Great Northland spots to escape the cold

By: Heather Whelan, Photography by: Heather Whelan


The winterless north 2 Uretiti Beach The winterless north 2
The winterless north 5 DOC campground, Matai Bay The winterless north 5
The winterless north 6 Trounson Park The winterless north 6
The winterless north 7 Puketi Forest The winterless north 7
The winterless north 10 Tranquillity by the river at Dargaville The winterless north 10
The winterless north 12 Tauranga Bay Holiday Park The winterless north 12
The winterless north 14 Freedom camp spot beneath Mount Manaia The winterless north 14

Heather Whelan checks out some great northern spots for motorhomers fleeing the cold

In the USA they call them ‘snowbirds’ – motorhomers who avoid the worst of the winter weather by driving south to Florida. In New Zealand, it is Northland that draws people to overwinter in its subtropical climate.

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DOC campground, Tapotupotu Bay

Department of Conservation campsites

Whether visiting for a weekend or parking up for an extended period, there are a variety of places to spend time in the winterless north. For those who don’t need the facilities of a holiday park, DOC campsites must be top of the list.

There are 10 in Northland that are accessible to motorhomes. With beachside sites from Kapowairua (Spirits Bay) in the far north to Uretiti Beach south of Whangarei, ocean views are never hard to find.

When we visited Tapotupotu Bay, DOC’s most northerly campground, we loved the sense of being so far from the hustle and bustle of city life. Although it was close to Cape Reinga, the busloads of tourists who visited didn’t stay for long.

It was only those campers who, like us, enjoyed the remoteness of the site and the pristine natural beauty of the area who stayed overnight or longer. For us, one of the attractions of Tapotupotu Bay was the fact it was right on the Te Paki Coastal Track.

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DOC campground, Tapotupotu Bay

We walked 5km along cliff tops to Sandy Bay and Cape Reinga, admiring the stunning views along the coast. Other campers were enjoying the surf. Matai Bay had a similar, remote vibe. We enjoyed more walks here, but it is also popular with boaties, fishermen and divers.

Uretiti Beach had the advantage of being close to the little town of Waipu. We loved fossicking in the antique and second-hand shops here and spent an hour or so investigating the Waipu Museum.

This told us the story of a tight-knit band of Scots who made their way to Waipu, via Nova Scotia, and settled under the autocratic leadership of their minister, Rev McLeod. 

Bush-lovers can park in DOC’s Northland campgrounds in Trounson Kauri Park, Puketi Forest and Raetea North Side campsites. We found Puketi Forest DOC campground almost deserted when we visited out of season.

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DOC campsite, Puketi Forest

There were several short walks here that took us right among giant kauri trees. The Omahuta Kauri Sanctuary Walk and the Manginangina Kiwi Walk took between 15 and 30 minutes to complete, but there were longer walks, up to two days, for keen trampers to experience. 

The forest also had mountain bike trails and we hopped on our bikes to explore some of the tracks. DOC camp fees are reasonable – and stays are even cheaper for those NZMCA members who have the DOC/NZMCA campsite pass, valid at nine of Northland’s DOC campgrounds.

NZMCA Parks

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Rainbow Falls, beside the NZMCA park at Kerikeri

The NZMCA has four parks in the region: Dargaville, Manganese Point (Whangarei), Kerikeri and Tokerau Beach. Members pay only $3 per person, per night, and can stay 21 days in a 60-day period at two of these sites.

The parks are safe and secure, the gates having a code known to members. Another positive feature of NZMCA parks is that they are often very social spots; someone is sure to invite you to happy hour.

We return time and time again to the Kerikeri NZMCA Park. Adjacent to Rainbow Falls, it is such a beautiful spot – and we’re always drawn along the track to the Kerikeri Basin.

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NZMCA Park, Kerikeri

Some of New Zealand’s oldest buildings, the Stone Store and Kemp House, can be visited here, and one of the two cafes can usually tempt us to have a coffee before heading back. Dargaville’s NZMCA Park is just a few minutes’ walk from the town centre.

The riverside parking area is on the site of a historic boatyard and a couple of the old buildings remain. Dargaville is handily positioned for exploring the Kaipara area, Waipoua Forest and westcoast beaches. 

Holiday parks

Because Northland is a popular destination in summer, the area has an abundance of holiday parks and motor camps. In winter most offer low-season rates that are considerably less than charges in summer.

Some holiday parks offer discounts for NZMCA members who stay between April and November. We couldn’t resist staying at the Tauranga Bay Holiday Park because of its absolute waterfront location.

From the immaculately mowed grass at our door we could see up and down the coast – and the beach was just a few steps away. Out of season, we were the only campers.

Motorhome Friendly Towns

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Freedom parking spot beside the Hatea River, Whangarei

Northland has two towns, Whangarei and Kaikohe, that actively welcome visitors in motorhomes. Whangarei has freedom camping spots close to the town basin and adjacent to the popular Hatea Loop Walkway.

Freedom camping is permitted in many other places in the Whangarei District, from Ruakaka Beach to the Tutukaka Coast. There are some amazing sites beside the Whangarei Harbour, including Parua Bay and Mount Manaia.

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Freedom camping on the Tutukaka Coast

A benefit of visiting in winter is that sometimes you can have the stunning views all to yourself. Kaikohe advertises itself as the ‘gateway to the Hokianga Harbour’ and is within easy reach of the beaches at Opononi and Omapere, and of Rawene, where there is a vehicle ferry to the north side of the harbour.

Kaikohe is centrally placed on the Twin Coast Cycle Trail, which takes riders from Opua in the Bay of Islands to Horeke on the Hokianga.

Clubs and POPs

Many clubs, RSAs, museums and businesses welcome overnight parking. NZMCA members have many of these listed in the travel directory, along with Park Over Properties (POPs).

POPs are private properties owned by club members and set up for other NZMCA members to visit, usually free of charge. A benefit of staying at a POP or a club is the local knowledge your hosts can provide. No matter how you spend your time, there is something for everyone in Northland.

The ‘winterless north’ offers camping opportunities for fishermen and boaties, cyclists and walkers. For those who like to explore new towns there are plenty of museums, friendly pubs and trendy cafes to visit. And the best thing about the area? Its sub-tropical climate.

Further information

  • Full details of Department of Conservation sites suitable for motorhomes can be found at doc.govt.nz
  • For information about joining the New Zealand Motor Caravan Association and details of membership benefits see nzmca.org.nz
  • Freedom camping details for visitors to the Whangarei district are at wdc.govt.nz
  • Information regarding freedom camping and dump sites, including a map showing free camping sites in the far north, can be found on the Far North District Council’s website, fndc.govt.nz

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