Toowoomba, Thursday 27 to Saturday 29 June 2019

We had two objectives for spending some time in Toowoomba. Firstly, Ian wanted to check out Winjana RV, a small company that makes relatively small fifth wheelers. As we own a D-Max ute, it would be possible to remove the canopy, install a mount in the tub, and tow a fifth wheeler. Fifth wheelers are rare in Australia, but we believe they are very popular in North America. Most fifth wheelers you see are large, and some huge with triple axles and towed by trucks. Many horse trailers are fifth wheelers. They are supposed to be easier to tow than a caravan, and the attachment over the rear axle of the tow vehicle (rather than via a towbar behind the tow vehicle) means that any tow vehicle can legally tow a heavier fifth wheeler than a caravan.

We have found that Matilda the motorhome has been a fairly comfortable mobile home while we have been travelling on sealed roads between home and Cooktown. We are mindful that long lengths of unsealed roads would stress the vehicle significantly, and we have found that loose surfaces combined with uphills are challenging, if not dangerous. A fifth wheeler made for Australian rough roads, and our D-Max would not have these issues, and we would have the added advantage of being able to uncouple the fifth wheeler while we explore an area in the ute.

The second objective was to catch up with a colleague that we both knew from the Geological Survey of NSW in the 1980s. Rob Barnes retired shortly before Ian returned to the Geological Survey in 2011. Rob and his wife lived only a few kilometres away from us near Maitland in the Lower Hunter Valley. However, shortly after we bought our house, Rob moved away to Toowoomba to be closer to family.

We aimed to camp for two nights in the Toowoomba Showground. However, we also scheduled to drop into Winjana RV in North Toowoomba early on Thursday afternoon to have a look at their smallest model—the Strzelecki 550. There are four main models ranging from 5.95 m long to 8 m long. The Strzelecki 550 is at the smaller end of the spectrum, and the model number refers to an internal length of 5.50 m. It has a single axle and the tare weight is 1800 kg.

At Winjana RV we met Louise, who Ian had spoken with on the phone. She was expecting us, and showed us several fifth wheelers, including a secondhand Strzelecki 550, and a Strzelecki 550 that was being built. It appears that each fifth wheeler is custom made in terms of layout and features. They are entirely made on site by two blokes—Royce and Andrew—and we also spoke with Royce.

A Strzelecki 550 behind a D-Max ute

By this stage of our travels, Ian believes that a small fifth wheeler would be the ideal vehicle in which to complete our lap of Australia. We took a few photos and went away with an invitation to provide a sketch of our required layout.

At the Toowoomba Showground, we found a good powered site near the lake. Ian arranged to meet up with Rob Barnes the next day.

Ian spoke with a couple parked near us with a Ford Ranger ute and a large, twin-axle fibreglass fifth wheeler. They were in the process of having a second, lazy axle installed on their ute, as they felt that their fifth wheeler was too heavy for the ute’s current single axle. This meant removing the tub from the ute and installing a tray to accommodate the second axle. Sounded like a big job, but we were not going to be around to see the result.

We enjoyed minestrone soup fortified with pumpkin and feta ravioli, and sparkling shiraz for dinner. We did not have any TV reception, probably due to being in a low spot, so we played some music before hitting the sack.

On Friday morning, Rob Barnes tracked us down in his maroon 80 Series Landcruiser which he has owned for over 20 years. We showed him over the motorhome and had a good chat. Rob made a comment along the lines that we had a big kitchen on wheels. Katie volunteered to stay back with Dexter and work on our travel blog, while Ian went out with Rob for a drive around the Toowoomba area.

Bob Barnes with Ian in Matilda

Toowoomba sits on the Great Dividing Range at 600-700 m above sea level. On a cloudy, sometimes drizzly day, Ian got to see the new privately built international airport, the new motorway through the Great Dividing Range, and Picnic Point with a view towards Brisbane. Older parts of Toowoomba have heritage houses like Rob’s. The city is still growing, with several new developments like we have in the Maitland area. Toowoomba appears to have a fair amount of local industry to support employment and avoid the need for commuting to Brisbane. The central business district has numerous cafes, but Rob laments the lack of restaurants and misses those in the Hunter Valley.

We stopped at Aromas for coffee and cakes, and we then returned to Matilda, Katie and Dexter. Rob headed home, and Katie and I went off shopping at nearby Woolworths.

Back at the Showground, we met Lyn and Barry who helped Ian fill the water tank. They kindly gave Ian one of their spare keys for the water door—ours has fallen down the back of a bulkhead and is irretrievable, along with the key to the external shower. They also opened the external shower door with a key marked CH751, which we should be able to pick up from a locksmith. This was another special encounter with top people.

We had chicken schnitzel and coleslaw for dinner, then another early night.

It was a cold night, so Ian turned on the heater around 4:00 am on Saturday morning. We both showered in Matilda, then enjoyed a breakfast of fried eggs and tomato on wholemeal English muffins. Having achieved both of our objectives for Toowoomba, we left the Showground, a little later than planned, and headed down the New England Highway for Stanthorpe in the chilly Granite Belt of Queensland.