Chapter Five: Did I mention that it rained?

So there is a running gag over here that if it doesn’t rain on the Easter long weekend then it mustn’t be Easter. To keep in step with tradition, showers were forecast for late Friday through Saturday and then heavy rain periods on Sunday and Monday*.

Believe it or not, but I don’t much mind camping in the wet. We have a kick-arse tent and hello, did I mention I have four sons, the idea of mooching around in drizzle doesn’t much bother them. Well, most of them.

Anyway, it did rain on and off over the first few days (Friday – get there, set up, drink wine; Saturday – drive an hour to Goulburn to buy everything we forgot including a GAS BOTTLE and GAS and Easter eggs and chocolate for me and maybe some more chocolate and oh yeah perhaps some food for the next few days; Sunday – first (and traumatic due to poor planning on our part) cave tour and general hanging around) but the main impact it had on us was not being able to sit around a camp fire.

But then on Monday a bit of cabin fever set in and oh yeah, MY PERIOD ARRIVED. Awesome. At least the insatiable appetite for chocolate could be explained.

So we decided to do this round-trip bush walk which took in an old quarry site and a waterfall. It was 4kms all up and we figured that was what we’d been doing going to school and back each day all term so it should be no problem whatsoever.

I stuffed some snacks in the bottom of the baby carrier, made everyone carry a drink bottle, Chef got the camera gear organised (including the tripod! Cue classy artistic shots!) and we set off.

There was some very light drizzle – more like that moist misty air than anything else when we set off. Certainly not enough to make us not go. Although part of me was thinking, ‘I wonder if this is a good idea’.

It took us a little while to be sure we were on the right track.

Let me just leave that statement with you for a little while.

Yeah. One of the things we loved most about Wombeyan was how hokey it was. But the part of the hokey that included basically no signage was a little irritating. A few days later we were talking with one of the rangers and he was telling us about this 9km walk he did one day. I asked him if there was a booklet or a brochure with different walks you could do starting from the caves area and with an excitable, ‘no!’. Awesome.

So we’re heading up what we think is the track which could also be a fire trail but the one sign we saw (back in the middle of the campsite with an arrow pointing in this vague direction) had us thinking ‘this must be it’.

Then that wet air became rain. Not heavy rain, but rain all the same.
Jasper had insisted on wearing shorts – partly because Felix was and partly because we hadn’t moved into ‘big’ (i.e. long legged) pants at home yet because it wasn’t cool enough. So yeah, we’d set out for a bushwalk, in the rain, with our little scarecrow child wearing shorty shorts. Awesome.

Early on we did score some points with the kids with some kangaroos on the opposite hillside. There’s a merino sheep in that picture somewhere too but I could have already been hallucinating. Grover, while the youngest, is an absolute lump of a kid and carrying him on my back was kinda making me dizzy and faintly nauseaus.

But I do love me some Australian bush and it was looking quite romatic in the what was now quite heavy rain.


And well, I am very partial to a rocky outcrop

By now we were basically committed to this walk. We were up a significant hill and the whole thought of what we’d do if we had to go back was enough to keep us going forward.

The boys were enjoying it. Chef and I started to – silently – have our concerns. Then we came to a blockage on the track. And by a blockage I mean a very large multi-trunked felled tree. There were five main branches/trunks and it was basically when I started thinking of that family who had broken down in the snow somewhere in the US – and the husband had gone for help and she fed her small children on breastmilk. I was thinking how much it would take for me to breastfeed an almost nine and an eleven year old when I realised I wasn’t breast feeding anyone and hey, I’d packed Space Food Sticks! And bananas!

Anyway, with Grover on my back I managed to scrap under two of the branches and very ungracefully scale the rest. Then it was me and Chef getting Jasper over and under, then Oscar (OI) and then coming to the fork in the trail.

OH HELL YEAH.

Except it wasn’t really a fork, it was more a range of possibilities.

Felix who was now having an AWESOME time went off down the first way and I – because I’m like that – followed. We came to what looked like a very old dam wall. Here’s an excellent photo of it for you. If you squint you can see it up there.
That was the moment when I thought ‘is this it? is this the effing waterfall? because if this is the effing waterfall I’m really pissed off now.’

But Chef – the man of reason – had recognised the other trail was the correct one and was heading off in that direction. Except part of the track had fallen away/was too slippery due to the now torrential rain/wasn’t really part of the track but in the blinding rain seemed to be so it was quite a procedure getting me, Jasper and Oscar down it.

By this time Jasper was all, ‘I’m fweeezing. This is a bit daygerwouse for me. I’m fweezing,’ and so on and so forth.

Oscar was getting anxious.

Felix was having a blast.

Grover was fine except for when I had to lean forward/back/up/down.

And Chef said, ‘well, if we don’t have to call the SES it’ll be a good walk’.

At that point we came to the base of what was quite obviously ‘the waterfall’. Of course, taking in the decade long drought in the area and ignoring the downfall we were currently experiencing, it was really just a rockfall. Here we cracked out the snacks – space food sticks, bananas, mandarins. We were sort of protected in the gully and were remarkably in good spirits. We agreed that a photo was in order because there was no way we had schlepped that effing tripod with us without using it. It only took two shots and I do believe, apart from me looking slightly crazed and Oscar holding back tears as Felix has just shoved him and he’d fallen over a tree root and Grover looking scared and Jasper looking like an icicle, it’s quite a good shot of the fam.


By now we’d be walking for well over two hours. Of course in thinking about distance we had forgotten to consider the topography. To school and back is 4 kms but it is on a footpath and is flat. Yeah. Idiots.

Anyway, we trudged our way out and were spurred on by the promise of hot showers.

Then we got back to the tent. One of the ropes that the little fellas insisted on ‘twanging’ had given way in the rain so the awning had fallen down in one corner, thus creating – OH THE IRONY – a waterfall into the middle section of the tent.

So for another 10 minutes everyone was left shivering outside in the rain while Chef and I – on hands and knees – mopped it out and assessed the damage. Blessedly my predisposition to plastic crates has kept all our food dry and the bag with all our jackets, scarves etc was in the far corner and the water had not yet reached it. Score.

So that, my friends, was the day we went bushwalking.

Oh, and some of those classy artistic shots? Nope. Not one. Too busy getting kids over logs, under logs, along slippery NARROW paths. You know. Here are some real quality shots for you to enjoy.

*It maybe would have helped had I known this forecast before the events that followed.

Chapter Four: The Caves of Wombeyan Caves


So this is where I should probably declare my love of rocks. I studied geology for the HSC and it was my favourite subject. By.far.

I wanted to be a geologist/journalist who wrote for National Geographic* but discovered that at uni, to study geology, I would have to study physics and chemistry.

Which scared me a lot.

So now I just subscribe and wonder what could/would have been.

But rocks still have a place in my heart.

There’s over 500 caves at Wombeyan but only five are open to the general public. We managed to get through three of them this trip and they were just spectacular. This is on the track to one of the caves, looking across a valley to another cave. I find it deeply compelling – what’s in that cave, is it just a narrow opening? Does it run deep into the hillside? What was this like 100s, 1000s of years ago.

I get carried away in all that fresh air.

This was walking up to where you meet the park ranger to go on a guided cave tour, looking back on Wombeyan valley. I can’t tell you how restorative I found the whole location:

From the same spot, this is looking across to Victoria Arch – a massive opening and quite the landmark of the caves
This is in the Arch looking up
To enter the caves you have to go through quite ominous looking doorways:

I was a bit worried I might freak out with the whole confined spaces issue but it was cool. Literally and figuratively. Besides I had things to take my mind off cave-ins, crawling through spaces my body didn’t fit and so on and so forth.

But I’m getting ahead of myself, here’s just a few samples of what is inside the caves


Just lovely.

However.

On our first cave tour, just after we’d negotiated the vertical staircases (also known as ladders. Shut Up.)

carrying a small child and guiding a special needs child Grover says, ‘bot bot?’

Oh crap.
It dawns on me that it’s 10.30am and he normally has a day sleep around 11am. Considering the interesting definitions of sleep he’d been trialling I realise we’ve just embarked on a 45 minute tour through.a.cave. with a baby who wants a bottle and to go nigh-nigh. Oh crap.

The whinging started.
Then the crying.
Then the hitting.
And some more crying.
Then the screaming.
And some more hitting.
And I started to totally lose my shit.

I swear to God we put the breeding program of the three young couples also doing the tour back by a good decade.

He was not coping.
I was not coping.

The big boys were having an absolute blast.

The next guided tour we took was a lot more successful as was the self-guided one. Thank God.

We’ve saved two of the caves to explore on our return at Christmas.

Back fat, flat arse, exhausted child.

* I also wanted to be a policewoman, politician, speech writer, actress, business mogul.

Chapter Three: The first night

So you want to know what you look like after the first night of camping with four kids, one of which only knows how to go to sleep by being on his own, in a darkened room, in a cot?

LOOK! It was so horrendous it made my boobs sag. No. Seriously. They used to point to the sky. In about 1982.

Even Jasper was bleary eyed. Although I must say, he is certainly not a morning person.
Neither is Felix
But this, this was the offender:
OH NO, don’t be fooled by all that cuteness, those big blue and brown eyes, those lashes. Do.Not.Fall.For.It. It took him about a hundred hours of screaming to fall asleep – eventually succumbing to the land of nod in the middle of the tent on the cold hard ground at around 10pm, which when you’re camping feels like 3am.

I moved him ever so gently into our bed and that was a success until midnight. When he had a fairly standard session of light sleep that would normally have seen him sit up, roll over, find his thumb, find his Bobo and go back to sleep.

Instead he sat up (in his sleep) went to roll over and landed on Chef which then caused him to scream for about the next hour or so. I actually started to panic as it wasn’t his normal scream it was a rigid head thrown back body as stiff as a board eyes not focussing scream. I thought at one stage he was having some sort of fit and there was absolutely nothing, NOTHING, that would make him stop or even scream a little bit more quietly.

The scrag in the tent next to us started swearing at us. Can you believe that!?! I mean, she even had kids of her own. I was going to yell ‘have a little compassion’ back at her but thought she may well burn our tent down so just didn’t go there.

The only thing he wanted was the beep beep (the car) and the beep beep to go brum brum (ie – let’s GO THE FUCK HOME). So there I was, now around 1ish, sitting.in.the.freaking.car. with the little fella, who was doing that shuddery breathing that comes following a good hard screamfest.

Everytime I went to go back into the tent he would start up again.

When he realised we were not going anywhere in the brum brum he was all – let’s go down there – to the camp kitchen. But I wasn’t allowed back to the tent for my ugg boots. SO – in the FREEZING and WET middle.of.the.night. there I was walking this little turkey all the way down a gravel/dirt/mud road to the kitchen. And back. Twice.

Feeling in my toes has returned since, thank you for asking.

He finally relented at returning to the tent – perhaps due to his need to raise his body temperature winning over the urge to scream – and we got a whole two more hours before the screaming started again. This time he wanted a bottle and listen, quite frankly by then I was happy to give the kid his first Bacardi Breezer and packet of Winnie Blues if he’d just – FOR THE LOVE OF GOD – stop crying and go back to sleep.

This time I remembered my ugg boots and down we went to the camp kitchen (because he refused the bottle of cold milk – I KNOW. DON’T START. I WAS DESPERATE). I only nearly died three times – the first when a kangaroo.as.tall.as.me. bounded across in front of us and then when we saw more down near the kitchen and can I just say, these roos weren’t skippy, they were more the Australian version of Frank.

Anyway, after the bottle we got a whole two hours more before – HELLO NATURE! HELLO BIRDS! – the rest of the boys woke up and the day started.

Chapter Two: The Journey

Chapter One is back here.

I did forget to mention that during the process of packing I had made a cup of tea which had gone stone cold. I reheated it in the microwave and as I pulled it out realised just how hot I had made it but instead of just releasing thought I could get it to the other side of the kitchen and drop it in the sink rather than making a mess on the bench and in the nuker. Idiot. The burn on my left thumb was impressive, resulting in a massive blister taking up much of the top third of the finger. Awesome.

So, with injured hand, dubious packing and questionable food stuffs in tow we set off to Wombeyan Caves.

According to the official NSW Parks and Wildlife website, the caves are a mere 2 1/2 hours from Sydney through Mittagong or 3 through Goulburn. They give you a mild heads up that the trip via Mittagong includes “some steep winding roads”.

Chef had, in something eerily similar to his father, printed off a detailed set of directions including estimated times and distances of each section.

We thought it curious that the section between Mittagong and the caves, a mere 48kms (30miles), was given 1.5 hours to complete.

But I’m getting ahead of myself.

First, we pull out of the driveway and about two blocks down the “I’m hungry” brigade starts up. Twenty minutes into the trip we go PAST our turn-off so as to satisfy the hordes at the nearest McDonalds. It is a rule in this house that any major road trip must feature McDonalds within the first half hour of the journey.

I know. We’re moments from living permanently in a caravan and chewing tobacco.

Anyway, “food” is distributed and we get back to the task of actually going on holidays.

Then we stop. On a motorway. Several times. Because EVERYONE else is leaving Sydney too. That and the roadworks always required on a motorway only built a couple of years ago because of course it wasn’t built with enough lanes in the first place. Idiots. We even chat to people in cars around us. Tragic.

We get moving again. Finally and before you know it, we’re in Mittagong.

Somewhere in the previous two and a half hours – because that is how long it’s taken us just to get to Mittagong and YES, apparently we should be at the campsite setting up our tent by now because Wombeyan Caves is “a short, spectacular drive from Sydney…” – Chef chuckles as he reveals he forgot to put the gas bottle in*.

I confess we’re going to have to buy the boys more socks.

I point out we forgot to go to Chef’s parents to get their camping table. We have a small bridge table packed which we normally use as a bench, prep table so it wasn’t a disastrous omission.

As we were leaving I realised that we’d run out of nappies. I had some pull-ups left over from toilet training days of Jasper that would have to tide us over. We’re going camping with a 21 month old and I have forgotten to buy nappies. Awesome.

We agree that a trip to Goulburn is going to be unavoidable on Easter Saturday.

Then we reach the Wombeyan Caves turn off. This “road”. This ” short, spectacular drive” with “some steep winding roads” turns out to be – as the Head Ranger will later say – up there with some of the worst roads.in.the.country.

It’s unsealed (ie dirt). There are sheer drop-offs to gullies below. Sheer walls of rock up the other side. It’s all only wide enough for one and a half cars. There are large rocks scattered on the road that have clearly f.a.l.l.e.n. off the cliffs. It is hairpin bend after hairpin bend down mountains, across valley floors and back up around mountains again.

It is spectacular.

It takes an hour and a half.

Chef and I keep joking that there better still be campsites available once we get there. (You can’t book)

When we finally reach the campsite the place is heaving. The Easter weekend is its busiest time of the year and as we drive around desperately searching for a spot to set up camp we get the distinct feeling that everyone else has been coming here for decades.

We’re not joking anymore.

We eventually find a spot and just kind of ignore the “no camping, no campfires” sign because the site is nice and flat, relatively close to one of the amenities blocks and someone else is setting up a tent closer to the sign than we are (technically we are camping before the sign and therefore its message).

The people next to us seem OK and have two boys about the same age as Oscar and Felix. It looks good until the mother says to us, ‘I hope none of them are early risers’. Chef laughs at her. Bless him. She mutters something about how there’ll be a lot of swearing if one of them wakes her up. Um, welcome to camping lady.

Critical to pitching a tent is a game of footy. Note Jasper with the mallet.

The boys are excited, Chef and I are relieved and the location? Is just divine.

It is a long valley with tall poplars lining the road through the campsite to the caves. There’s a wide open green field for cricket, footy and grazing kangaroos. There’s tennis courts built in 1956 which have not had a spec of work done of them since. The camp kitchen and rec room were built in the 70s, as was the amenities block near us. The one further down was built in the 60s. The whole feel of the place is endearing.

Our three room tent which is fantastic. Whole thing was up in about half an hour.

It is, however, starting to drizzle and by now it’s almost 5pm. We’re moving fast to get this tent up and to get our stuff in for fear the drizzle turns to a downpour. We needn’t have worried, there were plenty of drizzles before the downpours.

Voila

And the scrag camping beside us? Who was setting up at the same time? Was still trying to feed poles through when we were unpacking the car into the tent. Smugness is such an ugly thing.

The Ranger had visited us by now and was cool about where we had camped – he said when it was this busy they just sort of turn a blind eye to it. We realised later on that there was another whole section further up the valley where there would have been room, but we were pegged in by now. Haha. Pegged in. Geddit!

Dinner was sausages cooked in the camp kitchen (thank goodness as otherwise it would have been breadrolls w/ vegemite) with breadrolls and then essentially it was time for bed.


Don’t be fooled. Bed does not equal sleep.

* Chuckling was the natural response as he had actually put the gas bottle in and even showed me its special little spot and how he could occi strap it down and keep it safe blah blah blah. It was then taken out to pack everything else

Chapter One: Let’s Go Camping!

When you umm and ahh for weeks about going away over Easter and then on the Wednesday before Good Friday you finally find somewhere that doesn’t involve the phrase “non flush toilets“, is not on the coast and doesn’t feature pools, games rooms and the other paraphernalia that shit you to tears.

And you think, ‘yeah, let’s do it’.

And then it’s the Thursday before you go and you have all these other things on – like giving Felix a special early mark for school holidays and taking him and the two little fellas to The Powerhouse Museum to see the Star Wars exhibition (which was awesome) and then a minor detour to a camping mega store to pick up some camp beds for the boys because you now have two more of them (children that is) to the last time you went and the two you did have are now a lot bigger and the self-inflating moon mats will just not cut it. Allow extra time to dream of all the additional camping paraphernalia you would like to have.

Then you have to rush back to pick Oscar up from his first ever school camp and OMG I think he sprouted some underarm hair in those four days away from home. (He had an AWESOME time and the teachers all said he did brilliantly and was so independent and had a ball and wha? independent? WTF? Why am I then cutting up your food and getting your dry after your showers you not-so-little shit?)

And then you have to do a quick call in at the supermarket to buy some stuff for dinner for Oscar’s request – mac cheese – and it dawns on you that you’re going camping for a week tomorrow, which is Good Friday so nothing will be open, but there’s no time now to be buying up for camping – not with one exhausted child and three other hungry ones in the car.

AND then – you get home, throw the entire contents of Oscar’s bag into the washing machine with pre-wash and extra rinse and more detergent than the environment should ever have to endure, shower, do.your.hair, apply.makeup(!), IRON.A.GIRLY.BLOUSE. and fly out the door for dinner with a group of lovely not at all creepy good eaters fellow drinkers bloggers. So.Much.Fun. (I swore like a washer woman which I do when highly exciteable, in good company, limitless alcohol consumption and excellent food)

AND THEN – you get home at around 11.30pm and collapse into bed.

OH HELL YEAH – We’re all about the planning and organisation around here.

So, the next morning, the day we’re leaving, we get up and think, right, what do we need to pack.

As I am just throwing random clothing (some cold weather gear, some hot, some jackets, about three beanies each (WT?), a couple of scarves) into New Zealand suitcases Chef is out in the garage hoisting down our camping gear and successfully dropping a bag of tent poles onto the bonnet of mum’s recently repaired car gouging a nice little row of chunks out of the paint. Awesome.

I notice that we don’t seem to have many socks for the little fellas but figure they’ll spend most of their time running around in their Crocs anyway. Fail.

I am literally trying to generate clothing for Oscar out of thin air as the kid has just been on school camp for four days and well, that kind of swallowed his entire wardrobe. Blessedly a friend had recently given me a massive bag of hand-me-downs from her son and there were some shorts and other oddments in there that would have to do.

Miraculously, and by that I mean even I was amazed, we were on the road by 11.30am. I reckoned, considering we had done NOTHING before that morning, starting at around 8am, that was pretty good going. Fail again.

Do you want to know what a VW Transporter looks like when packed for six people going camping for a week:

And we’re off!