Those who know me will be laughing hysterically at the thought of me saying there is anything great about camping! Although I did a fair bit of this as a youngster, I certainly haven’t been under canvas for at least two decades, and am very fond of my creature comforts. However, my (far more adventurous) mother-in-law talked us into it, so off we trotted to Whakanewha camp ground on Waiheke Island. Admittedly, it’s not exactly roughing it, as the supermarket is ten minutes drive up the road and there are any number of cafes on the island and there was an actual flush toilet, but for us spoiled city folk, it felt fairly primitive. There were some fabulous things which we learned, and here are the top five.
1. Technology holiday
Limited cellphone coverage. No internet access. Nowhere to charge our variety of devices. Although one son managed to eke his iPad battery out for the five days, he was only reading on it (he likes to read on the screen and has a real distaste for paper books – go figure!). The older children were still able to listen to their iPods, and I checked my email and texts from time to time. But we had no laptops, no television and basically no connection to the outside world. I had forgotten just how relaxing it could be to be disconnected.
2. Time for each other
No TV, no computers, no shops. What were we to do? Well, we played hours of cricket. We went swimming and kayaking. We played board games. We sat quietly together. We sang Christmas carols and pop songs with a ukelele accompaniment. Several of our kids headed out to the point and played their ukeleles and sang together for hours on end. Awesome.
3. Shared adversity
Our first few days were lovely with warm sunny days. The last twenty-four hours was more challenging as the wind came up and the rain came down. We opened our Christmas presents in what seemed like a howling gale, courtesy of the tail end of Cyclone Evan. We made the decision to pull the less sturdy tent down a day early before the heavy showers arrived, and packed the older four kids in with us. This lead to torchlit charades while the wind gusted and blew and the tent was buffeted around with the rain pattering down on the roof. Packing up the second tent in the rain the next morning turned into an epic adventure to share with others rather than a litany of complaints about being wet. I’m pleased we had the nice weather, but the wet weather made the first few days seem even better.
4. Lessons learned
Our daughters (aged sixteen and fourteen) were in the sea kayaking with their twelve and six year old brothers, and a random eight year old from the camp ground. They noticed suddenly that with the tide and the strong winds, they were quickly being blown out into the bay. They acted decisively and swiftly, engineered a transfer of the six year old from one kayak to another, and shepherded the twelve and eight year olds safely back into the shore. Yes, there were adults about – one on the beach watching, and one kayaking with them, but she had already left for the shore with one of the younger boys before the girls realised they were getting into trouble. Yes, the bay is fairly safe, but nonetheless, they showed great responsibility and courage in working out the best way to get everyone back to shore, physical strength in actually doing it against the wind and tide, and the eight year old’s parent, who was watching from the beach, made a point of commenting on the leadership that they’d shown. We were very proud of them.
From an adults’ point of view, we learned about things that we should have taken as well as things that we shouldn’t! Next time, for instance, we will make sure we have a solar shower! And perhaps a friend for one or more of the big children to make it more fun.
How could I have forgotten about campground camaraderie? My younger boys buddied up with a couple of slightly older boys; the campground cricket that we started involved a number of families; casual conversation elicited the fact that a five year-old fellow camper had just been diagnosed as a Type 1 diabetic and she was able to talk to our fourteen year-old about his experiences. When one group of families had a fire with their gas cylinder, we all gathered round to see what we could do (after we’d watched them sprinting to the sea with it on fire – very dramatic). We loaned someone else our mallet to bash their tent pegs in. It was a wonderful community and something which had completely slipped my mind from my earlier camping experiences.
Did everyone love it? No – especially one of our teenagers who desperately missed the technology, shops, buildings and the concrete. To offset him were the ones who loved the outdoors – the trees, flowers, water and environment. Would it have been nice to have a warm shower? Definitely! Was cooking for ten (and cleaning up!)a bit of a pain? Yes, but not as much as I thought it would be. Was the weather a nuisance? Yes. The campground facilities (what there were) were great and very clean, and they had a large barbeque which made life easier. In the main, the positives we took from camping as a family far outweighed the negatives. There’s even talk of buying our own tent, and most of the children are talking about “when we go camping next Christmas”. All-in-all a good way to start our holiday season!
An apology for those of you who may have received an early draft of this post by email – it was scheduled to run now, but WordPress and I obviously miscommunicated!