of the dual battery system.  It monitors both circuits for voltage and also allows for overriding the battery linking.  Normally all 3 batteries are linked, but the start battery will disconnect itself if it loses too much juice.  This is to prevent the drain from the auxiliary side from flattening it.  What if the drain is on the starter battery side though?  Maybe the interior light was left on or something?  The battery linking feature allows the auxiliary battery and, if attached, the caravan battery to recharge the car battery and provide enough current to get the car started again.
  • Roof Racks.  Standard Rola or Rhino racks to hold a roof box and also a small mesh frame.  The roof box is to hold a few light things that don’t find a home in the van and also some 4×4 recovery gear.  There’s not a lot of hidey holes to stash stuff in the Prado … something that I’m really going to miss that was in the Rexton.  The mesh will hold a set of Maxtrax ramps and maybe a small fuel can.
  • UHF CB.  As always, just when I want to buy something there’s a new version just released.  In this case CB is changing from 40ch to 80ch, so it makes a bit of sense to get one that is upgradeable.  The best radio on the market is still the icom IC400 pro IMHO, but it requires mounting where it can be seen.  A remote head, or mic controlled unit would be better.  Uniden have one, but its pre-upgraded and is 80ch already.  This may make communication difficult in some cases.  GME have two models that are upgradeable and remote mic.  Both suit my purposes, but the smaller unit will be easier to hide and will do everything I want.  Best of all its a 40ch unit that is user field upgradeable, by entering a code, to the 80ch standard.  Ideal really … once having a 40ch radio starts to become a nuisance I can make it an 80 and be ‘new’ again.  Just need to find one for a good price in a bundle with antenna and mount.  I plan to have a 6db antenna mounted on the left side of the bonnet.  It’ll be a bit higher there and height is everything with UHF.  Mounting it on the smartbar is possible too.
  • Electric brake controller.  This’ll be the only part coming across from the Rexton.  Simply gotta have it.
  • Breakaway controller.  This is more for the van than the car, but I’ll be fitting this before we go too.  It locks the van brakes in the event that the vehicle is disconnected.  Designed to stop the van in an emergency.
  • Battery fuel gauge.  Another one for the van.  A simple gauge to show how much juice is left in the van battery.
  • While the auto elec has the car ripped to bits to run the 12V wires down to the back, I’ll also get video leads strung in to hook up to the cameras on the van.  There’s a high mount, narrow field of view camera on the top of the van to act as rear view mirror.  There’s also a number plate cam to act as reversing camera.  The display for these goes over the top of the existing rear view mirror.
  • Mounting for GPS accessories.  Although the car has a satnav in it, it will be ‘mostly useless’ … they all are.  I’ve got a Navman that’s been unlocked to run OziExplorer, Igo8 or the stock software.  IGO is close to perfect with how it can be customized.  The stock software handles SUNA traffic updates to influence the routing so may get the nod for traversing unfamiliar cities.  Otherwise the Navman will be up on the dash running Oziexplorer most of the time coupled with Hema maps and the NATMAP set, amongst others.  IGO has got a huge POI database though so that will probably be whats running around town, despite the loss of traffic updates.  Either way Ozi will also be running on my phone, with the same maps … mainly to keep a track log and alert proximity to geocaches, free camps and towns.  Ozi also does what other GPS’s don’t do.  Ya see, most GPS units are great for directing you to places and telling you how far to the next turn, etc … Ozi doesn’t do that at all.  Instead Ozi shows a map and with an appropriate database can also show you the direction, distance and ETA at the closest towns or POIs.  This is great for long journeys.  eg. The main GPS knows that it’s 800km to Sydney and lets face it you aren’t going to get lost along the way … it’s also of no use in answering the what town will you be near around lunchtime?  or whens the next toilet stop?  Or do we stop here the night, how far to the next town?  Do we get fuel here, or get it at the next town?  Ozi handles the what’s near me question a lot better on a journey where you don’t want to be told which way to go … or one thats off road.  The last real GPS on board is a Garmin Oregon 550.  This is the geocache hunter.  Lastly we’ve also got a SPOT that will be with us the whole trip too.  It does track our progress, but only 10 minutely and it needs a very good clear view of the sky.  So all these gadgets will be up on the dash or mounted somewhere … Yes … I do love my gadgets!
  • Since the car has an inverter built in I’ll try and find a hidey hole to put an xbox or PS2 into.  The kids will have their Nintendo’s and movies to keep them entertained on the drive, but a game system of some description would be a nice addition over the 4 months.  If I do it right then it’ll be portable enough to go into the van on rainy days too.