Helen van Berkel is well prepared for a camping weekend with teens at Martins Bay and takes everything but the plastic box.

Preparedness, willingness to learn and the ability to herd cats are the keys to camping successfully with teenagers.

The weekend away revolved around a camping/surfing trip to Tawharanui Regional Park, north of Auckland. I had GrabOne vouchers and a teen daughter keen to surf. Then she wanted to bring a friend. Sure. Which friend? I didn't care, as long as she was a good girl. And a girl. We ended up with two extras. Plus their mum. Plus a cousin. But I was prepared: my three-room tent was designed for inevitable hangers-on.

So, on a hot, sunny weekend we loaded the car with a shocking amount of luggage and headed to Martins Bay, on the Mahurangi East peninsula. Although we'd picked our weekend perfectly, our site was ankle-deep in mud after previous rain and, the campground being full, we had to sling up our tent as far back on the site as possible to avoid the quagmire. Fortunately, I was prepared for that, and a blue path of plastic floor squares gave us a relatively dry entry to our Kiwi paradise.

Pitching a tent is a true test of the depths of your love for your nearest and dearest. I have been known to threaten violence with tent poles so have instituted a no-talking rule. We lay out the tent, assemble the poles and put them where they have to be, place the pegs in place and silently put it all together. Voila. No screaming hissy fits or phone calls to CYFS.


High-fived, stretchers made, pillows plumped, kitchen unpacked, solar shower filled and heating, table and chairs unfolded, cutlery and melamine in their place, lanterns hung and we were ready to relax.

Teens will immediately disappear to explore (i.e. search for other teens) — and I was well-prepared for that: book, deckchair, sun hat and a lovely glass of something chilled. But if I had tired of doing nothing — I didn't — Martins Bay also offered mild waves to paddle in, sandy shores to wander, spreading pohutukawa for shade.

A short drive away is the Scott Homestead, or Tawharanui Regional Park's surf, or the foodie haven of Matakana.

Mealtimes are a military operation. Teenagers rounded up, food collected and cooking utensils gathered, it was time to head off to the kitchen, stopping on the way to pick up a fallen chop and blow the gravel and grass clippings off it, retrieve the dropped tea towel, returning to pick up the forgotten spatula, reclaim the cup I hadn't noticed dropping on my first trip and returning once again for a serving plate for the cooked food.

I watched in envy as more organised campers opened neat plastic storage boxes and, with a stage-magician flourish and a puff of smoke, pulled out plates, cups, knives, pots, dishwash, dishbrush, dishrack, cleaning cloths, table cloths, silver serving platters, spice racks, Nigella Lawson cookbooks, lemon squeezers, avocado keepers, oven mitts and a runcible spoon. Next time, I will be that organised, envied person.

After dinner at our site and, teenagers rounded up again, the solar shower had heated up enough that the girls had hot water to clean up at my portable kitchen sink. Genius.

Martins Bay is a family site and any potential rowdiness is curtailed immediately; we were kicked out of the rec room bang on 10.30pm: lights out! — mid a hand of Uno. Unfortunately, the swamp below our tent floor worsened and camp management came with more plastic squares, tractor-loads of sand and stretches of artificial turf. The great mud bath became quite the camp attraction and fellow campers dropped by with helpful advice and sympathy — and the frustrating news that the site behind us was empty after a motorhome got stuck and moved to a new site. The site, although unsuitable for a camper weighing a tonne or two, could have housed our tent, instead of leaving us with yards of nylon and a box full of plastic floor squares caked in mud that took days to scrub.

But, hey, we rationalised after only a short burst of incandescent fury, a little mud is part of the Great Kiwi Camping Holiday. And I learned my lesson: next time I'll have a roll of artificial turf. And a plastic box for kitchen stuff.