Bush camping in Lerderderg

Over the Anzac Day long weekend we went camping in Lerderderg State Park, 14,250 hectares of rocky, scrubby bush about an hour north-west of Melbourne.

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Normally we avoid camping in school holidays and on long weekends. We prefer to stage ‘commando’ camping raids on regular weekends, doing a quick set-up on Friday night and driving home on Sunday. That way we get a quiet weekend of bush, countryside or beach without the aggro that can accompany crowds with their vehicles, boats, generators, trailbikes, dogs and stereos. But with our oldest child in high school and committed to Saturday sport (and, damn his team spirit, he refuses to blow it off once in a while), we have to try our luck during peak periods.

We’ve camped several times at O’Brien’s Crossing, which has sites near the river and a drop toilet. If we get lucky, there’s a secret, quiet site up river from the main camping area. (Actually not very secret, but secluded enough that on a quiet weekend, people won’t wander far enough to stumble on it.). I’ve blogged before about a couple of trips in summer 2010 and spring 2011.

This time, when we arrived at O’Brien’s Crossing the cars were parked three deep and people were standing around, frowning with hands on hips, trying to figure out where the hell they could squeeze in another tent. We kept driving, up and out of the valley, and found an isolated clearing on the other side of the park.

We didn’t notice at the time, but we were right on the edge of a fire line — leafy trees and clumps of long grass to the left, blackened trunks and reshooting leaves on the right.

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Our kids are still good humoured about these no-frills weekends. We are counting this as a blessing while it lasts.

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On Saturday we took a drive to Lerderderg Gorge, at the bottom end of the park where the river widens out and flows between crumbly orange cliffs. At least, it flowed the last time we were here. Where did the water go?

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We walked up the pebbly river bed, looking for rocks with interesting quartz veins. A hot cross bun rock was a favourite.

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About a kilometre up river we reached what used to be a large waterhole, where we swam on a previous visit. It was too cold for a swim in late April, but the kids took it in turns to take daredevil walks across a narrow, bouncy log (stripped to their undies as the chance of falling in was pretty high).

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Later that night, we enjoyed baked apples and billy tea around the campfire.

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