The perfect escape - camping with kids
Wild and free children, fresh air, and rich moments of connection. Liv van Leeuwen shares why setting up camp with the family is the perfect escape.
What if I told you I knew how you could be totally present with your kids, have more than a stilted conversation with your partner and not have to worry about any housework? For our family, there is no better way to achieve this than going camping. Yes, the prep can feel overwhelming, but as soon as we pull into our tent site and let the kids loose from their car seats, we basically don’t need to parent for the remainder of our trip.
Our two boys, Jossi (nearly 4) and Raf (15 months), run wild. Their imaginations go into overdrive and the most we need to do is persuade them to stop playing to eat dinner and, once the sun starts to go down, to go to bed. I yearn for these meandering days when it feels like time slows down and life is solely about being together, outside. My husband Piet and I cherish the opportunity to share a conversation with a depth often lacking in amongst the chaos and rush of our regular life. With our hot coffees in hand we feel the excitement (and caffeinated catalyst) that used to drive every conversation before life got so darn busy. There are no chores to be done, renovation projects to be finished or things to be tidied. The only chore is washing the dishes and plating up the meals, and when you’re doing it all outside suddenly it doesn’t even feel like a chore anymore.
This particular trip was just 24 hours. A quick getaway to refresh and reconnect as a family. We headed to Orton Bradley Park, a small campground set in a trust owned and operated park and working farm, just 30 minutes drive from our home in Christchurch. The camp is set among established exotic trees and pockets of native bush, the tent sites are grassy and there’s a stream winding its way past the tent sites. There are walks, an adventure playground, and a variety of picnic areas. But really, all we need for hours of glee is a stream.
We’ve got a big tent, one of those multi roomed monstrosities that you spend hours setting up. Last summer we did a couple of small one or two night trips with our nylon hotel. But with a baby and a toddler in tow we felt like the hour of pitching and packing up either side of the trip, not to mention the space it takes in the boot, was a deterrent to the regularity of trips we’d like to do. So this summer, we’ve invested in a rooftop tent as well. We’ll pull the big tent out for our 9 nights at Totaranui later in summer, but for the close to home weekends we’re in the ‘rooftoppy’ as it’s now affectionately known. It’s small, the whole thing is the size of a queen bed, but we make it work. There’s something about piling into one bed and snuggling in with my boys that fills my cup like nothing else (once we eventually get them to sleep!). One of the best things about the rooftop tent is that it’s up out of the way. There’s no one traipsing through it with dirty shoes, and you are forced to live your whole time outside. I feel a deep reconnection when I spend every waking minute outside, even more so when I’m cooking and doing my regular chores outdoors.
Last summer we also invested in a good fold-out table, a decent size cooker, a pantry for bigger trips, and a double up of general kitchen wares (from the op shop). It absolutely makes a difference when you have a few basic things that make life easier, because it also means you’re more inclined to head away for a weekend. The other thing I’ve learnt is to pre-cook a few meals before you go. This trip we had spaghetti bolognese, and all I had to do was cook the pasta and heat the rest of the meal through. If you’re organised enough to freeze it first, you’ve got big ice blocks to keep the rest of your food cool too.
Camping beside the stream meant we needed to keep a close eye on the boys, but it was worth it for the moment spent sipping coffee in the sun while they contentedly threw rocks and floated sticks. I managed to read my book for an hour while Raf had his midday nap and we both had the time and energy to really connect with our boys. To completely meet them on their level and stay there, for hours, without having to stop the fun to do some pressing task. If there is anything from camping that I try to carry through into our regular life it is that ability to let go a bit more, to stop stressing about the messy house and just sit down and play with my kids. To find that place of connection every single day at home so we all feel grounded and on the same page, the same as we do when we’re camping together. Easier said than done, maybe we just need to go camping more to get some practise!
Words + Photography: Liv van Leeuwen
Liv is a Christchurch-based family photographer and mother to two young boys. Preferring to work with natural light, her work draws from her desire to focus on storytelling and capturing raw, cinematic moments. Liv and her family live near the hills in Christchurch and they love to get out exploring whenever they can. Find her at vanleeuwen.nz or on Instagram @liv.vanleeuwen.
AS FEATURED IN ISSUE 57 OF OHbaby! MAGAZINE. CHECK OUT OTHER ARTICLES IN THIS ISSUE BELOW