14 days in a Camper Van (and it rained a lot!)

Day 1

It always takes longer than you think to gather yourself together, work out just what parts of your house you need to take with you, get it into the van and get underway. I am reminded to set closer locations for the first nights stay.

We finally leave at 2.30 and make the 3.5 hour drive to the Booti Booti National Park, and the seven miles of beach front at the doorstep of the Ruins Campground. Along the way we realize we’ve forgotten important things like a bucket for lugging dirty dishes to campsite washing up facilities and a sharp knife. When we arrive we remember mozzie coils and candles. Oh well.

We motor through torrential rain, but it has stopped when we arrive in time for drinks on the spectacular beach – endless it seems into the mists on the northern end – and wrapped in a wind blown fur coat of silver green. The sky is brooding with rain clouds yet spent but a touch of blue breaks through in time for evening’s orange glow. We drink gin, eat yummy unhealthy snacks and remember how much we enjoy family van life. 

Day 2 

Things are, as always with my family, slow to start, but I take the opportunity for a morning walk in the blustery sea breeze on a beach strewn with blue bottles. I am reminded just how much I love the sea. I feel as wide as the ocean out here, free from daily life.

We meander northwards.

Battling through a mozzie infested rainforest to a tree top look out that takes in the wide sweep of tumultuous ocean, and the endless yellow sands of beaches miles long, we find that some people, young no doubt and still in the grip of passion’s intense embrace, have taken the trouble of inscribing locks and attaching them to the railings of the lookout tower.

One mile beach beckons with crashing waves and cappuccino foam and the excitement on the faces of my children as they swim amidst the push and pull of the waves  is delightful. The feeling in my chest when I look at them having fun is what love feels like.

We travel over rivers swollen and brown with rain to have tea at a lookout where the effect of the runoff is demarcated in the sea. The rain returns as we cross Little Beach and make our way to Taking Point lighthouse near Port Macquarie. As the rain pummels down, we wrap ourselves into our Campervan with wine and spaghetti Bolognese and hope we don’t get bogged in tomorrow.

Day 3 

We start the day at an astonishingly excellent aqua park, seemingly randomly situated in the middle of nowhere – a sort of raw challenge in water which reminds me to work on my pelvic floor and upper body strength.

Our meandering takes us to coffee conversations about careers and futures with our nearly adult children in a cute restaurant in Kempsie, before a walk and sort of swim on yet another endless beach.The sea is brown and bitty, full of the after effects of last month’s floods, but the walk is refreshing and watching the kite surfers mesmerizing.

We amble into Bellingen, lush and green and bursting with fat cows, for dinner with our oldest of Australian friends at a bar buzzing with people having a very good time. Tonight we are free camping. It is hot and, momentarily anyway, not raining. But this town is gorgeous and one I fall in love with immediately. 

Day 4

Today is all about splashing about in the lush green backyard of Bello. We meander into the Promised Land to swim in a creek with water so cold it makes your breath freeze up inside you. It is as clear as air, and the rocks twinkle below, uncomfortable underfoot. But we find a pool big and wide enough for the kids to satisfy their desire for jumping off things.

We push the bus up the mountain into panoramic vistas of fertile greenery, and find ourselves agog with the sheer magnificence of the countryside. It is Waterfall Way we are trundling along and so it is unsurprising to find ourselves in the company of several torrents of water cascading down the steep incline.

Our last stop of the afternoon is the rainforest walk in Dorrigo National Park. It is late-ish when we are arrive, but we are all a bit cantankerous with each other and set off for a 7.5km walk to breath in some space. It’s good for the head and the heart to be surrounded by towering trees and the convoluted, multi textured layers of this rainforest. It is beautiful beyond words, a fantastical landscape that surely must have played inspiration to fantasy writers the world over. It feels like we are lost in the movie Avatar.

We come across two main waterfalls, water thundering in white smoke down the slippery rocks, sending spray into our hair and faces, before hiking back out, up inclines my calves will feel for the rest of the week. Tonight we are sleeping in a Showground. It’s our first. I like it better than free camping on the side of a suburban street. And we are able to make a fire and watch the stars burst out of the twilight, while a cacophony of cicadas play their nightly tunes. This will do. 

Day 5

Is it really only day 5? The day starts in brilliant sunshine. We have slept on top of the world, or so it seems. When I step out of the Campervan after a ridiculously good night’s sleep everything is clean and vivid and fresh.

Our first stop is Dangar Falls – closed to the the uninitiated. But we follow the general throng of people clambering around stay out signs and pick our way down to a fabulous waterhole at the base of a waterfall that cascades off the rocks above and makes its own rain. There is much swimming and laughing amidst the spray coming from the churning water.

We also trek out to Ebor for another waterfall. The languid, barely noticeable Guy Fawkes (why is this patch of brown water named after some British terrorist?) river tumbles with astonishing force over a staggeringly sheer cliff face – not once, but twice – a sort of double layer cake of a waterfall. There is a lot of water on waterfall way, but last year’s fires are in evidence in the closed off lookouts burnt to a crisp and the blackened trees which make their way deep into the valley and up the other side.

We head back down the mountain in torrential rain, wreathed in cloud which limits our visibility to about 10 meters at best. Coming down a sharp and winding incline when you can’t see much is an exercise in anxiety, but Mike is the hero of the hour as far as I am concerned and gets us to Coffs Harbor without many sharp intakes of breath from me.

Rain looks set to dog us for this holiday. After watching ash fall out of the sky last year I am not complaining (much) but it makes for a rather damp affair. We chase the sunshine nonetheless, hoping for bright spots as we continue to head north beneath the glaring signs forbidding us entry into Queensland without a permit. 

Day 6

Wet. Wet wet wet and grey. We go for a walk along the beach and onto the Marina in Coffs Harbour and get caught in a torrential downpour that leaves even our underwear dripping with water. Today we retreat to the Grafton movie cinema and watch Wonder Woman save the world from the chaotic ambition of one man’s narcissism. Prescience much? 

Day 7

Today continues in the same wet and grey vein as yesterday. We drive miles through gusty, blustery rain drenched fields of greenness – sugar cane, fruit trees, fields – before finding some sort of relief within the confines of Lord Byron’s cellar door. A good tour of the ins and outs of rum production and the purchase of several bottles of brew was the highlight of today.

That was until we arrive into the gorgeous beach side town of Kingscliff and set up home about as close to the beach as you can get without being in a boat. The weather remains dismal, and Mike and I get rained on yet again while we wander the high street, but the sound of the waves and the wide expanse of soft sand, the live music floating over the night air and the concrete slab we are parked on (and therefore a glorious lack of mud!) makes me feel very happy indeed! 

Day 8

Beachside life with one of our longest time friends. Swimming, talking, eating, drinking while our teenagers roamed free building an amazing desert island home and playing board games and tackling the crashing waves of the ocean on our doorstep. It ended with ice cream as beach days should. Exceptionally good day. Except for the bit where I got stung by a bee. That was exceptionally not good! 

Day 9

We have reached apogee in our travels and pivot around Fingal Head lighthouse to trace our way back home. The reason for trekking to this particular exposed rocky finger of earth stretching into the sea is to see dolphins and we do – in the distance, a large pod of fun seekers surfing the waves. We are still staring into the misty tumultuous waters when a squall hits us and we are drenched within seconds and having to do battle with a wind that would blow us right off the cliff tops.

Mike and I tour and lunch at Husk Distillery, home to our most favourite of gins – Ink Gin. It’s an upmarket slick affair that looks perfectly crafted by adept marketers but I am pleased to learn it is a family business done good, and although their new stills reach into the skies, each bottle is hand labeled and sealed. Lunch is divine – thick prawns with spicy chorizo for me and ink-gin infused salmon for Mike.

This afternoon we trundle into Byron Bay and, finally, some sunshine. This is a jam packed town and we are squashed into a beach side campsite with a million other campers. We spend the afternoon on the beach though, which is scarred quite badly by the recent floods. Stairways have been washed away, leaving gaping pathways 12 foot above the sand and the beach seems to be held together with sand bags. Ripped up vegetation is apparent everywhere, but the sand is flat and soft and the waves seem to suit the plethora of surfers who keep at it until darkness falls.

We walk into the town for ice cream, paddling ankle deep in the sea both there and back. On the return trip there is a rainbow that stretches from the lighthouse to the ocean and this feels like a fitting end to the day. 

Day 10 

Yamba in the sunshine. We walk up a steep ridge that Matt insists is entirely unnecessary and would be better off blown up, before lurching down the other side to reach a wide stretch of yellow beach and distant waves that crash and tumble with a ferocity that brings sheer joy to our son’s young face. He doesn’t notice but two dolphins cavort in the waves near him as he gets vaguely swept out to sea before battling his way back to a level he can stand on. Be still my racing heart.

We hike up the hill again and meander around to the lighthouse – our children learn the word phallic in this regard – and down again to another beach and alongside the Clarence River estuary. Matt spends the afternoon jumping off a cool jungle boat, and we walk down the breakwater for evening drinks in the setting sun. Dolphins play in the waves and we catch sight of them now and again between the fishing boats heading out of the river and into the roiling sea. The night sky is adorned with stars as we collapse into bed exhausted from yet more walking! This holiday is exhausting us – we may need to return to work for a rest. 

Day 11

What difference a little sunshine makes. We return to Coffs and the scene couldn’t be more different from our previous drenching experience. Matt jumps off the high points along the jetty with the locals, plummeting a long way down from my anxious perspective and we swim through the depths back to the shore together. I spend a lot of time not thinking about what marine life is swimming about below me, and I am glad we visit the dolphin and sea life conservation centre after the fact.

Here we see a slice of sea life from around these parts; snapper the size of small dogs swirl lazily with some sort of horned shark and rays and turtles. There are many turtles rehabilitating here, resting and degassing before being returned to the sea. The show stoppers of course are the dolphins, who put on a vigorous display and grin at the applause that greets their high flying antics. I love dolphins and I am brought to tears watching their playful interactions and thinking about the human parasite that wrecks havoc on the earth.

Later, we trundle down to the remarkably delightful hamlet of Urunga. It’s a different sort of place – set on a tidal lagoon I suppose that rises and falls with the sea. We walk (always walking) down the boardwalk at low tide, taking great delight in the bizarre array of crab life at play amongst the mangroves – strange scuttling spider like crabs with fat blue  backs (soldier crabs apparently), yellow one armed fiddler crabs that look like they’ve emerged from some sort of nuclear experiment, crabs with two red claws. As we walk along the estuary, with the tide returning , we see dolphins! The women next to me says “I’ve been coming here for 25 years and I’ve never seen dolphins come into the harbor”. I feel like a dolphin whisperer this week! 

Day 12

Sometimes you come across a view so spectacular it leaves you short of vocabulary. Such is the panorama from Crescent Head lookout – high above the seaside village and the surfers who appear the size of ants. The deep blue ocean spreads before us from north to south and all the way to the horizon where it meets the sky – today crisp and clear and eternal.

Back at sea level the water is that annoying tea colour from the river which flows across the beach and into the waves taking children and adults alike in blow up floaties with it. We only have time for a quick dip and lunch before we head off for a three hour drive back south, leaving the north coast with all its vivid lushness behind us.

Day 13 

Chill day, beach day – sand and sea and surf. We start early, the pair of us “parentals” with an earlyish walk, coffee overlooking Nelson Bay and a swim in waters of aquamarine. Then it’s down to the beach, while the kids and Mike go out in a tinny to do some fishing and, accidentally, a spot dolphin gawking. Arabella sees them with her sharp eyes.

They are kind enough to fetch me for the dolphins and we manage to find them cavorting across the bay. It is just delightful, a thing of childlike awe, to see these gorgeous animals playing in front of you.

Fish and chips on the sea shore and a spot of snorkeling before evening drinks on the dunes at Anna Bay overlooking an incoming storm. This trip, even restricted as it was to NSW, is a reminder at just how spectacular Australia is. 

Day 14 

This is it. The final day of our rather epic NSW adventure. We’ve had rain and mud and waterfalls, sunshine and sunburn and dolphins. We’ve seen gorgeous rainforests and spectacular beaches, turquoise blue seas and swollen brown rivers and the corrugated slopes of wind blown sand dunes. Today we did relaxation. We swim in the icy rolling waves at (another) One Mile Beach and play a 5 hour complicated board game (that we nearly lost!).

Rounding off the trip with a chill day before back to work next week.

Tonight the Milky Way is visible in the sky and the kookaburras laughed as the day winds up. Life in Australia is a gift. A bountiful land we are grateful to call home and blessed to explore. 

Tell yourself a new story

Tell yourself a new story
One that does not begin with shame
Or the erroneous notion of being born broken
That your very existence is flawed
In need of redemption
Or that life is a rehearsal
In pursuit of eternal reward
A promise of future paradise
Bought with death and destruction
And the oppression of curiosity
 
Tell yourself a new story
Snatched from the tree of knowledge
Dripping with ripening fruit
Rich with possibility
 
A story that revels in the glorious
Imperfections of life’s experimental creations
That hints of the wonder of being alive
Here in this moment
 
Just for a moment
 
Shaped from the very matter of the universe
Filled with curiosity and second chances
And the capacity to contemplate
Art and music and love
And the whims of fate.
 
Tell yourself a story of insignificance
For indeed small you are

A momentary fragment of the universe
A tiny thread of life’s vibrant tapestry  
As inconsequential as a fruit fly
As influential as the wings of a butterfly
 
Particles of the universe
Arranged just so,
Perfectly, uniquely you
Intimately connected to everything
 
Alive
Awake
Aware
Curious
 
With the chance to explore
Discover
Feel the heartbeat of a lover
The cold brisk air on the slopes of a snow-covered mountain
The touch of sun on your upturned face
The touch of kindness
The thrill of desire
The ache of longing  
The warm embrace of love
 
A moment in which
To smile
To hope
To dream
To create
To listen
To learn
To love
To care
 
To spread the wings of your mind
And take flight
In the marvellously magical possibilities
Of conscious life.

Sharlene Zeederberg - July, 2020
Photo by Fuu J on Unsplash
 
 
 
 

The Silver Fox

The old silver fox laid down his head
Burrowed down and took one last breath
Before falling into an eternal slumber,
The peaceful sleep of the dead.

They gathered around his fallen form
And crying a river of tears, told his life stories  
Which fell like rain on to the place where he lay
Beneath the full moon
One Tuesday in June. 

And the earth turned still
Made its way, 
Its inexorable, ceaseless way
Around the sun
The circuit of life 
Tracing patterns of stars in the night sky  
Moving to the tempo of the seasons 

From the tear soaked ground 
Arose a tangle of verdant growth
A soft bed of grass
Bedecked with bright flowers  
Beneath the sprouting shoots of saplings
And the hum of honey bees

But every year in June
They gather by the light of the moon 
On the glistening beach where the silver fox used to prowl
With his rough growl and his big scarred heart
To remember him

They gather in the shadow of the trees
On the edge of the sea
Now thick and tall with age
Lush with the sound of birds 
Awake with the rustle of life

And they share new stories
Seeded in the past 
Connected in their beginnings
Now expanded, grown 
Stretched out in a myriad of glorious directions

Their laughter rings into the night
Reverberates amongst the trees
And deep in the woods
A wispy silver shadow
Slips through the night
Content with his legacy.
Sharlene Zeederberg, revised June 2020 - In memory of my father, Terry Weedman.

Hopelessness

Photo by Aarón Blanco Tejedor on Unsplash
Prejudices rule the world
Black and White
Always fight
Arab versus Jew
And "we're better than you."
A little boy with big, brown eyes
His hands raised
Germans praised
The Korean girl screams
The American dreams
Humanity perverted
Hope deserted.
Hide your face in shame
Dreams in vein
An evil reign
Cry my child cry
For the love lost
In the deepening night
Oh god,
Where is the light?

(Sharlene Zeederberg, August, 1990)

The Rituals of our Remembering

In the shadow of Autumn
In the season that invites retreat
With red leaves shed like tears
To pool beneath
The ages old arms
Of ages old trees
We light a candle
 
We light a candle for you
Who loved the flickering promise
That dances in the flame’s orange-blue heart
 
We light a candle to remember you
And the long winding past of all the mothers who came before
Present in every cell of our children
And their ancestors to come
Connected across the seasoned rhythm of time
 
In the rituals of our remembering
We light a candle
A touchstone to the natural order of things
Ashes to ashes, dust to dust
But for a moment
Bright, alight, full of life
Dancing against the inevitable darkness of the night

Sharlene Zeederberg, in memory of Jenny.
(Photo by Aaron Burden on Unsplash)

The Roads we Travel

This is the road
The yellow brick road
The highway road
The speedy road
The road down which we run
Towards the mirage of some future self
The self we would become
 
This is the road
The barren road
The straight and narrow road
The road that leads us on
To the walled city of our ambition
To the place where we belong
 
This the road down which we march
With heavy hearts 
And a purposeful, determined air
Awareness fixed solidly on the horizon
And the promises lingering there
 
This is the road on which we gamble
Every breath of life
Eyes on the prize,
Desperate to arrive
To shout with triumphant decree
I am here
Let me in
I am here
Let my life begin
 
This is the road 
To the distant land of hopes and dreams
The land of tomorrow’s imaginings
 
Did you trip, did you fall?
Did you wonder at the emptiness of it all?
Or did you stop and hear nature call?
And in the silent stillness see
At last
The criss-crossed tracks
Of opportunity
Lightly pressed into the fabric of the universe
Inviting traces to unknown places
As faint as smoke
As revealing as curiosity
 
Did you suddenly awake to find
That is not the only road for your mind
That is not the only way
To traverse life
To move from yesterday to tomorrow
To deal with all her inbuilt joy and sorrow
 
There are other pathways to explore
Other ways to think and be and more
Other ways to find yourself
Not at the centre of it all
Not at the centre at all.
 
Here the narrow path
Turns sandy underfoot  
Washed fresh by the prana of the sea
The pulsing beginning of you and me
Eons older than our collective memory
 
There the steep incline to breathless mountain tops
That almost touch the sky
Reward the explorer with a vista
Full of galaxies that stretch beyond the breadth of human time
Yet fill the human eye
 
And here and there
And everywhere
The moss-covered lanes that stumble into the silence of forests
Where the whispers of ancient contemplation
Echo in your footsteps  
And every breath you take connects you
with the beginning and end of time,
And every breath taken in between
By every living thing
Of which you are merely one moment
In an endless stream

Sharlene Zeederberg - Covid Poems (2020)
 
 
 
 

Thought Rising

I am nebulous
A fistful of dreams
As wispy as air
Rising like steam
 
I am the salt
On a sea breeze
Cascading over rocks
With thunderous ease
 
I hover in the sound
of crickets at night
Linger in the palette  
of day’s ending light
 
I rise on the roar
of a lion newly sated
And rest in the soporific stupor
Of the recently mated
 
I am distraction, obsession,
blandness
Purpose, possession,
The seeds of madness
 
I am passion and boredom entangled
A stream of consciousness chaotically mangled
I am the focus that comes from a scream
And the hazy contemplation of last night’s dream
And laundry and bills and self-esteem
 
I am the tip, the edge, the whole
The all, the nothing
The gentle unfolds
Of tomorrow
 
I am the fuel that keeps
Curiosity burning
Anxiety curdling
Dreams unfurling
 
I am thought
Rising unbidden.
 

The Birds Still Sing

In the dappled shadows
Beneath the leaves of
Mangrove trees that breathe in
Sunlight and saltwater
I walk
And slow my breath
 
And in the stillness
Of that moment
Against the silver gleam of green
Grass shimmering 
Wet with morning dew
I hear the birds sing
 
A hundred different sounds fill the sky
Whistles and twitters
Warbles and chitters
A wondrous symphony
swoops and swirls
And falls like gentle rain
Onto my ears
Tuned away from chaotic fears
 
There is a rose
That captures my eye
A red blossom cupped to the sky
The gentle scent, I suppose,
Reminds me of the papery skin
Of my grandmother
On a farm
In the middle of long ago
With her pantry stocked for months on end
And a garden of vegetables to tend
And a shelf full of homemade biscuits
 
History is recorded in the past
But lived in the present
Or in the imagined days of tomorrow
But come back now, here to now
For the birds still sing
And the grass is still green
And red roses still turn their heads to the sun
And today’s script is yet to be written

Just a bit discombobulated!

If ever there was a time to use the word discombobulated, this is it. It’s been a long and unsettling summer but just as the air clears from the ravaging bush fires and Autumn touches her umber paint brush to the leaves on the trees, we find ourselves, yet again, in a surreal world for which we have no experience.

Life has changed dramatically, but also looks remarkably the same. The sun still shines, the grass is still green, buildings stand and there are people and busses and work to be done and bills to be paid. And yet, we suddenly find ourselves in a world where an invisible foe has thrown our daily rhythms and patterns into complete disarray. 

Perhaps most starkly, we are being asked to forego something that is intrinsic to our nature – social contact.  Jazz hands have replaced handshakes for now but perhaps we might soon find ourselves confined to onscreen conversations and WhatsApp Wine time. Social distancing is difficult because it is foreign, and as a result uncomfortable. We like gathering in groups – park runs, church services, footy games, the theatre and on and on. So much of our life is built around connecting to others, and so much of our wellbeing comes from being in community with others. To have this disrupted leaves us confused and clearly in a state of panic.

I think a lot of (my) anxiety comes from endlessly anticipating possible outcomes. Will someone in my family get sick, will we run out of toilet paper, will we go into lock down, will the schools close? We have so much access to information, but it’s hard to separate out the facts from the fear and general nonsense – and we tend to trust anecdotes and advice from friends and family more than our leaders. This pandemic situation is inherently uncertain. The lack of control, and perhaps general distrust in the system, creates a sense panic. Panic takes on a life of its own, seemingly unstoppable, as the nation gears up for an anticipated “lock down” (that has yet to be flagged as appropriate). Social contagion and mob behaviour interest me but being in the middle of all those empty shelves is scary.

Lock down? Even that phrase sounds ridiculous. As if we’ve been thrust into a dystopian novel. Just watching Years and Years was unsettling, and this has some of the same feels. Perhaps that is the thing – we’ve only really experienced this type of thing vicariously, on the screen or in history books. It feels familiar, but only at a safe distance – one you can leave behind and head into a coffee shop to recalibrate from.  

But of course this is not a dystopia. It is a situation that requires an unprecedented response, one of which we are capable. For once, the enemy is not our fellow humans, but one that we can jointly fight together. We have a strong health care system, largely intelligent leaders and a plan of attack. We are a stoic nation of fair minded people, most of whom will call for calm and kindness, and not resort to violence over toilet paper. The sun will come up tomorrow, and at some point, life will return to some semblance of the ordinary.

I lurch towards anxiety in the daily course of normal life. In an effort to maintain some sanity and keep my mind still, I am practicing being present: being in the moment and interrogating it for joy. I am tending to the garden of my own mind, and trying to clear it of the weeds of fear that could so easily take hold.

Yesterday I bought a plant, admired the beauty of the setting sun and enjoyed sparring with my kids over the dinner table. Today I walked the dog in the silver dewy stillness of morning and listened to the birdsong that continues unabated in the blue sky of today. This crisis will pass but focusing all our energy on hanging in there and just waiting for it to end also feels like a waste of precious time. Life goes on, whether the road is in shadow or the light.

Perhaps this is a lesson for life in general?  Although we feel most comfortable moving purposefully forward, meaning is found in the moments we have and the perspective we take within them. Despite the upheaval of our best laid plans, there is still beauty in the world to bask in, avenues for our curiosity and space for reflecting. Perhaps the gift of these torrid times is a reminder to slow down and enjoy what we have, when we have it, rather than always focussing so intently on the future.

Then I breathe

When anxiety comes upon me
Like a fluttering little bird
Wings beating against the cage of my chest
 
Then I breathe
 
I breathe the calming breath of nature’s forever connection
From the stars that birth the building blocks of us
To the leaves that sway in the breeze
 
I breathe into the space between things
The space between the you and the me
The space between the me and the trees
The space between the womb and the grave
And all the things we perceive
As separate.
 
And nature breathes with me
She ripples in the wind
The invisible wind
That caresses your skin
And the curve of my cheek
As we watch the waves rise and recede
Standing on the beach made from a thousand yesterdays

Bridging the boundary
That is but an illusion
Of time
And ego
And perception
 
I breathe into the space of invisible connection
I breathe away the illusion of the space between
I breathe stillness into the fluttering wings of the shuddering bird
Caught in the cavity of my chest.
 
 Sharlene Zeederberg, Feb 2020