Friday, January 27, 2017

Australia Update, the First 10 Days

For everyone waiting for an Australia update, the time has come.  I will try to bring you up to date on the last 10 days down under.

From the beginning.  We arrived on Australia on the morning of the 16th in Sydney.  As we were flying standby it was touch and go for a bit, and we had to overnight in LA after not getting seats on the only AA LAX to Sydney flight.  After a grueling 13 hours in tourist class, we stumbled into the light with cankles and jetlag. 

In a daze we managed to book a Quantas flight to Melbourne where our van was to be delivered.  Based on limited information from the receiving shipping company we had expected to have the van by the 18th.  We were sorely mistaken, it would take until the 24th for the van to be released to us.

In the meantime we were going to stay in hotels and enjoy the city.  Unbeknownst to us the Australia Open (AO) was being held in Melbourne.  The AO combined with the peak tourist/vacation season meant that accommodation in the city was pushed to it’s limit.  The day after we arrived 95% of hotel rooms were booked out, and the few remaining had doubled their rates.  After 2 days we realized it would be a while until the van was released, so we started booking Air BnB rooms in the suburbs.  While it was a 40 minute drive into the city, we were no longer hemorrhaging cash at an alarming rate. 

During the last 10 days we have thoroughly enjoyed Melbourne, though like most large cities parking is a challenge and expense we would prefer to avoid.  The public transit system here is quite good, with daily fares maxing out at about 7USD.  A number of locals have contacted us over the last week, and we have met many of them.  Thanks for the warm welcome! 

In preparation for the vans arrival we needed to clear it with customs and arrange an Australia Quarantine Inspection Service (AQIS) inspection.  We opted to rent a compact car until the van arrived as we needed to reach various locations which are a bit far by public transit.  Driving on the left is a bit of a challenge, but after a few days behind the wheel, I have gotten the hang of it…mostly…

Customs and AQIS are located in an unassuming building near the Tullamarine airport.  It took three tries to find the visitor's parking and entrance, but most of that can be chalked up to my poor left-side driving skills. We were directed to the second floor waiting area, where 30 chairs sat empty, and only 1 other person waited.  After about an hour, we had cleared customs.  This consisted of getting our CPD Carnet stamped (they keep a sheet from it), and processing our list of unaccompanied personal affects which were packed in the van. AQIS (one counter over) reviewed our effects list, vehicle information, and bill of lading.  From this, they generated an inspection protocol for the inspectors to follow.  We paid for the inspection and received a reference number.  We forwarded this information to the Australian shipping company who would arrange for the inspection at their warehouse (where we would be present).

After customs and AQIS, we played the waiting game.  On the evening of the 19th the van's container was delivered to the warehouse.  Most businesses here are not open after 5, and do not work weekends, so it wasn’t until Monday that it was unpacked and the inspection scheduled.  On Tuesday (finally!) we arrived at the warehouse for the inspection and clearance.  We passed with flying colors.  The  inspector said that most vehicles do not clear on the first try, and require cleaning.  This means trucking the van to an approved location, and paying to have it cleaned.  This could take up to 14 days, and cost $400AUD or more. 

After a few hours and a call to the AQIS help line, the approval document was emailed to us (they are all digital here!), we settled our paperwork with the shipping company, and drove the van out of the warehouse.

In the parking lot, we discovered that when putting on the shipping wheels in LA, some idiot had cross-threaded two lug bolts on the left rear wheel.  Apparently turning harder doesn’t fix the problem…  About half the threads in the hub were destroyed, and 2 lug bolts were beyond saving.  No one had told us about this, even though they had a month, and we were going be stuck with a expensive repair $$$$ and a flatbed truck to a shop. 

At this point, it was near closing time (about 4:30).  The shipping company had a shop on site for maintaining their 40 trucks, and they offered to help.  After a closer examination, I decided that there was sufficient threads left in the hub to recover the hole using a tap.  Unfortunately, 14mmx1.5 is not a common bolt size, so the shop didn’t have the correct tap (my tap kit maxes out at 12mm).  They graciously offered to give me a ride to a nearby tool shop (which was closing in 15 minutes) where I was able to buy a tap of the correct size.



Back at the warehouse, I recovered the holes, and borrowed two lug bolts from the front wheels which got us back on the road.  Other than the damaged hub, the van was in one piece with all its contents intact.  

Here is the van finally on Australia soil (or pavement) for the first time.

A local sprinter owner had offered us a place to camp on his property in the suburbs, so we made the drive out west the next day.  He also gave us 2 new lug bolts to replace the damaged ones.  Thanks, Eric! 

Eric also helped me install a set of right-hand-drive headlights on the van. These were donated by a consortium of interested parties.  Thanks!  This way we don't blind oncoming drivers with our left-hand-drive headlights.


Here are some random photos of our explorations around the city.


IMG_20170117_141430 PANO_20170121_123545


  1. Is that a war memorial park?

    1. Yep! We went to the Shrine of Remembrance on one of the first days in Melbourne. Beautiful area. It was dedicated to those who had served.