The cost of camping

HEART OF THE HOLIDAY: This set up will cost about $1650: Chilly bin $199; table $79.95; stove $269.95; gas bottle (4kg) $89.95; pole lamp $84.95; billy $9; coffee maker $99.95; folding chairs (adult) $119, (kiddie) $39.95; plates $8.95; cups $8.95; stretcher $179; sleeping bag $299; first-aid kit $44.
HEART OF THE HOLIDAY: This set up will cost about $1650: Chilly bin $199; table $79.95; stove $269.95; gas bottle (4kg) $89.95; pole lamp $84.95; billy $9; coffee maker $99.95; folding chairs (adult) $119, (kiddie) $39.95; plates $8.95; cups $8.95; stretcher $179; sleeping bag $299; first-aid kit $44.

If recessionary pressures have forced you to reconsider your summer holiday plans, why not go camping? Mum, dad and the kids under canvas in a pretty spot, fresh fish on the barbie, cold drinks in the chilly bin - apart from the retro romance of the whole camping caper, surely it's still the economical option.

Even if airfares are diving, it'll still cost you about a grand a head to get over the Tasman and back. Book a bach at any popular beach in the North Island, and you'll be paying between $100 and $1000 a night. Then there's the Big Family Roadtrip around the South Island. Take into account the price of a return ferry crossing with the family car - $640-$800, if there are any berths left - petrol at $100 a tank, and the costs of accommodation and food on the way up . . . holidaying looks expensive.

Camping doesn't have to be a sardines-in-a-tin-affair. Holiday camping differs from lightweight tramp- camping when you have to carry all you require. Holiday campers assume you can drive to your campsite, which opens the door to Gear Heaven. Everything that fits in the boot, the trailer, the rooftop box or the boat will probably be useful on camp.

But first there is the tent. And then there are tents with rooms. You'd hope that people could leave their property aspirations back in the 'burbs, but tent envy is alive and well, and pup-tent campers are graduating through the Escape Trio at $999.95 to the Riverside, $1999.95, and beyond - to the Homestead Deluxe at $3499.95.

Down at Dwights camping specialist store in Wellington, John Whitley says he's noticed that camping has been through a renaissance since the recession kicked in last summer. Rather than an offshore holiday, or a trip to Australia, mums and dads are taking the kids to Taupo or the Coromandel for a camping holiday, and "once they get the taste for it, they're hooked". Giving the kids what they had in their childhood, and getting them away from the Playstation into a healthy environment has a real appeal, he says.

While you can spend a fortune on creating the ideal, all-mod-cons campsite, a camping holiday still represents great value. "When you compare it with the cost of a motel for a family for a similar number of nights, it's cheap."

Whitley has customers who stalk the shelves twice a week, every week, and gradually build up a stock of gear - much of which will last a lifetime and be given to the grandchildren.

The heart of a good camp is the tent. Dwights sold out of dome and canvas tents in their October expo and have had to order more. Their dedicated factory in China builds tents that are strengthened and double-poled for New Zealand's often windy conditions and produces tents to suit all sizes and budgets. These range from a little $99 two-person summer tent for a night in the dunes, through the most popular two ($699) and three-room ($999) dome tents to the palatial Homestead Deluxe ($3499). That tent has two bedrooms each side of a central living area, a veranda, roll-up walls and room for eight people. Don't forget spare guy ropes and pegs, a mallet and the indispensable ball of twine.

Once the tent is erected, says Whitley, it's the accessories that make it a comfortable place to stay. Bedding ranges from puncture-proof, inflatable, baffled, queen-size airbeds ($70+) to closed-cell mattresses ($30+) or camp stretchers (from around $150), and sleeping bags range from $100-$500.

A gas-powered stove ($199-$499) and pole lanterns ($89) make meal times and evenings civilised, and clean, flat surfaces for food prep and eating are indispensable. Cool storage can be provided by ice-chilled chilly bins ($99-$349) or even a gas-powered fridge ($600+), while solar showers ($15+) mean you can avoid washing downstream from that herd of cows you didn't know about, til it was too late.

And if you just can't leave those domestic chores behind, a hand-cranked washing machine ($99.95) can manage small loads, and a shovel and brush (next-to-nothing) will make sure the sand stays on the beach. As Camp Father always says, a tidy camp is a happy camp.

Forgotten anything?

Dwights has compiled this handy camping checklist to make sure you and your camp companions don't want for anything. Many of these household items can be given a holiday from the kitchen drawers and dusted off from last summer's outing, but don't leave home without giving most of them the big tick.

Tent: Tent-canvas/dome. Additional guy ropes and tent pegs. Mallet.

Camping kitchen: Gas cooker. Barbecue. Gas bottle and fittings. Matches/lighter. Table and chairs. Chilly bin and water container. Ice/ice packs. Plates, cups, cutlery, bowls. Billy, frying pan, pots. Tongs, corkscrew, can and bottle opener. Paper towels and rubbish bags. Bucket, detergent and brush. Tea towels and dish cloth.

Camping bedroom: Air beds/inflatable mats and pump. Stretchers. Sleeping bags and pillows. Airbed repair kit.

Camping Accessories: First-aid kit. Insect repellent. Gas light and spare mantles. Torch and batteries. Candles. Toilet paper. Raincoat, sunhat and beanie.

List supplied by Dwights Outdoors


Motorhome and Camping Atlas Complete guide to more than 1200 camping grounds and caravan parks. Includes motorhome dump stations, rest areas, and the complete Hema Touring atlas of New Zealand. It is A4, spiral-bound, and includes GPS co-ordinates and pet friendly sites. $34.90.

The New Zealand Camping Guide: a freshly researched listing of every camp in the country with an overview of most. A portable version of the active site.

The Dominion Post