Leichhardt Falls – Savannah Way, QLD

DESTINATION LEICHHARDT FALLS, GULF SAVANNAH, QLD

Our trip commenced in earnest after we fuelled up in Normanton and started kicking up some dust on the Burke Development Road.  We aptly had John Williamson singing ‘The Dusty Road We Know’ on the stereo, wedge-tail eagles and hawks were swooping lonely road kill carcasses and it was flat grassy flood plain with blue cloudless sky from horizon to horizon. The only pedestrians were a mob of lazy Brahman cattle and occasionally we disappeared into the billowing dust cloud of a passing road train. This is outback Queensland in the Gulf Savannah.

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We are about to disappear in this billowing dust cloud
Normanton to Burketown via this route is 230km on a pretty good road these days. It used to be an adventure to travel but now there are causeways over the river crossings, some bitumen sections and even the dirt sections don’t frighten off the few caravans we passed.

At the 140km point we come to Leichhardt Falls. The falls weren’t flowing but there was lots of water in the Leichhardt River and it’s an irresistible spot to stop and camp. Its off the beaten tourist track and has a raw, unmanicured natural beauty. Prolific bird life, crocodiles, the river to explore and lots of tracks to follow to find a private camp site with a gorgeous water view. Stars, campfire, sunset and sunrise all perfect. I guess the only flaw is that the river is rumoured to be the dominion of salt water croc’s so a cool refreshing swim is out of the question on a warm day.  We saw a couple of long snouted freshies sun basking on the water surface below the falls but better safe than sorry.

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Our camp site on the Leichhardt River
I really appreciated my pre-trip food preparation CAN YOU FREEZE MUSHROOMS? THE OVERWHELMING FOOD STUFF……as we feast on a scrumptious rissole brew with gravy for dinner. We worked up quite an appetite rock hopping, exploring and collecting firewood on a warm day.

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Our standard camp fare – a ‘brew’. Rissoles with fried vegetables. Yum,
As I put pen to paper I’m sitting here by our small camp fire. Its dusk, the sun has just sunk below the horizon and the sky to the east is pastel pink and purple. Budgies and babblers are chirping their gay chorus in the trees around us, the water is still and it so peaceful.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

The restless remnants of our previous suburban working lives are starting to fade as we slowly acclimatise to this new chapter of gypsy living.

The light is now getting dim and the stars are starting to pop out through the gum tree silhouettes. Kevin has a star observatory app and is pointing his phone at each new star and reeling off facts. Hydra B, Sirius, 262 light years away, blue dwarf, red giant and I’m kind of half listening while I sip on my green tea watching the flames flicker.

This is a nice life.

In the morning, the dawn chorus makes us chuckle in amusement as we make toast on the campfire. It’s like all the birds are ferociously abusing each other and bickering amongst themselves. It’s a hell of a racket with all the squawking, shrilling and warbling. Noisy but absolutely wonderful.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

We’d stay a bit longer here but we have a date to chill out with Boodjamulla the rainbow serpent in a stunning red ochre gorge later today. On to more of the good stuff. Stay tuned.

Departure Day

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SETTING OFF ON THE GRAND AUSSIE ADVENTURE

Departure day. Its finally arrived.

It kind of feels surreal.

We are actually really doing this.  I never thought we would be able to do it until retirement but we made it happen. Just goes to show that when you want something bad enough you’ll find a way.

Its a weird day because, after months of just sheer excitement,  we are actually full of nervous trepidation. A million things are frantically going through our heads. That will pass 100km up the road and turn into sheer joy but what a funny, strange sensation to have in the final straight.

There is relief too though. For so long the travel to the West for months has been just a pie in the sky concept. Not really feasible. Not really sensible. Just a pipe-dream.  A ‘gonna do one day’ thing that you never really expect to happen unless you win the lotto.

Well today we are doing it – hitting the ‘frog and toad’ with months of absolute freedom ahead of us and damn it feels pretty good. We feel brave. Running away from home. Bye kids. Bye jobs. Bye house. Bye rut. HELLO to really living. (I say all this with a cheeky grin)

With some heavy duty planning and saving by yours truly, all obstacles have been overcome and all contingencies covered. One manky gall bladder gone and one bank account nicely brimming with holiday cash. Although the tide went out a little with yesterday’s rock flung by whipper snipper into the glass sliding door trick ($600 emergency glass repair at the very last minute – bugger, bugger, bugger!) I obviously needed a quick lesson that not everything always goes to plan.

So now that this day has arrived we can finally just relax, go with the flow and have faith that my planning was good. Just live in the moment, let each day be an adventure and have absolutely no regrets.

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We have so, so much to look forward too. Its a beautiful country out there. Today the sun is shining, the open road beckons and in this moment of time we are free. Really, really free. Today is a great day.

Seeya later alligators and stay tuned for what is to come.

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CAN YOU FREEZE MUSHROOMS? THE OVERWHELMING FOOD STUFF……

Cooking on the road with the Prestons

With one week to go, our life on the road preparations are reaching the frenzy point and I’m at the ‘food’ stage.

As always food gives me the most challenges. Anyone that knows me knows damn well that cooking isn’t my strong point. I suffer from a complete and utter total lack of interest in that regard as I couldn’t be bothered after being at work all day. My favourite meal is one that’s been prepared by someone else.

So of course my little problem is that when we hit the road is not only do I haveto cook but I have to do so with limited cooking facilities and space for a pantry. It will be at least 3 weeks before we hit a major supermarket again and the thought of living off tins of baked beans every night doesn’t fill me with any joy.

So I arise to the challenge and with the help of serious menu planning, shopping lists and some handy accessories, I make camp cooking my friend.

We have made our camping lives easier on this trip by having both our 80 litre upright fridge in the camper and a 21 litre Engel freezer behind the cab. The addition of the freezer to our setup involved getting a dual battery system installed under the car bonnet, an extra bank of solar panels and a fridge box, so it was an expensive little ice box (bloody expensive) but it gives us the ability to travel remote for longer periods of time and will be worth the outlay.

The really, really expensive little freezer box fits behind the cab of the Cruiser

We can now freeze meat, carry frozen vegetables and carry a selection of pre-made meals which I have been busily preparing and freezing in the last week or two.

Also although our space is limited we also carry a Webber Baby Q inside the camper.  It sits on the seat and gets in the way but is totally worth the inconvenience. It is a BBQ and an oven, runs on gas and gives us so many more food options. We aren’t always able to have a fire so a camp oven isn’t as practical.

Creativity with some tin food is required because fresh ingredients only last us a few days even in the fridge and there is nowhere to replenish them. We can vacuum seal meat and left over cooked meals, but not fresh vegetables. I naively tried that once and the tomatoes and cucumbers went rotten. Which brings me to my question; can you freeze mushrooms? So many simple pasta recipes involve mushrooms and I can’t stomach the tinned variety.

Once I solve that dilemma I will have no excuses for not being able to produce delicious gourmet meals on the road and in fact a total mind shift occurs and cooking no longer becomes an unwelcome chore. Time and tiredness is not an issue and there is something magic about cooking and eating outside with the sights and sounds of the bush. It becomes about enjoying the simple pleasures in life and food is beyond a doubt one of those pleasures.

The Mental Unwind – Lawn Hill Gorge, Boodjamulla National Park

Every time Kevin and I go on a road trip it takes us a couple of days to unwind.  The thought of just doing nothing on that first night on the road doesn’t feel natural, so we frantically try to keep busy. Kevin chops fire wood with an axe as if we need a stockpile for a long hard winter and I’m so highly strung that I frantically pace around the campsite looking for something to do.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

It’s a weird feeling and it’s purely because we need time to mentally adjust from the hectic pace and pressure of our normal work lives to this carefree, casual and new relaxed way of living.

From previous experience we know it will take three days; three days until we stop looking for our watches, before we lose the structure of our days and just go with the flow of life well lived.

So we have built it into the start of our journey.

Mental unwind commences at Boodjamulla (Lawn Hill Gorge)National Park, one and half days of solid driving, 1000km from Cairns. Why that far away you may ask? Sure we could just chill at some ‘really nice’ place nearby but we don’t want to start such an awesome adventure with ‘really nice’ we want ‘extraordinary’. Extraordinary describes Lawn Hill Gorge to perfection.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

We have already visited this amazing place on numerous occasions.  It draws us back time and time again. If I had a place on this earth that I consider my sacred place, well Lawn Hill Gorge is it. It has a rich Aboriginal history that supports this notion.  It has been sacred to the Waanyi Aborginal people for 17 000 years and inside the perfect silence of the gorge dwells Boodjamulla, The Rainbow Serpent.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

The scenery is striking especially considering the landscape around Lawn Hill. Classic Gulf Savannah, it’s flat and treeless from horizon to horizon. Marginal cattle country that’s remote, dry, dusty and sunburnt. Yet, like an oasis in the desert, Lawn Hill Gorge exists. Rich blue skies, red ochre gorge walls, lime green crystal clear spring water and ancient ‘Livistona Australis’ cabbage palm trees  make this place a paradise, worth every long boring kilometre of dusty road to get thereOLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

So for three days we will immerse ourselves in this serenity. We will burn off pent up mental agitation by hiking the various walking tracks, canoeing through the first and second gorges, by sunset picnics with jaw dropping views and by the blissful night silence of the ‘generator free’ campground far, far away from traffic and city lights.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

And then we get to turn left.

Each time we leave Lawn Hill we have to turn right and head homewards towards Cairns. Left is the Northern Territory border and we always desperately long to turn left but time has been our enemy. It’s going to be a monumental occasion for us to leave Lawn Hill this time because with all the time in the world we WILL turn left. And it will be the best feeling in our newly unwound state.

 

The Great Packing Conundrum

Our Trayon has wonderful merits. It’s so quick to set up and pack down, its simple, its comfortable, has ten storage locations and every place we camp at it always attracts envious glances from other campers.  There is one aspect of it though where I need it to be more like the Tardis on Doctor Who. My clothes cupboard. Kevin and I have one cupboard each as our allocated storage space. That’s for clothes, shoes and other odds and sods. This is my space.

I`m positive that every female reading this has just gasped in horror and said `no way!`.

Unfortunately this is the sum total of my space for up to 6 months of travel. Travel that will include warm weather in the North and frigid weather in the Central deserts. Every thing from swimming togs to ugg boots and beanie. Not to mention all my lotions and potions and hair brushes, toiletries, a couple of books.

So I laid out my clothes on the bed for starters. Bear in mind that this is the already thinned out, must have, totally essential pile!Its a collection of purely daggy, long wearing camping gear. Stuff that is great in the bush and around a campfire. Nothing flash enough for a fancy restuarant or a night on the town. Just tees, shorts, jumpers, tracky daks, togs and of course my ugg boots. There is no way I can leave my ugg boots behind!

ITS THE GREAT PACKING CONUNDRUM. How do I fit this much stuff in a space that small?

Kevin thinks I`m crazy getting organised 2 months in advance. He packs the day before. One jumper, four tee shirts, 2 pairs of shorts and enough jocks so that he can wear one pair inside out and then back to front before he needs to change them. Its a guy thing. He’s more interested in the tool box. I always have the last laugh though because the inevitable happens. He runs out of clothes. Then he has to wear mine. Its true . Here’s the proof.

So pretty in my purple jumper.

Anyhow where there’s a will there’s a way. Everything that was on my bed is in that cupboard. Packing pods is the answer. Everything is separated into categories and packed in a pod. Going across Northern Australia first so the winter woolies are at the back, shorts, tees and togs at the front. Even got 4 books in ready for lazy days on beautiful beaches. High five to me.

(Anything extra can always be snuck into Kevin’s box anyway. He`ll never know until he needs to wear it)

Camping in the royal swag – The story of why we bought a Trayon Camper.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERALike a turtle, we carry our accommodation on our back. It’s a wonderful way to travel because we have no restrictions due to towing. We are comfortable, can get out of the dirt, have a refuge from the weather and most importantly wherever the car can go, we can go. There are no extra registration fees, no extra wheels or maintenance and less weight.

If we stop somewhere for more than a couple of nights we can put the Trayon on legs so will still have the freedom to use our vehicle.

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Kevin and I have always loved 4WD camping holidays. We have had other types of holidays too. Backpack hiking in New Zealand and Tasmania, trekking up Mt Kilimanjaro in Africa and cycling in Holland but our Australian camping holidays are our perennial favourite.

Over the years our style of camping has sporadically changed. We started off sleeping under the stars in swags. There is something awesome about waking in the middle of the night and being able to see the stars. Our big double swag was warm and toasty and was carried on the roof rack.  I did worry a little about creepy crawlies and on one occasion we could hear wild donkeys braying nearby and Kevin got his shot gun out the car and put it under his pillow. Just in case. I slept in the car that night. The drawback is there is nowhere private to retreat too or get changed and you live in the dirt.blog trayon 1

When we had kids, we got a bit flasher and progressed to a camper trailer. It was great for a couple of years but it was a more time consuming set up and pack up procedure and all our gear was under the bed in the trailer. We found the more space you have, the more stuff you bring. Then we had the extra expenses associated with towing. Registration, tyres, broken trailer springs to fix and the limitations on where we could go.blog trayon 3

A bit later we decided to go back to keeping things a bit simpler, carry less ‘stuff’ and purchased a canvas touring tent instead. It was a bit crowded with all five of us and you can’t see the stars in ‘chateau de canvas’ but served us well for a couple of years. It was big and bulky to carry though and a bit of a pain to set up and fold up every day.blog trayon 2

Then we decided that it was more fun camping when we kept life really simple. So we went back to swags; five of them, one each, all lined up on the roof rack. We travelled all the way from Cairns to Broome this way, with mosquito nets. What a sight we were.  We would line up our swags between two trees and tie a rope from tree to tree to hang our mosquito nets.  These weren’t hardy outdoor mosquito nets either. They were the coloured indoor variety.  Bit silly now when I think of it. We must have caused a few laughs on the way.blog trayon 4

Anyhow when we finally got to Broome we splashed out and purchased 5 little mosquito dome tents. These were brilliant and served us well for many years. We were still sleeping in swags under the stars but had the protection of a fly screen tent and our own individual ‘chateau de flyscreen’. More work for me though as I usually ended up rolling up the kids swags as well as my own as they couldn’t roll them tight enough.blog trayon 5

Eventually as our kids got older, the thrill of camping with the old folks became a burdensome chore and Kevin and I started leaving the older two at home when we went for short jaunts. On one of these trips we spent a week at Lawn Hill Gorge with our youngest son, Riley. We were camped at Adeles Grove with our three little mosquito domes and our gear spread out all over the ground around them, living out of boxes, feeling dirty.

Then a 4WD Landrover ute pulls in to the campground with a white box on the back, a bit like a smoko van.  It was a Trayon. They flip open this box to reveal a little canvas house with big windows and 5 minutes later they are sitting on chairs under their verandah enjoying the serenity. I was a bit envious and I was intrigued. My curiousity got the better of me eventually so I casually made like I was walking past to get a better look. As luck would have it, we had a chat and they invited me up the stairs to have a look.

It was awesome. Inside was a double bed, a table and lounge chairs, lots of storage cupboards, a gas cooker that could be moved outside, a 90 litre upright fridge and a kitchen sink with a proper tap connected to a 110 litre water tank and pump. This was camping in style but still keeping it simple. All this was on the back of a ute; in a box. I went back to Kevin and said “we are so getting one of those when it’s just the two of us”. So we did.

That was it. Decision made. We saved ourselves at lot of comparing, analysing and confusion at Caravan and Camping Shows and in hindsight it was just one of the best decisions we have ever made. Those impulsive gut based decisions usually are. It was a bit more costly than a swag of course but we figured that it would be a long term investment that would reap dividends. And it has. We absolutely love it. Finally we have close to the perfect set up.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

We have had it for 4 years now and done a few long trips as well as lots of weekend camping forays.  We travelled from Cairns to Tasmania for 6 weeks and the bonus is that it’s the same price as an ordinary car to put on the ferry. Makes going to Tassie very attractive compared to the exorbitant cost of towing a trailer or caravan.

So now on the ‘big trip’ the accommodation part is easy for us.  We know we can easily head up the Roper Bar Road, up to Mitchell Plateau and take the dirt track from Karajini to Mt Augustas and live in complete comfort with our house on our back. Just like a turtle (but a bit faster). We nicknamed it our royal swag. Its simple like travelling with a swag but oh so much flasher…..OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

 

The Map on the Dunny Wall

Map in the dunnyMap in the dunny

I get so much value from planning a trip; almost as much as the trip itself. It’s the anticipation, the imagining and the dreaming. I look at a map and I paint a picture in my mind of how it’s going to be. From a tiny splodge on a map I can visualise some version of paradise.

So I like to plan a holiday. I like to organise the finer details. It’s not a chore because it gives me so much pleasure using my imagination.

So let me tell you about the map on the dunny wall.  It’s a big map; really big.  After all Australia is a big country with vast distances and I was planning a workable format for this big adventure. I was having trouble picturing the complete journey. Google, such a wonderful resource most times, kept leading me along the black top roads. We want dirt.

So I found a big dusty map of Australia in the dark recesses of a disused drawer and a black marker pen became my best friend.  That black line that I drew on it travelled from Cairns along the Savannah way all the way to the Western Australian Coastline. Along the way, in my head, we canoed along peaceful gorges, frolicked in natural hot springs and created clouds of billowing bull dust as we explored remote 4WD tracks. Such pretty mind paintings. When we got to Western Australia those paintings became staggeringly beautiful, an explosion of colour. Corrugated dirt tracks leading to picturesque waterfalls on Mitchell Plateau, red sand and turquoise sea near Broome, red ochre gorges with enchanted fern laden pristine water holes at Karajini, the sublime vast views from the summit of Mt Augustas and swimming in the azure Indian Ocean with the whale sharks at Ningaloo Reef.  I could see us throwing in a line and lazing aimlessly on the most beautiful white beaches, where ‘the only worry in the world is the tide gonna reach my chair’ (Thanks Zac Brown – that’s my theme song).

Wow. That great big partially torn map with its ugly black scribbled lines is just the most beautiful work of art I have ever seen.map of 2017 holiday

So, over the last couple of months it has taken pride of place on the dunny wall. A location where one has the time just to sit and ponder. It has provided inspiration, reminded me to stay focused on the end goal, to budget and save furiously and remember that in a few short months we are going to be really following that black squiggly line.Map take 2

 

Defeating the ‘But’ Monster – Planning a lap of Australia

Our dream has been to travel remote Australia without a time schedule, to have total freedom, to be whimsical.

My heart has always said ‘just do it’, after all life is unpredictable.  It’s not wise to procrastinate and say we’ll do it one day. One day may not happen. The only moment is now.

My head however is under the domain of the infamous ‘But’ monster.  For the benefit of my sons I must add that, no, this has nothing to do with anuses so don’t even go there………. (It’s a boy thing)

The ‘But’ monster is the stifler of dreams because it thrives on fear.  It’s been sitting on my shoulder for years and whenever the possibility of following our dream was raised, it was smothered by BUT, BUT, BUT.

But the kids have school, but we have to pay for the kids university expenses, but we have a mortgage, but we have bills, but the car isn’t right, but how can we travel without an income, but we can’t save enough money, but we have to save for our future, but we are too young to give up our jobs, but we are too old to give up our jobs, but maybe we should pay off the house first, but what do we do with our house, but what if we rent it out and have bad tenants, but we have a cat, BUT WHAT IF A GREAT BIG BLOODY METEOR CRASHES TO EARTH AND DESTROYS OUR PLANET.

You know what? The fact is that there will never be a precisely ‘right’ time where all the planets line up to say “go now”. Life just doesn’t work that way.

So the ‘But’ monster, although it still hovers, has been banished from the Preston kingdom, because now I know the formula to successfully following our travel dream.

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Opportunity is a bit random and involves some planetary alignment, but 2017 happens to be a year when for the first time our kids are independent. University is done and dusted. Two of those kids are currently living in the family home this year. So that eliminates the house issues. We have house minders and with a bit of persuasion (or blackmail) some rent keeping the mortgage afloat. Plus our ancient cat can live his life out at home still. That is opportunity.

Preparation is the key though and preparation is all about money. We decided over a year ago on the all important ‘when’. This is so important as it gave us a budget time frame.  We then worked out how much money we would need IF we went for 6 months. Significant research and calculations are required here on everything you envisage spending money on. ABSOLUTELY EVERYTHING including spending money, remote expensive fuel, supermarket food, pub meals, camping fees, tours, entry fees, gas bottle refills, all the bills back home, mortgage interest, vehicle accessory purchases, emergency car repair funds, car services and spare money to survive a couple of weeks when we return with no jobs. The figure is staggering and we divided that enormous mind boggling figure by the number of saving weeks. Amazingly, with some discipline, it was possible. That is preparation.

We have both kept our employers well informed of our intentions and although we have to resign to go away for such an extended period of time, there is a really good chance we may get our jobs back again.

So that folks, is how you resign from your jobs, and travel in complete freedom, worry free, for up to 6 months without any income. That is how you triumph over the ‘But’ monster and live your dream.

For us preparation and opportunity will meet on the 26th of May 2017 to be precise – with a bit of good luck being the icing on the cake. The wet season has been amazing this year so the West Australian and the Northern Territory landscapes will be stunningly vibrant.

Haha ‘But’ monster – I laugh in your face!

Michelle’s countdown begins

mapsKevin and I have gypsy hearts. Australian gypsy that is – the kind who craves the pure, unfettered freedom of life on a dusty, outback road. A simple longing for red sand between the toes, sapphire blue skies, crystal nights under carpets of stars, wafts of lazy campfires, the sky ablaze with colour at sunrise and sunset and the chorus of budgies and galahs.  A longing for a life that is simple in a vast land that is quite simply stunning.

Of course reality dictates that such an unfettered life of freedom is just a pipe dream except in short joyful bursts of annual leave. We have jobs, debts, bills to pay, house to maintain, obligations and schedules.  We work hard at our jobs to earn money to pay for this life and in the evenings we sit inside our four expensive brick walls blankly watching reality tripe and bad news on a TV.  That carpet of stars is out there but we don’t see it. We don’t see the sunrise or the sunset except in brief glimpses while we are doing something else. It’s wrong. We know that. We have known it forever but it’s the life we have been conditioned to live in.   We are blessed to have our health, food on the table, shelter over our heads, a collection of ‘stuff’ to make life comfortable and of course an occasional adventure. But we want more and we want less if that makes any sense. More of the extra-ordinary and less of the ‘stuff’.

So 2017 is our year. We have put ourselves in the position to give our gypsy hearts a glimpse of the freedom they are seeking. We have saved hard and put a little money aside each week for the ‘big trip’.  The one where we resign from our jobs, leave our house in the hands of our children and run away into the sunset. Towards the west where the sun sets into the sea and that great big Kimberley moon makes a staircase. And oh the anticipation.

Not forever. It’s just a taste. One of two things will happen. It will either get it out of our system for a while or we will enjoy the taste so much that we will yearn for more and have the courage to dismantle the shackles that bind us.  But that’s for later. In the here and now we have 54 days until we hit the red dusty road that’s paved in gold.

An Adventure in the pipeline

This is the excerpt for your very first post.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThis blog site is about travel in remote Australia. The build up, the anticipation, the packing, getting the 4WD ready and eventually the journey itself. In June 2017 we will embark on on what we call ‘the big one’. A journey across the top of Australia and part way down the West Coast that encompasses some 15 remote national parks. it will include Boodjamulla NP,  Limmen Bight NP, Mitchell Plateau NP, Karajini NP, Francois Peron NP and Mt Augustas just to name a few. We own a Toyota Landcruiser ute and our home is our Trayon Camper. Our “Royal Swag”. We love it. It’s simple but comfortable and with a touch of luxury in our eyes. We can cook and eat both inside and outside, we have a lovely comfortable bed high off the ground away from creepy crawlies and best of all we can follow any rugged track we like. Like a turtle we carry our house on our back. We often say to each other “Can you believe we are on the back of a ute?”