Pitch per­fect

Our camp­ing en­thu­si­asts nom­i­nate their favourite spots for a mem­o­rable night un­der the stars

The Weekend Australian - Travel - - Adventure Holidays -

Surf’s up: Yu­ray­gir Na­tional Park is on the long­est stretch of un­de­vel­oped coast in NSW

THE wind is howl­ing at Cape Con­ran, Vic­to­ria, the tem­per­a­ture plum­met­ing and the dark clouds mass­ing on the hori­zon look ready to ex­plode. But I’m one happy camper. Here in the windswept wilds of Cape Con­ran Coastal Park, 420km east of Melbourne, not far from where the Snowy River spills into the sea, I’m snug in my tent, curled up un­der a thick doona while the surf booms and crashes into the dunes be­hind.

OK, I ad­mit my tent’s a lit­tle bet­ter than most, with a wooden floor raised far above the reach of any creepy crawlies that may want to visit in the night, and I have a nice queen-sized bed with crisp white sheets and the afore­men­tioned doona. There are also read­ing lights and a fridge for the oblig­a­tory chilled sundowners on the private deck. But this is no fancy five-star re­sort. It’s a na­tional park with more than 60km of de­serted beaches. You still have to traipse across the way to the shower and toi­let block and the camp kitchen’s a cou­ple of hun­dred me­tres away, but at $120 it’s a bar­gain. www.con­ran.net.au. Lee Atkin­son Race­course Head­land, Goolawah Re­serve, NSW: My first stop at Cres­cent Head is al­ways the camp­ing ground, ex­cept th­ese days it calls it­self a hol­i­day park. Ev­ery­thing curves, cres­cent-like, around here; past the park, while out on the waves, grom­mets and old men of the sea live out their blue-crush dreams. If Cres­cent Head isn’t work­ing, or work­ing so well that it’s over­crowded, I head south along the un­sealed coastal track through Goolawah Re­serve. The road rat­tles 30km to the river punt near Port Mac­quarie, be­com­ing in­creas­ingly user-un­friendly.

Be­fore it gets too bad, it de­liv­ers this big-hearted coast, swoops of long, empty beaches stretched be­tween rocky out­crops. Dot­ted along it are small camp­ing sites, the first, at Race­course 10km south of Cres­cent, be­ing lit­tle more than a few tent spa­ces and a thun­der­box tucked among the wal­lum scrub. I pay a mod­est $12 to the ranger. Con­sid­er­ing the front-stalls sea view, un­crowded waves and romp­ing dol­phin vis­its, it’s a bar­gain.

Farther south are the head­lands of Del­i­cate Nobby (Sen­si­tive Dicky to some) and Big Hill, each with its own hideaway camp­sites. The real gem is Lime­burn­ers Creek Na­ture Re­serve near Big Hill, where you can pull off the road and camp un­der the melaleu­cas, with black swans, pel­i­cans and wal­la­bies for com­pany.

Goolawah is like camp­ing used to be, be­fore hol­i­day parks, per­ma­nent cab­ins and gin-palace camper­vans be­came the norm. Fit­tingly, Goolawah, an Abo­rig­i­nal word, means yes­ter­day. www.es­capenorth.com.au/ na­tional parks ma­cleay.htm. John Borth­wick Kar­i­jini Na­tional Park, West­ern Aus­tralia: Draw­ing closer to the gor­geous gorges, we don’t know what to ex­pect. A sealed-high­way drive from WA’s coast to Kar­i­jini Na­tional Park puts us in the heart of the ochre­hued Pil­bara. The park’s low-im­pact re­sort, Kar­i­jini Eco Re­treat, has 40 tents with en­suites and 10 shared bath­rooms, plus a camp­site for trav­ellers tot­ing tents, tow­ing car­a­vans or driv­ing mo­torhomes.

A red­dish-brown track curves to­wards our tent, fixed to its per­ma­nent base. Ex­ter­nally un­re­mark­able, its in­te­rior is like a comfy ho­tel room. An on-site restau­rant show­cases na­tive in­gre­di­ents such as bush lime and wat­tle seed. Meats in­clude croc­o­dile.

Ge­ol­o­gists say 2000 mil­lion years of ero­sion cre­ated deep gorges scar­ring this sec­tion of the Pil­bara, now a big tourist at­trac­tion.

Four ad­ven­tur­ers con­fide they’re off on a chal­leng­ing five-day hike, clam­ber­ing 100m down into gorges be­fore climb­ing steep cliff faces. Oth­ers pre­fer an eas­ier pace, board­ing tour buses bound for look­outs over Oxer and Junc­tion pools and other sites such as Jof­fre Falls.

A 30-minute walk down steep steps puts us at N the world of luxe travel, re­clin­ing un­der can­vas doesn’t have any­thing to do with billy cans or sleep­ing bags. The ver­nac­u­lar is com­mon, of course, in African sa­fari des­ti­na­tions, but is also in favour in In­dia (on the cusp of Ran­tham­bore Na­tional Park), at de­light­ful camps in Oman and the Mal­dives, on the In­done­sian is­land of Moyo, and in NSW and the North­ern Ter­ri­tory. This is what the in­dus­try has termed glamp­ing: 21st-cen­tury camp­ing with­out lift­ing a fin­ger (or a tent peg). ■ Aman-i-Khas, Ran­tham­bore, In­dia: A keen com­peti­tor to Vanyav­i­las (see be­low), this Aman­re­sorts prop­erty is a com­pound of 10 tents at the edge of tiger ter­ri­tory. The spa­cious can­vas abodes are billed as ‘‘ rem­i­nis­cent of the trav­el­ling tents en­joyed dur­ing the re­splen­dent Moghul dy­nasty’’. The Aman­re­sorts port­fo­lio also in­cludes Aman­wana on the In­done­sian is­land of Moyo (20 tents, linked by sand paths and set in trop­i­cal for­est). www.aman­re­sorts.com. ■ Banyan Tree Mal­dives, Madi­varu: Glamp­ing reaches the next level at this North Ari Atoll re­sort where six can­vas vil­las are each com­prised of three in­ter­linked tents (one for sleep­ing, one for bathing, one for loung­ing) and a plunge pool and out­door shower. De­spite the re­sort’s pe­tite di­men­sions, and

Lo­cal favourite: Coledale Beach

IFortes­cue Falls, where we plunge into a wel­com­ing pool, our gaze fixed on gorge walls. Gi­ant rocks seem poised to tum­ble on to us but I’m as­sured they haven’t moved in thou­sands of years. God was in a hurry,’’ sug­gests a Cana­dian vis­i­tor.

Back at our tent, hot wa­ter aplenty in our en­suite rinses away red dust, re­minders of a day’s ex­plo­ration. www.kar­i­jiniecore­treat.com.au. Chris Pritchard Marl­bor­ough Sounds Mar­itime Park, New Zealand: With 1500km of coastal in­lets, the drowned val­leys of the Marl­bor­ough Sounds Mar­itime Park shred the top of NZ’s South Is­land like a fringe.

It is a spec­tac­u­larly odd re­gion. The steep ridges that rise abruptly from the sounds have been con­veyed by the alpine fault 450km north of their cousin rocks in Otago. And they con­tinue to move to­wards Welling­ton at an av­er­age of 6.6mm a year. In the clash of the earth’s crustal plates that has caused the move­ment, the sounds, which are on the Pa­cific plate that is be­ing over­rid­den, are get­ting slowly pushed be­neath the sea.

Kayak ca­pers: Ra­timera Bay the dis­tinct pos­si­bil­ity the tented vil­las are too self­con­tained to need to ven­ture out, there’s a spa, myr­iad aquatic ex­cur­sions and the prospect of bare­foot din­ing a deux on a sand­bank. www.banyantree.com. ■ Desert Nights Camp, Wahiba Sands, Oman: As else­where in Oman, gen­tle hos­pi­tal­ity is the leit­mo­tif at this arc of new tents near Al Wasil, south­east of Mus­cat. The fenced camp’s tents have pointed roof over­lays made in the US of biodegrad­able ma­te­ri­als; they are bliss­fully air­con­di­tioned and well ap­pointed with en­suite bath­room and sep­a­rate sit­ting area. But ex­plor­ers of yore would hardly ap­prove of such soft­ness amid the eerily empty lands of the Be­douins. www.oman­world­tourism.com; www.de­sert­nightscamp.com. ■ Voy­ages Lon­gi­tude 131, Uluru, NT: Talk about a tent with a view: flick a switch, the blinds go up and

The sounds are ideal for sea kayak tour­ing but their ge­ol­ogy means it can be dif­fi­cult to find enough flat space on the shore­line on which to pitch a tent. For­tu­nately, the De­part­ment of Con­ser­va­tion has sev­eral ba­sic camp­sites, par­tic­u­larly in Kenepuru and Queen Char­lotte sounds, with toi­let and wa­ter fa­cil­i­ties. Th­ese usu­ally have only wa­ter ac­cess and cost $2 a night, the money placed in an hon­esty box.

Af­ter a week’s kayak tour­ing in Pelorus, Kenepuru and Queen Char­lotte sounds, we pad­dle into Ra­timera Bay for our last night. It is the pick of our camp­sites, with the only thing to dis­turb us the oc­ca­sional wash from a pass­ing in­ter-is­land ferry. It would be dif­fi­cult to find a more pleas­ant spot. www.doc.govt.nz. Colin Moore Yu­ray­gir Na­tional Park, NSW: Do emus surf? Can they even swim? Th­ese are the press­ing ques­tions of the day as I sit and stare at the sea from my camp­site at the mouth of the San­don River in Yu­ray­gir Na­tional Park, about an hour’s drive north of Coffs Har­bour on the long­est stretch of un­de­vel­oped coast­line in NSW. Ac­cord­ing to the ranger, th­ese iso­lated and empty beaches are one of the few places in the coun­try where you’ll see emus on the beach. I think the scores of pel­i­cans try­ing the steal the fish­er­men’s catch have scared them off but it’s a good ex­cuse to spend the af­ter­noon do­ing noth­ing but watch­ing the wa­ter, cold drink in hand, of­fi­cially on emu watch.

A pop­u­lar spot with fishos, our camp­site is on the banks of the clean­est river in NSW and I’m hard­pressed to think where else you get ab­so­lute wa­ter­front views for just $10 a night. When we ar­rive, the place is wall to wall with four-wheel drives, but now that the sun has set they’ve tied up their boats, taken their fish and gone home, and we have the place to our­selves. It’s so quiet that the sound of the surf lulls us to sleep. A per­fect place to pitch a tent. www.en­vi­ron­ment.nsw.gov.au. Lee Atkin­son Lands­bor­ough River, Mt As­pir­ing Na­tional Park, New Zealand: The Lands­bor­ough is an odd­ity among the rivers of NZ’s South Is­land. Its source lies in the snow­fields of the South­ern Alps near Mt Cook, but in­stead of find­ing a quick exit to the west coast, it first runs south, flanked by the snow-cov­ered peaks of the Main Di­vide for about 70km be­fore join­ing the Haast River in South West­land.

The glacier that once ground its way down the val­ley has left sev­eral large ter­races on the val­ley floor and it’s there is Uluru, per­fectly framed like the most glo­ri­ous paint­ing. This is an en­camp­ment of 15 white-domed tents, each named for an ex­plorer, in­clud­ing the ill­fated Burke and Wills and John Flynn, founder of the Aus­tralian Royal Fly­ing Doc­tor Ser­vice. Add a pool, red-sand vis­tas, ed­u­ca­tional tour­ing and con­vivial din­ing in the Dune House. Voy­ages also op­er­ates the small Wil­son Is­land in Queens­land with tented ac­com­mo­da­tion for 12 soft-cen­tred cast­aways (closes each Fe­bru­ary for bird-nest­ing sea­son). www.lon­gi­tude131.com.au; www.wilson­is­land.com.

Pa­per­bark Camp, Jervis Bay, NSW: There are eight so-called orig­i­nal sa­fari tents (with hard­wood-floored veranda and en­suite) and four deluxe ver­sions, with the bonus of a free­stand­ing bath, at this NSW south coast hide-out. Th­ese agree­able habi­tats, el­e­vated above the ground (and its cargo of creepy-crawlies), stand dot­ted be­tween pa­per­bark trees; good meals are served in a tree­top din­ing room cir­cled by birds. www.pa­per­bark­camp.com.au.

Vanyav­i­las, Ran­tham­bore, In­dia: This Oberoi-run 25-suite spread is a tented re­sort with all the fa­cil­i­ties such a term sug­gests, from or­chard-filled gar­dens and pool to a day spa and el­e­gant restau­rant (serv­ing su­perla­tive north In­dian food). The tents are set be­hind earthen walls, with outer roofs that hang low and shady; canopied ceil­ings are printed with pa­rades of lit­tle tigers and the ver­i­ta­ble wa­ter­hole of a bath has claw feet, of course. www.oberoi­ho­tels.com. to one of th­ese ter­races, Toe Toe Flat, that Lands­bor­ough River rafters are taken by a small plane.

The first camp­site is on the other side of the river and it’s worth the ef­fort to in­flate the rafts and glide across be­cause on the far bank there is likely to be a large mesh bag, held be­low the icy wa­ter with a few river stones, hold­ing a gen­er­ous as­sort­ment of canned beer and sev­eral bot­tles of fine chardon­nay and sauvi­gnon blanc.

It’s a just a sam­ple of what is to come: a wilder­ness jour­ney as palat­able to the taste buds as the spec­tac­u­lar moun­tain scenery and rich in­dige­nous for­est is to the eye. Starters are king prawns lightly cooked on a flat steel plate over an open fire with gar­lic bread warmed in tin foil in the em­bers, along with a se­lec­tion of ex­otic cheese and crack­ers.

Main course is de-boned joints of lamb that have mar­i­nated all day, cooked on the grill plate be­fore be­ing cut into thick, ten­der and suc­cu­lent slices served with veg­eta­bles, Greek salad, pota­toes and, nat­u­rally, chilled wine. Lamb rarely tastes so good nor could it be en­joyed in a more mag­nif­i­cent set­ting. www.queen­stown­raft­ing.co.nz. Colin Moore Coledale Beach Camp­ing Re­serve, NSW: Ab­so­lute beach frontage from $20 a night is yours at Coledale Beach Camp­ing Re­serve. All you have to do is pitch your own tent; a pow­ered site costs an ex­tra $5 a night. When I head there with my two young sons it seems like a real ad­ven­ture, even though it’s only 3km from our house. ‘‘ That’s not un­usual,’’ says Norm Jenk­ins, the camp­ground’s live-in man­ager. ‘‘ A lot of the peo­ple who stay here live lo­cally. About a third are from within 20km or so.’’ The lo­cals ob­vi­ously know a good thing when they see it. Coledale is one of Wol­lon­gong’s north­ern coastal vil­lages and its camp­ground, a few kilo­me­tres from sin­u­ous Sea Cliff Bridge, is sited on a beach noted for surf­ing and dol­phin sight­ings. Surf life sav­ing club mem­bers help keep the camp­ground trim and tidy. Campers en­joy free elec­tric bar­be­cue grills, hot show­ers, pow­ered kitchen and laun­dry. A short walk away, a cafe in Coledale vil­lage serves break­fast and good cof­fee. There’s a Mediter­ranean restau­rant (Chedo’s), wine shop, gen­eral store and small, friendly RSL club. Pizza and fish and chips are avail­able, too. A stroll in the other di­rec­tion brings you to Head­ies, the Head­lands Ho­tel, a land­mark pub with grand ocean views. As for the area’s fish­ing po­ten­tial, the list of prize catches hang­ing above Head­ies’ bar tes­ti­fies to that. www.coledale­beach.com.au/camp­ing.html. Peter Need­ham

Windswept wilds: The de­serted splen­dour of Vic­to­ria’s Cape Con­ran Coastal Park

Run­ning on empty: Race­course Head­land

Just gor­geous: Kar­i­jini Na­tional Park

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