The Blue Tarp Resort

Consider the portable canvas option for your next road trip.

After Mum and Dad told me their camping stories from the ‘50s, pitching a tent somewhere in the great Aussie outback was about the last thing I ever wanted to. But on a 4WD trip to Cape York recently, I rediscovered the primal joys of sleeping under canvas miles from the nearest streetlight or flush toilet.

As you flick through the pages of your favourite travel magazine (yes, this one!) gazing longingly at the golden, palm lined beaches and the lush forest destinations, you might be thinking these exotic locations are the exclusive realm of the rich and famous. Maybe, not! Camping has long been a favourite Australian pastime and an accepted means of visiting places a long way from home without running up exorbitant hotel and resort bills.

I’ll confess that on our tour to the “tip”, we mixed and matched our digs. From the glamour of swish Bloomfield Lodge, to a humpy on the beach at Munbah we truly experienced the extremes of accommodation options. Yet, it was the camping experience that defined our journey.

Sure, camping isn’t for everyone, but you might find it makes an enriching and cost effective alternative for that dreamed-of road trip across the country. By alternating tent, cabin, motel and resort, you can spoil yourself occasionally while keeping a lid on expenses.

My mum, now well into her seventies, rediscovered the joys of camping when she and a friend spent two years exploring the far corners of the continent in a station wagon packed with camping gear.

“Well, darling,” Mum recalls, “we really enjoyed ourselves. It was a relaxing, fun holiday. But we didn’t go without our comforts.”

In those two years, Mum covered the length and breadth of the country, ticking off favourite locations like Charters Towers, Alice Springs, Hughenden, Arkaroola and Kings Canyon.

“We only pitched the tents when we intended to stay more than a couple of nights. It’s a bit of a pest putting them up and down every day, so we’d get a cabin if we were just passing through.”

“Come on Mum,” I implored, “there must have been something you didn’t like.”

“Not really love. We were pretty well prepared and we chose our locations and weather very carefully.”

Knowing your destination and its climate is a key to enjoyable camping. Do your homework and visit locations during their most agreeable weather. For example, the Outback is gorgeous mid-year when the weather is mild and rainfall at its lowest.

Mum rattled off her list of camping must-haves and I compared it with mine.

Tent (one per person); fully-floored with insect netting. Blow-up mattresses. Doona, sheets and pillow (I took a sleeping bag and camp stretcher). Long extension cord, power board with appliances; Jug, toaster, electric skillet, hot plate (or gas primus), portable telly, fan heater. Other useful inclusions; Cut down occasional table for inside tent, hair dryer, reading lamp and/or torch.

Exterior accessories were kept to a minimum, but included folding chairs and table, kitchenware and washing up kit.

Take your pick with food. Alternate eating out at pubs and cafés with cooking yourself. Fresh meat, fish and vegetables where available and tins of soup and stew for the remote spots.

“What about, you know, ones and twos?” I delicately enquired.

“Well we had that sorted too. Let’s just say we had the modern equivalent of a chamber pot when I didn’t feel like going outside.”

Around the country there are serviced campgrounds (showers, electricity, pool, cabins etc) and caravan parks or, for the more adventurous, unserviced grounds deep within National Parks and Reserves with perhaps a “long drop” and a rainwater tank.

Some parks create an instant community, complete with social nights, sausage sizzles and happy hours while others are simply quiet retreats. Or choose somewhere on your own and enjoy the solace and seclusion of a night under the stars with just the sound of a breeze in the trees and birds as your alarm clock.

“After my experiences in the ‘50s, I never thought I’d camp again, but the gear is just so much better now and the caravan parks and campgrounds are almost like resorts now with restaurants, games rooms and activities,” says Mum, “Boy, we did it rough back then!”

A road trip doesn’t mean a remake of “The Long Long Trailer”, instead travel light and lean and consider the camping option to extend your trip and keep costs down.

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