What happened after the wheels fell off.... gotta love insurance companies (or not)

Well, I know it's a long time since an update, but we didn't get eaten by dingoes (as one of my readers suggested), however we did do battle with our insurance company - which was almost as bad!

We eventually got back home to Canberra about 10 days after our breakdown in the middle of nowhere (Elliott, NT) and over that period of time we were in (and out of) contact with our insurance company, CIL.  When we got back to Canberra we discovered that our van still had not been seen by an assessor, and was still - you guessed it - sitting in the back yard of Elliott Mechanical Services.  Thanks so much to Bob for looking after our van for us for so long.  But it gets worse....

After 3 weeks, and many anguished and escalating phone calls, CIL Insurance finally decided to get a transport company to bring the van back to.... Adelaide!  This is because, apparently, there were no suitably qualified repairers in places like Katherine, Alice Springs, Mt Isa (need I go on?) to fix our little van, and only Adelaide could do it justice!  A week later the van arrived in Adelaide and was finally seen by an assessor.  We were fully expecting the company to write off the van, as there was considerable damage to the chassis, but no.... they decided they were going to repair it.  We were now 4 weeks down the track from the initial breakdown, and more than a little annoyed by this stage.

To cut a long story short, after 9 weeks of phone calls (each time having to go through an interminable identification process and speak to a different person each time), our caravan was finally 'fixed' and delivered to us in Canberra.

Well - 'fixed' is not really an accurate description of the condition of our van.  We were horrified, both at the quality of work that had supposedly been done to fix our original problem, and at the additional damage that had been done to our van in transit.  We were absolutely disgusted!  We compiled a list of the damage and defects on our caravan and sent an email to CIL Insurance which included this:

  • The quality of workmanship on the chassis 'repair' is very poor.  There are huge gaps between the steel, an angle grinder has been used and left gouges in the steel and some of the repairs have been sprayed with galvanised paint, other parts just with a silver paint.  It looks very shoddy and indeed amateurish.  I am most concerned that this repair has not been done to a sufficient standard where I can trust that the van won't come apart while travelling.  We have not received an engineer's certificate of compliance on the chassis from the repairer.
  • The water tank vent hose has been wound around the cross-member instead of being properly secured.
  • Major problems with the awning - it appears that straps have been used to hold the caravan down onto the truck while in transit.  The straps have worn away the stitching on the awning edges at both ends, broken the front awning arm, rubbed the front arm and twisted the clip and holder roller on the front part of the awning, making it impossible to open.  The caravan door does not open properly due to the damage.  The awning is now totally unusable.
  • Stabiliser legs - the front left one is bent, and two of the handles which release the rear legs are totally broken in half.
  • Paint has been stripped off at least four places on the poptop roof, where the straps had been holding the van down. There are dents in the roof at the rear, where the strapping has been, and a dent on the side wall.
  • The radio aerial has been broken - in fact, it is no longer there, there are only two broken holders where it used to be.  The stereo no longer works at all.  
  • There is a vertical strip above and below where the aerial used to be, where paint has rubbed away due to the friction from the strapping.  
  • One of the rear roof clips is bent.
  • The pole carrier has been replaced with a smaller unit, and this has been very poorly mounted in the original, larger holder.
  • The water hose which was replaced has been left dangling and has not been secured anywhere.
  • The copper gas pipe has not been secured and is a safety issue.
  • The brake wiring has been poorly secured.
  • The water tank has not been secured.
  • The water hose has not been secured.
  • The front water tank now leaks.
  • The waste outlet pipe has been secured with only one screw instead of the original two.
  • The welding earth lead location has not been treated with cold gal and has already started to rust.
So, our broken van came back to us in significantly worse condition than we had left - unusable and unsellable (is that even a word?)   This email was sent to the person supposedly handling our claim as well as the complaints manager.  

Within 24 hours we had a very sheepish call back from the assessor who had released this vehicle as 'suitably repaired'.  Obviously, he had had some 'feedback' from his manager or complaints department, and suddenly, our caravan was finally going to be written off!  Yayy!  Sense had finally prevailed after more than 32 phone calls (from us), 9 weeks and some very unhappy emails.  

Within a couple of days a cheque had been deposited into our bank, and a few days later a transportation company arrived to take away our formerly lovely little Paramount Duet caravan.  What a long haul this has been, and what an expensive exercise for the insurance company - if they had done their job properly and sent someone to look at it in Elliott it would have saved them a lot of money and us a lot of anxiety and distress.

So we said a sad goodbye to our lovely little van, and look forward to new adventures in our next van. 

This is where the wheels fell off - almost literally!

Ok, we set off from Daly Waters, heading for a little place called Longreach Waterhole, near Elliott (which is halfway between Darwin and Alice Springs).  On the way there, we stopped for fuel, where someone asked if we had the van handbrake on, as they could smell the brakes burning behind us.  Trevor checked, and there was no problem, so we continued.  

We arrived at Longreach Waterhole, which was off the road along an 11km dirt road, and it was just beautiful. However, Trev noticed that one of the wheels on the van looked a bit 'scrubbed' so he went to change it, put the jack on, and as he did so, the whole of the van moved backwards instead of upwards!  On further inspection he found that the axle had totally come away from the chassis, and had pulled the steel away from the chassis!  Not good at all - in fact, very serious!

We realised we had a real problem, and that our little van was not going to proceed any further.  We drove into Elliott to see if anyone could bring the van out and fix it.  We found a vehicle repairer with a tow-truck, Bob from Elliott Mechanical - he agreed to 
come out and have a look at it the next morning and tow it into Elliott if necessary.  We slept in the van that evening, after witnessing a spectacular sunset over the water, with lots of birdlife around.  Next day, Bob arrived and took our little van away - he had a look and said that this was not a problem he could fix, and we ended up contacting our insurance company.

After speaking to them, paying our $200 excess, they gave us a claim number and said that they would be in contact and they would possibly write off the van, or arrange for it to be transported to a location where it could be fixed.  We spent a further night at Longreach Waterhole in our tent, but it was one of the windiest, coldest nights so far of our trip, so we were not very happy next morning.  Next morning, we went back into Elliott (we had no phone reception at the waterhole) to again contact the insurance company to find out what our next step would be.

We finally got onto another claims person (each time we called we got a different person and had to go through the whole scenario again), who then threw in the fact that they were neither accepting nor denying that there was a claim, until an assessor had seen the van.  Needless to say, this did upset us somewhat!  Up until then, we had no qualms that there was indeed a claim, and it was just a matter of time until it was assessed and determined what the outcome would be.

We decided to leave our van at Elliott and head south, and our whole way of travelling had changed - we now had no van, no home, and had to decide what we could take in our Disco, and what had to be left in the van.  This was a huge job, and quite upsetting.  Our Disco ended being packed to the rooftop (and beyond), with our clothes and essential belongings shoved into whatever bags we could find.  A total mess, really!

Carole and John decided to head east, as there was no point staying with us, as we would now be staying in hotels/motels rather than camping areas.  So off we went to Threeways Roadhouse where we stayed for one night in a pretty poor 'motel room' for $115pn.  It was very ordinary, and a bit dirty, but it was the only spot around.

Next up, we arrived at Alice Springs, where I had booked 4 nights at the Desert Palms Resort, so we could at least have a good look at the Alice and the MacDonnell Ranges while waiting for info from the insurance company.  Alice Springs is an interesting town, with lots to see and do, and the backdrop of the ranges is brilliant.  We made the most of our time there, while still waiting for the bloody insurance company to let us know what was happening.  

We went out to the East MacDonnell Ranges one day, took in Emily & Jessie Gaps, Trephina Gorge (which was lovely) and did a really good 4WD track out to Ross River and N'dhala Gorge.  

Then we had to do a very quick trip back to Simpson's Gap in the West MacDonnell Range to go on our Sunset Camel Ride (which we'd booked previously).  Got there just in time, and it was great.  First time either of us had been on a camel, and I was amazed at how far off the ground we were - it was a long, long way to fall!  I thoroughly enjoyed the ride, despite that the fact that I ended up with blisters on my behind.  And the ranges in the background at sunset were just beautiful.

Next day, we tried contacting the insurance co yet again, and still got no joy.  As far as we knew, the van was still at Elliott, and no-one had yet seen it.  This was getting sooooo frustrating.

We went for a drive out to the West MacDonnell Ranges, drove all the way out to Glen Helen, and found that there were helicopter flights available there.  So, off we went - a 20 minute flight over Glen Helen, the ranges and Ormiston Gorge for $149pp - it was brilliant, and the views of all the rock formations were spectacular from the air.  On landing, we went for a walk to the Glen Helen Gorge, then drove out to Two Mile Camp (a free camp on the river which had been pointed out to us by our helicopter pilot).  It would have been perfect for us to stay there if we'd had our van, but we made do with having lunch there, overlooking the river with the MacDonnell Ranges as our backdrop.  Pretty special!

On the way back to Alice we stopped off at Ormiston Gorge, the Ochre Pits (brilliant colours ranging from purple to red to orange to yellow), Ellery Creek Big Hole (wonderful swimming area) and Simpson's Gap.  It was a great day out, and took our minds off the problem of our van for a little while.

We booked another night in Alice Springs at the Swagman's Rest Apartments, and the next way we visited the Old Telegraph Station which was immaculately preserved and most interesting.  We also went to the Desert Park (a bit expensive at $25pp, and they wouldn't take National Seniors cards), and this was really good too.  The nocturnal house was excellent, and I saw many native Australian animals I had never seen before - quolls, bandicoots, bilbies and many more).  We listened to a talk on dingoes, and watched the 
free-flying birds show - whitling kites, boobook owl, wedge-tailed eagles, stone curlews - they flew so close to us, and the ranger was most knowledgeable.

Our stay in Alice Springs has been most enjoyable - it's a great little town, and there is still so much more to see and do - we'll have to come back on another trip.

After 5 nights in Alice, we set off for Coober Pedy.  We have booked into the Underground Motel, which is really quite different to anything we've stayed in before.  Our room is basically a cave hewn out of the rock - we have a little bedroom area, with a lounge/dining/kitchen area and separate bathroom.  It's very solid, and although the wind is howling outside and very cold, we are very snug inside here and can't even hear the wind!  We had dinner at John's Pizza Bar and Trev order the 'Coat of Arms' pizza - yes, emu and kangaroo - and it was delicious.  I had a very good chicken fettuccini.  

Over the past few days we have been in and out of phone contact, but have tried to find out what's happening with our caravan claim - it has now been 8 days since our problem, and we are still waiting for clarification - to say we're getting a little angry is an  understatement.  We'll have to see what happens tomorrow......

Douglas Springs to Daly Waters Pub

We caught up with Carole & John at Douglas Springs campsite - a very large, dry, dusty camp.  But the springs were HOT.  And I do mean hot!  Around 40 degrees in some spots, and they were in a lovely bushland setting, with lots of birdlife around, and plenty of good-sized fish in the water.  We only stayed one night, before heading down the road to Katherine to restock.

Unfortunately, we had a car problem at Katherine - Trev had a warning light on his alternator, so we had to book into the Riverview Tourist Park so he could check it out.  He found it was serious, but fortunately he had a spare alternator that he'd brought along, so with John's help he was able to pull it apart (after several hours of fiddling and cursing) so he could reinstall it the next morning.

After fixing the car we set off to revisit Bitter Springs before going on to Daly Waters. Again, Bitter Springs was delightful, and this time we had a 'noodle' to float down the river on - wonderful.  Along the way we passed heaps of trucks transporting enormous tanks up towards either Katherine or Darwin, and we were forced to move off the road and down into the culverts at the side of the road on several occasions - not easy when towing a caravan.

We finally met up with the others at Daly Waters Pub, where they had also caught up with friends Les & Gill, and their friends Celia and Steve.  We booked into the very dusty caravan park for the night, and ordered a 'Beef and Barra' dinner at the pub for that evening.  Trev and I went over to the pub for happy hour, for $3.50 drinks - not bad.  Our dinner was served at 7.00, it was very good, and we had entertainment for the evening.  We even got up for a dance, and finished off with 'Nutbush City Limits'.  What a good night.

Litchfield National Park - compact and fabulous

Carole and John had moved on a day before and held a spot for us at Florence Falls campground.  They had tried to get the more popular one, Wangi Falls, but it was way too busy so ended up here.  And it was the perfect location from which to see most of Litchfield.  It also had flushing toilets, hot showers for $6.60pp per night, so can't complain about that.  

On the way into Litchfield we stopped off at the Magnetic Termit Mounds - so called because all of the very thin mounds are aligned North-South, so that at all times one of the sides is in shade, giving the optimum living conditions for the termites.  Very clever. They also looked a lot like gravestones.

After setting up camp, we walked to the Florence Falls viewpoint which was quite spectacular - a series of three waterfalls dropping into a large plunge pool.  Then we walked down to the pool to cool off - 126 steps down and back, but well worth the effort. The water was cool and refreshing, and there were huge fish all around us.  It was quite rocky in the water, but wearing watershoes made all the difference.
Back at camp, travellers were coming in thick and fast and fighting to get a spot - so much so that a group of young French people asked us if they could pitch a tent in our area, as no-one else would allow them to.  We said yes, of course, and they joined our little area.

Over the next couple of days we visited Buley Rockhole, Tabletop Swamp, Blyth Homestead, the Tin Mine, The Lost City, and Wangi Falls.  

There were some spectacular swimming holes, and all of the waterfalls were flowing, unlike Kakadu which had lots of dry falls.  

On our last two nights there we shared our camping area with a young Dutch couple, Emma and Moos, who had been travelling Australia for about 14 months.  They were great fun, and on our last day there (Carole and John had moved on to our next spot) we took them for a trip into Blyth Homestead and Tjaynera Falls, which were on a 4WD track.  They were travelling in a rented motorhome and they were excluded from driving on designated 4WD tracks, so they were really happy to hitch a ride with us.  The road to Tjaynera was winding, corrugated, and had two quite deep water crossings, so they were most impressed.  The walk into the falls was 3.5km return, but quite easy, and the falls and swimming hole were gorgeous.  It was a great day out.  Our last night we also shared the camp with a French/Belgian couple, who built a fire, and we had a really interesting little 'united nations' evening with them all.

Litchfield was quite different to Kakadu in that all of the places we wanted to see were within easy reach, lots of waterfalls, but not as much wildlife to be seen.  Using Florence Falls as our base was a great idea.  Next up, we were heading to Douglas Springs.

On to Darwin

We booked into the Oasis Caravan Park for 2 nights, about 35kms out of Darwin, as there were no real options closer to the city.  It was a small, friendly park, and it was fully booked, but they managed to find two sites for us.  As we arrived in the afternoon, we didn't venture into the city that day, but stocked up on groceries etc at the local shopping centre.

Next morning we drove into the city, drove to Stokes Hill Wharf, and saw a huge US warship at the harbour with helicopters and aircraft on the deck.  It was certainly impressive, and it seems that that the marines were in town - lots of them!  They were everywhere, and carried themselves well, were neatly dressed in civvies and very polite.  

We had fish and chips at the wharf, then headed into town to check out the visitor centre.  We bought tickets on the 'Hop-on-hop-off City Tour Bus'.  It cost $30pp, and is a good way to get a feel for the layout of new places, as well as listen to a commentary on the history of the city.  We stopped off at the Darwin Museum, which had some excellent exhibits, in particular the Cyclone Tracy and the Ocean Mimic exhibits.  And there was a display of paintings by Ben Quilty, who went to Afghanistan for about a month as the official artist to document our soldiers - it was very powerful and moving, well worth seeing. 

After finishing the bus tour we went to have a look at the 'wave pool' at the esplanade area, then had a drink at one of the bars overlooking the swimming area, killing time until the Mindil Beach Markets started.  We caught up with Carole and John at the markets, wandered around and had some good food, enjoyed the entertainment, and missed - yes, missed, the sunset!  We were too busy buying things, and thought we had plenty of time. Ah well, there's always another day.

I was desperate to get my hair done, and Trev had seen an ad at the laundry area at our caravan park, so I called Janis, who lived just 3km from the park, and she squeezed me in.  She was lovely, did a great job, and gave me lots of info about Darwin.  She recommended that we try Seafood on Cullen Bay, where we could watch the sun set over the sea while dining.  

We took her advice and tried it that evening.  It was a huge restaurant, with wonderful views, and the food was great, too.  Yes, we both overindulged (translate that to 'pigged out') on lovely fresh prawns, spicy mussels and octopus, crab, salt and pepper squid, as well as tender pork with scrumptious crackling, and a variety of other options.  And - they had a chocolate fountain!  I had a banana covered in chocolate and it was delicious.  All of this for only $39.95 per person - what a bargain.  And I did get to watch the sun set over the ocean!

Next day we were off to Litchfield National Park to catch up with Carole and John who had left the day before.

Wildlife and Culture - Yellow Water Cruise and Nourlangie Rock Art

Well, 5.45 the alarm went off, and we were up and out to the boat ramp to start our SUNRISE cruise on the Yellow Water.  It was cool and there were banks of fog on the water when we arrived, and our guide was concerned that we wouldn't see too much activity on the water if the fog didn't lift.  But, fortunately, he was wrong.  

I got some beautiful photos of dense mist on the water, the glowing sunrise through the fog and the trees, and plenty of birds. We saw magpie geese, jabirus, brolgas, jacanas (the little birds that dart about on the top of lilypads), white sea eagles, cormorants, a multitude of ducks, cranes, and many others I can't remember the names of. 

And the crocs - well, I stopped counting after six.  They put on a very good display for us, and I have some wonderful photos of them, too. 

The cruise was about 2 hours long, our guide was knowledgeable, and it was a serene and tranquil start to the day.  Afterwards, we went back to Cooinda Lodge where we had a full buffet breakfast which was included with the cruise.  We dropped into the Warradjan Cultural Centre on the way back to camp, and it was very interesting and well done.

After lunch we took a drive out to Nourlangie to have a look at the rock art in that area.  It was amazing, and has to be the best aboriginal rock art that I've seen.  It was respectfully presented and protected, and is jointly managed by the National Parks and the local indigenous people.  All of the stories are explained on boards around the walking trail.  Fascinating.

Jim Jim Falls - Corrugations and Boulders

After leaving Maguk we drove up to Cooinda to get some information about Yellow Water cruises, Jim Jim falls and other places of interest in the area.  Trev and I booked a Yellow Water Sunrise Cruise for the next morning at $99pp (including breakfast), then we drove 10km down the road to Mardugal Campground to set up.  Good campground, $10pp pn with good clean showers and toilets.  

After lunch we drove out to Jim Jim Falls - 50km of serious corrugations, then 10km of winding, deep, sandy 4WD track to arrive at the beginning of the walk into Jim Jim.  The first part of the walk was relatively easy, then we came to the interesting part - huge boulders crossing the river, many of them shiny and slippery with sand on top of them.  It was really difficult, especially for those of us with shorter legs!  And this walk was done in 30 degree heat - not pretty.  We finally made it to the lower pool where we all had a swim, while looking up at the towering rocks in the gorge.  There were large fish in the pool, and Trev and I took some movies with the little gopro waterproof camera.  

We still hadn't arrived at the pool directly under the falls and Carole and I were feeling very tired after our walk over the boulders, so Trevor and John continued on through another boulder-filled pool, climbed up yet more black slippery boulders to arrive at the crest, looking down into the last pool.  They both raved about how amazing it was, so I had to go, didn't I?  I swam/crawled through the rocky water, then clawed my way up through the rocks to meet Trev and John at the top.  I must say, I was very proud of myself, and I'm glad I made the effort.  The final pool was huge, in a deep, dark cavern against rich red rocks.  It would have been even more spectacular if the falls had been flowing, but it was still very impressive.  Meanwhile, Carole was back in the lower pool, and slipped over while taking a movie, giving her camera a wash and her hip a nasty bruise and graze.  Hopefully, her camera will recover.

The walk/climb back was just as difficult as it was on the way in, and by the time we got back to the car we were all hot and sweaty again.  Just as well we had some cold water in the car-fridge.  On the way back, poor Trev was driving directly into the sun, following some slow vehicles along the corrugations, and finding his way through their dust.  As we neared the end of the road, we had to pull up sharply as a couple of vehicles had stopped in the road - they were trying to move a large olive python (around 3m) from the side of the road, to no avail.  He wasn't interested in moving, so we continued on to camp.  Next morning we had to be up early for our cruise.

Kakadu - Gunlom Waterfall then Magic Maguk

We're finally heading into Kakadu National Park.  We stopped at Pine Creek on the way to refuel and pick up some wine, passed through Mary River Roadhouse, then picked up some information from the Ranger Station where we paid park fees of $25pp (for 14 days), then went on to Gunlom (pronounced Goonlom) Waterfall.  This is where the infamous Crocodile Dundee scene of the crocodile pulling Linda Kozlowski into the water was filmed.  It's also one of the iconic views of Kakadu, with the infinity pool at the top of the range overlooking Kakadu. I was really looking forward to this.

The road in from the highway was about 35kms of dirt road, and had some serious corrugations along the way - we were even stopped on our way in by a couple towing a caravan, who said it was the worst corrugations they'd ever been on and had turned back. But after our trip along the Roper Bar road, we didn't think we'd have any problems, so we continued.  And we're so glad we did!

Our site cost $10pp per night, and the camp had showers, toilets and good basic facilities. After setting up, we decided to brave the climb up to the falls.  This was a 2km round trip over a rocky path which was basically vertical.  I definitely needed my hiking stick here, and Carole also had hers.  It was a good climb, with a fantastic reward at the end. The pools at the top were just beautiful, and yes, there was the infinity pool.  We couldn't wait to get in and have our photos taken at that spot - again, it was a little cool, but after our climb we needed to cool off anyway.  We spent a lot of time here before attempting the walk back down - I think it was harder than the walk up, as you really had to watch where you were placing your feet so that you didn't take a faster trip down than expected!  

At the bottom of the cliff there was another walk to the Gunlom Billabong - through a pandanus and paperbark forest which opened out to another gorgeous body of water, with majestic cliffs rising above. The reflections of the cliffs in the water were beautiful, and Trev and I decided to come back here at sunset with a glass of champagne, to watch the colours change on the cliffs.  Very pretty.

At the Ranger Station we were told that we should definitely visit Maguk (Marguk) as it was the smallest but prettiest of the waterfalls in Kakadu.  Carole's friends had also said the same thing, so it was on our list.  

We set up camp, then discovered that we had to walk about 1km to the beginning of the track into the Maguk Waterfall, which was then a further 1km.  So off we went - the first 1km was a pretty ordinary walk, but when we got to the beginning of the track it was lovely.  Again, lots of pandanus, paperbarks and eucalypts, then clambering over rocks and sandy spots till we came to the first big waterhole.  It was very tempting, and I wanted to go in there and then, but we continued on to the waterfall.  Ohh, it was magic! And there were huge fish in this clear water, who obviously knew no fishing was allowed. They just swam around us, with no fear.  The water here was the warmest so far, no problems at all diving in and swimming over to the waterfall.  I had a nice shower under the falls, then sat on the rocks for a while taking it all in.  Even Carole, who doesn't swim a lot, swam right over to the falls with us and thoroughly enjoyed it.  On the way back I also had another swim at the first hole - couldn't resist.

After dinner John and Trev got a good fire going - not that we needed it, as it was a beautiful evening. But it was a great ending to another beautiful day.

Edith Falls - walks, swimming and R&R

Just 62kms up the road from Katherine is Edith Falls.  We managed to get one of the last sites available at the National Park, and booked for 2 nights - shortly after we arrived, they put the boom gate down to close it to campers.  Whew!

We set up camp, had some lunch then tackled a 2.5km walk to the Upper Pools then back down to the plunge pool back at the camp.  It was a lovely walk, the pools were very pretty against a brilliant red sandstone backdrop with two sets of waterfalls coming over.  Lots of young backpackers were plunging into the water, only to come up screaming as it was so cold!  Very funny to watch.  We spent a lot of time up here, clambering over the rocks to get different views of the  pools and the gorges, and of course to take a photo or two...(hundred)!  The trail back gave us lots of different views and angles of the falls and my camera was working overtime.  When we got back to the base, Trev and I both took the plunge into the water which was most refreshing - translate that as 'yes, quite cold'- but we enjoyed it.  Trev even went first, diving in, which was most unexpected.

After dinner, we played another game of 'Sequence' which Carole has introduced us to - Carole and I are partners, versus Trev and John.  We've played it 5 nights now, and while Carole and I started poorly, being trounced by the guys on the first 2 nights, we have now got it under control, and have soundly beaten them the last 3 times - yayyy!  Not so much crowing going on from the guys now - but of course when they get beaten, they must have got bad cards!  Funny how that excuse didn't work for Carole and I initially????

Next morning, Trevor, John and Carole went for another walk while I stayed at the camp to relax and catch up on my blog.  After lunch, John and I went for a quick dip in the base pool which again was very refreshing.  We enjoyed our couple of days here, and will be heading to Kakadu tomorrow.