Camper Trailer replacement Solar charger

Goombaragin Camp

CC licenced Flickr image by sridgway

Our Kimberley camper trailer came fitted with a Juta MPPT-20 20A solar charger. This charges the internal trailer batteries while at camp via an external anderson plug. Basically it sits between the solar panels and the batteries and manages the charge. Juta is a Chinese produced MPPT solar controller and commonly used in 4wd circles and it performed well throughout our trip in the Kimberley's. 

Juta MPPT-20

Juta MPPT-20

While researching the Victron Energy battery capacity meter I can across their line of solar MPPT controllers and was very impressed so decided to install one in the camper trailer.

I decided upon the BlueSolar MPPT 100/30 and it just fitted in the space occupied by the existing Juta.

Victron MPPT solar controller installed

CC licenced Flickr image by sridgway

The BlueSolar range of solar charge controllers are high quality units featuring Ultra-fast Maximum Power Point Tracking and intelligent battery management. Features which especially appealed to me were the selectable lithium charge profile and the optional Bluetooth Smart dongle which enables a smartphone app to mange and monitor the controller operations.

The IOS/Android app allows the user to access live status info, see historical values as well as configure the controller.



It's very useful to be able to get a live feed of what the solar cells are doing and the history feature displays the total solar yield in Wh for each day and the max power generated.

If you in the market for a MPPT solar charge controllers wether it be for fixed or mobile 4wd use take a look at the Victron Energy range.

4WD Dual Battery Setup

60L ARB fridge and fridge slide in Prado 150 GXL

CC licensed Flickr image by sridgway

In order to power a fridge and 12v accessories it's essential to have a separate or Auxiliary (AUX) battery installed in your 4WD so that your primary starter battery is not discharged while the engine is not running. It's best to get this work done by a professional, however in this post I will consider some of the options to consider so you might be more informed when making your decisions.

Some of the things to consider are :-

  • What type of battery is best suited to this task and what battery capacity is required?
  • How is the AUX battery going to be charged when the engine is running?
  • How is the main battery isolated from being discharged when the motor is not running?
  • Can solar power be used to charge the battery when the motor is not running ?
  • How do I know when the battery needs to be charged?

Typically most 4WD's have room provisioned for an additional AUX battery so all that is required is to install a new battery, charging system and wiring, typically to a fridge.

Deep Cycle or AGM (Absorbed Glass Matt) batteries are commonly recommended for this application as they are designed for slow discharge over time however a standard lead acid (wet cell) will work fine. There is lots of information on the web about the reasons for selecting AGM so you can research this for yourself in more depth. Despite the higher cost AGM batteries are more robust in 4WD situations, are totally sealed requiring no topping up, charge faster with lower internal resistance and can be infrequently discharged to lower levels without damage. A decent quality 100 Ah AGM battery will set you back around $350-$400.

What size battery is best?

Well this largely depends of the space in your vehicle, most 4wd have space for a AUX battery. 12 volt automotive battery capacity is rated in Amp Hours,  a unit of measurement for battery capacity obtained by multiplying a current flow in amperes by the time in hours of discharge. There is a industry standard that 12 volt automotive batteries are rated over a 20 hour discharge period. So for example, a battery which delivers 5 amperes over 20 hours till discharged delivers 5 amperes times 20 hours, or 100 ampere-hours. The larger the Ah rating of a battery the longer it will deliver a given load for until it needs recharging. 100-150 Ah is a very typical range used for an AUX battery in a 4WD running a fridge and a few accessories. The other factor to consider is that as a general rule lead acid batteries should not be discharged below 50 % of their rated capacity. So although you might have a  100 Ah battery, in reality you can only use it as if it were a 50 Ah. You can go below 50% but you risk reducing the life of the battery or damaging it permanently.

How to charge the battery when the engine is running?

The vehicle alternator is used to charge the starter battery and is also used as the source of energy to charge the AUX battery when the engine is running. The AUX battery also need to be isolated from the main battery when the engine is off so the starter battery is not discharged.

There a 2 methods typically used to achieve this. The cheapest and simplest method is to install a solenoid which connects the starter and AUX batteries in parallel when the engine is running so the alternator charges both simultaneously. When the engine is off the solenoid isolates the AUX battery.

The alternative method is to use a dedicated battery charger which detects the type of battery and dynamically charges the battery to ensure the most efficient charge. While more expensive, typically $300 they will ensure the battery is kept is the best condition possible. They also isolate the AUX battery. There are many chargers on the market the Redarc BCDC1225 also have a separate solar input and MPPT charger so solar panels can be used to charge the AUX battery at camp. An essential item if you camp without driving for extended periods.

AGM Battery mounted in Prado 150 with a DC/DC charger (top left)

Ultimate Xtreme AGM battery

CC licensed flickr image by sridgway

How do I know when the battery requires charging

The most basic and common way to determine your battery state of charge is to measure the battery resting terminal voltage when the battery is not under load, in the case of a fridge when the compressor is off. So you will need a volt meter installed somewhere to quickly see the voltage. 

The chart below provides a guide to the voltage and state of charge. Remember it's best not to go below 50%.

Using a Battery Capacity Meter 

Battery Capacity Meter

CC licensed flickr image by sridgway

The more sophisticated and accurate way to measure the battery state of  charge is to install a dedicated battery capacity meter like the Victron BMV-702 shown above. Often used in camper trailers they can also be used on an automotive AUX battery.

battery capacity meter measures the current coming into and out of the battery over time and combined with the battery voltage displays a dynamic reading of the state of charge as a percentage. In addition to the state of charge the readout will also display power consumption, Volts, Amps, Amp Hours. They are an invaluable tool for understanding your power consumption and to ensure the longest life of your battery.

Finally you might want to consider installing a few 12 v outlets feeding off the AUX line, they are useful to charge devices and or run LED lights. Be careful though, the more you run the more often you will need to recharge your battery.

That about wraps it up, I have tried to keep this post simple but if you have any questions feel free to pop them in a comment.



Victron BVM-700 series Battery Capacity Meter

Redarc BCDC1225 DC/DC charger

Article comparing AGM and Deep Cycle batteries

Life on the road

Before leaving home I noted that our weekend practice sessions were one thing but not being able to head home on Sunday night was another altogether.

We soon got into the swing of things. With a few exceptions we have felt part of a considerate and at times even caring community of travellers. While boundaries around personal space do vary, typically there has been an unspoken agreement about what is acceptable and not in campgrounds. People often have been on the road for a long time. If someone is in trouble you offer assistance. As a community we were often hundreds of kilometres from the nearest services.

However, where there were fly in/fly out tourists 'doing' Australia such as at Kings Canyon I noted a distinct change of culture. There we dealt with 2 Wicked vans full of English yobbos, and I overheard another English guy saying from there they were flying to Cairns, then going to Port Arthur, and home (ie 'doing Australia). There were also hundreds of French tourists 'roughing it' for a few days. We had a chuckle at a poor young French couple in a little hatchback. They parked next to us, there was a heated conversation during which she refused to leave the vehicle. After an hour she got out, moved a couple of stones, got back in the car and they drove off presumably to investigate the cost of rooms. They were back later having reconsidered. I only hope that the beauty surrounding her overcame her culture shock.

Once leaving Yulara things returned to normal. Quiet nights, starry skies, friendly neighbours. On the whole we've been incredibly lucky.

This morning after another frosty night a caravan woman in dressing gown noted our fire from last night and asked whether it was fun. It took awhile to recover from our shock.  There's nothing like a good fire but there comes a point where 'fun' becomes a matter of, if not survival, certainly wellbeing.


Homeward bound

Our stopover in the Flinders marked the four month point of our trip. Now with only 2 weeks left I'm starting to ponder the trip and the somewhat scary end to what has been an amazing adventure. A part of me wants to be home NOW and a part wants to turn around and RUN!

So what I've learned (or has been reinforced) ? 

... appreciate each day you are privileged to have, avoid living with regret

... dont just look, see

... slow down

... you can easily live with less

... water and fresh produce are precious resources

I admit I am looking forward to living without the never ending dust. We've lived and breathed it for at least 3 months. Every thing we own in ingrained. I'm looking forward to doing something with the photos and inspiration I've carried. 

However I'm feeling uncertain about where to head from here work wise. What I do know is that it's not back in the same direction. Time will reveal.



CC FlickR image by Susanne Nilsson


Today we drove from the Flinders Ranges to Clare down the R.M.Williams highway. The Orroroo Shire was looking lush with hectares of healthy green crops and fat livestock.


It was  run of seasons like this one that attracted my Great Grandfather A.R.Addison (M.P.) c1880. He uprooted his family from a successful flour mill business at Middleton with the prospect of success in the more frontier lands to the north. 

My Grandfather 'Addie', the youngest of 9 children was born at Orroroo and his mother died soon after. Today the town cemetery includes the graves of his parents, uncle and many siblings, but he (farmed off to be raised by an aunt when his father remarried a woman uninterested in raising some one else's children) escaped for a career with the ANZ bank that took him to N.Z. via a start at Mt Gambier at only 17.

Today in a good season the rolling green hills are scattered with stone ruins, a reminder of the fickleness of the semi desert regions, and the hunger and heartache of many who took their chances and failed.

Feathered friends

One unexpected pleasure has been the amazing bird life on the trip but particularly in the Kimberleys. In retrospect I should have brought binoculars. Instead I've managed to take a few zoom pics and enlarged them for identification.

As mentioned in a previous post, we've been lucky enough to see Gouldian Finches and other endangered species. Further south in the Pilbara we constantly drove past wedge tailed eagles on the side of the road atop recent road kill. Such magnificent birds.

The sound of the west Kimberley was definitely the kites, and for a month we met these Great Bowerbirds at every stop. Unlike our southern bowerbirds these gather white and green objects and build bowers from sticks, often right in the middle of campsites. At Silent Grove we had a pair 2m away in a tree. He (below) kept flashing his brilliant blue nape feathers and throwing leaves at her but she was much more interested in us.

Great Bowerbird - image by Robyn Jay

Great Bowerbird - image by Robyn Jay

But it's the Willy Wagtail who has followed us right around the nation. No matter where we are he's there to make sure we stay in line!

Modern nomads

We have all heard about grey nomads, baby boomers on the road with their caravans in tow, however until we set out on our trip I had no idea of the sheer number of people on the road this time of the year. Can't help but think of that passage in Tim Winton's book "Dirt Music" when Fox meets the young man at the roadhouse who upon observing the caravans lined up for diesel disparingly refers to the occupants as "SADs" See Australia and Die.

After coming off the Gibb we have stayed a week in Kununurra and Lake Argyle in caravan parks and I have been amazed at the mind boggling sized caravans and motor homes getting around, some so large they tow a car behind. I thought I had seen it all till I saw this rig parked in the park as we were setting up in the unpowered strip. 

The owner then proceeded to tow a huge boat out of the rear trailer with a quad bike (that was also housed in the trailer). They also had a full sized ute which I assume gets towed behind as well. We also saw a huge red semi trailer sized van pulled by a ute which housed a helicopter which the owner would wheel out and fly around. 

I am writing this at the Purnululu National Park campsite where the only lights are the stars and our LEDs a welcome break from pink dressing gowns, 5pm social hour and the daily ritual of washing the car and van.
Caravan parks aside there is a huge variety of travellers ranging from push bikes (saw one on the Gibb river and Tanami roads), cars, along with Apollo and Britz vans rented by young overseas seas travellers, and camper trailers like ourselves. Robyn has written about this diversity in an earlier post.
Despite the urban myth that the bush is uninhibited it was rare to be at a camp in the dry season peak with no one else around, and many of the popular destinations in National Parks like Mitchell Falls and Purnululu are packed with campers each night.
We have met numerous traveling companions who we keep seeing along the way and share information of what we have experienced and what is worth visiting next. Of course we also have all our networked friends who follow and comment on our journey and who we connect with when we have network coverage.
There is never a dull moment and am finishing off this post in the Aboriginal community of Billiluna waiting for the fuel station to open again so we can resume our trek across the Tanami to Alice Spings.


I saw another last night as we sat watching the sunset in Purnululu. We've come across cairns along our journey often in remote and unexpected places. I love seeing them.

n the crudest most simple form they have been trail markers guiding us through rocky terrain. In other places they have been large creations built at times and by people unknown seemingly for aesthetic or scientific reasons. They mark summits, beautiful places,  and those rich in natural resources. Some cry out to be further enhanced; incomplete stories looking for further content but with an open ending. Others are complete to be admired and tended until a force of nature (or lack of respect) ends their life.

CC FlickR image by Valerie Kuki -  

CC FlickR image by Valerie Kuki -



There's nothing quite like sitting around a warm campfire with a glass of port under the stars. However, we've had surprisingly few campfires on the trip with most national parks and conservation areas banning or restricting fire use.

Certainly people here have strong opinions about fire use and perhaps overuse in the Kimberley. Its about finding the right balance.

If you've ever lived in the top end and stood neck deep in spear grass towards the end of the dry season you'll know it feels like a tinderbox. Dry season burn offs have been part of aboriginal life for tens of thousands of years but today these include matches from cars and incendiary drops from helicopters.

Down at Mornington Wildlife Camp the AWC with some traditional owners has designed a fire program that also involves some stations and a fair extent of Central Kimberley. We were told of a huge fire a few years ago that swept from the NE down through the country blackening all country and burning for weeks. The new program burns the land in carefully selected patches early in the season so that when big late dry season fires do occur they don't cause as much devastation.

Of course it's not only the vegetation that suffers in a big fire. We were told the story of a collared feral cat at Mornington that normally has a restricted territory but which after a big fire traveled quite a large distance to patrol the edge of the fire front catching all the small fauna as they escaped, then returned back to its normal hunting ground.

Our journey into the Mitchell Plateau was a hazy one with burning ground and fallen trees along the track to the falls. In fact many places we've visited have been recently burnt and our feet are often black from sooty ground. Rising smoke and hazy skies are most definitely something to be expected traveling in the Kimberley in the Dry.

Fires coming into Kununurra

Fires coming into Kununurra

Not the promised food bowl

We've spent the past week in and around Kununurra, and we've been interested to view first hand the land that as a child I was told would be the winter 'food bowl of Australia'.

As you can see from this Crikey blog post and even Govt info, the Ord River irrigation project has been and continues to be doubtful in its success and controversial with looming Chinese projects likely....

Crops such as cotton and sugarcane have come and gone. I'm astonished that cotton was ever viable given the humidity of the wet season! Where vegetable crops do exist they are very healthy looking. I've never seen sunflowers and corn growing as green and healthy as we have here, and cyclones appear to largely bypass the area. However market changes, distances and economics have paid their price.

CC FlickR image by Pete Hill -

CC FlickR image by Pete Hill -

Over 60% of production now is Sandalwood plantation (we are hearing rumours that it is not producing oil) and locals have commented to us how the much the community has changed as a result. I imagine that in the earlier years of the scheme many young people gained harvesting work that now does not exist.

Despite all this the town feels like it's thriving. There's a healthy community of young families, alternate types,  a good market, galleries and cafés. We're off to make good use of the market again tomorrow before heading south. The market gardens continue and where monoculture has failed, healthy, sustainable, mixed farming will thrive.


17,000 years in pictures

I've had an interest in Aboriginal rock art since studying it in high school so it has been amazing to stand in front of works throughout the Kimberley some thought to be up to 17000 years old (dated by carbon dating fossilised wasp nests on top of paint).

At school I remember all sorts of weird and whacky theories about the arts origins and meanings (Wandjinas relating to aliens etc) so it has also been good to read and hear some more informed details.

We've seen a range of styles, the mot common being the ancient animal and Guion Guion (Guyon or Bradshaw) figures and the much more recent Wandjinas with related spirit figures. Up on the Mitchell Plateau at the Munurru sites the art was accompanied by burial recesses.

Amazingly enough most sites are relatively unprotected and generally well appreciated and respected by travelers. The worst issue we have encountered has been bus loads of 4wd tours with ill informed and ignorant tour guides. Only certain ochre colours have survived; the yellow and white typically fading away.

This is our favourite panel from Munurru; elegant dancing Guyon tasseled figures. I am reliably informed that it's fine to capture and share these publicly available works. Please let us know if this is not the case.

Guyon figures at Munurru site, Mitchell Plateau

Guyon figures at Munurru site, Mitchell Plateau

Stretching our limits

Now, I love driving and having spent time in the top end and regional areas I'm not new to being off-road. We've also got a 50mm lift and full under car protection.

So, as we neared Mt Elizabeth station we looked into visiting Bachsten camp via the Munja Track. We were advised not to take the camper trailer and instead booked in to stay in one of the camps cabins. 'It's 7-8 hrs' we were told.
So we set off, allowing 8 - 9 hrs of daylight. After stopping to view some rock art, and to find and recover the Go-pro after it's mount snapped and it fell off, we soon realised that we were way behind schedule.
And then we met the first of three jump ups.

Returning up the Magpie jump up on the Munja Track

Returning up the Magpie jump up on the Munja Track

For the uninitiated, essentially a jump up is a steep, rocky incline/ascent into or out of a gully area. The three on the Munja track were about 3-5 kms from entry to exit. Now I can honestly say that had I known just how rough they were I probably would not have ventured forth. Certainly as we're approached the Magpie jump up the words 'Steph, I'm not sure this was such a good idea!' passed my lips. And of course it was foremost in our minds that we also had to return!

So with sweat on our brows and fear in our hearts we lurched forward metre by metre, often with one person directing via radio from in front of the car. Amazingly we got there and back relatively unscathed. 

The trip over ended up taking us 10 hrs  to cover the 140km and Steph bravely 'soldiered' on in the dark with me hanging a torch out the side window to be able to see around sharp corners. Coming back we managed 8.5 hrs! (The owner takes 6 hrs btw).

Was it worth it you ask? Absolutely!


Synchronous fishing

Yesterday we visited Parrys Lagoon up near Wyndham, a wonderful wetland teaming with birdlife.

Apart from a few loners, the pelicans spent the entire time fishing together as a group, swimming in one direction until one put its head under and the rest followed, then swimming back as a group in another direction. Very funny to watch. Almost like a training exercise.

Pelicans fishing

Pelicans fishing