When emus run, their rumps shake in way that J-Lo could only dream of achieving. How do I know?
Back in July, in the middle of the Australian winter – before I left for what I now think of as “prison” and after way too long in a sea of skyscrapers and suburbia – I went on an epic first camping tour of the Australian bush. Considering I was spending a holiday celebrating American independence in… not America, I did pretty well in the festivities department.
Being as “dude” and I are two of the bossiest people you’ll probably ever meet, our trip was destined to be an ongoing, laugh-a-minute, compromise session.
My ideal trip: drive very far away from other humans, erect camp that meets basic needs, lay on ground, stare at sky, hike, repeatedly photograph mother nature, make big fires, consume adult beverages.
His ideal trip: drive very far, especially on roads involving the use of 4WD. Erect camp that involves 240 volt lighting system, coffee-maker, milk frother, refrigerator, freezer, tables, chairs, pots, pans, stove, sink, awning, and air mattress. Explore hundreds of kilometers of 4WD roads. Make fires with minimum 7 ft. flames. Sit in chairs. Drink platinum scotch on ice.
All-in-all, I’d say we truly kicked ass in the compromise department. And we managed to lock-in the best, most content, happiest evening of the entire year I spent in Australia.
Pre-departure, the concrete jungle had held me in its clutches for two straight months. After growing up in a place where there are 2.2 humans per square kilometer, my soul begins atrophy after just a few weeks in a place like Perth – density: 295 bodies per km by km patch of ground. My happiness tank was down to just fumes. I could feel relief flooding my bones as the cityscape gave way to bordering farmlands, then vast sprawling wild lands, bush and open spaces.
Seeing a fox bound through a wheat field and catching the green flash of parrot wings flitting between lone trees delivered instant panacea. We made our way through comfortable little towns showcasing convict-era architecture, stopping at roadside markers explaining the pink-colored trunks of Salmon Gums (eucalyptus) and the life-giving, water-collecting depressions in granite outcrops known to local aboriginals as “gnamma holes.”
The “wheatbelt” – a rather deserted patch of Australia full of wheat farms, sheep ranches, and endless bush – played host to our adventuring. Increasing salinity is a growing concern. Fresh, potable water is transported from the coast inside a sombrero-sized pipe that follows the road for 530 kilometers. It’s an impressive feat of engineering even today, and at its inception was the longest fresh-water pipeline in the world. Shallow-rooted farmed species have replaced deep rooted natives that kept the water table from rising and therefore bringing up salt deposits that have been locked away for millions of years. The result is now a bizarre patchwork of green fields interspersed with native scrub surrounding dried lake beds, the latter full of salt silt and edged in a white crust.
We stopped at one of said lakes for lunch, and I swooned over having the picnic area all to ourselves – not another soul for miles around. My spirits soared as the multi-lane freeway gave way to a two-lane highway, then a paved strip the width of one car, then endless gravel following the rise and fall of the land. Life was sweet in the passenger seat. I marveled at the shape of the gum trees reflected in the cumulus clouds hanging in the air – the former looking like the “lollipop” trees of my childhood art and the latter looking like puffy sheep floating in the endless blue.
We studied the 4WD map as the sun tracked across the sky, picking out roads to explore and destinations to visit. For camp, we settled on a place called Elachbutting Rock – one of many granite domes protruding gently from the mostly flat expanse. To my delight, we were again the only inhabitants, enjoying glamping (glamour camping) wine, steak stew, ice cream, and scotch before bed. The cold winter night delivered a lesson in Convection 101, causing us to re-think our sleeping set up. On my morning run around the base of the outcrop, Kanga and Roo bounced across my path and steam rose from melting patches of frost. The 4WD track to the top of Elachbutting provided 360 degree views and cheeky photo ops, and walking tracks on the south side led through dense bush to several hidden caves – awesome!
On day two we strung together 4WD tracks, gravel roads, and an unplanned visit to a mine-site. They’d co-opted our coveted path and closed it to the public. This we discovered by off-roading it through the bush and onto an active mine-site road. “Umm… hi! Sorry. Uhh… which way to the exit?” Plan B took us through a town that proudly claimed to be “the home of bulk handling” and past a flock of emus to a maze of uncatalogued bush tracks. Before sundown we made it to a small outcrop covered in the hardy little succulents I’ve come to adore, built a roaring fire, drank scotch, and enjoyed the southern sky’s vast array of stars twinkling in the pitch black night.
The next morning, we made the hike to the top in time to enjoy both sunrise and cappuccinos. (I could probably acquiesce and get used to this whole glamping thing.) We spent the entire day way, way, way off the beaten path with a very vague idea as to where we actually were. After hours of begging Beach-Tour-Guide to stop the car for photos of every plant, landscape, rock, and flower I saw, we ended up at a deserted sheep ranch turned bush-rental. The stage was set for a generational bachelor weekend, the patriarch of whom was airing the sleeping quarters and offered us each a Chicken Butty (fried-chicken inside a buttered hamburger bun) while we chatted.
After searching for abandoned mine-shafts several kilometers down the road, we found a spot to camp under some huge eucalypts. The best night of my entire year in Australia involved camp being set up without having to lift a finger, all while drinking scotch and “rugging up” by the fire. My gaze flitted between the flames and the blazing sunset, and I couldn’t have wiped the smile off my face if I tried. We spent hours clearing the bush of deadfall via our massive fire pit, soaked in as much middle-of-nowhere-privacy as possible, and even got to use the campfire popcorn maker!
I guess Car Glamping is still “being outside” – my all-time favorite thing. So…
(If I don’t have to pack the car.)
Crazy-cool Australian plants, fire photography, and outcrop yoga in this facebook album.