About 15 years ago I recall sitting at a site overlooking Lake Wanaka on New Zealand’s South Island, looking at a caravan and a young family, turning to my now wife Rebecca and saying someday it’d be amazing to take a trailer and enjoy nature with kids. The relevance of this story? Well, we’ve had our Track Trailer Tvan Murranji for nigh on 12 months now and I finally had the clear head-space to plan a trip, albeit a short one, to try it out.
Without the time to get real red dirt under the tyres, I again looked for different options within a days drive of home in Sydney and came across the Warrumbungles National Park. Renowned for its clear skies; devoid of light pollution, resulting in a perfect opportunity to stargaze and show my two young daughters the stars as they were intended. Having grown up camping, and with the aforementioned youngsters now aged 4 and 6, I was really excited at the prospect.
Looking through the list of available campsites at the Warrumbungles National Park, I settled on Camp Blackman for its location, amenities and walks close-by. To add to the trip, we decided to make a stop over at Taronga’s Western Plains Zoo in Dubbo en-route to our final location, electing to book a site at the local Big4 Caravan Park. I felt this would be a good opportunity to get to know the trailer and use it on a powered site before the unpowered nature of our booking at Camp Blackman.
So after a short tutorial from Aiden about setup and pack down and the workings of the Tvan (and a short drama needing a higher tongue for the Raptor – time for that lift!) the combination was packed and set for an early departure.
When it was all hitched up (and now I know why Ford included a centre line in their rear view camera!), it was obvious that our Raptor’s high-speed-bump-absorption-biased suspension was drooping quite heavily. Having towed trailers at various capacities throughout my life, I was worried about how the combination was going to behave when out on the open road. I have to say, I was incredibly impressed with the way the Raptor towed and the way the Tvan tracked behind it. I know Aiden was pretty complimentary when he drove the same combination across to Perth last year and I was sceptical, but the scepticism was eliminated an hour into the trip as we headed up the single lane Bells Line of Road, taking a west-bound trajectory. I think the smoothness and comfort was completely owing to suspension design; stay with me. Yes, it cannot tow as much and it looks odd with the droop, but the extra compliance of coil sprung corners versus leaves in my humblest of opinions simply makes it a more comfortable ride. In this instance, with a trailer that’s well within the 2500kg towing capacity it worked incredibly well.
With timber in the storage of the Tvan and tanks full, along with kids bikes and bits and pieces in the tray of the Raptor we were well loaded. Which leads me to the next point, the old chestnut about the driveline on the Raptor. Resetting the trip computer to observe how fuel consumption fluctuated from the running average of 11.3l/100kms saw a very obvious and expedient jump to about 14.5 on the way out; not crazy and not unexpected. What really did surprise me was the ease with which the two litre twin turbo mill handled all scenario’s, from long inclines, sharp switchbacks across large elevation changes and everything in between. This is largely owed to the spread of 10 ratio’s in the gearbox which resulted in an easy cruise on the national highway limit at about 1750 rpm. Importantly, you’re not looking to hustle this thing along at this load – the only time I felt frustrated was on the way home where I wished I had another 100Nm of torque when met with the old “I’ll speed up now that you’re trying to overtake me in the overtaking lane”. In general I felt much more comfortable, in control and relaxed with handling any on-road situation than I ever was in the GU, even after it had the towing tune.
Destination 1: Dubbo
Dubbo met us with teaming rain resulting from the developing east coast low that was set to plague us over this entire adventure. After observing the rain radar and considering setting up the trailer for the first time in those conditions, along with the prospect of having kids confined to the trailer space and indoors for the next 2 days, we decided to instead find a motel; yes, we chickened out – not proud of it but it sure helped my mental health. Dubbo is a town that has always been a quick petrol-stop on route to a destination, so it was actually nice to stop and appreciate it a little.
As mentioned the main reason was to visit the Zoo, but we decided to go see the Old Dubbo Gaol first. Interestingly it was located on the main street and was steeped in history which was enjoyed by all. It was amazing to read about the beginnings, escape attempts and the stories of the individuals who had occupied those small and very cold cells during its 119 year history. Definitely worth a look if you have the time.
The next day we went to the Zoo and what a highlight. After some slight traffic getting in thanks to COVID19, we were free to drive around the 6km complex, stopping at well-spaced out parking stations which then allowed us to get out and view the various exhibits. There has been a lot of thought put into the setup, with electric fencing being located below eye level which gives the illusion of being on safari, up until such point as you walk right up to the perimeters. There was an amazing array of animals, but the family highlight was the Lion exhibit. It’s rare to see these guys in action but the grunting, growling and activity was a real delight.
Destination 2: Warrumbungle National Park
Day three saw us embark on the short 2 hour drive out of Dubbo out to the Warrumbungle National Park, under much more pleasant skies. The last 20 minutes of the drive gave us a sneak peak into what makes this area so special, starting with Split Rock announcing itself most prominently on entry and heralding the millions of years of volcanic activity that turned a region that was prehistorically a large flat lake into an incredible landscape of jutting structures that are a real treat for the eyes.
A quick stop at the impressive visitor centre and we were off to Camp Blackman 2 – a non-powered section with easy access to very well maintained amenities including hot showers. There were plenty of sites on offer, but not having set up the trailer before and with the desire to add on the optional “family room” to the Tvan meant we had to pick one of the wider sites and park the trailer diagonally, then level it up with our trusty Treds. All in all the trailer took just over an hour to setup including the family room, which was a welcomed addition. This left us with the afternoon to relax and take a couple of short walks to the river and surrounds; the kids really loved all the Kangaroos grazing in the late afternoon sunshine.
Camp Blackman is Australia’s first and only “Dark Sky Park”. As mentioned before, the clear night skies, low humidity (although you wouldn’t believe this given the weather pattern we were experiencing) and high altitude make for great stargazing opportunities, so much so that there is the world class astronomy research centre close by in the Siding Spring Observatory. There are conditions in a Dark Sky Park, with rules around lights that should be pointed down and usage minimised. We were lucky enough to have a good proportion of the sky clear until clouds set back in early in the evening which was obviously a disappointment, but we still got the “blanket” feel of the starry night sky until then. A fire in the campsite-assigned fire-pit rounded out the night and a great nights sleep was enjoyed by all.
A frosty morning was made easier for the family with the use of the onboard diesel heater in our Tvan. To be honest, I’ve always used tents or swags so this luxury was one I wasn’t too crazy about. To my surprise it worked and took the edge well off the entire trailer space which meant the girls were all suitably happy, while I got the campfire going again in time for breakfast. Cloud cover and the promise of rain dampened spirits, so we took off to explore nearby Coonabarabran via the Siding Springs Observatory I mentioned earlier. What an impressive facility, again steeped in history including almost being lost to bushfires in 2013, but great to see Aussie Ingenuity making contributions at a world scale and definitely worth a visit. Further history of the region was revealed at Crystal Kingdom; an unassuming building housing a massive collection of crystals and minerals formed as a result of the volcanic activity that made the region what it is, along with an amazing array of fossilised flora and fauna. Impressively it was all collected by the family who own the site over decades of dedication. The best bit, completely free! A real credit to them and a treat to visit and see.
Unfortunately the heavens opened for the rest of the day with much needed rain for the region and we were largely relegated to the confines of the Tvan, not before another session of the bush tele and a hearty meal to round out our short trip. After a lazy pack-down the next morning we made our way back home with plans in place for the next trip! The trailer bug has well and truly bitten and whilst I’ll always prefer the swag on solitary trips, it’s hard not to appreciate the conveniences of such a well thought out setup in our Tvan when the whole troop is tagging along.
Until next time! Happy Touring