1. Plan and prepare ahead.
On a recent camping trip, our children made friends with a three-year-old boy, Abel, from the tent next door. At 8.00 pm, Abel, dressed in his lightweight bushwalking gear mirroring his parents’ outfits, came running to our tent, excitedly jumping and asking my children to go with him on a night walk with his family. Abel’s parents, with apologetic smiles, gently led him away. Andrew and I discussed a walking plan as we hastily stuck citrus-smelling insect repellent patches on our clothes. It was our first night camping beyond our backyard so we were open to adventure. We decided to perhaps follow the path Abel’s family took.
Bad idea. As I saw Abel’s family’s flashlights grow smaller in the distance, Andrew and I had to go back three times to pick up what we thought at the time were essentials. The first trip was to get the camera. The second was to get a long sleeve shirt for one of the kids. The third time was to get another set of headlamps. In hindsight, we should have brought water and our first aid kit. We abandoned our plan to follow in the footsteps of Abel’s super organised and experienced night-walking family and settled instead on walking along a dirt road leading from one campsite to another.
2. Bring light, but be prepared to turn it off.
As Andrew came back with a headlamp for me, I thought we were winning at this night walking business. I can have one child on each hand and light the way for Andrew to take photos.
I switched the headlamp on. I immediately felt tiny soft bodies kissing my face which after a few minutes turned into a swarm invading my nasal cavities. I let go of the children as I fumbled for the switch, two kids screaming for me to turn the light back on, Andrew bumping into my back in the pitch-black trail. It took me a few more goes of turning the headlamp on and frantically waving before my son decided to use his flashlight, distracting the insects away from my face. We used the lights as we walked the path. As we reached an open clearing, we turned the lights off to gaze at the sky hoping to catch a glimpse of any remnants of the Leonids meteor shower that peaked earlier that week. Away from all the suburban lights, the cloudy sky yielded patches of celestial specks but no meteors.
3. Learn more about the local wildlife you might encounter. Before or after the trip.
Andrew and I knew there would be a lot of kangaroos and wombats in the area. My daughter rolled her eyes as I informed her of this abundance as we drove in that afternoon, no doubt unimpressed by the staple wildlife at Australian zoos. My son on the other hand was entranced by the kangaroos feeding lazily at the open clearings. He photobombed many a campers’ photos as he ran towards kangaroos, hoping to pat and feed them like he does at zoos. Of course, being wild, the kangaroos merely eyed his advances wearily as I watched a few steps back in case a kangaroo accidentally landed a kick on their pesky little stalker trailing behind them.
As darkness fell, my daughter’s world was opened to a new way of appreciating the local wildlife. We heard low growling sounds as we stood near a patch of peeling gum trees waiting for our turn to use the pit toilet. At a wooden bridge, we turned our lights off and yielded to the sounds of soft trickling of water punctuated by croaking. On our way back to our tent, ears well-adjusted to nocturnal sounds, the reassuring cicada hum was occasionally pierced by angry territorial screaming made by the local wombats, which continued well until dawn.
4. Walk the track during the day.
Andrew and I resorted to skewering the marshmallows using unused tent pegs wrapped with tissue at the base and preparing our treats over my dad’s Korean hotpot stove. Our children eagerly grabbed a tent peg each and propped themselves by the stove, intently watching the initial crackling ignition then retrieving their treat as they watched and blew on the slow sugary burn as Andrew had demonstrated to them. “I don’t like it,” my son concluded with a wrinkled expression. My daughter was of the same view but this did not stop both children roasting more marshmallows then offering it to Andrew and me.
As we lay awake in our tent shortly after, we went through our family routine of recounting what we were thankful for that day. My son was thankful for the kangaroos, my daughter for meeting a new friend, Andrew for the weekend away, and myself for being with my family. We listened to the drone of voices from the other campers nearby before we fell asleep. At 2.00am, my son started screaming for milk. We didn’t bring any. But that’s another story.