Your checklist for a perfect camping holiday

As a nation we are blessed with wonderful campgrounds in primo spots by the beach, bush, rivers and lakes.

Camping in nature with some creature comforts is a wonderful as well as cost-effective way to spend a summer holiday.

In recent years I’ve become a huge fan of camping holidays, though that wasn’t always the case, my experience tarnished from a memory as a teenager when our family camped beside a river and got eaten alive by sandflies and had a possum raid our food supplies.

The campsite in question had no facilities. Some call that “proper camping”, where you carry in your own tent, eat dehydrated food and park up in the middle of nowhere.

So, when I first met my partner and he suggested we go camping I was rather resistant to the idea.

He allayed my fears with assurances that this was a different kind of camping, the type where you’re allowed to bring everything including the kitchen sink, which his family apparently did on one occasion. They literally dug a soak pit for it which they filled with gravel, though that behaviour would likely be frowned upon in a DOC campsite today.

His family’s approach is to choose one location for the summer holiday and settle in for a week or two. They arrive early and choose a sheltered spot near some trees and a short walk to the beach and the loos (but not too close).

We’ve also invested in a large, quality canvas tent which will last us a lifetime and being able to stand upright in the tent is a game changer – for me anyway – it makes getting dressed so much easier for starters.

My partner – who’s the clever and thoughtful DIY-type – made me a set of collapsible hanging shelves that attach to the roof on my side of the bed for holding my specs, head torch, books, earplugs, and eye mask. One summer I even added a floral decoration to the shelf set-up which brought me great joy every time I looked at it.

And once the airbed is pumped up and dressed with sheets, plump pillows and duvet; a doormat placed at the entrance for wiping feet; and comfy chairs arranged out front under a shady awning… you can sit back, cold drink in hand, and life is good.

Planning your camping trip.

Campsite booking: It pays to reserve a campsite well in advance, especially during the peak season, to secure your spot. If you missed out this year, make a note in your diary for when bookings reopen.

Sometimes you can get lucky by just turning up as cancellations do happen, especially after a period of rain, however we recommend calling in advance.

Campground facilities: Choose campgrounds with facilities that match your needs, e.g., hot showers or kitchen areas.

Free camping: There are more than 500 free camping spots throughout the country. Many freedom camping sites only allow self-contained vehicles to minimise waste and land degradation. To stay at these campsites, your caravan, campervan or motorhome must meet the Caravan Self Containment Certification standard and display the relevant blue and white sticker.

Invest in a good tent: Do your research before buying a tent and choose the one that best suits your needs. It might be a pop-up tent sans poles where all you need to do is take it out of its carry bag and watch it pop into shape! And, if you wait until the Boxing Day sales you can pick up some great deals.

Packing: Fitting everything into the car is always a challenge, especially with kids. It’s real-life Tetris. Get smart and use space wisely, e.g., pack items inside pots. Use every nook and cranny under seats. Tents, camp table and foldable camp chairs can be stowed onto a roof rack covered by a tarp and tied on securely by ropes. If you are towing a caravan, you can throw light bulky stuff like bedding into the caravan. Alternatively, a trailer covered by a tarp is the way to go. Or, if you have a boat, you can put things into the boat. Just make sure everything is tied down well.

Sleeping bags: Warm sleeping bags are a must as temperatures can get cold at night. Or, if you’re like us, bring sheets and duvet from home.

Bed: Airbeds are great but can easily get punctures so take a puncture repair kit. They also lose heat so make sure you take a blanket to put under your sheets, to keep you warm and cosy. Alternatively, research camp stretchers (good for kids), thermal pads and inflatable sleeping pads.

Airbed pump: We always take a battery powered airbed pump as well as a foot pump as added insurance. There will always be someone who’s forgotten their pump who you can lend it to. If you forget your pump, this is a great way of making new friends at the camp as you go in search of one.

Sarongs: These are the best beach towels as they don’t collect sand and dry quickly. I always take at least three sarongs and rotate two for showers and use the other as a light layer for sun protection.

Comfortable camp chairs: It pays to invest in a good camp chair because you spend an awful lot of time in them and you want to be able to relax. Some have convenient built-in side tables or drink holders, too.

Chilli bin versus camp fridge:  We take both. Our gas-powered / electric camp fridge has been a game changer. It can be plugged into the car when you’re in transit and powered by gas at camp. It’s great for keeping your drinks and meat cold. It also avoids all your food ending up swimming in meat juice, which is what happens in the chillybin when the ice melts! If you can’t afford a portable fridge, take two chilly bins – one for vegetables and cheeses, and keep the meat separate. Salt ice is great for keeping meat cooler for longer.

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