FESTIVE campers flock to the hills of gold for any number of reasons – fossicking, sightseeing, to cool off in the village pool or to throw in a line.
Temporarily child-free couple Kurt Bednarczyk and Belinda Whitney from Quirindi chose Sheba Dams as their festive getaway spot, hoping for a little peace and quiet.
The tattooed twosome, who have five children between them, considered staying at Chaffey Dam, but when they saw the large crowds there, headed a little further north to Bowling Alley Point.
A red-bellied black snake crossing their path at the Bowling Alley Point reserve changed their options rapidly, as their sturdy bell tent didn’t quite close at the bottom, and they settled at Sheba Dams on Thursday night and plan to stay until at least tomorrow.
“The kids left on Boxing Day evening and we took off the next morning,” Kurt said.
After setting up camp and having some tea, Kurt and Belinda settled into their tent, turned on the laptop and watched a movie – camping with a touch of technology.
With the cooler climes at Sheba Dams, they said it was easy to get to sleep, but sometimes staying asleep was an issue.
“We thought we’d picked a quiet spot, but these four old guys up the back of us partied until one in the morning and got progressively louder as the night grew later,” Belinda said.
“At times we get the odd look when we arrive somewhere, but who would suspect four old blokes of being party animals?”
With about a dozen or so campsites occupied around what is arguably the region’s littlest dam, there were luxurious motor homes, caravans with and without annexes, small and large tents and a tiny little dome tent occupied by a solo Rastafarian-looking male.
In Nundle itself the village was a hive of activity, although business was rather slow at the local swimming pool, which was unusual, according to pool manager Tony Taylor.
“You picked the wrong day to come out. We had 100 people here on Thursday – it was a brilliant day,” Tony said.
“It’s been a really good season so far. The numbers have been very pleasing.”
Tony said he used any quiet periods to paint the railing around the perimeter and brighten up the place, which now has a couple of new murals, courtesy of local artist Catriona Adams.
“Usually we get busier of an afternoon, but you can never pick it,” Tony said.
“We get people visit the pool here from Quirindi, Gunnedah and Tamworth, just for a change from their own local pool, which is often overcrowded.”
It was action stations at The Fossickers’ Tourist Park, with managers Heath Atchison and Kim Somerville kept on the hop since the start of the holiday season.
Heath said the majority of visitors to the bustling, pretty little park were families, with an average stay of a week – and quite often longer.
“One lot from Old Bar have been coming here for years and there’s another mob from Tamworth who stay at least a week every year,” he said yesterday.
“We’ve got some people here for a month – at least two lots are here for the country music festival, but we’re fully booked out for that.
“There’s a heap of people arriving today. Most people use this as a base and go fossicking or exploring the region.”
Nikki Williams and Suzanne Philipson, from Old Bar, have been coming to the park for the past three years with their husbands and children and always stay at least a week.
“I picked up a nugget the other day and it should make a nice necklace,” Suzanne said.
“Our husbands always come home with gold flakes from their prospecting. That’s why we come here every year. We love it.”
Leaving Nundle, we passed the “big” dam, Chaffey, where big mobs of campers lined the foreshores and up into the grassy hills surrounding the waterway.
That’s where The Leader’s eagle-eyed photographer, Geoff O’Neill, spotted three blokes from Gunnedah who really like to get into their hobby.
Andrew Burton, and brothers Cameron and Adrian MacDougall, were up to their waists in the dam, fishing poles aloft, next to the best little portable bar on the lake.
Cameron’s wife, Sara, who was on the shore taking photos of the intrepid anglers with her iPad said they’d originally purchased the little inflatable dinghy for their son, who was yet to get a look-in with it.
The innovative Gunnedah boys have their esky firmly in place amidships and an icy, cold beer is only ever within arm’s reach.
When The Leader arrived they had not long taken to the water, only setting up camp yesterday morning
Using yabbies for bait, all they’d managed to catch was someone else’s fishing line – and quite a few snags – but they remained optimistic, cool and well-lubricated.
“We love camping and try to get away every holiday break we can,” Sara said. “I’m a glamper – and they’re campers.”