A self indulgent blog post today because it is my son’s 27th birthday and we can’t be with him, separated by states and shitty circumstances. So I thought I’d take a look at one of the big camping trips we did with our kids to the Northern Territory, and what a brilliant experience it was. I’m so glad we took the six weeks to travel from South Australia, up through the centre of the country all the way to Darwin and back again, zigzagging our way to gorges and other landmarks. I think we saw the best and gave our kids some pretty amazing experiences, camping out in nature and making do with very little.
The year was 2003 and we had a purpose built camper trailer, a Sar Major camper top on an army style off road trailer with lockable bins on the outside. This would get us anywhere we envisioned going, with a bed on top of the trailer for the adults and mattresses on the inbuilt floor for the kids. When the back of the trailer was opened up we could hook on a couple of brackets and slide in a slab of timber which would become the kitchen bench. Roller crates in the back of the trailer carried all the cooking gear and utensils, as well as chairs and tables. The four lockable bins on the outside of the trailer held contents that we might want to access quickly and we had a packing list so that we knew exactly what went in each part of the trailer. Technology looked different then but we thought we were quite progressive for the time. Every time we set up or broke camp, everyone had a job to do and it all ran like clockwork.
Before taking off on this holiday I had made up puzzle books and activities for the kids to do (they also had handheld Gameboys back then). I had also made up a recipe book to take with us which included a list of kitchen utensils to pack in and a list of basic food ingredients to have in a food crate. Pasta, rice, flour, long life milk, herbs and spices and canned soups and vegies were the types of things included. The recipes I put in had to be easy to prepare when we were free camping and dishes that could be made with only a camp oven, gas stove with a saucepan and frying pan or on a BBQ. They also had to be child friendly – something they would actually want to eat. We had an Engel fridge with us for meat, milk and fresh fruit and vegies too. It turned out to be quite easy when you have to make do with what you’ve got.
When there were long daily drives involved our routine was for my husband to do the driving and I would have a bag of activities and goodies in the front that I’d hand over to the kids in the back seat, bit by bit so they wouldn’t get bored. It might be an activity like spotto or other car games that involved taking in their surroundings to play. There would also be snacks and treats to break up the journey. We would take rest breaks along the way and the kids were encouraged to read every bit of roadside information on signboards and plaques as we went. It’s amazing what history you can learn about the country doing this.
The best part of this holiday for all of us were the animal encounters we had and people we met or caught up with along the way. They were able to give us experiences that were pretty unique, including spending time in Arnhem Land, definitely off the beaten track. The kids had journals that they had to write in everyday about what they had seen and done or anything they wanted to really.
The biggest highlight of course was the irreplaceable time spent in nature together, climbing mountains, following rivers, scrambling along gorges and just being still and taking in the surroundings. Entertainment wasn’t provided or needed but all the little things were noticed, animal tracks, bird calls and mesmerising campfires.
Probably now more so than ever these simple holidays prove how important it is to spend time in the great outdoors and experience what’s important in life. Make plans to do it! Don’t waste a minute.