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Think Before you Pitch

Words by Alexandra Dunsford-White

Choosing the wrong spot to set up camp can lead to a miserable night, or nights, and can set the mood for the rest of your holiday, too. A great camping experience is born of a number of factors, some of them providential and others completely beyond your control. But, the good news is that there are a few factors you can manage – and one of the most important is where you choose to pitch your camp. After all, there’s nothing worse than spending valuable relaxation time (and daylight) unpacking, setting up and settling into your new environment, only to discover that you’ve picked a dud spot minutes after you’ve cracked open your first cold one – or worse yet, in the middle of the night when there’s nothing you can do about it!

So, what should you consider before you set up camp? We’d say good things to consider are comfort, solitude, scenery and environmental-impact. But, regardless of the type of camping trip you are planning (whether in a tent, caravan or motorhome,) or where you plan on going, the rules for choosing the ideal camping spot remain essentially the same. Take a look at our tips below to help you get pitched perfectly the next time you venture into the great outdoors.

Certain campsites may not offer many choices of camping spots, depending on the size of the campsite and the time of year. Sometimes − especially during peak season when campsites are booked up with campers − you will be allocated a spot. In either of these cases, you just have to go with the flow and make the most of what you’ve been given. A little forethought (in doing your research on the resort you are staying at) would make sure that the campsite already meets your standards.

If you do get a choice to pitch where you want to, spend a little time asking around. Don’t be afraid to take advice from other campers who are more familiar with the campsite − they may tell you that the perfect-looking pitch you have spotted is actually one that floods regularly with heavy rain – and, boy, will you be glad you asked!

When considering a campsite or resort, think about its geographical location and whether it is down in a valley, on top of a ridge, or half-way in between. Campgrounds at the bottom of valleys can be colder during the day (especially in the morning) because of the lack of sun, and can be damp, and subject to ground fog. Sites on top of mountains or hills can be more exposed to weather extremes, such as heavy winds. Therefore, sometimes finding a spot in the middle is best – sheltered from the wind, but still high enough to enjoy some sunlight, and offering a bit of a view, too.

Find out where the ablution blocks are located. You want to be close enough to walk to them in the middle of the night without traipsing across the entire resort in the darkness. But you also don’t want to be so close that you hear the toilets flush every time somebody pays a visit. And you need to find out if they are pit or flush toilets first – you definitely don’t want to be anywhere near pit toilets on a sweltering summer day!

Ask about fires at the campsite – are there individual fire pits, and/or communal braais, or can you bring your own braai along with you? Some campsites don’t have individual fire pits at each camping spot, so being close to the communal braai area could make mealtimes a bit easier for you – for starters, you wouldn’t have to schlep all your cooking utensils across the campsite. However, when you’re trying to catch a few winks at night and there’s a group having a lekker kuier around the braai until late at night, you could lose your sense of humour very quickly. Not to mention the effect of being smoked out if the wind blows in the wrong direction!

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