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One family swaps city life for the outdoors and shares the joys of camping.

When camping, the best time of the day is just before sunrise. That’s when the campsite is quiet and the air is crisp and fresh. It’s that time of day that I pull up a chair, wipe the dew from the table, boil the kettle, take out a box of rusks and read a few chapters of my novel. Aah, peace and quiet.

Quick conversion

When my husband first took us camping several years ago, I wasn’t convinced that I would enjoy it. To be honest, I was six months pregnant at the time and I was not, at first, a happy camper. But, by the time we hooked up our trailer and began the long trip home from Plett to Johannesburg, I was a convert. My two sons had spent a fortnight in the fresh air, riding their bikes, playing on the jungle gyms and digging for worms and goggos. Since that trip, we’ve become avid campers, much to my Sandton colleagues’ horror. We’ve bought every gadget necessary (including a mini washing machine) to survive a few days or weeks away from home luxuries.

Our favourite trips are those that take only an hour or two’s drive. Soon, the campsite is sorted, the fire is roaring and the children have vanished in search of new friends.

Be prepared

The trick to camping, sweetie darlings, is to follow the Girl Guides’ motto of “Be prepared”. Be prepared to do nothing. Instead, bark orders at your husband and children from your camping chair, drink plenty of wine, go for long walks and read a novel or two. Most importantly, learn the words of “Meisie, Meisie” (seriously), and braai with your neighbours and new friends.

Another part of following the Girl Guides’ code is to bring interesting bits and bobs with you to keep the children busy. For example, puzzles, colouring books, novels, skateboards, swing-ball, soccer balls and board games fill our trailer. But the best time we have is when we take long walks or ride our bikes together. The children have also learnt some of the old-fashioned games that we played in the 80s and 90s, such as hopscotch, treasure hunts (searching for feathers, pine cones, seed pods, animal bones), Marco Polo and hide-and-seek.

Entertainment, fun and wildlife

One of our favourite places to visit has to be Sondela. Situated in a nature reserve, Sondela has everything that a frustrated, exhausted mom could need. There are activities for the children, including pony rides, quad biking (my paramedic husband is never keen on that), warm and cold pools, jungle gyms, a farmyard, table tennis and during the busy season, holiday clubs.

They also have a wildlife rehabilitation centre where my children have touched and fed giraffe and wildebeest. A female kudu, called Daisy, visits our campsite often, creating great excitement for all. Our recent trip to Bela Bela was so relaxing. We woke up when we wanted to, ate when we felt like it and mooched around the campsite, killing time by doing nothing. I watched as my boys swam, drew pictures in the sand with my daughter and looked for squirrels, butterflies, owls and dung beetles with a group of children from the campsite.

It was fantastic because we did nothing, together – something that our modern lifestyle doesn’t often allow.

Find out more about how to enjoy camping during winter.

Sharing with special friends

We’ve made plenty of new friends, including a boisterous farmer from the Free State. He insisted that we, his Engelsman neighbours, eat his Vrystaat wors and krummelpap, while drinking brandy and coke.

But my other favourite camping trips are those with friends. We often go away with the Dickson and Morris families. Those lazy days together are spent being entertained by the dads who chase the children, encourage them to play pranks on fellow campers, and scare other children while playing “stalk the lantern” at night.

In the evenings, the families sit around the campfire, roasting marshmallows, laughing about the day’s events or telling stories and jokes.

Meals á la camp

Campsite dining is very basic. It’s only worth preparing if it can be cooked on a braai or a skottel. My husband, who knows how to prepare only simple dishes at home, is now expected to make many of the group’s meals. Breakfast is French toast, scrambled eggs or cereal. Lunch is whatever anyone feels like: sarmies, noodles or leftovers. Supper, however, is usually an elaborate affair where the family prepares and cooks the meal together and sits around the fire chatting while eating. On those evenings, we’ll wolf down a potjie, a braai, or a boerie roll accompanied by rice or pap, and a variety of salads. The fresh air really does make you ravenous.

Find some recipes for great camp food here

Not weatherproof

There are also days when you quite literally have to save your camp. One trip to Mountain Sanctuary Park near Brits began with a massive Highveld storm. As the women and children hid in our caravan (which we have since sold), the men stood in the rain trying desperately to save the tents from being blown away. We’ve also spent days huddled in our tents or the resort’s clubhouse as the rain hammered down. Let’s just say that we’ve now learnt to pick our camping dates a little better.

A family favourite

Despite the little dramas associated with camping, it remains a firm family favourite. I know that it’s time to hook up the trailer and head to a campsite when, sitting at the newsdesk in my city office, I can smell the bush and the campfire and almost feel the cool morning air on my skin. And, when camping, there’s also no radio and no television – bliss!

Lynne O’Connor