When I was a kid, we used to go camping all the time. Loading up the Kombi and headed for the nearest Folk Festival, this was the original inspiration for On Tour with the Kid. When a Facebook invite came through from a friend asking us to go camping with a group of friends for her birthday, we jumped at the offer. With work and other commitments, we could only stay for one night, but you take your relaxation where you can get it.
Given our short stay, I decided to pack the bare minimum. We own a wagon where the back seats fold down to make a flat surface. The birthday girl had kindly offered us a blow-up mattress, and given the recent temperature drop, I thought the back of the car as a warmer and less time-consuming option than a tent. As long as we had snacks, warm clothes, blankets and pillows, we couldn't go too wrong.
We arrived at the stunning Ferndale Park camping area. Driving through this thickly wooded area on entry, it feels kind of magical, like you are driving into a fairytale forest. As you arrive at the camping area, you realise you are inside this stunning sunken valley. The couple who run the campground came out to greet us, and the wife was baking Anzac slice, so the delicious and distinctive smell of oats and brown sugar-filled the office. She also took my little one for a walk around the open verandah with breathtaking views across the valley to see the most sensational collection of fairy gardens I have ever seen.
As we make our way down the road to the camping area to find the rest of our group, we realised there was an unintended advantage to arriving late, with most of our group having already stayed the previous night. The fire was already in full swing, so the first several hours were just spent catching up with friends and intermittently warming the back of your jeans against the open fire. When camping in winter the timing of warming your butt is super important. You want it to be long enough that you can sit down long enough to eat and have a drink and stay toasty but not so long that you have heated the metal studs in your jeans and branded your skin like a dairy cow when you finally take a seat. It's a fine line.
The ground is so open that all the kids could play freely and not be out of your sight. Though the iPad was in the car, they were all totally content playing with the glow sticks, running on the grass and balancing on a large concrete pipe close by. It's interesting how quickly they will step away from technology.
There were about 30 of us in the end so when the BBQ started cranking up, the whole space filled with that mouth-watering smell of cooking meat and a whole Weber BBQ plate full of beer-soaked onions.
The after dinner jam session was out of this world. Granted, it was made better by the 12 Golden Guitar winners gathered around the fire. I love to sing, it makes me happy, but I don't sound great, my head is the wrong shape or something, but thankfully my voice was covered by the award-winning vocals.
It dawned on me that I had not totally thought through the sleeping situation when I went to make the bed. The mattress didn't quite fit between the wheel wells inside the car. So we ended up sleeping on a 45-degree angle. It was worth it for such a great night. As we woke with sunrise in the morning to the sound of birds and running water from the creek close by, I had the thought that every camper has. How long can I hold off going to the bathroom so I don't have to get out from under the covers?
Even if you only have a day, ducking out to this little piece of heaven less than 100km from Newcastle is well worth it. You can camp from $15 or in one of the few great on-site caravans for $60. It's the perfect place to bond with the kids and get back to nature.