Favourite North Island conservation campsites

A spontaneous purchase of a 1992 Alpine Sprite caravan has led to a flurry of family adventures over the last couple of years. Not having considered buying a caravan previously, I am now hooked. Our Sprite sleeps four comfortably, five at a squeeze. For trips of more than one night we take a small tent for a bit of extra room. With three kids ten and under, the caravan has been brilliant – it allows the kids a comfortable space to get away from it all when they need a bit of time to just chill. In the last 18 months we have explored the Wairarapa and the East Cape, camped at the foot of Mt Ruapehu, and visited a holiday park at Waiterere Beach. The caravan is kept fully equipped with bedding and cooking gear so we are able to take off on the spur of the moment for a quick overnighter if the weather is looking good. While the benefits of holiday parks are great, electricity, proper showers, kids’ play areas, our favourite spots to visit are conservation campsites. These are campsites that are managed by the Department of Conservation and are situated in some of the most beautiful and often remote parts of the country. Conservation campsites are all over New Zealand in a range of environments and landscapes, here is a small taste of some of our favourites…

Holdsworth Campsite

Holdsworth Campsite covers a large area at the base of the Tararua Range in the Wairarapa. Only 15 minutes’ drive from Masterton, it is easy to get to and has just a short section of gravel road to negotiate. Surrounded by native forest, the site is also the starting point for bush walks and tramps of various lengths and difficulty, including the popular Jumbo Powell Circuit. The kids greatly enjoyed sidetracks down to the river and a bit of route finding along a stoat trapping line adjacent to the main track. We have visited this site twice – once over an Easter weekend, and each time we were able to set ourselves up in a spot that had plenty of ‘personal space’ and room for a game of cricket.

Anaura Bay Campsite

Anaura Bay campsite, about an hour’s drive east of Gisborne, is a favourite spot for our family. Situated in a sheltered crescent-shaped bay, the water is crystal clear and calm – perfect for the kids to swim safely. This campsite is open from Labour Weekend until Easter and to stay here you must be self-contained (have your own dunny). The friendly camp warden informed us that there was always a space, even if it got a bit crowded at times. The big attraction is definitely the beach – aside from the sheltered, clear water, there is a reef and rock pools at the eastern end of the bay, which is great for snorkelling, overland exploration and, of course, fishing off the rocks.

Mangawhero Campsite

Mangawhero campsite, near the base of the Turoa Mountain Road on Mount Ruapehu, is a different dynamic again. Only 2km from Ohakune township, it’s a great place to combine exploring the national park with a quick trip to town for a meal out should you desire it. Our favourite walk with the kids was the Waitonga Falls walk, about an hour-and-a-half return. Starting a fair way up the Turoa Mountain road, this walk initially takes you through mountain beech forest before opening up onto a vast alpine wetland with fantastic views of Ruapehu. On a previous child-free weekend we used the site as a base for mountain biking the Old Coach Road mountain bike track, a fun and historically fascinating ride. The return ride is 24km and it starts with a hefty uphill climb.

Tarawera Outlet Campsite

Tarawera Outlet Campsite offers plenty of diverse activities to keep campers busy. Nestled on the corner of the Tarawera River and Lake Tarawera, it is a place you can easily spend several days. Although now managed by local iwi through the Te Mana o Ngati Rangitihi Trust, it is still classed as a conservation campsite. Access is along a forestry road and you need to buy a $5 permit to access the road. This can be done online or through the Kawerau Information Centre. A large campsite, Tarawera Outlet has an area of sites close to the river and lake as well as more sites further up the hill. Extremely popular over the Christmas and New Year period, with over a thousand campers, we timed our visit for just after this rush. Over the four days we stayed, we swam in the river and lake, paddled our double kayak on the lake and jumped off the wharf. A beautiful swimming bay to the left of the campsite is accessible by a 15-minute walk along a narrow track that skirts the shore of the lake. This track starts near the boat ramp. A happy morning was spent swimming and enjoying the sunshine at this bay. So have I sparked your interest? There are over 200 conservation campsites around New Zealand and fees vary depending on the facilities offered at the site. For more information, visit doc.govt.nz Read the full article in issue #143 of Motorhomes Caravans & Destinations magazine. Subscribe here.
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