HOW I BECAME A HAPPY CAMPER

To Canowindra

A few years ago I hated camping. Fuelled by bad memories of leeches and rain on high school camps, the idea of spending a weekend away in the wilderness was so repulsive to me that nobody ever really asked me if I wanted to go. Sure I’d camp (happily with my booze blanket) at music festivals but apart from that, you could count me out.

In 2015 my girlfriend and I packed our bags and decided to move to a small country town called Canowindra, five hours west of Sydney. Whilst we’d originally planned to stay for a month working on a vineyard, we were almost immediately swept up in the beauty of the country landscapes and the amazing community of weird, wacky and wonderful people so two years later we are still permanent residents.

The thing about small country towns is that there’s not often a lot to do, and with most of our friends in Sydney, the trip back to visit wasn’t something we could do every weekend. We found out very quickly that it gets [insert the most aggressive expletive you know here] hot in the Central West! So with no beach in sight we began spending afternoons with friends perched on the bank of The Lachlan River. The idea often crossed my mind that it might be quite nice to camp at the river but with my deep seeded resentment for camping bubbling under the surface it never eventuated.

One day we were invited to our friends’ property to camp at Horseshoe Bend, their private “beach” on The Lachlan River. I’d been to some of their parties on The River, I’d heard their stories and I’d envied their expert campfire setups. These guys are serious country campers so I figured I’d be in good hands and I should just suck it up and dive into my first voluntary camping sesh head first! We took the tinny loaded with gear over to the beach after lunch – when I say “beach”, I’m talking about a small sandy, bank up the river with swinging ropes hanging off ancient Red Gums and a giant fallen tree a Japanese seasonal worker had painted a HUGE crocodile mural on years earlier.

It was awesome and suddenly I was in love with camping! Great people, dogs running amuck and kids playing footy – all in the perfect, idyllic location. These guys knew what they were doing! After an afternoon of swimming, sinking beers and a campfire feast I still dream about, everyone retired for the evening to their swags, blow up mattresses and comfy camp accommodation. Completely unprepared, we slept next to the fire, on the sand with no mattress, inside an old doona cover with a sleeping bag and a small, wet dog. It was horrible, but when I woke up the next morning to the smell of the smouldering fire with aching hips and sand all through my hair, I wasn’t mad at Mother Nature. There was no denouncing my relationship with camping, in fact all I could think about was our next adventure at Horseshoe Bend.

Gear

The first step in becoming a Happy Camper was to get some gear. Comfort is important and whether it’s a good night’s sleep or a warm jacket, I now know you need to be prepared! We were recently lucky enough to be gifted an excellent hybrid tent/double swag for Christmas. It wasn’t overly expensive and it’s exceptionally easy to put up and take down, even after a few beers in minimal lighting (which happens more often than you think). It’s warm, waterproof, came with its own mattress and is easily put away in a carry bag. We already had an awesome sleeping bag so we were pretty much ready to go in the bedding department.

Kitchen wise we were initially very unprepared though the addition of a top tier esky (also a gift – from our very generous boss) and some bits and pieces we picked up from our local Vinnies means we’re now very well setup for campfire cooking and our morning coffee! We always keep an old oven rack behind the car seat to use as an impromptu grill plate just in case a fishing opportunity arises.

PICKING A SPOT

My main problem with camping had always been feeling dirty, but I’ve learned that saving a set of clothes just for the evening/end of the day can make you feel like a new person. We started our full-time camping adventures in Summer so it was pretty easy to find a campsite near a body of water to put our swag up and spend the day frolicking and adventuring. I’ve discovered there’s nothing quite like a morning water baptism to cleanse yourself for the new day. If you’re not a Happy Camper, start with camping near the beach or a river – easy access to water makes a huge difference and is a million times better than trekking to a communal shower block in your pluggers.

Due to the fact we have a dog, National Parks sites are pretty much out for us but I’ve found that there is always somewhere to camp with a dog and if you can’t find a site, ask a local! The sites might not have luxury amenities or power but I can say from experience that the secret, local spots off the beaten track are far more beautiful and secluded than those you find on any list.

PEOPLE

As a recovered non-camper my main piece of advice is to never go camping with someone that doesn’t love camping. If there is someone else there to indulge your dislikes then you are bound to complain together. Go camping with people that grew up camping, that have their own amazing spots, that love getting their hands dirty and know all the little tricks to make life easy. At the very least they’ll make you feel ridiculous for complaining but in all honesty you will quite simply enjoy yourself because they are enjoying themselves!

MY NEXT ADVENTURE

As hot as it gets in Summer in Canowindra, it gets even colder in Winter! So whilst a lazy, dip in the river might have to be put on the back burner for a few months, my new love of camping will not! I’m getting ready to rug up and head back to the river banks for a weekend camping sesh. It will be freezing and I might not get my morning water baptism but if there’s one thing I’ve learned about camping – it’s that with the right group of people and the right gear you can be comfortable anywhere.

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