It was just before sunset when I rolled over the bridge and into Mitchell. Up ahead, I could see a broad main street overlooked by a double storey country pub, but I never got that far: out of the corner of my eye I saw a sign saying ‘Great Artesian Spa’. (Oh hello, hello!) I chucked a hard left and pulled up in front.
I don’t know if I’ve mentioned before how I feel about hot springs, but you’d be unwise to get between me and a hot, mineralised soak.
I had a good chat with the lovely lady who looking after the place. Sadly, she was just closing up; apparently soaking all night in hot springs is not an option in Mitchell. However, the pricing schedule was pleasingly simple: $8 for all day entry, come and go as you please.
I considered my budget. Yes, I thought, $8 for an entire day of unadulterated delight seems fine to me – tomorrow would be spa day.
All I had do now was find somewhere free and unobtrusive to camp. There was, of course, a caravan park in town, but caravan parks have the downside of being businesses, and requiring you to pay money. Sometimes $15, $20 just to put out your swag! Imagine spending that much money – that’s almost, say, a couple of days of spa entry! – when there are perfectly good ditches all around the countryside.
Having understood my requirements, the good woman at the spa centre suggested I might try camping out at the weir, about 1.5km out of town. Very good: I jumped back on the bike and headed that way, keen to find a camp spot before the last of the light faded. You see, putting up my tent by headlamp is not a problem, but picking a camping spot in the dark can be a bit hit-and-miss. Sometimes you go to sleep somewhere that seems perfectly reasonable, only to wake up in the morning light next to a cliff or a coal train.
The weir did not disappoint: a broad still stretch of water reflecting the sunset surrounded by bush and some rather nicely manicured lawn.
There were half a dozen vehicles out there already; I rode about in circles for a good ten minutes before selecting a spot in the far corner of the lawn. It was well away from the caravaners who were vandalising the perfection of the evening with their generator and television, and more importantly, out of reach of the beautiful old white gums that towered over the park. There was a brisk wind springing up, and those glorious trees have a tendency to suddenly drop massive branches without warning. When I was a kid, people used to call them ‘widow-makers’. Well, I suppose so, but only if your husband is silly enough to camp under one of them…
I set up my tent and went to explore the area, exchanging brief greetings with four middle aged blokes who were camped up together, each with their own kitted-out four wheel drive. They were on their way to somewhere. One of them made a joke about how long I’d ridden around looking for a site; well, I said, I just didn’t want to camp under the white gums. All four looked up at the white gums towering over their heads; then at each other. I bid them a pleasant evening and went to watch the light fade over the water.
I didn’t cook that night; my gifted breakfast in Roma had been all I needed. I ate a handful of almonds and curled up in my tent for another simple, peaceful night in the motohobo life.