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Gramping & Glamping

Snezana Belevska-Bennell packs up three generations of her family and escapes to Sydney’s Cockatoo Island for the ultimate combination of Australia’s newest camping phenomena.

When I first saw the word ‘gramping’ I thought it was a typo for ‘glamping’, which is camping with a bit of glamour (and plenty of creature comforts). As it turns out, gramping is the cool way to describe Australia’s latest outdoor trend: camping with grandparents.

Although we’ve always talked about going camping with my in-laws, none of that ever materialised thanks to a web of busy schedules. So when the opportunity presented itself for a mini escapade to Sydney’s Cockatoo Island, we jumped at the chance to turn it into a wonderful glamping and gramping weekend.

Our mini adventure started with a scenic ferry ride across Sydney Harbour from Rushcutters Bay, past the Opera House and under the bridge. Cockatoo Island, with its rich history of docks and houses built by convicts in the early 1800s, was a marvellous sight on approach, rising out of the reflective waters where the Parramatta and Lane Cove rivers meet. The two-tiered island is one of Sydney’s World Heritage sites with old sandstone prison buildings, empty warehouses and enormous old shipbuilding yards.

Upon arrival, we checked into our waterfront tents with wooden floorboards, beds and a deck with chairs overlooking a garden. Fortunately, I had allowed the boys to bring their scooters along. There was so much open space – lush grass, abandoned warehouses and tunnels to explore – and the entire island was just perfect for scooting. The kids were completely free to ride wherever they pleased.

After wandering amid the industrial remains, we stopped for lunch at the Island Bar. This eatery blends the stunning Sydney views with the vibe of a European beach haunt surrounded by greenery, white picket fences covered in bougainvillea, striped umbrellas, sunbeds and European waiters running from customer to customer. On weekends after 3pm it’s an adults-only zone, so if you want a date night while camping with the grandparents your babysitting is already sorted.

Perks of the simple life
We spent the rest of the afternoon exploring the island, only pausing our expedition for a game of tennis, before enjoying a family barbecue dinner. In true glamping style, we opted for gourmet food packs available on the island, stocked with everything we needed from steaks to salad dressing. There are a few options, including vegetarian and breakfast sets, but remember catering requires 48 hours’ notice. You can also bring your own family favourites and store them in the esky provided.

As night fell over the harbour, the kids’ requests to go for a night-time scoot became irresistible – the looming shadows of forgotten industry promised a perfect mix of scary and fun. The rest of the evening was spent relaxing at our tent, simply chatting under the stars and watching the lit-up boats sail by.

Young kids mean early mornings, so naturally we were all up at the crack of dawn. We took a leisurely stroll along the foreshore and enjoyed coffees and cakes from Societe Overboard, a cute little café beside Parramatta Wharf, before cooking up a big barbecue breakfast feast with other families.

Our final adventure before leaving was another scoot through Dog Leg Tunnel, emerging from the dark and damp to discover the Marine Centre at Camber Wharf with its charming pop-up vintage Airstream Café. The trip was a great excuse to get away without having to go too far from home, and a wonderful way for the kids to spend time with their grandparents, all in the wondrous great outdoors.

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