Emma and Stefan’s guide to camping in Australia: Part two

8 April 2020

We adapted so quickly to our camping life that when we did stay elsewhere we missed being in the tent. It enabled us to get to places we might never have seen. For a short while we got to live in those epic Australian landscapes and amongst all those incredible animals.

It gets you closer to those landscapes

We camped in some beautiful, often remote locations – in eucalypt forest, rainforest and wineyards. In the Gibraltar Ranges National Park we camped almost entirely alone amongst the eucalyptus trees. It was the most dark and silent night. The only sound was the crashing of giant strips of peeling bark from the trees. I preferred it when we could hear birds and animals. Silence was more scary!

We camped beside lakes and right on the foreshore. At Streaky Bay we got closest to the water’s edge, camping right just above the high water line with an uninterrupted view out into the bay but even if we weren’t right on the beach we could often hear the waves crashing and it was only a short walk through the dunes to get to them.

Our favourite campsite was, without doubt, at Woody Head in the Bundjalung National Park. It might not have had the best showers but it had a beachfront and rainforest location to make up for it. Add to that its resident kangaroos, bird colonies and epic sunsets and our two nights there are amongst our most memorable stays.

The racecourse at Broken Hill, however, goes down as the most unusual place we camped in. We pitched our tent right in the winner’s enclosure right beside the finish line and under the stand. We used the jockeys’ showers and toilets and even tried out their weighing scales! Best of all, we were treated to the early morning wake up call of the horses exercising around the track.

and all that nature

Horses were definitely not the only campsite pets we adopted during our time in the tent.

Goannas and shinglebacks, kangaroos, wallabies and pademelon, even wombats were amongst the visitors we had to the tent. We largely managed to keep out all the creepy crawlies

but the most pesky of visitors were definitely the birds and the possums. One piece of advice from us: never pitch your tent directly under a tree if you want to avoid being peed on by a possum or poohed on by a cockatoo!

We had some great human visitors to the tent too. As in our sailing life we made fleeting but great friends along the way. Debbie and Steve from Bribie Island invited us to share their sunset view at Woody Head, Ronda and Graham from Melbourne shared our trip to the Broken Heel Festival Parade and Ros and Al made great company hiding out in the camp kitchen at Ceduna in the 40 heat.

Being in Australia also meant wonderful reunions with some of our Antipodean friends, made in Europe but consolidated on their home soil. It was fantastic to get to spend more time with Anna and Michael and with Nigel, this time under canvas.

Two of our favourite campsite visitors, however, invited themselves over early one morning in Streaky Bay – Anna’s niece and nephew, Maya and Roscoe – and in scenes not dissimilar to Goldilocks and the Three Bears we shared an enormous pan of porridge together and they came back for more!

It’s warm and sunny all the time

We hate to break it to you but, no, it very definitely isn’t!

We knew we were arriving in Australia at the end of their winter but we hadn’t been prepared for how cold it was going to get at night, particularly when we camped high up and in the desert. When we started out, night time temperatures were hovering between 5 and 10 degrees which is chilly in a tent but we headed off from Brisbane, optimistically, with just one blanket.

Some of our coldest nights in the tent were very early on up at Binna Burra where I wore all my clothes to bed and had to buy a beanie for my head for the second night. We found ourselves quickly collecting three more blankets during our trip to keep the cold out at night.

Our campsites often provided fire pits and wood which helped to keep us warm in the evening but by the time we got to Bourke we realised it wasn’t going to warm up any time soon so we splashed out on a small electric heater for use when we had access to power. Now, we know that a small electric heater and a highly flammable tent might not be the most health and safety conscious companions but it was really icy and we needed something to take the edge off. Of course we didn’t leave it on when we went to sleep but when we did inevitably wake up in the night freezing it was good to get a quick blast of heat to help us back to sleep!

It wasn’t just the cold we had to contend with. At the racecourse at Broken Hill we had our first encounter with strong wind. The strength of the wind meant little sleep and the first of many fractures to the tent poles. So many were replaced along the way that they were nearly entirely new when they were returned to their owners.

That morning we broke all the rules and sheltered from the wind and biting cold, ignoring warnings and using the jockeys’ quarters to brew up. Our fingers didn’t defrost from putting the tent down until we reached South Australia!

And then there was the rain. Largely we were good at deciding not to camp when heavy rain was forecast but we weathered a few downpours. At Rawnsley Station so unusual was the rain that it caused all the electricity on the campsite to go out. At the Hawkesbury River we had barely got the tent up when more water came out of the sky than I have ever seen before. In Beachport we avoided sitting in the soggy tent by seeking the warmth of the Beachport Film Society but that is a whole other story!

As in our sailing life, we learned to always have a plan B and our plan B was usually nice and warm and dry Air BnB or caravan park cabin or caravan.

When the weather forecast told us we needed a more solid roof or when we were a bit weary of putting the tent up and down we stayed in some very worthy alternatives, a railway carriage in Peterborough and a caravan under koalas included. The kindness of friends and strangers alike saw us finding homes from home in Adelaide, Beachport, Burnie and Newcastle.

Would we recommend camping in Australia? Absolutely! It was a brilliant experience. We would, however, recommend going slightly better equipped for the weather than we did. Our one regret was not buying decent sleeping bags at the beginning and perhaps packing some thermals for the cold nights. We would recommend investing in some heavy duty tent pegs for keeping the tent safe from the wind and a good weather app to know what’s coming (we relied on our trusty Windy and it never let us down).

A final and very big thank you to Ranny and Andy for lending us the tent. We returned it with new and improved poles, some heavy duty pegs and replacement guy ropes. It was almost a new tent but it was also an entirely different colour after all those nights out in the Australian weather!

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