Some opt for baches but others see camping as the only way to go, writes Ben Taylor.
There are two polarised schools of thought on camping: love and hate. Those in the former overlook the inconvenience and lack of comfort to enjoy a change of pace in an often beautiful environment. Those in the latter focus on the inconvenience and lack of comfort and happily pay for an alternative.
The two key elements in the equation are beautiful places and cost. The scale of payment is often the dividing line. Those with the means to own or hire yachts or baches have easy access to fabulous holiday locations sans camping.
Those without can still access many of the same stunning locations at a very reasonable cost. There are also many idyllic spots accessible only to campers.
Camping is egalitarian, levelling the playing field and giving access to some of New Zealand's most beautiful places, which runs to the core of what many Kiwis hold dear about living here.
Our family is definitely in the "love it" group. Arriving at our annual camping spot last year, our youngest piped up from the back seat, "Oh I remember this place, Dad. This is my favourite week of the year."
We have been fortunate enough to stay beside a lake on a farm with four other families over the past 10 years. For the kids, it's a week of unrestrained activity and freedom.
Waterskiing, biking, sailing, swimming, fishing and paddleboarding take up part of their day. But outside of these family activities, there's total free play where kids have to fill the void of the day with their own creations, including bike jump building, hut making, eel trap devising, sand castles and multiplayer, stick-gun enabled, war games.
For parents, the day is pleasantly long and, as the kids are occupied, we have time for activities interspersed with periods of reading and relaxation until gin o'clock, a camping tradition that perfectly suits summer days.
All this is great when the sun is shining, the wind light and the temperature warm. A thin barrier of canvas is quite appropriate for such conditions. Part of being in the outdoors and closer to the environment is that its effects are felt more sharply, in contrast to being at home. When the barometer drops we become keenly aware of that exposure.
We have experienced full weeks of rain, hurricane-force, tent-destroying winds, and bitter southerly storms with sleet and snow halfway down the surrounding hills, with 6-month-old twins. Some forge a retreat, others develop fortitude and perseverance, overcoming these challenges with cards, reading, rain jacket-adapted outdoor activities and an earlier happy hour.
All true campers will be able to regale with tales of such adversity yet most come back each year. Like a good kids' movie, triumph over adversity sells well. Often the good things in life are hard won. Those smugly tucked up in their baches and berths are devoid of these opportunities. More fool them.
But the camping holiday is not all beer and skittles. It requires work, organisation and fortitude. The big job of planning, packing, travelling and set-up and the only somewhat less arduous packdown, return journey and unpack, bookend a week of a relative zen-like holiday state where the big questions each day are what are we going to do, what are we going to cook and do we need more ice for the gins.
The tent is a marvel of engineering simplicity. It provides lightweight, portable, flexible access to one of the essentials of life: shelter. As we all descended from nomads, tents are likely to have been used by our ancestors — bach owners included. The first tents discovered were from Russia in about 40,000BC and made out of mammoth skin.
Although shelter construction techniques have moved on, tents are often still used where we are pushing out from the boundaries of civilisation. They are still the primary habitat for explorers and adventurers, from Antarctica to the Sahara.
Your local beach campground may not be exactly intrepid but it is still usually on the fringes of somewhere wild and the tent is the perfect sanctuary.
Tents are nearly as varied as the humans they encapsulate. From the one-man bivvy bag of mountaineers, to multi-room monstrosities, most preferences can be accommodated.
The camping experience can be defined by what else makes it into the boot or trailer. A simple air mattress and sleeping bag can sometimes give way to a full made-up bed complete with wardrobe, and rugs on the floor.
The kitchen can vary from a simple gas cooker and pot, to full six-burner barbecue, hot running water, and gas fridges. Other more upmarket peripherals observed include marquee common area, portable spa pool, solar-powered lighting system and generator-powered sound systems.
Like the hardware, the places people like to camp cover a huge range. Some like the wilderness experience of secluded beaches, river valleys or mountain tops. Many like the safety of company and are happy to have only two thin layers of material and a couple of metres between them and other sleeping strangers. The sharing of place and experience in a camping community can create lifelong friendships and even some marriages, particularly among those who return year after year.
There seems to always be a price to pay for getting closer to nature, in money and forgone comforts. But choose your style and a place that you really want to spend time at and go camping. You never know, it may become your favourite week of the year.