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We are officially a camping family! We had done a little bit of camping back in Canada with the kids and Paul and I had camped quite a bit before kids, including our 2 month trip around Africa . Once we bought a car and once I realized that Monday to Friday our life here wasn’t that much different from our life in Canada, I decided that camping would be our adventure: a way to see Victoria and spend quality family time together. It’s too bad we didn’t bring any of our camping gear from Canada, but we have slowly accumulated the necessities to camp. Usually December brings busy weekends of Christmas parties, holiday performances, etc. But since we were just settling in here in Melbourne, we didn’t have much on our calendar in December. We spent the first weekend in December seeing the major Melbourne Christmas sites – the Myer (department store) windows, Santa in the Townhall Square, the Gingerbread creations, mailed our Santa letters and attended Carols in the Park. The next two weekends were camping weekends and we took advantage of the fact that most people were busy with Christmas activities and some hard to book camp sites were available for us.
Weekend 1 we were supposed to go to the Mornington Peninsula, the thin strip of land near the entrance to Port Philip Bay. However in continuing the crappy spring weather Melbourne was experiencing, the forecast for the weekend looked pretty chilly. Instead we opted to travel 3 hours due north to the Murray River where temperatures seem to have little connection to Melbourne forecasts. While Melbourne would experience a cloudy weekend in the high teens, the Murray River felt like the desert at 28 degrees and pure sunshine. The biggest trick for us was fitting all our camping gear into our boot (I know, it is really a trunk!). We really don’t have that much gear, but our trunk is really small and many items didn’t make it into the car (sadly our pillows didn’t make the grade). We wanted to bring our bikes too, so after an hour of loading the car, we were ready to go. The kids are used to our large minivan in Canada with a DVD player. Drives are bliss – the kids have room to spread out, they watch some movies and Paul and I get to actually talk. Here the kids are squished into the backseat of our late model Subaru Forester, with nothing to entertain themselves except what they see out the window. Numerous times Paul and I crossly reminded them that in our childhood we actually drove places without a DVD player and survived. Three hours seems to be the threshold of survival for drives. After the 3 hour point, they become unbearable.
For our first weekend camping with our new gear we wanted something easy, so we had booked into a caravan park – the Big 4 Echuca. We had stayed in some caravan parks on our RV trip around New Zealand and while they have great facilities, we certainly prefer wilderness or bush camping more. The kids were thrilled with the pools, jumping pillow, BMX track and other kids around and that they could bike all around the park. Miles even managed to lose his training wheels that weekend.
We did drag the kids away from all the great activities at the caravan park for a couple of walks along the Murray River and a few bike rides. The Murray River is what you picture when you think about Australia: dry and desert like and is a popular weekend destination from Melbourne. The weather is reliable and you can waterski, fish and cruise on the river. The birdlife is amazing and even though the cockatoos are really loud, we loved watching them.
Echuca is a cute little town known for the paddleboats that historically plied this large River port and still do for tourists. The town has maintained that bygone era feel with historic buildings and old world charm. The town is right on the border of New South Wales and the kids were happy to step foot into a different state.
On the NSW side we found an awesome mountain bike track – Five Mile and would have loved to spend longer there if we had more time. The kids did great trying out the pump course and even Miles had a little spin around.
It was easy camping with good facilities, but it did give us a chance to test out our camping gear and see if there was anything else we needed. A lot of Australians camp for extended periods of time and have large setups. Since we would only be weekend camping (and were limited by the size of our trunk) we wanted something small and quick and easy to set up.
The kids are pretty adaptable and are used to sleeping anywhere and everywhere. Camping allows them to have the freedom to run around the campground and be really independent = great for them and great for us! It was a quick weekend away and we would have loved to stay longer and really get to see the area, but our main mission was to test out our gear and that was accomplished.