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Zane Mirfin Outdoor Articles 2015

Bitten by camping bug

Zane Mirfin, Wildside Column, Nelson Mail, 26 December 2015
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Tents Galore: Boys have fun camping out in December
Camping means many things to many people. To some it means sleeping rough beside a gurgling mountain stream while to others it means sharing a tent city at Kaiteriteri Beach campground over the height of summer madness.

Whatever you understand camping to be, it sure is a lot of fun, and over the next month or two the warm temperatures and hot summer sun make it a great activity for all the family. New Zealand has huge areas of public and private lands on which to go camping, both for free and on a commercial basis, with a wide range of facilities and services.

Over the years I've done an unfair share of camping, mostly in remote wilderness areas, but in more recent times on family trips using the big tent in more pedestrian locations. I've got a lot to learn about camping yet but I've always managed to pick up a few tricks along the way.

Organised camping where you can drive a vehicle and trailer right to the site make makes life really easy and it's simple to load up with everything but the kitchen sink. A lot of times you will never use half the gear you take, but at other times you can omit to take equipment that would have really helped.

If you want to be really organised the best strategy is to make a list of everything that went into your vehicle and trailer in the first place and then when you get back home tick the items you used and cross off the items you didn't. Then on the next big trip you'll have a proven list that will speed up the packing process and make sure you don't leave anything important behind.

With camping that involves carrying stuff on your back, you don't have the luxury of taking too much bulk or weight, and need to carefully consider what you should take along. With experience and practice, you'll develop a formula but I'm always prone to taking too much gear – just in case!

Many of my camping trips involve helicopter transport in and out so we can take equipment that you wouldn't carry on your back but it still needs to be organised and packed well. Helicopter pilots dread loose gear getting sucked up into rotor blades so everything should be safely wrapped up in a pack, or in bright-coloured plastic fish bins with lids attached by bungee cords.

I own a variety of tents, mostly smaller 1-3 person models, constructed of lightweight synthetic materials. Gear just keeps getting better and better with advances in technology but my old Alp Sports Butterfly tent given to me more than half a lifetime ago on my 21st Birthday by my parents is still my favourite.

With a fly over the top and a breathable inner liner, this tent has braved many storms, and one time in South Westland we spent four days inside as Mother Nature threw everything at us while the mighty Whataroa River raged and side streams thundered, trapping us from moving anywhere. Another time on a fishing trip we were camped on a bush island, and the rain bucketed down overnight while the dry stream channel behind us began to roar. In the torch light it was a fearsome sight to behold and we started planning which tree we were going to climb to safety before the water level began to recede.

One thing I have learned through all my adventures is that correct siting of your camp is really important. Be careful of flooding rivers, fire, dead standing trees, wasp nests, gale force winds, snow, frost, other hunters etc. Camp in places that others can see you where possible, but make sure you are in a sheltered position that is dry and hospitable.  I always take a waterproof groundsheet for the bottom of every tent to keep stuff dry. Likewise other essential items include an inflatable air mattress to keep you off frozen ground, rocks, and badly placed tree roots. A quality sleeping bag and waterproof bivvy bag can also make life so much easier too in extreme winter conditions. Don't forget to wrap your wet boots in a plastic bag and cover with raingear etc to use as a pillow and to stop from freezing solid overnight.

These days my kids are starting to enjoy camping out too. Just recently I enjoyed a night away camping with the boys and their mates. It was hardly roughing it but the six boys had a great time sleeping in three tents while I crashed in an old bunk at the hut. The boys were up bright and early to go mountain biking but I'd been bitten between shoulder and neck by a spider or a rat with a weeping wound.

Waiting for the tents to dry out, I dismantled and rolled them up carefully before heading for home. That night my world was spinning, and at one point I had to grip onto the bed to stop being thrown off it like a giant centrifuge. The next few days of fishing guiding were intense, as I staggered upstream over boulders with no balance, nausea, and vertigo.

I'd only just got home when the boys wanted to go camping again, this time hunting. We carried our packs and checked out a new area I'd seen from a recent helicopter ride but on the ground in thick overgrown manuka I struggled to find the clearings I was after. The boys knew I still wasn't well and made a wise suggestion to retreat back to the family bach for the night.

Passing the last clearing, Ike spotted a deer at close range just below us. Trying to chamber a round into the rifle quietly, another deer we hadn't seen bolted across the clearing, taking the old red hind with it. It wasn't the end of the world though, as the boys had seen some deer, and the hind would have had a small fawn hidden somewhere. I knew the boys had had a good time when Ike asked me "Can we go camping next weekend Dad?"