Tailem Bend, South Australia

Tailem Bend is a small town located about an hour out of Adelaide, SA. This rural town is built on the banks of the Murray River and was once an important service centre for the South Australian Railways. It was proclaimed a town in 1887, not long after the railway line went through.

Nowadays though, Tailem Bend is more likely known as the home of Australia’s newest racetrack, ‘The Bend’. The Bend is Australia’s only track to comply with the latest FIA Grade 2 and FIM Category A standards, making it eligible to host international categories such as the World Endurance Championships, IndyCar and MotoGP. It’s also the second longest permanent circuit in the world, after the Nurburgring in Germany.

Construction started in 2016 and the first Supercar Championship race meeting at the track was held on 24–26 August 2018. The track and precinct is very impressive and it’s not even finished yet, plenty more plans in the works.

This was built on what was once Mallala Race Circuit, which for some time was also Mitsubishi’s testing facility. The track was purchased by the Peregrine Corporation, owned by the Shahin Family. This is the same family who is responsible for the OTR stores in SA (if you don’t know about this family and their story, look them up. It’s quite interesting to see where they have come from and what they’ve built). What they’ve done with the OTR stores in one thing, but this whole motorsport complex at The Bend is something else.

We will say that the one thing that we really loved about this whole story is that the Shahin family really do seem so down to earth and very involved in all aspects of their businesses. The way the staff at the hotel spoke of this family was great, you could tell they all appreciate them and have a genuine like for the family. We heard that they actually do spend a bit of time in the complex and meet and speak with the staff.

THE BEND MOTORSPORT PARK

Now we haven’t attended a race meet here or personally raced on the track, but we’ve both been to plenty of racetracks over the years (and George has raced on them) and this one stands out by far. Not only do you have the world class racing circuit, there is karting, drifting, rallycross, a 4WD adventure park, private villas, a Rydges Hotel and a Big 4 caravan park all onsite.

RYDGES PIT LANE HOTEL

You’ll find the hotel located within the main building of the pit lane complex. The hotel offers 100 guests rooms, some with private balconies and views over the racetrack and pit lane. Also the Apex Bar and Restaurant, Apex coffee lounge and obviously plenty of meeting rooms and event spaces.

The hotel has a very modern vibe and we really liked that. Our package deal came with a bottle of champagne on arrival, dinner and breakfast for 2. The food was great, we definitely couldn’t fault that! And the cocktails, yum – do yourself a favour and try a Lemon Meringue Martini! Lastly the staff were all great, ultra friendly and always happy to have a chat or a joke. We all know customer service is important, but when you have a stay like we did, it really makes you remember the place in a very positive light.

The thing that sets this hotel apart from others is the car museum in the foyer. As soon as you walk in the front doors you are greeted with millions and millions of dollars worth of rare, historical and unique Supercars and sports cars. Most are apparently part of the the owners own personal collection and some are still taken out on the race track from time to time. One of the brothers, Sam Shahin is actually quite an accomplished race car driver.

Contact Details and Location

Rydges Pit Lane Hotel

543 Dukes Highway, Tailem Bend SA 5260

Phone: (08) 8165 5730

ᑭᖇᗩᗪO ᑌᑭᗪᗩTE – It’s home!

Wow, what a journey that was! Like one of our mates said ‘there’s never been a more followed engine rebuild’

For those that are new to following us, here’s a quick run down of what happened …… we were holidaying in South Australia over Christmas and unfortunately we didn’t quite make it home! Our Prado broke down on 28th December 2020 (cracked a piston) and we were picked up and towed (including our camper trailer) to RH Automotive in Whyalla. These guys were great and went above and beyond to help us in so many ways. Unfortunately due to COVID and being Christmas/New Year, many places were closed and it was hard to work out what to do. Did we have it all towed back to Sydney (quotes were well in excess of $10K), did we get a new engine, a reconditioned engine (or recon ours) or did we sell and restart all over again? We did the sums and went with the most cost effective option for us. Luckily we have our NRMA Premium Roadside service which assisted us in this whole process and also contributed $3,000 towards towing, accommodation etc.

When we first put the post out there on Facebook about what had happened, so many of you (many we don’t even know) contacted us with information, offers of help etc. One in particular was our mate The Duck who rang George first thing the next morning and gave us a number of his good mate who owns a workshop in Adelaide, he couldn’t recommend him highly enough and said he’d already spoken to him and he was awaiting our call. Obviously it was something we hadn’t considered, having the car repaired in a different state and with people we knew nothing about. But after numerous phone calls and discussions we decided that it was our best option (and most cost effective). So on 4th January 2021 the Prado was towed to and dropped off at Auto Masters Salisbury. These guys also securely stored our camper trailer for us (at no cost) for the duration so that was a huge help.

Throughout this whole process, Tony kept us up to date and was always available whenever George called and texted with a query. It was a comfort to have that contact, considering we couldn’t just ‘pop in’ to check up on anything! It was also great when one of our followers spotted the Prado in the workshop (and later driving on the road) and sent us photos both times! It appears we have little spies everywhere!

Anyway, finally after a long 3 month wait, on Friday 9th April 2021 we flew to Adelaide to pick up the Prado (and it’s brand new engine!) and our camper trailer. Huge thanks to Tony and Dave and all the team at Auto Masters who were involved in the whole process, we couldn’t be happier to have our Prado safely home!! 1,400km in 2 days and we are home and the Prado did great. As we didn’t want to do Adelaide to Sydney straight up on a brand new engine, the mechanics had driven it around prior to us picking it up and put about 600km on the clock and checked it over.

So far, the engine sounds a lot quieter than the old one, feels smoother and has more power and we are still wearing it in, so all looking great so far.

So what does just over $21,000 give you? ….. apart from a very sad looking bank balance!!

  • Brand new genuine Toyota long motor
  • Brand new genuine Injectors
  • Brand new genuine Turbo
  • Brand new genuine Map sensor and filter
  • Brand new pump
  • Plus other things which were required to be replaced such as oils, filters, belts etc

Yes it’s expensive, but believe me, it was our best option and it gives us back our freedom and ability to get out there and travel and do what we love to do so that is priceless.

This was quite the experience and one we certainly don’t want to go through again! But throughout this whole process we were constantly surprised by how kind and genuine people can be … from being lent a car to drive around in for free in Whyalla, to being offered free accommodation (which we turned down), the hotel discounting our nightly rate, family and friends offering to drive to SA to pick us up, strangers contacting us with advice and their experiences with cracked pistons. We even went to look at buying a second hand car to drive home in and the car salesman called a friend who owned a trucking company to see if they could ship the Prado back home! It was all very surreal, but was nice to feel like we weren’t alone in such a stressful time.

Thanks again to The Duck, mate if it wasn’t for you pointing us in the right direction, giving us the confidence we’d made the right choice and constantly checking up with us, who knows what may have happened.

And of course to Auto Masters Salisbury, thank you for everything …. Guys, if you’re in SA and you need a mechanic, go check these guys out (they have stores in numerous locations). We can’t fault their work and service and would happily recommend them to others.

Lastly, the only downside in this whole situation is the lack of help from Toyota Australia – numerous phone calls and emails and not a single reply. We are on our second Prado and we also have a Hilux so we obviously love our Toyota’s, but it’s very disappointing to have no contact or backing at all from Toyota. We have a copy of a 4 page Toyota bulletin outlining this problem so we know they are aware and admitted that cracked pistons are a common issue with these engines so it’s very disappointing they won’t even reply. But like we said, that is the only downside to our whole situation and hopefully one we will never, ever have to go through again!

On the way home from Adelaide, free camping, campfires and sky full of stars …… back doing what we love doing best!

Australian Made … the only way to buy

This is going to be quite a short post, but we just wanted to let you know that we are excited to announce that we have recently teamed up with AMD Touring, Australia’s first dedicated Australian-made 4×4, camping and caravaning store.

Many people want to buy Australian Made products, now more than ever, but finding the products that you need can be difficult. That’s where AMD Touring come in. You see, they have done all the hard work and are out there every day adding new products to their website and it’s a one-stop-shop where you can find everything for your 4WD, camping or caravanning needs. And if they don’t currently stock what you are after, hit them up and they’ll try and get that company on board or even find an alternative Australian Made version of what you already use.

The website features many products already (with more being added all the time) and it makes it super easy for you to find quality Australian made products all in the one place. So next time you need something, check out this website first!

Don’t forget to use our Promo Code 𝗼𝗳𝗳𝘁𝗵𝗲𝘁𝗿𝗮𝗰𝗸 when you make your next purchase. You won’t pay any extra by purchasing via this website, but every purchase you do make will go a small way to helping us to keep travelling and doing what we love.

textile australian flag with crumples

Don’t forget that by purchasing Aussie made products, not only are you ensuring your money stays within our country, you are supporting local jobs and businesses and you have the knowledge that these products have been made and tested for use in our environment and for our standards.

Website: https://www.amdtouring.com

The bush is good for your health

Who doesn’t love to escape to the bush whenever they have the chance. Whether it’s hitting the tracks, bush walking or camping out for the night, we all love to be out and about. Do you know why we love this and why it feels so good? Did you know there are actually health benefits by spending time in the bush?

By taking a walk through the bush or forest you can reduce the level of cortisol in your body … this is the stress hormone which pumps through your bloodstream in times of stress and can have negative effects such as raising your blood pressure and heart rate, so if we can find a natural way to lower these levels, that’s pretty good hey!

Not only can you reduce stress and anxiety, trees can also improve your mood and attention span, so it’s a great help for mental health issues.  Trees are very calming and grounding …. If you’ve ever walked through a forest full of huge trees (think Valley of the Giants on Fraser Island for example) you’ll probably remember looking up at how huge they were compared to you, how tall and straight they are, how they can be so big and grow straight up through sand and not fall over ….. well subconsciously this was working on your mindset by bringing you back to nature, by helping to immerse yourself into your surroundings, by calming and grounding you. 

So what else happens? …. Trees omit a compound called phytoncides, which helps protect them from germs and insects. It’s basically the essential oils from the tree (the things that we smell and go ‘ahhh, I love the bush’!).  By breathing in the phytoncides, they can actually be useful for us by helping to boost our immune system.

If you haven’t heard, there is a practice called Shinrin-Yoku,  This is a Japanese term which translates to ‘Forest Bathing’ (also known as ‘Forest Therapy’).

The idea is that you immerse yourself into nature to enhance your overall well-being.  It’s a holistic approach to your health, taking in the mind, body and spirit.

Unfortunately we can’t always be in the bush, but we can still help to keep us chilled and grounded by diffusing or smelling essential oils. By diffusing Black Spruce for example, it tricks our mind into thinking we are in the bush and we can realise some of those benefits …. our mind is definitely a very powerful tool.

So next time you are in the bush, stop and think, take in your surroundings and remember that they are having more positive mental and overall health effects on you than you think.

If you would like to learn more about essential oils and how they can benefit you and your lifestyle, contact us or head to our Facebook group – Track to Nature – Essential Oils.

The day the Prado died

If you follow our social media channels you would by now be well aware of our dramas that happened over the Christmas/New Year break, but if not, let’s start from the beginning.

We decided to head to South Australia prior to Christmas to spend a few weeks exploring the Eyre Peninsula which is an absolutely stunning area that we had very briefly visited a few years ago and knew we had to go back again to see more. We spent a week in Streaky Bay which was amazing, so much to see, so many beaches to explore, so much yummy seafood and just an overall spectacular area.

After leaving Streaky Bay our next stop was Whyalla, where we were to base ourselves for a week to explore the surrounding areas …. well that’s where things didn’t quite go to plan.

First night we checked into our caravan park, awesome spot right on the beach, amazing views ….. and gale force winds! We lasted one night and decided to leave and head to another camp a little further inland.

View from our campsite

After packing up (not fun in that much wind!) we decided to have a look around Whyalla, do all the main ‘tourist’ things and finally drive out to see the lighthouse at Point Lowly, about 30km or so from town. Unfortunately we didn’t quite make it that far.

This is the lighthouse … we did make it there a week later!

We were driving up a small hill, towing the camper and all of a sudden the 4WD lost power, white smoke pouring out the back and things just didn’t feel right. George pulled over straight away, oil was pouring out of the catch can and the engine was making a noise it shouldn’t be! We knew straight away things weren’t good, we weren’t 100% sure at that point in time, but had suspected a cracked piston. We later found out that this was the case.

Luckily we have NRMA Premium Care which covers roadside assistance across Australia so we got straight on the phone to NRMA to arrange for a patrolman and tow truck to come out to pick us up. We were lucky that we were right off the side of the road, it wasn’t an overly busy road and we even had a nice view! Overall it wasn’t too bad a place to be stranded for a couple of hours.

When we broke down we were picked up by the local RAA serviceman (NRMA equivalent in SA). Tim and his wife Vanessa went above and beyond to help and we cannot thank them enough for all they did for us. At a time when we were both overwhelmed and not sure what to do, these guys turned up and just seemed to make everything easier.

Whilst we were on the side of the road we’d had another guy stop to check if we were ok and when we said that RAA were on their way, he told us that “oh you guys are in good hands, he’s a good bloke, owns a mechanical shop in town, you’ll be right” … and yeah, it worked out well for us. Tim and his wife Vanessa could not have been more friendly and helpful.

After being towed back to their workshop and told we could leave the vehicles there for as long as we needed, they then not only offered us one of their personal vehicles to drive around in whilst we were in Whyalla, but they offered us free self contained accommodation for as long as we needed it. Who does that, we aren’t used to strangers being so nice! We decided to accept their offer of the vehicle, which we were so grateful for as it meant we could still get out and about and enjoy our holiday over the next week, but we decided against the accommodation. We already felt so lucky that it just didn’t feel right to take too much. As it turned out we did the right thing as they ended up picking up more stranded travelers who were travelling with their dog and cat so they used the accommodation.

Vanessa proceeded to find us some accommodation, booked us in and took us there. Throughout the next week they both couldn’t have been more helpful and accommodating … the workshop was actually closed for the Christmas break but Tim went in to diagnose our vehicle, liaised with NRMA, they met us at the workshop whenever we needed access to the Prado or camper and they even invited us to New Year’s Eve at their house if we didn’t find anything else to do. Of course we can’t forget Henry the dog who was always around, such a friendly little boy. Puppy cuddles always make everything better (and we missed our pups) so it was always great to see Henry! We feel really lucky that we met this amazing couple and cannot begin to thank them enough for everything they did. They are just down to earth, genuine good people who probably don’t even realise how their actions affect other people, but they certainly went a long way in making our crappy, confusing and overwhelming dramas so much easier for us. It’s a special person who can treat total strangers the way they did and we are forever grateful to Tim, Vanessa (& Henry).

The first few days after it happened was like a blur of constant phone calls to NRMA, mechanics, transport companies, family and friends, while we tried to work out what we were going to do and how we were going to get home, not just us, but the Prado and camper as well. After a lot of discussions and running through different scenarios we finally started to form a plan.

Prado – We had initially wanted to have the Prado and camper shipped back to Sydney so we’d at least have them with us and then work out what to do. We weighed up our options, 1) sell and buy another vehicle and start again, 2) buy a second hand motor, 3) rebuild our existing engine. For us we decided to go with the latter option as it seemed like the safest and most economical option. The next decision to make was who was going to do this! We were contacted by a friend who put us in touch with a mate in Adelaide who he couldn’t recommend highly enough. After a few phone calls to and fro we decided to go with him ….. a big scary chance leaving our car in another state with someone we don’t know!

So we then had the Prado sorted, but what about the camper? The shipping cost to get this home was just way over the top (mainly as it’s not a ‘driveable’ vehicle). We got quotes of up to $9,000 to get the Prado and camper towed back to Sydney!! Had COVID not been an issue we would have had someone bring Leia over to pick us and the camper up, but that wasn’t an option with border closures. The mechanic in Whyalla said he could store it for free for as long as we needed and a colleague of George’s who lives in SA also offered to pick it up for us and look after it until we could get back, so we at least had options.

After discussions with the mechanic who was taking the Prado, he advised that he had a storage facility where he could securely store the camper for us as well. Although it’s annoying not having the camper here to use, at the end of the day we decided that we’d rather put our money towards an engine rebuild than shipping costs to bring it back to Sydney.

Us! This was the hardest one to sort out as we couldn’t get a hire car from Whyalla that we were able to drop off in Sydney. Normally you’d say to jump on a bus or train or plane, but we needed to empty out the Prado for towing so we had a whole carload of ‘stuff’ with us, including a fridge! At one point we even went car shopping and test drove a Commodore as it was potentially going to be cheaper to buy a car and tow the camper home with us than it would be to have it shipped back to Sydney (and at least then us and our gear could then get home too!!).

In the end we managed to get a hire car from Adelaide airport that we could drop off in Sydney – we had thought George may need to fly from Whyalla to Adelaide to pick it up, drive back to get Shelly and the gear and then drive home! Luckily we sorted another option with Tim who was towing us to Adelaide.

Had to look at this depressing view for the 4 hour drive to Adelaide!

We met Tim & Vanessa at the workshop, packed all of our gear into their personal Landcruiser, which was going to tow the camper, and loaded the Prado onto the tow truck and all set off for the 4 hour drive to Adelaide. After arriving we dropped the Prado and camper off at the mechanics who are going to do our engine rebuild, loaded the Landcruiser onto the tow truck and Tim took us to the airport to pick up our hire car – we seriously can’t thank these guys enough for all they did for us.

Although it was scary leaving the Prado and camper with complete strangers, it finally felt like some of our stress was gone, we had our hire car and we were on our way home.

It was all just really bad timing with many places closed over the Christmas period and of course we had the COVID issue as well. Would have been so much easier for us or someone else to drive Leia over to tow the camper home BUT we wouldn’t be able to cross back over the border from NSW to SA without quarantining for 2 weeks!!

Anyway, always ones to see the positive in things, even in a bad situation like this … you may not think breaking down on your holiday and being faced with a $10,000-$15,000 engine rebuild would be classified as ‘lucky’!, but let us explain a few things. Life is always throwing obstacles in your way, shit happens and things don’t always go as planned, but it’s how you deal with it that matters. We could have been really angry and sad (don’t get us wrong, we were!) and thought ‘why me’, but we had to look on the bright side of things, we couldn’t change what had happened, we needed to move forward.

-Firstly, a few days earlier we were 400km further west (would have meant an even more expensive tow).

-We had been staying in a much smaller town where we may have struggled to get a tow and hire car at all, luckily Whyalla was a lot larger town.

-As we mentioned earlier, we have NRMA Premium Care which we would never travel without. NRMA helped us with sorting everything out, as well as covering $3000 towards transport costs, accommodation, car hire etc.

-A few days earlier we were 4WDing on a beach with no one else around … and limited reception.

-We do have another 2 vehicles at home so we weren’t going to be left with no transport for months while the Prado was out of action.

-We have a tent and swag so can still go camping even though we don’t have the camper trailer at the moment.

-After being stranded we ended up staying at the Sundowner Motel Hotel and these guys were awesome, so lucky we ended up in this motel. They let us extend our stay day by day as we were trying to work out what was happening, helped us with everything we needed, they asked for updates and they genuinely seemed like they cared and wanted to help. The food in the restaurant was amazing and the rooms were great, highly recommend this joint if you are ever in the area.

-We were lucky we were in a largish town where we could actually get out and explore. Instead of sitting in the motel room feeling sorry for ourselves we were able to do absolutely every thing you could possibly do in Whyalla!!

-From the moment this happened we had people offering help, family, friends and our followers, everyone wanted to see how they could help. People we don’t know were getting in touch with us to offer help with towing or mechanics or share their stories, it was overwhelming how much everyone wanted to help us … people that didn’t even personally know us. Even the day we went car shopping, the car salesman called a friend who ran a towing company to get us a quote!

So yeah, it was a really crappy situation, but we dealt with it the best way we know how and now we just wait and hopefully one day soon we will have the Prado back even bigger and better than ever!

2020: Our Year in Review

2020 – well that’s a year none of us will forget in a hurry!  It was certainly a year of change and unknowns. 

After the fires and floods of late 2019/early 2020, it was just another kick in the teeth to then be greeted by COVID19.  It sure tested our strength and resilience didn’t it.  I’m sure you all know someone who was personally affected by COVID19, whether they contracted it, were tested for it, lost their job or unfortunately lost their life.  It changed our world in so many ways, but in many ways for the better.

Personally we were both very lucky and continued to work through out, actually busier than ever!  Shelly has been working from home since March and George was on and off working from home from March onwards.  Our daughter is a chef and was out of work for a while, we know of people who lost loved ones and we certainly know many friends who endured the test and subsequent ‘wait’!  

Gelly & Charli are absolutely loving having mum and dad working from home and I don’t know what they’ll do if things ever go back to normal and they have to live outside during the day like normal dogs! 

It’s definitely been a tough year for many people and hopefully we have all learned a little from this and one day we will look back on this year with memories of the things we achieved and changed, rather than the struggles and general shit year that it was.  One day we’ll sit back and go …. Yeah, we survived 2020!

Anyway, let’s move on and take a look back over the year that was 2020 ….

2020 Trips

January

Our year started on Fraser Island camping with friends.  We’d headed up just prior to Christmas and had a great couple of days with barely anyone on the island, just the way we like it!  Our friends started arriving from Boxing Day onwards …. as did the crowds!  But we still had a great time and if you know where to head on the island and stay away from the popular tourist spots it never feels that crowded anyway, it’s a huge island.  Anyway, after a great few weeks away we headed home to start the year and all our plans that went along with that …. little did we know at that point what lay ahead for the rest of the year!

Over the Australia Day long weekend we headed down to Currarong on the south coast to spend some time camping with our friends Leah & Brendan.  They’d been working in the Holiday Haven Currarong caravan park and this park had been affected by the bushfires and they had been forced to close, obviously losing a lot of their holiday tourist income, so once they reopened we were more than happy to head down and spend a little time and money in the park and surrounding area.  It’s a great area, one we’ve never spent too much time in, but we will go back again for sure.  We loved spending time with Leah & Brendan and exploring the area, even spending a morning out on the boat with Brendan … too cold for Shelly, but George & Brendan went snorkeling and loved it.  This trip was also Leia’s first time towing the camper and she did great!

January also saw us head back up to Queensland for our mate Stewy’s 40th birthday party.  We left a few days earlier and combined it with a work road trip for George to visit some customers along the way.  The party was a dress up ‘Bogan’ party, which was a bit of fun …. And let’s face it, we really didn’t need to try too hard dressing up for this one!!  George has always referred to Shelly as a bogan (and I think he’s been converted over the years as well!), but it was fun to dress up and enjoy a night with friends.

March

In March, Rob ‘The Duck’ (from The Camping and Off Road Radio Show on 2GB) decided to host a long weekend camping trip down at the Kings Point Retreat in Ulladulla. We’d met him a year or so ago and had a few beers together so we knew he’d put on a great weekend, and he did, and it was great to catch up again.

The idea was to get a group of people and head down to the south coast and spend some money in the area after the devastating bushfires and yep, we spent a bit! About $850 actually, including a new second battery for Leia, shopping and a few meals out.

The highlight of the weekend (for Shelly anyway!) was a concert on the Saturday night featuring the awesome country music singer, Adam Harvey. He is such a great entertainer and such a funny, friendly guy, even George ended up enjoying it! We ended up heading back to camp and continued drinking with The Duck and some of his friends and had a great night with some great people.

December

There were times throughout the year when we wondered if we’d even be able to go away at Christmas. And then with all the border closures the next step was deciding where to go …. we picked SA and all seemed great, until they got an outbreak and said they were locking down! Anyway, luckily it ended up ok, we got our border crossing passes approved and we made it ….. we actually crossed the border at 8.30am and they then closed it at midnight that night! 2 weeks exploring the Eyre Peninsula of the SA coastline and we loved it….. until the Prado died, but that’s another story!

Cancelled trips – So, as it turns out we didn’t have too many holidays during 2020, like everyone else, a lot of our plans were cancelled or postponed. Here’s what we missed out on:-

– Our Bushfire Support Camping Weekend which we were hosting at the Hidden Creek Campsite down in Jervis Bay – hopefully we can still hold this at some point.

– Easter camping trip out west with the dogs

– Big Red Bash in Birdsville – this has been postponed until 2021

– Also back in July or August when things were starting to look a little better we decided we’d plan a few weeks up at Karumba to get away …. Of course that got cancelled when the NSW/QLD borders were shut!

Weekend 4WD Adventures

As much of the year was spent in lockdown we didn’t do anywhere near as much as we normally would, but we did manage to get out a few times with friends for some fun 4WD day trips.

Back in March we took a quick day trip up to Stockton Beach, Leia’s first time on the beach so we were interested to see how she’d go and she was great!

In May we took a drive up to the Watagans, we hadn’t left the house for about 2 months at this point so it was great to get out for a day.

In June, we had our first trip out with friends after lockdown, a quick day run up to Morisset with Adam, Liam, Scott, Jack, Trent & Amber. We’d gone up here back when we first bought Leia and she had the full cage on the back and there was this one hill George just couldn’t get up. So it was time to go back and tackle it again and this time we won …. not sure if it was Shelly’s amazing driving skills or Leia’s less weight and lockers!

A trip up to Mt Sugarloaf with Liam and Trent ended up being quite a muddy day! All three 4WD’s were bogged at various times and the winch and snatch straps definitely got a work out!

In late August the snow started falling in Lithgow so we headed up there to meet Liam & Karen (who had camped up there in the snow the night before!) to have a play. Seeing an area that not that long ago had been destroyed by fire, now covered in snow was quite surreal. We ended up running into our mate, Adam, in the forest as well and the trip ended up getting a little more exciting after an incident with a tree … luckily we had our winch and all recovery gear with us.

September saw us head back up to Stockton Beach for a quick trip, followed by lunch with the kids. It also saw Shelly get bogged for a second time, but luckily we spotted our mate Ian from Great Divide Tours and he came to our rescue … talk about good timing!

We had another trip up to Lithgow in November after being invited out with Jason from APC – we had a great day exploring some great tracks, including the Spanish Steps which gave the Prado a great work out!

Day Trips

It was hard this year to get out and about, so we spent a lot of time exploring areas that either had limited people around or areas close to home. Everyone seems to travel far and wide to sight see but don’t realise the little gems that are in your own backyard. We love exploring our local area and have found some really interesting places, particularly this year. There is no much history surrounding us, you just need to look.

We decided to head out to Lithgow with the dogs for a day of sightseeing, exploring and 4WDing. We spend a lot of time out Lithgow way but on this day we found so many places we’d never visited before. We saw the devastation from the fires (will post more pics of that later), so very sad. The dogs loved being back in the bush and we had two very tired and exhausted puppies that night! We visited Blast Furnace Park, Bracey Lookout, Hassans Walls Lookout, Lake Lyell Recreation Park, Rydal, Lake Wallace, Wallerawang, Portland (including the Silos which were awesome) & Lidsdale State Forest.

During a day trip down to Bowral, not only did we find some great lookouts and hang out with Mary Poppins and the great Sir Don Bradman, we also found the old shale mining town of Joadja. This town now lays in ruins, but we did spend a good couple of hours exploring and taking photos, very interesting place. There is also a distillery onsite so we had a quick tour and taste testing whilst there, well why wouldn’t you! Unfortunately that was also the day someone ran into the back of Leia – luckily there was no damage to our car.

Scheville National Park – Located not far from home we found this place which was so interesting. The land seems to have had many lives over the years, from a cooperative farm to a migrant camp to a military training facility and an agricultural college, among others. Nowadays the public can wander around the Scheyville Camp precinct and see the ruined and restored buildings and learn all about its history.

Glen Davis was an oil-shale mining town and in its heyday it was home to around 2500 people, nowadays it’s basically a ghost town, but what a beautiful area it is. We’d never visited this area before and spent a day driving Glen Davis and the surrounding areas and the landscape is beautiful. We’d like to go back and camp out there and spend some more time exploring.

How many of you knew that the world’s second largest canyon is located right here in NSW? The Capertee Valley is actually 1 km wider than the Grand Canyon, but it’s not as deep. How cool is that! Worth stopping off to check this out if you are in the area.

Another day trip took us down to Robertson, which is where the Australian movie, Babe, was filmed. It’s also home to The Big Potato!, as well as some great waterfalls and walking trails.

We also spent the day at the new Sydney Zoo at Bungarribee with Shelly’s sister Kylie and nephew, Levi. This zoo only opened at the beginning of December 2019 and has a range of exhibits with animals from all over the world. It’s a great zoo, room for expansion, but what is there now is good and it’s really well set out, great size for the little ones.

The historic Putty Road is a rural road of approx 170km in length which runs from western Sydney (near Windsor) to the Hunter Region. It’s now sealed all the way, but it’s quite narrow and winding in sections, but also quite picturesque as you travel through the small country towns dotted along the way.

We ended up in Wollombi and grabbed some lunch before looking around at this quaint little town. This is home to the Wollombi Tavern, which sells the famous Dr. Jurd’s Jungle Juice. On the way home we stopped in at the Putty Road Truck Drivers Memorial. Unfortunately this road has taken many lives over the years and still does to this day. It’s a popular drive for motorcycles and car clubs (back in the day Shelly spent many a weekend cruising Putty Road with the boys from her old car club!)

Another quick day trip was a drive through the Royal National Park and along the Grand Pacific Drive, followed by barramundi lunch overlooking the beach.

We found another national park near us which had a great picnic and camping area. What makes Cattai National Park so significant is that it is actually made up of land originally granted to First Fleet assistant surgeon Thomas Arndell.

There is so much around us, whether it’s a day in the bush or a couple of hours exploring your surrounding suburbs, you’ll be surprised what you’ll find if you just start looking. We found so many interesting places this year, some with spectacular scenery, some with awesome 4WDing and some with really interesting history.

The best sunrise of the year

This is what makes getting up at 5.00am in the middle of winter totally worth it! Could you get a more amazing start to the day? These were taken on one of Shelly’s weekend trips up the coast with her mate Adam and it was by far one of the best sunrises ever seen. Driving to the lookout it was cloudy and overcast and didn’t look like there was going to be a sunrise at all, but then out of nowhere these colours started to appear. It really was something amazing to see and a great way to start the day.

…… The Day Shelly got bogged

Well, this is a day that turned very muddy, very quickly! A day that our mate Liam will never forget. You see, he’s the one that is always bogged and it’s a running joke with us that Shelly has recovered him in every 4WD we’ve owned ….. well I guess it had to happen one day and he got to return the favour!

The Bushfires

Everyone knows how bad the bushfires were at the beginning of last year/end of 2019. Lives were lost, homes were destroyed, animals were killed or injured and so much of our bushland burned through, over such a huge area. The enormity of devastation caused was hard to take in.

In the middle of January we took a drive up to Bilpin in the Hawkesbury/Blue Mountains region of NSW, not far from where we live. This is one of the areas which was ravaged by the bushfires. It was so sad to see just how much of the land had been affected, but more surprisingly how the bush had already started its recovery, already new shoots were appearing on trees and out of the ground. To see just how lucky people were and how many of the properties had been saved was great, the fire brigades obviously worked very hard on property protection in this area, it was so evident as you drove along and everything is black and burnt and then you see a small patch of green grass and trees surrounding someone’s home. It’s definitely confronting to realise how close these people came to losing everything.

We did make a Facebook post at the time about this, but during this drive three things happened which made us feel so happy and thankful and proud to be an Aussie. With all the devastation from these fires and the general crap that goes on in our lives, it’s nice to know that people are there to help and are thankful for those who do.

1) Every place we visited was filled with people getting out there wanting to show their support. It was nice to see every place filled with people and cars.

2) The roadside was scattered with signs of thanks to the Rural Fire Service. So many signs on the side of the road, taped to telegraph poles or hung outside peoples houses. It’s heartwarming to know how grateful this little community is that the RFS was there to support them.

3) Finally, and probably best of all ….. we were in line in one of the shops to purchase our yummy homemade apple pie when an older guy was being served in front. He handed over his money to pay and the cashier handed it back to him. The customer said ‘oh you don’t need to give it all back to me’ and the cashier responded with ‘yes we do mate, thank you’. Yep, the customer was one of their local RFS volunteers.

Then in March we visited Lake Conjola, another small town which the fire ripped through. About 89 homes were lost in Lake Conjola alone. It’s scary driving in and seeing where the fire was and how much was destroyed. With only one way in and out of the town, you can see just how lucky these guys were to not lose more than just their houses.

Not long after the fires we took a drive up to Lithgow and were amazed at just how much destruction there had been. The photos below are of the Zig-Zag railway at Clarence where we always meet and start our days when 4WDing out there. The toilet block had gone, the sleepers were burnt, so much had been burnt out, you could only imagine what the bush further in looked like. The State Forest was still closed at the time (not that it stopped people going in there) so we didn’t head in on this visit.

The Zig Zag Railway itself had been closed since it was basically wiped out in the bushfires of late 2013, they were nearly ready to reopen, when once again fires came through. Luckily firefighters were able to protect the historic railway station building and they didn’t suffer anywhere near as much damage this time.

As we traveled through those areas affected by the fires you realise how lucky people were and how brave our fire fighters are. Nothing even came close to preparing us for what we were going to see, there was bush burnt for as far as you could see. Places we visit regularly were destroyed and looked totally different. The feeling of being there in the middle of nothing but burnt trees was really strange, in fact it was kind of eerie. There were no birds or animals around, no sound at all, except for the odd creaking or cracking of the trees. You could still smell a hint of smoke in the air and everything you touched covered you in ash, a very strange feeling indeed.

The photos above were taken at the Lost City in Lithgow. The top photo was taken on a visit there 2 years ago, the bottom photo was taken after the bushfires ravaged this whole area.


The 4WD’s & Camper Trailer

Leia

One of the most exciting things to happen in 2020 is that Leia finally got a working horn! She hasn’t had one since we purchased her and Shelly could not be happier to have a horn again!

She also got a new battery, new alternator, some rust on the roof fixed, new roof moulds and window belt moulding, new suspension, Provent Catch Can, pink grip handles, new black flares and a new exhaust (Shelly’s birthday present from George!).

150 Series Prado

Just before our Christmas trip we had new Dick Cepek Extreme Country tyres fitted on to the Prado. We previously had these and loved them so it was a no brainer to replace with new ones.

The Prado also got some new suspension ….. Bilstein shocks and raised King Springs, lower rear control arm replacements and diff drop kit, all designed to give us even more flex than the normal 2 inch lift.

Cub Camper

When we replaced the tyres on the Prado, the old tyres that came off still had a little life left in them so these were transferred to the camper.

A Year of Owing Leia

Back in May we posted a video about all the mods we’d done to Leia in the previous 12 months since we’d owned her. She’s certainly come a long way in since we purchased her and a lot of time and money has been spent on building her up to what she is today.

We are still loving our little Leia – yes even George has grown to love her! He affectionately calls her ‘the death trap’ and ‘the money pit’, but we know he loves her!

She towed the camper down south and on another trip she carried the swag and gazebo on her ‘useless short tray’ as George says!

This whole build process has been Shelly’s baby, every decision has been made by Shelly and implemented by George! At the end of the day we both own both 4WD’s, but when we purchased Leia, this was Shelly’s car to build the way she wanted.

Gelly giving mummy’s car her stamp of approval!

Off The Track 4×4 updates

Considering we were locked down for a good part of the year and didn’t really get out and about a much as we would have liked, we still had a busy year.

Giveaways

We had quite a few giveaways, including our ever popular Pegless Clothesline giveaway, who would have known that a clothesline would have been so popular! And we can’t forget our sticker giveaway when we said we were offering 10 and ended up giving in and sending out 40 or so! We love that you guys love us that much that you want stickers, and we love seeing the pics of them on your vehicles!

And lastly our mega Christmas Giveaway, where a major prize pack worth over $800 went to one lucky winner. We are truly grateful for all of our sponsors and supporters for taking part in that, we love sharing your products and businesses and are thankful that you were happy to contribute to the giveaway. After the year we’ve all had, particularly small businesses, we appreciate how hard it’s been, yet you all still jumped in to be part of the giveaway, you guys rock!

Hugh thanks to these guys who are always the first to jump in and get involved …. Cost Effective Maintenance, Auto Parts Co, Shower Ezy, Glass on the Grass, Get A Grip AU, Love your Travels.

New Camp Cooking group

Back in April we started up a Camp Cooking Ideas & Tips Facebook group and this has really taken off, with over 5000 members. We jointly run this group with our mates from