Bush

PREPARING FOR YOUR BUSH CAMPING EXPERIENCE:

 

TYPE OF DESTINATION – BUSH CAMPING

The destinations of bush camping really are diverse. They can be as blindingly bright white as the salt pans of central Australia, as red as the earth near Ayres Rock, as pretty and green as the raw native scrub in the blue mountains and as low lying as the salt bush in Western Australia. It’s all part of the Australian bush and it’s beautiful, however the one common denominator that drives your destination is the weather.

Fuel:
When you start to prepare for your bush camping destination driving distance is an enormous issue in a country that is geographically so large. With this in mind, fuel management becomes of high importance. Knowing how large your fuel tank is and how many kilometres you get out of your tank on the open road is a must. It’s also important to consider the type of terrain you will be on – the more off road you get, the harder you will need to drive your vehicle – the more fuel you will use per km. Imagine the excess fuel you’d use in muddy conditions and then add in the weight of your vehicle with camping gear (higher fuel consumption).

The next part of fuel management is knowing where and when you can obtain fuel on your trip. If that becomes an issue, you then also have to look at the option of carrying excess fuel (such as jerry cans or tanks). Don’t forget to factor in extra weight if you’re carrying excess fuel, not to mention managing the risk of carrying it. It really is all a balancing act isn’t it?

(Image 3: Fuel specific Jerry cans)

Water:
Water is one of life’s necessities, it’s importance runs alongside food and shelter for survival – we all need it!

We need water to:

  • Drink
  • Shower in
  • Wash up dishes and clothes
  • To help sanitise (health)
  • In case of an emergency

Knowing what sort of consumption we require per person, per day, to do all of the above will give you an idea of how many litres of water you will require. From here we will need to know what water is available once we reach our destination and how fresh it is. This will also determine what the water is used for such as consumption, washing clothes/dishes and or showering etc.

Then there is the risk management side of water. If our storage drums or tanks are damaged, how much of our water is lost. This is where the option to store excess in separate drums is not a bad idea. Having water stored in separate drums also has the benefit of being able to balance the weight in your car or trailer by distributing them around evenly. Each litre of water weighs one kilogram, so having 4x 20litre drums soon adds considerable weight over all.

Weather Preparation:
We are at a stage where technology can enhance and take the risk out of any almost weather issues when camping. So get yourself a good weather app. Weather can pop up, change and hit you with little or no warning when camping in the bush, so preparing yourself and keeping informed with what is coming is an absolute must.

I often hear the comment from campers “If the weather gets that bad, I will pack up and go home.” I am sorry to say this could not be further from the truth. When an unexpected storm hits you when out camping, you virtually have little or no time to close the windows on your tent, let alone pack up an entire camp. I don’t know how many times we’ve been caught with an unexpected storm and had to anchor down till it passed over the years. In short – the secret is in having good quality camping gear to start with!

“ There is no such thing as bad camping weather…. just bad camping gear!”

Season – Bush Camping
The most common time of year for people to camp in the bush and particularly in the more northern part of Australia is generally called the dry season. This is throughout cooler months and mainly in winter. If you are a retired baby boomer, then time is on your side and we find the earlier months of the dry season is often when you hit the bush/Outback. However, if you are a family (with school kids), then you are usually driven by the school holidays and therefore September is the most popular time.

There are a number of reasons:

  • There is less rain and the chance of being bogged (trapped) in the bush /Outback is limited.
  • After the wet season (summer), a lot of the roads are an absolute mess and many of them are cleaned up and upgraded. This makes remote areas (such as Cape York) more accessible.
  • It’s cooler this time of year and makes for a more enjoyable camping experience. It’s almost impossible to camp in the bush /Outback in summer.
  • It’s a better time of year for those who love the fishing in many parts of Australia – especially the barramundi in northern Australia.

Ground environment – bush camping
Once again, Mother Nature determines almost everything when it comes to bush camping, especially when it comes to rain. Totally contrasting to the likes of the beach , where we can most often let our tyres down and coast our way out irrelevant of rainfall – the bush has a whole new set of rules when it comes to rain. So doing your research and preparing your vehicle to suit the type of ground environment is a must as it decides the type of tyres your vehicle needs, for example:

  • Sandy Desert Bush Camping: requires similar tyres to that of beach camping, the wider and more deflated the better.
  • Dirt Bush Camping: Depending on the consistency of the earth under our feet, once it rains it can quickly turn to mud or clay. In this case you need a thinner type of tyre (we call them cheese cutters).

Rivers and crossings – bush camping
We are all too familiar with the drought that has taken hold in the Australian bush / Outback. But never forget, it does flood periodically and this is something you MUST research and prepare for before you head off into the bush or the Outback. In fact, this happened a few years back in remote NSW and Queensland withe enormous repercussions, limiting access to many bush tourism destinations, and in some cases barges and makeshift bridges were brought in to ship dry season travellers across these flooded rivers.

Windy dry weather – bush camping.
My parents moved to the Sunshine Coast from country Victoria in the early 1980s and throughout my childhood, we took many trips back home to see family over the Christmas period. The hot dry weather used to absolutely knock us for six. When you go outside in the bush you can hide in the shade all you like, but you are still bashed by this hot dry wind that is blown straight from the heat of central Australia. You simply cannot get away from it and can result in heat exhaustion, dehydration, windburn and of course the heavily increased danger of fires so you need to be aware of it.

Fires – Bush Camping:
In 2015, Kerri and I took our girls to Cania Gorge in central Queensland (about three hours inland from Rockhampton). Whilst bushwalking in one of the gorges we came across a fire that we were literally walking around and we noticed the breeze picking up. Wind (oxygen) fuels fire in seconds and combined with a tunnel effect through the gorge, I could see we were at risk if we continued on further. Kerri and I made the decision to turn around and as we did, the rangers came through to shut down the bushwalk behind us. In preparation for this and all types of camping in the bush, researching and knowing what the wind is doing -where it’s coming from – how fast it will be blowing and an innate understanding of your entrances and exits in your camping destination is crucial. Oh and by the way, I ran on strong gut instinct that things weren’t right with the Cania Gorge fire which turned out to be right. Listen to these in built-in instincts, it’s your mind, senses and body telling you something.

The cold when bush camping:
As a contradiction to what I have just told you regarding the heat in the bush, I remember one Christmas Day in the Mallee (Victoria) we had to wear jumpers. It was quite surreal with dry hot temperatures over 40 degrees one day and only 15 degrees the next. When camping in the bush, the winter days can be beautiful, but at night you can get frosts with sub-zero temperatures. Once again, it’s all about research and preparation by having the right gear to suit the right application. Good clothing, good sleeping bags and good shelter!

PREPARING ESSENTIAL BUSH CAMPING GEAR

I’m sure whoever coined the term “four seasons in one day” was referring to the Aussie bush/Outback. Due to the fact most bush camping is done in the dryer months, the days can be beautiful in temperature and as soon as that sun drops over the horizon, the temperature can plummet. So preparing for all types of temperatures is a no brainer when camping in the bush. With that in mind, I have decided to put a focus on the best sleeping kit possible to suit the most diverse temperatures you could encounter!

DURING YOUR BUSH CAMPING EXPERIENCE:

 

ERECTING YOUR CAMPSITE:

When it comes to setting up camp in the bush the very first thing you want to be aware of is your surroundings. Check out what hills you are surrounded by, the types and sizes of trees you could be camping near (or under), the terrain and get a good appreciation of the lay of the land in your campsite (ie: elevation and deviation). This will help enormously should the weather change for the worse. Having a beautiful camping experience can come about from harnessing the suns energy by simply being aware of where the sun rises and sets everyday. Just like we do with our homes when designing them.

FINDING THE RIGHT SPOT:

Finding a new campsite is a bit like walking into a restaurant isn’t it? We walk in, we see all of the tables and we start to look at which table will give us the best dining experience. Camping is the same, we might try to find our own bit of privacy away from others, or maybe even the opposite. Some want to be close to amenities or BBQ’s, while others might want to simply sit where they have a nice view. Now those things are all great, however none of them manage the risk of what Mother Nature could throw and I believe this is equally important (if not more important) than anything else.

Knowing your surroundings
Once again, it all gets back to nature and being aware of your surroundings because camping to suit those surroundings will definitely make for a more pleasurable bush camping experience. Here is a small list of what I look for when I am choosing a campsite for my family:

Sun – bush camping
The sun is the most powerful natural element there is and how we use it to our advantage depends on the time of year we are bush camping, where we are bush camping and what we want (or don’t want) from the sun. Start off by getting yourself a compass. When you start looking for the ideal campsite, the first thing to do is learn where the sun will rise (in the east), and where the sun will set (in the west). There is no exact pre-set direction to setting up camp, it all has to do with getting the most out of the sun. Personally, I am a early riser here in Queensland and I love nothing more than having my annexe area face north east. I love the morning sun and don’t want the heat of a hot westerly afternoon sun. However if you are in a cold climate and you would like to grab as much of the afternoon warmth, maybe facing slightly west might be a better option, it all depends on the time of year, how much sun you want (or don’t want) and using the sun to it’s best advantage. Many avid campers use solar panels for energy. With this in mind, consider where the sun will travel so you can grab as much of the fresh, clean, free energy Mother Nature is throwing at us. Between 9am and 3pm is of utmost importance with solar as it has the highest UV output. Knowing your landscape, ensuring you have clear head room from the trees above to grab the UV and understanding how much lead your solar panels will have to reach your battery system will all need consideration.

Rain – bush camping

Low lying:
There would be nothing worse than setting up camp, having it rain and find out that your campsite is set up in a low lying area once it’s too late and sitting in a foot of water. It’s all about finding high and dry land. You can usually tell at campsites where the water sits most and where the low-lying ground is so keep an eye out for this.

Creek:
After camping on the Sunshine Coast for years you soon start to understand what a flash flood can do to a creek in no time at all. Camping near or close to creek has its risks in areas that have high rainfall and the fact that a creek can rise quickly has to be of consideration. Consider what might happen if the creek rises and floods your camp, or if the bridges get washed out and you can’t get your vehicle out. Always keep in mind that it may not be from rain in your local area. It might be a case of severe rain up stream that has headed down from the mountains. Many streams come from the overflow of man-made dams/lakes and these dams/lakes were strategically designed in areas that are fed from many external creeks, rivers and mountains… it doesn’t take long to happen!

Mountains:
I was talking to the owner of a campground many years ago and he had just purchased a stunningly beautiful campground at the base of the most spectacular mountain range. I can see why, it had bushwalks, kayaking creeks and an abundance of native flora and fauna like you have never seen. I distinctly remember saying to him “What an awesome property you’ve purchased.” He the turned to me and said “It’s pretty and people love it, but I will never by a property at the base of a mountain range again!” He then went on to describe how much water runs off the mountain and through his campground when it rains and how he had to redirect water off the mountain into man made channels – it cost him thousands of dollars every wet season to fix after a decent rainfall. This struck a real chord with me and I learnt a valuable lesson: When it comes to rain and camping, it’s not always about being away from low lying areas. You don’t have to be in low lying areas to have water run through your camp. Understanding the flow of water around a campground or campsite is equally important and particularly when camping in mountain type environments.

Trees – bush camping
When I was about 15 years old we were bush camping as a family in the camper trailer and we’d gone out for a day drive to explore (something dad always loved to do). While we were out, a tremendous electrical storm blew through the area and when we got back to camp there was a makeshift emergency fence set up around our campsite. Rangers had chainsaws running and we had this enormous branch off a gumtree piercing straight through our camper trailer (it’s lucky we weren’t at home). We still talk about it today and because of that experience we all know too well how brittle many of our old large native hardwood trees can be, so much so that he calls them the Widow Makers! We broke one of our primary rules of camping – never set up directly under trees. It’s a trade off – it’s much cooler under shade, but you have the worry of bird droppings and sap damaging your equipment and solar panel use (access to the sun) is harder over distance. Personally, after that experience I now set set up camp away from the trees and sleep easier at night, but I do have some great shelter to keep my family cooler in Summer.

BUSH CAMP – GROUND SURFACE:

Ground surface – pegs:
There are so many different types of ground surfaces when bush camping and knowing what sort of pegs to use can mess with your head a little. Is it going to be desert sand, hard shale, soft mud or volcanic rock? That’s right, you read that right – volcanic rock! It’s a bit of a problem in some places as we head bush here in South East Queensland. This volcanic rock sits about 10cm just under the top soil and just when you think you are starting to really drive your tent peg home – you hit rock! The peg bends and you have to start again. So if bush camping is your thing, you will need to have a diverse range of tent pegs to suit a diverse range of ground surfaces. It’s a safe bet to carry both a set of sand pegs and a set of hard ground pegs where ever you go.

Post bush camping experience.

Cleaning up after a bush camping experience is probably the easiest of all, because there’s usually little or no salt to deal with (like beach camping does) and it doesn’t rain as much in the bush, so there’s no need to dry out all the gear when you get home (like rainforest camping). The most work usually comes from those who have travelled through loads of fine dust and bull dust. Just like talc powder this stuff gets into everything and it doesn’t seem to matter how well you wash your car, this fine dirt seems to leak out of your car after every wash you give it for the next 12 months. Bush camping can often mean a bit of rough terrain that can be hard on your gear so pack tightly and pack well for the drive home.

Driving Home – Bush Camping:

Driving home – animals on the road:

Because Australia is so big, bush camping usually means lots of kilometres on the outback open roads, which also means an increased likelihood of wildlife. When you combine long-distances with extended travel time behind the wheel and fatigue, then throw wildlife into the mix, it’s a recipe for disaster. In 2015 Kerri and I went on a camping trip throughout central Queensland where the drought had hit hard. Because of this, many of the native animals (and non native ie: escaped cattle) were moving closer to the roads to find food. So take care, be alert and always slow down near animals on the side of the road. On that note, I would suggest a bull bar for the front of your vehicle if you intend on doing a lot of bush camping. Make sure you see a professional for advice.

Driving home – pot holes:
When you’re driving in the bush/outback and off the beaten track, the asphalt is generally only one car width, wide. So with on coming traffic, we all move our passenger side wheels off the road as we pass the on coming traffic. The problem here is that speed and large pot holes don’t mix. The damage these pot holes can do is horrendous (especially if rain has been through). It is not too uncommon to hear of someone who has broken a spring on a camper trailer or caravan when driving in the bush and if so, I will almost back my life that it is on the passenger side. It’s all pretty simple – slow down when required!

Driving Home – corrugated roads
In some parts of Australia, driving to remote destinations for a good old bush camp can sometimes mean corrugations. A corrugated road can do serious damage to your precious camping equipment. The constant vibration through your car and the relentless rubbing, scrubbing, wearing and shattering of your goods (and vehicle) isn’t fun to deal with when you get home. So packing your goods to come home, in a way that reduces any unneeded wear and tear is a good idea. Always take the covers off your gazebos when packing them into the carry bags and I wouldn’t advise to use tents that permanently have frames incorporated into the canvas (the corrugations will aid in the rubbing of material on frame). Be sure to pack some sort of matting between your food in your 12-volt travel fridge. We use scrunched newspaper and miracle grip, which is an anti-slip mat for caravan cupboards.

Clean Up – Bush Camping

12-volt fridge – maintenance

As mentioned earlier, dust from the bush can infiltrate just about everything, however we don’t see this dust sitting on the hidden condenser systems of our 12-volt compressor driven travel fridges. Just like a car, the condenser is a type of radiator and it is designed to get rid of heat. The minute a thin layer of super fine dust sits on or in the condenser of a 12-volt compressor driven fridge it will struggle to get rid of heat and it will make that fridge run harder and therefore it will use more power continuously. The smaller and more closed/compressed the condenser is in a 12-volt compressor driven travel fridge, the more likely they are to clog with this fine dust.

The larger a condenser is and the more open/clear the condenser is, the less likely they are to clog, the more efficient they can often run (not always – but mostly) and therefore the less power they will use. Regardless, this fine dust needs to be taken care of and these condensers (irrelevant of which style you have) need to be cleaned to allow the fridges to perform at their optimum level. Unfortunately it involves taking the housing covers off your travel fridge and I would not be doing this unless you contacted your travel fridge manufacturer first!