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Camping holidays with kids – Tips for Australian families

a family sitting around the campfire on the murray river in south australia. image south australia tourism commission 1
A family sitting around the campfire on the Murray River in South Australia. Image South Australia Tourism Commission

Taking the kids on a camping holiday is a rite of passage for Aussie families and, in the days of COVID-19, being in your own little family bubble surrounded by nature in the great outdoors is more appealing than ever before. But while the logistics of a camping holiday can seem overwhelming, a little bit of thought and planning can ensure things go smoothly.

WHERE TO GO

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When it comes to where to go, it really depends on the kind of experience you’re looking for. Having grown up on the Murray, Ultimate Campsites: Australia author Penny Watson says she is especially drawn to river country, but also loves deserts and the arid outback landscape, the savannah country and swimming holes of the Top End, and the turquoise beaches of Tasmania. “I love waking up to the smell of eucalypt and burning campfire embers, and the sound of warbling magpies or waves washing up on a nearby beach,” she says.

As for choosing a campsite, consider such things as whether dogs are allowed, fire restrictions and whether you need to take or dig a pit toilet, and a shower and shower/toilet tent.

WHEN TO BOOK

author penny watsons children love camping
Author Penny Watson's children love camping

If you’re going away at peak times, it’s best to book as far in advance as possible when staying at holiday parks or campgrounds that require reservations. Arrive early to ensure you get a spot, and before it gets dark so there’s time to erect your tent and set up. Anaconda camping buyer James Barallon says if you’ve got new camping gear set it up in your backyard before you leave as a trial run. Get the kids involved and excited, and take photos and videos on your phone so you have a handy reference.

WHAT TO TAKE

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One of the most important things is to have a camping checklist. If you camp regularly, storing everything together and having it ready to go makes life a lot easier, so you only have to pack clothes and food. Easy meals are a must. Marinating meat and freezing it prior to departing and pre-preparing meals, such as cutting meat or other ingredients, also makes things easier. For the first night, consider picking up prawns en route for a yummy and easy dinner.

kids love camping. image ultimate campsites australia
Kids love camping. Image: Ultimate Campsites Australia

Watson, who enjoys regular camping trips with her husband Phil King and sons Digby, 10, and six-year-old Etienne, says it’s crucial to sleep comfortably. “There’s a strange notion out there that a bad night’s sleep is part and parcel of a camping trip,” she says. “On the contrary, I think one bad night’s sleep can put people off camping for life. My advice is to take your pillow (and even a doona if you can fit it in) and fork out on a decent mattress or airbed that is firm and will stay up all night. Lay a blanket or camp sheet under the mattress as an extra layer between you and the cold ground. Good sleepers are happy campers.”

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She also recommends an Aeropress coffee maker for grown-ups, and headlamps and marshmallows for the kids.

As well as the essentials, make sure you pack some fun things, such as banana lounges or fossicking pans for adults, inflatable rafts to float on, and even toy dump trucks, soccer balls and a cricket set for kids. Or, for a bit of fun, consider pimping your tent with blinking Christmas lights.

CONSIDER THE ENVIRONMENT

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Anaconda’s Barallon says it’s important to pack your rubbish away in the car overnight to avoid waking up to unexpected visitors, as during the night wildlife can come and raid rubbish bags left around the campsite. “Always make sure you take your rubbish home with you, and try to use low impact products like biodegradable bags and toilet paper,” he says.  

To reduce your overall environmental impact, it’s best to camp in pre-cleared areas or close to existing trails, and keep your campsite small to avoid unnecessary clearing or damage to vegetation. “If you have to, ditch the car and walk a little way to get to your spot,” Barallon says.

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Don’t wash your dishes or clothes in a river or stream as this can release harmful chemicals into waterways. Carry water away from streams or lakes, and use small amounts of biodegradable soap.

A few nights before you leave, fill plastic bottles with water and place them in the freezer. They are a great substitute for ice blocks inside your cooler and, when they melt, you’ll have access to cool water. Again, make sure you take your bottles home and recycle them properly.

FAMILY CAMPING CHECKLIST

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  • Tent/swag (or caravan/camper-trailer)
  • Tarpaulin or two for ground cover, waterproofing and shade
  • Sleeping bags
  • Air mattresses
  • Pillows
  • Fold-up table and camp chairs
  • Cooking stove
  • Food
  • Drinking water – many campgrounds don’t have it
  • First-aid kit
  • Chopping board
  • Sharp knives
  • Plates, bowls and cutlery, or a picnic set
  • Platter and salad bowl
  • Dishcloth
  • Foldable washing-up bowl or bucket
  • Paper towels
  • Bin bags
  • Scissors
  • Batteries
  • Billy
  • Toast tongs
  • Hooks for hanging bin bags and tea towels
  • Flask for cups of tea on the road without having to boil a billy
  • Washing line
  • Torch/flashlight
  • Overhead light with batteries – if in a tent
  • Hammer
  • Aeropress coffee maker
  • Keep cups
  • Food-storage containers for leftovers
  • Bottle and can opener
  • Tongs
  • Baking paper for lining barbeques with and cooking on
  • Towels, including one to use as a tent doormat
  • Sustainable toilet paper

Source: Ultimate Campsites: Australia

TOP TIP

ultimate campsites australia cvr si

“We cottoned onto the joys of leftover Christmas cake during a camping trip in the Snowies one January. Wrapped in tin-foil, these dense brick-like cakes travel well, have a long shelf-life and are filled with (what we like to think of as) trail mix staples – almonds,  dried apricots, sultanas. A slice in the afternoon is the perfect reward for successfully pitching a tent, and it goes down a treat with a cup of billy tea” – Ultimate Campsites: Australia author Penny Watson

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