It was brisk when we awoke after the first night on the road. But beautiful. There is something about going to bed early and then rising at the crack of dawn because really, one has had enough sleep. My new sleeping bag was warm enough I suppose, but kind of not really because it wasn't big enough for both my shoulders and all my boobage to snuggle into. The man in the shop had lied in that way that salesman do, the ten centimetre difference between the 90cm jumbo sleeping bag and a 100cm jumbo sleeping bag is actually pretty significant. Given that I actually tried out the sleeping bag on the shop floor, I should have known this. So no pillows and an uncomfortable sleeping bag. A recipe for disaster it would seem.
We packed in fairly good time and had a little look around Tocumwal, then powered up the Newell stopping in Peak Hill to get petrol and inWest Wyalong to see if country Target was open on a Sunday (no, they were doing stocktake). We must have stopped for lunch but pretty much it was a big driving day as we hadn't made our kilometre quota the day before. It was good, we all started to settle into the journey. We planned to stop somewhere near Forbes but I had no idea about the camping possibilities. We passed through likely looking state forests not marked on the map, but every time we saw a likely looking road to turn down, there was a truck up our arse or something. Eventually I proposed plan B which was to stay in a hotel. We had promised Grace that we would at some stage so that felt like a box ticked. I made Gerard drive around Forbes until I spotted one with the big veranda. I went in to check it out, basically to be sure it was somewhere one would stay with a six year old. It was great, pretty original, not to expensive and with rooms that opened onto the veranda. Grace was thrilled and we went out for dinner at a local chinese restaurant that had a fabulous wall sized picture of Hong Kong by night with lights behind it. The only other customers were an older farmer man and farmer woman on what looked like a date. She was gluten intolerant and navigated the menu with great delicacy and he kept answering his mobile phone - perhaps they knew each other well.
In the morning we saw that it had been raining all night so it was a bonus not to be packing up a wet tent. On the way out of town we stopped first at another country Target - and yay, pillows were on super special. Then we stopped at a camping store and I bought another sleeping bag. This one I was very careful to test out properly. Gerard decided that my slightly husky sized one was better for him and we were left with a spare regular sized bag. I initially thought I might give it away but as it turns out, travelling with a spare sleeping bag is not such a bad idea. That night I knew where I wanted to camp - Pilliga Bore baths. I had done some research at home and a primitive camping ground next to a hot artesian pool sounded great. The bore bath didn't thrill Gerard but he likes going to places he has never been so he was in. Actually, he is pretty good to travel with like that. Grace loved the idea. The road to Pilliga from the Newell had a satisfyingly outbackish feel. When we got there, we realised that we should have collected wood on the way but after a few little arguments, we set up and set about finding wood. I took Grace for a walk and found a few OK sized pieces and had a bit of a poke around. After dinner, Grace and I headed off for a swim. It was absolutely lovely. There were scampy kids jumping in and out and it seemed like that the people that went there were a mix of country folk from nearby on holidays and grey nomads. As it got later, the talk was getting dodgier and dodgier and I pulled Grace out. It was freezing cold outside compared to the 37.5C water and nice to come back to a good campfire.
The water at Pilliga comes from the great artesian basin and feels quite soft.The temperature is perfect and it smells a bit stinky, quite sulphurous. You get used to it. I took Grace for a swim the next morning at dawn and started chatting with a local who swore that the waters had cured an ailment in her foot the doctors had given up on. I wish I'd braved my wet bathers and swum again in the morning but I just couldn't bring myself to. Pilliga is definitely one those places that I'd really like to visit again. Winter camping with big fires next to a hot bore bath is something I could get used to. Next time I'll take a dressing gown and a second set of bathers. And heaps of wood. There are lots of other parts of the Pilliga that look interesting, salt caves, forests and secret camping spots. The Pilliga is the largest remaining temperate forest in Australia and appears to be under threat from Gas coal steam exploration. I hope not - it really is a very special place.