Love at first slide

Celebrating Christmas on the beach under the hot summer sun is something that feels almost counterintuitive to us Glühwein drinkers of the Northern Hemisphere, and it’s not just because of the difference in temperatures, but also the duration and intensity of the festive activities. We traditionally begin our celebrations on Christmas Eve with an elaborate dinner and celebrate a first and second Christmas day. Most Ozzie’s celebrate Christmas only on the 25th and mostly according to the motto “Go hard or go home!”. We were soundly asleep on Christmas morning, still ruminating the three course dinner we prepared ourselves the night prior, when our blissful slumber was abruptly interrupted at 7am by the sound of a blender. Apart from our Queensland neighbours, our side of the campground was nearly empty, so we figured it must be them making a smoothie or something. As we slowly woke up to the nostalgic tunes of “Weihnachten in Familie” we were startled by our neighbour knocking firmly on our door. Still sleepy I rolled out of bed and opened up the door and was greeted by a broad smile. “Merry Christmas mate!!” she said and handed me a tall glass with a straw. Somewhat perplexed I accepted the unidentified liquid and took a sip, whilst our neighbour watched in anticipation. “Gheez that’s strong!!” I thought, as my face contorted, prompting our neighbour to laugh out loud and then proudly announced: “Its Tequila Margarita mate, that’s how we do things in Queensland!”. I handed the glass of rocket fuel over to Ireen and this time I burst out laughing as she broke out in goosebumps after taking a tiny sip. I gracefully volunteered to empty the stiff drink for breakfast, and returned the glass to our neighbours, only to hear the blender start up again, followed by another knock on the door. It was about 9 o’clock and the liquor was starting to have an effect, so I decided against returning the 2nd glass. Ireen had been observing the proceedings for a bit and said “I think it’s time to make some coffee and go to the beach…!”

As we walked the hundred odd metres from Prinney to the horseshoe-shaped paradise called Tathra Beach we looked at each other with an acknowledging grin that read “Life’s a beach!”. After sobering up in the rays of the morning sun and a quick splash in the ocean we took Piet to the caravan park’s swimming pool, where he discovered the endless fun of the waterslide. It was love at first slide, he just couldn’t get enough of it, letting out loud shrieks of joy as he lay on his back with his little arms stretched to the side, allowing the water and gravity to take him back down to the pool. Shivering he said “Mehr mehr mehr Wasserrutsche!”, but I decided our pint sized thrill seeker needed a break from all the water to warm up again, instantly making me the least favourite person in his world. After drying him up and getting him dressed I tried to make up for my unpopular decision to be a responsible parent by taking him to the playground, but it wasn’t gonna cut the mustard. In a somewhat desperate attempt to enthuse him for the waterless alternative I tried to get Piet to follow me down the largest slide and hopped into the plastic tube with vigour, but as I arrived at the bottom a loud crack rung out and I found my bum wedged in between the two halfs of what used to be the end of the slide. I first caught Piet who had indeed followed me down and then looked around somewhat embarrassed to see if anybody had witnessed my misfortune and noticed that all the other slides sported a  repair patch on the bit my rear end had just split in half. I informed the reception that their biggest slide was in need of the same type of plastic band-aid previously applied to it’s smaller cousin’s broken bottom bits, but instead the park shut the playground, probably making me responsible for ruining Christmas day for some of the other kids staying in the park. 

Back at Prinney our boozy Queensland neighbours told us they had to leave on Boxing Day the next day, as their site had already been booked by someone else. It was a bit hard to fathom this bit of information, as we were one of only three vans parked on a grassy stretch that housed at least 20 sites. What did we need to expect? We didn’t have to wait long for the answer, as we were rudely woken up at 6am the next morning by the sound of tent pegs being shamelessly hammered into the ground…”What the….?!”, we opened up our curtains to discover we had new neighbours. Whilst our Queensland neighbours were in the midst of packing up complaining about their hangover, we were having breakfast and became spectators of the great Australian Boxing Day migration as one after the other caravan rolled into the park, towed by enormous 4WDs stuffed full of fighting siblings, bored teenagers and grumpy parents. It got so busy in fact a traffic jam formed behind every caravan reverse parking into their respective site, an activity we quickly dubbed the litmus test to every relationship. “No, no, I told you left!! The other left! What the @#$& are you doing?!” It was honestly quite amusing to watch this circus roll in, but by late afternoon you literally couldn’t turn around without touching a car or being run over by enthusiastic kids testing out their new toys. The campground took a long time to settle and we fell asleep very late, only to be woken up at 5 am by the same inconsiderate neighbour who decided this was the perfect hour to go fishing and proceeded to noisily reverse his car in an attempt to hook up the boat. Groan…really? By the 27th we couldn’t wait to get out of the park, away from inconsiderate people and enjoy some peace and quiet again. 

Our destination for New Years Eve was our friend Becks in Canberra, but before we arrived there we stayed a few nights at a very scenic bush camp on the Northern side of Kosciuszko National Park, called Denison Campground, situated on the Eucumbene Dam. The first thing we noticed after getting out of the car was the amount of kangaroo droppings scattered liberally around the sprawling campsite. We soon found the hoppy culprits in large numbers, casually grazing between the various camps. This place had officially been booked out, with no vacancy left, but we genuinely wouldn’t have been able to hit another car with a rock if we’d tried. This place was the perfect antidote to the madness of Tathra we had left behind, except for one thing, the single long drop toilet servicing the whole campground. It was hard to say when this toilet had last been cleaned, but let’s put it this way, whatever fell down there didn’t have long to fall, turning this tin shed into the smelliest for miles around, accompanied by a horde of blowflies happily calling it home. The only way to make your business somewhat pleasant was to take a big smoking citronella stick in with you, first to cut through the smell and then to chase out the guardians of the smell-axy. We chose this campground due to it’s proximity to the Jarrongabilly Caves and their hot springs, the next morning we were ready to go exploring, until I turned over the key and Henk spluttered to a halt and just died, not reacting to anything anymore. Diagnosing the flat battery was the easy bit, getting it started again another, so I went for a small walk asking around if anybody had any jumper leads. “I ain’t got jumper leads, but I got something better.” one of the campers replied and produced a gadget the size of a large mobile phone, which he said could jumpstart a truck. About an hour later Piet visited his first ever cave and was astounded, saying “Woooow!” around every corner and although the thermal pools weren’t as warm as we had expected, it was a morning well spent!

Our last stop before Canberra was Gundagai which was a bit of a detour, but by now most caravan parks were full to the brim and these guys had a spot for us, we arrived to find something we hadn’t encountered before. This place offered mainly drive thru sites, which looked like a housing estate with large holes cut out of them, big enough to fit two caravans side by side, providing you with a perfectly level concrete floor and an optional en-suite bathroom, obviously for a bit extra. All this concrete gave the place a bit of a soulless vibe, but pragmatically we reasoned that the roof over our head would allow us to pack up dry the next morning, with heavy showers predicted for the afternoon and night. We had booked this site over the phone, without the rather pricey en-suite bathroom, but once we were installed it took Ireen half a minute staring at the locked bathroom door in front of her to rationalize the extra expense away “Well…it’s the same as getting two take away coffees and cake, we’ll just go without for a bit”. And so we became proud custodians of the key to our very own, very clean, very insect-less, porcelain palace. For the first time since leaving Busselton we enjoyed our own amenities and whilst the heavens opened up around us, we took turns and spent a disproportionate amount of time in our private pamper palace. Shaved, showered and satisfied we were ready to enter civilization again. 

We arrived at Becks, Zev and the girls on the afternoon of the 30th and they treated us like kings by putting us up in the large and very comfortable, newly built ‘guest wing’ of their house. Anticipating a blissful night slumber we went to bed early, but after spending almost 8 weeks living outdoors it felt quite strange to sleep indoors, between four walls. We missed the ambient noises of the birds and the crickets and the fresh air, resulting in a bit of a sleepless night, but it turned out we weren’t the only ones struggling with a lack of sleep. It made New Years Eve 2022 a very modest celebration, with everyone but Ireen and I turning into a pumpkin well before the new year had begun. We had a great night with just the two of us, because instead of whispering and trying not to wake the little man up we were listening to music, having a groove and reminiscing and celebrating the year that had mostly been spent working and preparing for this trip. But here we were, happy as Larry in the nations capital, anticipating the countdown to midnight with a couple of lit sparklers and Ireen in 7th heaven drinking her first Gin and Tonic since before being pregnant with Piet. We both grew up in Europe, where midnight sounds like a civil warzone, with huge numbers of fireworks and crackers exploding all around you and as far as the eye can see, with people out and about wishing each other a happy New Year. In Canberra midnight came with one audible albeit muted cheer and as we stood on the roadside dancing and writing our names with the sparklers it quickly became obvious that apart from the crickets there was no one else around, which was equal parts bizarre and funny. Fifteen minutes into the new year we somewhat reluctantly joined Piet and the rest of Canberra in the horizontal position and enjoyed a very short night of sleep. 

For this episode enjoy yourself a bit of “Life’s a Beach – Touch & Go” 

Ps. Thank you all for your lovely messages of support, we had no idea that so many of you are actively following our journey, it’s very humbling!  

Happy New Year from the only two people awake in Canberra ? ©️ Jasper Kruse

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