The Art of Exploring - Instinctive or Learned?

Thursday, Jan 21, 2016 at 22:40

ExplorOz - David & Michelle

We recently took a couple of weeks off after Christmas for a social camping getaway with our neighbours. Unlike any trip we’ve ever done, this was not a bush camping expedition or a wilderness camp-out. Instead, we drove for one day on the main road from home to a caravan park and stayed put for the duration. We are not setup to stay in commercial caravan parks and in truth we normally avoid them but we really needed a break and time to be with friends, plus we felt it was critical to get our kids unplugged urgently and we just didn’t have time to plan anything more complex this year so we happily tagged along.
This was not one of those big parks that are part of a national chain but a quaint and rustic locally run park in a regional area that is not well known. Best of all, campfires are allowed and the sites are in a natural bush setting on grass and soil so the kids got well grubby. Although the caravan park was 2WD accessible on the bitumen, and flanked by small towns on either side, there was no mobile phone service (unless you took a hike up a sand dune). But still, we considered it glamping. By golly – we had only a 10 second walk to running fresh water, hot showers, flushing toilets, fresh bars of hand soap daily, a washing machine, a fish cleaning station and all the mod-cons! There was even an appointed shop with coffee machine, bait, bread, milk and lollies for the kids. 10km up the road was a roadhouse store and a highway featuring access roads to beaches and bays, plus a well-marked food & wine tourism trail. We needed none of these services of course - so the rub of it is the exorbitant price of $66/night unpowered (2 adults, 2 kids).

But despite being captive consumers, we found ourselves constantly aware that our “ExplorOz” viewpoint gave us a different perspective and this constantly led us to spend our day doing totally different activities to the majority of the campers there. Admittedly, everyone had probably come with the expectation that everyday we’d be enjoying perfect summer weather and we’d all be on the beach or out fishing but it was not to be. The weather was terrible. Cold. Windy. Constantly. One day of slothing about at the camp reading books etc and we were itching to get moving. Time to explore.

In this sort of region, there is a tourist sign for every imaginable commercial outlet – winery, brewery, cheese factory, toffee factory, craft gallery, meadery, the list goes on. People don’t need to plan – they just follow the signs and are steered towards the commercial outlets. However, we typically turn a blind-eye to these attractions and instead opt for finding 4WD trails, short hikes, natural features of interest, and fishing spots. We’ve come to value the free maps/resources that you can easily pick up along the way and we always manage to wheezle a little bit of info from the locals to verify sights of interest found on the maps. This has become second nature to us – and we presume many of the more experienced travellers in the EO community would also use these same tactics.

Being our first long visit in a caravan park for many years, it seemed this is not the norm by some other 4WD equipped campers staying in this park. We suspect that the more adventurous people would share our objections to caravan park stays and probably weren’t here so what we were observing was a whole different demographic. To clarify, we were still focusing on those that had the capacity to venture offroad by way of their rigs but for one reason or another they didn’t seem compelled to seek out an adventure when the opportunity arose to deviate from the predestined plan to spend the day at the beach.

Whilst being a coastal area full of gorgeous swimming beaches and bays, it also features wonderful national parks with 4WD tracks, beautiful tree filled walk trails in the bush, accessible inlets that were calm despite blow out conditions on the ocean, mountain peak summit walks, and other nature sights worthy of day tripping. We also became aware that some people habitually turn to tools like Google maps without realising its limitations for exploring regional areas. It must be said, that none of the places we visited were hard to find, or challenging to get to and all I used was a combination of the Western Australia Road & 4WD Track Atlas, EOTopo 200K, and the free local mud maps for the 3 surrounding area that I picked up in the caravan park store. Of course years of experience looking at maps gives you a certain ability to sense what to expect just from the 2-dimensional page but you can never replace the thrill of seeing something new for the first time with your eyes, especially when you only went down a particular track on a hunch.
Most of the tracks we enjoyed were certainly not shown on Google maps and our neighbours were pleased we'd found places they'd never been, and never heard of. There is of course some effort required to make a proper review of maps to enable you to make a plan - we don't just head off exploring aimlessly without planning first!

So, it’s got us thinking – is there some natural prerequisite to the art of exploring or can it be learned? Do some people not have a natural curiosity to explore, or do they lack the necessary map reading skills, or is it a lack of confidence in themselves and a fear that they’ll just end up lost or stranded? I’m interested in pursuing people’s thoughts and comments on this. Is it an area that needs more documentation? How can ExplorOz help people build the necessary perspective to become better “ExplorOzers”?
David (DM) & Michelle (MM)
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Always working not enough travelling!
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