It is day four of our Wandering Rivers camping adventure and I’m sitting in a comfy chair beside a giant grandma River Red Gum on the banks of the Murray River listening to Fiona sing quietly to herself as she wades through the clear water.
It’s a perfect, warm, sunny afternoon and we’ve all been for a dip in the cool, rapidly flowing river, or are contemplating one. All except Linda, our host and Wandering Rivers owner, who is 80 km away in a small Victorian town waiting while Florence, her Toyota Troop Carrier, gets her rear suspension fixed. At least, that’s what us four women at the campground hope Linda is doing. We’re in a remote spot with no phone reception with no way of knowing what is happening and are trusting that Linda and Florence will reappear some time this afternoon.
The whole trip so far has been a wonderful opportunity to go with the flow.
What happens when you take your “hands off the wheel” and surrender to the flow of existence? For me, this trip has been an opportunity to let go of attempts at mental control and to deepen my immersion in the river of life. When the rivers you visit are wild rivers, it’s an amazing experience in release and rewilding.
The choice to join Linda on this trip meant that for the first time since I was a kid, I am camping without having to organise the car, food, itinerary or camping gear. I just packed my clothes and toiletries and showed up without any family in tow and without having to think about any of the details. This is a real treat.
On day 1 I get to meet Linda, who I’ve been friends with on FB for about 7 years, for the first time, as well as three other adventurous mums all keen for some time in the bush and some time out from family life.
Day 1 involves a lot of “getting to know you and your family” conversations in the car as we head down the Hume Highway through Yass on our way to our first camp beside a creek in Kosciusko National Park east of Tumut. We find common threads in our lives quickly and fall into effortless and relaxed connection with Linda at the helm driving her newly acquired car Florence.
When we get to our camping spot, we are each given a full kit of camping gear, including everything from toilet paper, head torch and tent and we set up camp together following Linda’s instructions. Then we experience the privilege of a freshly cooked and delicious camp meal around an open fire before we head to bed on our high tech sleeping mats. I’m grateful for every minute of receiving this care as well as the gorgeous site we’re camped at. There’s clear running water, kangaroos, the smell of clean eucalyptus-infused air and peace.
It’s also getting rapidly colder as we settle in for the night and the forecast is for some cold and windy weather.
There’s nothing like sitting around a campfire in the cold to open us up to sharing our stories of children, loss, work and love. Linda implicitly establishes a non-judgmental safe space and our sharing continues in a relaxed way throughout the next 4 days. Such a blessing.
Day 2: A cold snap
We’re all putting on extra layers as we pack up the camp on our second day. The plan is to go up into the true NSW High Country where the temperature will keep dropping and we’ll get to have our first swim!
I didn’t know that wild swimming was going to be a highlight of this trip for me, but it certainly has been. I’m in the habit of swimming in the sea every day in Wollongong but I expected to be taking a break from swimming for a few days while on this camping adventure. I packed my swimmers just in case, but I didn’t have expectations. As it’s turned out, I’ve been blessed with one or more swims every day in glorious, fresh mountain water.
The first swim, on day 2, was in the warm blue-green water of Yarrangobilly Thermal Pool. As the air temperature felt to be about 10C by the time we got to the pool, it was very reassuring to know that the natural spring that feeds it pumps out water at around 27C all year round. In truth, the water felt more like about 24 or 25C as we dived in, but nobody was complaining. My swim was utterly delicious and much appreciated.
Once we rugged up in all our layers after our swim, we wandered up the nearby river to the self guided limestone cave tour. The luxury of being in a large cave full of sparkling crystals in silence cannot be underestimated. All we could hear was the gentle drip of water off the stalactites on the ceiling, each growing at the remarkably slow pace of geological time. To experience the complete stillness and peace of a cave like this is as close as I am likely to come to interdimensional travel in the next few days. Beyond that, who can say?
After we left Yarrangobilly Caves we noticed the flow of our journey get stronger as it carried us beyond Linda’s carefully laid plans. About one hour into our drive to the next campsite, Linda saw Google maps suddenly announce that it would now take us an extra hour and a half to get to our next destination. The app had failed to alert her to a crucial turnoff and was sending us “the long way around.”
Instead of stubbornly sticking to the original plan for our camp, Linda adapted and chose a different site that was closer. This turned out to be a magnificent location at Island Bend on the great Snowy River.
The challenges of camping in the changeable climate of the mountains were all too evident as we worked together to pitch our tents in strong wind and light, cold rain.
Linda had a wonderful awning, plans for an easy dinner and managed to get a fire going, but the wind gusting smoke in my face and the freakishly cold conditions sent us to bed early wearing all the warm gear we could gather.
Day 3: To the top
I felt bright delight at seeing the calm sunny morning the next day and celebrated with a skinny dip in the Snowy River. A short walk downstream revealed the perfect place to take my clothes off and leap into the coldest water I’ve encountered since swimming in NZ 18 years ago.
Wild swimming — naked in a wild, unpolluted river — is a wonderful way to wash away more of the ego-mind and merge with the vibrant aliveness of Presence. It’s a spiritual practice disguised as a crazy, fun thing to do. It’s also a privilege and an opportunity I didn’t want to miss. The fact that I could warm up afterwards in the sun with a hot cup of tea, while watching a native Water Rat going about it’s business in the river was icing on the cake.
After a delicious breakfast of pancakes and fruit we packed up our camp and headed towards Thredbo. Our camp neighbours had recounted a day of snow up that way the day before, and sure enough we saw the snow drifts at the top of the mountain as we approached the ski resort.
Thredbo is a hive of activity in summer, with families on holiday and mountain bikers queued up to get on the chairlift to make a high speed decent.
After the moment it took to get over the shock of the price, we commit to going up the Kosciusko chairlift to have lunch at the cafe at the top in the snow and alpine scenery. It was a good choice. Lunch was delicious and the views above the tree line were amazing. A little bit of fresh snow in the middle of summer is a dazzling decoration among the alpine daisies and grasses.
After a short stroll on the Kosciusko summit track I’m clear that I have to come back here sometime and do the rest of the walk to the highest point on the Australian continent. We don’t have time today, so it’s back down the chairlift, enjoying the view the whole way.
We hop back into Florence to go deeper into the mountains for our next camp by a river. Linda has a plan for where this will be, but the Life Flow has other ideas.
Florence has entertained us with a repertoire of squeaks and rattles during our trip so far, but the noise that is emanating from the region of her rear suspension does not sound good. Halfway down a very steep and winding mountain Linda pulls off the road and lies down on the dirt to check under the car. Some bolts have come off the rear suspension and we’ve got a problem. Linda has enough knowledge and experience to know that she can nurse Florence a little further, but it’s time to find a new campsite and prepare to call the NRMA.
As Life would have it, we’re only about 30 minutes away from the Tom Groggin Horse Camp on the banks of the Murray River. In my mind I see the Murray, Australia’s greatest river, as the sleepy, muddy giant snaking her way across the wide plains towards South Australia. But the river we meet today is clear ice tea dancing over a shallow rocky base. Beside the river, next to a picnic table and fireplace, is a huge, ancient gum tree. It feels like we’re being welcomed to this camp by a caring elder.
I pay my respects to the tree, set up my tent and then head straight in for a long swim. The current is strong and steady and there’s a stretch upstream of the giant gum that is deep and calm with only gentle eddies, insects and trout disturbing the surface.
I sense that there are platypus living here, but I know that they won’t show themselves until dusk, if at all. Platypus are a potent symbol of the uniqueness and sensitivity of our Australian animal companions. They have been witness to many millennia of human life here and the mysteries of deep time. They deserve our deepest respect.
After enjoying a lovely veggie stew cooked by Linda, I sit by my new tree-friend and watch the river. Sure enough, I catch a glimpse of one of these secretive monotremes swimming on the surface about 30 metres upstream. A glimpse is enough to spark immense joy.
Day 4: Time for a pause
During the time I’ve sat and written this account, the day has continued to be surprisingly relaxing.
First thing in the morning Linda called the NRMA via satellite to come and rescue her car. A knight in shining hi-vis vest was dispatched from the nearest town, about an hours drive away in the adjoining State of Victoria. This dude actually took a bolt off his own car’s suspension to make Linda’s car driveable! Then he stuck with her on the drive back to his workshop to make sure she got there.
She’s back in our camp by 4pm with a repaired vehicle and a smile on her face.
Meanwhile, us guest campers have had a splendid day swimming in the river, going for a gentle walk, admiring kangaroos and eating jaffles cooked on the campfire.
The Murray River is flowing quietly and steadily beside us as we wander through the dusk light at the end of the day to watch a herd of wild brumbies feeding nearby. Seeing these animals, who are both feral and sacred, brings a ripple of excitement and recognition. Our trip has brought us presence, connection and wildness in a beautiful blend that reflects the magnificent land that has hosted us.