During the regular holiday season, the dunes of Port Stephens are home to a unique tourism draw – a line of dromedary camels ferrying passengers across the sand of its pristine beaches. Camel riding has been an established part of the Port Stephens beachscape for 15 years.
Oakfield Ranch Camels owner-manager Rodney Sansom said it was an experience like no other to get onboard one of these beasts of burden.
“You step back 2000 years when you step onto a camel,” he said.
“It gives you a great outlook of Worimi country. We don’t get out and enjoy our own area enough.”
Despite being a very common part of the Australian landscape (feral animal tracking website Camel Scan estimates between 1 and 1.2 million are living wild in the outback), they are not an everyday sight for most Aussies. Camels tend to inhabit the country’s remote interior.
Mr Sansom said spotting camels at Port Stephens thrilled visitors. And luckily, he said camels were “very photogenic”.Everyone loved having their very own happy snap with a camel and sharing it with their friends on social media.
Oakfield Ranch is home to 70 camels, only some of which are used to offer beach rides. Others tour the camel racing circuit around Australia. These events, which are currently in abeyance due to COVID-19 concerns, have continued to grow in popularity around the country. They have become a drawcard feature of regional shows.
The animals at Oakfield Ranch are dromedary camels, which have bred wild in the Australian outback. Part of the landscape since the 1840’s, the camels were first imported for transport and construction as part of Australia’s European colonisation. It had a reputation as a good strong animal over long distances, and alongside the Waler horse breed stood tall as a vital helper in Australia’s early colonial history.
As part of culling operations held to control wild camel populations, some of the animals make their way to Port Stephens to run as part of the herd at Oakfield. They have a significant period dedicated to socialisation and training before they start beach rides.
Why was riding a camel such a thrill for visitors? Part of the unique experience of being on a camel was that it was the only animal you mounted as it sat and it stood with you already on its back, Mr Sansom said.