Excitedly glancing down at the map that we later stashed behind the sun visor, and punching in our desired destination to Google maps on our phones, the engine rumbled into life and we were off… to a beautiful and highly recommended National Park called Myall Lakes which rested 250km away. The journey would take us just over three hours which is about the same distance between Cambridge and Chichester where Matt and I live in the UK. In comparison, a three hour trip in Australia is essentially like turning a street corner. Nevertheless, we had made the ludicrous decision to leave late after lunch. Not before long, the sun was low in the sky and we were searching for a safe and comfortable stopover to rest for the night. We arrived at a little town called Buladelah, which in my mind evoked an image of some kind of aromatic Indian dish… that or a grand performance of belly dancers (say the name out loud and you will see what I mean.) On arrival however, there was nothing as extravagant as sizzling vindaloos or belly dance displays; just a few tinned-roof houses, an old pub and a local grocery store. We had initially planned to check in to a budget motel or a hostel, but this was wishful thinking. No such accommodation was available. This was to be our first night in the Land Rover.
In light of the fact I had never camped in my life, I knew my travels to Australia would promise an unprecedented, unforgettable experience, one that would enrich my life and leave me with stories to tell and blogs to write. Or it would be an utter horror story and Hotel Jennifer would close indefinitely, signalled by my abrupt departure from the country. When I was at home, part of my bedtime ritual involved searching my room thoroughly for any creature, critter or crawly that belonged on the other side of that double-glazed window, and upon successful detection of any unwanted specie, would result in mum’s swift and sudden appearance at my door with a brush and pan. But I had to abandon old habits now and quickly embrace my new surroundings, my new home that I was set to share with many wings, many legs and maybe many needles and pincers. I had been thrown Down Under into a complete minefield of creepy crawlies… but God I was excited to embrace this new change and live a whole new way of life. If I have learnt anything about sleeping with nature, it’s that one small moth fluttering around your bedside lamp is really nothing to worry about after you’ve slept a few nights with a lizard above your head (more on that later).
We clattered to a stop in a little concealed area away from the town. Matty explained that free camping is frowned upon in certain areas in Australia, and as we later discovered, any trespasser, free campier, hippie or hobo could all receive an unfriendly fine. We glanced at each other nervously as though to say ‘well this is it…’, and we set up camp.
At the risk of appearing like a total novice, and coming across as more of a Dora the Indoor-er than Dora the Explorer, I was thankful that our camping trip did not mean pitching tents and sleeping alfresco (despite Matty’s vehement view that sleeping in a tent is far more comfortable). I was fortunate enough that we had the large double bed squashed invitingly in the back, so all we had to do was shuffle a few things onto the front seat, quickly change into our PJs, and snuggle down beneath the duvet and the dazzling glare of his brightly coloured mood lights. I thanked him every night for building that bed, as it meant not having to expose my own ignorance when it came to setting up a tent. It also meant I wouldn’t have to endure the glacial winter nights shivering in a sleeping bag; Australia can pretty much reach arctic conditions in the winter… in literal terms for you warm-blooded individuals who don’t feel the cold, this means below ‘mild’ – you know, when the wind picks up a bit and the clouds billow too close to the sun. Somehow though you’ve found yourself in a country renowned for its scorching hot climates wearing a brand new, unexpectedly-bought, thick, woollen jumper… (like I said, I don’t exaggerate… I was in H&M on my second day in Australia hunting for knitwear).
We spent the evening gazing at the twinkling stars through Jenny’s large rear window before settling down and falling swiftly and soundly to sleep. My first night on the road, and we hadn’t been eaten alive by nature so we were off to a good start.