Going camping is all about immersing yourself in the elements. The sun, the sea, wandering through the forest and sleeping under the stars. But how do you keep the family entertained when you really are stuck out in the elements?
Our last road trip took ran slightly off course when we headed into a huge rainstorm on our third night. We had planned to stay two nights at Wooleen Station before heading north to Mount Augustus and Kennedy Range National Parks. However, Mother Nature had other plans for us. 42mm of rain over the weekend flowed into the mighty Murchison River, filling the previously dry river channel to almost overflowing in a matter of days. The floodways along the roads surrounding the station all flooded, some under as much as 6m of water, and the shire closed all unsealed roads (which is all of them in that area). We were not going anywhere in a hurry! Not that we minded. We had perhaps our most enjoyable family camp trip watching the landscape of the Murchison transform with the life-giving water.
We ended up camping at Rocky Outcrop campsite, a secluded but spacious location 7km from Wooleen Homestead for six nights. With no other families to play with, no television or mobile service, and only enough battery power to run the fridge and some LED lights, we made our own fun. This is what camping road trips are all about though; being away from the trappings of modern life and truly connecting with one another and with nature.
Would you believe that we did not once feel bored? And more importantly, it seems neither did our two year old Maddie. I have come up with a list of fun and free ways to keep the whole family entertained on a rainy day at camp.
Get out in the rain
Is there anything that toddlers and children love more than splashing in puddles? Absolutely Not! Assuming you’re camping somewhere other than the Great Sandy Desert, you probably brought some wet weather gear with you. Even when least expected, it can be a good idea to throw some gum boots and at least one of those cheap plastic rain ponchos in the car.
The beauty of camping is that it doesn’t matter if the kids get a bit of dirt on their hands and face, or everywhere for that matter. They can have a wonderful time splashing around wearing themselves out, and when they’re done, everyone is back inside to warm up with a blanket and mug of hot chocolate. Those are some really happy childhood memories forming right there.
Other fun hikes that come to life after a rain storm
- Kitty’s Gorge Trail, Serpentine
- Marrinup Falls, Dwellingup
- Chasing Waterfalls on the Cape to Cape Track
Explore your campsite
I mean really explore your campsite. We have camped at Rocky Outcrop before and have walked around the rim of the rugged escarpment many times. However, with several days of nothing but free time we really had a good look around. We discovered a cacophony of small caves and ‘windows’ through the red rock. In one we even found a dingo carcass! In others we saw evidence of bats so kept our eye out at dusk to see if we could spot them heading off on their night time pursuit for food.
The large lizard (probably a goulds monitor or perente) that frequented our campsite at night during our first visit to Wooleenwas clearly still around. We discovered his tracks in the dirt a short way away and followed them to the small bush dunny that we presumed he called home.
It is amazing what you find, and the things you must have overlooked, when you really spend time somewhere.
Go for a hike
Cars may be downgraded to really expensive lawn ornaments when all the roads are closed, but there is nothing stopping us using our good ol’ legs to get about. We had spotted another large monolith about a kilometre away and wanted to head over and check it out.
Usually I would issue precaution about wandering about off trail, but with the land between being flat as a pancake with sparse desert bush, we were not concerned about loosing our bearings. Also, we had chatted many times with our station hosts about exploring further from our camp, and how it is possible to meet up with the long bike/hike trail so we knew we weren’t breaking any rules. When camping or hiking anywhere, it is important to respect the guidelines and stick to approved paths.
We timed our short hike for just before sunset. A round trip of around an hour and a half (because toddlers move very slowly and stop to look at everything) took us past some now-dry creeks and masses of enormous quartz crystals to a large granite outcrop. Small pools still collected in the crevices and depressions on the monuments surface. Maddie busied herself throwing small rocks in to create ripples and splashes.
We walked back to our own elevated vantage point to watch the sunset behind the monolith we had just scaled. What a beautiful and serene way to end the day.
For some more great hikes starting at campsites read The Best Family-Friendly Hikes in Wellington National Park, Collie.
Get to know your neighbours (if you have any)
Holiday parks are great for their abundance of activities, facilities and other families to play with. If bad weather puts your day trip plans on hold, there are plenty of people around to pass the time with.
However, if you are a big fan of national park or remote camping like us, you may be part of a much smaller camp community. We may have been the only guests at Wooleen Station, but that gave us the chance to get to know station owners Francis and David more. It is always fascinating to learn about a different way of life; hearing about what they love about the outback, and the history of the station. Everyone at Wooleen has a keen focus on sustainable agriculture and eco-tourism. You can read all about their efforts and innovations here.
Play puzzles – bring out that box of toys from the car
In my post 13 Tips for Happy Toddler Road Trips I mentioned stocking up on toys and books at a charity shop before you head out. The beauty of this is that the toys are cheap and when the little ones inevitably get bored of them, you can just donate them back to another charity shop and stock up again. When the rain is pouring and you really cannot leave the tent, it might be time to bring out the toy arsenal.
Do a treasure hunt
No one has more imagination than a child and [thankfully] this means they are often kept busy with the simplest of things. Create a list of ‘treasures’ such as leaves, gum nuts, quartz crystals, fallen flowers that you wish them to collect and set off on your own family quest.
Camping and wildlife are synonymous and this offers so many exciting and educational activities. Who needs a nature documentary when you can watch it all from the window of your tent?
Roughly scribble a few species that you know frequent the area on some paper or scrap cardboard. Make sure everyone has a slightly different set of creatures. You can either watch from the tent or go for a walk ticking off the emus, parrots and lizards as you go.
Become an Amateur Naturalist
Many of the great explorers of the past were naturalists. From Charles Darwin and his observations of finches in the Galapagos Steve Irwin and David Attenborough, their work continues to inspire us.
Promote your children to the responsible position of Expedition Naturalist and ask them to sketch and describe the plants and animals they see. Using the example of birds, ask them to see if they can identify the species in a bird book. Does the bird have, for example, a long pointy beak for picking insects out of wood, or claws for catching mice?
This is a great exercise for either keen artists or curious children and is a fun and creative way to practice those observation and patience skills.
Here are some more fun science activities you can try:
Draw/paint with the natural materials you find
One thing about that fine, red outback dust is that the red colour sticks around for ages. Try getting that out of your car carpets! You’ll be finding it for months! But the up side is that some of that fine sediment mixed with a little water makes a wonderful paint. What other natural materials can you locate around camp to draw or paint with?
If you have had a campfire, the charred ends of burned sticks make great pencils. Just be sure that the fire is completely out and the sticks hold no heat!
If you didn’t pack a note pad or paper you can always rip up the cardboard packaging of cereal or crackers and draw on the inside.
Create a natural material collage
After collecting all your gum nuts and leaves on the treasure hunt, you can use your stash to create a natural material collage. We downloaded an activity pack from Gumdots before we set off which included an illustration of a bilby. However, a rough sketch of any animal will do. Simply use your collection of natural bits and bobs to ‘colour’ it in.
I highly recommend purchasing one of these activity packs before you leave home. They are inexpensive yet hours of fun and as they are all A4 printables, they take up no space whatsoever. check them out here.
Observe how the landscape and wildlife change
In my post about the transformation of the Murchison Region after the first rains of the season I described how much bird life returned within just a few days. Finches and kingfishers appeared as if from nowhere, and a mass of vivid blue dragonflies danced across the newly filled lake. Even saplings and grasses sprung up from the damp ground within just a matter of days.
It is quite remarkable just how quickly the environment responds to a change in conditions. No matter where you are you can observe the different animals that seem to favour the different environment. This is another great project for older children, hopefully fostering an appreciation for nature and respect for our eco-systems.
Remember to pack
- Sketchbook or notepad
- Gumdots activity A4 printables
- Rain jacket or poncho
- Plenty of imagination
So there you have it; 11 ways to keep yourself and your kids entertained if you encounter some precipitation while camping. After all, there may be drizzle outside but its not going to rain on your parade.
Do you have some suggestions to add? Or do you have a story of a time your trip didn’t go quite to plan thanks to some heavy weather? We’d love to hear from you. Please comment below or send us an email via our contact page.