Always be prepared. Not only the mantra of boy and girl scouts the world over, but also a great thought to live by if you are thinking about heading into the wilderness (or not so wilderness) to enjoy a camping holiday.
Your camping holiday may vary depending on the type of traveller you are. Whether you are the true outdoors type who likes roughing it, family campers who make the most of camping grounds with flush toilets and power supplies, right through to the top end of the scale where “glamping” a relatively new buzzword, or ‘glamour camping’ for the uninitiated. If glamping is your thing, you will be looking for exotic locations with personal service, Egyptian cotton sheets and all the trimmings ... in your tent with a view. If you are the more traditional type of camper, all you need are the basics and your wits. For those who have never ventured on a camping trip before, you might find the following list a handy guide of what to bring and what to remember.
1) Bug repellent – vital to remember, and possibly could make the difference between a great camping holiday and a really itchy one where you spend half your evenings swatting off tiny biting insects. The latest development on the bug repellent front is bracelets or anklets impregnated with repellent that keep the bugs at bay while you are wearing them. Wearing long sleeved tops or long pants is also a good idea if you are in an area where the the little critters are biting. Keep in mind that sand flies and mosquitoes will be at their worst around dusk and anywhere near water, particularly standing water and lakes.
2) Torch/Flashlight or battery powered lantern (better than a torch for reading or playing cards at night) ...and the torch to dodge those shin-bruising obstacles as you go to toilet in middle of night.
3) Plenty of Toilet paper – This universally useful item serves as tissues, for general mop-ups and of course, for when supplies have run out wherever you need to make a pit-stop. (If you are staying at one of New Zealand’s basic camping grounds, you no doubt will be introduced to the “long drop” toilet, a place where it is strongly advised to take your own TP… and a deep breath before you enter!
4) Camera – Someone has to capture those moments of joy, excitement, chronic sunburn to post on your Facebook page! Also useful to capture that reliable evidence of “the one that got away”… or the one that did not get away and you ate on the first night.
5) Sunscreen - an essential in NZ for the summer months, especially when you are spending all day outdoors. Something with a factor higher than +35 is probably a good idea, and don’t forget to keep reapplying it every 2 hours during the day – it will wash off with swimming and perspiration.
6) Matches/Cigarette lighter – a campfire just does not have the same friendly ambience if you can’t get it lit! Rubbing two sticks together a la Survivor is vastly overrated if you want to eat anytime soon, or keep warm on a cooler night. Before you try to light a fire or barbeque though, make sure there are no fire restrictions in the area you are camping. A gas camp stove is an alternative to the traditional campfire and more effective for cooking and boiling water.
7) Hammer (for tent pegs) – Taking a hammer is a good idea – much more effective than trying to find a rock or using your boot heel to bang tent pegs into the ground. And while we are on the topic of tent pegs, it is a good tip to remember to loosen up your guy ropes a bit if the weather is windy, and make sure they are nice and tight if it is raining.
8) Hats - bring a sun hat if you are camping in the summer months – especially if you want to get a bit of protection under our ozone-free skies, or a woolly hat if it you are camping in the cooler months of Spring or Autumn. Keep in mind that up to 55 % of body heat can be lost via the head if you are not wearing a hat.
9) Knife – A good pocketknife comes in handy for a multitude of things, from cleaning and gutting the fish that didn’t get away, to acting as an impromptu can opener if the fishing trip doesn’t result in anything for dinner.
10) Food – chilly bin (Esky/cooler) – you want to keep your food and drink cool as long as possible, so a chilly bin or Esky is a great idea, especially if you are driving to your campsite.
11) Water – make sure you have fresh water on hand, or know where to get it and have suitable water bottles to carry it if you are planning on going hiking/walking during your holiday.
12) Drinks – your choice, but keep in mind where your campsite is located and what facilities might or might not be nearby. A few cold beers can be the perfect finish to the day (keep them in your chilly bin, or maybe firmly anchored in the river to keep cold if you have one close to your tent site.)
13) Beach towel and swimsuit – clothing is not optional at most beaches and camping grounds around New Zealand with a few exceptions.
14) Jandals/sandals/flip flops you can slip on at night for a quick run to the toilets! Going barefoot in the dark in unfamiliar territory is never a good idea.
15) Sleeping bags/pillow – for a decent night’s sleep, you need at least the basic bedding that packs down to not take up too much room. Definitely leave your duvet at home even if you are glamping – in which case all your bedding will be provided!
16) Mobile phone charger – if you have a car charger, this can be a good idea, or if you are booked into a camping ground with power, then your normal charger will be fine. Take your cellphone with you on day trips, just in case – if you get lost, there might just be a cellphone tower somewhere handy which makes it possible to call for help.
17) Pack of cards – to while away the evening hours and hone your poker, bridge or 500 skills.
18) Earplugs (tent walls are thin, and noises do carry) – often overlooked, but a great idea if you are camping somewhere with lots of other families or couples, and especially if you are camping over holidays like New Year’s Eve.
19) Beach sunshade/shelter - remember, that in NZ the ozone layer is pretty thin and you will need some protection from the sun if you are outside most of the day. These are cheap to buy, light to carry, fast to put up and you can fill the pockets on the sides with sand or rocks to make sure they don’t blow away.
20) Decent tent, camp table and folding chairs – Well the tent is the most important of these three, but having furniture to sit on and eat off is a bonus if you have room for it. Sitting on a rug and eating off your lap night after night gets old pretty fast. There are plenty of sites that will give you the rundown on what sort of tent to buy, depending on - your budget, how many you want to accommodate and whether it is just a back up for a night or two, or you are planning to set the whole family up in it for a week or more of quality time.
21) Lilo (air mattress and pump) or foam bedrolls, plus spare plugs and a patch kit in case a plug gets lost or your airbed has a puncture! Unless you are of the very hardy variety and enjoy sleeping on the wooden floor at home, you will want a comfort layer between yourself and the ground – and a way of keeping dry should the weather not co-operate.
22) Check all your camping gear at home BEFORE you go away - Make sure all the tent poles and pegs are there, there are no holes in the tent or fly, airbeds all stay up and your camp stove has enough gas (if you are not using shared kitchen facilities). Enough said – always be prepared, and don’t let something relatively minor affect your whole trip.
23) Compass (if you are planning to go tramping/hiking) – an essential – get one with a string on it so you can have it around your neck for easy reference, and work out how to use it before you head into the back country.
24) Refillable water bottles for day trips – as per above. You don’t want to get dehydrated and it can be quite a way between sources of fresh, drinkable water.
25) Emergency whistles (for all the family?) – a great way to find each other quickly, when necessary.
26) Emergency light sticks or glow sticks – again a great idea to find each other easily and throw a little light to find the trail home.
27) Energy bars/snacks/scroggin – again a good thing to have on-hand for those day trips, and the peckish moments between lighting the fire and actually getting something to eat.
28) Tarpaulin or groundsheet to put on the ground inside your tent – to help keep your bedding and your possessions dry and tame the prickly dry grass you are camping on top off.
29) Rubbish bags, especially if you are not at a structured camping ground or holiday park – remember to take away everything you bring in.
30) Bowl for washing up dishes and anything/one else that needs washing – again, great idea if you are not in a campground with shared kitchen and washing facilities.
31) Clothesline (rope) and pegs – to hang out any wet clothes, swim suits and towels.
32) Large water container with tap – for general water use at your tent site – you don’t always want to be trekking to shared taps when you need water or the kids are thirsty.
33) Multi-purpose liquid soap – for dishes, hands, laundry.
34) Pots, cooking utensils, plates, bowls and cutlery - a well equipped picnic set is a real bonus.
35) First aid kit – sticking plasters/bandaids, bandages, gauze strips, cotton wool, disinfectant, anti-histamine cream for bites and stings, aloe vera gel for sunburn, insect repellent, tweezers, scissors, aspirin/panadol. Your local pharmacy will probably have something that comes readymade.
36) Spare batteries – to fit your battery powered gear.
37) Avoid pup tents – go for an easy to put up Dome style tent and keep in mind that if the package/salesperson says it will sleep 4, then it will comfortably sleep 2 with your gear.
38) Practice setting up your tent in the backyard so you’re not stuck looking for the instructions when you arrive at your campsite late and try to set up an unfamiliar tent.
39) Bring citronella candles to burn and help keep the bugs at bay during the evening hours.
40) Don’t worry about wild animals,ticks or poison ivy!! It’s likely you might come across a curious weka (native bird) but no wild animals. NZ has none apart from ferrets/stoats/weasels and certainly no animals likely to be a danger to campers. Poison oak or ivy is non-existant here, but you might want to look out for stinging nettles, particularly the native variety which can be large and vicious.
41) Be prepared for wet weather – NZ weather can be unpredictable, even in summer, so make sure you are geared up for keeping your essentials dry if necessary. Rule of thumb is to move everything away from tent walls if it does start raining, otherwise water will channel in through that contact point. If you have a smaller tent, take a tent fly to help keep the rain off and provide extra shade. Take plastic shopping bags or large ziplock bags to put clothes into in case it is wet.
42) On hot days the inside of your tent will become very hot too – so buying a tent that has mesh windows can help keep air circulating and cool things down a bit.
43) If you are going out for a half day walk, check conditions with the local Dept of Conservation office or information centre. Always be well prepared for a change in conditions – NZ weather is very changeable!
44) Follow the signs Pay attention to the signs, wherever you are in the country - they are there for a good reason!
45) Take or buy current maps of the region and the immediate area you are staying in – use them to teach your kids about where you are staying, and to plan day trips/walks. 46) Plan to arrive early enough in the day to get your camp set up in daylight and leave plenty of time to prepare an evening meal and check out your surroundings. You might want to bring something pre-cooked for your first night to make it easier and quicker. 47) Day packs for walks/day trips – you really don’t want to be lugging your full sized pack with you, so ideally everyone in your group should have daypacks to carry a water bottle, snacks, insect repellent, sunscreen and a lightweight, showerproof jacket.
48) Fishing gear and a fishing licence, depending on the season and what you are fishing for. Fish and Game is a good starting point if you are in New Zealand. A great idea for your family camping trip is to get a Family Licence which covers 2 adults and up to 5 children. If your children are under 12, you don’t need a licence for them to fish. If they are 12- 17 yrs old, they need a junior licence, and over 17 years requires an adult licence.
49) Wet wipes – comes in handy for multitude of things when you are away from a bathroom or kitchen tap. Previously mentioned toilet paper will do in a pinch, but having something a little tougher that doesn’t disintegrate when wet is always a good plan.
50) Always have a Plan B – if the weather is bad (not just drizzly and occasional showers kind of bad), it really pays to have some kind of back-up plan to rescue your holiday from going down on the list of “worst ever”. The most sensible way to do this is to check out alternative accommodation nearby, whether you choose a campsite that also has cabins and roofed accommodation, or you suss out availability in the general area. Most importantly, keep an eye on long term weather forecasts before you head into the wilds and look out for predictions of things like fast rising rivers. You really don’t want to be stuck across a raging torrent from your food, warmth and shelter! This information might seem a lot to keep in mind, but we’ve tried to bring together tips that will help ensure you have a holiday that is fun, relaxing and memorable for all the right reasons. Exploring the outdoors with your family and friends can be very rewarding and a great way to get away from all the pressures (and conveniences) of city life – so make the most of it, be safe and have a great time!