Easing into Family Camping

Easing into Family Camping

Hats off to anyone who has survived nappy camping.  I didn’t have the courage for that.  So now that 7 years of toilet training is behind us, the world of camping is opening up!  After a few successful nights in the back garden over the Easter holidays, we felt encouraged we could extend ourselves to camp beyond our fence.

 Why camp?

Surely the real estate mantra “location location location” applies to holidays as well?  We’d longed to visit South West Rocks, and when we found that camping in the caravan park was the way to absolute beach frontage, I was SOLD!  My dear husband took a little more convincing but credit to him, he agreed to undertake the bulk of the grunt work to make my dream a reality. 

Many have experienced devastating disruption to their livelihoods with the COVID-19 pandemic.  For us, our Plan A for school holidays was cancelled which is only a minor inconvenience, and left us with the opportunity to rethink how we’d spend two weeks’ leave.  I am eager for our trio to experience the joy of camping that carry so many happy memories from my own childhood.  Kids are imaginative and have a natural ability to find joy in simple things (who hasn’t found a pocket full of rocks in the washing?!). What better backdrop can there be for them to exercise their creativity than camping?  The fun starts the moment they unzip the tent in the morning until the last moment they switch off their torch at night.  Now I wouldn’t really describe myself as an outdoorsy type.  For me, the satisfaction in camping must be the grown-up equivalent of building cubbies and playing house.  A dinky little home away from home.

What to take?

So as the ever-so-slightly more experienced camper in the marriage, I decided on the packing list and my clever husband capitalised on his supernatural powers of spatial awareness to make it all fit.

Happily, some things have progressed since the 1980s.  Tent technology has come a long way since the heavy poles, rusty tent pegs and mildewy canvas I wrestled as a child.  Tents these days are lightweight, more affordable, and practically erect by themselves.  And thanks to a nicely-timed onshore breeze, our tent really did pop up by itself, ready to be secured with poles and pegs.  And when I say “tent”, at 5 x 5 m with 3 rooms and a covered patio I’ll admit it’s less of a tent and more of a camping palace.  High on the list of our parenting philosophies is good sleep for both parents and children. So, we invested in some decent self-inflating camping mattresses.  We went prepared with clothing ranging from one extreme to the other (swimmers to puffer jackets and everything in between) and used them all.

There are a range of camping styles and admittedly our foray to South West Rocks was far from hard-core.  A phone call to the caravan park confirmed the presence of the following luxuries to ease us into camping and lighten the load; toilets, showers, washing machines, drinking water and powered sites.  BBQs, picnic tables and playground (a must for our trio!) were available at the parkland next door.  Amazing coffee (a must for our caffeine habit!), bakery, convenience store and various dining/takeaway options within a short stroll… an insurance policy if camp cooking got too hard.

Packing List

  • Tent
  • Mattresses/swags
  • Sleeping bags/bedding
  • Folding tables and chairs
  • Floodlight
  • Power boards, extension cords
  • Torches
  • Clothing
  • Books, cards, iPad (rainy day contingency plan)
  • Bikes
  • Cooking stove, gas bottle, lighter
  • Car fridge (also runs on mains power)
  • Enamel picnic set
  • Cutlery
  • Utensils (sharp knives, potato peeler, chopping boards, tongs, etc)
  • Dustpan and brush
  • Kettle
  • Rubbish bags, ziplock bags
  • Pegs and laundry detergent pods
  • Dish cloths, tea towels, washing liquid
  • Oil, condiments, spices

What to eat?

We like to keep our meals similar to home-cooking while we’re away, so we were in the market for a portable cooker.  I took one look at the camping stoves and decided I would struggle to prepare a large amount of food for our family (exactly how long does a “growth spurt” last?!).  Having recently received a birthday voucher from my in-laws, I decided to put it towards a paella stove instead.  We’re by no means paella experts and what little Spanish we know is from watching Jane the Virgin (us) and Elena of Avalor (kids).  But we made the most of our new gas burner.  I hope no one’s Abuelo would be offended to see our version of seafood “paella”, chicken risotto, filled omelette and classic steak, potatoes and veges.  What’s more we have used the paella stove a number of times back home and is a fun excuse to invite some gluten-free guests for lunch.  The car fridge (on loan from the in-laws) was a game changer, being able to pull out a bowl of cereal or ham & salad sandwich at a moment’s notice.

Husband dutifully foraged for freshly baked rolls and life-sustaining coffee each day.  Eagle eye observers will spot a photo of Orange’s own water supply, Suma Park Dam, on the wall of Malt & Honey Café.  A thank you to the owners Bruce and Faye Buchanan who contributed much to the Central West community before heading to the coast.

What to do?

South West Rocks is PURE BLISS.  Beautiful beaches, bays, creeks, rocks to scramble over, rockpools to explore, parklands, boardwalks and bike paths.  The fabulous playground at least in part thanks to the toil of the friendly seaside community of less than 5000.  Bike riding, beaching and bakery – it’s the closest I’ve felt to my own idyllic childhood holidays on Rottnest Island since WA closed its borders to us lepers from NSW.  We witnessed local tweens undertaking what is something of a rite of passage; diving from the jetty over Back Creek at high tide.  Others fishing, and older families 4WDing on one of the many beaches.

But it was all about the beach for us.  As we arrived at the coast, our kids dutifully rolled up their trousers as we hit the water’s edge.  But they’re country kids and it takes a lot more than being fully-clothed and a Winter’s day to deter them from getting wet up to their earlobes (cue, caravan park washing machine).

And after a few GLORIOUS sun-soaked winter’s days, as though to bookend our holiday, our tent came down the same way it went up – with a stiff gust of wind!  So we had to evacuate a day earlier than planned and found ourselves googling for affordable motels with last minute vacancies.  Crawling around in a collapsed tent to retrieve our belongings was, err, memorable.

Lessons for next time

Yes there will be a next time!  Undeterred by the tent collapse, we have already booked to go back.  One thing I noticed is that the grey nomads know what they’re about.  Charming little tablecloths are not simply to provide a comfort of home.  Without it, our plastic folding table provided a near frictionless surface to launch our new enamel crockery despite being on what was an imperceptible slope.  So next time, I will be there with gingham for traction.

Be flexible.  Most everyone I have spoken to about the tent collapse has their own camping horror story.  Be it midnight flooding or finding your bed is positioned over an ant’s nest.  But that is all part of the adventure and, if nothing else, surely a lesson in resilience or problem solving?!


Items previously acquired for Easter school holidays, camping at home:

  • $899 $530 for 12 person tent (took advantage of 40% off sale at Easter time)
  • $200 $140 queen camping mattress

Additional expenses for this trip:

  • $293 four nights camping for 2 adults and 3 kids, beachfront powered site
  • $180 $108 per single camping mattress
  • $300 $189 Paella Table Top Gas Burner Set
  • $45 gas bottle
  • $90 $68 enamel dinner set for 6
  • $30 two knives in sharpening sheaths
  • $150 unexpected motel
  • $90 unexpected dining out

Note: We decided against the $1000 roof pod this time in favour of a $15 DIY “roof pod” fashioned from a tarpaulin, occy straps and masking tape

Disclaimer: This post is general in nature. It is not intended as a substitute for professional advice and you should seek professional verification on matters such as legal, health and wellness, travel or financial opinion prior to relying on such information.
COVID-19 update: Please note that all the information on the website is correct at the time of publication. Please check the relevant website before visiting a venue or destination for the latest COVID-19 information. Central West Mums is not responsible for any cancellations or closures.
Eliza Westcott

Eliza lives in Orange and is married with three young children under the age of 7. They love family adventures and exploring the East Coast after relocating from Fremantle, WA. Eliza is a scientist from the city and is surprised to find herself shoveling alpaca poop on the vege garden since being converted to the joys of country life in the Central West.

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