Jackie's Journey: Favourite Camping Spots

By: Jackie Norman, Photography by: JACKIE NORMAN / GARETH SCURR


Jackie Norman sold her home in 2016, bought a motorhome and embarked full-time on the road with husband Gareth. This month she describes the best camping spots (bar one) they’ve visited around the country

Enjoy a sunset stroll along Himatangi Beach.jpg
Enjoy a sunset stroll along Himatangi Beach

Of all the campgrounds we’ve stayed in over the years, we have only ever asked for our money back twice. One of these occasions was particularly memorable and was when we still had Minnie, our beloved and rather rotund cocker spaniel. It was precisely this time of year, and we had planned to stay at an NZMCA ground, but to our dismay found it was full. No problem, there was a campground right next door – and it was dog-friendly too.

So we were rather surprised when we arrived to a decidedly frosty welcome. The manager told us in no uncertain terms she "wasn’t there to clean up our dirt" and that we’d have to take Minnie out of the campground (which was on an extremely busy road) to go to the toilet. "Absolutely," we assured her. We had no problem cleaning up any ‘deposits’; that was all part and parcel of being a responsible camper and dog owner. Besides, we knew our girl’s ‘routine’ very well. It turned out however, that the woman wasn’t just talking about ‘number twos’. Minnie wasn’t allowed to do even the teensiest tinkle within the entire campground perimeter. This presented rather more of a challenge, but Gareth and I raised our eyebrows at one another and agreed. What other choice did we have?

From here on though, things got even more bizarre. The woman gave us a map of the campground and to our dismay we found she had placed us at the very rear of it. Minnie’s four paws were not to touch the grass at any stage, meaning we were going to have to carry our 18kg furbaby the entire length of the campground every time we had an inkling she might need a comfort break. The real icing on the cake was when we arrived at our spot to find stock cars parked in it and a dozen very loud and ‘well-oiled’ men sitting around numerous beer crates.

Minnie was VERY welcome at Warakei Thermal Valley campground!.jpg
Minnie was VERY welcome at Wairakei Thermal Valley campground!

"No way," I said to Gareth. We asked for our money back and left. Fortunately all was not lost. We ended up driving considerably out of our way to another campground – one which remains one of our favourites and is mentioned in this article. That awful lady did us a favour, but you have to wonder why some people are in the business, not to mention why on earth they would advertise themselves as dog-friendly when it couldn’t be further from the truth.

Enough with the brickbats already though, hail the shining stars! The following are some of our favourite camping spots, which all hold a special place in our hearts in different ways and will always be remembered for the right reasons. 


 

CHECK BEFORE YOU LEAVE

As our story shows, times change, owners change and policies change. Just because a guidebook or app states a place welcomes dogs, or offers a discount for NZMCA members, or a host of other things, this doesn’t necessarily mean these still apply. Don’t get caught out! If you’re in any doubt, ring ahead first and enjoy peace of mind.


KUAOTUNU CAMPGROUND, COROMANDEL

This special site, between Matarangi and Whitianga, is ‘the place we came to breathe’, after the stress of selling our three-bedroom home and transitioning to full-time life on the road. I’d stayed here before, in cabins with friends and family, and had such delightful memories I was drawn back when we needed a haven. I couldn’t have chosen better. Despite the management changing several times since those days, it still has the same welcoming feel, space and friendliness. The facilities are excellent, there is plenty to do, and it provides the perfect opportunity to just ‘be’. With no internet or cell phone reception, unless you skip across the road to Rings Beach, this really is somewhere to get away from it all and enjoy life at a different pace. Find out more at kuaotunucamp.co.nz

Rings Beach, Kuaotunu.jpg
Rings Beach, Kuaotunu

OWHIRO BAY, WELLINGTON

When you find a terrific camping spot, whether it’s free or paid, you will always want to return to it again and again, to recreate the experience and add more to the memory bank. The free camping area at Owhiro Bay is one of those places for us. Bordering the iconic Red Rocks, the view is spectacular and ever-changing with the weather. You can’t park too much closer to the sea, and you can walk along the coastline pretty much as far as your legs will carry you. I love the sense of both history and the mystical here, as well as the friendly atmosphere among fellow motorhomers. The road down to the rocks can get busy, as 4WDs and fishermen’s vehicles are permitted, but the gates are locked at night and we always sleep well. I’ve always felt safe and comfortable here. The biggest challenge can be getting a park, as many others obviously feel the same.

Owhiro Bay is one of our very favourite free camps.jpg
Owhiro Bay is one of our most favourite free camps ...
You can camp right on the water_s edge at Owhiro Bay.jpg
... you can camp right on the water’s edge

TAIERI MOUTH BEACH HOLIDAY CAMP, OTAGO

This old-school gem is well worth travelling a few extra miles out of Dunedin for. Super-friendly and helpful management, with plenty of space and great facilities, you can be guaranteed a pleasant stay here. You can really feel the obvious love Paula has for this special place, and she loves nothing more than to share it with others. Enjoy her local knowledge, tips for activities and feathered friends, and make the most of the massive expanse of pristine beach just over the sand dunes behind you. You won’t want to leave – just make sure you have some cash on board as there are no Eftpos facilities. Find out more at facebook.com/www.taierimouthbeachcamp.co.nz

This amazing beach is immediately behind the Taieri Mouth campground!.jpg
This amazing beach is immediately behind the Taieri Mouth campground

HIMATANGI BEACH HOLIDAY PARK, HOROWHENUA

This campground is our most recent. It definitely deserves a mention because it takes a lot to impress Gareth, but the hardworking couple who run it are absolutely nailing it. What can we say? The location, the welcome, the facilities, atmosphere, beach – everything is top notch. We saw nothing but happy people of all ages the entire time we were here, from dawn to dusk. It may only be a few kilometres from State Highway 1 but it feels like a world away. And when we got up at midnight to use the bathroom and found one of our hosts in the kitchen cleaning stoves and the other busily polishing bathroom taps? That to us speaks volumes – do pay them a visit. Find out more at himatangibeachholidaypark.co.nz

Himatangi Beach welcomes visitors.jpg
Himatangi Beach welcomes visitors

HONOURABLE MENTIONS

A couple more noteworthy sites from our travels:

Hawera Holiday Park

This lovely, central spot in South Taranaki is another of Gareth’s favourites when it comes to setting, atmosphere and things to do. Visit Bernie and Dean at holidayparks.co.nz/taranaki/hawera-holiday-park

Wairakei Tourist Park

After staying here, we wouldn’t pick anywhere else to stay in Taupo. How many campgrounds can offer alpacas, guinea fowl, tea rooms and a thermal walk? Enjoy the beautiful and spacious grounds at wairakeitouristpark.co.nz/attractions/wairakei-natural-thermal-valley

Gore A & P Showgrounds

We’ve said it before and we’ll say it again. For a warm, southern welcome with everything a motorhomer could need, look no further than Bury Street, over the railway lines.

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