After four weeks of being able to camp almost wherever we liked, with no one else around, in places of incredible natural beauty, it was a bit of a shock to hit the Queensland coast. The density of development along much of the coastline made it much more difficult to find campsites which fit our criteria – where we have our own space in the bush, are able to have a fire for cooking and warmth, and not be corralled into tiny sites on concrete slabs next to lines and lines of motorhomes, caravans, camper trailers and more.
Whilst in Cairns, we had our first introduction to staying in a major caravan park. We requested the most ‘bushy’ sites available: and were fortunately dispatched to the very far corner of the park where the few unpowered grassed sites were set apart. The initial cries of ‘what! we can’t have a fire!!!!!’ died away when the kids set eyes on the facilities on offer: at least 3 pools, waterparks, jumping pillows, playgrounds, go-karts, movies and on and on – and for a few days we just focussed on the ‘fun’ part of it for the kids. After weeks in the bush and some hot dusty travelling across from the Gulf, we let ourselves enjoy splashing about in the pools.
What we didn’t enjoy was the proximity to all this over-consumption – do people really need all this gear? It seemed unbelievable that people travel/camp with and are so dependent on all these ‘things’, much of it duplicating the material environment of their homes. Everywhere we looked campsites were totally taken up with tens of thousands of dollars worth of equipment; at night people sat squashed around their kitchenettes plugged in to various televisions and gadgets; in the toilet blocks women applied cosmetics and hair straighteners. We must have been the only ‘campers’ who didn’t have a fridge, a sink with running water, a GPS or any of the other multitude of items surrounding us.
We also had a terrible experience in a national park campground of having to camp way too close to undesirable types. This was a night from hell – doof doof music, heavy drinking (and consumption of other substances), and all-night partying, yelling and shrieking from several groups of our neighbouring campers (who had joined forces by this stage) culminated in the explosion of a gas-bottle at 2.30am and the beginnings of a grass fire. Compelled to camp almost toe-to-toe with the undesirables made it much much worse. The camping area was another example of bad parks landscape design – something we have encountered too often and choose mostly to avoid, if we can. Instead of simple, integrated camping along the banks of the river, the campground was laid out around a massive toilet block, in a cattle-yard type grid defined by many balustrades and paving. There were so many mozzies around the toilet block at night, attracted by the bright, permanently on lights, that the children couldn’t even get near a toilet without being covered with bites. There was no shade and no privacy. Extensively developed roads, picnic areas and parking took up the best of the camping spots along the river.
These experiences reaffirmed our commitment to simplicity in our approach to camping. We believe it is this simplicity, in our choices of gear and in the way we camp, which enables us to more closely connect to and leave less of a footprint on the environment we are in.
In spite of all this over-development, once we hit the road again we were able, with some serious searching, to locate a few pockets of free camping in beautiful bushy spots, where our minds could be quietened by the deeply primitive act of staring into the flames of our campfire at night.