I have a lot of friends who would associate ‘camp grub’ with stuff that comes out of a can – such as Spam, baked beans, sardines and sauerkraut. Nothing wrong with a bit of sardine on toast, I agree. Or sauerkraut, for that matter. They also think that camping in a tent involves lying on a thin mat on the ground, in a too-tight nylon sleeping bag, freezing your butt off with not so much as getting a moment’s shut-eye. Add to that no showering for days on end, with swarms of bugs wherever you go, and you’ve pretty much summed up what many believe getting out in nature is all about. Quite frankly, I’m not about to convince them otherwise. And thankfully, I also have friends who are more on my wavelength when it comes to grabbing a few days away in the bush.
So it’s with much excitement and enthusiasm a week before we go, we start to plan the meals and divvy out who’s cooking which night. There’s talk of curry one night, chilli chicken and watermelon salad the next, whole pumpkin and roast pork on another.
Breakfast consists of corn fritters one day, pear and thyme damper, pancakes, and cherry tomatoes in the pan. Oh, and leftover fish curry for anyone who’s keen. Strangely, everyone is. The Nordisk Asgard bell tents are packed, a Terratrek camper trailer is hitched and the convoy of two Defenders and a Prado hits the road not a minute past 6.00am.
Every year we head to our favourite spot at Geehi in the Kosciuszko National Park. The river huts in this section of the park are responsible for much of the area’s charm. Built throughout the ’40s and ’50s by graziers and passionate trout fishermen, they are constructed from large, smooth, round river pebbles. They have been lovingly restored and beautifully maintained by the likes of the Range Rover Club, the Land Rover Owners’ Club and the Kosciuszko Hut Association with NPWS. Within this campground area there are four huts. Three of these you can access by car – Geehi Hut, Keebles Hut and Old Geehi Hut. Doctors Hut, located in between Keebles and Old Geehi, is walk-in access only.
There’s a thing that seasoned campers suffer from, and it’s real. It’s called ‘spot anxiety’ and it’s not a rash. Ours usually sets in as we turn off the Alpine Way into the Geehi Flats campground. At that point we still have a way to go before we get to ‘our spot’. There’s a river crossing involved and a dusty dirt track that we know keeps many of the tourists and grey nomads away. It’s at this turn-off that we get a sense of how crowded the campground is. It’s a magnificent place that spans many kilometres along the swampy plains river; and unlike its name, it is a crystal-clear river with rapids that’s dotted with wide, deep waterholes. Campsites are spread out, and there’s enough room for everyone – but we predict that when we arrive each year, it will be busier than the last (especially after this article goes to press).
As we pull in this time, we are followed by an unknown 4X4 with its own camper trailer that has been behind us for the last 10 kilometres… so spot anxiety reaches fever pitch and we don’t wait for the others and leg it straight to our spot as fast as we can without giving away that we (indeed) have spot anxiety. Luckily for us the river crossing kept them on the ‘busy’ side and as we headed towards Keebles Hut we were calmed with the discovery that our spot was free and waiting for us.
Anyway we’re so excited to arrive, the kids are crazy with car fatigue, the river beckons… so lilos pumped up, river shoes on, we hobble in over the shallows to where the rapids start. The water temperature is breathtaking, but it’s only a moment until we are acclimatised. Then try and get us out. After a while, Adam pours some French bubbles and we are floating on lilos – all three of us 40-something*-year-olds (*may not be accurate age), sipping our champagne; and we wouldn’t be anywhere else in the world.
It’s been a long drive and a, ahem, languid swim, and still we need to set up. The Asgard bell tents are beautifully designed with one centre pole, and literally the only effort required is tapping in the perimeter pegs. One tent is a 10-man so it takes a moment or two longer than the 4-man but it’s still relatively easy and quick. The Terratrek camper trailer is up in just about the same time and someone (Sarah?) offers me a G&T. We bring all our own firewood and there is plenty of small stuff lying around to pick up (and the kids knowingly oblige), and we enjoy sunset on the range before we start the dinner.
Tonight it’s Fred and Sarah with their world-famous fish curry. Two valuable glamping tips here. One: Always pre-cook the first night’s meal so that after a big day in the car, plus setting up, all that’s required is a simple reheat. Two: It’s a well-known fact that curry always tastes better a day late, so it makes the perfect meal for the first night camping. It is even tastier for breakfast the following morning; it’s the gift that keeps on giving.
One of the features I love about the camper trailer is the built-in mattress which I cover in the usual quality linen that we use to make our bed at home with. The nights get chilly here, even in summer; so warm bedding is necessary. A compartment on the side of the camper trailer where we keep our clothes opens up into the downstairs room of the tent – and although the space is compact, it has full head height and is perfect for our family of three. The bell tents are a little more spacious. The 10-man is made up with two camp beds for the kids and a large airbed for the parents. The cotton canvas material is waterproof and breathes (unlike nylon tents), which means no condensation in the morning.
There’s definitely an art to glamping. The trick is to edit what you take into two piles: The comfort pile and the rustic pile. As soon as the leaf blower joins the comfort pile, you know you’ve gone too far. We tend to leave behind the chemical loo and shower tent, as well as the cacophony of toys and gadgets. In our rustic pile we pack one large tarp, lots of wood, and a good book. These items are our wet weather contingency plan. The important items to put into your comfort pile are good bedding, delicious food and wine. I find that if you have these, then the lack of life’s other comforts seems to not matter so much. The only issue that I can now foresee is that, after all you lot read this, our ‘spot anxiety’ will go code red and be present from the moment we leave Sydney!