Archive for ‘Shiny Things!’

Our thoughts on the shiny things we have collected, and those we covet…

Chassis Shenanigans and Dark Magic

Well.  After a few more thousand km of abuse, the temporary arc weld repair performed on our chassis rail and shock turret in Tanzania gave way again, just as we were crossing the Malawi/Zambia border.  Our Plan A was to head cross country to the South Luangawa Park then on down to Lusaka, a slightly bouncy trip that clearly wasn’t going to happen.  Plan B…  an 800km straight run to Lusaka, tail between legs. Fortunately there is a crazy mock Norman castle (now a quirky hotel complete with a well stocked bar) only a few km from the border, built by an “eccentric” British colonial administrator in the late 40’s.  Crossing the receptionist’s palm with kwacha enabled us to camp in the carpark.

Now safely parked up and away from the throngs of locals looking for entertainment (nothing is more interesting than a dirty Mzungu with a broken truck), and after poking my head into the wheelarch to inspect the damage in a low-pressure environment, a few seconds deliberation was enough to ascertain beers would be required in order to devise a cunning enough plan to get us to Lusaka.

After a bit of headscratching and the application of beer to the problem, I decided that a judiciously placed ratchet strap would probably do the job, if we were REALLY careful and checked the strap for tightness and integrity every few hundred km.  Digging around in the truck unearthed an old strap, which I successfully looped around the shock turret, then fed under the chassis rail, around the power steering box, away from everything radiating heat to end up attached to our steering bash plate.  This was then ratcheted up tight enough to nearly give me a hernia.  The result..  the crack in the chassis was forced almost closed, and the next day we would find the creaking of stressed metal was reduced to the point where the stereo could mask it.


The drive was particularly painful – 800km is a long way to do in one hit when turning left results in the feeling that you are about to lose a wheel.

Speaking of wheels… we then had our first ever blowout about 150km from Lusaka.  Right outside a village too.  Obviously within seconds we were surrounded by 30 locals (Margaret counted) all looking for entertainment as well as to enquire if the Mzungus might possibly have anything for them (sweets, pens, books, money “Mzungu you give me my money” etc).  All par for the course in much of Africa, but VERY annoying when you are racing the light to try and get to Lusaka.  To complicate the task of tyre changing whilst trying to ensure the locals didn’t strip the truck, we then discovered that our bottle jack had cooked (it lives in the engine bay) and leaked out all its oil.


So… we broke out the big guns and deployed our Air Jack.  When Margaret clambered up onto the roof to unleash the beast there was a hushed silence in the assembled crowd.  What sort of dark magic is this?  Mzungus using a plastic bag to lift (and hold) a 3+ ton Land Rover?  As the compressor fired up and the truck began to lift I could feel the reverence and awe radiating from our grateful audience.  Anyway, tyre changed and crowd entertained, we continued to Lusaka.

Conveniently enough a few days before these events I had been communicating with Dan Wyllie (welder extraordinaire in Lusaka) as we had discovered we also had a break in one of our rear spring mounts.  Not nearly as bad as the front, but a break nonetheless.  Dan had also agreed to have a look at the three broken pillars in our roof…  I had arranged to bring the truck to him on the Monday (it was now the Friday).  I dropped him a line and explained we were now powered by ratchet strap, and was told to bring it in so he could have a look at the damage.  This was done, and the lovely man said “7:30 am tomorrow”.  This would be the Saturday.  Dan and his team spent the entire day grinding, welding, painting, oil changing, greasing, identifying that we had seized brake calipers and fixing, locating parts etc.  Legend. 12+ hours, on a Saturday.  And at an unbelievable price.  Top quality work too.  A followup to sort another few small cracks in other places that were spotted too late to sort on Saturday was done on Monday morning, and we are back on the road.  Anyone needing major automotive surgery in Zambia (or surrounding countries if you are drivable) don’t think twice – contact Dan (he is on iOverlander).  He doesn’t support the All Blacks, but nobody is perfect.  Also huge thanks to our friends the Backroad Vagrants for pointing us in Dan’s direction… travel safe!

A few days ago we awoke to the dripping sound of leaking coolant…  the seal at one end of our fuel cooler had failed.  Fortunately I both carry spare O rings for this and we were camping on a farm where the farmer had some old inner tune I could use to “pack out” the slightly too large hose clamp I needed to use to reseal the unit…  worked perfectly, I wil get obtain the correct diameter clamp when the shops open tomorrow.

fuel cooler

This morning I finally got to use our funky Antigravity battery to jumpstart a vehicle – and no, it wasn’t the Taniwha…  A Mitsubishi Pajero (Shogun to the Europeans) in our campsite in Livingstone.  Started instantly – most impressive.


Nice to test this stuff out on someone else’s car, in zero stress conditions…


Kit review – Kuma Wifi Booster

We have had this bolted onto the Taniwha for a while now, and tonight it is really earning its keep.  We are camped about 600m from the lodge in bad weather, and without the booster we get precisely 0% link quality (i.e. absolutely nothing).  With our super high gain antenna, we not only get to grow extra heads on the kids but we also get 97% strength, with a 65Mb/s link speed.  Happy days…  When we flick the magic Wifi switch on the dash, and plug in the antenna (taking care to point it in the general direction of the hotspot – it is directional) we can then log into the Taniwha network, configure the un/pw for the hotspot, and we are good to go.  Laptop, tablets, phones, just like at home…  a marvellous bit of kit (and it is 12v too, so we have it hardwired in, a real bonus). Link here if anyone is in the market.

The Taniwha is on strike!


So… I write this sitting on the patio of the (very long-suffering) Leanne and Trevor in Durban, South Africa. Yes, the Taniwha is on strike and requiring shiny gifts. It’s a bit of a saga, but the condensed version is as follows:

In Morocco we developed a leak in one of the seams in the radiator – inconvenient, but not a show stopper. We sourced a bottle of stop leak in Zagora, topped up the coolant and the problem went away for a while (in hindsight, I suspect this leak was caused by the beginnings of pressure buildup in the system, but I wrote it off as a casualty of the serious jarring the vehicle was being subjected to in the desert). We returned to the UK, and all was well.

During my pre-shipping checks in Britain I discovered the coolant was getting low again – maybe 750ml down – and with pressure (gas) in the reservoir. At this stage I added “head gasket” to the list of jobs to attend to in Durban, before heading out into the continent.

On arrival in Durban, I booked the Taniwha into a local specialist to work through the list of jobs (quite a few actually). They identified the radiator leak and had it properly repaired, test drove the truck and all appeared well – the diagnosis being air entering the system through the radiator leak, and not actually a head gasket issue after all. We loaded the truck up and headed out into Africa… making it roughly 30km before we properly overheated. After a sufficient cooling off period, I refilled the coolant from our water tank and limped back to Durban at tickover (stopping three times to cool off, and adding over 16 litres of water all up).

Given that the head has been properly cooked, and the amount of remote travel we will be doing, I have made the call to replace the head with a new one (AMC, from Spain – improved design, thicker injector pockets etc) – this was being shipped overnight from Johannesburg and “should” be arriving today… fingers crossed the Taniwha accepts this truly magnificent gift and resumes normal duties! We are now both several weeks behind schedule and seriously imposing on friends, not a happy combination at all.  A truly appalling run of luck, we are avoiding casinos for the foreseeable future.

solarThe unscheduled layover in Durban has given me some time to investigate a charging issue detected in Morocco with our Solar solution – we noticed a sharp decrease in capabilities and had to plug into mains far more often than anticipated in a desert country. Afer opening up the back of the panels and testing with a multimeter, it appears that three out of four panels were completely dead, with the final panel providing around 0.4 amps (out of a “normal” 4.0). All is explained… Unfortunately the manufacturer of the panels has no African presence, and sending the panels back to Oz for analysis and replacement back to us here is simply out of the question, so we have resorted to replacing the system with a local South African brand. We have also bonded a 110w rigid panel to a sheet of marine ply, which we will lash on top of our roof load to provide a trickle charge when we are parked up but unable to lay out our ground panels. This panel can also be plugged in alongside the ground panels when camped. Total capacity, 320 watts. Testing here in the garden in full sun gives us around 14 amps/hr back to the batteries, a good result. After running both fridges and the freezer overnight, we were back to 100% by lunchtime on solar alone, so problem solved…

Cyclone Idai has scuppered our plans of doing Africa in a loop – we had intended on heading up through Mozambique and Tanzania, keeping as close to the coast as possible before heading inland at Kenya and up into Ethiopia and Sudan. We then intended to turn around at Khartoum and head back down the center of the continent, through Uganda/Rwanda etc before looping through Namibia and Botswana and back into South Africa at the end of the year. Obviously this is no longer a viable approach… and given the timings of wet seasons simply reversing the loop doesn’t work either.  Plan B is to head to Namibia, visit around half of it, then cross into Zambia then Tanzania, and work north from there, returning again via Namibia in October (will visit Botswana after this – a rough figure of 8 route). Clearly this plan will fall apart and be reworked as we go along…


***If viewing on facebook, please open link for the full article, with pictures***

We were very excited, as we went on a cruise ship to Russia!! The ship was called Princess Anastasia. We had our own cabin with 4 beds. We had a buffet dinner with lots and lots of food and we played exploding kittens. Genevieve won the first game.


In the morning we were in St. Petersburg. We had to go through passport control and got a stamp in our passports.  Then we did a bus tour with a guide called Yuta. We had lots of stops to take photos. We saw a sphinx and Daddy bought a russian hat. It is very warm.

We saw the Flying Dutchman on the river Neva. And we saw the old port, and the cruiser Aurora. It was used in the Russian Revolution.

We saw the Church of the Spilled Blood, but only the outside.

We saw the Field of Mars and the eternal flame.

We saw St. Isaac’s Church. It had massive doors.

Then we went to the Winter Palace.  This is where the Tsars used to live, and is now a museum.  There was so much to see.  Famous artworks and even the rooms had beautiful painted walls, floors and ceilings.  It was amazing. My favourite was the peacock clock. Daddy liked the ceilings, Genevieve liked lunch. Mummy liked the lapis lazuli table, it was blue.

We bought a matryoshka doll with 7 dolls in it, and a smaller one with 3 dolls in it for Genevieve and I to paint ourselves! Then we went back to the boat and that night we went back to Helsinki.


Lego House

***Delayed publishing, 16/09/18***

Today we went to the home of the brick.

This is a town called Billund in Denmark where LEGO and DUPLO is made.  It was INCREDIBLE.

There were lots of different areas in the house.  In the entrance there was a big lego tree. It was funny, because at the top LEGO men were still building the tree. There were some big dinosaurs made from LEGO too.

The house was divided into 4 areas, Red, Yellow, Green and Blue and there were different things to do in each one.  My favourites were:

  • Building the LEGO city.  You built on top of a square brick and put it in the city area.  When you put your brick down, the city would change colour depending on your brick.  And LEGO men would come and visit it.


  • Making LEGO fish. You made a fish and then scanned it into a computer. I gave it  eyes and a mouth and then it swam off onto the computer screen! This was Genevieve’s favourite thing to do.4
  • There was a rainbow made of nearly 2 million LEGO bricks.  It was 5.6m high!IMG_2159
  • You could make a LEGO car and race it down a track. My first one didn’t work very well, but the next one was better. You could also see if your car would fly through a hoop.3
  • There were big LEGO scenes.  One had a mountain and a castle. One had a volcano, and one was a city.  There was a LEGO train.  It was very good.
  • Daddy really liked the history section about old LEGO, because he found some old LEGO sets that he owned. Like the hospital and Technic that Grandpa brought back from Germany when he was a little boy.

At the end we saw a LEGO machine making bricks and we got a pack of 6 red bricks each.  It was a perfect day.