For our family’s first true tent camping experience, we drove about 90 minutes south and west of Christchurch to a DOC run campground in the Peel Forest Park. The trip down took us through lots of farmland, mostly sheep, dairy cows, and deer (raised for venison, a popular meat in NZ).
As we approached the foothills, the sun broke through the light cloud cover and cast its rays on an hill that was painted an unearthly green.
We stopped at the Peel Forest Cafe to pay for our camp site ($15 per adult and $10 per kid over 5–a bit pricey by NZ camping standards, in part because the campground is “serviced”) and then drove the final mile or so to the park.
James and the girls put up the tents and laid out the sleeping bags while I kept Calvin out of the way and made up some peanut butter and jelly sandwiches. Being camping newbies, we had noted before arriving that the campground has a shared kitchen facility, and I had assumed this meant staple items like pots and perhaps silverware for general use.
But when I walked into the kitchen, which was bright, high-ceilinged, and clean, all I found were hobs, 3 microwaves, a refrigerator, and some sinks.
Chalk this one up for learning something new: plates, cups, silverware, dishclothes, even dishsoap must be brought by each individual camper. Now I know for next time.
Instead of something hot, we had a delicious meal of PB&J sandwiches, red and green peppers, and apples and clementines.
The temperature was falling, but before we got into our tents, James, Calvin and I took a walk along the Rangatata River (one of the premiere places to white water raft on the South Island) and listened to the birdsong around us.
The air was probably about 45 degrees when we laid down–James and I in our tent, the kids in their tent–and we were literally the only people tent camping in the place. (The four cabins were occupied and about 3 other R.V. sites were in use, but all of the other tent sites were empty.)
It was quiet and the kids seemed okay until I heard Calvin rustling around at about 9:30. Because he’s been having trouble identifying when he needs to go to the bathroom, James rushed over to help him. Calvin insisted that he did not need to use the toilet, but it seemed foolish to miss the chance to take him when James was already up and Cal was clearly awake.
What a mistake.
I could hear Calvin screaming bloody murder as James carried him the 100 yards to the block toilet house, and then I could hear him continually screaming at the top of his lungs for the next ten minutes. It sounded like a wild animal but I knew it was my son.
I am sure that everyone in the campground and even beyond thought there was some horrific bloodbath/abuse going on (James later told me that someone came into the men’s toilet looking as though he was investigating…). It was awful.
While James was dealing with that business, I shifted Calvin’s sleeping pad and sleeping bag over to our tent for the rest of the night. When James returned with our errant screamer, Calvin promptly curled up in his bag and started snoring.
I imagine others in the campground might have taken longer to get back to sleep.
Overnight, the nightime temperature dipped down to about 4C (37.4F). Brrrr!
Actually, the cold was less of a problem than the shape of our sleeping bags; we bought mummy bags but James, Evelyn, and I all move around a lot in our sleep and the tight fit of the bags meant any movement overnight required major readjustment of the hooded mummy bags in which we were trying to sleep.
In the morning, I heard the kids right around 6, their normal waking time, excitedly talking about pukeko. It wasn’t long before they were dressed enough to go out exploring the little stream that ran through the park, playing peek-a-boo with the pukeko (Char was delighted) and climbing trees.
It wasn’t a good night of sleep, but we made it. And we learned a few things from this attempt:
- We are going to swap our mummy bags out for regular rectangular sleeping bags
- We should only plan to camp when it is 45F or warmer
- We should always bring more clothing and more food and supplies than we think we’ll need, particularly when camping in such remote and under-supplied regions.
- Don’t force Calvin to try to go to the toilet in the middle of the night if he doesn’t want to go unless we want to wake every soul within 2 miles of our tent.