camping disasters – an epic – part one

This week Bean had Thursday and Friday off work so we decided to make the most of the four day weekend and go camping.  I should be sleeping in a tent again tonight yet here I am, at home, Saturday night recovering from the trauma of our prematurely aborted camping adventure.We really shouldn’t have even let it go on as long as we did, in hindsight the wisest move would have been to give up the first night.

It was truly awful. I don’t know if we could have had a more terrible time if we’d been trying!

I had been so looking forward to camping. I love camping.

We spent all of Thursday morning preparing our camping gear (most of it borrowed from Bean’s parents, some of it we already owned and the rest of it bought new) and packing the kombi before we set off around 2pm. On recommendation from Bean’s workmate we first went to Cape Riche, arriving at around 3.30pm.

Cape Riche is 18km down a corrugated gravel road, not the greatest of fun to drive down, so I’d hoped it would be great. Obviously hoping was futile because it was horrid. Black dirt everywhere, no shade, certainly no privacy and already completely full of Commodores, Falcons and four wheel drives emblazoned with Australian flags in celebration of Australia Day, a day we don’t recognise as being cause for celebration. Definitely not our scene. So, it was back down the 18km of gravel with a bump, bump, bump…

We stopped in at a general store in Wellstead and asked for advice on where to camp. We were told to try Boat Harbour 7km up the (sealed) highway and then 17km down another gravel road. A horrendously corrugated gravel road.

At Boat Harbour there was more black dirt, softer than at Cape Riche, and the poor kombi got bogged when Bean tried to turn around. Some generous folks towed us out and we discussed whether we’d stay there. Black dirt, deep water all together too close to the camp sites and very little privacy didn’t particular inspire either myself or Bean so we agreed not to camp there either. The people who pulled us out suggested another camp site but I was beginning to feel rather sceptical about taking other people’s word when they told us a camp site was “great”. It would appear that some people have differing opinions of what equates to a “great” camp site. Who’d have thought? People have different tastes! 

Back down that horrible gravel track, narrowly missing a collision with two rogue sheep, and we talked about whether we’d try somewhere else or just go home. Remembering Waychinicup, a camp site some friends had said was their favourite, we looked it up using the GPS on Bean’s phone. Brilliant! It was between home and where we were, with a short detour down yet another gravel road, so we thought we may as well check it out on the off chance it was awesome. When we got to Waychinicup and had a quick look around we realised it was indeed very nice, and also very full.

Disappointed, we drove away arguing about our next move. I was ready to go home and admit defeat, vowing never to attempt camping east of Albany again. I mean, why would I? With beautiful Denmark and Walpole lying west of Albany. Tall trees, nearby beaches, rivers… why would I choose scrubby coastal bush surrounded by brown paddocks and tree farms?!

Anyway, Bean wanted to check out the camp site suggested to us by the generous towing folks at Boat Harbour. They’d suggested Betty’s Beach, which was on the way home from Waychinicup.

Down another gravel road, we reached a point where we could turn left for Norman’s Beach or continue slightly right for Betty’s Beach. Norman’s beach was closer and by this stage it was getting late and we were a bit sick of gravel roads so we chose to turn left. Arriving at the camp site we noted some more black dirt (do we detect a theme here?), although it was in the shade so not hot under foot, and suitably private camping spots on the banks of a very shallow river.Feeling relieved that we’d at least found somewhere to pitch a tent for the night we decided to stay at least one night.

When we opened the tail gate of the kombi (one of the few doors with a brand new seal) we discovered that everything was covered in a thick layer of fine red dust from all the gravel roads. We brushed or shook off as much of the red dust as much as we could and hastily set up camp, racing against the setting sun and the ever increasing whines of tired, hungry children who’d been stuck in car seats for the past 4 hours! We hoped desperately to have food, shelter and bedding sorted before the fractious whinging became full blown meltdowns.

They coped so well really, stuck in the car with uncertainty hanging over their heads… Would we camp out? Would we go home and disappoint everyone? I was at the point of full blown meltdown and I am neither a 4 year old or a 2 year old.

Hope as we might, meltdowns did start before we had the camp properly set up so we settled for the quick dinner option of sausages with tomato sauce. No, vegetables not included. Eeep, the (rather dominant) health freak part of me wasn’t too impressed.

We then heated some river water to wash the sprogs who had managed to get themselves covered in bubble mixture and black dirt in the short time since we’d been there. We finally tucked the sprogs, and ourselves, in bed at about 10pm. What a horribly stressful afternoon!

One brilliant thing I can say about that camp site is that despite being right on the river’s edge we didn’t notice a single mosquito, very unlike our home which is just riddled with mosquitos. What a blessing! Moe reacts quite badly to mosquito bites, worse than the rest of us, so it was lovely to be outdoors of an evening and have no irritating mozzie bites to deal with.

That night Moe slept 8 hours straight. A real blessing, and a first. His longest unbroken sleep before that would have been around 6 hours. I’m still amazed that he slept so soundly on the air mattress next to me as I tossed and turned all night long, making it move a lot. At 6am he woke and the first word to escape his lips was,


We’d been telling him for days that we’d go camping at the beach and so there he was at 6am, desperate to go to the beach.

We got out our box of “just because we’re camping” cardboard flakes breakfast cereal and had a quick breakfast before grabbing the fishing gear and heading to the beach.

We’d been lulled to sleep the night before by the rhythmic crashing of the waves on the shore so we knew there’d be waves, but we were certainly not prepared for just how rough it was. It was totally unsuitable for sprogget swimming.

The river mouth provided no better swimming option either, being too hard for the sprogs to get down to.

The sprogs both cried in disappointment at how far they’d walked up a steep sand dune to get to a beach that was all together too dangerous for them so we decided to go for a day trip to Waychinicup. If we couldn’t camp there we could at least spend a nice morning there before coming back to our own camp site for lunch and a siesta.

We piled into the kombi and headed back up one gravel track and onto another, arriving at Waychinicup at 8.30am. On arrival we learned that a couple who had camped there the night before were leaving so we asked them if they’d mind us pitching our (older, smaller) spare tent at their site to claim it while we went back to our camp site at Norman’s Beach to pack up and relocate. They were very obliging so we got to it.

The swim could wait! We were going to camp there and spend three glorious days by those calm waters. It was time to get moving!

Back down the gravel track and onto the highway, and the kombi backfired somewhere along the highway. The kombi doesn’t normally backfire, and I joked that it was her way of vocalising her distaste for all the gravel roads we’d taken her down over the last 24 hours. I joked too soon…

A short way down the highway she conked out good and proper, and there was no starting her again. She really had been protesting about the gravel roads, or more to the point, the amount of red dust she’d sucked in to her engine…

My poor, faithful, reliable kombi. Oh my dear. I wanted to cry for my sweet car, that I love just a little more than a person probably should love a 41 year old hunk of metal.

After not too long a man pulled over to see if we needed help. We had condluded there’d be no fixing the kombi on the side of the road and he offered us a lift to the general store a few kilometres down the road. I declined, not wanting to take the sprogs in a car with no children’s seats. I suggested Bean go and I stay at the kombi with the sprogs. The man then told me it’d be getting unbearably hot on the side of that highway, with no chance of breeze. He’d just retired after 40 years as a cop and felt confident he could talk his way out of a fine on the off chance a police car was on the highway in the next 5kms. Not caring about a fine, but about the safety of my children I realised that the chances of having a car accident were slimmer than the chances of heat stroke from being stuck in the car for the next couple of hours (at least!) that it would take to get help 50km out of town. We decided to risk it, and strapped the sprogs in with regular seat belts.

When we got to the general store we bought ice creams and used a pay phone to call for help. To join road side assistance was going to cost more money than we had to spare and we couldn’t get through to Bean’s parents so Bean decided to hitch a ride into town to sort out some help. I stayed with the sprogs at the general store, sitting in the shade of some trees outside singing songs and making little people out of sticks, honkey nuts and dried leaves, for just over two hours until Bean came back with one of his parent’s cars.

Bean’s parents had loaned the car for the weekend so we finally moved our camp from Norman’s Beach to Waychinicup. At Waychinicup we ate a banana each then set up the tent and left it at that. The air mattresses were still deflated and the bedding left in the car. We took the sprogs for a swim at about 12.30pm then Bean left us at the water’s edge to drive back into town to get a trailer to tow the kombi home.

To be continued…

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