ANZAC Weekend on Straddie
Bashing through the brambles and lantana, the 4WD forced it’s way through the dense brush. We leapt over sandy hills and down through gullies until, finally, we reached the clearing. This was Main Beach, North Stradbroke Island and we had arrived at the campsite that was to be our own personal paradise for the next two nights.
I had rolled out of bed at 5.15 that morning, hurriedly packed the last of my things, and driven the dogs and myself across town to Cleveland to catch the 7am Straddie ferry. Making it just in time, I dragged Leia onto the Big Red Cat (Tonka, unsurprisingly, was unfazed by the rumbling monster), and relaxed for what felt like the first time in a few days. Ryan had gone ahead with our friends, Kris and Ally, the day before to get the camp site set up and get a head start on the long weekend. I hadn’t heard from him (reception can be sketchy on the island) except for an emergency SOS which simply stated “We may need another 6 pack of beer”. I’d bought another half a carton and, along with the rest of my necessities and the dogs, settled myself on the lower-deck of the ferry for the 40 minute ride to Dunwich. Having never walked on before (The Big Red Cat is mainly a vehicle ferry) I was exceptionally appreciative of the crew who kindly took in my heavy bags and shaky puppy, and helped me to get myself settled in a quiet place right at the front, out of the way of the loud, vibrating engine.
The ride passed without a hitch, and I walked off at the other end and hopped into Kris and Ally’s Pajero. We were ready to hurtle along the 4WD-only Main Beach, all the way to track 11 where my ready made camp site and cold beers would be waiting. To say I was excited was an understatement! All three times I have been to Straddie, it has been camping on Main Beach. All you need is a 4WD permit, a camp permit, knowledge of the tide times, the guts to embrace nature in all it’s glory (and be able to dig your own toilet) and you’re ready to roll. It is just such an amazing place, and I couldn’t wait to let loose with my camera and try to capture some of its beauty.
I was thrilled when we finally arrived to see how secluded and idyllic our grounds were. Usually when camping at Straddie, it’s a case of first in, best dressed when it comes to camp sites. Sometimes you have to bump up and down the tracks for hours to find somewhere large enough for your group, or private enough to truly enjoy yourself. We had a great spot – right up the top of the dunes, with a beautiful view of the beach just meters away. It was only 9am by the time we arrived, so I had a whole day of relaxing on the beach to look forward to!
The dogs were ecstatic to meet up with Ryan, who had been doing a spot of morning fishing with some of our other friends, John and Ciara. I hung around the tents until 10am, acquainting myself with our set-up, until finally I deemed it late enough to open a beer. I threw on my bikini, grabbed my towel, my book, and my drink and strolled the ten meters or so to the beach where I settled down.
One thing I hadn’t counted on, unfortunately, was how windy the island would be at this time of year. Having only ever camped there in October and January, I had expected it to be a bit on the chilly side compared to what I was used to. What I hadn’t expected, however, was wind so strong that the sand was buffeting me in the face while I lay down and tried to read. I managed to last about half an hour before I picked myself up, took myself back to the campsite, and settled myself in front of the fire pit instead.
The rest of the day passed relatively peacefully. We were joined by more friends, enjoyed some more beers, and cooked a leisurely lunch over the now-lit camp fire. The dogs made friends with everyone, and were enjoying more than a little extra attention. Unfortunately, Leia took a dislike to the other dog to join us, a pug named Snoop, so she was on leash-arrest for the rest of the afternoon. The only other downer on the day was the increasing wind, blowing over chairs and causing anything not tied down or heavy to skitter across the ground, forcing one or more of us to leap up from our spots and go chasing after it. We lost a soccer ball and more than a little dignity on one such occasion. We also soon learned that having the windows rolled up on our tent meant that the wind had layered a nice half a centimetre of sand over everything – despite the fly-mesh!
That evening the relentless wind did little to dampen our high spirits. Despite a tent pole snapping, our shade cloth being taken down out of sheer annoyance, and more than a little sand being ingested by everyone, we enjoyed the campfire, warming ourselves against the chill with crackling flames and good conversation. My home-made vegetable soup, pre-made a few nights before, was the perfect warming meal, even if my damper took far longer than expected to cook. Not to worry, we’d save it for tomorrow!
I succumbed to my tiredness (5.15am start, remember?) and headed off to bed with the two doggies, looking forward to snuggling up in my sleeping bag, listening to the sound of the ocean crashing close by.
The following day the dogs woke me up with the sun, a fact which I wasn’t too upset about as it meant that I got to enjoy the incredible sunrise.
Once everyone else had risen, we’d enjoyed a campfire cooked breakfast (damper with a dusting of sand included!), and checked the wind hadn’t thieved away any of our belongings during the night.
We decided to head back up the beach to Point Lookout for the day. That’s one thing that I think is very cool about Stradbroke Island; you can take your bush-bashing machines down the main beach, find a secluded (albeit toiletless) campsite, or alternatively you can pack up the family and stay in one of the many populated communities on the island. Point Lookout was the place to be if you wanted to go for a scenic walk, hang out by the cliffs and watch the fisherman, grab some groceries, or enjoy a delicious bite to eat. We grabbed a smoothie, and settled in to enjoy the view. I was delighted to see we were joined by some guests – two impressively sized Kangaroos bounded up, right along the road, to enjoy the view along with us…at least, I’m sure that’s why they were there?
We stocked up on more ice and booze (though Ryan and I didn’t need any, thanks to my emergency supplies) and headed back to the camp site. I was glad that the ocean had receded a little, as I really didn’t like the bumpy ride that a high-tide drive entailed. On the way back I was able to enjoy myself a bit more, watching the waves crashing in the wind, the sea foam breaking from the water and skating along the shore, racing us along the coast line.
As the evening set in, we came across another wind-caused drama. Our tent (which had held up valiantly until now) was slowly collapsing under the onslaught of the gale. To make matters worse, the zipper of the tent had given out. Would the fly be enough to keep out the elements, and more importantly, the sand? It started to rain, and we scrambled to save the chairs and ourselves from getting too wet (and yes, I was the only schmuck who forgot a rain jacket). It seemed that everyone’s spirits may actually be dimmed somewhat, but the rain soon relented and the stars shone through the trees yet again.
Another delicious dinner (this time provided by Kris and Ally), some even more delicious marshmallows, and another early night for me – I would find out how sturdy our tent was, and how high my tolerance was for ‘roughing it’!
The rest of the night passed thus – me waking up, repeatedly, positive that the tent would fly away at any moment, with us in it (air mattress and dogs included). Me waking up, repeatedly, with sand actually being blown across my face. And finally, me waking up, repeatedly, having rolled over and felt the ‘exfoliation’ of the sand actually inside my sleeping bag (yes, that is me using a nice word to describe a disgusting situation). Below, you can see the surface of our air mattress. And that was only the part that was uncovered.
In the end, I just had to remind myself that it was one night out of my life. I wasn’t cold, wet, or hungry – I could suck it up and try to make the best of a bad situation, or I could…well there really wasn’t any other option, was there? I would suck it up, so help me God, and enjoy the last night of my holiday.
The morning couldn’t come soon enough. I was glad to enjoy another campfire breakfast (with an extra-large helping of sand – just for the hell of it), and we packed up our things before heading back to Dunwich for a light lunch and coffee to await our barge back to the mainland. We were tired out after our whirlwind weekend, and looking forward to the luxuries of home.
Now that I’m back home, clean and unpacked, I feel like I still had a fantastic weekend. Sure, the weather could have been better. But the company, the atmosphere, and the breathtaking scenery made it hard to stay disappointed for long. I may try to be a little better prepared next time (we’re currently on the lookout for a new tent), and I’m sure I’ll be cleaning sand out of my belongings for the next week at least, but I will definitely, definitely go back – and look forward to it too.