The following is a continuation of an Xpedition from December 2018
After roughly half an hour of coaxing and promises of a swim at the beach, I managed to get Pippa and Tilly back into the Troopy after a lengthy break in Kingston SE. We headed south along the coast, passing through Robe for a last minute fuel up before hitting the dunes of Little Dip Conservation Park.
“Little Dip” was proclaimed as a conservation area in 1975 for the purpose of conserving remnant vegetation and a chain of small lakes, which combine to provide habitat for several endangered and vulnerable bird species, and managing the increasing use of the locality for recreation purposes. There are deep limestone deposits created from coral and other sea life that feature prominently along the coast, with multiple secluded beaches along its length. The lakes and lagoons found within are particularly important habitats for waterbirds such as black swan, grey teal, Pacific black duck, and the critically endangered orange-bellied parrot. Other avians you may encounter are the obligatory gulls and pelicans and red-necked stints, sharp-tailed sandpipers, and curlew sandpipers. Fishing is a popular activity to enjoy within the park, with everything from whiting to snapper and jewfish found off the shore.
The north entrance to the park was somewhat bland; a small wooden sign branded with the park’s name and the obligatory pictures denoting what you could and could not bring into the area. A sandy hill surrounded by thick scrub either side contrasting sharply with the housing estate some hundred meters before it now stood between us and the confines of the park.
In accordance with the posted sign, we dropped the air pressure in the tyres to 15psi, the girls both relishing the task and learning a new skill they have since take great pride in doing on subsequent trips. Passing over the entrance hill, we came to a non-descript turn-off and decided to have a look. I could not remember the name of our reserved campsite within the park at the time so took a tab in the dark and headed for the first one I could find. We quickly found ourselves in a scrubby mess, the only identifying features of a campsite being the bollard-ed squares among the trees and twigs. The ground was covered in vines and dead foliage. The girls both turned up their noses at the site as soon as we arrived. I quickly scrambled for my phone and thankfully had enough service to check the online booking I had made before leaving home the week prior. We were at the wrong camp. With a sigh of relief and with the new co-ordinates now set into the HEMA we traveled onward along the northern main track, passing through sand dunes and wetlands as we went. A blocked side trail meant we could not progress south any further and had to cut out north to a main road for a further five kms.
Finally, we found the turn-off for our intended campsite and wound through the short track to Long Gully campground. Situated near the southern end of the Conservation Park it was a welcome sight after the dry and somewhat dismal camps we had experienced at Little Desert. Lush grass spread out across a n open flat between a section of low lying shrubs and a tall stand of dunes that blocked the majority of the blustery winds off the ocean. A large toilet block was sitting off to the side within easy walk. If there was one complaint I could make about the campsite, it would have been a lack of shade or shelter, but once we pulled up and dodged the tribe of caravaners we worked as a team to put up the awning off the Troopy. The girls both did admirably holding the poles as I quickly erected the shade and as soon as I had it standing on its own, they were off, running around as if they had just been shot from a cannon. I let this go on for an hour or two before I got itchy feet.
It was now edging towards the afternoon and after establishing our tent and swags, I decided to make for the beach to check out our surroundings and try to wear the kids out some. We piled back into the Troopy and took off further down the track. We crested a large dune and the ocean suddenly lay before us, a small stretch of beach bordered by rocky outcrops at either end. The track dove down the steep windswept dune onto the beach, running parallel to the waves for two hundred meters before sweeping back into the dunes at the eastern end near the rocks. The surf was rolling in gently, the sun beginning to edge towards the vast horizon. After making the flat of the beach, the Troopy started to slow and stagger, unable to keep up its momentum in the soft sand and began to burrow itself. I stopped before I had dug us in too deep. The girls were curious as to why we had stopped but with their attention now drawn from their storybooks and toys to the scenery outside their windows, they were squealing in excitement and begging to be let out to play.
I gave in to their demands and pulled the Maxtrax off the roof for the first time of the trip. Digging out a foot of sand from the front, I placed the recovery boards just under the tyres and jumped back in, gently accelerating until the plastic lugs caught in the tread. Once I knew I had traction it was a simple case of pushing forward off the boards and gaining momentum to keep me pushing through the soft top layer of sand. I edged closer to the waterline where the more compact sand lay. The girls were oblivious to this however as they rollicked outside, picking up sea shells and throwing sea weed at each other, their tiny un-burdened laughter echoing down the silent stretch of coast, broken only by the rolling crash of the surf breaking against the sand. Once I had managed to free the Troopy from the boggy sand, I parked up on a firm patch of sand back above the tidemark and joined the girls in the sand.
We played together for what felt like hours, picking up sticks and writing our names in the sand, dipping our toes in the surf, competing over who could find the biggest abalone shell washed up on shore. It was the kind of fun that makes time pointless and pass by without concern. As the wind began to cool and the gusts painted us in salt, we saw the sun begin its descent and took our cue to head back to camp for dinner. After consuming almost their entire bodyweight in spaghetti and dragging half the beach into the tent with them, the girls were snoring softly. The sounds of the swell over the dunes was the soundtrack to a spectacle of a clear, starlit night sky above as I stayed up to take care of the washing up and enjoy some quiet to myself before joining the sleeping kids.
The night, while visually pleasant left a bit to be desired. In addition to hogging all the available space with their sprawling limbs, the girls had become notorious bedding thieves as well. While this had been bearable in our previous camps, based next to the southern ocean it had been surprisingly cool overnight and our conjoint lightweight sleeping bags left us shivering through much of the hours of darkness. Yet again, I resolved to go shopping in town to remedy the situation, as I did not look forward to another chilly night, fighting with the girls over my shred of the sleeping bag.
We had a quick breakfast and drove back along the main road to Robe and managed to find a large enough blanket in the local IGA. While there, we stocked up on fresh fruit as the kids had nearly depleted our stocks of blueberries and bananas. My fatal flaw was letting them see the packets as I would later find them sneaking into the fridge while relaxing at camp and devouring a punnet each. Their blue stained grins turning sour as I voiced my disappointment in their greed.
After their lunch, I figured they needed to burn off some energy lest I suffer their boredom at camp, so we set off down the track over the dunes once again to explore further east through the park.
I took the first turn off I found and we were now climbing up a steep and rocky hill, loose sandstone shards flicking from beneath us as we ascended. After a few minutes, we broke through the clutter of shrubbery onto a sandstone cliff, overlooking the small strip of coast we had caroused at the day prior. I drank in the view, took a few photos and descended the rocky slope back onto the track, pushing through our previous day’s wheel tracks and through the dunes once more.
After breaching new ground, we soon found ourselves scaling another loose scrape of limestone, the Troopy spinning its tyres in an effort to gain traction. We ascended the sand blown butte and promptly discovered a happy sight at the summit. A High-Top Troopy, perched atop a cliff face overlooking a grand stretch of beach, its boundary fringed with a long peninsula of limestone towers to the west and a chain of rock pools to the east. Looking over the bay before us, I saw a solitary figure cutting across the foamy breakers on a short board. We watched from atop our vantage point as he carved through the surf with skill and ease. Ultimately, the wave he was riding settled against the shallows and flattened out, unable to propel him further. As he leapt off the board and began to walk along the sand, we picked our way through the limestone track down to the beach and met him halfway, giving a happy greeting to a fellow Troopy tragic.
After a quick chat and with the girls getting restless in the back seat, I decided to park up and let them loose on the shallows. The sun was unobstructed by cloud overhead and turned the ocean waters below a stunning shade of turquoise. The shallows stretched out approximately 50 meters before sharply dropping away to a deep blue, the only break in the surface colours were the white foaming line of waves rolling in towards us. The girls were at first ecstatic to dip their toes into the water until Pippa found what appeared to be a small purple coloured man-o-war jellyfish.
The squeals emanating from her tiny frame were impressive and shocking to say the least. I hurried over to see what had happened and found her standing shaking over the small sea creature. Thankfully, she had not touched it yet however, now aware of the purple entity, we found ourselves surrounded by them on the beach. Unsure of what the purple tinted objects were, we played it cautious and snapped into a single file, carefully picking our way through the sand over to the rock pools.
Scattered amongst the sandstone crags, several hollows had formed small isolated pools as the tide had receded, leaving a selection of private swimming holes for us to investigate and enjoy. Each one was full of turquoise hued seawater and had a soft, sandy base. Each hole had created its own distinct water garden of colour, with bright green sea grasses and kelp patches gripping to the rocks along with a collection of snails, crabs and small fish making the hollow their home.
We spent a while probing through the rock pools, the girls collecting a pillowcase full of shells each to give to the relatives when we finally arrived in Adelaide in a few days. With the sun now at its peak and the mecury continuing to rise, we headed back to the Troopy and had a quick bite to eat. After finishing, we then continued to head east, tackling the dune road bypassing the rocky headland of our secluded beach. After ducking and weaving through the dunes for another few minutes we came out onto another section of beach between two headlands, though much larger than any we had encountered thus far. Pushing the Troopy forward, the sand promptly attempted to swallow us. Revving the old bus hard, we made it through the top section of beach towards the harder packed sand next to the water line. The troopy struggled at first, the weight of the vehicle causing considerable drag as I struggled to build any kind of momentum. Once we had barged our way down towards the water, I soon found the supposedly hard packed sand as soft as the top section. Hesitant to push any closer to the saltwater, picturing my much beloved vehicle being carried away with the surf, I tried to push through but swiftly bogged down, the tyres chewing into the sand and sinking us to the diffs.
Out came the Maxtrax and the shovel and thus began the hour long recovery session. I dug out around the tyres, the hot sun above cooking my bare back as the morning’s application of sunscreen ran out of protection. Placing the Maxtrax down in front of the front wheels I jumped back in and took off again. The Troopy lurched forward, grabbing onto the recovery boards, rolling off and immediately burying itself again. I had gained ground but had no way to build up the momentum needed to push on. I got out and repeated the process, digging out the tyres, putting the boards down in front and rolling forward. Again, I was met with the same result; a meter of beach gained from five minutes of labour. This continued for at least half an hour before I finally managed to find some harder packed sand beneath me. The Troopy powered over a small rise and made another fifty meters before I once again found myself stuck in the deceptively loose sand. The girls in the back were starting to get agitated, as was I. Tempers were unmistakably short for the next forty minutes. I once again grabbed the shovel and the Maxtrax and started to dig my way along the beach, gaining a meter at a time. The heat began to really slow progress as both the sand loosened further and my stamina faded. After a long struggle to free ourselves I got us onto hard ground, putting caution to the wind and driving with one side on the sand and the other in the water. This was the magic spot as we were able to reach a decent speed and made it to a safer spot of beachfront.
Having now run on enough firm ground to get some confidence in our footing back, I pulled up and let things settle down. The girls were fed something more substantial, and given a chance to run around a bit while I downed a litre of water and let the clutch cool down. Not long after our second stretch of bogging began, the cabin had filled with the sickly sweet smell of clutch fluid that was clearly overheating. After a lengthy rest stop, I made the call to head back to camp via the main road and we cut out towards it from our current position, avoiding the beach from there.
Back at camp, I started to feel the effects of the sun and my hour-long session. My skin was defiantly burnt and I was starving. I grabbed a feed, lathered up as best I could with aloe vera and flopped on the swag for a rest. Eventually the girls grew bored of their own company though and I was pulled from my well-earned nap to entertain them until dusk. We made dinner, ate and marvelled at the sky as the stars came out. Sleep was much more pleasant that night, with out new blanket keeping us warm enough, though I ended up kicking it off and relying on the heat my sun-burnt back was giving off.
The next morning I felt a little better, but still sore. The girls were full of energy and they were unmistakably excited as only they could be. Today was Christmas Eve and we were scheduled to make our final destination for the trip by day’s end. Their enthusiasm to help pack up and get us home was welcomed. if not their ability to actually help. We packed up camp with little issue, the only argument coming from the fact their collections of sea shells had now began to stink out the car and I made them cull each selection down to one shell for each for their Nannie. I managed to get them into the car after negotiating to five shells each and left the remainder of the sack behind. We waved a friendly goodbye to our caravan dwelling neighbours, having enjoyed the brief conversations around camp we had experienced in between our jaunts on the beach; I would miss the old fella’s banjo playing in particular at dinner that would echo across the campsite.
We stopped in robe to air back up the tyres and re-fuel before heading towards Adelaide. The drive there was pleasant, save for the near death experiences of idiots in a rush trying to overtake us on blind corners or hills with oncoming traffic. At one point, I had to slam on the brakes to allow a particular silly season sufferer enough room to pull in front of us before he was pushed off the road by a truck coming the opposite way. After these heart-racing moments, we stopped in Menindee for lunch and a play. The girls were demanding something from the bakery only to leave it to go cold as they swung on the park swings and chased pelicans and sea gulls about. I should have learned by now not to try and feed them near something fun.
After Menindee we made the last leg of our journey without issue and arrived at Nannie’s house just after lunch time. The smiles, hugs and four walls were a welcome change from the confines of the car. I settled us in for the week and relaxed on the balcony with a beer, taking in the scenery of the southern coastline of my home-town.
We’d made it.