From the Blog

Living on the road

The Diggings, Snowy Mountains National Park.

For the last four days we have been on the road doing a thorough shake-down run of Marvin the Van. All in all it went very well with only a few “glitches” and some minor refinements that we need to make before setting out on a more extensive trip.

On Monday we headed straight down the Hume from Wollongong to Queanbeyan for an appointment with my good mate, Allan Beavan of New Eagle Signs. Allan has done all my work over the years and it was he who did all the vinyl wrapping on the Shadowfax when we restored it 7 years ago. I wanted Al to do some wrapping on the van as it has rather large expanses of white panels so we spent a few hours tinkering with various designs that will be revealed at a later date.

It was later in the afternoon when we headed off but, acknowledging that the wildlife problem on the Monaro Highway is extreme, we planned to get at least some distance south before holing up for the night before the wombats and kangawallafoxes came out. We were aiming for Bredbo, about 40ks out of Cooma and were delighted to see that the hotel has a free camping site in the back yard, perfect.

There were no signs anywhere as to a fee for camping so we just rolled in. After a quick set-up we rolled up to the pub where we had a huge dinner at the bistro (country-sized helpings) and then toddled off to bed. The van is much bigger inside with about double the distance between the end of the bed and the seats and more space on each side as well. Couple that with the extra height and the whole thing is more spacious and less claustrophobic. Camped just up from us in a tiny tent were a couple who were obviously push bike touring. In the morning I had a chat with them and they were on the second last leg of a ride from Adelaide back home to Sydney (yes, I know)

We set out for Cooma and were surprised to see that the countryside was quite green (normally the paddocks are dead and bare). The many poplar trees that line the roadsides are green and flourishing and the outlook was very pleasant indeed.

While heading down my old speedometer problem surfaced again. After driving for about 20 minutes or so, the speedo, the tacho and the water temperature gauge simply stop functioning. It is obviously a connection issue of some sort because, if you belt the top of the instrument binnacle, they start working again for a few seconds and then they die again. The van is booked in for a service on the 12th so hopefully my local Ford dealer will be able to diagnose and fix. For the most part I checked my speed by using the GPS but not having an accurate measure of how much distance I had travelled (the fault also shuts down the odometer and the trip meter) and not knowing what the engine temperature is is also a worry.

Breakfast in Cooma (country-sized helpings again) and a wander around the park, and a good time spent in the local music shop, a real old-fashioned store with pre-internet service, and we were on the road again. The local Tourist Information Centre gave us a comprehensive list of free camping sites within the Snowy Mountains National Park so we aimed for the one that the people at the kiosk recommended, The Diggings, just out of Thredbo. There was still snow on the highest peaks of the alps much to Helena’s excitement and we landed in at The Diggings just after lunch time. We found a fabulous place to camp and made lunch. (see picture at the top of the article as well)

We sat around, read a book and generally took in the serenity until mid-afternoon when a strong wind came up. We were amongst trees and that always worries me a little, so, when the wind began to increase, we decided to break camp and head out. Now the track in to the campsite is gravel and quite steep but nothing that the van couldn’t handle and it should have been easy, except that it wasn’t. On our way up the dirt road from the campsite we encountered a bad mannered couple in a huge 4WD camper. He could easily have pulled over and let us go by but he refused to move and I had to reverse back down the road for about 100m to find a spot. He then drove by with the woman in the passenger seat giving us a regal wave as they went by. The van had a CMHA sticker on it too. I wish I’d have got his number.

As I was trying to get out the van started to wheel spin on the loose gravel. When I finally got back out on the road I noticed that the gearbox warning light was flashing .
I drove slowly onto Jindabyne where I pulled over and rang the Ford dealer in Cooma. He said to drive back there, about 70kms and they would have a look at it.
We got back safely and the service people at Alpine Ford checked it over and cleared the error code. Thankfully the gearbox is fine, no thanks to the ignorant prat in the 4WD.

While they were looking into the van’s electronics, Helena and I took another stroll through town. Cooma is a really lovely place. In the park is a great 3 dimensional map of the Snowy Mountains scheme that I hadn’t seen before.

Great to see that the local people have a great sense of history.

The Ford people also investigated the error with the speedo but said that it would need more analysis so, hence my appointment with my local Ford dealer soon.

As we were about to leave Alpine Ford, Ray, the service manager, asked me if I could do them a little favour. It seems that an echidna had hitched a ride in one of their vehicles and Ray wanted to know if I could deliver him back into the wild somewhere down the highway. Of course I was happy to do so, so somewhere between Cooma and Nimitabel, we gave Eric his freedom.

We were too late to have a cuppa at the famous Nimitabel Bakery but the nice man who runs the coffee shop across the road was kind enough to make us one even though he had officially closed for the afternoon. From there it was down Brown Mountain to Bega (the road in much better condition than it was when I travelled it last) and our next overnight stop, the historic Bega Showground. Dominated by a magnificent brick pavilion building, the showground has heaps of grassy places to camp, excellent amenities and a great view to the east ($20 per night).

We made breakfast then headed north, stopping quite a few times along the way toe explore the many picturesque towns that dot the highway route.

We stopped for coffee at Tilba Tilba but John Small was not in town. Bought some cheese and crackers from the cheese factory and later ate same at Broulee, overlooking the beach.. A gorgeous Porsche 356C was parked in the main street of Tilba Tilba, not jealous at all.

A requisite stop at “Hippy Sticks” at Bodalla, and we rolled into Ulladulla mid-afternoon. We have stayed at the caravan park on the headland several times before so it was a no-brainer to do so again. $30 for a powered site (though we didn’t need it, the location was much better than the unpowered ones). We at a hearty dinner of fish and chips in the park overlooking the harbour, determining to stop in again at the Boardwalk Cafe for breakfast in the morning.

The scenery is well worth the stop as are the botanicals.

After breakfast we completed the last leg of the trip, stopping in at Milton and then at a friend’s place at Basin View. We got home around 1500. The van went brilliantly, has excellent highway performance (including climbing hills) and didn’t use heaps of diesel, though the lack of an odometer and trip meter makes that more of an estimate than a measurement. I must have gone under a low branch because I noticed that the reversing camera had been knocked out of alignment at some stage. A couple of cable ties and some Nitto tape fixed that up and that was the limit of things that needed attention.

Our next adventure is planned to be a trip down the Murray River from as close to the source of it as we can get, all the way to where it exits Lake Alexandrina in South Australia. Can’t wait for that one.

A HUGE congratulations to the Wollongong Whizz, Jacob Roulstone and Qld’s Harrison Voight for being selected for the Asia Talent Cup in 2019. Luke Power also qualified as a reserve. I’ve watched Jacob and Harrison race and I can tell you, they are the real deal.

Speaking of racing, MotoGp from Sepang is on so I’d better go. Catch you next time.



  1. Well done on the shakedown trip,Phil. Glad that the van went well and you and Helena seemed to enjoy the time together too! Bonus! Hope you get those electrics fixed. It’s probably something very simple but…..