Some of my favourite childhood memories are of the summer holiday adventures I took with my family at Christmas time. We’d load up the old Kingswood and hit the dust to some far-flung outback destination where we’d bed down on stretchers under the stars listening to dingoes howl, or go crabbing in Karumba or surf a sunny Queensland beach.
I still look forward to Christmas road trips, despite the crowds, noise and often much higher camping fees because when happy celebrations are taking place all around the campground, that festive feeling is utterly contagious. A little forward planning is required though, so here are my tips to help you make the most of your Christmas escape.
1. BOOK AHEAD
Beautiful beaches, great lakes and crystal-clear waterholes: nothing entertains Aussies over Christmas like access to the water. Any destination with waterfront views will be highly sought after so if that’s where you’d like to be, decide on your dates early and book ahead.
To secure a campsite at some top spots, such as Victoria’s Wilsons Promontory and Tassie’s Freycinet National Park, you’ll need to win an annual ballot, which you must enter up to six months prior. Christmas bookings for many similarly popular national parks open three to five months before the big day, so find out the booking procedures for your preferred destination well in advance.
Be aware that most national parks take online bookings but refunds are unlikely if you change your plans. Coastal holiday parks fill up quickly too, and although they generally have more flexible cancellation policies, you’ll need to pay a deposit to hold your Christmas or News Years’ booking.
2. EXPECT CROWDS
Kids, dogs, sizzling barbecues, bikes and boats, noise and chaos! Christmas is a crazy time to go camping, but we do it in droves. It’s one of the only times many families can escape together, and the excess of children enjoying Christmas in the campground is ideal because there are plenty of new pals to play with, and parents can take turns supervising kids at play.
However, if all that mayhem is beyond you now, you will find quieter camps if you go against the flow. Wilderness destinations that place restrictions on camping (no pets, no campfires) and provide only basic facilities (no power or showers) deter many holidaymakers but you’ll need to be self-sufficient. Heading offroad to remote inland locations is another way to escape the coastal crowds.
3. SUPPLY UP
If venturing off the beaten track, research your camping destination in advance. Does it provide drinking water? Do you need to bring firewood? Is there likely to be a fire ban in place? If shelter is unlikely, pack an extra tarp to rig up to the caravan, and prepare for all kinds of weather, rain included.
Fill your gas bottles and generator jerry cans, and stockpile enough festive fare to fill bellies and Christmas stockings, especially if local supermarkets are not within easy reach. Don’t forget camping essentials such as torches, rechargeable batteries, lighters, sunscreen and first aid supplies too.
4. PREPARE YOUR VEHICLE
With so much shopping and packing going on, it’s easy to overlook any maintenance issues you might have with your vehicle and rig. Take the time to check everything over, top up fluids, and if a service is due, book it in well before your mechanic takes annual leave. Make sure you have ample spares on hand and top-up your supply of connectors, bulbs, fuses, electrical and gaffer tape, nuts, bolts, screws, wire, plastic weld, superglue, and gear and engine oils.
Check and plot the route to your destination, locate fuel stops and head online to check if road closures or bad weather might affect your trip. If headed off the bitumen, be sure to pack recovery gear too.
5. PREPARE TO PARTY
Whether yours is a party for two or a big family gathering, Christmas Day celebrations demand cold drinks, a cool shelter, tables and chairs and enough power for fridges, fans, music, phone recharging and more. If you are not going to be plugged into a powered site, you’ll need a couple of good solar panels (and someone to shift them to follow the sun) and a backup generator, along with the fuel to feed it.
Over summer you can never have too much protection from the sun, so pack a beach shelter and ensure that everyone is sun smart and takes a midday break from the heat. If you are going somewhere remote, be sure you have ample supplies of water for drinking, washing up and showering, and plenty of firewood for the campfire.
Finally, don’t forget everything you’ll need to get festive, including decorations, some cheesy Christmas tunes and an emergency stash of small gifts for the new friends you are bound to make in the lead up to the big day. When you get to camp, wrap some tinsel around a tree near your campsite, hang candy canes and baubles off a clothesline strung up around camp and attach a Christmas star to the top of the car aerial.
6. THE BIG FEAST
Like most itchy-footed travellers, I’m always torn between spending time with extended family and disappearing to somewhere fabulously remote with a boiled fruitcake and a tin of shortbreads, to reel in a fish, set a crab pot and slice open a chilled watermelon.
We’ll unwrap our presents, use the paper to start a campfire and kick back with a Christmas cocktail as a damper stuffed with camembert and cranberries bakes slowly over hot coals.
For me, Christmas menus should be indulgent but simple affairs, with plenty of cool, no-cook dishes and favourite treats that you’ve prebaked at home. When it comes to catering for the big day, make sure the fridges are stocked with plenty of ice and cold drinks, and swap the usual hot roast ham and plum pudding menu for a laidback barbecue with salads, seafood and icy desserts.
DID YOU KNOW?
- The original Santa Claus was based on the Greek Saint Nicholas of Myra, the patron saint of children, thieves and sailors;
- One in three men wait until Christmas Eve to finish their shopping;
- A Christmas pudding should be stirred from east to west;
- Boxing Day takes its name from the practice of opening a church’s alms boxes on the day after Christmas to distribute money to the poor; and
- According to French folklore, Christmas babies are born with the gift of prophecy.