Friday, March 3, 2017

Guide to Camping in the (Almost) Wilderness

I've wanted to go on a camping trip in Victoria for a number of years after a chance conversation with a person I met travelling. They mentioned that every so often, without much planning they would go on road trips for wherever they felt like. Short escapes in good company. Since then I've wanted to live that kind of life, a life where spontaneous adventures remind you how great life can be.

It was a last minute camping trip motivated by the impending date of my birthday, the summer heat and the fact that we’ve been trying go for over a year. It felt like now or never. We ended up booking at Bimbi Caravan Park at the Great Otway’s National Park, over a three hour drive from Melbourne. 

It was the three of us camping, Issy, Alex and I. When you’re spending concentrated amounts of time with people in a confined space three is a good number. The more people you’re with, the less free you feel. And camping is all about freedom.

We began our journey, listening to the radio and having conversations that only long car trips incur. Watching as the familiar scenery was slowly replaced by parched grass and nothingness. Eventually green ferns and looming gum trees bordered the road as we wound through the Otway’s, greeted by ephemeral glimpses of the ocean in the distance. The smell of Eucalyptus leaves permeating the air we breathed it in deep. Nothing compares to that smell of freshness, so familiar to those that have grown up here. Eucalyptus is the smell of home, of Australia.

It was just before we arrived at Bimbi Park, deep in the Otways, that we realised, half in horror, half in hilarity, that we hadn't bought any food yet. Miscommunication meant that Issy and Alex assumed I was bringing it, and I'd forgotten to mention that I hadn't brought anything with me. 

Buying too much food (better too much than too little) we stocked up the car for the next few days and continued on, excited to get to the camp site and begin assembling our tent.  
The tent was missing a few pegs so it wasn’t quite sturdy as I'm sure it once was, but it did the job to give us a home for the next few days. Laughing we nicknamed the tent NQR (not quite right) and settled into our temporary home. 

After dinner and wine, as well as waiting for our boiled water to cool (you can't drink the water there straight from the tap) we retired to the tent, the sound of a screaming wombat or whatever animal it was punctuating the silence of the bush, before we fell asleep on the hard ground. 

Awakening hours later to the sound of heavy rain against the tarpaulin and a feeling of dread that our tent might not handle the immense amount of water falling upon it. 

The next day, our tent semi flooded, we decided despite the on and off rain and cloudy skies that we would walk to the Cape Otway lighthouse forty minutes away to make the most of our only full day in the Otways. 

Ill dressed for the occasion but with raw enthusiasm and naiveté we commenced our walk. We arrived to the lighthouse area and realised that admission to even see the lighthouse was twenty dollars. Assuming that surely the lighthouse could be seen for free if we just kept walking, we decided to continue on a track that weaved in and out of the bush along the roadside. 

There was a beach in the distance, the crash of the waves so close we kept on walking despite the rain falling continuously and getting us more and more drenched. There was something so trance like about us walking in unison that we didn’t contemplate stopping until almost two hours of walking. We realised we would never reach the beach or see the lighthouse, our track seemingly taking us nowhere.  

We turned back, defeated and completely soaked. On the way to the campsite we stopped for a moment, despite our cold shaking selves and glimpsed in the far distance the Cape Otway lighthouse merging with the white clouds.

We recuperated over lunch and much needed wine, celebrating my 23rd birthday with a raspberry brownie cake with candles on it (Thanks Iss). Re-energised and the sun thankfully returning we decided that our day wouldn’t be complete without another walk under the now sunny sky. 

We went through fields of horses, up into the hills to our own private sanctuary. Rolling down the hills we found out that Alex is an expert hill roller (she has her technique down pat) and then reclined in the grass, breathing in the clean air and enjoying the serenity.

Later that evening on the way to Melba Gully to see the glow worms, we saw a kangaroo leaping across a fence. The red fur covering it's body highlighted by the orange fire of the setting sun behind it. It just doesn't get more Australian than that. 

Arriving at Melba Gully and walking along the dark track with torches to light the way we didn’t realise until we bumped into a tour group that we wouldn’t see the glow worms if there was too much light. Turning off our torches we walked in almost complete darkness, the sound of the tour group ahead propelling us ahead. It was so magical to see them glow worms amongst the dark scenery and the immensity of the trees amplified by the darkness casting them into silhouettes. 

Returning to the campsite we worked together with a lighter and some bark to make a fire. In her element Issy took the helm and directed us in what to do. Alex and I looked on tentatively, fearful of the jumping flames. Sitting together we cooked our marshmallows in the fire until they melted and singed deliciously before returning to the warmth of the tent. That night it felt like the tent would blow away as the wind was so fierce, but it didn’t and we made it through another night. Emerging the next day sleep deprived but with our tent still in existence.

Reluctantly the next morning we dismantled our tent, ready to return to real life. On the way home we stopped off at Apollo Bay, a coastal country town nestled in hills. We dipped our feet in the crystal water, running from the roaring waves and then went to a cafe for coffee. Our exhausted selves silent but happy.