We’ve camped everywhere, this is No.1
Some are destinations in themselves, others downright dire. Just look for the signs
LEE: THE ROMANCE
I'm not a fan of caravan parks. I'd rather wake up to a dawn chorus of birdsong in the bush, rather than the growl of a neighbour's generator. But there are a few caravan parks that we head to as a first, rather than last, resort.
In the Kimberley we'll stay in Wyndham rather than nearby Kununurra every time. Built in the 1960s to service the Ord River Irrigation Scheme, Kunners (as the locals call it) is trim and tidy with a choice of well-stocked supermarkets, shops and places to eat and drink. It also has eight caravan parks, and in July and August the vans are packed in like sardines. Wyndham, on the other hand, is a ramshackle port established in the 1860s. The streets are dusty, the pub is closed, there's a tiny general store but almost all the other shops are boarded up, although it does have a bakery that makes the world's best barramundi pie. There's only one caravan park, but you can set up wherever you want on the grass in the shade of gigantic boab trees, the kiosk bakes bread each morning, a truck selling fresh fruit and vegetables turns up every Saturday, and the only signs that tell you what to do are giving tips on when and where to see the resident Gouldian finches. This is how all caravan parks should be.
The park that really stole our heart though is the one run by the council in Dunedoo, in central western NSW, and we have stayed there many times. It's a shadeless expanse, grassy in good times and a field of dust in dry times, sandwiched between the Castlereagh Highway and the railway tracks. Freight trains and semi-trailers rumble past all night long, but its location is to beat. A day's drive from where we used to live, in the direction we always wanted to go (west), Dunedoo was always our first and favourite stop.
The caravan park, like everywhere else in Dunedoo, is just a four-minute walk to the pub. One of our stays coincided with Valentine's Day and the dining room was festooned with crepe paper, red balloons and handmade glittery cardboard hearts. The special was a $70 seafood platter for two and included dessert and a bottle of wine. I don't think they eat a lot of crab and lobster in Dunedoo, because when we asked for something to crack the crab claws they presented us with a tradie's hammer, which we shared with the other diners, mostly shy young couples. It was a fabulous, though very messy, evening that has become the benchmark for romantic nights ever since. Nothing's ever quite managed to match date night in Dunedoo.
BILL: THE REALITY
Every night in a caravan park a completely random group of people from around the world, from all walks of life, with all sorts of habits, wants, needs, likes, hates and problems, gather together and get along. Well, mostly. Next morning, they disperse, like dandelion flowers in the wind, to other places. Most never see each other again.
Some do, though, and for a sizeable section of the roadtripper community, usually older couples with caravans, there's a strong sense of camaraderie, shared in caravan parks around the country. "Sundowners", a ritual gathering of the serious nomads, but open to anybody who wants a chat, happens at about 5pm. Drinks and nibbles are brought out and people spend an hour or two swapping stories, sharing tips about life on the road and telling a few lies.
Caravan parks also work for young families. If - make that when - the kids are getting fractious with each other, the best solution is to find some other kids for them to mess about with.
It's not all frolics and friendship. Caravan parks can be pretty grim places, too. Some proprietors are miserable human beings who shouldn't be running a business where they have to deal with the public. A reliable indicator that you've lobbed into the caravan park from hell is "Strictly no …" signs on every door and wall in the place. Too many proprietors are plain greedy - they charge $50 or more for a patch of bare dirt, with caravans "racked and stacked" in tightly packed rows, no shade and no facilities apart from dirty, decrepit bathrooms.
We usually camp in national parks or the bush, but we also use caravan parks on extended roadtrips to enjoy luxuries such as power and a pool, and to clean up and do a few days' work. A good caravan park is a destination in itself, and we've stayed in a few for up to a week, enjoying the experience.
Once in a while you get free afternoon entertainment, laced with suspense, drama and conflict. The plot opens with Him - it's usually a him - pulling up adjacent to "the site". It's been a long day. He just wants to get the thing parked and have a beer.
She - it's usually a she - gets out of the car and begins giving instructions, accompanied by hand signals. He's looking in the mirrors instead. By about the sixth attempt to back the van into the site, she's yelling, and her precise, measured gestures have degenerated into violent upper body spasms, like Midnight Oil's Peter Garret in full flight. Then the swearing starts - at which point it's good manners to turn away and pretend to be interested in something else - until we get to the inevitable unhappy ending:
"All right, that's it. Do it your @#$%ing self, then."
It's also impolite to cheer or clap, by the way.
Originally published as We've camped everywhere, this is No.1