Camping – more dangerous than you might think.

As we finally started up our overly jampacked little Daihatsu and headed out the drive to my first Australian camping trip perhaps the topic of conversation should have been “baby, do you think we’ve maybe overpacked?” But apparently the fact that we’d filled up three cool boxes (eskies to the Aussies, and chilly bins to the Kiwis), a quilt AND two sleeping bags (it’s end of summer in Oz… but you know, better to be safe than sorry) and an entire suitcase that served me for 2 weeks in recent times but on this occasion is chocker block with clothes… just our clothes, amongst a whole heap of other stuff just for ONE WEEKEND…. was not the issue.

On the road
On the road

No, instead our conversation turned to the dangers of camping. We already had our Mortein (bug killer) prepared and not just standard bug spray, oh no… we weren’t intending to just spray those little critters, we were going to create a bug shield around our tent with our ‘barrier’ spray!!

Moving on…

However, even this wasn’t the subject of discussion… in fact it was Mr OC (ex-tree-lopper that he is) who said to me “now you know what you never do when you’re camping don’t

you?” to which I smartly chose the non-smartarse answer , after all we’re a couple and we’ve got a 4.5 hour journey ahead of us… there will be plenty of time for unnecessary fallings out and near domestic violence (does it still count as that if it’s in the car and not in the place of domesticity?) in this small, sardine-tin-like space over the next few hours, let’s get off on the right foot eh?? The non-smartarse answer was of course, “no baby, why don’t you enlighten me with your fantabulous manly knowledge of all things camping”…. Err, I mean,

“no baby, I don’t, what would that be?” and thus I was told…

…and it sounded like I was being told the epiphany unto all camping and nature survivalists and explorers and wildlife experts….

“Never camp under a deadwood branch of a tree. Especially in wet weather.”

Thus followed a silence where I considered this and had a short conversation in my head with myself that basically concluded I was more scared about bugs than trees. The only campsites I could picture in my mind had no trees. For some reason. My imagination is clearly stubborn sometimes. My man, did go on to tell a story of someone he knew who’d had a dead wood branch fall on their tent  – I don’t think the ending was a happy one. I’m still thinking ‘bugs’.

Campsite
Camp incl Mess Tent!

4 to 5 hours (and 3.5 bickering points scored) later, on a journey past Wollongong, round Kiama (where I’ve incidentally found out I have family and must get round to visiting at some point), through the pretty village of Berry, and Jasper’s Brush (much to my glee – this being the name of my much beloved, mischievous and now sadly deceased cat) we arrived at Depot Beach campsite. In the true arse-end of nowhere, no signal on the phone, in the middle of the bush, and engulfed with many, many trees….

…and of course  we also all know what live in trees, don’t we?… and I ain’t talking birdies. They’ve got 8 legs this species… not 2.

Still, I’m still fairly high spirited having arrived in the Aussie bush for my first Aussie camping trip with a bunch of Antipodeans brilliantly equipped for back to basics, don’t-mind-a-bit-of-muck camping. And so we were… but there were some little adventures along the way…

The tents are all up and we’ve quite literally taken over an entire corner of the site and made a great big fire – we’ve even got a mess tent. Brilliant!

We have a dinner of baked potatoes and sausages which is super yum and feels really camp like. And then we of course, break open bags upon bags of marshmallows … ‘for the kids’ and stick them on, ermm… sticks… and toast them in the fire. The only light we have as the sun sets is from our torches and the camp fire. And as the kids go to bed the rain starts to come down…

Mine and Mr OC’s tent is the smallest and least robust looking so we decided to stick some tarp over it and tie it down earlier on. For this I will be eternally grateful.

Still… not to be outdone – a few of us stay up with a few beers and wine. After another half hour the rain seems to be getting worse so we move from the fire into the mess tent which is

Kangaroo
Kanga on the site

infact a giant gazebo with fly screen sides. It’s pretty sheltered. We tie a torch light to the middle and it just about casts enough light.

Mr OC also had the sense to buy some little headlamps (one each for him and me) too. At which I laughed at the thought of us looking like miners and also got annoyed that I had to fiddle around putting all the batteries in before we left when I just wanted to get on the road. But, once again, I am beginning to realize that maybe my man is actually quite good at this camping malarkey. He’s already donned his headlamp and whilst blinding anyone he’s having a conversation with, he’s also carrying around his own daylight. These headlamps are also something I will come to be eternally grateful for, and they were also the main item on everyone’s list for our next (and most recent) camping outing last weekend.

So the rain’s really coming down and we’re also still one team player short. It’s now about 10pm and the other couple we’re sat with have decided to go and give her a call from the nearby payphone. They disappear in the pouring rain with one of the torches (the one we were using to light the tent, so that now we’re just sat in the light of the one headlamp). I take another sip of my wine and Mr OC of his beer and then a deafening, thundering crack echoes across the woods. I’m thinking ‘What the…?!’ but Mr OC is already jumping out of his camping chair exclaiming how it’s a tree and he’s going to have a look. Before I can even say ‘No wait!’ he’s gone and so I sit back down in my seat and start sipping my wine. Slightly disgruntled at being deserted but otherwise just fine. And then I realize it… I’m sat in the pitch bloody black. There’s a storm howling around me, I’m in the middle of the bush and everyone has left me on my own, with no light.

Goanna
Goanna!

Up until now I’d kept my camping cool but at this point I’ve hit a kind of quiet panic mode.  Still cool on the exterior however, I’ve felt my way along the tressel table and out the gazebo fly net door and into the middle of our site where I can see a bit by the embers of the fire. Being careful not to walk into a kangaroo or a possum (also roaming free and one of our group had accidentally nearly peed on a kangaroo having it’s supper earlier)  – I manage to somehow find our tent without falling over any ground ropes. I’m pretty drenched by now and muttering grumblings to myself about how ‘woe is me, been left on my own etc’ when Mr OC and the other two appear back in front of me, just as I laid my hands on the other headlamp in the entrance of the tent!

This was quite a little drama for me, but nothing in comparison to the fact that the massive noise was in fact as Mr OC had rightly suggested and almost, eerily, predicted – a huge branch of dead wood falling off a tree. By daylight I saw the branch and it literally missed a nearby tent by a foot or two. Very lucky, very freaky and the weirdest noise you’ll hear in the middle of a storm, in the middle of the bush, in the pitch black. Yeesh!

The night continued in this kind of sleepless and dramatic tone – with flooding tents, floating airbeds and the rest of the group scrambling to throw tarp over their tents as the rain came down, and all of us trying to bang pegs into the ground in the pitch black, holding torches and wearing headlamps. By the time we got to bed I zonked straight away but was awake with a jolt at some point later as some huge thunder and lightning came right over us – I’ve never been in an electric storm whilst camping and I can tell you, when a storm like that is overhead and you’re just sheltering under a tiny little wig wam you suddenly feel pretty vulnerable.

On the flip side being right out where we were brought me not only these experiences but also some other great ones; such as fishing (never done that before) and an extraordinarily

DepotBeach
Bush to Beach (Depot Beach)

beautiful beach, right on the edge of the bushlands; the kangas, possums, goannas (giant lizard like creatures) and even octopuses (dredged up by hand from the sea by one of our group). We enjoyed the octopus on the Barbie for brekkie but we left the kangas etc well alone.

Creatures I didn’t so much enjoy? – well fortunately we only saw 2 spiders – one, the pretty harmless huntsman which actually was not the biggest I’ve seen (get me!) and alarmingly a nasty little funnel-web (look it up) – vicious little beasts, much smaller than the huntsman but with these huge bodies, they rear up on you if pestered (and this one was and did), and they throw their front legs at you. If you get bitten by one you should seek medical help immediately. This little blighter was underneath  our tent when we packed it up!!

However, as much as good friends, and good times and that great feeling of ‘back to basics’ of course remains with me as some of the best parts of this trip, the thing I think (and hope) stays with me forever is the amazing… stunning… SPECTACULAR night sky

On the second night when the clouds had cleared I was able to witness one of the most profoundly beautiful things I’d ever seen. For those of you on this side of the globe and those of you living in the north pole and wherever else is not so densely populated it’ll probably be not even notable to you. But to understand it from my perspective – where I come from, in the South East of England the only stars you can see at night time is Orion with his belt most nights and one or two other stars. And that’s about it. If you go out somewhere more rural, less densely populated of course you’ll see a few more. And in the USA they’ve not a nice view from a few places and you get to see a fair few shootings stars across their broad landscapes with endless horizons. But here…. Here it’s different and it’s like nothing I’ve ever seen. It’s literally like looking at something in a dream. Like being in a movie. Like staring down at a spilt pot of glitter on a black, black floor… and all the pieces of glitter are different sizes and some sparkle more brightly than others and some are quite literally twinkling. I am in love with that sky. I could not take my eyes off it. I felt like I was stoned!! Did someone put something in that cake??

DepotBeach
Stunning landscape

But seriously, if you do one thing in your life – see a sky like that. It will take your breath away, it will stay with you forever and when you’re feeling sad – just think of that sky, in all its sparkly wondrousness. Is it the universe waiting to be explored with thousands of wonderful things to find? Is it heaven shining down on us? I don’t know, but it could be all those things and more, and it just doesn’t matter because somehow JUST seeing it was a comfort. Beauty so natural makes everything feel right again.

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