2019: Our Year in Review

We say it every year, but wow, where did the time go!  What a busy year that was, everyone says it and it’s true, the older you get the quicker time flies by. That’s exactly why you need to make the most of every day, live out those fantasies, tick off the bucket list items, laugh, have fun, explore and make memories.

We started 2019 in the Wilpena Pound campground in the Flinders Ranges. In fact, we were both already in bed at midnight! We spent the night drinking at camp by ourselves, with Shelly giving an impromptu concert of singing and dancing! George thoroughly enjoyed the concert (though he may deny that if you ask him!) and i’m sure some of our camping neighbours did too!

Fast forward 12 months and we are sitting at camp surrounded by friends, at one of our most favourite places ever …. Fraser Island.

Now let’s take a look back over the year that was 2019 …..


2019 Trips

January

We woke up on New Years Day in the Wilpena Pound campground in the Flinders Ranges in South Australia. We’d packed up on Boxing Day and headed to Coffin Bay for a few days, before driving up to spend a week or so in the Flinders Ranges. Now summer is certainly not the time to be camping in outback South Australia, with temperatures reaching 48 degrees at one stage, but we survived (and the pedestal fan that Shelly packed wasn’t such a stupid idea after all was it George!).

January also saw us head back to the Hunter Valley Gardens with friends to see the Christmas lights. This is something Shelly had wanted to see for ages and they certainly do a good job, well worth the visit.

April

A last minute decision to head off for the Easter long weekend break saw us wake up on Good Friday, hook up the camper trailer, chuck the dogs in the car and head off down south. We had no idea where we were going to stay, we just started driving! We ended up near Tumut in the Riverina region of NSW, at the foothills of the Snowy Mountains. We found a great free camp in the forest, right on the water with plenty of room for the pups to run around. You may recall that last year we took the dogs away camping with us for the first time and they didn’t even last the whole weekend before they were taken home! Well we are happy to report that they were both surprisingly well behaved this time and had an absolute ball swimming, running around and 4WDing in the bush. I think they have now proved they can be well behaved and may be invited to join us on another trip at some stage!

By pure chance we also met up with friends, Tracey & Mark, and ended up spending our second night camping with them and their friends. Being the social butterfly that she is, Gelly in particular enjoyed her newfound friends to hang out with!

April also meant another trip up to the Hunter Valley to see the Hunter Valley Night Glow at Roche Estate. We caught up with Shelly’s cousins Lauren & Emma to enjoy a night of food, markets, wine, beer, fireworks and hot air balloons.

July

It started with a weekend trip up the central coast for Shelly’s best mate Adam’s 40th birthday party. As this was the week before we left for Birdsville we used this as our chance to pack everything in the camper trailer so we booked ourselves into a caravan park at Mannering Park for a couple of nights. Even though it was cold and it rained on and off we had a great long weekend and did some exploring of the local areas as well.

Friday 12th July saw us leave for our first ever Big Red Bash! More on this later ….

September

This was a girls weekend away for Shelly, her sister Kylie, all the female cousins, and a few friends for Kylie’s 40th birthday. We booked out a house in Woodford in the Blue Mountains and spent the weekend catching up, eating, drinking, playing games and decorating cup-cakes! This amazing house was actually a 100 year old church which had been converted into a holiday house.

November

Another 40th birthday celebration, this time a weekend P&O cruise. Generally the short cruises don’t dock anywhere, but this one docked in Eden and we were able to go ashore and visit the Food Festival. It was a great weekend catching up with old friends and meeting new ones. We had a group of 13 and we all had a fun weekend of laughs and maybe a few cocktails!, celebrating Ellen’s Fabulous 40th!

December

This year we decided to spend Christmas and New Year at one of our most favourite places …. Fraser Island. We first visited in 2006 and have been coming back ever since. After a few days to ourselves (the Island was fairly empty) we had friends join us after Christmas …. as well as the rest of the crowds!


Big Red Bash

Ever since the first Big Red Bash in 2013 Shelly has been wanting to attend. For those that may not know, this is the world’s most remote music festival, held at the base of Big Red (the largest sand dune in the Simpson Desert) in Birdsville, QLD. Well finally we made it and wow, what an event! This would have to be by far the best run event we have ever been to. They basically throw nearly 10,000 people together, camping in the middle of the desert for 3 days. There are concerts from mid afternoon every day, as well as other entertainment to keep you occupied. The headlining act this year was Midnight Oil! The whole event ran so smoothly. Our friend Stewy joined us (with his daughter and nephew) and we all had the best time, they say that once you go you will be back ….. and yep we caught the bug, we already have our tickets for BRB 2020!

As well as attending the Big Red Bash we also spent 3 days camping at the Boulia Racecourse to see the Boulia Camel Cup – they say it’s the Melbourne Cup of camel racing! We’d always wanted to attend a camel racing meet and now we can tick that off the bucket list. So what’s it like? Well, lets just say it’s horse racing in slow motion …. really slow motion!

We also visited Cameron Corner (where the borders of NSW/QLD/SA meet) and Haddon Corner (where the borders of SA/QLD meet), Burke’s Grave & The Dig Tree (Burke & Wills), Innamincka, Birdsville, Winton, Longreach, had a beer in the Birdsville Pub and touched a fossilised dinosaur bone in Winton!

Over 16 days we traveled 4,838km, through 3 states, spent $1,290 on fuel and $210 on accommodation.


The 4WD’s & Camper Trailer

We are always spending money on these vehicles, they are money pits! And this year was no different!

We sold the old Prado

Early this year we made the hard decision to sell the old Prado. She was on the market for quite a while, but we always knew that a vehicle like this would have to attract the right buyer. For a start, not everyone wants to buy a 23 year old car with nearly 300,000 km on the clock! Anyway, after a few months on the market, that right buyer did come along, a young guy and his family from the central west region of NSW. He’d done his homework, he’d seen our website and knew exactly the life this car had lived, there was now no hiding anything!

It was sad to see her go, she’d brought us so many years of memories. She was what started our whole 4WDing and travel adventures together. It was this Prado that got George into 4WDing in the beginning, Shelly learned to drive off-road in the Prado. When we first started travelling together we slept in the back of the Prado, free camping or staying in caravan parks as we traveled around, all of the dogs have gone 4WDing with us and the kids grew up knowing this car. She took us on so many amazing holidays and to places across Australia that we would never have gone to without a 4WD. We spent our 2 month honeymoon travelling in the Prado, as well as many weekend trips with friends.

So many fun memories, it was really hard to watch her drive away with her new family, alot of memories drove away with her that night. But hopefully the old girl still has a lot of life left in her and this new young family can start making memories of their own.

We bought Leia!

By far one of the most exciting things that happened this year was buying Leia! For years Shelly has been talking about one day owning a Hilux, something George wasn’t entirely on board with. Anyway, as talk turned to selling the Prado we had to make the decision of which car to replace it with. It need to be Shelly’s daily driver, but we also liked the idea of having another vehicle to drive off-road on the weekends instead of taking the 150 out, so this eliminated any smaller hatchback purchase. George would have loved another 150 or even a 120 series Prado, but he reluctantly gave in and agreed to buy a Hilux!

The day we picked her up!

After alot of looking we found one for sale up in Newcastle, it was full of the goodies we would have added anyway so it was the perfect buy for a great price ….. only thing was we hadn’t sold the Prado yet, but it was too good to miss out on. So off we went with our mate Liam and headed up to newy to pick her up.

Upon returning home she was given the full once over by our mechanic and treated with various products from Cost Effective Maintenance ….. these guys follow our pages and when we bought Leia they posted us a pack of their products to use on her!

Shelly knew exactly how she wanted this car to look and after throwing a fair bit of money into it she’s nearly there! The first major mod was removing the cage on the back, modifying the backboard and shortening the tray. Luckily one of Shelly’s friends, Paul, was able to do this for us so we saved a bit of money there.

Next we threw some money to the boys at ARB Penrith and Leia was fitted up with her snorkel, side steps, under body protection, extended diff breathers and most importantly, her rear air locker! The last major expense was new suspension in the form of front and rear Bilstein shocks and 2” raised springs, complete lower control arms and all new bushes, ball joints and camber pins. Thanks to Auto Parts Co and Sydney Suspension.

We love her …. yes even George has learned to love her now too! Click here to see the Project Leia page and her transformation so far.

150 Series Prado

After spending all our money on the new car there wasn’t much left to spend on the Prado! He did get a re-tune and dyno early in the year though.

Cub Camper

Luckily the camper is relatively maintenance free and doesn’t require much, but we did buy a port-a-loo and shower to take travelling with us! Oh and the repaired awning after we riped it in Birdsville. We did also buy our Darche -12 degree sleeping bags …. so warm and so glad we bought them before the desert trip to the bash!

Lastly not camper trailer related, but the dogs bought George a swag for fathers day!

We haven’t tested it out yet, but we think it may come in handy to chuck it on the back of Leia for a quick weekend trip.


Weekend Adventures

This year we had a lot of weekend adventures, particularly after we purchased Leia, we were out every other weekend in her! We also spent a bit of time exploring around the local area we live in, as well as further afield. We all travel far and wide and see these great places, but there is often quite a lot of interesting places to visit in your local areas. Our area actually has a lot of history, you just need to go searching for it, which is what we tried to do this year.

Shelly spent a bit of time exploring the central coast of NSW with one of her friends, such a beautiful area and a bit of history aswell.

In June we took a group up to Morisset to have a play in the bush and to visit Ward 21, an old asylum for the criminally insane. Nowadays this is in ruins and overrun with weeds and graffiti, but back in the day it housed some of the most criminally insane people in Australia.

We had a relatively cold winter this year and there was a fair bit of snow around. On 10th August we took the dogs for a drive up to Lithgow so they could see snow for the first time (yes, they probably didn’t care, but mummy was excited, especially when it actually started to snow on us!). We all rugged up, jumped in Leia and only drove an hour from home before we started seeing snow. We headed off into the bush for a drive in the snow and to have a play. The dogs absolutely loved it! Gelly even ran off to go for a walk with some random strangers!

Later in August we joined Great Divide Tours on a tag-a-long tour to explore the Coxs and Kowmung Rivers area. As we spend so much time 4WDing by ourselves, it was nice to spend the day meeting new people.

Later in the year we found a some great 4WD tracks down near Mittagong where we could have a play. We had so much fun, we ended up heading back down with Liam the next week to have another go.

Pretty spectacular scenery around this area, as well as some awesome 4WD tracks, with barely anyone else around ….. now this is our idea of the perfect day out!

A day trip up to Lithgow with Liam in October really tested out the vehicles as we found some new tracks. George doesn’t get scared 4WDing very often, but there were a few moments this day!

In December we took a day trip down to Kiama to catch up with our friends Leah & Brendan from Track & Tide Adventures. Just over 12 months ago they packed up and took off travelling around Australia in their camper trailer. We hadn’t seen them since just before they left, so it was great to catch up on their adventures over the months and find out what is planned for the next year. Check out their website and facebook page to see what adventures these guys get up to!


We changed our name to Off The Track 4×4

In January this year we changed our name to ‘Off The Track 4×4’ and over the next few months we started to change our logo and name on our website and various social media platforms. We are happy with the change and it brings about a whole lot of possibilities for us for the future.

The huge news is that Cost Effective Maintenance came on board and are now officially sponsoring both of our vehicles. We have been using these products since we first purchased the 150 Prado and cannot recommend them highly enough and we are so happy to be partnered with this great company. They’ve even given a discount code for our followers to use, so check out their website and use ‘4x4OTT’ and you can save 10% off all items (excluding value packs).

Throughout the year we had a few competitions and giveaways running on our Facebook page and we thank those who entered, but most importantly those who helped out providing various items, particularly Coral from Shower Ezy who is always happy to be involved (go check out the website, they have some really handy items for sale!).

Our Christmas giveaway was by far our biggest and we are so appreciative to everyone who was involved in this giveaway, we love to spread the word about these great little Aussie companies and are glad to be working with you all.

Early in the year we did a sticker giveaway where we posted out about 70 or so ‘Off The Track 4×4’ stickers to our followers, it’s been great seeing these on some of your vehicles! One even got posted to one of our followers in Berlin! – we’ve gone international, how cool is that!

We also want to thank our wonderful mechanic Adam from A1 Autohaus for keeping the 4WD’s running and mechanically sound, the guys from Auto Parts Co for always helping us out with sourcing products for us and giving us new things to try. And lastly, the guys from Cost Effective Maintenance for their support and great products. Again, we can’t recommend them highly enough.

We’ve had so many new followers this year and have actually met a few of you in person which was great, it’s nice to know that people enjoy what we do. We are so grateful to all of you. We do it because we love it, but we also like that we can share it with everyone else. We love sharing our adventures and we love that we can inspire others to get out and explore as well.

So what’s next ….. There are a few ideas floating around of what’s next! But for now, we’ve been very busy this year establishing relationships with various different companies to enable us to give something back to our followers. Check our our Facebook shop for the products we are currently selling and details of discounts that some of the companies are offering exclusively to Off The Track 4×4 followers.


Celebrations

There were a few celebrations this year with Shelly’s sister and many of our friends turning 40. The parties kicked off in May for Liam’s 40th, with a great old school house party. Many of you would have seen or heard us mention Liam before as he travels with us quite regularly and is always out 4WDing with us ….. I think he enjoys hanging out with us so we can winch and snatch him out every time the Patrol gets bogged! Sorry Liam! Seriously though, this Patrol is a magnet towards water!

Next was Adam’s 40th in July. The party was the week before we left for our Big Red Bash trip so we hooked up the camper and headed up to the central coast and stayed in a caravan park for the weekend, using the time to pack the camper ready for the big trip. Another house party (in the cold and rain!), thank god for the fire pits scattered around! We also met one of our followers at this party, it felt like we already knew you, but nice to meet you in person Scott!

In August we celebrated the first holy communion of our niece, Tahlia, and also George’s sister, Monique, celebrated her 50th birthday. Both were celebrated with a lovely lunch with family and friends.

August also saw us attend our friend Oli’s engagement. This was another backyard party, but the setting was beautiful and the atmosphere was certainly one of fun and love.

September was Kylie’s 40th (Shelly’s sister) and as mentioned earlier we headed up to the Blue Mountains for a girls weekend away. It was nice to catch up with cousins we don’t see too often and spend a few days just chilling together in a beautiful (but very very cold!) location.

The last big celebration for the year was that of Shelly’s friend, Ellen. We celebrated Ellen’s 40th birthday on a weekend cruise with 13 people.


The not so good stuff ….

As we all know, life isn’t always about fun and laughter, sometimes you are forced to face reality and all the sad and unfortunate things that come with that.

In March Shelly lost two aunties within a week or so of each other. Everyone gets older and everyone leaves this earth at some stage, but it never gets any easier losing a loved one or seeing your loved ones go through heartache. We will never forget you Aunty Judy and Aunty Margaret xx

Life threw another curve ball our way in September when George learned of the passing of a friend, someone he used to work with. What made this worse was that we’d both seen the news reports about the accident and had no idea that we knew the person involved. This passing was sudden and unexpected and two young people lost their lives. They left home one morning having no idea what lay ahead, and unfortunately they never returned.

As if we hadn’t endured enough throughout the year, we ended the year with hospital visits for family members, the sudden death of a friend of a friend and lastly, the sudden and unexpected passing of another of our friends. Only 41, he went to sleep one night, never to wake up. This one left everyone in total shock, it’s hard to comprehend how life can be so cruel as to take someone so young and leave grieving family and friends behind.

Finally we ended the year with the horrendous fires that are burning throughout the country, some relatively close to home. While we endured weeks of smoke and ash falling around home, we had friends and family members being evacuated from their houses and another friend out there fighting them with the RFS. It’s been a pretty scary time for a lot of people.

Yet another reminder that life is so, so short and you really must live every single day to the fullest.


Other stuff

George spent a fair bit of time travelling with work again this year, including working at numerous 4WD shows at Gunnadeh, Eastern Creek and Maitland. August saw him head up to Rainbow Beach for a week to attend sales training.

We also met Graham, Shauno and Jock from 4WD Action and spent a couple of hours chatting and having a few beers with them one night. Great guys and for anyone who knows Shelly’s ‘plan‘, she was quite excited that night! Didn’t get a pic with them on the night though so Shelly had to hunt them down at the 4WD show the next day for a photo!

That same night we met The Duck from The Camping & Off Road radio show on 2GB. If you aren’t already listening to his radio show (available on Podcast as well) or his other Podcast “The Duck and Ricko’s Red Dirt Podcast” you really should check them out! Great down to earth guy who loves doing exactly what we do … escape the city and explore our great land!

How we spent Christmas

As we were heading to Fraser Island we held ‘family Christmas’ with Shelly’s family on 15th December with everyone heading to our house for Christmas lunch and presents. Our little nephew, Levi, is three now and really starting to get into the whole Christmas thing, so it was quite fun watching him with all his presents.

We celebrated Christmas with George’s side of the family with a dinner at his parents house. Lots of presents for exchanged and it was nice to see our our niece and nephew excited about opening their presents.

Christmas Day was a quiet one with just the two of us relaxing on the island. It’s not Christmas without decorations and presents, so of course Shelly decorated the campsite for us! We also saved one present to give to each other on Christmas Day.


What’s planned for 2020?

The main thing is to enjoy ourselves and have fun! Other than the Big Red Bash, we don’t have any major trips planned, so we will see what happens. We do head up to Queensland early in the year for another 40th birthday party and hope to have plenty of weekends away as well.

Big Red Bash!  Yep, we are going back again! So excited for the artists performing in 2020. It’s always been one of Shelly’s bucket list items to see John Williamson sing ‘True Blue’ live and now she will get to see that. John Williamson performed solo on top of Big Red for the first ever Big Red Bash in 2013 and now he’s back for the first time since then.

Artists for next year are

  • Paul Kelly
  • Ian Moss
  • Tim Finn
  • John Williamson
  • Kate Ceberano
  • Shannon Noll
  • Dragon
  • The Radiators
  • Mi Sex
  • Wendy Matthews
  • Thirsty Merc
  • Marc Gable
  • Glenn Shorrock
  • Bjorn Again
  • Steve Balbi
  • Chocolate Starfish
  • Ross Wilson 
  • Vika & Linda Bull
  • Caitlin Shadbolt

Of course we will have plenty of weekend and short trips away and days out 4WDing in Leia!


Thank you to all of our family, friends and followers for their support over the past year.  Thanks for following our adventures and interacting with us, we even personally met some of you this year which was great and we also gained a few new camping friends!

If anyone sees us out and about make sure you come over and say hi, we love meeting new people and sharing stories.


As we look back and reflect on this past year, we are thankful for the love and friendship of our family and friends.

Wishing you all a very happy and safe New Year. Hope the year brings you many new adventures and memories ….. Bring on 2020!


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Hunter Valley Gardens Christmas Lights Spectacular

We did it! We finally visited the Christmas lights at the Hunter Valley Gardens.  This is the largest Christmas light display in the Southern Hemisphere.

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The Hunter Valley Gardens Christmas Lights Spectacular is held every year from November until January (this year it closed on Australia Day, not sure if that is the case every year or not).

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If you have kids they will absolutely love it, but even the big kids (adults) will enjoy the night.

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As well as the lights display there are also rides, food and entertainment.

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The lights are set up around the gardens and are split into different displays, including the Giant Teddy, Princess Castle, Santa’s Workshop, Candyland and Fairy Garden.

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This event is held at the Hunter Valley Gardens, located at 2090 Broke Road Pokolbin, NSW 2320. 📞 02 4998 4000.  http://www.huntervalleygardens.com.au

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