Campers, they are a changin’.Posted: November 20, 2018 | |
Exmouth is the town you go through to get to Cape Range National Park, which is fringed by Ningaloo Reef, one of the largest fringing coral reefs in the world. It was once a naval base for US intelligence during the cold war and the ghost town still exists with its extra wide roads for the American cars they imported so the families would feel at home. It is the gateway to my favourite place in the world.
Once upon a time you had to line up at the entrance of Cape Range National Park at 6am to get a campsite at one of several camps. You would sit there until 8am when the ranger arrived, and like a nightclub at capacity, would be allowed in as campers left. Generally, the vacated campsites all ran out within 12 minutes, and if you had joined the line too late, you would learn your lesson and be back the next morning at 5.45am.
These days you can book up to six months ahead online, which suits those with a solid schedule and a vision. Like a Taylor Swift concert, people all over Australia set their alarms for midnight Australian Eastern Standard Time and feverishly refresh their browsers to snag the oceanfront sites. Waz decided he was that guy, and he wanted to win. At 12.14am he announced triumphantly that we were headed for Cape Range in May 2019. This was one of a number of signs he was becoming too comfortable with having no job.
And now for a Massive Anecdotal Generalisation. After a solid ten years of camping outside school holidays, I’ve noticed a sizeable shift in camper demographics. Before, you could rely on the following:
75% grey nomads chasing the sun
10% young families on the great Ozzie Roadtrip #homeiswhere thevanis
10% European backpackers
and 5% everyone else.
The grey nomads would book sites for 28 days at a time. The backpackers would drive in after dark and out before 7am so they could avoid paying the ranger, leave tomato sauce and tuna tins in their wake, fill the air with Gauloises cigarettes, and (if local businesses are to be believed) the french steal stuff off washing lines and communal fridges. The families would have adorable barefooted children bike riding laps of the camp area well after dark.
Fast forward 2018:
65% are young families travelling Australia for up to three years at a time. The children are the same, with more creative names like Axel and Shayelar. Seven year olds bring their own fishing kit and school you on local fishing conditions. Two year olds called Summa and Raiyn run barefoot across sharp rocks chasing lizards and snakes. The dawn chorus is no longer strains of Slim Dusty, but rather, the sound of a baby massacre as the Under Twos wake up and realise it’s UHT milk again.
The millennial backpackers have swelled to 15%, half still flirting into the night, littering cigarette butts and low on hygiene factors, but no longer driving offensive Wicked Campers, which have gone covert (thanks to collective Australian/NZ blowback). The other half are a new breed of cashed up ‘camping’ internationals, driving Winnebago’s, and sporting one-piece mask-snorkels.
The grey nomads have been chased out by the well organised internationals and families, making up only 15% of the campers. They also taken their solar off the grid to free camping.
The remaining 5% are the same; people like us and newly married older couples “avoiding their families”.
Arriving at Osprey Bay at the witching hour of 3pm (full sun, long day driving), I unpacked a camp chair and a palm sized Wolf Spider flew out and made a bid for my foot. Ten year old Atticus from next door, magnetised by my shrieks, ran over and begged to deal with it, declaring the arachnid pregnant and in search of a nesting site.
Atticus visited frequently over the next two days and proudly told us innocent stories of how his Dad grabbed a turtle and went for a ride, “the turtle didn’t mind”, and his Mum proudly relayed how they had played with a squid until it “inked” them, how he grabbed a python in the Kimberley and how his Dad, despite many attempts, failed to get his hands on a fresh water crocodile at Windjana. I had no words.
Which brings me to the next massive generalisation. All of a sudden, the boom in young families who sell the house and hit the road are a different breed to a few years ago. They are outdoorsy enough to leave the comfort and security of a mortgage and organised sport, yet somehow missed the lesson about NOT TOUCHING THE WILDLIFE. Is this the Steve Irwin generation?
I took to the water. Osprey Bay was as good as ever, but this time it was turtle mating season. One large turtle had a very long tail. A neighbouring camper queried, “Do you think the tail is something to do with arousal?”. I had no words.