Around-Oz: Living the Dream!

Kangaroo Valley
Free Camping - NSW

Sadly, in all our travels we are tending to come across fewer and fewer free camping areas. One jewel, however, is Bendeela, located on the south coast of NSW. The turnoff is half a kilometre east of Barrengary in the picturesque Kangaroo Valley, 7 kms off Bowral - Nowra Road. From there continue on and you will find - 41 km from Bowral - you will find the Old Store est. 1880 - newsagent, post office, pharmaceuticals, food emporium, agents for Akubra Hats, ice creams and milkshakes, tea, pies and coffee -what more could you ask for? By the way, it is also the only building in the town! The turnoff to is .5 km east. Not well marked - a brown tourist sign says 7 km along Bendeela Road.

Our visit was in a very hot December in the Christmas holidays and yet it was totally uncrowded. There are sites to suit all tastes and preferences. You can camp on the banks of the beautiful Kangaroo River a tributary of the Shoalhaven River - within 2 metres of the water if you wish. There are lovely completely shady sites with a floor of pine needles near the bank - not too good for solar though. There are delightful groves of shady trees all over the place, most with lush mown green grass. Or if you prefer the wide open spaces you have a choice of hundreds of sites.

We opted for a grassy hilltop with a fantastic view of the river, our own BBQ and a nice shade tree. As we rely on solar power for digital cameras and the computers we can never go for 100% shade, but this site was just about as perfect as one could wish for. Bear in mind it was a 40 degree day, yet in the afternoon there was a lovely breeze off the water. The BBQs here by the way are all brick and beautifully made. No bending down either, and you have the choice of a large flat plate or an open bar type. If you wish you can have a fire anywhere you want on the ground. Fantastic quality firewood is supplied. The notices advise you to bring an axe. This is the understatement of the Millennium as these logs are massive, and the only way to make an impression on them is to use a block splitter and a sledge hammer. Not too many of us carry these two items! There is a water tap every 50 metres or so and the water tastes sweet.

There are two toilet blocks and both are brick and well constructed with tiled floors and heaps of room. Sadly there is a small amount of vandalism. On our visit some clown had damaged the disabled toilet in one block. There are no showers, but plenty of dumpster bins. Toilets are all full flush septic and set up extremely efficiently so as no effluent finds its way into the river. An example of sound environmental planning at its best and a credit to both authorities.

There are a few flies, but in December the mozzies were not a problem. If you have one of those $79 weekender gazebos from K-Mart with screening, then bring it along. Despite being a Sydney Catchment Authority site swimming is allowed in the river. There are several spots where it gently slopes if deep water is not to your liking. Remember it is a river, so be mindful of the current. Lots of campers had swing ropes set up over the water. This spot is popular with day visitors and thankfully these take their noise with them when they go home at night! If you site your camp near family campers, chances are you will get a very peaceful night. There is absolutely no traffic noise at night and if you have the right spot you even get to sleep in! There are few rules -no dogs - no power boats - no diving. They seem to be pretty serious about the dog rules as there are repeater signs all over the park.
The size of this park is unbelievable. You could be forgiven for mistakenly thinking you had entered a new golf course! It is divided into two sections by a lockable gate and has a river frontage of almost 3kms! Remember this is all mown and it is reasonably remote, so full marks must go to the Sydney Catchment Authority. Because of the sheer size there is ample opportunity for long walks just within the park itself simply by doing a perimeter circuit. Bike riding is just as good, as it is both flat or hilly depending on where you want to ride. It is possible to walk or ride in complete shade if you like. We were impressed by the total lack of lantana.

Mobiles don't work at all anywhere in this area. The nearest phone is in the Kangaroo Valley township, but in an emergency the hydro electricity station is right at the entrance to the park. Talking about the entrance - from the top this looks iffy for caravanners and we had a bit of a pause before we ventured down as you can't see where it goes. It's OK, as long as you don't stop before turning right at the top when leaving. The roads in are all bitumen, but sadly the hoons have put their trade mark on some of it. Roads within the park are excellent all weather gravel and fairly dust free, as it rains quite often in this area, but fines up very quickly. It would be a crime to have your TV going in this pristine environment, but you do get a wavery signal we were told. Radio reception is excellent so just listen to the news!

You need to go into Kangaroo Valley township for supplies and fuel as the local shops have very little. If you enjoy your stay at Bendeela there is another similar site at Tallowa Dam picnic area. Turn off at the Fruitworld sign in Kangaroo Valley township. It is also free and run by the Sydney Catchment Authority. We didn't have time to visit, but we spoke to an elderly couple from WA here on their second visit, who told us it consists of a very large mown paddock with similar facilities. By the way - we found this place totally by accident! We were looking for a nice lunch spot by the river and mistakenly thought the road went under Hampton Bridge! Them's the breaks! We suggest a stay of two nights without venturing out sightseeing as there are no circuit tours, but a side trip into Upper Kangaroo Valley is very worthwhile. River is great for canoeing and this is very popular.

Now you could spend days in the township of Kangaroo Valley as you step back in time to a more friendly and caring era. The most prominent landmark is the 1898 Hampden Bridge built single lane, so take care - also the oldest suspension bridge in Australia. It is high above the Shoalhaven River and it does give you a bit of a buzz if you stand there in the middle as trucks lumber over, and it creaks and groans, as it is a suspension bride. Right next door is the Kangaroo Valley Tourist Park for overnight vans and camping. This is an excellent park and if you're not quite into free camping yet this is the perfect place for you as it is high on a hill overlooking the river and is very leafy. Fellow A'vanners Siggy & Heather Nowak absolutely recommend it - they were looking for Bendeela, but our directions were a bit iffy at that stage! It is also a popular refuelling and overnight spot for canoeists trekking down the river. There is an excellent bike way right through town. Now lets talk about the bakery!!! Oh dear this is a really bad news place! Enter at your own risk! It's called Aussie Pies Valley Bakehouse and here is a sampling of their wares - Bushman - country meat, Drovers - country breakfast, Jumbuck lamb/mint, Jillaroo curry, Drovers Dog curry, Swagman plain pie etc. Now the cakes and other naughty things are pretty gob smacking. The breads are just as good and we really stocked up here! The village has all been restored and it is glorious. The fudge shop was the only one that let the place down - about the grumpiest guy you could ever meet! We visited very early one Sunday morning so that is why the photos look a bit empty BUT of a Sunday around midday the place really comes alive. Real Estate in the area is absolutely top dollar with most properties going into touristy ventures. Lots of backpackers. Yes we could easily live there!

In summing up the only thing that spoils Bendeela by just a tiny bit, is the high tension pylons just visible on the horizon from some sites. On quiet nights you can also hear the faint humming of the turbines in the powerhouse. Without doubt the absolute highlight of our visit was seeing all the wombats coming out to forage just before dusk and the very special little guy who decided to wake us up at dawn by scratching his back on our annex pole carrier!. Maybe we lead sheltered lives in Queensland, but in fifty years of bush camping we have never come across so many wombats. These little critters are very hard to photograph as they tend to move away as you approach and in the wild only forage at night. The bird life is also bird watchers heaven. There are hundreds of ducks and all sorts of parrots and many species we will be looking up on our return home. We saw nests for leatherheads - magpies, families of ducks, king parrots, little blue wren, and a goose like bird.

Just a quick note for those of you towing with four cylinder vehicles - the climb out of Kangaroo Valley is VERY steep and winding travelling in either direction, so be prepared for a bit of second gear work. Under no circumstances attempt to tow up to the tea rooms and lookout on Cambewarra Mountain as pictured at the top of this story. It is just too steep and narrow. If you follow the links in this story you will get more than enough background info on the immediate area. Bendeela is listed on page 60 of the Camping Guide to NSW by Boiling Billy Publications. A great source of general information is Shoalhaven Tourist Information . Those into bush walking might like to have a look at www.galactic.net.au/bushwalking/parks/Morton/park3.html as this site lists lots of walks in the area for those prepared to drive a bit more. If you are looking at this on-line click here for an excellent photo of Fitzroy Falls.

Overall Bendeela is absolutely recommended. We suggest you get there quickly before some bureaucrat decides to gazette it as a National Park with hefty fees, no fires etc.!

Bob & Chrissy Eustace

Acknowledgements: Map courtesy of www.southcoast.com.au/kangaroovalley/


Click the compass to see a map of Kangaroo Valley

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