4 points on FREE CAMPSITES IN AUSTRALIA.

So, you’ve planned to see Australia, or parts of it, and your itinerary has road trip written all over it.

“The best way to see the country,” everyone says. “YOU decide where and when you go.”

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Overall, the message is DO IT. But is it safe? Do you save money? Where are these places? What will you need?

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NEEDS

Everyone needs fresh water. Many places won’t have it, and you could be a long way from where you can buy it, so carry 10 L per person per day in several small containers (https://www.flyingdoctor.org.au/about-the-rfds/preparing-to-travel/). They’re available from most supermarkets and some petrol stations. DO NOT ASSUME that what comes out of taps is safe to drink. Bore water is used in country Australia and is fine for washing your hands, or clothes but not always for drinking.

Many free campsites have a toilet and some have a shower, but others have neither. The resources, listed below, usually tell you what is available if those comforts are important to you. Of course, some travelers wake early and go to the nearest fuel station or caravan park to use their facilities, carrying a small shovel and toilet paper in case they can’t make it. The porta-loo (portable toilet) is about $80 from camping stores and you buy chemicals to put in it, which mixed with water breaks down the waste matter. The loos can be emptied at sullage points, usually near caravan parks, when the flush is dry.

You cannot use a river or the ocean as a bathing spot, as the soaps will damage native flora and fauna. There are other dangers that can lurk there, too.

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If you suffer from the heat you will want air-conditioning, which means you need power. It is rare to find a free campground with power, but not impossible. If you have solar or gas power, they will not usually keep an air-conditioner going for a whole night, as well as powering cooking devices, etc., so check storage capacity.

Depending on your mode of transport and accommodation, you will need shelter, or protection from the wind and rain. A tent is easy to come by in camping stores and department stores like Target and Big W. You can even go on Gumtree (online local sales) to get bargain buys. We had a Dutch couple pick up a mattress for the back of their van. Some free sites are on cliff edges, in open plains or near river banks, and are therefore not suitable year round, or on a particular night. No matter how tired you are, the conditions need to be considered before pitching camp.

If you don’t have a small burner, you’ll need places with BBQs or fire pits. They are uncommon. You might as well spend a little to buy a burner, plate and cutlery, cup and tongs. Dig a hole to bury any waste, so that you don’t attract dingoes (wild dogs), foxes or other vermin.

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SAFETY

Regarding sites near riverbeds, look for the banks, as you could be IN the riverbed and if there is a big downpour you could find yourself swept away. There are sometimes warnings about this, but not always. Similarly, don’t park yourself too close to the ocean‘s edge, as the tide could come in further than you thought and uproot you, or bog you. It is EXTREMELY expensive to be pulled out.

You do need water, food and shade, to stay alive and well.

Australia has many snakes and 2 of the top 10 deadliest snakes in the world. However, snake bite is pretty rare and anti-venoms are available. Most snakes avoid humans, but the Eastern Brown snake, a very ordinary looking specimen with a very venomous bite, will go up to people. Be watchful and stamp your feet a lot, especially on the way to the toilet at night. Many sites have warnings regarding snakes.

Spiders have to be the next topic. We have some pretty venomous spiders, the worst inhabiting tropical, wet places, but spider bites are rare and you should always have closed shoes when walking or hiking. The red back spider is easy to spot, but does not approach humans unless provoked.

Far more likely to bite you is a bee and many people don’t realise that they are allergic to them. The rest of the world may be saying goodbye to bees, but our ecology is still going well. Bone up on beesting first aid and make sure you have phone reception in remote areas.

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Insect repellent will keep the flies and mosquitoes at bay.

In tropical areas, crocodiles are a very real threat and you should be aware of the possibility of their being in the area, as there have been 8 deaths in the last 4 years. There are fresh and salt water crocs, so during the wet season, keep well clear of bodies of water, even when they look appealing. Crocodiles will walk a fair way for food!

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Company, while being something you were trying to escape on your holiday, can keep you safe. Safety in numbers, having another pair of eyes, whatever your expression, you can’t deny it. Around 4pm you’ll see experienced campers pulling over and making camp. Join them! They will share stories of where they have been, what is a good spot, what to avoid and you might make a friend for life, or be invited to their neck of the woods.

Summers are hot in Australia and in some areas that means an increase in fire danger. If you are in a fire-prone region there will be signs, warning you of the level of risk and you need to stay alert. Recently states have trialed the use of media, where an alert is sent to your phone, telling you to leave the area and in what direction to head. Carry a fire extinguisher.

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Isolation is caused by more than being alone. In such a big country, you could be a very long way from a town or settlement, with all the dangers that brings. Have your phone charged, consider using Telstra as your provider, as they currently have the widest reach of wifi and internet. Alternatively, you can download ‘Emergency + ‘ or take a satellite phone with you if you plan to be remote. If anything happens, stay with your vehicle.

The original owners of the land, the Aboriginal people, have protected areas in some places, like on parts of the Nullarbor Plains. Research this, as you are strongly advised not to trespass.

There are warnings everywhere – that while you are on holidays, thieves are not; lock your cars and vans, etc. When you meet so many friendly people and it is blazing hot at night, you can be tempted to leave everything open and welcome everyone. In the majority of cases, that will work out well for you, but there have been serious crimes and misadventure in Australia. As a percentage of travellers, it may be low, but surely any fateful encounter is unwanted. Be vigilant and contact 000 (emergency) if anything happens.

FINANCE

It is pretty expensive to drive around Australia. Our fuel costs are huge. You can get memberships discounts at various caravan parks but free is definitely cheaper. Car hire is better in some states than others, and there are tales of companies saying you caused damage that was already there – so take photos of the vehicle and get insurance.

If you are not experienced in 4WD driving, don’t attempt anything daring, as it will not end well. Similarly, if you notice anything odd with your vehicle, get it checked immediately. We are members of the RAA (Royal Automobile Association) of South Australia. Each state has a similar organisation and it’s worth investigating their cost, as they provide emergency assistance and towing for free or a reduced cost. There are mechanics in most towns with fuel stops. Repairs are likely to be expensive, in labour, parts and accommodation.

Most towns have facilities for paying by card or withdrawing cash. Some will not take American Express. All fees associated with withdrawals from banks have been almost removed. Check with your bank or credit union. Most ATM (automatic telling machine) machines accept other cards.

Some sites are free and others have a low fee ($2 or $5 per night per vehicle).

LOCATION

So, where are these free campsites?

We have subscribed to WIKICAMPS, which has information that you download, so that it can be accessed when you don’t have wifi. As you drive along it will tell you if there is a campsite ahead, what it was rated by users and whether it has a toilet or not. You can just download it for a one-off fee, but not add comments or new spots.

There is also CAMPS 8 and CAMPS 9, books that you can buy with the same information, but maps added. The reviews I have read suggest that WIKICAMPS updates quicker due to it’s members being able to add information instantly. However, CAMPS is an app as well.

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We use a UBD touring atlas, available at the RAA or online. Made up of comprehensive maps, divided into states, it shows sites as rest area only, free campsite no toilet, fees, free campsite with toilet and rest area with toilet. Its only downfall is that it is large (A3).

Some areas and states have a lot of free camps and others do not. It is worth mapping your route ahead of time and be mindful of the distance. Western Australia is made up of very long stretches between towns and they take longer than you would expect if you work out distance and speed. I don’t know why!

There are some absolute gems, so get your vehicle, tent, table, chair, water bottles, hat, sunscreen, insect repellent, food for 2 days, small burner, fire extinguisher, pillow, sleeping bag and download Wikicamps.

Thousands of places waiting to say g’day.

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5 Things you’ll love about the Blue Mountains.

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Why are they called blue, for a start?

Rayleigh scattering – the elastic

scattering of light particles, put simply. It is common with many such mountain ranges, that they look blue from a distance.

  1. ACCESS

The Blue Mountains are in New South Wales, Australia. They are accessible from Sydney by a two hour train ride to a heritage location, but we took a two and a half day drive from Adelaide. Coaches also travel here and you can hire a car.

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Blackheath train station
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great views from the carriage windows

 

2. ACCOMMODATION

We stayed in Blackheath Glen Tourist Park.  This had great facilities and wide sites for vans, as well as being near Pope’s Glen track to Glovett’s Leap, but we were told that the neighboring Katoomba Tourist Park was equally good, and ran shuttles to major attractions.

There are a multitude of accommodation options in the area and good access to all the necessities – supermarkets, bakeries, sweet shops, swimming pools, liquor, churches and more.

3. STUNNING VIEWS AND TRAILS

Climb the 250 million year old rock strata. Under the canopy of gum leaves seen from above, there is a rain forest below, with many waterfalls.

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Online maps available before we got there were too limited. Even visiting tourist shops en route proved fruitless. We had to wait to stop in at the national parks centre in the region, but they were marvelous at providing maps, suggestions and advice. There are 48 walks on the ‘selection of bushwalks in the Blue Mountains’ sheet. Great detail is here, concerning grade, time, distance and features to be experienced. This was invaluable in planning our outdoor adventures.

4. VERTICAL CHALLENGES

Reported to have the steepest train ride in the world it is really more like a show ride and these days travels very slowly compared with what carried people 20 or 100 years ago.

Then there is the Cableway or the Skyway, with viewing floors and up to 360 degree views.

Or just descend the stairway to the Three Sisters or Pulpit Rock and feel suspended over more than time.

5. HISTORY

Around 1900 the population of this coal mining area was 4000! However, it was very popular as a holiday destination and in Summer the numbers would swell to 30 000 people. The sewage system was unable to cope at these times and it was not uncommon for Katoomba Falls to be dis-coloured with refuse. Erk.

People ride here, walk here, drive here and arrive by the bus loads. It’s easy to see why.

At one lookout a man had his drone travel the 2km gap as he watched the view below on a smart phone. Unfortunately the echo could be heard across the canyon as we travelled to different lookouts, beyond where we could see it.

Take a hat, good walking shoes and water. You may need a coat if the clouds are hanging low, but they can blow away quickly, too.

Safe Travels!

Make a landing in Carnarvan

On the jagged north west coast of Western Australia, between Coral Bay and Monkey Mia, lies the town of Carnarvan.  We touched on its history and gardens, but only learnt of its links with space long after we’d passed the sugar scoop and parabolic disks.

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Residing alongside the jetty is the old lighthouse keeper’s cottage. It has been maintained and contains original artifacts, furniture, clothing and documents. We loved the view from the front door, when the back door is open, of the ocean beyond the back yard and we were fortunate to meet one of the family who had lived there. Just checking on things and collecting the gold coin donations, she told us how, as children, when the huge ships came in loaded with goods, she and her siblings would run barefoot down the jetty to watch them unload. They would spend all day at this, as the livestock and goods were loaded on to the tram, which went straight to town.

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The jetty itself was 1 mile long (1.6 km) and although it has been repaired and still has tram runs occasionally, it is shorter. There is a small fee for walking the jetty, which goes towards its maintenance.

We left the jetty and made for the River Gums Cafe, seeing good reviews on the internet and in brochures. It was an interesting drive and the winding dirt road entrance was picturesque. The attached caravan made it through the dips, no worries. We had freshly squeezed juice and an iced coffee, which were both very tasty, but the gardens we observed while we sat at our wrought iron setting, were superb. I have tried to locate the names of the plants I photographed, but I apologise, they were too many. If you know the names of any of them, please let me know.

Carnarvan is sprawled but the centre of town is like any big country town in Australia – wide centre median strip and two lanes on each side. As we moved easily out of town on the good highway, we saw the disks, or parabolas on the hill. My husband recalled something about space tracking.

https://images.duckduckgo.com/iu/?u=https%3A%2F%2Ftse3.mm.bing.net%2Fth%3Fid%3DOIP.DjHqg4rBt_zpJ25wErmK1gHaE8%26pid%3D15.1&f=1Carnarvon Space and Technology Museumfrom Carnarvan Museum.org.au

Well, the radar disks were involved in the Apollo 11 flight, tracking its progress and sending information across the world. Now almost inoperative, the disks are housed at the Carnarvan Space and Technology Museum and it is written about very highly. We should have done our research and given this town more time, as the waterways, views and museum, that we have since learnt about, would have been enjoyed.

We’ll just have to go back!

Safe travels! Take a hat, water and tourist information.

Corny Point

On the ‘toe’ of Yorke Peninsula, South Australia, lies the small town of Corny Point. It was named by Matthew Flinders, who thought it resembled a growth on the toe of the peninsula, which is shaped, like Italy, in a boot.

Corny Point is a popular destination for surfers – body and board, and for many people it is beyond phone range, making it the ideal getaway.

 

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the steep stairs to Berry Bay
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Body boarders in medium swell

The caravan park is accessible in terms of transport and price and there is a range of accommodation options, good facilities for all the family and excellent advice on surfing, fishing and touring. If the cockies wake you in the morning you can catch a lovely sunrise through the sheoaks and gums.

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The nearby beaches of Berry Bay are the best in the area for body boarding and board surfers aren’t usually disappointed. It is usual to see between three and five dolphins cresting the water and coming in quite close to catch their share of the waves. Nearby coastal access also provides anglers with plenty of salmon and other fish, although without a boat I haven’t, personally, had much luck.

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Berry Bay from South Berry to the lighthouse.

The area near the lighthouse has a lovely sheltered bay, suitable for individuals and families, to explore, swim or fish. The way down is a little steep, but a well-worn path exists and we go there every year, to be delighted each time by the colours and limestone formations.

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The 15m high lighthouse was occupied and lit in 1882 and became automated in 1920. It provides important navigational aid to the coastline.

Corny Point was established in 1881, in response to the lighthouse being built, with the first settler being in the area 40 years earlier. It is an agricultural area, with mostly barley, lentils and chick peas grown there, now. In its early days, the successful dairy produced milk for the whole peninsula and it was carried by dray to Moonta, about 150 km away. In the heat of Summer, the condition of the milk upon arrival was not always great and it was not uncommon for people to try and waylay the load before journey’s end.

No dairy exists today and there is a tennis club, cricket, surf school, general store, church shared by three denominations and a pub. Nearby towns such as Warooka and Point Turton provide easy destinations for food and sight-seeing, but you can’t go past Innes National Park, Gleeson’s Landing and Pondalowie Bay for dramatic coastline, good surf for the experienced and endless fishing and camping.

While good highways and roadways get you to the main towns, there are plenty of dirt roads, some corrugated, and little development – this is a true escape.

Take a hat, sunscreen and water. Pack your board, or hire it from Neptune’s Surf School.

Safe Travels.

Longest Fence in the World? The stories from the Rabbit Proof Fence, Western Australia.

I had not heard of the Rabbit Proof Fence until the movie of the same name was released in 2002. This, in turn, was based on the book, Follow the Rabbit Proof Fence, by Doris Pilkington, published in 1996. But the fence and the media are quite different stories.

As I took the ‘Rabbit Proof Fence’ turnoff between Merredin and Coolgardie, it was with mixed emotions. What did it represent to me and to Australia?

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A wide rest area enables you to read about the history of the fence, constructed between 1901 and 1907.  The construction took place in several sections and this part, finished in 1903, is the place where it started and is named No.1 Rabbit Proof Fence, as a consequence.

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The claim that is the longest fence in the world is not true, as when it commenced in 1901 the longest fence already existed, in Queensland.  It is, however, the second.

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When Australia was settled in the early 1800s, many Englishmen/women missed things from home and arranged to introduce them. Few of these were good for the country, although some, like sheep and wheat, were good for the development of a new nation. Well, rabbits were on the ‘bad idea’ list of imports, their purpose being to provide something to hunt for a Victorian grazier. They thrived in the place and spread quickly to the other eastern and southern states. What did they do? – not much. The following cartoon, appearing in 1880 in a NSW edition of Punch tells the story.

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By Contributor(s): Queensland figaro and punch [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Within a few decades they made their way across the Nullarbor and were at the Western Australian border. Hence, the fence was built.

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There are gates every 34 km for access and huts every 48 km, so that the Acting Chief Inspector of Rabbits and his team of 25 boundary riders could inspect and maintain the fence on bicycle, dray, horseback or camel. In terms of pest protection, it was successful until the early 1930s when drought brought as many as 100 000 emus to the fence line. The rabbits had declined due to droughts and the introduction of targeted disease, so the fence was realigned to protect agriculture from the emus and became known as the State Barrier Fence.

The longest fence in the world?

As an Australian, we have the vast distances to complete such a fence. We also have the second longest road in the world. The Dingo Fence, extending from South Australia to Queensland over 5600 km, was built to keep out the dingoes and wild dogs. In that, it has been fairly successful, but is not maintained as well as the Rabbit Proof Fence.

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CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=423904

A shameful part of Australian history is the Stolen Generation. They are the Indigenous people who were taken from their parents and families over a 70 year period, by government officials. Doris Polkington’s mother escaped from such a settlement with her sisters. The account was recorded in her novel, Follow The Rabbit Proof Fence. In order to get home, they followed the Rabbit Proof Fence for 1600 km, through desert, avoiding officials. The movie faced strong criticism and was confronting for many Australians, but it helped to reach the point where, in 2008, Prime Minister Kevin Rudd appologised to the Aboriginal People of Australia for stealing their children and all that resulted. Rabbit Proof Fence is an extraordinary movie but I haven’t read the book.

An unbelievable story from the fence, is the one I read in Wikipedia, copied here verbatim:

In 1929, Arthur Upfield, an Australian writer who had previously worked on the construction of No. 1 Fence, began writing a fictional story which involved a way of disposing of a body in the desert. Before the book was published, stockman Snowy Rowles, an acquaintance of the writer’s, carried out at least two murders and disposed of the bodies using the method described in the book. The trial which followed in 1932 was one of the most sensational in the history of Western Australia. A book was published about the incident called Murder on the Rabbit Proof Fence: The Strange Case of Arthur Upfield and Snowy Rowles.[12] The incident is now referred to as the Murchison Murders.

A pause for critical thinking…

Safe travels, wherever you are going and whatever your goal. Take water and a hat. Every day we make history.

 

Yarra Valley, Victoria

When you live in Adelaide, Australia, and you only have a short time for a holiday, you head to Victoria. It is a comfortable 8 hour drive from city to city (Adelaide to Melbourne) along well-maintained roads. We chose the Yarra Valley as our destination and it took a total of 11 hours, not including the overnight stop and lunch at Niko’s Cafe.

There are several paths to the East but we left late on a Friday evening, took the National Highway to  Murray Bridge, staying in Tintinara at a truckies’ overnight stop.

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A glowing sunrise had us off to Bordertown, then along the Western Highway, past Green Lake to Ballarat, admiring the fields of canola with the Grampians as a backdrop.

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The Grampians
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A typical entrance to a farm.
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Fields of canola

Just out of Stawell, we stopped at Niko’s Cafe for the biggest and best mixed kebab and French hamburger ever. Pictured, here,  above the menu items, Niko was happy to have me spread the word, although he assured me that his fame was solid after only three months in the area. He was only disappointed that the chooks were not spinning on the spit and the lamb not sizzling for the yiros.

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Niko, from Egypt

We skirted around Melbourne to the Yarra Valley, taking a rather winding, narrow road, but ok with the caravan. I’d advise avoiding the afternoon rush, although it was a Saturday, but the last weekend for school holidays in Victoria.

The BIG4 Yarra Valley Park Lane Holiday Park was beautiful. Scenic, with large sites and excellent facilities, it really caters for families. There is a jumping pillow, a huge koala with a cut-out tummy into which children poke their heads and have their photo taken, the creek running through the park and Picaninny Lake. Onsite tents are also available and gave many of us an afternoon of inquiry.

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tents up to the creek
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huge bases of fallen trees
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giant koala
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running creek
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picaninny lake
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fishing landing
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good walking path
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easy incline
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onsite tents

The park has a walk that goes around the lake and then through some bush to a hilltop. It is an easy incline and the scenery and views are worth it – even the old wreck.  At the office, you can get a bag of seed for $1 and feed it to the birds. Well worth it, as we were surrounded by birds for the remainder of our days there, even when the seed ran out. I’m not sure where the saying, ‘bird brain’ comes from, as I had a parrot land on my shoulder as I returned from the shop, scuttle down my arm to the bag of seed and try to peck it open. An abundance of wildlife roams the caravan park.

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sulphur crested cockatoos
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swamp hens
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rosella parrot
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swamp hen
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parrots at our van door
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birds will alight on you
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sulphur crested cockatoos – sulphies
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we only had apple at first

Situated in Healesville, this is a great location from which to explore the Valley. We went to the Yarra Valley Dairy,  where the wine tasting was for Alkimi’s owner, pictured. We bought a white and a red. Then on to Four Pillars Gin for a private tasting and information about gin – be warned, it’s hot on the tonsils – and the Chocolatiery. The last deserves a separate blog, but the others were not regretted.

As we were near the Dandenong Ranges and surrounded by hills, the scenery was lush and green, begging to be explored. It is a cool rainforest area, hilly and it snows in Winter. There are excellent walking trails and historic towns. We went to Stevenson Falls, Black Spur Scenic Drive, Lake Mountain, Seville (for the Tesselaar tulip festival), Mt Donna Buang, Marysville and Warburton. An afternoon was spent exploring the township of Healesville.

Other things to do nearby are gardens, stately homes, Puffing Billy (which is a fabulous steam train ride through the rainforest) and wineries.

Travel here safely. Bring your taste buds.