Last week we hit the road for our first family camping adventure. Dan and I have both camped before but it was Miss Ava’s first time. We took a couple of extra days off before Easter which gave us a whole 5 days away.
My Mum and her partner Ashley have been involved with the Victorian Four Wheel Drive Club for many years now and are seasoned veterans at the whole camping caper, so we were very happy to tag along on one of their trips.
We set off early for the Hattah-Kulkyne National Park which is 580 kms north-west of Melbourne, just under an hour south of Mildura. It was quite a long drive (7 hours!) but it was well worth it once we got there and saw the setting for what was to be our home for the next 5 days. In short, it was stunning – the Murray River in all its glory and a sandbar all to ourselves.
So everyone has their own level of what’s acceptable while on a camping trip and mine is usually based on having a shower block with running water and electricity. As we were in the middle of a National Park, there were obviously no amenities but Ashley had this all covered. Not only did we have a shower tent with hot water but we also got to use the famous Jimmy’s Thunder Box (a camp toilet inside a tent). Ava thought this was hilarious and happily adapted to all things camping from day one.
There were 19 of us camping including four kids – Ava (4), another little lad (also 4) and brothers, 12 and 14. Ava was the only girl amongst them and she loved it, she batted her eyelids at the boys and had them in the palm of her hand. A scary sign of what’s to come, ha!
So here’s a bit of a summary of what we got up to.
Day 1: Wednesday
Up early, met at Calder Park servo and off we went (in a convoy) with stops along the way at Marong, Wycheproof and Ouyen. After four-wheel driving in a two-wheel drive, we arrived at our campsite around 4pm. The big lads got to work setting up while Ava and I hit the river, or as she called it for the whole trip ‘‘the big pool’. The weather was glorious so we soaked up the sun before it went down.
Dinner was a delicious Moroccan beef stew that Ashley had made earlier in the week which went down a treat after a long day of traveling. Miss Ava was off to bed around 8pm and we adjourned to enjoy a few hours by the fire.
Day 2: Thursday
With nowhere to be and nothing to do but relax, that we did. A lazy day on the sand building loads of sand castles to make little cities, swimming in the ‘big pool’, kayaking. I went for a walk with only my iPod for company and we caught up on the news with all of the gang. The older boys took care of Ava for most of the day which allowed us to ease into holiday mode. They were so good with her and it made such a difference to her adjusting to being away from the comforts of home.
We had grilled chicken tikka wraps and salad for dinner, Ava went off to bed and it was time to hang out around the fire again. I always seem to forget how nice it is to sit by a fire and just get lost in the glow of the flames and feel that lovely warmth radiating around you.
Day 3: Friday
Waking up with the sun streaming into your tent is such a lovely way to start the day and the only thing we had to think about was planning a fish dinner as it was Good Friday, ha! We spent the day playing soccer on the sand, digging holes and burying the kids, chilling out and we had a lot of fun in the water. Ashley had packed an inner tyre tube and we all had a go floating down the river, it was great. Ava thought it was the best thing ever and I’m sure the people camping on the other side of the river could hear her laughter, such infectious squeals of excitement!
So Mum made her famous tuna patties (they’re so good) and I made a simple warm pasta salad and that was dinner. That night we decided Ava could stay up late and hang out with us by the fire and she was mesmerised. Thanks to a recommendation from an old school friend, we took some glowsticks along which made being up at night even more fun for our girl. I only got through one story before Ava crashed out in the tent.
Day 4: Saturday
After a leisurely morning some of us drove to Mildura for a food run. We had lunch at the pizza cafe in the Mildura Grand Hotel and Mum and I even squeezed in a little bit of retail therapy along the main street. Back to camp and I pulled out the water squirters. Dan and I let Ava and her buddies saturate us (still with our clothes on) and so the giggling began.
It was roast night (the annual tradition amongst the crew) so Ashley set to work on his elaborate setup to cook a huge piece of pork on a spit. I have been calling him MacGyver for years now and this was proof in the pudding as to why I do. It was the most delicious pork roast I have ever tasted and I can’t even explain how good the crackling was, I could eat some right now. Mum did a great job with the vegies and gravy and we were very happy campers that night.
I hadn’t realised that an eclipse was due that night, so after Ava went to bed we all sat by the fire and watched it unfold. What an amazing sight and setting for us to see it. As the moon slowly slipped away from view, it got darker and darker until the stars were so bright it was like I was at the Planetarium. We all craned our necks and just stared up at the sky for ages, it was fascinating.
Day 5: Sunday
After turning our clocks back for daylight savings, it was time to plan the Easter egg hunt for the kids. We hid both chocolate and novelty eggs and they loved it. I took along some dorky activities (an egg and spoon race) and that kept them amused for a while.
Another tradition with the crew is Sunday lunch at the Nangiloc pub, about a half hour drive from camp. It was parma time for Dan and I, burgers and fish and chips for the kids and it was all pretty tasty. Gotta love those tiny towns with nothing but a good old fashioned pub and a general store.
Back to camp for one last swim and the tyre got some more action too. I went for a walk at dusk with my camera to try to capture the beautiful light – the reflections on the water were so lovely and reminiscent of a watercolour painting.
We had a super yum pasta bake for our dinner and soaked up the fire for the last time. Ava got to stay up late again and everyone went to bed happy.
Monday rolled around and we were sad to pack up our things. We all wanted to stay longer and we already started to plan next year’s trip. It was actually lucky that we left when we did as it started raining not long after and it had turned quite cold.
It’s funny how everyone assumed I wouldn’t cope (as I truly am a city girl at heart) but I loved it. Maybe not the sleeping arrangements (which were a bit uncomfortable) but everything else was great. I spent a lot of the time seeing things through Ava’s eyes which made it so much more special. To see her big brown eyes light up countless times over the course of the trip really made me smile. She got right in and tried lots of new things for the first time and I’m so proud of how she adapted. Oh and a huge development thanks to super friendly camp dog Argo, she is now not so petrified of dogs. By the end of the trip they were best mates!
So back to reality and it’s been so cold here in Melbourne, I’m wishing I was sitting fireside right now. Hope you all had a lovely break and stay tuned for our next weekender report xo
PS – A big thank you to the young lads who played, looked after and were just generally so lovely with Ava – you guys are ACE!
PPS – If you managed to read this far, thank you and sorry for so many images, I just couldn’t choose!