That’s all she wrote, or at least it should have been.
We woke to our last morning of our NSW East Coast trip and I dropped off Amanda and the kids at Ballina airport to make their flight home. I on the other hand had the long drive back to Melbourne with the Millennium Flamingo Camper in tow.
The plan was simple, drive to Nelson Bay / Newcastle area and free camp a night before heading back to Melbourne via a stop off in Benalla. I had banked up my favorite podcasts and penciled in a couple of stops along the way to stretch my legs, so it was at 10am I left Ballina for the highway.
One of the many antiques shops in Ulmarra
First stop was in the town of Ulmarra, where passing through on our way up I noticed half the town comprised of antique shops. Now I am not one for shopping, if ever I need anything I make the exception and get in and get out as quick as possible. Not the case with antique shops though. If I could, I would quite happily spend the whole day treasure hunting. Alas I could not spend too much time, just enough to pick up a stack of classic records. Seriously though it’s worth a stop in Ulmarra if this is your cup of tea!
Onwards until about 6pm, leaving me about 1.5 hours until sunset to find a campsite. I parked just outside a packed caravan park and opened up an app that showed free camping in your area. Bingo! Karuah National Park apparently has a creek side campsite that is accessible in summer for 2WD and caravans. It was February and we’ve had bugger all rain, so into the national park I went.
Narrow, but still smooth and dry!
Onto the first dirt road, which was dry, wide and smooth, so wonderful, things are looking up. Onto the next road, hmmm this is quite narrow, but still dry, so onwards! Splash! Interesting, a puddle, oh well it’s not that big. SplASH! Oh, that one was bigger. At this point, I stopped and considered my options. I was almost at the campsite and I could not easily turn around on the narrow road so I decided to go on, but only to turn right back around and get out of there in case it rained overnight making things worse. That was until SPLASH!!
This puddle took up all the road and I tried to skirt the perimeter going half into the bush, but my back wheels with the weight of the camper slipped and settled into the middle of the quagmire. I was stuck and I had about 30 minutes of daylight left. I was furious, with myself, but overcome my embarrassment and quickly rang NRMA to organise someone to come and get me. But, I was in a national park and they don’t cover national parks.
So there I was stuck in the bush in the dark. Amanda, now at home in Melbourne, took up the task of finding a tow company that could come out and rescue me from the muck. In the meantime, I took it upon myself to try and dig my way out and at least get the car unstuck.
By the time Amanda called and said she thought she had found someone, over three hours had passed. I had been digging the whole time with the tiniest of garden spades (at best it was a glorified spoon), and was now covered head to toe in sticky clay mud. Oh and did I mention I had no shoes on…these were all in the camper and my thongs lasted 3 seconds in the sticky clay. However, I did manage to clear all the mud from direct contact to the car’s undercarriage and the same for the camper.
Hmm, nope! The situation looks just as bad from this side.
Thankfully, Amanda did have success and an outback rescue guy was on his way. It took him an hour to arrive, so I spent my time coming down from a massive adrenaline rush, which culminated into an almost panic attack as my predicament finally dawned on me. Luckily, this passed quickly, so by the time I saw headlights coming closer I was ready for action again.
I knew I was out the moment I saw the rescue beast. A Landcruiser kitted out with every off-road accessory you could dream of, it was like something out of Mad Max. After chatting with the Peter (my hero) and sharing a chuckle we got to it, first pulling my car out of the muck, leaving only the camper to go. Where my car was stuck, his had no such issues. He backed into the mud, hitched up the camper and simply reversed it out, leaving me with some serious car envy.
Oh so close to the campground!
We managed to reverse the caravan into an opening in the trees about 100 metres back from where I was stuck and he towed it the rest of the way back to the main road. I had a ball driving behind him, slipping and sliding through the puddles that had earlier gave me pause. So he went on his way and the Millennium Flamingo and I were back together again on solid ground. It was now past midnight.
Too jacked up on adrenaline still, I had no need for sleep so I hit the highway again, stopping only at the first Maccas to wash up as best I could in the disabled toilets. After filling the sink with mud I almost walked out until I noticed the remnants of mud that remained looked ominously like something that was not mud, remember I am in a toilet. I quickly washed out the sink and hit the road again. The plan now was to get to Sydney and have a proper shower at the first site we camped at in Lane Cove, I only hoped that the code for the shower block had not been changed.
Nothing to see here folks, just a bearded man covered in mud, carrying clothes to a disabled toilet very late on a Saturday night.
Again, my plan was thwarted, as a dozen backpackers had the same idea as I and had taken up all the possible parks near the outside of the caravan park. Resigned to my fate I could only chuckle as I wound my way out of Sydney and back onto the freeway heading South. I traveled on until I needed fuel, which I pushed until only fumes were left in the tank. Turns out there are no road stops for about 100kms after Sydney. Luckily, one popped up at the opportune moment at Pheasant Nest and to my now bedazzle and delirious eyes I immediately saw out the back of the road stop a wide area for free camping. I immediately pulled in and setup before hitting the hay, still covered in mud. It was 4:30am.
6:30am the trucks started rolling in, but the two hours’ sleep felt like much longer, such was its depths. Thankfully, the rest of the trip was uneventful, except for my stop at Benalla, where I stopped at the in-laws for a long hot shower. I was finally home to Melbourne where the embarrassment of the ordeal had abated and already I was seeing the lighter side of this memorable return trip home.
Be sure to head back and check any of our more recent adventures, but most importantly those associated with this trip starting with Our Maiden Camper Road Trip, followed by Nelson Bay, Port Macquarie, Coffs Harbour and Byron Bay.
The best place to follow Josh’s adventures with his family is on his Instagram site @josh.duthie. You can see this post and more Adventures of Duth by clicking the link below.