For the decade that we travelled with our hard-floor Odyssey camper trailer (Oddy), camping by the beach during winter was a thought that would never have entered our heads, unless we were north of the Tropic of Capricorn. It was just too much of a risk that the weather might turn bad and we’d end up huddled, freezing cold, inside the Coolgardie safe confines of our wet canvas camper trailer.
However, since the arrival of hybrid glamper-camper trailer Lucy Q4 in our lives (Lucy is the nickname of our Australian Off Road Quantum Series IV Supercamper) all that has changed. She has opened up a whole new season of travel opportunities for us. Whilst we are still almost a little embarrassed at the levels of comfort she provides (can we still actually call this 'camping'?) she manages to follow us to all the same off-road types of places that our faithful Oddy did without the need to be quite so dictated to by the weather.
Mid-winter. We didn’t have enough holiday time to head north properly, but we needed to escape the daily grind. When you have a camper trailer sitting in the garage set up with everything you need at your fingertips, the thought of forking out big dollars to stay in a chalet somewhere just because it might get cold or wet grates a bit. So we decided to brave whatever the weather might throw at us and take Lucy out for a short winter escape.
Admittedly we did head northwards, but only a few hours to Sandy Cape Recreation Park, about 10km past the town of Jurien Bay on the WA coast. Access to the campground is via 7.7km of good gravel track off Indian Ocean Drive, which delivers you to the main bollarded campground. In summer this place is always packed, but in winter there were only a few big caravans to be seen. Even though there was plenty of space in the formal campground, we headed out on the sand tracks to find something a bit more secluded. These tracks aren’t something that you’d pull a caravan down, but Lucy’s off-road pedigree saw her manage with ease.
We found ourselves a most magical site, literally meters from the water’s edge. We always thought that the hard-floor Oddy was a quick set-up but Lucy is even quicker; pop up the roof and you can be done. But there was a bit of a breeze so in the interest of comfort, and ease of boiling the kettle for a cuppa in the outside kitchen, we rolled out the annex and put up an end wall. The ease and versatility of the annex as far as moving walls around meant that when the wind direction changed, it was simple to move the wall around to provide a windbreak.
One feature that seems to define hybrid vs caravan is the focus on outdoor cooking. For lots of reasons, from not wanting to cook in my bedroom to the fact that we are camping which, by my definition, happens outdoors (and that’s where I want to be, not stuck inside alone while I cook) we only have outdoor cooking facilities. With the right annex/windbreak setup this has never been an issue, so a stiff breeze isn’t a show-stopper when it comes to camping in less than ideal weather conditions.
The attractions of beach-side camping in summer are obvious, but winter camping by the beach has many attractions too. We did some long walks in both directions from our campsite. Clambering over the limestone cliffs took us around to the sweep of a gorgeous white-sand bay and then out to Sandy Cape Lookout. Nothing boring about this stretch of coastline. Sweeping vistas, crashing waves, protected bays, limestone caves, soft white sand and plenty of birdlife to spot. The other direction was more intimate with amazing limestone formations, seaweed strewn stretches of sand to fossick and small hidden bays. In the heat of summer it would have been an unpleasantly hot walk, but on a brisk, sunny winter's day it was the perfect activity for whetting the appetite for wine and cheese around the campfire as the sun set.
And winter sunsets, with a few clouds in the sky for contrast, make for spectacular watching. Nothing can compete with the changing colours as the sun sinks into the ocean (yes, we’re on the west coast here) and colours morph from pinks and apricots to fiery crimsons and oranges, all reflected in the clouds and on the water. Add in a campfire to warm your toes and your tipple of choice to warm your belly and surely it can’t get much better than this.
Well actually, it can. Then add in the fact that, as the temperature drops outside, inside in your hybrid-camper sleeping area it is getting warmer and warmer as your diesel heater quietly heats away. No more angst trying to drag yourself away from the warm fire to go inside to a cold bed. Did I mention that this hybrid-glamping thing is almost embarrassing in its creature comforts?
The next day started out as beanie and jumper weather, with a cutting cold breeze thankfully broken by the canvas wall of the annex. As the sun rose higher the temperature gradually rose along with it and layers of clothing were slowly shed. By mid afternoon it actually felt quite warm, though the temperature gauge was still in the very low 20s. I should have paid more attention to that gauge rather than my husband’s passionate declarations that (once you got in) the water was wonderful and I really should come and join him. Even though I knew we were going to camp by the water I definitely hadn’t packed any bathers, since it was the middle of winter. Dismissing the ridiculous 'clothing optional' suggestions being offered up, a singlet and shorts were dug out and I took the plunge.
Yes, once your whole body had turned blue and numb it was quite refreshing in the water — the less said about the process of reaching that stage of submersion the better. Then came the quandary about it feeling warmer in the water than out in the breeze, so getting out became almost as fraught as getting in was. I stayed put for the ten minutes it took for the water heater to kick in, then made a dash to the glamper-camper for an inside hot shower.
I know it’s extravagant and opulent and probably falls outside the definition of 'real camping', but gee that indoor hot shower felt good. It’s a running joke that, even in the middle of nowhere, whenever I strip off someone will appear. True to form, mid-shower the camp host turned up on his quadbike to drop off the bag of wood we had purchased off him earlier that day. To be able to complete the whole process of wash, dry and dress in privacy and out of the cold wind was heavenly. I could emerge dressed and composed, no streaking-dash from outside shower into camper required, to say hello to him and his very comfortable looking passengers (yes, well behaved dogs are allowed at Sandy Cape).
That evening the weather turned quite cold and blustery. With thoughtful setup of an annex wall we were able to remain comfortable outside with our little campfire. But it was nice to know there was the option of retreating inside to continue our evening in comfort if conditions had really worsened. And then to brush our teeth inside with running water to rinse. And to do that last toilet stop (and any in the middle of the night) without having to venture outside into the cold. And no flapping canvas to keep us awake. It all makes winter camping very civilised.
Packing up next morning highlighted what would have to be one of the biggest differences we’ve noticed with a more hybrid-style camper. No more struggling with wet canvas. No more struggling to fight the wind while folding, no more trying to close it all up with the wet canvas all bulky on top of the bed, and no more having to worry about re-opening it when you get home to dry the canvas out and remake
With all this glamping-luxury you’d be forgiven for worrying you'll find yourself becoming a stereotypical caravaner, crammed into a caravan park and tucked up safely inside as soon as happy hour is over, not to emerge until morning-tea time the next day. But the serious hybrid camper-trailers manage to pack quite a bit of luxury into compact, off-road capable units. Lucy is no wider or taller than the Landcruiser, and though admittedly she’s a bit heavier than the hard-floor Oddy was, she’s still well within the towing capacity of the Cruiser. Her design still supports the outdoor-based lifestyle we camp for; she just makes it that little bit more comfortable year-round. The same iron fist strength, just in a luxurious velvet glove – she’s won me over.