Bore Rounds and Termite Mounds

Well we wanted to change our backyard

Water, an essential part of life

Bore running. It’s one of the regular jobs in outback Australia and we recently had our first experience. The stations are large (thousands to millions of acres/hectares). There’s a lot of cattle around in good times, fewer in bad, but however many there are, they need water. Given that 90% of the water supply in the Northern Territory comes from groundwater it’s not surprising that there are around 35,000 water bores in the NT.

Stock water comes from these bores and needs to be pumped up into tanks and then into troughs for the cattle to drink from. So the engines or solar panels that run the pumps need to be checked, fuelled and maintained. This has to happen regularly as a reliable water supply is obviously crucial. So a bore runner is the person who constantly checks each bore, tank and trough and travels hundreds to thousands of kilometres along the way depending on the size of the station.

Brahman cattle amidst termite mounds

To be a bore runner it helps if you like driving and are comfortable navigating without road signs. You need to be a good driver. Bulldust, bogs, breakdowns, termite mounds, kangaroos and wild cattle running about are a few of the challenges. Oh and it’s hot. On the plus side it’s a peaceful drive in natural surroundings, there’s a definite lack of traffic and the customers don’t complain.

The mid-Northern Territory landscape features red dust (or mud in the wet season), grey-green grasses and short trees, magnificent sunrises and sunsets and endless stars at night. Then there’s the termite mounds, not the huge monoliths of further North, but the landscape is peppered with termite construction, albeit of a smaller scale.

They do remind you of the fact that there are more insects than people in the world.

And unlike humans, the termites don’t care if they build next to (or on) a highway. A barbed wire fence is considered to be merely a useful piece of framework.

There’s lots of interesting facts about the termites but the local lore says:

Don’t run into them with a vehicle or a horse – they are as solid as concrete

They won’t melt in the rain

Not all termite mounds are occupied, some are holiday houses!

There are plenty of other jobs on stations such as caretaking, cooking, gardening, childcare, building and machine maintenance, fencing, stock work and animal care. It’s an awesome experience. See our earlier post on finding farm work in Australia for suggestions on sites should you fancy a job in rural and remote areas.

Caravan Parks vs “Freecamps”

The Good, the Bad, the Ugly and the Beautiful

Whether you prefer to stay at caravan parks or freecamps is a regular topic of conversation between travellers on the road. Briefly, to explain the difference between caravan parks and “freecamps” (and for the purposes of this article I am including low cost camps as “free”) caravan parks usually have a variety of amenities (power, water, rubbish collection, laundry facilities, bbq areas, pools, sporting facilities etc) for their cost whereas freecamps tend to have fewer or no facilities and a lower, or zero, cost.

Caravan and car in grassy park for campers with stone wall and building in background
Freecamps can be spacious

Complaints are sometimes received from caravan park owners that the freecamps take their business. This may be true to a degree but only if the people who are freecamping would use the caravan park if there was not another option. In very popular tourist areas sometimes it is difficult to get a space at a caravan park should you want to stay in one. Some travellers will simply bypass a town if it has no freecamps.

There are different kinds of travellers

If you are going on your annual holiday you will probably be ready and willing to spend freely for your vacation.

If you live on the road, either through working requirement, retirement, inability to afford a house, extended vacation, to see the country or any other long term reason, most people’s budget will not allow for caravan parks ($20-$45+ for a site) every night.

For example, retirees living on the aged pension currently receive around $600 per week. If they had to pay $200+ per week in a caravan park there is not a lot left for food, fuel, maintenance of vehicles, insurance and all the other costs of living. Similarly if you are a backpacker living in a tent and picking fruit to earn a wage, you probably won’t be able to earn enough to pay living expenses and continue to travel (unless you are a gun picker of course).

Yet there seems to be a wide held opinion that people who stay in freecamps are cheap, even total misers. Some are – yes, we’ve seen you arrive late and leave early to save yourself gulp! $5, $10 or even a gold coin donation – but in the majority of cases it is the travelling market voting with their feet (or wheels) and choosing the option that meets their needs at a price they can afford.

A further consideration is your method of travel. If you only have a tent you will need facilities at some point. If you have a fully ensuited caravan with solar power, then your requirements will be less.

Some travellers will only stay in caravan parks as they are perceived to be more secure than freecamps. Some freecampers will stay in caravan parks some of the time for the facilities and convenience. Some travellers will never stay in a caravan park if they can avoid it.

Overall, there is more than one kind of traveller and they need more than one kind of accommodation.

Local Community Views

There are many freecamps in small communities, either in addition to the local caravan park or because there isn’t one.

In a large number of small towns the council or local groups have set up freecamps or allowed the use of community assets such as sports grounds to be used. Often if a fee is charged the money goes to community groups and /or to the maintenance and improvement of the site. The general view appears to be that travellers are welcome as they contribute money to the local economy (which may only be a general store and/or a pub) that would not otherwise be available. Particularly in drought, flood and fire affected areas, tourists are needed. And there seem to be plenty of places that have one or more of these events happening constantly.

Freecamps are a plus for local businesses as no matter how frugal a traveller you are, you have to buy food and fuel. It can happen that if a town doesn’t have a low cost camping option the traveller’s business will go to the next town that does. Recently we stayed in a town which had both a caravan park and a freecamp. While at the local hairdressers I was interested to hear a discussion about the freecamp. Travellers are asked to put their receipts in a box. Apparently they regularly total @$10K per week. And that would only be from the probably very small percentage of people who remembered to save their receipts and put them in the box.

Events

Another aspect to consider is events of every kind, music, arts, markets etc. Many towns have iconic annual or more regular events where accommodation is at a premium. Freecamps can provide that bit extra accomodation when it’s needed.

Location, Location, Location

Both caravan parks and freecamps can be situated in the middle of town or further out, on the banks of rivers, in beautiful parks and by the beach. One difference that does come up quite often is that freecamps often have that bit more space to spread out your camp and choice on where you park.

View of beach,ocean between two trees with mountains in the background
A standout view from Tasmanian east coast freecamp

Less Facilities, Less Rules

Freecamps often have a broader acceptance of pets and the ability to have campfires. On the other side, there will not always be a caretaker to answer questions and solve problems. Frequently you will need to take your rubbish with you. Some camps will have water, toilets, dump points and power, some will only have a place to park.

So, What’s the Answer?

Broadly, there is room for both caravan parks and freecamps. I’ve seen many towns happily incorporate this. The exceptions have been where the local caravan park either has a bad reputation (you can’t get away from social media, wikicamps etc) or is badly placed, far from the attractions etc. One answer might be to have (as we have seen in several places) caravan parks that offer two tiers of accommodation. You can have all the facilities for a premium price, or simply somewhere to park, water and rubbish collection for a discounted amount, therefore catering to everyone’s needs. Another idea is for caravan parks to offer some extra truly useful attraction, for example the Gundagai Tourist Park installed a weighbridge for their customers and another park we’ve stayed in offers caravan repairs. Brilliant idea.

In 2018 there were 670,000+ registered RVs in Australia and 23,000 new ones were manufactured. They’ve all got to park somewhere when they go on tour. With these numbers plus tents and every other variety of camping options, there really should be business enough for everyone.

Road Laundry

Keeping it Clean

Of all the things you think about when going on the road, I must admit that doing the laundry was not the first thing that sprang to mind. That was until the washing piled up. Then a few social and practical issues arose.

Here’s what I’ve noticed.

  • Clothes Lines

Anything can be a clothes line. Fences, gates, stray branches. All good.

Washing hanging on a wire fence with sea and mountains in the background
A fence makes a fine clothes line
  • The State of Your Washing

You might rethink some of your clothes.

Is your underwear fit for public display on the communal washing line or wherever you are hanging it? It can be too disreputable or too lovely! All depends what you’re comfortable with.

Are there some clothes that are possibly past their use-by date? Perhaps items that were alright in private but less than stylish (depending on how in-style you like to travel) worn, or otherwise ungorgeous?

Quick check: will you be at ease hanging out and collecting your washing however public the washing line? You can of course use dryers where available but that’s a fairly expensive option and you won’t always be in a situation where you have an “inside” in which to dry things.

  • It’s All About Sharing

On the road you will always be using someone else’s laundry (unless you are in a hotel or motel that provides a – usually expensive – washing service). Whether you are using machines in accommodation provided by an employer, with friends, in a caravan park, or using the machines at the local laundromat you’ll be relying on someone else’s equipment.

Some washing machines work well and treat your clothes gently and some will destroy them. Likewise some washing machines will be really clean and some, not so much. It’s worth taking these uncertainties into account when deciding whether to expose your sentimental favourite, expensive or irreplaceable items to life on the road. Yes you can handwash in a sink or bucket but dripping wet clothes can be a challenge, particularly in cold climates.

Sharing facilities also means that you won’t always be able to do your washing when you want to. Other people will want to do their washing too.

Two pairs of jeans and a sheet drying on a farm gate
A gate will do nicely
  • Travelling Light

I’ve learnt what clothes I really need, what clothes are practical, and pruned accordingly. Some things just haven’t survived. Delicate items that need handwashing can languish in the washing bag for quite a while so I’ve seriously cut down on those as well as clothes that take too long to dry. What’s left of the wardrobe is fit for purpose. And it’s a whole lot lighter and takes up less space.

The availability of washing facilities can be hard to predict. It could be a long way to the next laundry or you could be somewhere that is washing hostile. For example: towns with limited or substandard water, it’s Winter and snowing, there’s red dust blowing everywhere, you get the idea. Keeping an eye on how many clean clothes remain has become bit of a habit for me. Of course you can always keep wearing the same clothes but there comes a point where it really isn’t a great idea.

  • Soap it Up

Remembering to have some laundry powder or liquid handy – you may or may not be able to find/buy some when you need it. If there’s none to be had you can do without, or substitute a little shampoo.

  • Costs

When doing washing in a laundromat, chances are you’ll need cash, often coins. Depends where you are of course but I have found few laundromats, as yet, that accept card payments. Keep some coins handy for this.

  • Overall
A pair of legs in jeans sticking out from and industrial dryer in a laundromat
Check you’ve got all your washing
Image by Pexels from Pixabay

Somewhere, somewhen you’re going to leave some laundry behind.

It’s nice to be clean, however when you’re travelling it’s likely you won’t be washing as often or in the same ways to the same standard as you do at home. Relax. It’s all part of the adventure

6 Great Reasons to Visit Tasmania

A silhoutted man sits on the bank as sunset lights up the sky in pink and gold on the Mersey River in Devonport Tasmania.
Sunset on the Mersey River, Devonport

Tasmania is a totally intriguing and enchanting place to visit for short stay. A longer stay though allows the traveller to sink softly into the land and culture and discover some of its less obvious charms.

Many appealing features of the island consist of what it lacks (if you find this idea quite puzzling, skip ahead to the last point in this article). While the scenic delights and wild beauty are well illustrated and documented in the many videos, brochures and promotions of the island, some lesser known features add yet more colours to the rainbow that is the apple isle.

The Locals

Here be some of the friendliest people you’ll come across.  In Tasmania people tend greet you and want to have a chat. You get a sense they are proud of their island and genuinely interested in whether you are having a great time on your visit to their backyard. Our experience is that they are keen to offer advice on where to find wildlife, little known attractions and places to eat/drink/get the car repaired. Whatever you might be looking for, they’ll know about it or know someone who does. You might even get invited to go fishing or be gifted with the bounty of someone’s backyard orchard or veggie patch.

Bus stop road sign for Snug Central in Tasmania with blue sky in the background

Along with some totally charming place names (Promised Land, Snug, Nowhere Else, Paradise and many more) Tasmanians tend to personalise their towns and homes with topiary, murals, woodcarvings, quirky postboxes, scarecrows and whatever else springs to mind.  This tendency decorates the landscape with unusual features that are sure to make you smile.

Bear made of hay with flower pot pieces for eyes and nose.  Named "Bear Crow"

Wildlife

If you love wildlife then Tasmania really is heaven. There is an absolute abundance pretty much everwhere you go.  You are very likely to have magical encounters with platypus, echidna, wallabies, black cockies, eagles and possibly even the odd Tassie Devil.  Several areas boast wild penguins and seals. You need to drive carefully though as the wildlife mostly has zero road sense.

Road sign with picture of Tasmanian devil, endangered, 45 km/h speed limit dusk to dawn

History

The Tasmanian Government provides a great guide to Aboriginal cultural heritage and there are multiple tours available to help visitors learn about Aboriginal history and culture.

Everywhere you go beautiful old buildings, bridges and other infrastructure bear witness to the convict and settler days.  Maritime history is particularly well represented and you can find out just how far Bass and Flinders travelled and explored in their relatively short lives (Bass died at 32 and Flinders at 40). 

Virtually the entire coast of Tasmania is littered with shipwrecks – over one thousand of them. Most are from the early days of discovery and settlement but some are more recent. It’s amazing to think of all those people who set out to cross thousands of kilometres of ocean with unreliable maps and without being able to swim (of course many of them didn’t get to vote on their travel plans).

For those who love tracing their ancestors there are multiple records and sites to explore. 

Food & Wine

You really can’t say enough about Tasmania’s food and wine. From crisp apples dripping with juice to artisan cheeses, honey, berries, chocolates, smallgoods, spices, wines, gin, the list goes on. Depending on the time of year you can find a variety of roadside stalls offering the bounty of the season. Seafood is fresh and plentiful. Eating and drinking are serious pleasures in Tasmania and there are myriad cafes, restaurants, hotels, breweries, wineries and picnic spots to explore.

Fresh carrots still covered in dirt with onions in the background
Truly fresh food

Festivals

The flora and fauna have their own festival rhythms and you can follow them on Discover Tasmania’s Nature Events.

Here are a couple we met along the way

Otherwise there are multiple festivals and events throughout the year. Film, ferret racing, food, wine, medieval, penny farthings, seafood, yachting, SteamFest, Agfest, all kinds of music, chocolate, art, Dark Mofo. Discover Tasmania has a great list. Take your pick.

Beautiful Absences

While not necessarily applicable to the larger centres due to their greater populations, Tasmania has a notable lack of:

  • Noise.  So much perfect silence, broken only by natural sounds (hello ever-present, excitable turbo chooks, the eerie cries of yellow-tailed black cockatoos and the thump of small wallabies hopping in the night). 
  • Crowds. Aside from the bigger cities and most popular tourist spots there’s plenty of quiet camping places, deserted beaches, mountains, bush tracks and waterfalls.
Pair of blue thongs on empty beach, white sand, waves and blue sky in the background
Not a lot of competition on this beach (near Smithton, North West Coast)
Empty beautiful while sand beach, aqua ocean, waves rolling in, mountain in the background.
Pretty quiet here too (near Bicheno)
  • Graffiti.  Very little of this. Lots of murals though.
  • Traffic Lights.  Few of these outside the major centres.  There are roundabouts and speed bumps however but I’m not sure you can avoid these anywhere with sealed roads in the known world.
  • Road Rage. There might be some somewhere but I’ve found Tasmanian drivers on the whole to be pretty calm. There’s certainly less traffic and so less frustration. Definition of annoying traffic from one local was “three cars lined up at the (only) traffic light, time to find an alternate route”.
  • Parking fees.  Some apply in the bigger cities but in general you don’t have to pay to park at every local beach and attraction.  It’s a win.
  • Rules.  There are less of them and less of those signposts with an overly-exhausting list of things you can’t do.  It is often assumed that you will be a reasonable, courteous and tidy human being. While not everyone may live up to this expectation, it’s a lovely one nonetheless.

So there you are. Some pretty good reasons to visit Tasmania without even covering the hiking, boating, fishing, mountainbiking, diving, caving and four-wheel driving. It’s an overworked phrase but there is something for everyone. And those somethings are really quite special.