30 years, one camp­site

An en­dur­ing fam­ily tra­di­tion

Parenting - - Snippets -

I– wife to Jono and mum to Aaliyah (4 ¾) and Matthew (3 ½) – is our home­grown camp­ing guru for this is­sue. If you've ever won­dered what suc­cess­ful fam­ily camp­ing looks like, this is it.

have been camp­ing at the same spot, ev­ery year, since I was born – bar the one year I was sight-see­ing around Europe with my hus­band. It started with my par­ents tak­ing me and my three older sis­ters camp­ing at Whananaki 30 years ago. Over the years we moved sites around the camp­ground and even­tu­ally got, what we think, is the best spot. The camp­ground is sit­u­ated on a 75-hectare farm with beau­ti­ful beaches and views and has been owned by the same fam­ily since 1915. It has the bare min­i­mum – clean run­ning wa­ter, long drops and cold show­ers, but this hasn’t stopped us from go­ing back ev­ery year. In fact, it’s not only my fam­ily of four who have kept up the tra­di­tion – my par­ents and all of my sis­ters and their fam­i­lies join us each year too. It’s won­der­ful (and a lit­tle squashed with our rapidly ex­pand­ing crew).

Ev­ery sum­mer, nearly 20 of us de­scend on Whananaki. We pitch all of our tents and car­a­vans around a shared gazebo and seat­ing area (in the ‘per­fect spot’) – and af­ter a cou­ple of hours, our pop-up vil­lage is com­plete. The set-up works re­ally well for every­one – a shared space for eat­ing to­gether and hang­ing out, and our own tents and car­a­vans to re­treat to for down time. We have got­ten to know the peo­ple who camp ei­ther side of us each year too, and it’s fan­tas­tic to watch our kids grow up to­gether.

Camp­ing is cer­tainly not every­one’s cup of tea, but I think it is sim­ply the best way to spend sum­mer with our fam­ily. And it’s re­lax­ing! I can do as lit­tle or as much as I like while the kids roar around with their cousins. I love the feel­ing of one day rolling into an­other and los­ing track of what day of the week it is.

In the early days, Mum used to bath us in a tub, much like I do to­day with my own chil­dren. There were sheep that wan­dered around the grounds and I re­mem­ber be­ing wo­ken often by one bleat­ing right out­side the tent! In my teenage years, it was a New Year’s tra­di­tion to walk out to the fur­thest point on the re­serve with friends and sleep the night there. We packed our pil­lows, torches and warm clothes into our sleeping bags and threw them over our shoul­ders. We nav­i­gated the dark hills by moon­light, try­ing to stay on the thin path the sheep had made. We stargazed and stayed up late into the night, watch­ing for shoot­ing stars and shar­ing sto­ries and jokes. In the early hours of the morn­ing we were wo­ken up by

watch other hol­i­day­mak­ers jump off into the es­tu­ary below. Speak­ing of es­tu­ar­ies, ev­ery year my dad puts a net out in the es­tu­ary near our camp­site. We watch from the rocks while he and one of the son-in-laws brave the cold to drag it into place. We make a daily trip, some­times two, to check if we have caught any­thing, and on av­er­age we catch seven fish a day! The chil­dren are fas­ci­nated when watch­ing their Papa fil­let the fish – they squirm or gig­gle at the sight of fish guts be­ing pulled out by hand. The brave ones want to poke and prod the fish to see if they will still move.

I re­call a time when we de­cided to smoke some of the fish that we’d caught. There was an old wooden toi­let box that we trans­formed into a smoke house. Branches and twigs were col­lected and the fire was started. The fish were prepped, wrapped in tin­foil and placed in­side as the fire be­gan to smoul­der be­neath the racks. Off we all went to pre­pare the rest of din­ner while the fish smoked. Once it was done we plated it and sat down to en­joy the fruits of our labour. But it wasn’t long be­fore we heard shrieks of panic and saw bil­low­ing smoke pour­ing from the smoke house – it had well and truly caught fire! Campers scram­bled to grab buck­ets of sand to throw on it and oth­ers filled con­tain­ers with wa­ter to douse the flames. It was quite a spec­ta­cle, and of course, the whole camp­ground heard about it. It was the first and last time we used the smoke house.

A more pleas­ant Whananaki mem­ory, and one of my favourites, is swim­ming with dol­phins! Quite often a pod of dol­phins vis­its the bay, but one par­tic­u­lar year they came in much closer than usual. Peo­ple gath­ered at the top of the bank and lin­gered around, point­ing fin­gers. We joined the crowd to see what all the fuss was about. Af­ter about five min­utes of watch­ing I re­alised the dol­phins were play­ing around and not go­ing any­where soon. I threw on my

togs and bor­rowed my brother-in-law’s long board to swim out. My hus­band also lent me his gog­gles (he will not let me for­get that I lost them out there). I headed out to join a bunch of other campers who had the same idea. The dol­phins swam un­der and around us and I was amazed at how close they came to us. They graced us with their pres­ence for a good half hour or more be­fore swim­ming back to the deep wa­ters.

When I asked my kids what their favourite thing about Whananaki is, Aaliyah said, “I love get­ting to sleep in the tent”, and Matthew said, “Fill­ing up the wa­ter can­is­ter at the tap with Dad.” Per­haps they’ll swim with dol­phins too and these sweet, sim­ple mem­o­ries will be re­placed with more en­dur­ing ones. But I hope it’s these lit­tle things that stick in their hearts and minds too. I love that our camp­ing hol­i­days are all about con­nect­ing with one an­other and get­ting all of our fam­i­lies to­gether. With mem­o­ries like these, it’s hard to imag­ine our camp­ing tra­di­tion com­ing to an end.

Vanessa’s top tips for fam­ily camp­ing

Hav­ing no fridge and run­ning out of fresh pro­duce in the first few days is one of the clas­sic camp­ing chal­lenges. To get around this, we go with­out any­thing that needs to be kept in a fridge – cheese, milk etc. Milk pow­der is help­ful for mi­los or ce­real, and tinned fruit comes in handy af­ter our fresh pro­duce has been eaten. Chilly bins can be used, but I found buy­ing ice or con­stantly chang­ing the slicker pads from the freezer more has­sle than it’s worth. Also -

Take flexi-tubs with you – they make great kids’ baths. Pack ex­tra clothes for your kids to avoid hand-wash­ing. Take an ex­tra tar­pau­lin in case of leaks in bad weather. You’ll need a de­cent light for evening games and ac­tiv­i­ties.

Pre­pare and cook meals at home, then freeze them so that each evening you can just re­heat (there is freezer space we can hire at Mo­tu­tara farm which makes this pretty easy).

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