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.
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.
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.
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!
We are George & Shelly, a married couple from Sydney, Australia, who love 4WDing, camping and travelling this great country of ours. We love sharing our adventures and hope to inspire others to travel as well. Join us on our journeys around Australia!
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