There’s nothing quite like jumping into a waterfall, falling deep into clear blue water, and then bobbing up to find yourself in the roaring center of a circle of white foam….
Our third day on the Old Telegraph Track was adventure-filled, as we broke camp with a quick breakfast and the last of our locally grown Black Mountain Blend hand-ground coffee – probably our last taste of this indulgence for a while as each “hand ground” cup is ground by us, it takes about ten minutes of grinding per cup, and the kids have finally realized it’s actually a chore and not a game! Lake will have forearms like a little toddler Popeye by Christmas if I can only get him back on coffee grinding as a morning activity!
We headed out with our new friends straight for the famous combo of Twin Falls and Elliot Falls. These falls were a big part of why we made the trip and they did not disappoint. The drive was relatively short and the track not too challenging other than a long murky ford that looked nasty but everyone seems to survive; we also had to cross back through Canal Creek and there were a few ruts and dips but nothing major to worry about.
We decided to leave the camper folded up at our campsite and would return later with Cave Lion to pick it up. Everyone had heard that Twin Falls was a beautiful spot, and we had intended to spend a few hours there in the morning there and then move on. But when we arrived we were blown away by how beautiful both spots were, and since both the high tourist season and the Queensland school holidays were over, we nearly had these iconic natural beauties to ourselves.
Elliot Falls was majestic, and so calm at the top you could walk right up to the edge and peer down what I reckon was a 15-ft drop to the pools of clear blue water below. After checking out Eliot Falls we headed over to Twin Falls with Lake and Finn, leaving Cameron, Leif and Craig at Elliot. Twin Falls, located where the Elliot River and Canal Creek meet, was a short walk away and very picturesque, with two sets of gentle waterfalls, one above the other, both accessible by an easy walk.
This was perfect for swimming with Lake and Finn – they were beaming with joy all morning! The water was clear, there was a fair amount of shade, and they were confident to explore because they could both touch their feet to the sandy bottom in most places. The rocks along the falls were made from a richly colored red sandstone, which fascinated Lake, and he decided to collect ten “magic pebbles” of different colors – it was quite a collection ranging from quartz to orange to deep red, though I don’t think the collection left the park in the end. The other major activity at Twin Falls was catching tadpoles. This it turns out was very easy for the boys, and each time they caught one they ran to show us, before returning the tadpoles safely to “their natural habitat.” After about 20 catches, I began to wonder how many tadpoles were down there – or whether there was just a few unlucky slowpokes. 🙂
We decided to stay at Twin Falls through lunch and then it occurred to us: Hey, where are those guys? Did they ditch us? We returned to Eliot Falls to find Cameron, Leif and Craig leaping off the deepest end of the waterfall over and over again. I could NOT believe it. Had these blokes ever heard of a spinal cord? We went over to watch and Leif explained to me that Cameron had swam down there and explored the bottom first, determined it was plenty deep for a go. They told me I had to try it, and in fact it looked awesome. We reasoned by now they had probably jumped ten times each, so I watched them all jump in once more, and followed them in, carefully aiming for the same spot.
It was quite a rush! The fall was longer than I expected, maybe three seconds, and then I hit the clear blue water and went down, breaking my underwater fall quickly just in case. When I bobbed up I was surrounded by the roar of the falls and the misty white foam, treading water in the center of a near circle of falls. Definitely something I will never forget. I did a few of these and then we all beckoned Miranda over. I’m not sure she wanted to jump, but she got right to the edge, and while contemplating it, received a quick nudge from one of our companions- who will remain nameless. A gentle push, a yelp, and in she came! Talk about taking the plunge! (Jay generously declines to mention here that I approached and backed away from the edge ten times before the aforementioned nudge.)
After lunch we spent another few hours with the kiddos swimming at Twin Falls while the gents got out GoPros to chronicle their heroic leaps. I thought about heading over for more, but Lake and Finn were having so much fun playing with us I didn’t want to miss a second.
We all left together in the afternoon and continued on our journey. After picking up Siberian Tiger at Canal Creek (now crossed for the third time), we continued down the track for a short bit, crossing the lovely Sam’s Creek, and then headed convoy-style to tackle the remainder of the track, which quickly became very rough. Perhaps a telling sign, our next crossing was named Mistake Creek. I don’t recall Mistake Creek itself being that difficult but perhaps it’s named so because the mistake is to keep going 🙂
On we went, crossing Mistake Creek and then heading to Cannibal Creek, where we decided to make camp and leave the last challenging crosses for the next day. We had a blast at Cannibal Creek, the only campers there, and as the sun set, we were swimming in the beautiful clear fresh water, with our new mates, Miranda and the kids extracting serenely light colored clay from the creek’s banks. Later that evening we used the campfire to make clay footballs (which survived about fifteen minutes of hard play the next day), and all of us enjoyed ice cold XXXX Gold, which seems to be the beer of choice in Queensland. As dusk approached, Miranda and Cameron went off to begin making an exquisite camp meal using the camper oven and a campfire rotisserie. Cameron had lots of experience with camp ovens and showed us the finer points of using them while preparing a delicious meal of lamb, chicken, and freshly made damper. Leif made his specialty as well, garlic potatoes roasted on a open fire. It was a delicious meal for the ages!
The crossings the next morning began to get much tougher, with steep entries making it potentially treacherous for our tow bar, or worse, our camper – including one crossing that I think was unnamed – or at least wasn’t highlighted on our map- that came up near end of the track with one of the trickiest angles of the whole trip! We were ready for Cypress Creek, which featured a log bridge over a drop big enough to end our trip – yikes! – thanks to Vic’s 4WD class for prior log bridge practice. The bridge is navigated with one person outside the car, carefully evaluating wheel placement as the bridge is only slightly wider that the wheels. The spotter uses hand signals to indicate to the driver how to inch across the bridge. Deep breaths!
The last major crossing, Nolan’s Brook, ran with deep water up to the bonnet (hood) and had a deceivingly wicked sandy bottom. Nolan’s had bogged many a ute this season, including a little less than half of the 60 cars claimed on the Tele Track. We would have never attempted Nolan’s on our own due to the risk that if we got bogged without speedy help, our trip might suffer an untimely end.
I should point out here that our original plan was to bypass this last portion of the track. We had drawn a big arrow on our map, pointing towards the “chicken route” that would dodge the last several crossings. Also written were the words NO CAMPER… As you might guess from all the decisions we made up to this point, we ignored this caveat. We also had been wisely advised to lower our tire pressures to 15 PSI if we unwisely decided to attempt it. For a reason, that seems far less clear in hindsight, we left our tires a bit higher.
We had been concerned about doing these challenging crossings alone with the camper, but since we were traveling with an experienced and skilled convoy – including two mechanical experts and an electrician, and we were carrying safety gear in case we got stuck – we figured she’ll be alright and gave it a go after watching two vehicles successfully navigate the crossing. And frankly, it didn’t look nearly as bad as the stories that had been passed down the track by previous 4WDs.
We put a tarp over the front of the car and after reviewing the game plan, dropped into the crossing. All went according to plan until it suddenly didn’t. Cave Lion lost traction and after a quick effort to reverse and find a new path, it was clear that she was stuck. Cave Lion and Siberian Tiger were bogged in the middle of the running water. Ugh!
Stay tuned for the final installment!
We have been the beneficiaries of incredible Aussie hospitality at every turn on our journey so far. Readers of Miles from Brooklyn will know of how Vic Widman at Great Divide Tours helped us immeasurably while we planned our trip from the States and upon arrival, and we are happy to report that we were fortunate enough to encounter many new friends on our trip to Cape York as well. Cairns-based 4WD enthusiast Mark McGirr from MySwag spent an hour with us before we headed out reviewing the best camping spots along the journey, which crossings were the most treacherous for towing a camper, and providing many other helpful tips from his experience. On day two on the Tele Track journey we made some great new “mates” – Craig, Cameron and Leif- who literally saved our American bacon, but more on that later…
The journey from Palm Creek to our first camp site, the Dulhunty River, was slow going on a rough, narrow track with deep ruts and two more manageable creek crossings, Ducie Creek and North Alice Creek. It took us about three hours to make it the 25 kilometers, or a little over 15 miles, from Palm Creek to Dulhunty. When we got to Dulhunty we took a dip in the water, relaxing by a shallow waterfall, and then set up for a great night of camping. I gathered some firewood and Miranda broke out the camp oven to make roast lamb.
You may be wondering about our average speed of 5mph, which, even with the crossings was much slower than we’d planned. It’s hard to describe the feeling of driving through miles of deeply rutted roads, but I have to say- Miranda and I agree it’s much better to drive than to be a passenger! The track had long deep gashes in it, presumably from where water once ran or maybe the effect of shocks and tires breaking down the sandy track over time.
However they are formed, this track is not exactly maintained with tax dollars like your average interstate 🙂 The angles are tough and often require that either the driver or passenger ends up looking down diagonally across the car at the other, feeling queasy dangling up in the air. Naturally the driver tends to put the passenger airborne whenever possible 🙂 The Cruiser in 4WD can handle much more of this than our stomachs, causing us to continuously question how steep the angles can get before something on the car ends up snapping.
Another tough part of the ruts and dips is that the driving is a tad counterintuitive. If you can dodge the rut completely, it might make sense to go around it – depending on how steep the angle of the road is – but generally there is nothing you can do and you have to drive through. The reason it is counterintuitive is because most of the the when one drives to avoid obstacles, they are located on one side or the other of the car, making steering away from the hole the best plan. In this case, once you have centered the rut beneath the car, the goal is to continue to straddle it. When you eventually have a tire start to dip in, you steer towards the tire that’s creeping down, in a direction that feels like you’re steering your “safe” wheels into the rut, until you get the dipped tire out. The path is easier if you have excellent wheel placement, which of course we don’t – I would say Miranda has pretty decent wheel placement (she corrects this to say fantastic wheel placement!) and I have average wheel placement skills. Our new “mate” Craig makes wheel placement look like an art form, but alas he was behind the wheel of his own Cruiser…
So all in all, it was a long day of driving for minuscule kilometers, but we had a blast. When we set-up camp for the night we were the only ones in the area. In fact, we hadn’t seen another car since we said farewell to our friends at Palm Creek.
The next morning, after eggs and toast for breakfast, we headed out for day two on the Tele Track. On Mark’s recommendation, we were aiming for the far side of Canal Creek as our goal for the day, which had a large camping area and was just steps away from a swim in clear, croc-free fresh water! We continued to proceed with care on the rough track, with Miranda captaining Cave Lion for the majority of the day. There were several crossings on the agenda for the day: the Dulhunty River, Bertie Creek, Sailor Creek, Cockatoo Creek, and of course the infamous Gunshot Creek. Each of these crossings had their own “trick” to passing safely, many of which were shared by Mark or our guidebook, and confirmed by walking the crossing first, looking for holes, obstacles and checking water depth.
An interesting challenge was Bertie Creek, which required some tricky turns to position the camper onto the rocky bank. The book said it would require trundle along the river a few hundred meters and then making a sharp turn across the river to cross it in order to avoid some very deep holes in the rocks. For some reason, it was not immediately clear to us which path would be best. Somehow we mangled the initial entry and it resulted in lots of stressful turns to ensure we made it into the right position on the bank, parallel to the creek, without dipping our tires into what appeared to be five feet of water. The tires were screeching on the smooth rock and reversing the trailer is a challenge even without the running water below and the unforgiving pitch of the bank. In the midst of our turning debacle, a group of three 4WDs came through the creek in the opposite direction. They didn’t pause to check on our predicament, but they helped tremendously by demonstrating a successful path across the creek.
Note for those worriers at home: we knew there were no saltwater crocs in these crossings, otherwise there may have been more of a discussion about walking them first, or at least who would do the walking!
A few deep breaths and we headed onto the next obstacles. Luckily there was a crossing-free stretch that allowed us to enjoy the constantly changing color of the earth and marvel that we had finally made it onto the famous track.
It was in between Bertie Creek and Gunshot that we met our new “mates” Cameron, Leif and Craig- a close group of friends on a fishing, hunting and adventure-seeking holiday. I think they were snickering at our Sydney plates and possibly my bush hat (a “Barmah” made from “squashy kangaroo”), but were then completely surprised when we opened our mouths to discover they had run into a couple of New Yorkers exploring the vast Australian north with five year old twins! I’m guessing we are a pretty rare sight in these parts. We hit it off quickly – Leif won me over with his extensive knowledge of Eddie Vedder and they seemed to enjoy laughing at our butchered pronunciation of Aussie slang. We joined their convoy to Gun Shot, relieved to watch another vehicle tackle the crossing ahead of us.
Gun Shot is an infamous crossing and home to several car destructions each year, and indeed the creek was “decorated” with car parts, messages like “Can’t help him – he drives a Ford”, (ouch!), and “Pajero RIP”, and even a few old pairs of, ahem, shorts. My guess is that this is a good area to own a towing business, and in fact we later learned it was an average of $2000 AUD per tow for bogged vehicles! Agh!
The danger to the crossing isn’t the water, which is shallow and clear, but the approach, which is essentially a two car length free fall into the creek bed, making it impassable for all intents and purposes. I saw a YouTube video of “experts” attempting this before we left, circled the crossing on the map, and wrote NO WAY!
And yet here we were.
Fortunately a few meters to the left of the notorious “Gun Shot” route, there was a reasonably do-able crossing, likely formed by people with brains over the last decade, where the biggest factor was making sure the approach was clean and carefully steering the camper. Our Cruiser, Craig’s Cruiser, and Leif’s Hi-Lux made the crossing with no problems, and we were on our way!
We made lunch at the next crossing, standing in the creek as water ran across our feet as we made sandwiches. We met a couple of other travelers and as was typical in these parts, everyone enthusiastically shared tales of the journey ahead, great spots to stay and large holes to avoid.
We pulled up to Fruit Bat Falls by late afternoon. This is one of those spots that many people mention as their favorite spot on the journey to the Tip. I was a bit skeptical as it always seems these places can get overhyped – this was not! It was a beautiful wide waterfall with refreshing water. The boys loved traveling around the giant pool on our backs. Miranda and I each took a turn going behind the falls. It was the best shower we had in weeks and left Miranda giddy as the water pounded down on her and swirled around.
This journey was a bit more anxiety filled as it was starting to get dark and we weren’t sure what was ahead. We came upon the no name creek that many had warned us about. It was murky, dark water all the way across and quite deep (up for the bonnet). We followed previous recommendations and hugged the left bank all the way across – cheering on Cave Lion as we drove.
The water in Canal Creek is crystal clear and it attracted quite a few campers. We found a spot on the far side of Canal Creek which meant one more water crossing on the day. I checked it out while Miranda took the wheel. There were a few people on the creek, but none were readily sharing any details of the crossing – a bit curious, but what can you do? We went for it and Cave Lion made it through like a champ. Bit of a roar from the engine as she broke through the water on the exit and headed up the steep hill and into camp for the night.
A bit later our friends in the Cruiser and Hilux pulled into camp. We had a great night around the camp fire lobbing questions at each other about our countries and backgrounds. We got to clarify a lot of Aussie slang (which incidentally is infinite and not necessarily intuitive as it often uses cultural references that don’t translate) and appropriate use of the CB radio to passing trucks and vehicles among other things.
Day two on the Tele Track was behind us. Little did we know, the greatest adventures were yet to come.
You may be wondering what our twin five-year old blond haired boys were doing while we were contemplating whether Palm Creek would destroy our newly acquired Cub Camper (read part 1 here). To get a better view of our companions’ creek crossing, and the potential obstacles we might face, we had all scrambled down to the bottom of the creek bed to watch the show.
Fortunately – or unfortunately if you are stuck at the bottom – the Palm Creek crossing was well designed for children passing time. In fact if you ask Lake or Finn, depending on the day, they may list the Palm Creek rope swing as the favorite part of Australia so far!
Yes, if you find yourself stuck at the bottom of Palm Creek, winch-less and waiting for someone to come along with a snatch strap, or if you’re camping nearby and relaxing in the shade, there is a rope swing perfectly sized for young-ins to do their best Pitfall impression. Trained by swinging on vines in the swimming hole near Mason’s store in Cape Tribulation, Finn took to the rope like a natural born Tarzan. He quickly developed a game where he would swing my way, look like he was going to jump into my open arms, and then at the last second twist his body and try to kick me in the belly. It was devilishly hilarious. Like any good brother, Lake overcame his initial hesitation and quickly mastered the rope swing as well.
A half hour later, Miranda had prepared four delicious tuna fish sandwiches, and Lake had perfected the Poppa kick maneuver, declaring himself a level six rope master. Finn was level five. I’m not sure how they kept score, but by this time my aching belly had had enough, so I started exploring other ways to cross Palm’s Creek while Miranda and the boys ate.
What I found was another crossing about two hundred and fifty meters off to the right. It was still challenging, with a steep sandy descent, but the angles were much better for our tow bar. I was a little concerned about an obstacle on red sand that looked unavoidable for our front left tire on the climb out, but the angle looked safe if we had to back down- and we were only a cb radio call or a 5k jog to Bramwell Station if we got stuck… so we decided to give it a go.
We lowered the air pressure in our tires to account for the soft sand, crossed our fingers and took a breath to say “here we go.” Miranda and I reconfirmed with each other the decision to go was mutual – a key to our marital bliss- and I inched the Cruiser forward in low first gear, feathering the brakes but letting gravity and our engine brake do the real work. We were all safely buckled in for the descent, which was good because at that angle you could feel the belt holding you in your seat! We made it down with some bumps but relatively unscathed, and then Finn, Miranda and Lake watched from the top of the creek as our Cruiser, dubbed Cave Lion by the boys, heaved through the crossing, left front tire reaching skyward, pausing for a very long two seconds, and landing triumphantly on the far side of Palm, our camper “Siberian Tiger” in tow. We breathed a sigh of relief and headed onward, our journey on the telegraph track having finally begun!
We are on our way back from an odyssey to Cape York, the northernmost point in Australia and home to one of the country’s most well known 4WD tracks – the Old Telegraph Track. Cape York is about the size of Florida, but it has very few roads, none of which are paved, and many that are only vaguely maintained if at all. The exploration of Cape York is infamous in Australian history, with several ill-fated expeditions, and today the explorer’s spirit lives on in the Old Telegraph Track, a long brutal track with corrugations, deep ruts that punish.
We began the trip apprehensive and excited. Cape York and the Telegraph track specifically is a much discussed topic amongst 4WD enthusiasts in Australia and as we moved closer to “the tip” (the northern most point in Australia located on Cape York) discussions about who was doing the trip and if so which parts of the track to tackle was a common discussion with other travelers we met on the road.
There were so many things to consider. Were we too late in the season to do it before the Wet season began and the roads could become impassable? Was our car up to the journey? Could we tow our trailer? Were we going to run out of fuel in the distances between roadhouses and the occasional town? Would we get eaten by crocs? What would happen if we got stuck?!
We tried to gather details in each conversation about the journey. We knew that the track would be challenging and isolated and we wanted to be prepared. There was talk of endless kilometers of corrugation. I have not been on a corrugated road in the US, but perhaps they exist? For those of you unfamiliar, it feels like driving over an exaggerated rumble strip (the thing on the side of the highway to startle you if you drift too close to the edge). Once you hit a bad stretch, everything in the car is shaking and squeaking so much that it is impossible to have a conversation and it seems perfectly feasible that the entire vehicle is just twelve seconds from disassembling into its component parts right in the middle of the road.
We hemmed and hawed over the decision and finally decided it was now or never. So we headed north from Cairns, spent several days in the rainforest in the Daintree before heading to Cooktown for a final round of supplies and gumption.
Once the land was stretching out ahead of us and the fuel stops needed to be measured, we became eager to get to the portion of the track known as the Old Telegraph Track or locally the tele track. This portion of track was the originally built as telegraph line connecting Cape York to the rest of Australia. Microwave communication obviated the need for the telegraph years ago and the track itself is no longer maintained making it a perfect destination for an adventure road trip.
We spent two days heading 600km north to get to the start of the track. Each evening we would chat with other campers heading back down to understand the road ahead. Jay and I would exchange our learnings and hope that the sum of these tidbits was a reasonable shell of a plan. We weren’t sure.
Last Wednesday we officially turned onto the track. The steepest crossing was the first one. It is a dry river bed with a fierce reputation. We assumed we would need to bypass it because we are towing a trailer, but at the last fuel stop before the track, we were encouraged to “go check it out” as it was only 4kms down the road. I laughed aloud when we arrived. It was too steep to walk down. The angles were absurd, the ruts were deep and it looked nothing like a drivable surface. We stood pondering and another car pulled up with friends from the previous evening. We walked the track together, identifying various hazards along the way. They decided to give it a shot. It seemed clear that gravity would make the approach into the creek bed inevitable, but the path out was anything but. We all watched with a mix of horror and excitement as the ute (pickup) eeked, screeched and scraped it’s way down. It was time for them to drive out. While we all watched from below the ute started to charge out, once at an incredibly awkward angle it stalled out. The driver inched backwards and gave it another shot and another and another. On the fourth attempt the car screamed and bounced over the top ledge of the bank and we all cheered. Then Jay and I looked at each other and said no way are we doing this with a one ton trailer.
We bid our fellow travelers farewell and walked back out of the creek and decided to stop for an early lunch before heading for the bypass. Jay kept looking around distracted. He was convinced there was another way around it that avoided the 90 km bypass. He came back and announced he has found a possibility…
Stayed tuned for the rest of the story!
Lake and Finn have been having fun on our journey seeing wildlife, playing games, and seeing the stars- something that is definitely not available unless you are miles from Brooklyn 🙂
We are about to head out on a road trip to Cape York, the northern most part of Australia, where we will have limited service, so we thought it would be a good time to share some of Lake and Finn’s favorite things.
Some of these have changed over the last two months, some have stayed the same!
The family playlist has evolved quite a bit over the trip. As you can imagine with so much time on the road, we have become very familiar with these kiddo favorites!
L: Let it Go, Home, Feliz Navidad, American Girl
F: American Pie, The Ninjas by Barenaked Ladies, Stay and Defend
L: Blue, second favorite pink
F: Green, second favorite blue
L: Lion, second favorite is a tie between mammoth and orca whale
F: Tiger, second favorite is shark. Tiger sharks are also greatly admired (from a distance)
Favorite Australian animals;
L: “I like all of them!” Koalas, cassowaries and dingos have all been mentioned as favorites over time!
Favorite spot in Australia
L: Fraser Island at Lake Birrabeen. Second favorite- Cub Camper factory outside of Sydney
F: Shipwreck on Fraser Island. Second favorite- world’s largest jumping pillow in Cairns
All my life going to “the Cape” has meant Cape Cod in Massachusetts. It’s taken on a new meaning in the last few weeks as we have gotten ready for the next leg of our journey.
We are pulling out of Cooktown today and headed to Cape York to the northern most tip of Australia. This one is a bucket list item for many 4wd travelers in Australia and we’re excited to have the opportunity to give it a try.
We originally thought we would have to skip it because it is getting late in the season to make the journey and we were worried about doing it alone. We have been assured by many who have just made the trip back that we have a good couple of months before the rain comes and there are enough travelers that we don’t have to worry about getting stuck for too long if something happens. Fingers crossed!
We’ve gathered supplies, gotten Cave Lion and Siberian Tiger serviced, studied maps with other travelers and taken extra long showers. Last but not least, we’ve bundled up some extra adventurous spirit.
We’ll try to update along the way!
After leaving the Gem Fields we decided to continue our trek inland which brought us through Winton to Bladensburg National Park through Hughenden to Porcupine Gorge National Park and then to the lava tubes at Undara National Park.
Bladensburg National Park felt a bit like landing on the moon. It was a truly beautiful location unlike another we have previously visited. It was about a 12km journey into the park. It is an old shearing station that became national park many years ago. One of the most remarkable aspects of it was that each section looked different as we moved through the park.
We then moved to Porcupine Gorge National park, which Jay blogged about here.
The road from Porcupine Gorge National Park to Undara was particularly beautiful and warranted a few pictures on their own.
Onto Undara lava tubes which were created 190,000 years ago.
Tonight marks our 30th consecutive night sleeping outdoors. Without a doubt, this is the longest consecutive stretch I have spent outdoors in my life. There were many elements of this trip that I pondered in advance of leaving New York. I thought about what we would do everyday, how the kids would adjust to being in the car, whether they would want to hike, what I would cook so we didn’t get tired of our meals with limited supplies and many other details large and small. I did not spend much time thinking about what it would be like to live outdoors. I am aware that for many people this aspect of the trip would have stood out as a major area of consideration, but it wasn’t for me. I have spent a lot of time sleeping in tents during the summers in New Hampshire and never thought much about it one way or the other and I think for that reason, I didn’t spend much time thinking about it in anticipation for this trip. I briefly worried about what would happen on rainy days, but other than considering rain, this was not much of an area of interest for me.
I can now confirm for you that, in fact, sleeping outdoors for weeks on end is different than living in a place with walls. For most of my life the weather has been a data point used largely to ensure I selected the right attire for the day – is it raining, super cold or super hot? I have always thought that life in New York City made one much more sensitive to the weather because unlike much of the rest of the US, most people in New York have to do a fair bit of walking to and from transportation and thereby experience the highs and lows quite directly.
Living outside changes the equation completely. I have thought lots about this subject in the last several weeks and honestly there are too many that stand out to put in a single post, but I will include those that I have experienced the most intensely.
First and foremost, when living outdoors the weather is not an input to the day, it shapes it. We regularly reshuffle our plans depending on the forecast. We’ve changed our daily plans and we have altered our route when looking at the forecast.
Rain: As any reader of Miles from Brooklyn knows, we had a lot of rain at the beginning of the trip. Our first two weeks camping were basically a washout. Camping and never being indoors meant that there was never a time to get fully dry. The water permeated just about all of our belongings. For instance, when we woke up in the morning, the previous nights dishes would still be wet and even when we dried them with a tea towel, they stayed wet because there was no way for the tea towel to dry.
Temperature: I have become much more sensitive to minor shifts in temperature. It was cold when we were camping in the mountains of southern New South Wales at the beginning of the trip. The difference in temperature between 25 and 35 degrees F was materially different when trying to suit up for the cold nights. And the temperature ratings of our sleeping bags were a testament to the thermometer. My sleeping bag was rated for 10 degrees warmer temperatures than the others. I was freezing. Jay mocked me (kindly?) for being thin-blooded, but when he swapped sleeping bags, he soon discovered he too could fall prey to the misery of a too cold night. When the thermometer dipped to 10 degrees one night, we struggled to get the dishes done because the ice cubes kept building up in the sink. And on the opposite end of the spectrum, life in a tent when the temperature is above 100 degrees is no joke. It is like a furnace inside the canvas. For many of you who have suffered through hours of me complaining about the heat, I want you to know that the boys take after their mother in this respect, which means that Jay is blessed to have three of us whining loudly about the heat whenever we deem it unacceptably warm. Wonderfully, we just finally put our tropical roof on our tent which is supposed to help create an air pocket to help cool it.
Humidity: “It’s not the heat, it’s the humidity.” We have all heard this saying many times before and without the breaks that a climate controlled environment usually provides to interrupt the humidity level in the day to day, I felt very aware of it. Over the past several weeks, we have taken several paths in and out of different climates: arid, semi-arid, tropical, etc. As we drove back towards the coast earlier this week, after spending the previous week in western Queensland which has been in severe drought for the past couple of years, I could feel it in my fingers as the humidity level rose. And I was appreciative that I made it out of the dry heat before my moisturizer ran out.
Wind: I have never spent much time thinking about the wind except for when I have wanted to take the sunfish out on the lake. There were, of course, days when certain streets became a struggle to get down as they became instant wind tunnels, but on the whole, the wind was not a factor in my life. The wind makes its presence heard and felt constantly when living in a tent. The direction of a gust and its intensity rattles through the tent relentlessly. We consider it when we angle our trailer on a camp site to try to minimize the wind coming up under our awning after it got tossed apart in a gale storm our first week in Sydney.
Moon: One of the most remarkable observations for me living outdoors is being so connected to the cycle of the moon. I rarely noticed the moon living in New York. On rare occasions I would catch of a glimpse of it, but I had zero awareness of its patterns. The past several weeks, the moon has taken center stage. Many nights, particularly when we are bush camping, moon rise is an event in itself – we have even set-up chairs to watch it. During the full moon, it is almost like we are sleeping under a street light. The whole environment glows in its light. Conversely, its absence is also intensely felt and no amount of lights around camp really feel adequate on those nights.
The Dirt: The ground where we are camping is a very present aspect to our existence, but not in the way that you may imagine. We have a hard floor camper, so regardless of the evenness of the ground, soft or hard ground, our beds always feel the same (thank goodness.) But the ground below the camper is still a present feature of our location. The earth below our camper has come in many different forms so far – mud, grass, dead dried grass, sand, rock, burnt hard earth, dust, asphalt and many combinations thereof. The way the earth clings to our clothing, to our feet and to our belongings shifts in each place. It has a way of showing up and having itself be known.
One of my goals for the trip was to feel more connected to nature than I did in our urban lifestyle. Somehow, I thought more about the scenery than the feel of daily life outdoors. I must say I appreciate all the ways I am thinking differently and learning as a result of it… All that said, I really appreciate when we pull up to a campground with a real indoor shower complete with hot water!
The other day we camped in a beautiful national park by Porcupine Gorge in Queensland. This was nearing the end of a nice stretch of bush camping for us where we really set out to get dirty in Outback Queensland. The hike was too strenuous for the little guys, and just steep enough that I couldn’t alternate carrying them on my back, so this time I went solo and took a camera. Well, almost solo. I took this action figure from the kids with me. I call him Outback Stormtrooper.
Despite the scorching heat, I’m a hiking enthusiast thanks to the early influence of my buddy Drew, so this was kind of a treat. I love hiking down these Australian gorges because it’s like the ground suddenly opens up in the middle of a vast arid space and then all of the sudden you have life again – water, flora, animals. One funny thing was that even the flowers in Outback Queensland are out to get you – thorns on a flower in an oasis at the bottom of a gorge- come on!
Gorge hiking is also fun because, as long as you check with the ranger or locals to make sure there are no deadly Australian reptiles or critters in the water, you can usually swim or at least dip your feet in and cool off when you get to the bottom. This was the case at Porcupine — NO CROCS —so I took advantage and took the closest thing I had had to a bath in a few days. As was the case with other gorge hikes, it was easier going down than returning, so when I got back up to the fam I was dirty again!
I didn’t get a photo of the main animals we saw at Porcupine Gorge because I was too busy trying to defend our supper from them! Looking like darker coated little wallabies, the “cheeky” rufus bettong had been fed by too many prior campers and was so unafraid of me it was pathetic. Think me holding a shovel arms outstretched upwards, trying to make myself “look big” shouting “scram” and the bettong just peering up at me – giggling, hopping a marsupial hop forward, and very getting excited to get a chance to taste some of Miranda’s fine chicken curry!
We’ve recently spent five days on Queensland’s own Fraser Island – a world heritage listed island off the coast of Queensland only accessible by barge and only passable by high clearance 4WD vehicles. The trip was a great deal of fun and a good test of our 4WD skills and gear before heading out on longer journeys into “the bush.” We were fortunate to have taken the advice of Vic and Eddy before to outfit our vehicle and camper appropriately! The driver training course with the trailer was also a must as it gave us confidence to go adventuring and also the tools to get out of sticky situations! The inland roads on Fraser were heavy with sand, bumpy and often times encroached upon by obstacles — making driving our camper trailer a challenge at times. Thanks again to all at Great Divide for the tutorial and assistance as we could not have done this trip otherwise!
Fraser Island is the largest sand island in the world, with beautiful raw formations of stunning white sand running about 122kms long. With pristine beaches around the perimeter and forests, lakes and patches of rainforest on the interior, it really felt like we had entered another world. We left for Fraser by barge from Rainbow Beach, and moments after we drove off the vessel onto the sand, we were greeted by a small family of dolphins just a stone’s skip from the beach – paradise found! Don’t worry – I resisted the urge to skip any stones at the dolphins….
The drive to our camp site lasted over an hour and a half and consisted of beautiful beach driving set against a wide open horizon as we raced against the incoming tide to get to our camp before sunset. Unfortunately we faced a slight delay after thinking we had lost our phone in the vast white sands taking pictures – a white iPhone case lost to the dunes, and no means of communication as we hadn’t yet tested our satellite phone. Yikes! Luckily we found the phone the next day (inside the car – not on the beach), but we all would have been in a better mood setting up camp had we not encountered the mini-crisis! Lake in particular was very saddened by the loss of our phone, and asked if when we replaced it we could get the same protective case! After a while of open beach driving we got a taste of the inland 4WD tracks as the sun went down. It made for a challenging drive to take on new tracks with in the evening trying to get settled before dark (we didn’t) but eventually we arrived at our camp site unscathed! Note to all: parking the trailer in the national park campsite in the dark is not something I wish to repeat!
While we were greeted by the friendliest of animals in the sea, Fraser held many of Australia’s famous predators as well. Ocean fishing is allowed but swimming in the ocean is discouraged due to Tiger Sharks. It was fun to tell our “shark master” son Finn about the tiger sharks, but we opted not to ride the waves! Fraser is also home to about 200 of Australia’s purest breed of wild dingos, natural predators which roamed without fear on Fraser’s beaches. We were told the dingos were harmless to groups (including our group of four sticking together) but could be dangerous to lone hikers, and kids who wandered off by themselves, so we opted for the Central Station camp site, which was surrounded by a protective fence. While exploring the island through inland tracks and our beach driving we saw several dingos, but luckily all of these were from the comfort and safety of Cave Lion!
In addition to these predators, Fraser is home to some stunning natural wonders and wildlife – from colorful sand dunes to a lovely monitor lizard that frequented our camp site – and yet another shipwreck to fill the imaginations of our pirate-loving twins!
Our favorite natural wonder on Fraser was a series of perched lakes on its interior, which were accessible by moderately challenging 4WD tracks. The island is actually home to half the world’s perched lakes. Perched lakes are not connected to groundwater, and these were formed naturally through rainwater in the sand over thousands of years and are characterized by squeaky white sand and the purest blue water I have seen! The most well known of these perched lakes was Lake MacKenzie, which is a popular destination for the locals and adventure tourists. Mackenzie was stunning in its size and beauty, but we preferred making the extra effort to drive off road farther to Lake Birrabeen, which was a tad smaller but had the same raw beauty with no other visitors. Birrabeen was like entering a parallel universe. It was truly magical as we had the whole lake and private beach with swimmable waters, white squeaky sand, and even plenty of shady trees to protect us from the harsh Australian sun!