IT’S one week before summer officially strikes in Australia and I am sitting in my air-conditioned office, ruminating on the impending warmer weather and the sticky issue of camping. Apparently, people like to camp (and if you look at any Brisbane dating site, they not only like to camp, but 4WD, fish and go piggin’ as well). Me, not so much, but given the right circumstances, I’ll give it a red, hot shot. (The camping, not the piggin’). And by right circumstances, I mean a glamping tent with air-conditioning, bar fridge and, easy access to a toilet (preferably an ensuite). All of which I enjoyed a few weeks ago when I previewed Australia’s newest glamping product Hideaway at Cabarita Beach in northern New South Wales. Ensconced in my gorgeous, generous bell tent under a plump, crisp, linen doona, it felt like I was born for this camping caper. Until I remembered I am not.
It’s tricky to pick my worst camping adventure. There’s been quite a few. So let’s narrow it done to the coldest and the hottest. A few years back I was invited to cover the Mount Isa Rodeo, where, among other things, I interviewed the female boxer Beaver whose reputation for beating up blokes in the ring was legendary. Despite her size and status, Beaver turned out to be a gentle giant and she even made me a cup of tea. As much as I like to suffer for my art, I declined the offer to fight her later that night in the ring, as I value keeping my ribs intact. Had I actually fought Beaver, I may have spent the night in the cosy comfort of the Mount Isa Hospital, as opposed to the glamping in which I was staying.
Mount Isa in winter, like much of the Queensland Outback, is a curious beast. It’s hot during the day, and then plummets to freezing once the sun sets. But I came prepared, packing my hot water bottle Kevin 07 (who I named after former Prime Minister Kevin Rudd’s 2007 campaign). Or so I thought. The glamping was set up within a mining camp, those hot, horny miners happily tucked away in heated dongas. My tent, was, inexplicably, down by the creek, where the temperature dropped to one degree. I’d come home from my rodeo reporting, covered in dust, hand Kevin 07 to the camp’s toothless security guard with instructions to boil a kettle to fill Kevin’s guts, while I limped to the showers. The fact the showers had no doors, and the hot, horny miners were in the cubicle next to me, should not be lost on this story. And had I known just how cold it was going to get at night in my tent, I would have worked that fact a little harder. But alas, I rubbed and scrubbed only myself and then returned to collect Kevin.
It was so cold in that tent, that the cheap polyester blankets they’d given me would shoot off green sparks in the dark. But worse was when I realised that all of the water I had drunk throughout the hot day to stay hydrated, decided it was time to work its way through my kidneys at night. Years later, while travelling through Morocco with an Australian doctor, I learned that while our other organs slow down significantly at night to rest and repair, it’s when we go to sleep that our kidneys go into overdrive. Hence the reason you may need to pee during the night. Who knew?
It was way too cold, and too far, to drag myself to the toilet block, so I decided to improvise. With a tiny Tupperware container in which I had been carrying some sultanas for snacks. There I was, congratulating myself on my genital genius until I felt something wet and cold, on the only socks I had to keep me warm. I looked down in horror and realised I had peed on my foot. I tossed my warm urine and my wet sock outside the tent, and went to bed miserable. By this time Kevin was cold, I was cranky and even worse, I knew I had to repeat this camping caper all over again the next night.
My hottest camping episode, and I mean this in several senses of the word, was a few years back, when I went to the summer Woodford Festival on Queensland’s Sunshine Coast. This time I was in Tent City, in a media tent, which was just like every other tent, and again, there was no ensuite. On this occasion it was as hot as hell. And I did what any journalist covering this event would do, and drank as much beer as possible to keep all jolly and hydrated. I was even congratulating myself on how well I had done not going to the bathroom all day when again, I lay down later that night to go to sleep, when my kidneys went into overdrive.
Luckily, I remembered I had again packed a small Tupperware container with sultanas in the car, which I promptly emptied and carried back to my tent as my makeshift toilet. Which I proceeded to use over and over and over again as my kidneys decided to process the equivalent of a carton of beer on this hot evening. Again, I missed as I pissed, but there were no socks involved this time, it was too warm. So warm, in fact, I slept with the tent flaps open. Which would have been fine, had I not awoken the next morning to a tent which reeked of stale pee and a curious line of festival goers walking past my tent, gaping as they went. I looked down, only to discover that during my wild night, my left breast had escaped my singlet and there I was, arms akimbo, my bosom on display for the entire festival to see.
I packed up rapidly that morning. Headed back to Brisbane and vowed I needed a new tactic should I ever tackle camping again. And should you ever feel the need to go camping with me, if I ever offer you a sultana in a Tupperware container, you’ve been sufficiently warned.
THIS story is a sashay down memory lane to those halcyon days of childhood summer holidays on the Gold Coast. Worry-free weeks of sandy feet, sandcastles and the occasional sneaky sunburn. Of sunkissed, sleepy nights on cheap, cotton sheets. Pink zinc cream and mozzie bites. Scorching days where we would reluctantly leave Coolangatta beach and pile into the gold Kingswood with its branding-iron seat belts that nobody ever wore. We’d venture across the border into northern New South Wales to visit our wild boy cousins also on holiday. Kingscliff, Pottsville, Cabarita…they were all so daggy back then. About as much style as the terry toweling shorts which barely covered our bums.
But those were the halcyon days where we’d stand along the shoreline like soldier crabs and dig for pippies with our feet. Go on adventures with the wild cousins, mud squelching between our toes, and wander the mangroves with a yabby pump. How time and places change. I am in northern New South Wales visiting Nimbin in search of nirvana, or at the very least, the remnants of Australia’s hippie movement, for a story I’m writing for a magazine about the 50th anniversary of Flower Power. I’m unclear about whether the hippies want to hug or hurt me. I suspect it’s a bit of both. I’m tailgated on the windy road deep into the Tweed Valley. Where is the love? Things just aren’t like they used to be.
With my story captured like a fugitive in my imagination, I head back towards the coast where I check into Halcyon House for the night. It’s the ideal spot for this journey back into nostalgia. The bones of this old surf hotel are still here, replete with 19 individually-designed rooms and two suites, but these days she’s a lady of luxury. These elegant rooms combine coastal chic with all the flair of a British B&B by the sea. But Brighton this is not. It’s sunny Cabarita Beach upon which this grand dame is perched.
There’s an all-inclusive mini bar with floral-infused gin and dirty tonic water which, by description alone, I’m unable to refuse. Organic red and white wine, plus Byron Bay beer and soft drinks make up the remaining delectable drinks. Chips, Lindt chocolate and even some Tweed Coast salami is cooling in the fridge and it would be oh-so-tempting to pull up a perch on my royal blue outdoor chair and watch the ocean, but I’m determined to try the acclaimed restaurant here.
The pretty Paper Daisy is named after the wildflowers that bloom nearby at Norrie’s headland. And chef Ben Devlin, formerly of Noma fame, specialises in coastal cooking. There’s pippies here too, but unlike anything my cousins and me ever imagined. These days you’ll find these shellfish in semolina pasta, native pepper and macadamia oil. I opt for the Wagyu minute steak with fennel, witlof and pomelo and served with purple cauliflower and walnuts, and cucumber and cashew nuts. Want dessert? How about a messed-up cookie or a lemon myrtle meringue cone? Or you could go the whole hog and order the four-course degustation menu.
I return to my room to find the bed has been turned down, there’s a pillow menu from which to choose, and my clothing has been folded. Two home-made chocolate chip cookies sit beside a note wishing me sweet dreams. And that’s another thing that sets this hotel experience aside from anywhere else. The service is immaculate. It could be these yummy childhood feelings this property evokes, but I would go as far as to say it’s the best hotel I’ve ever experienced anywhere in the world. Yes, in coastal Cabarita, they’ve struck gold. That perfect balance between relaxed luxury and sensational service.
And there’s plenty to do here as well. Laze on a plush day bed around the pool, or borrow a complimentary bicycle and explore the area. This hotel also has two Audis available for hire. Or, if you’re like me, and nostalgia has clasped firmly onto your head and heart, if only for one night, do nothing but daydream about those heavenly, halcyon days of your childhood.
The Global Goddess stayed as a guest of Halcyon House – https://halcyonhouse.com.au This five-star boutique accommodation, which is a member of the prestigious Small Luxury Hotels Group, has plans to open a spa in late 2017.