I am not a huge fan of camping. It’s one of those things I like the idea of, rather than the actual, somewhat uncomfortable, practicalities of it all. So, it came as a huge surprise to me just how much I enjoyed our recent bush camping adventure. And by bush camping I am talking a shared porta-loo and no showers. Sounds yuck, right? Except, it was excellent.
It probably helped that the weather turned up and did the right thing – beautiful sunny days, crisp mornings and huddle-round-the-fire evenings. In what might have been a first for me, it did not rain. Not one little drop. Nary a fluffy cloud marred the strip of blue sky we could see from the depths of our valley. I suspect this made a massive difference to my opinion on this weekend, as none of the things I like about camping involve being cramped together, vaguely damp, in a shelter you can barely stand up in, playing endless card games with tetchy kids.
And although significant investments in the camping stash – good mattresses, a party-sized gazebo, tables and chairs – were positive improvements, it was the location that tipped the scales from “meh” to “wow” in the camping rating stakes.
We visited Wollondilly River Station over Easter. This unspoilt slice of nature, just a few hours south of Sydney (depending on the traffic) is reached via a somewhat jolting and slightly alarming 45-minute crawl down a bumpy, narrow, unsealed road that winds its way, somewhat precariously, down the mountain side and into a lush, river-runs-though-it, valley.
Although a popular destination, campers are spread out so that you feel, largely, you have a little slice of Australian heaven to yourselves. By the time the tent was up, the evening fire prepped and the first Gin & Tonics poured, the stress of urban living had floated mysteriously away.
Here, the kids were able to run free, inventing battles and adventures, as they conquered new territory and laid claim to never-before set upon islands. They canoed and swam, built forts and raced around on bikes without parental consent or involvement. They tested themselves against the elements, and fizzed about fired up by their imaginations. And all I needed to do, whilst dozing in the hammock, was cast a periodic lazy eye in their general direction to make sure they haven’t abandoned anyone along the way.
Our campsite, nestled under trees, fronted a shallow river and gave us a beautiful view of morning mists hovering across mirror-still water. In the afternoon, we were captivated by swooping swirls of red-tailed black cockatoos.
Campfires are encouraged at this campsite, and wood provided. We had the campfire going early morning to stave off the cold and from mid-afternoon to huddle around and cook dinner on. There is a rule in our house of Scouts, and it is this – a camp, is not a camp, without a fire. For the kids making fires is an absolute highlight, and while we didn’t quite get as far as putting the billy on to boil, there were marshmallows melted on sticks collected during earlier adventures, and plans to make damper (even if they didn’t quite eventuate). On the downside, everything smells of smoke, but sitting around a fire, with a glass of wine and a hearty meal, talking with old friends is what special memories are made of.
It turns out that bush camping, despite the potential horrors associated with unsophisticated ablutions, is where the joy of camping lies. Because here, in these sorts of places, it feels like you really are communing with nature. Out of commercially run campsites, with their individually marked sites, shops and free WIFI, you literally unplug and drop out, and it is a gorgeous feeling, and one we plan on repeating soon!