Thwaaaaack. The sound of a snapped thong and a stumble interrupt my soliloquy. My only pair of pluggers! Barefoot, I survey the pathway ahead. What was once a meandering track is now a treacherous kilometre long minefield of sandstone and jagged rock. 

A long game of hopscotch later, and miraculously, I arrive injury free at the camp. A dire situation becomes grave when I glance at the food tub. A cursory stocktake beholds: one can of brown lentils, a few mouldy spuds, 5L of water, and no beer.

Incredibly scrupulous travellers can last up to a month out at The Bluff before they need to restock supplies. Our rations have sustained us for a mere 12 days. Word of our voyage travels around the campground and orders are placed: Rob wants a carton of fresh cream; Vince needs fuel and more beer.

135km, and two hours of bone chattering corrugations to the closest shop. A punctured tyre adds an extra hour to the trip. The first indication we’re close to town is when we come into range of the radio waves. A local country station replaces the crackle of white noise. An America song beams through the airwaves.

After three days,

In the desert sun,

My face began to turn red.

La la laaaah, lah lah lah lah

A large satellite dish up ahead marks the gates of civilisation. Houses, infrastructure; a sprawling sea of complexity! The Real World! A tide of anticipation washes over me. Is life away from The Bluff just as I left it?

First stop is The Outback Travel Centre. A servo edition pair of thongs set me back $11.50.  Then the laundromat, where not even half a tub of Napisan can wash away the indelible dust.  Third port of call; a stolen shower at the caravan park. Hot fresh water! Unfamiliar cleanliness!

Back at The Bluff; I’ve been away less than 24 hours, but a moments inattention has proved fatal. Incessant gales have rattled the bolts from the gazebo frame, and every gust threatens to decimate our living quarters. Oblivion looms. 

There’s no other option but to pack up camp and shift into one of the campground’s eight humpies.  The shelters were built over 25 years ago by visiting surfers who spent months in the elements, and most are named after their constructors: Donald’s, Donda’s, The Makky Shack. 

Photo: Tom De Souza

The Stone Hut – built at the foot of the towering escarpment – was the original humpy and the first building at Red Bluff. Local legend has it over one hundred surfers contributed to its construction, their work ethic hindered by a panoramic vista of pumping waves. 

Today, those who built the humpies are awarded priority - Quobba Station rents out each shack to visitors, but if the builders or their family decide to return to The Bluff, the shacks are vacated and occupied by their rightful owners.   

Inside the humpy it’s cool and protected.  Recycled pine framework sits atop a sandstone foundation. Thatched palm frond walls and a roof keep out the elements. Dates, heights and names of the Donda family are etched into a central support beam. 

The humpy offers plenty of privacy, but it’s away from the communal nature of the camp. First night inside, and I begin to miss the wretched rattles and creaks of the gazebo; the ubiquitous dust and flies; and the constant presence of neighbours. The spirit of adventure is strongest when you’re roughing it.  

Photo: Tom De Souza