Thursday, January 14, 2010

Summer Camping Ozzie Style

I was a bit surprised when the Camp Hostess strolled up to our van at 8:00 a.m., as the evening before she had told us that it would be the Park Ranger who would stop in to take care of the fees.  With clipboard in hand, she looked official as she jotted down our license plate number.  She asked Mark for his name and said "Ya' only staying for one night?"  Mark replied, "No, two."  She then told us that was not likely since the place was fully booked.  Booked?  How could it be full, there were only a handful of people in the 58 camping spots.  We were then informed that starting on that day all camping sites (including the first-come first-serve spots) were only available with a week long reservation, and the campground was fully booked for the next two weeks.  I wanted to strangle her.  Couldn't she have told us this when we tried to talk to her the evening before?  Even a little message on her board would have been helpful.  She did half-heartedly suggest, that if we were lucky, maybe we could get a spot at one of the Caravan Parks in the valley and we could then drive back and forth to the park.  As if that was going to happen; as beautiful as Mt. Buffalo was, there was no way we would be driving 100 kilometers round trip, on a mountain road, to visit a park.

So once again it was decision making time.  We wanted to do a little exploring of the area, since we weren't sure if we would ever make it back.  So we decided to call down to the Caravan Parks and see if we could find one that not only had but  would also hold a spot for us until the early evening.  Fortunately, the second place we called (the first one was a wrong number), was friendly and accommodating.
So after a full day of hiking and settling up with the Park Ranger, we headed down the hill.
The narrow, corkscrew-like road took us through alpine heathlands, snow-grass plains, wet mountain forest, and dry foot hill forests to the valley far below.  Once again we found ourselves shrouded in an oppressive heat.  It was as though we had left a blessed land high on the hilltop and arrived in the land of the doomed.
As promised, our 3x5 meter spot, overlooking the river was waiting for us.  The first challenge was backing the Land Rover in to the narrow area.  Fortunately, the space on our left was empty, but it was still a challenge not to run over any of the lil' ankle biters that were running all over the place or the tents sitting right on the line dividing space 39 and 40.  To top it all off we had an audience--the couple sitting on the porch of the permanent cabin in front of us, the 4 young adults on our right, the dozen or so people hanging around in the river, and the long line of cars waiting to get past us.  When I jumped out of the van and tried to facilitate the situation with manic arm waving, I couldn't help but feel that the onlookers were not being entertained but, rather, felt as though we were invading their space.
As the night and events around us unfolded, I came to understand that we were invaders.  For those around us, the Caravan Park--which for the most of the year is a ghost town--is their vacation home.  Whether they were there for a week or more, they were much more permanent than any tourists passing through in a logo ridden van.
The summer time residents of Porepunkah Caravan Park had created a community whose members know, trust, and help each other. We watched children's faces light up when they were reunited with friends they hadn't seen for a year.  We saw groups of men standing in the roadways sharing a coldie and catching up.  We heard the a constant babble from the river, not due to the running water, but from the groups of women cooling off while exchanging a year's worth of gossip.  No one stayed on the side-lines when the family next to us arrived with a new tent they were unsure of how to put up. Not to worry, their neighbors ran over to pitch in.  Hence, the role that the Caravan Park plays in lives of its temporary residents is much more than just a destination; it is the stabilizing core of their vacation.
The ethos of quasi community semi helps in me understand the popularity of  summer vacationing at a Caravan Park , but I am still a bit perplexed.  Perhaps it is due to my more nomadic nature, but I can not imagine returning year after year to the same exact place and spot.  Now don't get me wrong, I have nothing against Caravan Parks, I think they are a wonderful option for travelers in Australia.  They are clean and offer hot water, electricity, and all of those other things that are hard for us citified denizens to live without.  However, the thought of staying in the same camp for a week or more rattles me just a a bit.  Especially in the summer when they are packed to the rafters and tents are literally pitched one on top of another.  Canvas walls don't offer much protection, and getting to know your neighbor takes on a whole new meaning. This exerience of creating imagined "community" beyond the realm of the ordinary was indeed a teachable moment for me.

I have no regrets about my one summer's night in an Australian Caravan Park, and though it is not an experience that I would quickly repeat, I do feel that it has given me a better understanding of Australians.


  1. Hi Maya, what a interesting new experience for you. It's good not to have regrets in life. I like trying things that are new and different. If I like it great and if not, I move on...

    I'm glad you were able to experience this interesting Caravan Park community. Your photos are wonderful and the park area looks really beautiful.

    Thanks so much for sharing. Have a great day today.

  2. Hi Kathy, some of the Caravan Parks that we have stayed at before we really like. This was the first time that we stayed at in the summer, and there were a lot of people. I want to say thanks for always stopping in and commenting.