How to go camping in the tropics and survive
It’s hot, sticky and your kale is perishing faster than an ice-cube in a hot buttered rum. And keeping your salad perky is only one job on your camping in the tropics survival list. You also need to ensure your gear stays dry and you can ward off pesky insects and those bigger critters – crocs. It’s safe to say you’re not in Kansas anymore.
To help you survive – and have fun doing so – follow these simple hacks to camping in Queensland’s Wet Tropics.
Let’s start with the kale
Just because you’re camping in Australia’s tropical north doesn’t mean you can’t enjoy fresh fruit and veg but you do need to know how to store it correctly so it doesn’t shrivel in the humidity before it reaches the camp kitchen.
Refrigeration is your best bet to keeping leafy greens crisp but don’t stop with the spinach. Bananas can quickly turn brown in the heat, carrots can go soft and pre-cut melons will easily sweat. Put as many of them into your caravan or 4WD fridge as you can fit.
If you’re camping, fill up the esky but keep in mind that you’ll need to wrap or store cut fruit in air-tight containers so melting ice doesn’t spoil them.
If you venture off-road
The tropics has some great 4WD tracks but you’ll need to protect fragile fruit, such as pears and tomatoes, so they don’t bruise.
It’s worth saving egg-based meals for tarmac travels because even though there’s a chance they could survive corrugations, there’s also the real possibility you’ll end up with a raw scramble in your fridge or cupboard.
Dealing with critters
Just because you’ve got your food safely stowed doesn’t mean you can relax. Tropical North Queensland has plenty of critters that want a share of that sweet pineapple you just purchased.
The worst offenders are ants. They’ll get into everything and if it’s raining you can almost guarantee they’ll see your caravan or tent as a safe – and delicious – retreat.
We use two big tubs with sturdy lids to keep bugs out. And then put cereal, crackers and so on, in their own individual containers inside the larger one. If you have room, store your food off the ground so ants can’t climb in easily.
Produce can sweat in the tubs though so best to remove fruit from plastic bags before placing them inside. If you notice condensation in containers, open the lids to let the produce breathe and the containers dry out from time to time.
You’ll also want to pack mosquito repellent and fly spray, as you never know when these insects will swarm.
And those bigger, scarier ones
Southern cassowaries are one of the iconic animals of the tropics but don’t be fooled into thinking this endangered bird is gentle. These unpredictable creatures have a reputation for being vicious so keep your distance – and that means no selfies. Also, pay attention to the cassowary road signs you’ll find alongside highways and slow down so you don’t hit one.
The biggest critter of all, and the cause of most concern for campers, is the saltwater crocodile. These guys are not to be messed with and no matter how hot the day is or how tempting a waterhole, if there are warnings of resident crocs, don’t swim. If you’re unsure if they’re around, ask a local.
How to deal with the heat
When the humidity becomes too much, save yourself from going loco by finding a safe swimming hole near a waterfall to cool down in, or head to a beach that has stinger (jellyfish) nets.
If beaches and creeks aren’t an option, resort to a cool bush bath (a.k.a. a bucket of cold water and a washer). Trust me, you’ll feel better after.
To deal with heat in the tent, keep those windows open for airflow but also keep your bedding and clothing lightweight and breathable – cotton PJs and light sheets, not sleeping bags.
You can also carry portable battery-operated fans and use them in tents and caravans. They’re great for cooling off young children.
Packing for Tropic thunder
The wet season, between November and April, is quieter in Tropical North Queensland, as the heat and rainfall mix to make challenging camping conditions. But that doesn’t mean you should rule out a trip. You simply have to be prepared and that means thinking about potential rain when you’re packing.
Camping rollaway beds, tree tents (yes, they exist) and rooftop tents make for better sleeping arrangements than a swag on a potentially soggy ground.
Be sure to pack plenty of clothes in case you don’t get a chance to wash (or, more to the point, dry) them, and pick quick-dry pieces, such as boardshorts and cotton shirts. When the rain clouds let up, take advantage of the sunshine and hang out your damp beach towels or those wet socks wherever possible. Even if you’re only stopping for lunch, throw any wet gear over your vehicle’s bullbar or the back of a camp chair and let that Queensland sunshine work its magic.
When it comes to setting up camp, don’t pitch on the bank of a creek or river in case they swell during a downpour. And besides, it’s best not to for fear of those sneaky crocodiles, anyway. Remember, this is about surviving your Tropics camping trip to tell the tale.
Car packed but don’t know where to go? Hit one of these 8 camping spots around Cairns where you can have a fire.