Thursday, March 03, 2011

No room at the inn

We had it all planned out. We would leave Esperance and spend the day driving 520km to the town of Denmark, just past Albany. A town that had all the indications of a perfect destination, sounding like a mix of Mullumbimby with a touch of Byron Bay thrown in. A cool little hippy town with a vibrant alternative culture, surrounded by forest with a river that spills out to sea via beautiful surf beaches. It just sounded perfect and had our name all over it. We'd even picked out the place where we were going to stay. The drive was quite relaxing, with everybody still half in the driving mode from the journey across the Nullarbor. We arrived in Denmark around dusk and it looked like all that had been promised. Art galleries, cool cafes, wineries, interestingly designed houses, hippies walking down the main street decked out in bright tatty clothing and of course the river. We cruised past some kangaroos grazing in the fields on the way up to the tiny little caravan park surrounded by beautiful forest, only to find on arrival that they had no vacancy. What?! We haven't needed to book ahead anywhere so far on this trip and have had no problem getting in to wherever we've wanted. How could this be? "Sorry, we're totally booked out for the long weekend", we were told. Oh yes. It's Labour Day weekend.

The first time that Tori and I went on a road trip together was the Queen's Birthday weekend back in 1990. We'd been going out for about 6 months and thought that we'd just get in the car and drive somewhere up the Murray, taking pot luck as to where we'd stay. We didn't mind which town and had no preference for staying in an onsite van in a caravan park, a 4 star hotel or any form of accomodation in between. It seemed unfortunately that the rest of Victoria had the same idea. We somehow found accomodation at Echuca for the Friday night, but on the Saturday were not quite as lucky. Every tiny town from Swan Hill to Robinvale had some kind of event for the long weekend and had no vacancy of any description. "It's the Queen's Birthday car rally this weekend". "Everyone's in town for the long weekend horse racing". "The gun club has it's annual shoot off". So we kept driving, but it was the same story everywhere. We stopped at hotels, pubs and caravan parks in every single town we passed, all to no avail. The No Vacancy sign was starting to burn a hole into the back of my brain. In the end we had driven the length of the Murray within Victoria and arrived in Mildura, some time around 9pm and pretty much at wits end. I thought that in a town the size of Mildura somebody must have a room for us. Finally after driving around the town in all directions, we saw a hotel whose sign was advertising a vacancy in gloriously bright neon. Hooray! Salvation finally. I skipped inside to reception only to see a girl leaning over the counter, signing the registration form on the last room that the hotel had available. In my mind I was smashing her repeatedly over the head with a cheap hotel ashtray and dumping her dead carcass in the Murray, with a couple of extra kicks thrown in to send her on her way. In reality I just moped out the door and back to the car with my spirit crushed. The hotel reservation centre told us that there were no rooms anywhere at all in Mildura. We could try Nyah West some 200km away. Maybe they had a room. Instead I went with Tori to a cafe and just slumped with my head on the table completely dejected. After about 20 minutes of wallowing in despair, I came around enough to start functioning slightly. We contemplated just carrying on to Adelaide where Tori's sister lived. That was only another 400km away and at least we'd be guaranteed somewhere to sleep. Crashing out in the car was another considered option, but that didn't seem particularly desirable either. In the end we drove inland down to Ouyen. Perhaps if we just get away from the river there may be less demand for rooms and we could find somewhere to stay. Great theory. No luck. The only thing I knew about Ouyen was that it was typically the place on the weather map that had the highest daily temperature in Victoria. I now know also that it is a popular destination for the Queen's Birthday weekend and that if you want to stay there you should book in advance. Someone in the Ouyen pub had muttered that we could try the town down the road that had a pub with accomodation. But I was past hearing at that stage. I'd completely given up. In the end Tori went back into the pub and asked a random stranger if he knew some town down the road ending in "bool" or something. "You mean Underbool", he said. "That's 50km west of here". I could barely speak so Tori phoned the Underbool pub to try our luck. And finally, after being turned away from several dozen establishments, somebody said yes. The 50km down the road seemed like it was just next door. We'd already driven 500km that day looking for accomodation so this was a doddle. And what a magnificent sight it was when we arrived. Accomodation with a pub attached. On receiving the room key I just went straight to the bar and commenced drinking with both hands in a bid to exorcise the frustration and celebrate the relief. On arriving home in Melbourne the next evening, after driving 1200km around the state in less than 3 days, I was shattered. Somewhere between Bendigo and delirium I suggested to Tori that she move in with me.

I vowed to never go off driving on a public holiday long weekend to a high demand location without booking ahead. Until today that is.

After finding out that the picturesque little van park we had exepected to stay at had no room for us, we tried the next caravan park, this one on the river quite close into town. No vacancy. "Sorry, full until after the long weekend. I don't think anybody for miles around will have any room for you". The nearby free camping ground was  certain to be full and signs all round the town indicate fines for camping in undesignated areas. I had visions of Mildura all over again. There was one more caravan park in Denmark that we could try. About 11km out of town and not at all what I had had in mind, but we didn't really have any option. I was pessimistic of our chances but, thankfully, the ocean beach caravan park had some room. We arrived in total darkness and unhitched, watched by a couple of kangaroos who had hopped by to check us out. I have no real idea of exactly where we are or what our surrounds are like, but things are definitely looking up.


Jennifer said...

Had the same experience in Montreal once. Some festival was on. We ended up in some divey hotel in a divey was clear that most of the rooms were used by the hour....but they were very sweet to the kids who were about 3 and 1 at that time!

Meteor said...

Haha! Nice story.
Deb and I had a similar experience when we arrived in Milazzo, Sicily, having backpacked down from Naples. Every single establishment, room, caravan park and telephone booth was booked out for the start of the Italian summer holidays. Finally we found a camping ground that would let us sleep out in the open (we had no tent), so we spent the whole night being kept awake by ants, frost, wayward Italian drunks from the 120 decibel nightclub next door (which operated full bore until about 5am), and a ferocious, invisible (we had no light) German Shepherd that tried to attack us every time we went to the toilet. Not a happy introduction to Southern Italy!

Greg Swedosh said...

Yeah I know those hotels Jennifer. Tori and I ended up in one in Vegas when we didn't prebook on Valentines Day eve.

And that's classic Tim. I bet you were nice and happy. :-)

Jennifer said...

We are really getting some vicarious pleasure out of the Swedosh road trip. Thank you! Seeing photos of beaches is a good antidote to the early March blahs in the snowy tundra!