It’s Friday. The sparkling sunshine belies the cool crispness of the air. The car already packed last night, I fill the esky with some essentials. I’d better not forget the goat’s cheese. All those hours spent playing Tetris through the 90s seem to have paid off. I double check the equipment in the car and lock up the house. Opening the door and easing myself into the driver’s seat, I feel the calm wash over me. The type of calm that can be found with a weekend away from it all. The concrete replaced by wild grasses and dusty ground. The rivers of bitumen replaced by flowing, crystal clear waters. The central heating usurped by a roaring campfire. The television supplanted by the trees and flowers and birds. The clear night sky easily ousts a white plaster ceiling. With a gentle click, I fasten my seat belt.
A short drive away, I pick up my companion. She’s as eager as I am to escape the man made crush of the city. Perhaps we’re both country people at heart. As we begin the drive, we chat about life and let the acoustic music coming from the car stereo melt away the memories of the working week. Soon we’re winding our way through tree-covered mountains, surrounded by the enchantingly bright green of the tall tree ferns in the under-storey and the thick bracken of the forest floor. We breathe the fragrant air of the eucalypt forest as it streams in through our open windows. The drive isn’t particularly long. After a while the car slips out of the forest and speeds along open roads surrounded by paddocks, the few cattle standing and chewing their cud not noticing our presence and most certainly not caring for our destination.
A small range of craggy mountains rises suddenly from the undulating farmland. The church of our weekend. The road takes us to the park entrance and we slow down as bitumen turns to gravel, the farmland once again turns to tall gums and the cows become wallabies. Surrounded by pointed peaks, we roll towards our destination – a campsite in the very centre of the national park.
We select a site away to the edge of the campground, finding a place of collective solitude, devoid of fellow campers. Setting up camp is a cathartic activity in itself. Creating a home away from home for the next few days. We’ve done this before, so we each go about our tasks without delay. The tent, the tarp and the chairs are out and up within a short time, and the mattress and sleeping bags are set up for a good night’s sleep later on. With the site set up, it’s time to wander and explore. The day is warm, so we make our way to the creek nearby. The water is cool and perfectly clear, as it flows over stones and past fallen trees. The sun presents a mottled warmth through the treetops, making the water sparkle as it rushes past. A dragonfly rests on a log, soaking up the rays of the sun, no doubt grateful for its life of freedom away from the city, just as we are right now.
Our kitchen is a fold-out table and a hiking stove. We have the basics and we work as a team. Dinner tonight is butter chicken. There’s something about making a meal with only a few tools to do it. It somehow tastes better. But that could also be the surrounds and the company. Knowing it’s just the two of you sharing a meal in the middle of a national park. There might well be nobody else in the world.
In the middle of the night the air mattress wobbles. She’s up and off to the facilities. Outside I can hear gasps of surprise and delight. I ease myself out of the warmth of my sleeping bag and into the night. Above us, the Milky Way dances in all its glory. A moment of just us and the galaxy. Only a few wispy clouds obstruct the view, and the stars expand out across the night sky. Another reason to leave the city lights behind. It’s as though it’s only possible to see things how they truly are when you’re in the bush.
The birds wake us early. But that’s good. It’s time to venture further afield, away from the comforts of our campsite. We gratefully down our scrambled eggs (with goat’s cheese of course!) and prepare to hike up the hill. Setting off, we follow the trail that gradually rises away from our site, getting steeper with each step. There’s a rustle in the bushes, as a kangaroo bounds away, suddenly aware of our presence. Wildflowers dot the side of the well-worn path, reminders of how far away from the natural world we’ve become in our own gardens. A day walking and climbing the range, stopping for lunch and to admire the view. The valleys stretching out beneath us, the ghosts of long-demised trees reaching out from the living forest below.
Back at the site, it’s time to relax. We sidle down to the creek, ready to rinse away the heat of the day. The water cools our skin and the cider our throats. Gratitude envelops us. To live so close to such natural beauty and to be able to experience it in this way is enormous. It’s such an incredible experience. Another night under the stars is interrupted as a storm rolls in. The wind picks up and threatens our shelter. We take a minimalist approach to our equipment, packing anything unnecessary into the car, and begin to prepare dinner again. Simpler this time, but nourishing nonetheless. We enjoy the turbulent weather, rugged up in our jackets, eating our meal in the encroaching darkness. The rain passes and we take the opportunity for a little campfire to warm our hands and hearts. There’s something about a campfire too. I think it feels like we’re taken back to how things once were. When life was simpler and the campfire centrally important.
Sunday means another walk and a slow journey home. It’s a little disappointing packing up the site, but it’s encouraging at the same time. That disappointment can be turned to motivation to get out again. To feel the sun and the breeze. The cool water of the creek and the drizzle. The warmth of the tent at the end of the day and the brisk air while making a hot drink in the morning. It has already been too long since we were out. Since we left the city behind. But I feel it coming again. It’s calling.