Christmas camping highlights

Elizabeth Marenzi —  13/01/2014

This year, my family left behind the craziness of Christmas and went camping. Very few New Zealanders were holidaying at this time, so the roads, attractions and campsites were quiet. The weather was also wonderful—packing up only after we’d packed up and moved on.

Today, I thought I’d share with you three of the special DOC managed places (your places) that I visited:

Rangitoto Island

To celebrate my birthday, and our first day in Auckland, we took a harbour cruise and briefly visited pest-free Rangitoto Island.

Sign on Rangitoto.

It was a balmy Auckland morning and the island was so summery and serene—such a contrast to the city I’d just left behind.

While the kid’s played around the shore and climbed pohutukawa trees, I nostalgically imagined what summer would’ve been like staying in one of the remaining baches nestled into the bush.

Exploring Rangitoto.

Unfortunately you can’t stay on the island now—as much as I would’ve loved to. But you can camp on neighbouring Motutapu Island, and I’m sure as eggs going to do that.

This was my first visit to an island in the Hauraki Gulf and it’s easy to see why it’s rated as the number one attraction for Auckland on Trip Advisor.

Waitomo Walkway

Feeling smug that the weather was finer here than at home, we worked off Christmas lunch on the Waitomo Walkway. At just over 3 km—starting at Waitomo Village and ending at the Ruakuri Scenic Reserve—it was a manageable length for the kids.

Waitomo Walkway signs

The karst landscape (a fancy-pants way of referring to the limestone features—arches, tunnels, caves etc) was magical, and quite Tolkienish.

Waitomo Walkway

The boys enjoyed climbing and launching themselves off stiles and rocky outcrops, while my four-year-old daughter delighted in the wildflowers and the sheer number of downy white seed heads she found for dandelion wishes.

Waitomo Walkway

Waitomo Walkway.

With all the climbing, launching, and wish making, it took us longer than expected to complete the walk one-way (at least double the 1 hr 15 mins time suggested on the DOC sign).

Launching - Waitomo Walkway

In order to make our dinner reservation at Huhu Cafe (yum!) I sent hubbie running back to camp for the car, while we played Octopus Tag in the large, empty picnic area by the Ruakuri car park.

Note: Hubbie prides himself on doing everything in significantly less time than what’s stated on DOC signs. Missing the deadline on this one is no reflection on his manliness (read: craziness/stubbornness). The blame must fall entirely on the rest of us layabouts.

Ruakuri Caves & Bush Scenic Reserve

While a number of our extended family were suffering from a post Christmas tummy bug in Wellington (food poisoning perhaps?) we enjoyed Boxing Day at Ruakuri Caves and Bush Scenic Reserve.

With beautiful native bush, limestone outcrops, caves, tunnels, gorges and cantilevered walkways high above rushing water, this site definitely deserves its recent international award.

Ruakuru Bush Walk

Once again it took us much longer than the 30-45 mins suggested to complete the loop walk. It would’ve been achievable if we’d steadily walked but, given the number of marvels we had to stop at, admire, and photograph, it was never going to happen.

Ruakuru Bush Walk

And, while the budget wouldn’t stretch to a guided caving experience in Waitomo (we’d blown it all at Huhu for Christmas dinner!), we went back to Ruakuri at nightfall for a wonderful show of glow worms. They’re right near the beginning of the track, so you don’t have to walk far.

I love glow worms. Love them. I like to think of them as nature’s fairy lights rather than the larvae (maggots) of the fungus gnat, which is actually what they are.

Native plants at Ruakuri.

Your holiday highlights

So, that’s three holiday highlights from me. I’d  love to hear about your summer adventures in New Zealand’s great outdoors. I may be back at work now but I’m sure another chance to get away is just around the corner and I’d love some inspiration from you. Of course, Motutapu is always a good idea.

Elizabeth Marenzi


Elizabeth is part of the communications team at DOC. She enjoys reconnecting the urban desk jockeys of the world with nature—believing it to be the best anecdote for “tired, nerve-shaken, over-civilized people.”

2 responses to Christmas camping highlights


    Looks like some lovely native Lobelia flowering there in the last photo. Nice!

      Elizabeth Marenzi 14/01/2014 at 7:02 am

      Thanks for the plant ID Jack – I didn’t know what it was (I must download an app for that – or take someone like you with me next time I’m out and about). It sure was pretty.