THE TROUBLE WITH TURN-OFFS
We were in the Kimberley, WA, in 2004, heading up towards Wyndham and towing our pop-top caravan. While I can’t recall the exact location, the situation is indelibly burnt into my memory. On a whim, we decided to take a turn-off into a viewing point over a gorge. The road deteriorated into a narrow, winding, rocky track and we held our breath while we looked for a place to turn around, hoping for a parking area at the end. There was none.
It was a long, hot, unhappy time backing the rig out of there, as we weren’t very familiar with the almost new 4WD and van.
Since that experience, we have missed out on many lookouts and campsites over the years because we do not take turn-offs without advice from other vanners or another reliable source. Many road signs pointing out these attractions do not mention how far they are, much less whether they are suitable for caravans and whether there is adequate turning room!
THE FINAL CHECK
Most experienced caravanners admit to having driven off from a caravan park or campsite without doing a final check around the van, from time to time.
Over the years, we have driven off with the jockey wheel still attached, pop-top not clipped down, wheel chocks still in place, door and windows not locked, and the fridge not turned over to 12V.
Having to have the jockey wheel bracket re-welded, needing to replace wheel chocks or having a defrosted fridge tends to ensure these transgressions happen only once.
Driving off with the 240V cord attached is not uncommon, as vanners often wish to continue to charge batteries right up until they leave. It is also not all that uncommon to see vans on the highway with their TV antennae still up.
We drove off one day with the van door open, but on the latch. After about 50km a car passed us and waved us down. What had we lost? Nothing. Even our shoes were still on the door step!
The moral of the story? Don’t drive off before you’ve done that all-important final check.
WATCH THE WEATHER
With the increase in bush camping, this is very important, but it also applies to caravan parks in some areas. With easy access to the internet these days, it is easy to check for any fire or storm warnings. However, not all these events are predictable and it makes sense in hot dry weather not to camp in heavily-forested areas or open areas with high grass. We have had a couple of nerve-wracking experiences with bush fires and floods over the years.
One year, we were headed to Wilsons Promontory, Vic, in very hot weather, with strong northerly winds. We wimped out and booked into a caravan park in a nearby town on the way. In the event, a controlled burn got out of control and campers at the Prom were evacuated via the nearby beach, vans and vehicles were sprayed with fire retardant and had to be collected when the emergency was over. A scary experience for those concerned.
In 1988, we were at Eighty Mile Beach, WA, in our wind-up camper when the heavens opened and by morning we were surrounded by knee-deep water. Fortunately, it was not flowing rapidly so we were able to attach a very long rope and slowly pull the camper to higher ground without lowering the top and wetting all the contents. We then had to camp in very muddy conditions for a week or so waiting for the road to re-open.
CHECK YOUR SITE
Particularly in the touring season, some caravan park operators squeeze in extra vans and even those who have booked ahead can find themselves in a tiny site that is very difficult to access (and, therefore, very difficult to leave in a hurry or in an emergency).
We make it a rule to check the site before we pay if we are not familiar with the park, and are prepared to move on if not comfortable. Even then, it is difficult to eliminate the problem.
On one memorable occasion, campers were still being squeezed into the park until dark. Heading for the loo in the early hours, I was startled by the growl of a Great Dane sleeping under our awning. His lead was tied to a tent with its tent pegs also under our awning. We had heard pegs being tapped in late in the evening, but hadn’t realised just how close they were to us!
In a different town, we returned from a pub meal to find we were completely parked in. We had to ask three campers to move their vehicles in the morning so we could exit the site. A fire in that park would have been a very serious matter under those conditions.
It is a truism that exceeding the ATM and/or packing the van incorrectly affects its safe handling. When packing the van for our 10-month around-Australia trip in 2004, we started including too many ‘could-be-usefuls’. A trip to the weighbridge the day before we left was very sobering: more than 100kg overweight!
A radical re-pack had us back on the straight and narrow. Without actually checking the weight, we would have headed off well over our legal limit and increased the chance of a crash caused by gear failure or instability in the rig. The sting in the tail is that we also could have voided our warranty and insurance.
It really does pay to know the towing capacity of your loaded tow vehicle, the legal towball weight and the ATM of your van, and to stick within the limits. Loading the van correctly is also an art worth acquiring.