I’ve actually surprised myself by how much I’ve fallen in love with camping. I never camped growing up back in the UK..I tell a lie, I can vaguely remember a school trip to Devon in primary school and have even sketchier memories of a boozy beach party and camp site in Rhossili (North Wales) in my early twenties. My overriding memory was of waking up cold, cramped and hungover in a tent the size of a coffin. It was very early, the campsite was still slumbering and I was lying next to my boyfriend (now husband) and top to tail with my best mate Ad which was just delightful as you can imagine. So I tried to extricate myself from the tumble of limbs and canvas, failed miserably and groaned ‘I f#@king hate camping’ Well when I say groaned I clearly must have bellowed it because it started a domino effect of giggles, expletives and sympathy chat. Very surreal and my reference point for camping until we moved to Australia!
So suffice it to say when our best mates here in Sydney – veteran campers with all the gear and who had been taking their boys camping since they were babies – suggested that we go with them on their next trip to Jimmy’s Beach in Port Stephens, I was a wee bit hesitant. But there was a big group going and suffering from severe FOMO I caved, borrowed a tent and the rest as they say is history.
Because we loved it. No fence sitting or middle ground for us, we had an amazing trip, the boys had a ball and we promptly purchased a ten man tent – I’m still not a fan of cramped spaces and my criteria was that I needed to be able to stand up and that we slept in a separate area to the boys. And Jimmy’s Beach was beautiful – despite the dingos and iguanas that freaked me out – and still is one of my favourite spots to be honest but I do have to say that for me, my camping heart and soul is gorgeous Patonga on the Central Coast. And if you haven’t been, or heaven forbid you haven’t heard of it, you must rectify that immediately and book. It’s a popular little spot that gets booked weeks and months in advance so stake your claim and you won’t be disappointed. It’s a pretty small and intimate campsite that has the best of everything and is a little oasis settled between the ocean beach on one side and a pretty creek on the other. There’s a playground and coffee kiosk (score!) and the local pub is a 10 minute walk. It all adds up to a super easy camp and it captivated me from our first trip.
We were there for a weekend trip a couple of weeks ago and as always had such a laugh, and over a wine or five evangelised about how much we bloody loved the place and managed to really nut out what brought us back time after time and why we loved camping with our kids so much.
Technology free zone
As a mum of two youngish boys – 10 and nearly 6 – I spend more time than I’d care to admit mediating, negotiating and compromising on all things technology. My eldest would happily sit drooling in front of the PlayStation all day whilst scrolling through YouTube on his mobile at the same time; being plugged into the matrix is his happy place and it has to be monitored and managed accordingly. But do you know what, when we go camping, my boys are allowed to play on devices before breakfast – to try and be a little bit sociable and keep them in the rent and not pissing off the rest of the campsite if they wake up at an ungodly hour – but then they’re forgotten about. They don’t need them, want them or think about them. They spend hours happily playing with walkie talkies, in the water and ‘wrestling’ in the sand, or cycling, or scooting or creating games. The list goes on.
Which brings me to creativity. It’s a joy to see them so engaged and well being kids (a la the 1980s when I was their age) and making up cute little games and challenges and getting so engrossed in what they’re doing that they don’t even come up for air for snacks. Which is unheard of! During our last trip they genuinely spent the entire day in the play park engaged in a complicated role play game – we didn’t see them at all – and the time before that they spent the whole first day making fishing rods out of sticks. It was just so lovely to watch!
I get such pleasure from watching my boys talking and laughing confidently with their friends; playing independently and not needing their dad or I to intervene or entertain. And that’s not because I’m lazy..honest..but I think that it’s so important for them to build their social skills and have the ability to entertain themselves without a screen or the trappings of the consumer society that we live in. And it goes both ways. My mum was super anxious and a ‘hoverer’ ..think we’d call her a helicopter parent these days..so knowing that my natural inclination is to be a little bit of a worrier also (thanks mum) I consciously make myself not react in the way that I want to and encourage my boys to run off and have adventures, even if I am secretly having heart palpitations and trying to check on them when they’re not watching.
We go camping with our boys’ best mates typically. Our four boys go to the same schools and spend a ridiculous amount of time together in school and out of it but we typically don’t get the opportunity to really see them in action; watch their silly games, the changing dynamics as a game or discussion gets heated; the heart melting moments when an older brother sticks up for a younger one or helps him to do something that he’s struggling with; the gorgeous belly laughs when they collapse in giggly heaps.
Because that’s what camping is about. It’s enjoying good company and the beautiful country that we live in, one idyllic spot at a time; it’s building and strengthening friendships; long laughs and big chats over a great bottle of red (or three) and it’s creating memories that will last and that we’ll take forward with a smile on our face. Patonga you rock, you have a very special place in my heart and we’ll be back to visit very soon!