One-A-Week # 8 Clandestine camping and screaming belligerents on the Murray’s red cliffs

For a long time, I’d heard rumors of a place along the Murray River, where the cliffs are a rich orange color and soar high above the valley. From all that was described of the place, it sounded amazing. I have always wanted to see it and on Friday, I finally decided to go and camp there for the weekend.

I finished work early that day, after using a phony excuse leave – “I have a doctor’s appointment”. (It may be cliché, but it’s always effective). I finished at about two p.m.; quickly went home to pick up Wanida and some gear and was on the road by 2:45 pm, bound for Nildottie, a dainty town about 5 km from where we were camping.

It was a one and a half hour drive along straight roads that stretch kilometers off into the distance and one in which few other drivers visit. The roads, while beautiful, left us feeling a bit hesitant. Kangaroos lined the fields on either side of the road just waiting for the opportunity to dash in front of the car and the all-too clueless Galah’s whom wait until the last possible minute before deciding to fly off the road no matter how much you sound the car’s horn. Astonishingly, my roadkill count remained at zero.

After dodging all manner of wildlife, we found ourselves on the side of the road with Google Maps telling us to turn left and head directly through a paddock. An old and overgrown road could be seen carving its way through the field, but our little four-cylinder Yaris with its balding tires and rusting components didn’t seem like a good candidate for bashing through a paddock in the middle of nowhere.

On the map, we could see that there was another track about 100m in front of us, which connected to the road that the paddock trail would eventually have met. This second track didn’t really instill that much more confidence in us than the first had. It too was some random road that cut through a paddock, although this one appeared to have, at least, been maintained with a gravel covering. Hesitantly, we headed up it with the GPS now rerouting and saying that we could make it down this road.

Following the road for several hundred meters through tall grass which hid the surroundings from sight, it eventually opened up to an incredible site. A free-flowing river carving its way through a barren landscape with rich orange cliffs on its flank. An immense number and variety of birds could be seen flying around and floating on the river. The sun was beginning to set giving rise to a majestic golden light that only further added to the majesty of the view.

We didn’t have much time to stand there in awe. We needed to find and set up camp. We could see where we needed to be we just had to get there, but the road we were heading down, which the GPS told us to follow, was heading in the opposite direction and was increasingly looking like some random road with no end. Despite our hesitancy, the GPS had not led us astray in our prior travels so we continued.

Rocks could be heard hitting the bottom of the car and the road had devolved into, not so much a road as some great field of boulders. And still the GPS was telling us to push on. We were just about to give up when we saw the end of the road. It was a flat piece of land right at the river’s edge. Old Gum Trees were the perfect place to hoist our tent from and provided us with a near endless supply of wood, in the form of fallen limbs, for the night. It would be a perfect place. The only problem. Directly to the left was someone’s house. That’s right. We had not been driving down a road. We had been driving down someone’s random driveway. There was nowhere else to go. The road ended at this house and wheat paddocks lined both sides of the road.

In the distance, standing in front of the house, we could see someone, toting a shovel in one hand, frantically waving the other and shouting at us. It appeared as though he was indicating for us to turn around, although he seemed to be doing so in a belligerent manner. He was quite a distance away from us, but closing quickly. I didn’t need much more motivation than some random guy screaming at us in the middle of nowhere to turn the car around and get the heck out of there, all the way back down the rocky, pothole-ridden road.

There we were, 45 minutes later at the exact same place we had been before the GPS told us to head-off down someone’s driveway. We could see where we needed to go. It was tantalizingly close. So close as to be mocking us. We just didn’t know how to get there. The first thing we knew we had to do was get rid of the GPS, which wanted us to turn around and face the screaming man again.

Not sure what else we could do, we started on our way back to Nildottie, where we knew a free campsite was. On our way back, a blue sign could be seen in the distance. It seemed to beam out across the road as our car’s headlights reflected off it. As it drew closer and closer, we began to make out what it said. The sign read ‘The Big Bend Lookout’ and pointed to a road of to the right. (After all that had happened, it turns out that it could have all been avoided if we had been watching the side of the road earlier that day). The road was hidden by trees but opened up after about 20 meters. It was a bitter-sweet moment. We had found the Big Bend after an ordeal. The sun was just setting on the horizon, but there was still enough light to make out the landscape and the incredible river bend.

While we were very happy to have finally found what we were looking for, there was still an issue. Where to sleep? There was nowhere to sleep at the lookout; I didn’t fancy pulling out the swag at, what is essentially, a truck stop. However, there was a thick scrub either side of the lookout, which appeared to be navigable. It would not be a ‘legal’ campsite, but it was going to be ours. We headed into the scrub, weaving between trees and making sure to not drive over any small shrubs until we were far enough in as to not be visible from the road.

 

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We found a small clearing on a rocky outcrop where there were no trees hindering the views of the river. We couldn’t have imagined a more perfect location. With the final rays of sunlight disappearing on the horizon, we grabbed some chairs out of the car and drank a little bottle of tawny that we had found in the cupboard before we left. We spent the next couple of hours watching a movie on the laptop but were in bed before 10 pm so we could be up before sunrise the next morning. This would stand to be an unsuccessful decision.

Waking to the sound shattering horn that is my alarm clock, I felt a sense of anger, not for this terrible noise, but for the fact that what should be a bright red sky with the rise of the sun, was a dark dreary, overcast day and the rising sun could not even be seen through the thick vale of clouds. I contemplated going back to bed, but I was already awake by this point. It seems that I was destined for failure from the beginning, even if there was a nice sunrise. For you see, the sun rises in the completely wrong direction. The sun rises behind the cliffs. And so the valley through which the river flows remains in darkness until about 10 am.

This didn’t get the day off to the best start, but it was hard to find an issue after the sun had finally risen and illuminated the river. It is an incredible place to camp and one that I shall eagerly await to return to. I just won’t be getting up at dawn or facing shovel-toting belligerents again.

 

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