Wednesday, August 04, 2010

On the Road, Headed North?

We decided to go up North to check out the rain forest before heading south on our way to Sydney. After stopping at the grocery for some food we left Cairns headed north with no real plan other than that we were going to camp somewhere for the night and preferably not pay anything. We filled up at a gas station (passing by a BP) and checked the oil (she needed some) and coolant and topped off the tire pressure. We were surprised to see that the air compressor at the gas station was not only FREE but filled your tires automatically up to whatever pressure you punch into the LCD screen on the front of the machine. Very cool. It took a little while to figure out highway roundabouts and fortunately for us, keep left, signs are plastered everywhere. We stopped at a campground RV Park but at 13 dollars per person per night we decided to move along. We made it to Mossman around 7pm and stopped to look for the flashlight we had bought since it was dark but we had lost it. A guy working at a coin laundry place looked at our car and said, "Couldn't have found a smaller one could you?" to which I replied, "we really tried, but no". I asked him about a real cheap campground in the area and he asked if I had read the local paper lately.

Apparently the stereotypical young car campers are the bane of Australia's east coast small towns and communities hold meetings where citizens complain about them. He told us however about a rest stop area with toilets and picnic tables about a 1 km down the road over a bridge that he figured we could just throw up our tent in. He had a very serious look on his face when he warned us not to go near the river due to crocodiles. When we got there, there were about 4 other camper vans (Volkswagen type) already parked and a sign indicating no tents allowed. We decided that it was a good bed and it was already dark so if we got up early enough we shouldn't have a problem. While cooking dinner (sausages and onions with garlic bread and pasta and chicken for tomorrow's drive) a police car drove through the park and said a friendly "hello" to us and didn't stop. We took this to be a good sign but wondered if they were just checking for tents. In any case, we had an uneventful sleep until around 5am when a garbage truck rumbled through about 6 feet...sorry, i mean about 2 meters, away from the tent and woke us up wondering where the swat team was to haul us away.

We were up by 6:30 and put away the tent post haste just in time for a town council "patrol" van to drive through and speak to all the campers in the park. "Did you sleep here last night?", he asked, "Yes" I replied. "But we didn't have a tent, we saw the sign" I said with a perfectly straight face. He handed me a piece of paper detailing the rules of the the park which was basically NO CAMPING and took down our license plate, my name and license number. He wasn't authorized to give tickets and I probably could have refused to show my license but I figured that just humoring him for whatever he wanted save for money would help out the next guys he comes across and we're never going to be here again. He was very friendly and offered me a list of RV parks that we could stay at. After he spoke to the other "campers" (who were not using tents, sleeping in their vans) I asked him about cheaper camping like "tent camping" that was free and he recommended a national park on Noah's beach which we ended up staying in that night.

Many young car/van backpackers/campers we have met have been met with similar warnings about camping. They fill up the parking lots but aren't technically "allowed" to sleep in their cars and must use window shades to avoid giving probable cause that someone is sleeping in the vehicle. It seems that cheap tent camping is hard to come by and must be booked in advance over the phone. Other differences are that fires seem to be generally disallowed in all parks and amenities are very basic with just a toilet and no shower house in the "tent camping" campgrounds.

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