The last couple of Easter long weekends we have found ourselves out in the wild, gazing into a campfire and sleeping under the stars. Well, in a tent under the stars. My sister and her family are our camping buddies, and going bush seems to have become a bit of a tradition for us. There’s just something grounding about the full moon shimmering through the trees, a river whispering nearby, and a blaze crackling in the darkness. And there’s nothing like a wee in the bush to make you feel alive, is there?
Last Easter we ended up at Coolah Tops in central-ish NSW. This Easter weekend we found ourselves camped beneath towering casuarinas beside the Abercrombie River, halfway between Bathurst and Goulburn. When I say ‘found ourselves’ I mean that quite literally. We stumbled upon our location like explorers of old… if they’d had Google maps and a car.
There were a few prerequisites for the location:
- Not too far – it had to be within four hours of Sydney
- Not too cold – my snot actually froze in the tent overnight at Coolah Tops last year
- Not too many people – if I want company, I’ll stay in a caravan park
- Not too susceptible to rain – for obvious reasons
It was not until the night before that we settled on a destination. The coast was out – north and south, rain and wind were forecast. In fact, rain was forecast all over the state, but we persevered with our plans and decided to head west. Our original destination, the Big River campground in the Goulburn River National Park was a late scratching – it was 4WD only in the wet, and neither family has a four-wheel-drive. Thus, at 9pm on Thursday night, car half packed, we found ourselves trawling the Internet for campsites that fit our generally specific requirements. Abercrombie Caves campground was decided as our best option. West of the Great Divide, 75km south of Bathurst, it’s a spot by a creek with the bonus of toilets and hot showers – luxury!
On the road by 5:30am, we hit rain en route to Goulburn. On the Goulburn-Crookwell road, the fog was so thick that we couldn’t see the Crookwell Wind Farm from the viewing platform. But as we headed down the narrow winding road into Abercrombie Caves at around 9am, the rain had eased to a spit. We thought we were in luck, until we found the campsite already chock full. According to the ranger, people had been arriving all night. We had thought we were early! Those serious campers had set up in the dark and rain to nab their spots. Obviously, we were soft.
Not too keen on setting up camp in the middle of a crowd, when we’d come all this way to get out of one, we decided to hit the road and look for somewhere else to camp, away from the flannel-clad hordes. My brother-in-law had a Google pin on a spot around six kilometres south, beside the Abercrombie River, which a friend had recommended for free camping, and that is how we stumbled into the Abercrombie River campsite. Although there were already campers there, unlike the caves campground this spot allowed us to choose a little clearing away from other campers, and set up for a few days of tranquility. Alright, not quite tranquility with four kids under eight – does active relaxation work? If the oxymoron fits…
Allow me to share a pictorial account of our long weekend’s adventures.
Hanging out in camp
We built cairns with river stones (this is mine – most spectacular).
There was a lot of camp chair sitting…
There was frisbee…
And the campfire, of course.
Mini firewood gatherers…
And al fresco dining… (Mmmm red wine in a box)
Stuff to see nearby – Abercrombie Caves
On Saturday we headed back to the Abercrombie Caves to check out the actual caves. The main cave, The Archway, has the largest natural limestone arch in the southern hemisphere, formed as Grove Creek flowed underground and eroded the massive cave. It was $45 per family for the ‘self-guided tour’ – an hour’s meander up the creek and over the hillside, and down into the main cave. The ‘Bushrangers’ Tour’, which explores the cave used as a hideout by some rascally bushrangers, was full. The self-guided cost was probably a little steep for what you see, but the national parks do good work, so we’ll consider it a donation.
The ranger called this the Bridge of Doom…
Irregular flooding of Grove Creek makes a suspension bridge like this one necessary to cross it when the water level is high. I thought The Bridge of Doom was just a funny name, but on closer inspection of those boards, ‘doom’ or ‘death’ or ‘oh my goodness I am going to put my foot through a board and crack my head open on the rocks below’ are all fitting descriptions of it. That said, we all crossed it. I did feel guilty about risking my kids’ lives, but surely national parks have WHS checks, right?
Here is The Archway from the downstream side. On the self-guided tour we followed a track up over the top, and down into the upstream entry to the cave.
Abercrombie Caves have an interesting history. In the 1830s, a group of escaped convicts known as ‘The Ribbon Gang’ robbed nearby properties and hid out in the caves. The cave below, a destination on the ‘self-guided tour’, is known as The Stable Arch, where Ralph Entwhistle and his bushranger gang left their horses while they hid out in other caves in the system. Strangely, the cave still smells of horse manure. (Or was that my imagination?)
The hobbits march into the mines of Moria.
Inside The Archway…
There are some interesting formations inside. Possibly more interesting is the history of the place. When gold was found in the area in 1851, the miners soon heard of the caves. In 1860 they built a small dance platform in The Archway, and gathered in the caves for social occasions. It was replaced in 1880 by a bigger platform, which is still there today, and used for weddings and Christmas carols. I imagine that the acoustics would be stunning.
Outside, while the rain held off, the autumn leaves were irresistible.
More hanging out in camp
Back at camp, the Easter Bunny managed to find us even in the bush. Hardened campers all – who needs shoes and socks on a chilly April morning?
Stuff to see nearby – Tuena
The tiny town of Tuena is just 8km or so south of the campsite. A goldrush town, Tuena sprung up in 1851 when alluvial gold was discovered in the Tuena Creek, a tributary of the Abercrombie River. The “Bookkeeper’s Cottage”, built in 1861 of wattle and daub construction (woven saplings covered in mud and plaster), still stands in a field in Tuena today. It was office and home to the official who tallied the gold before it was shipped out by coach and armed escort – usually to Goulburn.
There’s a free campground in Tuena, too, beside the cricket pitch. The ye olde general store is also worth a visit. Sadly, the Goldfields Inn, built in 1866 and Australia’s oldest wattle and daub hotel, is no longer open for business, which is a shame because we were thirsty.
Meanwhile, back at camp…
Okay, so bush camping means leaving behind some of the luxuries we take for granted – Internet access, electricity, hot water, a shower, flushing toilets – and true, the doorless drop toilet was not salubrious, but getting away from those luxuries is part of the attraction. Red wine and marshmallows by the campfire, real conversation without distractions, and allowing the kids free-range for a few days are the rewards.
PS I cannot give you the exact location of our campsite, because then I would have to kill you.
This post celebrates my two-year blog-iversary! It’s been six months since my last post (returning to full time work and starting a new job have taken their toll on my blogging time) but I couldn’t let Raising Explorers’ birthday pass without a post. Thanks for reading!