THERE ARE FEW THINGS AS ICONIC as the Kiwi camping holiday – except maybe the World Champion All Blacks! (It felt so good to type those words!) That, and perhaps standing around a hangi pit, wearing gumboots and a swannie, and chewing on pineapple lumps, while playing with your Buzzy Bee …
Come summertime, countless Kiwis crowd into campgrounds all over the country, their vehicles loaded to the hilt with tents, tarps and all manner of camping paraphernalia. Sites that have been quiet all year suddenly find themselves inundated with noisy families and multitudes of odd-shaped, multi-coloured tents. And people from all sorts of backgrounds – city slickers and cockies, rich and poor, pink and brown – find themselves neighbours.
It’s a great way to experience communal living, that’s for sure!
Of course, the camping experience is not all fun and games. The packing of car and trailer, and the long drive to the campsite, are the most stressful things you’ll do all year. But these short-lived trials and tribulations are worth it. After all, how often do you get the chance to kick back and relax? You know you deserve it!
As a boy, I was fortunate enough to enjoy many years camping with my family in a remote bay up the top of the Coromandel. We’d often spend weeks roughing it – digging our own long-drops, washing in creeks, surviving summer storms and flash floods. They were fantastic holidays and an important part of growing up: learning how to catch and prepare fish for eating, how to dive for shellfish, how to make a spear for eeling … all vital things for a boy!
So, if camping’s such a great experience, why aren’t more people DOING it?
I guess expense could be a factor. However, there are plenty of inexpensive campsites around – and lots of cheap gear! Of course, some people simply hate the outdoors, and would rather pluck their nostril hairs than fight off mosquitoes around a campfire. But lots of families have never given it a go because they just don’t know where to start.
Which is where we come in …
As far as world-class camping facilities go, we Kiwis are a pretty lucky bunch with more options than you can poke a stick at. Currently, there are 1,137 campsites dotted around the country. (Actually, I just made that number up – but there must be hundreds of them!) What I do know for a fact is that DOC have more than 250 sites throughout New Zealand which have vehicle access, with prices ranging from free to $19 per night. And there are untold commercial campgrounds as well – again with prices to suit your budget.
STEP 1: CHOOSE THE SITE for your great Kiwi camping holiday. A good place to start is www.doc.govt.nz/camping. Ask yourself: “Do I want to be on the shore of a white sandy beach, on the edge of a lake or rainforest, or close to some hot pools?” I suggest you avoid sites close to motorways or rubbish dumps …
Some campgrounds require booking in advance – and the popular ones months in advance. So don’t just turn up on Boxing Day expecting to grab a site. Do your homework beforehand, or you might have to pitch that new tent in your backyard!
STEP 2: MAKE A LIST of what gear you’ll need. And that obviously depends on how many of you are going. If there’s just you and your spouse, then you might get away with a small pup-tent – but not if you’ve got four kids under five, plus a dog.
Each family’s needs will be different, of course, but here are a few essentials:
- Shelter. This means a suitable tent, tents or even a caravan. Sleeping under the stars can be really romantic … until it rains.
- Cooker. For the above food. Gas is usually best – and a BBQ is a real luxury if you’ve got room in the boot.
- Toilet paper. It’s no fun if you’ve done your business and the only thing around is a manuka branch.
- Firelighters. You can’t go camping without a fire – a real one, not one made from LPG. And while some of us can start a fire by rubbing two pieces of wet wood together, you probably can’t.
- Fire extinguisher. For the above fire when it spreads towards your tent.
- First-aid kit. Make sure you’ve got burn cream.
- Stuff for the kids: e.g. bikes, balls, games for when it’s wet, etc. Leave your play-stations at home!
- A big machete. Makes you feel like Grizzly Adams.
There’s a bunch of other things to think about – like camping tables, chairs, kitchen utensils, fishing gear, tarpaulins, gazebo, rope, clothes, toiletries, solar-shower, etc. Talk to someone who’s a seasoned camper to get the good oil. But know this: you will finish your camping experience having had a great time (all going to plan), and with an even longer list of what to bring/buy next year!
You’ll get ideas from neighbouring camps. And you’ll realise why the cheap tent you bought was so cheap. But that’s okay, it’s all part of the experience …
STEP 3: BUY, BORROW OR BEG FOR the stuff on your list. If this is your first time camping, there’s a good chance you won’t have much of the above … so (if you’re obtaining your gear legally), it’s time to part with some hard-earned cash.
Your tent will probably be your biggest expense – but a good one will last for years. Our locally-made, two-roomed canvas job is coming up nine years old – and still has plenty of life left. But, just in case you finish this holiday vowing never to set foot in a tent again, it’s probably best to keep the cost down for your first year. There are plenty of cheaper tents around that may not last long enough to pass on to your children, but will do nicely for a couple of seasons.
Look for items on sale. Trawl the internet and the classifieds for good quality, second hand gear. In fact, you could probably kit out your entire operation on Trade Me! And seek advice from campers who’ve been there done that.
Your Great Kiwi Camping Holiday, once it gets underway, will add much to your life as a family. For example, counsellors reckon that one of the best ways to grow closer as a family is to go through a crisis together. And one of the best ways to have a crisis, is to go camping!
Not many years go by without a summer storm unleashing it’s fury on coastal campers in New Zealand. And when the tents get blown down and you’re all huddling in the car – those are the golden moments …
So what are you waiting for? If you haven’t done it yet, get cracking! Get organised! Do it now!
TOP TEN TIPS for a great Kiwi camping holiday
- Go camping with friends. Preferably those with boats. Sharing a camping experience with others can be double the fun!
- If you don’t have any friends, pitch your tent next to people who’ve got all the gear … and have a boat. Then invite them over for drinks and nibbles.
- Take plenty of easy-to-prepare food. Duck a l’orange is a tricky meal to organise on a single gas burner with an aluminium billy. (But if your neighbours have a boat, it’s worth considering.)
- If it’s legally possible, have an open fire – and let your man build and light it. It’ll do wonders for his masculinity. Unless he can’t … (But wives: whatever you do, don’t take over. If you’re successful, you may as well neuter him yourself.)
- Marshmallows are a must – especially for the kids. Nothing like a flaming ball of sweetness dripping on your exposed leg while sitting under the stars …
- If you don’t know how, learn how to make damper. Wrap it around a stick, cook it over the fire, then smear on plenty of butter and jam … mmmm!
- Take plenty of torches and headlamps. Spotlight is a great camping game!
- Don’t forget the sports equipment! Rugby, soccer, tennis and volley balls provide hours of evening fun – and it’s a great way to get the neighbours involved!
- If you’ve got beaches nearby (and what campsite doesn’t?), don’t forget the surfboards, snorkel gear, wetsuits, life-jackets, etc. There’s hours of fun just in that lot!
- And don’t forget to pack your relaxed attitude and sense of humour …