From UnderWater to Above Water

Rob Snook — 2 September 2021
While travelling, Editor-at-large John Ford met Rob Snook and his family who are travelling in a truck
My father Russell Snook, born in Zimbabwe (then Rhodesia), arrived in Australia in the early ‘70s with a childhood full of hunting, self-engineering knowledge, an obsession for spearing and a fascination of the Great Barrier Reef. This led him to being one of the pioneers of Marine Aquarium Fish Collecting.

In 1985, I was born into the industry and taught the ropes of Aquarium Fish collecting and Coral Harvesting which led to me owning my own wholesale business from 2010, exporting all around the world.

But having spent my whole life in the industry, my passion was starting to wear thin. By 2019, even though our family had grown to five, my mind was always at work, and it was starting to drive me mad. I just wanted to spend more quality time with my kids, so when our third child was on the way, my wife and I decided we would sell our business, licences and home to travel Australia.




PUTTING IT INTO PRACTICE

It was the hardest decision we ever made, but the most exciting! We imagined spending weeks on end living off the land, on beautiful beaches fishing, spearing and exploring, as a family.

Knowing costs, we also needed to create an income. In the last few years, I had been working on a little invention to stop my kids throwing their scooters and bikes on the ground. It’s a novelty solution I call the Wheelie Stand — a silicone tube construction which self-adheres to your walls and keeps bikes and scooters upright when leant on the wall.

The second part of the dream was to share our creation along the way, selling at markets and visiting bike and scooter stores allowing it to finance our trip in the hope of one day have them distributed all around the country.

We then had to choose our tow vehicle. We already had a 17ft Jayco StarCraft Outback, but we were taking a few things with us — fishing rods, spear guns, snorkelling gear, crab pots, yabby pots, hand spears, bicycles, surf boards, SUP board, swags, a 30-second tent, table, camp oven, fire pit, grill plate, chairs, 80L fridge, a tinny, 15hp outboard, plus six full boxes of Wheelie Stands — so the choices seemed limited to either a Ram, ‘Cruiser (GVM upgraded) or a truck. We decided on a truck because there is an endless amount of space and no need to worry about weights.

We found a second-hand, 5.2L Isuzu 75/155, 2017 model with only 14,000km on the clock. It already had a single wheel conversion done by All Terrain Warriors on the Sunshine coast, which they installed 285/70R 19.5 size super singles, front and back 7935kg EWN winches, aluminium tray and spot lights. This truck was unstoppable, with a massive 7000kg GVM and a whopping 11,000kg GCM. All it needed was a canopy.


The sunsets are not to be missed

I spoke to a friend who recently had a canopy built for his HiLux, but hearing it cost him $19,500, I thought I may need to build the canopy myself. Then I was told of a welder in Cairns, Lethal Lee, who had experience in aluminium canopies. I went to say g’day and was greeted with a firm handshake and a lot of knowledge. I knew he was the guy, especially because this was no ordinary job — the canopy needed to be over 3m long, 2m wide and 1.4m high.

As I showed him the plans, he nodded and said, “No worries, but we will need to weld it slightly different to your design which will save dollars and weight and make it very strong.” When he sent me the approximate cost of $12,000, I was cheering!

The canopy ended up taking four weeks and incorporates the tinny and the outboard with spare jerry cans, a tool box to store a Compak 24V air compressor, two 140L water tank brackets and a 170L spare fuel tank. It eventually came to a total of $15,000.

After the canopy was finished, we installed the electrical system. I installed an 80L fridge on a slide with two 150Ah AGM batteries with a 300W house panel, Fangpusun MPPT charger and a 20A DCDC charger. The panel is impressive, as even during a cloudy day, we still get 250W — more than enough to top the batteries up. As I write, this we have been off-grid for over two months now with no hiccups.

I also use a Kings 1500W inverter to run the twin tub washing machine, blender and charge electrical equipment.

After packing everything up, we were ready to live our dream with our 3 kids — Archie, 6, Lenny, 3, and Goldie, 9 months — promote and share our invention, and have a damn good time while doing it.


Beaches are fun to explore

SETTING OUT

The most common questions we get asked are about fuel usage and how comfortable the truck is, and it all comes down to how we drive. The truck is reasonably comfy and compared to other trucks I had used for towing, it’s a luxury. The first rule when you look at a truck though, is the slide out drink/ coffee holder — if that is broken, forget it, that truck is rough!

We travel at 80-90km/h, and do no more than 200km in a day, which is actually very rare as some days we do only 10km. We simply drive till we see something good or interesting, and use on average, 25L/100km, with a combined weight of around 9 tonne.

My favourite thing about the truck is the exhaust brake. We use it religiously and save on brake wear and tear dramatically. The most memorable time was on the Bloomfield track just after we upgraded the caravan to a 2014 Lotus Freelander triple bunk 3.5t. When we left the beautiful Cape Tribulation camping ground, 150km north of Cairns, the lovely manager offered to store our van, but it had been dry, so I decided to give it a go.

When we hit the first climb, called Donovans Ridge, it looked like the stairway to heaven, with a 20 per cent climb, I was very nervous. I locked the hubs, put her into 4x4 low and climbed in first gear.

It ended up being a breeze, until we got to the next hill climb. This climb had up to a 33 per cent incline. It was that steep, it felt like we were rocketing to the moon — very slowly though. We made it, but afterwards at the famous Lions Den were told stories about people snapping their tow balls when towing.

The peak on the Bloomfield track roller coaster was beautiful but coming down was when the exhaust brake shone. With visions of brakes failing and losing traction, it wasn’t long before I started breathing again as the exhaust brakes slowed us down. In fact, on the steepest section, the truck in fact just about came to a stop, and I actually had to change up to second gear otherwise we simply weren’t moving.

A home away from home

ON THE ROAD

An absolute necessity was to install a 3.5t Shocker Hitch, when we upgraded the van — I have never travelled so smoothly! I wish I knew of them when I used to tow a 4t boat with a Hino 300. I would hit dips in the road that would send the truck bouncing till eternity. The shocker hitch eradicates the bounce immediately, by absorbing each up and down movement. When we go offroad, I also have peace of mind that my truck won’t snap the A-frame off the front of the van either, which I have heard stories of.

Parking isn’t much of a problem either, as we fit in most parking spots.

SUPPORTING THE LOCALS

We set off on this journey to learn and meet more like-minded people and we find all our fresh produce from roadside stalls and weekend markets. We enjoy talking to the farmers, eating market food and love the whole experience. They are not only cheaper, but most are organically or minimised manipulatively grown, which we try and strive ourselves in doing because food is medicine and prevention is better than cure.

We also only shop from locally owned stores when we need canned food, nappies and whole foods. It costs a few cents to a dollar more than the giant supermarkets, but we get satisfaction, and more dollars go to the smaller businesses.

Adventures were had on the beach at high tide

MAKING MEMORIES

One of our favourite spots would have to be Teewah beach, north of Noosa. It’s a 50km stretch, with 30km of beach camping with brilliant fishing, surfing and simply relaxing. The scenic drive is alongside crystal blue seas, with whales, dolphins and manta rays about, and a beautiful light house walk at the point, where the migrating Humpback whales can be spotted only metres from the rocks.

Then there is a little track near the point which takes you onto the famous Rainbow beach, where you will find hundreds of weekenders longboarding on one of the longest waves in Queensland and picturesque views of the rainbow coloured sand dunes.

At low tide, Teewah Beach is smoother and wider than most highways and has a speed limit of 80 in parts, but at high tide it becomes boggy and can be dangerous. The second time we drove onto the beach, it was high tide, so we let the tyres down to 20psi and put into 4WD. We only planned to drive for a little while and then sit relax and wait for the tide to go out, but we were slowly nearing a bogged car with waves closing in. It was a Subaru, all-wheel drive but because of its low clearance, it was stuck on its guts.

I offered a snatch strap, which was too short, so we added his one to it and I got my truck into position, two tracks higher up the beach and in front of him. By now, his car was getting battered from each swell crashing, then a large set came in and completely went over him, so with the pedal directly to the metal, I pulled him out of the sand up to higher ground. The couple looked like they had seen a ghost as they thought they were gone.

Another top spot in Queensland, was 1770 and Agnes Water, which is in between Bundaberg and Gladstone, where you can catch a mackerel, tuna, mud crab, barra and a sweet wave. We spent the initial lockdown in these two places, where we lived off crumbed mackerel, tuna curries, chilli mud crab and fresh coconuts, and got to witness an absolute phenomenon — from April, magnificent Blue Tiger butterflies start migrating by the millions, covering the sky like confetti. According to local knowledge, so do the mackerel and other pelagics.

At the start of Autumn we decided to make our way to the Yorke Peninsula in South Australia because of the rains in northern NSW. We never imagined such beauty as we hit the west coastline of the Yorke. We were amazed at every campground as each offered something different, from jetty fishing, to beach fishing, to snorkelling and spearing, plus endless fishing.

The truck and van are packed and ready for the next adventure

The whole west coastline would have to be our favourite all time place so far, and council camping is only $10/night or $150/month, so we paid for a month. This gave us the flexibility to camp at any of the 19 camp spots.

In one spot in particular, the light northerlies had begun, the air was warm, and the water was just singing out to us, so we put the boat in to go explore. We noticed a fish or two started jumping so we tied on slugs and started casting. Before we knew it, we were all hooked on. Fish were darting everywhere, rods were getting bent and the boat started rocking, and our cheering turned to laughing as we all tried to keep our balance and not tangle our lines. That fishing session ended after about 20 minutes with 15 beautiful salmon in the boat and the kids being splashed by a cheeky seal that came right up to the bow of the boat.

We have been on the road for over a year now, driven many tracks, met many people, experienced COVID-19 lockdowns, built a business, and shown the kids there’s more to life.

We have even adopted a young magpie, which flew into our camp one-day while getting harassed by adults magpies. As days went by, she hopped closer and closer to us, until one day I put my arm down and she hopped straight on. I was astonished. My wife named her Apple (pie), and she goes everywhere with us, we even taught her to catch ground insects and worms, which we learnt by watching other adult magpies. We took her onto the oval as the adult magpies left and my oldest son put his ear to the ground just like the adults were doing to “listen for worms.” We laughed and all put our ear to the ground, when suddenly Apple copied. She could hear something as she slammed her beak into the ground and pulled out a worm! She has brought so much happiness and we have learnt so much from her. I think she was meant to come to us.

The decision of choosing an Isuzu truck and upgrading the Van to a 3.5t Lotus was the best choice for us. We are comfortable, have plenty of room, have no weight restrictions, and by the sounds of it, we only use 2-3 litres more fuel than some of the 200 Series ‘Cruisers towing 3.5t vans.

Life is great.

Tags

Feature Travel Family travels Travelling in a truck

Photographer

Rob Snook