Loves going out and about, drinking coffee, eating chocolate, and writing about her adventures!
Published September 7th 2018
Escape the city and go bush with the family
Going camping is the quintessential Australian experience. But growing up in a migrant Filipino family as I did, it was never something that we actually did.
Pitching our tent at Honeysuckle Creek Campground
My first and only camping experience in a tent happened a long time ago, in a galaxy far away. It was a Year 4 camping trip in the bush. I remember going on a bus ride to our camping site, singing Ten Green Bottles with my friends. I remember pitching our tents before the rains came and we were forced to spend the first night in cabins. And I remember the whole grade sitting around the campfire and roasting marshmallows.
Fast forward to adulthood. By then I had developed more ostentatious tastes and fantasies. So I never thought of camping, and if I did, my idea of camping was camping in luxury. And by camping in luxury, I actually meant staying in a five-star hotel in a big city, like the Ritz Carlton in London or the Plaza Hotel in New York or the Intercontinental in Sydney. My insides curled at the thought of camping trips like those taken by my brother and his wife. They live in the United States and they're both hard-core campers. And by hardcore, I mean surviving without a bath or shower for ten days and being chased by black bears!
Then I became a mum. It's funny how becoming a parent can change you! After a long time of my dear husband trying to persuade me of the wonders of camping in the great outdoors, I finally agreed. It helped, of course, that my husband, like my brother and sister-in-law, had some experience camping- after all, my hubby was the one who had chosen to camp in the Nullarbor Plain before we met and even had a standoff with a mob of dingoes one night-so I thought, well, why not? How bad could camping in dingo-free, black bear-free Canberra be?
Well, let me tell you that we've now gone camping three times in the past two years, and I have to say that they have been some of my best, most memorable experiences ever. Just like that Year 4 camping trip which I will always remember with happiness.
Camping is a wonderful experience for the whole family. You get to spend quality time with each other, work together, have fun, learn new skills, and be out in nature, away from computers and TVs and our increasingly indoor life.
If you've never tried camping before with the family and would like to, then read on. With the warmer seasons now upon us, it's the perfect time to pack up your tent, sleeping bags and mozzy repellent (amongst a bunch of other stuff!) and go bush.
What to take on your first camping adventure. Before you head out into the bush, you need to get all your camping gear together. Stores like Anaconda, Rays Outdoors, Big W and K Mart sell camping equipment. And Aldi holds a special camping gear sale each year. But there really is no need to buy up big. If you don't have any or if you only have a few things, then why not ask a friend, neighbour or workmate to loan you their camping gear?
You'll need a big enough tent (or tents) to fit you all inside
The following items are some of the basic items you'll need for your family: a good quality waterproof tent that's big and comfortable enough to fit you, sleeping bags, extra blankets, pillows, air mattress, lanterns and torches, a first aid kit, mosquito/insect repellent, good esky or camping fridge, food and water (enough to last for the number of days you are camping), cooking utensils, cutlery, cups, plates, bowls, garbage bags, towels, basic toiletries like toothbrushes, toothpaste and soap, a fold-up table, camping chairs, bucket and shovel (for those midnight toilet trips!), good walking/hiking shoes, hats, sunscreen, sunglasses, a few toys/games/sport equipment for the kids, extra clothing, and snacks.
The Go Camping Australia website has excellent tips for beginner campers. Go here to find out important things like camping equipment for beginners, what to look for when buying a tent, camping food for beginners, how to keep food cool during camping, tips for taking the kids camping and lots more.
Where to go camping in Canberra. Luckily for us Canberrans, we live in the Bush Capital, and so there are many excellent campsites throughout our region, and several of these are very suitable for first-time campers and for first-time campers with little ones.
The ACT Government manages a range of camping sites throughout the region such as the popular Cotter Campground on the banks of the Cotter River, Honeysuckle Campground and Mount Clear Campground in Namadgi National Park, and Woods Reserve on the banks of Gibraltar Creek. Bookings are essential for most campsites. You are also required to pay camping fees per person per night. Go here to book your campsite.
Wee Jasper Reserves in the Yass Valley is also an excellent spot for camping with the family and within an easy driving distance of Canberra. Bookings are not required for campsites but there are camping fees per person per night.
Here are three camping sites for you and your family to enjoy.
1. Honeysuckle Creek Campground.
Honeysuckle Creek campground is located in Namadgi National Park, near the site of the old Honeysuckle Space Tracking Station, where a huge dish-shaped space tracking antenna once stood. In 1969 this famous dish transmitted pictures and audio of astronaut Neil Armstrong's walk on the moon.
Honeysuckle Campground has access via a sealed road, wood fire BBQ pits (firewood is not provided so please bring your own supply or purchase wood from the Namadgi Visitor Centre), composting toilets, wheelchair access, and a covered shelter with seats, fireplace and two gas BBQs.
At Honeysuckle you can explore the remains of the old space tracking station, as well as follow the walking trails to Booroomba Rocks(about 1.5 hours) or Orroral Valley (1 day).
And one of the great delights of this campground is that kangaroos and wallabies come close enough to happily feast near your tent.
Please note that dogs are not permitted at Honeysuckle and no rubbish bins are provided so please take your rubbish home with you.
3. Wee Jasper Reserves.
Wee Jasper is located in the Yass Valley, about 80 km north-west of Canberra. Wee Jasper Reserves offers 5 different camping reserves. Billy Crace Reserve is the main camping reserve. Here you will find the campground's office which sells basic necessities such as ice and gas refills; the rubbish compound, Port-a-Loo dump point, flushing toilets, hot showers, and a playground.
At Wee Jasper reserves, there are walking tracks, and lots of lovely spots for fishing, swimming and picnics. And you can visit and tour the nearby Carey's Caves, a spectacular system of underground caves. Four of the reserves now have access to drinking water and are dog-friendly.
You don't need to book your campsite in advance at Wee Jasper. But camping fees do apply per person per night.
At Wee Jasper
Here are just a few extra things to take note of when you go camping in Canberra for the first time:
Camping is only permitted at designated camping sites.
If there are no rubbish bins or compounds at the campsite, then you must take your rubbish home with you.
You need to take your own firewood as taking wood from parks and reserves is not permitted.
Please camp with care-all plants, animals and habitats are protected by law.
Keep your food and rubbish locked up inside your tent or car at night as the possums will come and have a feast!
Luckily we don't have dingoes or black bears in Canberra, but unluckily we have some of the deadliest snakes in the world such as the Eastern Brown Snake and the Red-Bellied Black Snake. Between October and March, snakes are slithering about. But did you know that snakes are actually shy creatures that will quickly retreat if not provoked? Go here for some tips on how to stay safe around snakes while camping and hiking.
Prepare for the weather.
Make sure you have enough drinking water as not all campsites have potable (drinking) water available.
Test your equipment in the days before you leave for your camping trip. One good idea is to set up your tent in your backyard. You could also sleep in your tent overnight to see what it will be like.
Finally, make sure all of your torches work. Because believe me, there's nothing more creepy than stumbling about in the dead of night to the faraway toilet block without a torch and coming across a few kangaroos (or a yowie or a bunyip or a vampire-my imagination tends to go haywire at the dead of night!) along the way.
Camping is one of the best adventures you will ever have with your family. Honestly, I didn't think that I would ever enjoy it as much as high teas and getting out of escape rooms. And though I'll never be a hardcore camper like my brother and sister-in-law (I don't actually know which is worse-not having a shower for ten days or being chased by a black bear!), I know I'll be super prepared next time round with LOTS of working torches packed in my bag!