Sometimes the simplest pleasures in life are the best – and I’m a firm believer that camping at the beach is right at the top of the list. There’s something wonderful about falling asleep to the rhythmic sounds of the ocean, and waking up to a cacophony of parrots going through their morning vocal exercises. And then there’s that distinctive sound of a tent zipper being pulled. It’s a sound that played over and over in the soundtrack of my childhood, along with the snaps and whistles of slightly-too-wet wood burning on the campfire. I cherish these sounds whenever I go camping, reveling in their ability to take me right back the happy days of my youth.
During our time in Australia, we’ve had the privilege of seeing some spectacular scenery…tropical grasslands dotted by termite mounds, perfectly conical mountains rising abruptly from fields of feathery sugar cane, ferrous pans baked by the blazing sun. But my favorite so far has been the simple beauty of golden hour in Jervis Bay.
We camped at Green Patch, beneath a spreading canopy of trees that was adorned by an endless supply of noisy, colorful parrots. Every time we had food, a dozen or so of them would perch strategically on the nearest branch, waiting to swoop on any unattended nibbles. If you stood with your arms extended, they would land on your arms, checking your outstretched palm for snacks. If none were found, they would turn and stare right at you, cocking their heads side to side as if to ask, “what the hell man, where’s my food?” I’ve honestly never seen so many parrots in one place. As day gave way to night, the parrots roosted, and the possums came out. These chubby little marsupials are pretty adorable…until they’re sneaking up behind you to steal your dinner. They seem so innocent with their big, curious eyes and furry little pooches sticking out as they squat in the shadows. But as we sat by the campfire, we would chase one away only to have another one creeping in from the other side like a well-practiced tactical team.
Throughout Australian parks you’ll find grills provided, free for anyone to use. It’s such an awesome feature, and we’ve really enjoyed how easy it makes everything. I’ve been trying to perfect my camping cuisine, and so far the most successful has been grilled burritos. I pre-cook cilantro-lime rice and chipotle black beans, and bring along the shredded cheese and flour tortillas. Just assemble, wrap in foil, and grill until heated through – simple as that. The crisp tortilla and melty cheese are so delicious after a long day of adventuring. Bonus points if you bring your mini travel bottle of hot sauce to feed your spice addiction – no? Is that just me? Moving on…
The following morning we went beach hopping, going cove to cove to explore the gorgeous coastline. Our favorite spot was Murray’s Beach, a beautiful arc of white sand and impossibly blue water that’s fringed by a lush forest. Before settling into our beach chairs and soaking up far too much Australian sun, we hiked the Murray Walking Track in search of wildlife. No matter where I go, I’m always looking for the local wildlife – it’s the habit of any biologist. As a whole, Jervis Bay National Park boasts an impressive array of wildlife – dolphins, lizards, kangaroos and everything in between. According to a sign we found, there are even little fairy penguins that nest there seasonally, but we weren’t there at the right time of year.
Our hike started in the forest, where sixty foot tall trees rose out of the dense undergrowth. I love the intricate patterns moths leave on the creamy white bark. Nature’s artistry at its finest. With unexpected abruptness, the forest gave way to shrublands, where impenetrable brush lined each side of the trail.
Beneath our feet, dozens of tiny lizards scrambled over the hot path, zipping along on missions unknown to us. Above our heads – and a few times right on our faces – were the thick, shimmery gold anchor lines of elaborate spider webs. Golden orb weavers and St Andrews cross spiders, both distressingly large, could be seen nearly every meter along the path. Navigating the endless crisscrossing webs felt like the opening scene to a cheesy museum heist movie – limbo here, tiptoe there. Eventually we made it through and back into the welcome shade of the forest.
Between the spiders and the sweltering heat, we were more than ready to run straight into the ocean. By the end of the hike, we had racked up some fantastic wildlife sightings – a red bellied black snake, an echidna, plenty of kangaroos and wallabies, countless birds, including several pelicans and wedge-tailed eagles, and about a thousand lizards.
Leaving the cool air of the forest behind, we made our way down to the beach, where the sun reflecting off the white sand blinded us in the most wonderful, tropical way. Twenty meters down from us were a Swedish couple with impossibly tanned skin and a proclivity for PDA – probably not helped by her lack of a bikini top. Adjacent dry humping aside, the beach was simply idyllic. We alternated between baking ourselves into a near coma, then splashing into the shallows, letting the chilly water cool our sticky skin.
After such a wonderful day of exploring, we relaxed around the campfire, swapping stories with our fellow campers and listening to acoustic pop songs played on a nylon stringed guitar. We washed our grilled veggies down with fizzy bottles of beer. Sometimes the most refreshing beers aren’t the coldest ones, but the ones at the end of a long day of adventuring, slightly warmed from a day in your backpack.
All photos by Kelsea Lee