Gourmet camping meals – finding a balance

I read a post a few weeks ago about the brilliant spontaneity of campervanning, and the romantic freedom it gives you to drive off into the sunset at a moment’s notice.

It is possible, that the post appeared on my own blog.

I haven’t yet managed, 100 per cent, to put my very useful advice into practice.

Keeping a separate set of camping cutlery, I can do. Remembering to fill the water tanks the night before – fine. The one tiny step I fall down on is ‘throw some food in the fridge and you’re off’.

The trouble is, we’ve been so excited to go away in our campervan that we’ve treated every trip, even if we’re only staying down the road, as a mini holiday. Equally every meal that we can eat outside on a rug instead of at a dining table has become a picnic.

Of course, holidays and picnics are wonderful. But the reality does come with its own stresses.

Who wants to eat their every day cereal on holiday? It’s a time for treats! Smoked salmon and scrambled eggs. Grilled mushrooms on sourdough. Blueberry pancakes with maple syrup. Mmmmmm. And as soon as a packed lunch becomes a picnic, your rather pedestrian tuna sandwich and a KitKat are replaced with wicker hampers overflowing with wild rice salad and honey-glazed chicken.

But this was requiring an inordinate amount of planning and food preparation every Thursday before we left. The spontaneity was disappearing in a flurry of lists and pre-chopped crudités.

I once spent the night before frantically flicking through a recent issue of Gourmet Traveller for some inspiration. (I know Gourmet Traveller’s reputation isn’t founded on the quality of its camping recipes but who’s to say you can’t be more adventurous than a tuna sandwich just because you’re staying in a field?).

Anyway I thought I’d struck gold with the first article: a twist on the humble toastie. Perfect. The photos looked simple yet sophisticated. I started scribbling notes for the first recipe.

Unfortunately there is nothing humble about a Gourmet Traveller toastie.

Step 1. You will need to start this recipe two days in advance.

Two days??

For a toastie? Doesn’t that contradict the whole principle of toasties?

Maybe that was the twist.

It was the final straw and from then on, I decided to be very strict. For the next trip, I threw a few basics in the fridge and transferred our usual box of pantry ingredients into the campervan. There were no lists. No pre-mixed spicy chickpea burgers. No homemade organic lemonade. And the whole experience was much more relaxed. Almost spontaneous! Paul’s happiest moments of the whole weekend were when I produced cornflakes for breakfast and he found out lunch was a cheese and pickle sandwich.

As it happens, I am now writing an article for a magazine quite similar to Gourmet Traveller (similar in that it’s about travelling, dissimilar in that it’s about travelling in caravans), and the article is focused on quick and easy camping meals. So I am looking for inspiration.

Fellow campers, caravanners – what are your tips for your favourite camping recipes? Meals that don’t require too much forward planning and can be rustled up with just a few basics? I’ve already got cheese and pickle sandwiches!

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Campsite review: Cotton Tree Holiday Park, Maroochydore, Qld

I’m going to preface this review with the monumental declaration that Cotton Tree is, so far, our favourite campsite in Australia. <gasp!>

We weren’t planning to stay here, but the campsite we’d earmarked down the road in Mooloolaba was full when we arrived, so we carried on up the coast to Maroochydore.

This review is just our impression of the site. For full details about facilities and prices, visit the website here.

Where is it?
One of the nicest spots on the Sunshine Coast, Cotton Tree overlooks the beach where the Maroochy River meets the ocean. There is direct beach access from several points in the campsite; you’re greeted with crashing waves on one side, sheltered waters on the other and white sand all around. The Maroochydore Surf Club is only a five-minute walk away for great food and views, and there are a few cafes and shops just outside the front entrance of the site.


How was the site?
It’s huge! There’s a good mix of pitches and a few cabins. The premium waterfront sites are practically on the sand and surrounded by palm trees so get booked up very early, but any pitch around the perimeter has excellent beach access.

There are some large, modern washblocks and a couple of older ones, but they were all clean and well maintained. There are good laundry facilities and popular bbq areas.

You do pay for all this at $44 per night for a powered site, plus they ask for two $20 cash deposits on arrival for a key to the washblock and a boom gate card.

Who goes there?
Great for families, couples, silver nomads – any beach lovers will be in their element. Whether you think waves are for surfing, fishing or photographing, it’s a wonderful spot.

Verdict
Fab. Book well in advance!

Five best things about a weekend in a campervan

Back when we were building the campervan, I did wonder how we’d get on with the whole camping thing. Staying in caravan parks. Having to remember a key (or, even worse, a code) when you’re hopping from one foot to the other, desperate for the loo. Reliving memories from guide camp of wearing clothes still damp from the previous day’s downpour. Making awkward conversation with other bleary-eyed campers on the early morning walk to the shower block. Sand everywhere. Ants in the cornflakes.

I wasn’t sure such proximity to either nature or neighbours would improve a minibreak.

But, I have been converted! Granted, we are not proper camping. We’ve been lucky with the weather (better than the Peak District) and having our own bathroom – however tiny – makes a huge difference. As does having a husband whose new hobby is evacuating every grain of sand from the wooden floors.

I’m not quite ready to relinquish my subscription to the Best Hotel Guide, but campervan minibreaks are definitely growing on me.

Here are our five best things about spending a weekend in a campervan:

  1. It feels like a proper break. As soon as you leave the house – and with it the endless domestic chores that would otherwise consume your weekend – even an express 24-hour trip away feels like a mini-holiday. And arriving home on Sunday afternoon still leaves you enough time to do the important stuff before work on Monday.
  2. You are completely self sufficient. You can drive to the middle of nowhere and everything you could possibly need is in easy reach, in the little space behind you.

  3. You don’t have that sense of foreboding on going-home day. While the proper campers on the next pitch are up at 6am trying to dismantle their canvas empires and cram everything into a trailer before the storm clouds roll in (in the knowledge that they have reverse the entire process when they get home), we fold up the chairs, unplug the power and drive off. The downside to this that while we can make a quick exit, our pitch never looks quite as homely as our neighbours’. Perhaps I should add a few pot plants to my list of campervan essentials.
  4. Eating breakfast al fresco. We’re lucky in Brisbane that it’s warm enough to eat breakfast outside for nine months of the year. But somehow when you’re at home, walking five extra steps to unlock the back door while juggling your porridge always seems too strenuous first thing in a morning.
  5. It’s cheap! Okay, the initial outlay to buy or build a campervan / caravan is not cheap, but once you’re on the road, you hardly have to pay for anything. Luckily after nine months, it’s still a novelty to rustle up a meal in our little kitchen, so we rarely eat out and our only costs are petrol and camping fees.

So last weekend we went to Maroochydore on the Sunshine Coast. It was a beautiful weekend; the lifeguards were getting ready for the first patrol of the summer, so we spent most of our time on the beach watching the rescue boats zooming up and down.

We stayed at Cottontree Holiday Park which has the most perfect location backing onto the beach. Campsite review coming soon!

So, fellow campervanners and caravanners – what are your favourite aspects of camping?

What to pack in your campervan?

One of the most popular search terms to find this blog recently has been ‘what do I need in my campervan?’ I wrote a post a few months ago about 10 campervan essentials you need to pack for your first trip, but if you’re after a full list, here’s an inventory of pretty much everything we take for a weekend away. And because it’s always nice to have a nosy through other people’s cupboards, a few photos of how we store it all in a very small space.

Kitchen

Our main kitchen cupboard has three shelves, which we’ve lined with some rubber grip matting to stop things sliding around, and everything is stored in large plastic tubs. Some things stay in the campervan all the time, other things we move into the house when we’re not using them, so it’s much easier when they’re in boxes. One of the tubs acts as a mini pantry to keep all the (non-refrigerated) food together, meaning there’s less chance of finding a stray onion lurking at the back of the cupboard in 12 months’ time.

Cutlery

Colourful knives, forks, spoons

Two sharp knives

Bread knife

Speed peeler

Two tongs

Mini whisk

Serving spoon

Spatula

Can opener

Crockery

Two small plates

Two large plates

Two bowls (cereal or pasta)

Two mugs

Two large wine glasses (Saturday night)

Two small wine glasses (Sunday night)

Two water glasses

Pans and other utensils

Three saucepans (varying sizes)

Two frying pans (large for a fry-up, small for pine nuts)

Three thin chopping boards (probably one too many but they are very thin!)

Two tupperware tubs (handy to decant a large tin)

Mini colander

Stainless steel mixing bowl (useful for all sorts)

Small measuring jug (for mixing salad dressing or just measuring)

Miscellaneous

Whistling kettle

Kitchen towel

Oven glove

Place mats

Two tea towels

One hand towel

Two place mats

Napkins

Small picnic bag

Ice block

Thermos flask

Cleaning / utilities

Surface wipes

Jay cloth

Scourer

Washing liquid and dishwashing brush

Microfibre cloth (useful for everything)

Soap

Bin bags

Ziploc bags

Two green enviro bags (handy for a quick supermarket shop)

Living area / bedroom

Two pillows and pillow cases

Bottom bed sheet

Top bed sheet (summer)

Quilt and cover (winter – this stays out during the day)

Two towels (double up for beach/shower)

Clothes

We have one drawer for both our clothes, which didn’t seem much at first, but thankfully Paul is very economical with his packing so I can actually fit a lot in. I’m borrowing an idea that my brother-in-law uses for short family holidays, where everyone can fill just one shopping bag with clothes so they all fit neatly in the boot. I found a nice large M&S food bag does the trick.

We also have a narrow cupboard for shoes and flip-flops; jackets go over the backs of the driver/passenger seats.

Bathroom

There’s actually loads of space in the bathroom (relatively speaking, of course), plus we have two drawers and a cupboard in the vanity.

Toilet roll

Soap

Hand towel

Hand wipes

Sunscreen

Insect repellant

Citronella candle

Insect bite cream (always needed in spite of the above)

First aid kit

Large Cath Kidston wash bag (me), toothbrush (Paul)

Outside

Most of our big items are stored in the space behind the front two seats.

Two camping chairs

Folding camping table

Beach umbrella

Rug

Body board (stored in the bathroom)

Awning (attached to van)

Inflatable kayaks (there’s no storage for these so they stay outside)

Two life jackets (always kept in the bathroom cupboard, only used if we take the kayaks out, or if there were a HUGE flood, I suppose)

Entertainment

Most of this (and the miscellaneous items below) is stored at the front of the van, which is quite spacious and has a few cubby holes and glove boxes.

Playing cards

Travel Scrabble

Mini telescope

CDs

Portable speakers (for outside)

Cross stitch (still to be attempted)

Miscellaneous

Fire extinguisher

Sweeping brush

Window shades for driver/passenger windows (there are no curtains in the front of the van)

Sunshade for windscreen

Curtain tie-backs

Mini fan

Torch and batteries

Various chargers

Matches

No-peg washing line

Tissues

Map

Sat-nav

.

So here it all is!

Reading the list back we seem to fit a lot in. There’s an equally long list for food so I will cover that in a separate post. Is there anything I’ve forgotten??

How to add a touch of patriotism to your campervan

We’ve been neglecting the campervan a bit of late; the last few months have flown in an endless flurry of jubilee street parties and Olympic fever (not really, but it does explain the rest of the story).

One of the final jobs left in the campervan was to paint the inside back door in the bathroom white. But on our return from the UK a couple of weeks ago, where we’d been surrounded by a sea of patriotic memorabilia, this dull, wooden panel suddenly became a canvas of possibility. What are we doing painting it white?! Surely it is crying out for a union flag!

And while I’ve probably missed the boat in terms of celebrating this year’s fantastic Great British events, it still seemed a timely opportunity to add a little (more) red, white and blue to our now very colourful campervan.

Paul painted a couple of white undercoats on first, and we went to Bunnings to colour match the blue with that of the curtains, so it didn’t clash too much.

Union flag campervan

I marked out the flag with what Bunnings promised was the best painter’s masking tape available, copying the original from Wikipedia. It’s a pattern that often features in my meeting doodles but I’ve clearly never looked at it closely before because I didn’t even realise it’s not symmetrical. So it was a bit fiddlier than I thought, making sure the wide and narrow bits were in the right place. (n.b. the hole in the middle is deliberate – it’s where the door handle goes.)

Then it was just a case of painting the red and blue in the right spots, and praying that the masking tape would survive three coats of paint.

Union flag campervan

It didn’t… quite. I waited until everything had dried and pulled the tape off very gingerly, but it had bled through on most of the lines. Still, we think it can pass for a vintage look, and when you stand back in the van, it’s not too obvious.

Union flag campervan

Union flag campervan

Union flag campervan

Union flag campervan

A campervan retreat in the mountains: Montville and Maleny

The weather in Queensland has really cooled down recently. The last time we took the campervan away we were still basking in the late summer heat, but autumn has now crept up on us and Brisbanites are swapping board shorts and flip-flops for scarves and Ugg boots. Some days it’s even dipped below 20 degrees!

We felt justified pulling out our English thermals though last weekend, as we headed up to the Glasshouse Mountains, an hour north of Brisbane in the Sunshine Coast hinterland. It must be one of the most scenic parts of Queensland, particularly at this time of year when you get a hint of the autumnal colours that are absent along the coast.

It’s more like England than probably anywhere else I’ve been in Queensland, and in fact the Glasshouse Mountain range is so named because it reminded Captain Cook of the glasshouse furnaces in his native Yorkshire.

The mountains themselves have brilliant names, like Tibrogargan and Beerburrum. We made an unscheduled stop at Mount Beerburrum, enticed by a sign promising a short stroll to a spectacular lookout. It had the unexpected benefit fulfilling our exercise quota for a whole week, as the 700m path was at an almost vertical incline.

I stumbled across an internet forum the other day where enthusiastic bushwalkers post how quickly they complete various walks. Who knew it was such a competitive pursuit! I have not added our time, lest they think we crawled. Ahem.

Anyway the views were spectacular, and well worth the climb.

After a reviving packet of digestives back in the campervan, we continued to Maleny, which, along with Montville is one the main towns in the region. If your calves allow after your morning bushwalk, it’s a great place to mooch around rare book shops, local craft centres and organic grocers. Montville is more touristy but the main street is very appealing, with a number of little art galleries. After checking out a whole range of art and testing an abundance of fudge shops, we sat in a sunny café for the rest of the morning, enjoying a hot chocolate and some more stunning views.

Maleny happened to be hosting a famous wood expo that weekend, and seeing as it was also our fifth wedding anniversary (and I was keenly aware that if there’s ever an opportune time in one’s marriage to proffer a carved wooden gift, this was it) we thought it would be an appropriate activity. So we paid the $12 entrance fee (each!!) and went to watch some wood being chopped.

I’m not sure what I was expecting; people were proudly walking round with planks balanced over their shoulder and chopping boards tucked under their arm. But we didn’t need any planks and Paul has forbidden any more chopping boards so we made a meek exit and retreated, for what remains my favourite activity in the campervan: lunch!

Happiness is… a bowl of pasta with a gingham spoon

We found the nicest campsites were in the neighbouring village of Mapleton, and we stayed a night at two sites. It’s a different experience camping in the winter. We had a sliver of sun moving across our pitch in the afternoon, but when my deckchair started intruding on our neighbours’ scrabble game in my bid to capture the last bit of warmth, it was time to admit defeat and head inside. Once the sun disappeared from the site, the temperature dipped down to single figures, so we walked down the road to the Mapleton Tavern: the perfect country pub with a huge verandah overlooking the Blackall Range.

The campervan was surprisingly warm enough at night (the thermals and thick quilt helped), and once again made us very grateful that we were not under canvas!

Still, it will be nice to start wearing flip-flops again (without socks). Roll on summer!

Campsite review: Calypso Holiday Park, Yamba NSW

We did a lot of research into the best place to stay in Yamba. The Calypso is one of a few caravan parks scattered along the banks of the river, but it’s the one closest to the action. We were staying for three nights and wanted to set up camp for the whole weekend without having to move the campervan and all its paraphernalia whenever we ventured into town. Dismantling our awning is not for the faint-hearted!

This review is just our impression of the site. For full details about facilities and prices, visit the website: www.calypsoyamba.com.au.


Location, location, location

The location is ideal. Whether you’re in Yamba for surfing, fishing or simply exploring the coastline, the Calypso’s position next to the river is quiet, peaceful and within easy reach of the main attractions. A path runs along the river at the back of the campsite down to the beach, and then up to the lighthouse and Yamba lookout. There’s a handy Spar and a couple of takeaways at the front of the campsite, or it’s just a couple of minutes’ walk into the little town. Once you’ve exhausted Yamba, the campsite is right next to the ferry jetty and you can catch a boat to nearby Iluka several times a day.

How was the site?

It’s quite an orderly, regimented site hemmed on one side by regal looking lego trees and on the other, by the river. By late afternoon a sizeable crowd had gathered with a glass of wine to watch the sun set over the river – all very civilised. The pitches were a good size, although we didn’t get any natural shade. The washblocks were fine and usually empty. There were also some ensuite washrooms which didn’t seem to attach to a particular pitch, or if they did, there were a lot of people sneaking in.

Dining options in Yamba

It’s still a novelty cooking on gas in our campervan so we mostly celebrated the end of the salad era by serving up some hearty stews and soups.

There are a few takeaways near the site though, including the classic ‘Chick Inn’, and our caravanning neighbours cruelly wafted some pizza boxes under our noses as we sat and enjoyed our delicious… stew.

There’s a small strip of restaurants a short walk away opposite the Pacific Hotel, which were packed on the Saturday night we were there. We had a really nice dinner at the Yamba Bar & Grill which we’d definitely recommend – especially the desserts.

The food is meant to be good at the hotel as well; we had drinks there one afternoon. The views over Yamba are great, it’s just a shame you have to sit behind a glass wall to see them. Given Yamba (apparently) has the world’s best climate, a large outdoor terrace would be so much nicer than the current indoor seating area, which kind of reminded me of an old village hall – albeit with lovely views.

Who goes there?

We were traveling with two silver nomads so we fit in quite nicely, although we still shrank the average age somewhat. I think the other caravan parks in Yamba are more geared towards families with children so you might find the Calypso a bit quieter.

 

What about the mozzies?

Ah, yes. Mosquitoes like Yamba too. Most of the campsites pride themselves on being close to the river, so you’ll inevitably have to share your romantic sunsets with a few hundred buzzing locals. It wasn’t unbearable and I’ve been to far worse places along the east coast, but don’t forget the aerogard. And a fly swat. Or fish slice.

Verdict

There isn’t a lot to do in Yamba, but it’s good for fishing, surfing and chilling out – and all of that is very handy from the Calypso. The site was well maintained and the atmosphere was friendly. Next time we’ll take some rods and bait and try and put that fish slice to better use.