For experienced outdoor-types, packing up everything a family may need for a break in the bush is a breeze. But for a first-timer it’s hard to even know where to begin so we’ve loaded up a swag of tips to turn clueless campers into campground conquerors.
Rookie campers, have no fear! We’ve put together a summary of all the basics just for you
Afamily camping holiday conjures images of the kids running around wild and free, marshmallows roasting over a fire, and little ones cocooned in their sleeping bags, all snuggled together in a cosy tent. But there’s more to planning a successful first-time camping adventure than packing a tent, some marshmallows and hitting the road.
Where to camp
Whether you want to go hardcore or are a sucker for comfort, families are spoilt for choice when it comes to choosing a campsite in Australia. For those who’d prefer to get back to basics, there are more than 500 national parks around the country with excellent camping grounds that range from powered caravan sites to remote facility-free clearings.
There are also hundreds of holiday parks that offer pools, playgrounds and other activities for kids, which can make life easier for tentative beginners. Here you’ll also enjoy the added convenience of barbecues, camp kitchens and laundries.
Whichever you choose, you’ll discover the same rules apply when it comes to preparing for your camping trip.
Make sure your tent fits your family! As a general rule, if a tent is designed to sleep four, it will do that, and only that. For a family of four, we’d suggest looking at a minimum of a fiveor six-man tent to ensure a more comfortable, and far less stressful, stay. A tent with an annex or separate rooms is a great idea, as you can allocate one space for storing gear and the other as a clean space for sleeping. Before investing in a lot of gear we suggest borrowing or hiring gear for a first foray into the outdoors to see if it’s for you. And be sure to practise erecting the tent in the backyard at home at least once – it will be so much harder once the kids are trying to ‘help’ on site.
Don’t let the bed bugs bite
Choosing the right sleeping bag is vital. It should be rated to the climate you’ll be camping in or you’ll end up too cold or too hot and very uncomfortable. You also need to keep in mind that the ground is not as soft as your regular bed and sleeping mats, air mattresses or stretchers are wise investments. Just make sure you have what you need to inflate an air mattress… no one wants to spend their evening puckered up to inflate a mattress manually.
Like with any new experience, first-time campers need to expect the unexpected and be prepared for it. It’s not enough to have a tent and a sleeping bag; you’re going to need other equipment to enhance your overall experience – from lanterns to first-aid kits to the right cooking equipment (see our checklist on the next page). Oh, and make sure you pack enough food to keep the family fed!
Most campsites have barbecues and communal kitchens available but it is a good idea to bring along a gas stove just in case. You’ll also need an esky to keep your food fresh. When planning your camp menu keep it simple. This is not the time to wow them with complicated dishes that require loads of ingredients or hours of preparation. Think barbecued meat and salad, sandwiches, fruit and plenty of water (and wine, for when the kids go to bed). Definitely don’t forget the marshmallows, and always clean up after yourself! Disposing of food scraps properly will deter rascally visitors of the animal kind.
If you like the idea of sleeping under the stars, but aren’t so keen on lugging or setting up all that gear, many campgrounds now include pre- erected tents furnished with beds and blankets aimed at novices wanting to get back to nature without all the hard work. All you need is to rock up and your tent awaits.
There are some great apps available to help you stay connected and safe on your camping adventure. WikiCamps Australia is a great user-generated camping app with all the latest tips and information on caravan and camping sites across Australia. The official Australian Red Cross First Aid app is definitely essential for all families, with instant access to step-bystep advice on handling common emergencies. The NSW National Parks and Wildlife Service’s free app, WilderQuest, is also a great initiative for encouraging kids to learn more about Australian plants and animals.
01 Three happy campers 02 Setting up camp 03 A prime spot at Merimbula Beach Holiday Park Hot Tip Don’t forget gaffer tape! It’ll come in handy for all quick-fix jobs.
04 04 Ocean Beach Holiday Park’s Safari Palm Tent accommodation helps you camp in comfort