NEITHER Jamie nor I are exactly what you'd call natural or hardened campers. We did a short stint in Costa Rica several years ago. About a year ago I camped alone while Living On Light in Brazil and Jamie and Zenchai did some camping up in Yorkshire one time.
As a teenager, I also went on family camping holidays down in the south of France and Jamie did the same in the US with her family when growing up, but that's the extent of our experience.
We thought camping on the Mornington Peninsula, not far from Melbourne, would make not just a change to our norm (whatever that is, considering we've been going nearly three years), but also present us with some fresh family experiences and challenges and a greater appreciation of what we have and do not have. There's also the fact that the cost of camping (during off-peak season) is far less than renting an apartment or staying in a hotel (Australia is not cheap).
However, when our good friends (who generously provided all the camping equipment) dropped us off at the camping grounds and helped erect the tent, Jamie had the sort of look on her face that was equal to being left stranded in the Black Hole of Calcutta.
Of course, Rosebud, where we are, is nothing like India - not even close. But I think Jamie was trying to get her bearings and wondering in those early moments how that was going to be accomplished with bits and pieces all around her (she likes things neat and organised) and the night sky closing in.
But, with time, we've grown into our tent home. It's safe here (relatively, even though a truck stopped one morning and pinched our dish soap) and our kids can roam around and play without us having to check in every minute. And our fellow campers are, so far, very friendly and helpful.
We are in bed early and rise early, too. With us all sleeping together and darkness and a night chill setting in around 8pm, there's no other way. We're getting used to sound of the nearby road traffic and the birds that live around us. Zenchai helps Kobra with her afternoon nap by walking her around in a pushchair we (also) borrowed.
We're getting plenty of sleep, fresh air, sunshine and quality family time (although Jamie and I seldom get a break together from the kids for too long, which is a drawback to this style of travel).
Nonetheless, it's healthy to spend most of our days outdoors and until we borrowed some bikes about a week into our stay, we were legging it everywhere, which, for me, meant a one-hour trek to my Crossfit Mornington Peninsula classes and back each morning. Now, by bike, it takes only 20 minutes, which serves as a useful warm-up and warm-down. Jamie does the afternoon classes.
Zenchai is pedalling around all the time on a bike a little too small for him, but it more than does the job. His lanky legs go up and down like pistons. And he's loving it now that he has learned how to skid. He plays with whatever children he can find and is experiencing a greater sense of freedom, while Kobra just wonders and explores her surroundings as well as chipping in with some dish-washing and trying on everyone's shoes!
Melbourne weather, however, is unpredictable at the best of times and the change from warm to cold during the first week (it is still spring, after all) had us in out of different clothing all day. As one camper told us, "don't complain about the Melbourne weather, just wait 10 minutes."
On rainy days (we've had periods of drizzle, but nothing more) we were confined to the tent, but since erecting a fantastic gazebo over our kitchen area (Jamie and I failed miserably in trying to put up a more complicated one first of all), life has really perked up. We no longer have to worry about looming black clouds while Jamie or I is cooking or preparing food. We have a fridge, electric cooker, rice cooker and blender.
We found a local library and now have access to dozens of books for the kids. It's also where we get (free) internet access.
Across the road from us is a well-stocked supermarket, too, so it's not the sort of camping experience Bear Grylls would probably get a kick out of. Less than 100m from us is a beach with shallow (albeit cold) water.
The water in the showers, however, is piping hot, which is spectacularly luxurious on cool days, though camping is never short of testing moments, like when in the middle of the night you need the toilet and it's cold and pitch black, as well as keeping the bedding and eating area clean when you have young children, particularly one so obsessed in manufacturing dust.
We are restricted also in getting around this region. While there is plenty to do like fruit-picking and visiting the leisure centre, getting there on bikes isn't so straightforward (with young kids) even if there are cycle lanes everywhere. The bus service isn't as dependable or widespread as in the city.
But, slowly, we are finding our way - around the area and in the art of camping!