It’s our last night with our relocation rental vehicle and at 8 pm we’re looking for a place to camp. Internet sleuthing has revealed that the free camping options further south (nearer to our destination of Sydney) are sparse. The furthest south we can find a free campsite is in Olney State Forest, a 30 minute drive inland from the M1 highway, so just before Morriset we pull off and navigate a maze of dark roads into the forest. We make a few wrong turns, so it’s nearly 9 pm and raining heavily by the time we’re at the campground. Its presence is only confirmed by what appears to be a path through the trees and a couple of picnic tables we spot with the headlights.
I want to be a rational person, but this place is absolutely creepy. We snuff the engine and when the SUV’s headlights go out, it’s pitch black outside. The sound of rain is mixed with occasional plinks from eucalyptus seeds falling onto the roof. We jump at it the first few times. After a brief meeting on the situation, we decide we’re sleeping in the car and after dinner, we make nervous dashes to the corrugated aluminum bathroom stall outside.
This might all sound hilarious and paranoid, but I know of a few murder incidents in Australia’s forests. I’ve got a friend who grew up near the infamous Belanglo State Forest, site of the Backpacker Murders. Back in the early 90’s a local guy named Ivan Milat used to pick up backpackers and drive them into the forest, where he shot or stabbed them to death. He killed at least seven people. Then in 2010 a group of high-schoolers, one of whom was Ivan’s great-nephew, drove a classmate celebrating his seventeenth birthday into Belanglo and killed him while filming it. My friend knew some of these kids from school.
Well, it’s off to sleep! Hopefully we wake up tomorrow, though it helps that we’re sleeping in an SUV as large as a tank.
It’s the next morning and we’re not dead! We decide to celebrate with a hike, even though it’s still raining. We don’t even like hiking in the rain (we figured this out in New Zealand).
We find the nearby Abbotts Falls Walking Trail and follow it for an hour, trudging over soggy leaves and fording streams. We’re wet in minutes, and despite the rain overnight the falls are nothing but a trickle. But it’s nice to be out in the trees with the smell of pines in the rain. We even encounter a tenacious tree growing in the middle of the trail, sprouting a new branch from where its severed trunk once stood.
Back in the SUV, we lay in coordinates for the rental dropoff and head back out toward the highway. Today’s agenda is dropping off the car and then checking into a hostel in the downtown area. Since this is our last English-speaking country for a long time, the next step on our trip is to try getting our Russian Visas here. Wish us luck!