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KIWI: Top 10 Kiwi Coastal Department of Conservation Campsites

As summer approaches many of my friends start making arrangements for the festive holidays by dusting off all their camping gear, the stuff that has been stored in the garage for the past 12 months. Camping, campervan and caravanning is one of the finest ways to see New Zealand and to experience the great outdoors: hiking, swimming, kayaking, surfing or fishing.

AUTHOR & PHOTOGRAPHER: ©Shane Boocock 2013

As summer approaches many of my friends start making arrangements for the festive holidays by dusting off all their camping gear, the stuff that has been stored in the garage for the past 12 months. Camping, campervan and caravanning is one of the finest ways to see New Zealand and to experience the great outdoors, whether it’s to go hiking, swimming, kayaking, surfing, fishing or just lazing away those long hot summer days by the beach or lake.

In a Department of Conservation (DOC) Review of Camping Opportunities in New Zealand in 2006 it was stated, “Camping is part of the kiwi way of life; an activity that epitomises what it means to be a New Zealander and helps to define who we are and the values that we stand for. By necessity, camping involves a back-to-basics approach that enables people to experience and appreciate the environment, their families and the people around them in a way that they cannot do in their normal busy day-to-day lives.” I could not agree more.

 

My first taste of camping in New Zealand was in the summer of 1984/85 when I drove north out of Auckland in a faded, pale blue VW Beetle that was owned by my girlfriend. We had arranged to meet a group of her friends in Bland Bay, south of Paihia, which back then as I recall certainly was pretty bland, to set up our A-frame tent on a small block of grassland. It was a place where the parents of one of our group had a classic 1950s Sprite-like dome-shaped caravan parked up year-round. There wasn’t even electricity.

 

I remember it being one long hot summer, one so fierce you could roast almonds if you left them lying in a bowl outside. We did the usual things young folk did back then and maybe still do today; we drank Steinlager and sunbathed in old-style deckchairs, we hiked through Whangamumu Scenic Reserve with a few more ‘tinnies’ in our daypacks, we also went fishing, snorkeling and drank more beers late into the cool of the evening once we had finished barbecuing dinner.

 

It was a memorable camping trip and one that still brings back fond memories. It was a carefree time, one that reminds me what the essence of camping is all about and why so many of us still pack the car, campervan and caravan with all manner of gear and head out for the stunning beauty of the great outdoors.

 

There are literally hundreds of DOC campsites and DOC Huts to stay at, so we have whittled down what we think are 10 stunning little gems that are designated as DOC campsites very close to our best coastal beaches. Please remember most DOC sites have limited facilities with basic amenities such as running water, toilets, and cold showers.

 

NORTH ISLAND:

 

Awana Beach Campsite, Great Barrier Island

This is a real surfie hotspot and a place that is often empty, even in summer. The grassy campground next to the Awana Estuary (mozzi repellant is a must) is literally just 300 m walk from your tent flap to the beach from which you can surf, swim, snorkel, fish, sea kayak or simply go bird watching as you’ll find endangered birds such as the New Zealand dotterel, oyster catcher and banded rail.

 

Where: Awana Estuary, north end of Awana Bay, Great Barrier Island

Facilities: 60 tent sites, tap water, toilets, picnic tables, cold showers, no animals allowed

Fees: Adult (18+ years: $10 per night, Child (5-17 years): $5 per night, Infant (0-4 years): free. Can be booked online.

 

Tapotupotu Bay Campsite, Northland

This is a favoured campsite in Northland as it’s the closest you can get to Cape Reinga, so you’ll be camping at the furthest point north in New Zealand. Camping here means the beach is right at your tent’s front door with loud breaking surf and stunning views to wake up too. This is a true wilderness campsite with minimal facilities but the perfect place to bed down for a few nights of solitude, a great place to relax or a base to explore the cape.

 

Where: Tapotupotu is located in the Far North near Cape Reinga

Facilities: 45 tent sites, tap water, toilets, cold showers, pack-in, pack out rubbish, no animals allowed. No bookings so first come/first serve basis.

Fees: Adult (18+ years): $6 per night, Child (5-17 years): $3 per night, Infant (0-4 years): free

 

Fletcher Bay Campsite, Coromandel

If you’re looking for a place with some shade in a farm like setting then Fletcher Bay campsite might be just the ticket. This is a perfect spot if water sports are on your main list of requirements such as boating, fishing, diving and swimming. There is also a great walking trail along the Coromandel Walkway that takes you out to Stony Bay.

 

Where: Fletcher Bay is 6 km on past Port Jackson 

Facilities: 96 tent/caravan sites, tap water, toilets, cold showers, pack-in, pack out rubbish, no dogs allowed. Can be booked online.

Fees: Adult (18+ years: $10 per night, Child (5-17 years): $5 per night, Infant (0-4 years): free

 

Matata Campsite, Bay of Plenty

Adjacent to the Matata Campsite is the Matata Wildlife Reserve making it an ideal destination for families as there are walking tracks giving great access to the wetland bird species. This campsite like all the others listed is in a coastal setting making it ideal for swimming with some excellent fishing to be had.

 

Where: 200 m off Arawa Street in Matata township

Facilities: 40 tent sites, toilets, picnic tables, hot showers, recycled rubbish, dogs on leash allowed. No bookings so first come/first serve basis.

Fees: Adult (18+ years: $6 per night, Child (5-17 years): $3 per night, Infant (0-4 years): free

 

Putangirua Pinnacles Campsite, Wairarapa

You’ll need extra tent pegs here if a southerly is blowing. This campsite offers great views out across Cook Strait as well as access to a small pebbly beach. It’s worth hiking to the impressive Putangirua Pinnacles or take a short drive to Cape Palliser lighthouse built in 1897, the southern most point in the North Island. For a view to die for climb the 250 steps to get to the top.

 

Where: 58km from Martinborough between Cape Palliser and Lake Ferry

Facilities: 50 tent sites, tap water, toilets, picnic tables, no showers, dogs are allowed. No bookings so first come/first serve basis

Fees: Adult (18+ years: $6 per night, Child (5-17 years): $3 per night, Infant (0-4 years): free

 

 


 

SOUTH ISLAND:

 

Purakaunui Bay Campsite, Catlins, Southeast Otago

This is coastal camping at its best with distinctive cliff faces viewable from your tent. Nearby you can hike to Purakaunui Falls or try surfing at a good beach just south of the campsite. Kayakers have the opportunity to paddle around Cosgrove Island which is a wildlife refuge.

 

Where: Catlins Coast, southeast Otago

Facilities: 40 campsites, tap water, toilets, picnic tables, dogs on leash allowed. No bookings so first come/first serve basis.

Fees: Adult (18+ years): $6 per night, Child (5-17 years): $3 per night, Infant (0-4 years): free

 

Robin Hood Bay Campsite, north of Blenheim

This is another great location to camp right next to the beach but with very limited facilities and sites. There is a small boat launch though and good recreational fishing but a lot of respect for the sea is necessary here as the waters can be treacherous. It’s also a good spot to see Hector’s dolphins.

 

Where: Robin Hood Bay Recreation Area, half way between Picton and Blenheim

Facilities: Just eight campsites, toilets and water from the stream, dogs on a leash permitted with permit. No bookings so first come/first serve basis.

Fees: Free

 

Blumine Island, Queen Charlotte Sound

The Sounds are blessed with some great DOC campsites but I picked this one because the access is only by boat or kayak. This is a picturesque island, north facing with some historic WWII gun emplacements.

 

Where: Outer Queen Charlotte Sound

Facilities: Just six campsites, tap water, toilets, picnic table, dogs not allowed. No bookings so first come/first serve basis.

Fees: Adult (18+ years): $6 per night, Child (5-17 years): $3 per night, Infant (0-4 years): free

 

Port William Campsite, Stewart Island

This is a pivotal campsite as the muddy track a short distance away is the start of the 10-Day Rakiura Track walking circuit. The campground is directly opposite Magnetic Beach. A thick forest also helps protect campers from the prevailing westerly winds.

 

Where: Rakiura Track in Rakiura National Park

Facilities: Just four tent sites, tap water, toilets, check to see if dogs are allowed

Fees: Adult (18 years and over): $6 per night, Child: (under 17 years): it’s free to camp but bookings need to be made online.

 

Kohaihai Campsite, Buller Region

This is a popular campsite sheltered in the mouth of the Kohaihai River with kayaking, swimming, windsurfing in the river or at nearby Scotts Beach. The reason it’s popular is it is also where the Heaphy DOC Great Walks begins. There is a beautiful nikau forest and additional short day or overnight walks nearby.

 

Where: 15 km north of Karamea

Facilities: 50 tent campsites, tap water, toilets, barbeque, picnic tables, dogs on leash

Fees: Adult (18+ years): $6 per night, Child (5-17 years): $3 per night, Infant (0-4 years): free, maximum two night stay. No bookings so first come/first serve basis.

 

So the next time you head out for a spot of camping on the coast, make a note of these classic little spots to unload the fishing rods and set up the tent and you’ll definitely find yourself in a slice of Kiwi paradise.

 

 

Fact:

 

There are three categories of DOC campsites (known as Conservation Campsites): Serviced, Standard and Basic. Basic Conservation Campsites are free. The Department of Conservation has a very useful website listing all their campsites in both the North and South Islands listed by region. Find out about staying in campervans/motorhomes on the campervans page. Not all campsites can be booked online but the ones that do definitely need to be pre-booked. Go to: www.doc.govt.nz

 

 

 

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