Saturday, 29 September 2018

Camper Trailer Soon

We drove past the rear fence of the camper trailer compound yesterday and couldn’t see our trailer in the rack awaiting assembly so I telephoned them for an update on when we might expect delivery of the camper trailer.  Middle of next week (hopefully).  My assumption is it will be one of the last to be assembled from the current batch.  Probably not surprising as it will be the cheapest one they sell from this order.  From a commercial perspective it makes sense to assemble and sell the trailers that have the greatest profit first. 

Ours is very basic, with no kitchen, tent or electrics.  Actually it doesn’t even have wheels and rims.  I purchased those second hand and delivered them to the distributor when I returned the hire trailer.

No doubt Jan will be pleased to see the trailer delivered as the front room is overflowing with trailer components and camping equipment. 

During the recent trip I happened to notice both Carlin and Monique had stainless steel thermo flasks which they were using as drinking water containers.  I was rather surprised at the price they had paid and when we were at the local KMart Jan and I went looking for them.  Jan found the flasks in the kitchen area at $8 each, so I bought three.


The two white flasks hold 750ml and I’ll use then as UHT milk containers.  During the outback trip two of the cardboard UHT milk containers started to leak after their bases got caught on a loose steel bolt and hopefully these flasks will avoid that problem reoccurring .  The colourful container will travel in the vehicle with me as a chilled water drinking container.  We also have an older 1.25 litre stainless steel flask which I bought in Dubai back in 1990 which I will use to carry hot water.

Friday, 28 September 2018

Harnessing the Sun

Readers if you can remember back to 2017 you may recall I fitted an electrical usage monitor to the house switchboard and started to collect data on our electrical consumption.  After a year of collecting data we have had a solar array fitted to the roof.  However before this could be done I needed to remove the old solar hot water system off the north facing side of the roof.  This was accomplished several months ago and I then started researching specific solar panels, inverters and installers.

Things started to accelerate when the current Federal government started making noises about removing the government rebate on residential solar installations.  At the time the government was subsidising almost 50% of the cost of a solar system with a rebate.  These “rebate credits” then have to be purchased by dirty polluters (ie, industries with harmful emissions).  Initially this was a good idea as solar systems were expensive and the subsidy (rebate) was a way of encouraging home owners to invest in “green energy”.  Of course there were other benefits to the nation such as it deferred the need for more major investment in power stations because surplus residential solar electricity was fed back into the network.

However the cost of solar systems has dropped rather dramatically during the last decade which has resulted in a rapid acceleration of residential solar system installations.  We have almost reached the situation where residential solar power generation will be a major contributor to the national demand. 

One problem is the cost of energy (eg, electricity) has risen.  Mostly caused by the failure to construct new power stations in the last two decades.  Moreover numerous old power stations have been decommissioned because they are heavy polluters which requires their commercial owners to pay an emissions tax.  Then you have the elderly, renters, and those with insufficient funds to pay for the installation of a solar system on their house.  Consequentially the government has been considering removing the rebate for residential solar installations and transferring the money as a discount/rebate to the “needy” who have to purchase expensive power from the large electrical utility companies (ie, those who don’t have solar). 

We decided to take advantage of the solar rebate before it disappeared.  We also decided to fit the largest possible array to the roof.  In Australia, by law the maximum size array you can fit to a grid linked house is 6.5kW.  So we had a 6.5kW array installed.

The installers completed the work over two days.  On the first day they fitted the panel mounting rails to the north and west sides of the house along with all the cabling


You can see the original red roof tiles in the next photo.  These were underneath the solar hot water system and didn’t get painted when the roof was repainted in 2016.


On the second day the panels were installed along with the inverter.


13 panels on the west facing side and 11 on the north.  Each panel has a maximum output of 275 Watts.  The north side gets sunlight all day and the west from 11am to dusk.


The inverter has two MPPT controllers and a maximum output of 5kWh


There isn’t a display on the inverter.  Instead you have to use a smartphone or Windows app.  Neither of which is particularly good.  More on that later.

The solar inverter works like any other converting the DC electricity produced by the panels to AC.  It also produces the electricity at a slightly higher voltage than the grid.  This is what forces the surplus electricity we produce back into the grid (against the flow) where it gets used by others.

As mentioned earlier, the inverter data monitoring system isn’t very good.  I’ve ordered a second Efergy clamp and transmitter which will enable me to have an independent and more detailed monitoring system for the solar array.  This will enable me to accurately measure consumption and production.

Currently it appears we consume an average of 10kWh daily and we are producing an average of 25kWh’s daily.  So we are selling 15kWh’s of surplus electricity back to our electrical utility company.  However some of our electrical consumption occurs when there is no sunlight.  When this occurs we have to purchase electricity at 30 cents per kWh from the utility company.  Our surplus is sold to the utility company at 7 cents per kWh.  Additionally the electrical utility company charges us a daily connection fee of 97 cents irrespective whether or not we use their electricity.

Two things have quickly become apparent.

  1. Our 6.5kW solar system isn’t producing 6.5kW.  Actually the 5kW inverter has never reached 5kW.  Occasionally we get a spike in production of 4.2kW.  I’m discussing this with the supplier.
  2. With a 6.5kW system we will never produce sufficient surplus electricity to be cost neutral or get a credit back from the utility company.

The obvious solution is to store our surplus electricity using it when there is no sunlight.  That means installing a battery and at the moment the cost of purchasing a battery system isn’t cost effective.  However I have this idea (project) of building a suitably sized lithium battery. 

But even this won’t solve our problem.   Regulations require residential homes to be connected to the “grid”.  So if we were to fit a battery and be self sufficient we would still have to pay the daily 97 cent connection charge to the utility company and I can only see that figure increasing.  At 7 cents per kWh it would take all our surplus electricity to pay the daily connection fee, leaving us with no surplus electricity to recharge the battery.

There will be a solution…. I just have to find it!

Thursday, 27 September 2018

Visitors Last Day

Carlin & Monique had their last day in Perth before flying back to New Zealand.  The flight was in the evening and we decided to take a tour in the 4x4 before heading for the airport.  The was no planned route or destination but eventually we ended in York some 100km from Perth.


Founded in 1831, York was the first European inland settlement in Western Australia.  It was named after Yorkshire, England because of the similarity in terrain.  Early settlers farmed sheep, but today it’s mostly grain. 

By 1885 the railway had arrived and for some time York was the starting point for prospectors making the long hot and dry walk to the goldfields at Kalgoorlie some 500km further east.

Today the town has more than 200 historically listed buildings.


Town Hall


Federation style Castle Hotel 1840


Main street with Federation and Victorian style buildings


Post Office (1893)


York Motor Museum


You know you’re getting old when things you remember are now in a museum!


I like these verandas found on many of the old hotels



And York seems to have a large number of hotels.  Thirsty gold prospectors?



I am so old I can remember when your local Shell garage had this type of signage


Holy Trinity Church (Anglican) was built in 1840.  It was made of mud brick and started to rapidly deteriorate.  Eventually it had to be demolished.  The existing church was built on the same site in 1861.


This guy isn’t all that old.


It’s a Bilby (more in this link) and native to Australia.

Carlin and Monique did make their return flight to NZ and their aircraft must have had a very strong tailwind as the flight only took 5.5 hours compared to the 8.5 hours on the way to Australia.

Wednesday, 26 September 2018


Reader on the far side of the world may not know there is a strawberry crisis here in Australia.  A sewing needle was found in a strawberry purchased from one of the major supermarket chains.  Of course this was reported in the media which resulted in numerous ‘copycat’ incidents.

This has wrecked havoc with the strawberry industry right at the peak of the harvest and tonnes of strawberries have been dumped as a result.

If you cut up the strawberries then there is little chance of biting on a needle.  Actually there are millions of strawberries and only a 100 reported incidents so the odds are rather good on not having a problem.

For our part, we went picking as the local strawberry farm.  That reduces the chances of finding a needle.

To our surprise it was the first time Carlin and Monique had picked fruit.  Obviously they’ve never scrumped on the towpath!


One for the tray and one for the mouth.  They won’t want much for lunch today!


Jan is going to cut them up and freeze them.  We will be eating strawberry cake, dessert and jam  until the next harvest.

What a small girl wanted

Jan told me this…….

A recently graduated teacher asked her young class what they wanted when they grew up.

A small girl down the back called out “My mum said I should have four animals”

“Really” said the teacher.  “What four animals?”

A mink….. on my back

A jaguar….. in the garage

A tiger…… in bed

A jackass….. to pay for it

Hummm…..Well I know I’m not a mink or a jaguar…. so I guess I’m the tiger!

Oh… but now I’ve really screwed up on the latest project so perhaps I’m actually the jackass Sad smile

The Li-ion cells in my Aldi drill battery have failed.  Well strictly speaking it’s likely only one of the cells has failed.  However in order to rectify the situation I need to pull the battery apart and test each cell.


Above is the BMS (battery management system) printed circuit board with the four cells underneath.

Turn it over and you see this.


The cell pos and neg terminals are spot welded rather than soldered.  I have to break the welds to remove the cells.


The individual cells need to be tested and to do that I have to solder a short length of copper wire to the pos and neg terminals.


But in removing the cells three of them had their insulated exterior sleeving damaged.  Without the sleeve they look like this


If I don’t re-sleeve them they could easily short circuit and catch fire.  Fortunately I had some heat shrink sleeving the right diameter.


Once the copper wire is soldered to the terminals I can test them to identify any defective cells.

Fortunately I already have four tested cells and decided to use them.  The original cells are rated at 1500mAh and my replacement cells have a tested rating of 2900mAh.  The new cells should therefore have twice the life and the battery should last twice the usual time.

The new cells were fitted and connections soldered before reassembling the battery.  it then went on the charger until the green LED illuminated.  But the drill wouldn’t work.  <sigh>  That meant I had to disassemble the battery, whereupon I realised I’d fitted one of the cells the wrong way around.  I’ve probably destroyed all the cells and (perhaps) the BMS.  Damned Fool!!! 

I need something to cheer myself up.


Tuesday, 25 September 2018

The boring part

With the camper trailer returned Carlin and Monique decided spend the day going sightseeing around Perth.  Meanwhile I decided to wash the Isuzu. 
Well I had to wash it five (yes five!) times to remove 99% of the accumulated exterior dust and dirt.  I don’t like washing the exterior with a cloth and these days I never dry with a chamois.  My technique is to use our small water pressure lance to blast off the bulky and loose stuff.  Then I fit the snow foam gun to the pressure washer and spray the entire exterior with a thick layer of foam.  The foam lifts the dirt whilst gravity takes everything to the ground.  Then it gets rinsed with the pressure gun.  Once I’m satisfied the exterior is clean I dry it using microfibre cloths.
My major issue was the build up of dirt in the areas where the pressure gun can’t reach.  These areas include the door pillars behind the door panels and the engine bay.  The rear door (tailgate) of the Isuzu lifts up and I discovered almost an inch of compacted dust along the recess behind the top lip of the door sill.
There was dust all though the interior.  The sheepskin seat covers were removed and washed.  All other surfaces were wiped down with damp cloths.  The leather steering wheel cover and the side door trims have (had) fancy white stitching which is now a pale orange.  Two days of work and I have the 4x4 back to an acceptable standard. 
I then changed the Kumho offroad tyres and rims for the standard AT tyres before doing an engine oil change.  Isuzu state the oil only needs to be changed every 20,000km.  However as this is likely to be our final vehicle I want it to remain relatively fault free and one of my strategies is to do an oil change twice as frequently as the handbook recommends.
In the evening I found time to look for a website that enables users to compare country sizes.  I overlayed the UK on Australia and then roughly drew the route we took on top as a green line.
Future plans
Apart from trips we have the solar array to be installed on the roof, new french doors for the living room, a sewer pipe to repair and ground preparation for the workshop shed pad.  Oh, and I have a few more lithium cells to test and prepare for my battery project.

Sunday, 23 September 2018

Day 20 – A change to the plan

It was a very windy night and some of us didn’t get much sleep.  We had planned to drive to Monkey Mia and spend two days swimming with the dolphins (probably feeding them… or watching them being fed) and have a look around Shark Bay.  However the weather forecast was all bad news.  A gale off the Gascoyne coast and heavy showers for the next few days.  Suddenly Monkey Mia didn’t seem all that appealing!  Instead we decided to head back to Perth cutting the trip short by two days.


Driving in the rain.  A sad way to end the trip.  But then it was the only rain we experienced and if you are looking for something positive; then the 4x4 and trailer received a good initial wash.


Just north of Geraldton we entered the north-western WA wheatbelt.  The farmers will be pleased to see the spring rain

You can see our entire route along with the last day (between the arrows) on the map below.

Map Overview

We reached home just before 4.30pm and immediately started unloading and then cleaning the loan camper trailer.  It needed to be returned tomorrow.

As reader Mike mentioned in a comment on yesterday’s post;  the main exterior panels of the 4x4 weren’t that dirty.  However the engine and door seams were full of red dust and the interior was filth with that ultra fine Tanami desert red dust.  It’s going to take several days to get the vehicle back to an acceptable standard of cleanliness.

So what are my thoughts on the trip.

  • It was a long journey in a compressed timeframe
  • The Gunbarrel Highway, the Olgas and Uluru were highlights
  • I’d planned for the worst and it hadn’t happened <phew>
  • The trailer proved to be very robust and I now have some ideas on what modifications I will make to mine when it’s delivered.
  • Carlin and Monique were great company.  Carlin’s mechanical knowledge and skill was very useful.
  • Next time I’ll go slower and stop to see more.
  • The 4x4 exceeded my expectations.  After tens of thousands of corrugations there isn’t a rattle or squeak.
  • I need to improve my culinary skills
  • The trip came in well under budget.  Mostly because of the excellent fuel economy and the freedom camping.
  • Australia is a vast country and some of the latter days were rather boring.
  • I need to do more trips!  

Saturday, 22 September 2018

Day 19–to Carnavon and beyond

Another 650km on the costal road today.  Not that we saw the ocean…. just more flat red desert and scrub.  To the west we passed Exmouth and Coral Bay.  the only sign of civilization until we reach the outskirts of Carnavon were the roadhouses.

We did pass another long road train rest stop similar to last night’s campsite.  However this one was fenced off with a large yellow sign proclaiming “Bio Hazard”.  I wonder what that’s about? Winking smile

We didn’t actually enter Carnarvon as the road junction south is on the northern outskirts of the town.  We’re working to a tight schedule so I’ll have to come back one day and have a good look around.

Yet more kilometres of empty road until we eventually reached the highway rest stop at Edagee.  The State Highway Department has constructed a number of these rest stops on NH1 but this was the first we had used.  The stops have been designed so that road trains can’t use them.  They are strictly for light vehicles, caravans and camper trailers.


The areas are well utilized by the ‘Grey Nomads’  This one had space for approximately 30 caravans.  You are only supposed to stay for 24 hours but some people looked like they had been there longer.

The only facilities are a dump station and long drop toilets



Remember to bring your own paper!


We should have set ourselves up with the trailer facing the opposite direction as the wind came up during the night giving Carlin and Monique a right bucketing.  My stretcher tent was lower down and slightly sheltered by some adjacent scrub.

Dinner was another of my “all in one” stews   

Friday, 21 September 2018

Day 18 – Broome to Karratha

It’s slightly more than 600km from Broome to Port Hedland on National Highway 1 (NH1).  There is a major road junction at Port Hedland where NH1 joins National Highway 95 (NH95).  The latter is the inland road and the shortest route back to Perth.  We plan to continue on NH1 which is the coast road. 

There are road houses approximately every 200km which might mean we no longer need to carry jerricans of diesel. A road house is generally a fuel station with some additional facilities such as toilets, food, and sometimes a caravan park.  I had assumed the further we drove from a main population centre, the more expensive the price of fuel.  Therefore we refuelled both the 4x4 and two jerricans in Broome ($1.66.09p/l) on the morning of our departure. 

However before we could depart Carlin needed to install the trailer replacement shock absorbers which we had collected from the Broome Post Office.


I’ll admit he completed this task in about 20% of the time it would have taken me.  Oh, to be young, healthy and slim again!

Note the large rectangular aluminium checker plate box underneath the trailer.  It’s the second trailer water tank with a capacity of 30 litres.  I’m considering removing the water tank and using the aluminium box to hold my 150Ah AGM trailer battery.  The trailer front water holds 50 litres and I also have a 20 litre plastic water can (jerrican).  We didn’t use the water from 30 litre tank during our trip and there were three of us.    

Although we are travelling on the coastal road it’s so far inland there is very little opportunity to see the ocean.  Nearly the entire landscape to Port Hedland is as flat as a pancake.  Much of it is a floodplain and during the wet season earlier this year much of the floodplain (including the road) was under 500mm of water.  Broome was cut off along with the small communities along NH1.  Several times we had to either stop or slow down for road construction crews repairing long damaged sections of road.

Our first refuelling stop was at Sandfire Roadhouse where we topped up the 4x4 tank.  I should have checked the price of fuel first as it had jumped to $1.82.7p/l.  Much to my chagrin the fuel was cheaper at the second roadhouse!

By now we were travelling parallel to Eighty Mile Beach which is rather amusing because it’s actually approximately 220km long!  Of course we were too far inland to see it.

Our third refuelling stop was at Paradoo Roadhouse.

IMG_3022 Most of the traffic at the roadhouses were ‘grey nomads’.  The road trains obviously know the fuel is expensive and their fuel tanks have sufficient capacity to travel between major centres.

It was at this point we needed to review our situation.  Once we reached the Port Hedland – Karratha region we knew freedom camping was both prohibited and actively enforced.  We either had to camp soon or carry on well beyond Karratha.  We elected to do the latter continuing to rotate drivers every 90 minutes. 

By now we had left the Kimberley Region of Western Australia and were in the Pilbara.   Port Hedland is the second largest town in the region and is blessed with a large natural harbour.  This made it the ideal location for a large port to support the four major iron ore mines in the region.  The two largest companies are BHP and Rio Tinto.  The trains in this part of Australia are big.  Up to 2km long and weighing approximately 35,000 tonnes.  In the last decade there has been a move to robotic trains (driverless).  The trains actually don’t stop.  They are loaded; unloaded, and refuelled whilst on the move.  Port Hedland is 99% a mining town where the majority of the workforce is FIFO (Fly In – Fly Out) working 10 days and having 10 off.  Wages are high compared to most of Australia and there is a concessional income tax range for working in a tropical (hot) location.  I suspect one of the major reasons why freedom camping is prohibited in the area is to discourage workers arriving who don’t already have employment.

230km west of Port Hedland is Karratha.   The town’s income is derived from iron ore exports, sea-salt and supporting the offshore gas industry.  Karratha is probably more attractive than Port Hedland.   We only stopped to refuel at the Shell roadhouse before continuing south. 

Two hours later and the sun was getting ready to set.  We needed to find a campsite eventually deciding to stop at a long road train rest area.  There were no facilities here and it wasn’t until we’d set up camp that we realised we’d stopped at the longest open latrine on the highway.  It was too late to move on which meant camping the night surrounded by toilet paper and “the other stuff”.  All of which decomposed extremely slowly in the hot and dry conditions.


A poor choice of campsite! Sad smile

Thursday, 20 September 2018

Day 17 – Cable Beach, Broome

Probably the most iconic attraction at Broome is Cable Beach which is located approximately 6km from the town.  The beach is named after the 1889 Java to Australia telegraph cable which came ashore here.  The former cable station is now the Broome Courthouse which (purely by accident) I happened to photograph as it was adjacent to the Saturday Market.
Cable Beach is 22km long and almost flat.  This means when the tide is out there is plenty of beach.   4x4 vehicles are permitted at the northern end of the beach with the southern end the exclusive domain of pedestrians.  When we walked down to the beach a Ranger was parked at the vehicle ramp to ensure all vehicles went north.
The northern end is also where you can take on of Broome’s iconic camel rides.  Monique is a keen equestrian and very interested in riding a camel.  Three camel companies operate, Red, blue and Yellow.  The most expensive time to book a ride is at sunset where you can ride along the beach as the sun sets into the Indian Ocean.  Monique opted for the cheaper afternoon trek on the Blue Camels.
Northern end of the beach looking south
“The Rocks” an area vehicles need to traverse when entering or exiting the beach
You get introduced to your camel.  Monique & Carlin meet Jabul, who didn’t appear to be all that interested! Smile
A camel rises on it’s hind legs first and then front. This creates a forward and rear tipping motion for the rider.  Hence the grab handles on the saddle
And they are off…… 
I gave Carlin the action camera and asked him to record some footage.

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Eventually they returned.  But not before Jabul decided to bite the rear end of the girl riding the camel in front! LOL
We were now starting to get hungry and Carlin suggested we eat at Cable Bay Resort across from the beach.
They settled on a pizza whilst I opted for a hamburger and chips washed down with a cold bottle of Crown Lager (or two).
Then we realised the sun was setting.  Time to grab the cameras and try for that elusive sunset photo.
I was reminded of an Australian I met 25 years earlier.  He lived on the east coast and had only seen the sun rise out of the Pacific Ocean.  At 62 he visited Perth and saw the sun set into the ocean for the first time!