One unexpected thing we have found since living on the road (and I know from talking to others that we’re not alone here) is that it can be difficult to find peace. You wouldn’t think so, would you? I mean, we’ve got this whole big country to space ourselves out in after all!
However, six months and countless campsites later, I am still waiting to fulfil the blissful scenario I had always pictured in my mind of having a place completely to ourselves. Just the two of us (and Minnie, of course), in a beautiful place, watching the sun go down.
Now don’t get me wrong. We have met many wonderful people on our travels. Some of them have become dear friends and indeed it is our fellow travellers who often make a place extra special and memorable with their company, knowledge, and wisdom. But everyone likes a bit of peace and quiet now and again and living on the road is not the same as living in a house. You can’t just walk in, close the door, and shut yourself away from the rest of the world in your own little peaceful haven whenever you want for as long as you want. There is never any guarantee (particularly in the summer months) that the place you choose to park up at hasn’t already been occupied by scores of other vehicles, all hoping for the same solitude you were.
The South Island, in particular, came as a big shock. As mentioned last month, it had been 25 years since my first visit there, and all I remembered from back then was driving for hours and hours on roads that had no one on it. On the rare occasion you did come across another car, you were so excited to see a human that both parties would wave enthusiastically to one another as you passed by.
These days, the amount of motorhomes and travellers in the South Island is absolutely staggering. And who can blame them? It’s an incredible place. Even so, it can be extremely hard among all those beautiful mountains, lakes, rivers, and glaciers to find a quiet place to park up. Fortunately, our efforts to search off the beaten track have led us to some crackers, even in peak season. Here are a few favourites from the top of the South Island. Some are free, some are cheap, some a little more, but they’re all well worth a visit if you’re looking to get away from it all.
Spring Creek Holiday Park, Blenheim
After a full-on day crossing the Cook Strait from Wellington and arriving early in the evening, we wanted somewhere quiet where we could just put our feet up, gather our breath, and allow Minnie to stretch her legs after being cooped up in the van for most of the day.
This place was just the ticket and provided the perfect welcome to the South Island. Even though it was busy, being in February, the sites were spacious and it wasn’t noisy at all. We were given a beautiful spot right beside the creek, which Minnie loved, and had a pleasant evening relaxing by the water, watching the ducks (and the odd friendly eel).
Anatoki Salmon, Golden Bay
One of our absolute favourite camping spots, and it’s free! Anatoki Salmon is a purpose-built salmon farm owned by Jan and Gerda Dissel. The campground is across the road from the salmon farm and is beautiful and quiet, surrounded by farmland and impressive hill country. You can use the facilities during opening hours and I highly recommend a visit to the salmon farm, which is far from just that.
Entry is free, as is the picturesque bush walk alongside the Anatoki River. Even the salmon fishing is free; you can fish as long as you like and all fishing gear is provided. You only have to pay for any salmon you catch, and once caught, the team will expertly prepare and even cook the fish for you.
While we didn’t have any luck in the fishing department, we did spend a pleasant afternoon among the grapevines, enjoying some home-cooked salmon delicacies from their onsite cafe, as well as some locally produced wine and cider. A special place in a stunning location. Just as well camping is limited to a maximum of two nights or I’d probably still be there.
Nestled in the Motueka Valley, we stumbled upon this adorable place in our desperate search for somewhere to stay when all the available camping spots in Golden Bay were full with spectators and volunteers helping with the February whale stranding.
This family-owned business epitomises good old fashioned Kiwi camping, just the way it should be. Spacious, picturesque, rustic, and peaceful, we loved it here. Everything you need is no more than 200 metres away, and as if the rates aren’t reasonable enough, they offer a further discount to NZMCA members. If you’re looking for a peaceful nook, look no further than Tapawera. We voted it New Zealand’s friendliest town when we were there and we haven’t found any other to beat it yet.
Murchison Motorhome Park
If there is a place that deserves an accolade, this has to be it. One of the most beautiful campgrounds you will ever come across, the owner, Karen Steadman, has paid attention to detail, from the immaculate and spacious facilities and welcoming atmosphere to the stunning Buller River with its private bush walks and swimming holes just a few steps behind on site.
We stayed here for several days and were the only Kiwis there; presumably, this has a lot to do with the NZMCA ground being only a few minutes away. We couldn’t even get a park at the NZMCA ground, as it was full, however, this turned out to be a good thing, as we wouldn’t have missed staying at this place for the world.