If Huck Finn could float down the Mississippi on a couple of logs lashed together to resemble a raft, then I reckon two adults and a preschooler can manage a holiday tent camping in the Coromandel.

My wife found us a vintage, canvas structure on Trademe, roughly the same size as our North Shore flat. We picked it up, and to the surprise of its previous owners, we loaded it into our Vitz boot. Eager to work out the bugs in our plan, we did a test set-up when we got home. Noodle, then aged two and ten months, and apparently dissatisfied with the structure’s single entrance, proceeded to tear a hole in the back wall and walked straight through. A bit of duct tape later, plus a new coat of waterproof sealant, and we felt good as new heading out of Auckland.

If you can afford the luxury of a test run, by all means do so and get the kids involved. With a two year old in tow, we wanted things to go off without a hitch, so a successful set-up, break down, and packing seemed a reasonable preparation for departure. The thing is, if the element of surprise gets the upper hand you might find yourselves huddled and damp under a pohutukawa rather than sprawled regally in your portable palace. And that’s no way to introduce a little boy to the wonders of tent camping. Concise plans are well and good, but we know that with kids around, those best laid can collapse into chaos, lickety split. You can’t stop what’s comin’, some say, but you can surely brace yourself.  A test drive, or a test pitch I suppose, might make the trip before the toddler gets a chance to break it.

hot-water-beach-shelterYou’ll never loosen every kink in the plan, and I can recommend that in times of trouble, toddler tearing left and right through a half-built camp, remember that kids’ car seats have five point restraint. That fact might come in handy, though anything that inspires steady amusement will suit. Of course, if Huck Finn had an iPad, the adventure would have stopped short before the river, no doubt. So I also recommend stripping down your habits as well as your housing on a good old fashioned camping trip. Half the fun is figuring out what to do and bending to the curves in the road.

Perhaps the best part of camping is that you’ll be giving the kids their own glory days. They’ll climb trees, race trails through the bush, watch a rising tide wipe out castles, and they might even dig holes all the way to the UK. If that’s not enough, there’s soccer and cricket, rugby and frisbee, kite flying and surfing. No doubt we’re lucky enough to live in a place that offers a life like this. So live, I say! Live like a kid. The thing about glory days, I find, is that every day is someone’s. While you craft stand-out times for the whole family, don’t forget they’re yours too.

We took the long way round the Hunua Ranges and the Firth of Thames and wound up at a holiday park near Hot Water Beach. We picked a hot-water-beach-campground (2)place with full facilities, figuring the little guy would appreciate it – but the truth is that it was just as much for us, what with this rickety old tent that we still didn’t entirely trust. The glamour of vintage canvas aged quickly. We pitched the beast, patched up the new holes, gave the stakes a couple of kicks, the ropes a couple of tugs, and headed out through the mangroves to the beach.

It was easy enough to find the hot spot: follow the steam to the people then to the one or two unoccupied thermal patches. We worked our way into a spot along side some other folks with a kid, figuring they’d understand whatever trials and tribulations our youngster would unfold in the sand. We borrowed a spade since we cleverly neglected to bring either our own or the deposit to rent one at the café nearby. Our boy immediately removed all of his clothes and started digging furiously on and around the makeshift walls that split one family from another. And so the tribulations unfolded quickly. If I could have gotten away with it though, I probably would have done the same; can’t slight a boy that.

Next day was a rainy tramp down to Cathedral Cove. Well, truth be told, that was the plan, but we didn’t make it quite that far before the deluge hit. Rain wasn’t part of the plan. We hunkered down in Stingray Bay for a short bit, huddled under a raincoat and umbrella, snacked on a couple of bags of raisins and peanuts that we had packed in. The boy ran around and got soaked by the weather and the bay. Regardless of the state of the sky, he was not going home dry.

We were clever this time: we brought our “baby backpack.” He’s not a baby anymore, and it’s not really a backpack – it’s one of these click-strap contraptions that secures a child to your body, come what may, including the inevitable long-and-drooling nap just past high noon.

We find that we can take him nearly anywhere while he’s connected to one of us – to the top of Rangitoto, down and up Fairy Falls in the Waitakeres, around the geothermal wonderland of Orakei Korako near Taupo – he goes where we go. I typically take him on the uphill leg of a trek, just because my knees prefer it. We both prefer that he walk under his own power of course, and when we’re not particularly concerned about quadrupling the length of our excursion, we let him have his way (I’m not one to squash a near-three-year-old’s curiosity if he’s compelled to flip over every rock and name every critter on the track. It’s his prerogative; it’s his glory day).

hot-water-beach-sunset (2)Back at camp, there are cooking facilities, but the place is near full in this holiday season. So, we cook atop a burner threaded to a propane cylinder, spread out a few sandwiches, and munch on what’s left of the raisins and peanuts as the sun sets. We’ve got a wind-up lantern that the boy could fiddle with for hours – which in grown-up time equates to approximately three minutes – hanging from the middle of the stack of canvas and poles that still resembles a tent after a couple of days under a two year old’s stress. Under its light we play card games, vroom a few toy trucks that made their way with us, and read him to sleep.

A couple more days of adventure and we break camp. We feel like seasoned pros now, and the flat-sized monstrosity is tucked back into the car in about thirty minutes. Before nightfall, we’ll duplicate the whole thing on the west side of Lake Rotorua. It’s Christmas holidays and we’ve got a lot of ground to cover.

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Brian Sorrell has worked as a cook, typist, computer programmer, woodworker, bicycle repairman, and university lecturer, all of which inadequately prepared him for his current full-time role as Dad. In February 2012, the family packed up their house in California and relocated to Auckland, where he now specialises in chasing his always-on-the-run son, drinking coffee, and recording his adventures at Dadding Full Time

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David Glidden

A stupendous adventure that makes us Californians envious! I once went backpacking with our toddler daughters in the Sierra Nevada where we experienced the highest winds recorded in the Ansel Adams wilderness. The kids had a great time, but when the tent became airborne with me in it, I dreamt of Disneyland’s alternative Adventure Land. May your excursions with Noodle continue exploring NZ Paradise.

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