Holiday in tent city

CASSANDRA POKONEY
Last updated 10:18 28/12/2012

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Pitching a tent and spending lazy days in the sun is a holiday favourite of families all over New Zealand and Australia. Cassandra Pokoney recounts one of her more memorable tenting adventures - complete with sick rabbits, scavenging possums and a wind-ravaged tent.

I'M a big fan of tenting holidays. There is something so . . . earthy, about sleeping on the ground under not much more than a thick waterproof (hopefully) bedsheet, enjoying those delicious gourmet camping staples of tinned baked beans and spaghetti.

The sense of fun and adventure that comes from sleeping essentially outdoors more than makes up for the mosquitoes and lack of indoor plumbing.

As a child my family did not routinely go camping. Our annual holidays were spent in cabins at holiday parks where we ran wild, dressed all day in our swimming costumes and ate nothing but the mandatory summer menu of watermelon and apricots.

So it was a fairly big surprise when at the end of 1989 we were told we were going to be living in a tent.

"Living", as in selling and packing up our house, putting our gear in storage, and moving into a canvas home.

But not just any old tent. A giant marquee-type camo-coloured military-hospital style tent. Like the one used by Hawkeye and Trapper in M*A*S*H (don't judge me, I'm a child of the 80s - if we had lived in a GMC van I would have included an A Team reference)

Aged 11 , I was delirious with excitement. Growing up I was a bit of a dreamer, and the idea of camp fires and singalongs and hot dogs for breakfast filled my head. As I said, delirious.

All this took place in central New South Wales. In summer. Average temperature 40 degrees Celsius. With no electricity. So no air- conditioning.

But none of that mattered to my younger sisters and I. We were going to be living in a tent!

Before the child protectionists in our midst get antsy, there was actually a sound reason behind our parents' sudden thirst for adventure.

My parents were school teachers and as I remember it, had been told they were being transferred but the location had not been finalised.

The timeframe was tight - we sold our house at the end of the final school term and moved into the tent before Christmas.

Luckily, the house was sold to my uncle and we lived in the tent in his backyard for a while until the 40C days became a bit too much and we temporarily shipped out to our grandparents' lovely, cool, air-conditioned, fully plumbed house for Christmas.

But adventure still beckoned, and after Christmas we headed to the Snowy Mountains - cooler temperatures (he's a clever guy my dad) - and set up camp in a giant holiday park called Buckenderra on the shores of Lake Eucumbene.

My eight-year-old sister and I were in kiddy heaven. Hectares and hectares of grass to run around in and other kids everywhere. It remains, to this day, my favourite holiday.

I'm not sure exactly how long we stayed at Buckenderra. My head tells me it was months, but mum assures me it was only two weeks. I'm trusting her time estimation - she was pregnant during all of this and a homebody at the best of times. I don't think it was her favourite holiday.

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The trip was one endless adventure. There was no television, computer games, iPhones or iPads. We entertained ourselves, made our own games, kept ourselves busy.

We visited llama farms, trout farms, and the Snowy Mountain hydro scheme.

We saw snow up-close for the first time by going to the skifields.

One of the younger girls caught a rabbit with myxomatosis. Only two at the time, she has few memories of the holiday itself, but the rabbit story has stayed with her. Admittedly, it was probably the bath in disinfectant that mum made us all take afterwards that has really impacted on her.

Another sister still complains about getting into trouble after she set sail to her shoes by liberating them in an icecream bucket onto the lake.

We visited the Australian war memorial museum and Parliament House.

We had a New Year's disco with the other kids and were extremely cool in our fluoro bike pants and matching T-shirts.

We tried to catch yabbies in the lake - apparently yabbies don't really live in lakes, but no-one told us that at the time and we had a ball.

We shared our tent with an overly adventurous possum that decided our food box was an easy meal source for him. He was convinced otherwise by my frying-pan wielding father. (Dad didn't hit the possum; he banged the frying pan and lid together, sending the scavenger on its way)

I met a girl who shared the same birthday as me and we believed we would be best friends forever. I've never seen her since. I'm sure it's because her family was a bit posher than mine - they were staying in a caravan.

Our holiday ended when we returned to the campsite after an outing to find the tent on the ground, a giant and irreparable rip in its middle. Apparently the wind in the Snowy Mountains can rival Wellington. Our tent didn't stand a chance and so we packed ourselves up and headed off to our next adventure. Funnily enough, I can't remember a thing about that one.

Twenty-three years on we still talk about the holiday as if it were yesterday. There have been a few additions to the family since then - two more siblings, and now a few in the next generation. I have taken my own daughter on many camping holidays - we try to go at least once a year.

- The Southland Times

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