Miracle on Lake Okareka

Elizabeth Marenzi —  05/02/2015

Taking the family away on holiday can be expensive. It’s something most of us have to plan and save for—which means giving it priority amongst the many other things that threaten to eat up our time and money.

For my family—as much as we wanted to get away this summer—our holiday never made it to the place on our priority list where we started committing the time, or funds, to make it happen.

Life rolled on. Doctor’s bills were paid. The car was registered. Christmas was ticked off. Tax bills were saved for.

Yes. It seems I am that boring!!!

It was back at work, after a perfectly lovely Christmas/New Year break away (at home) when it hit—the irresistible urge to break routine and get away.

I couldn’t let this incredible summer (hasn’t the weather been amazing?!) slip by without a real holiday. But I hadn’t planned anything and, more importantly, I hadn’t saved anything! What to do? What to do?

An incredible summer's morning at Lake Okareka, Rotorua. Photo: Elizabeth Marenzi.

That’d be nice—fresh air, sunshine, a place by the lake…

I started trolling Expedia for deals, but there was nothing in my budget. Nothing.

Of course, chances of finding accommodation for a family of five for under $40 a night were remote—but miracles happen, right?

And my miracle came in the, obvious now that I think about it, form of a Department of Conservation campsite.

Our personal choice was DOC’s Lake Okareka campsite in the beautiful Rotorua Lakes district.

It’s only 15 minutes from Rotorua city. $10 a night for adults. $5 a night for kids. Boo-yaa!

Lake Okareka campsite in beautiful Rotorua. Photo: Elizabeth Marenzi.

Lake Okareka campsite, Rotorua

I have to admit, I was a little anxious about the ‘first come, first served basis’ of the campsite.

I am a planner. I like to be in control. I have a family to look after. What if? What if? What if?

I know—I am so boring!

It was time to start thinking glass half full. Whatever will be, will be. Seize the day. Rah de rah….

So, taking a few extra days each side of Wellington Anniversary, we went.

And the glass was half full (a bit like the campsite).

Lake Okareka campsite in beautiful Rotorua. Photo: Elizabeth Marenzi.

Lake Okareka campsite: Half full

We pitched our tent, between the juvenile pohutukawa trees, on a ribbon of grass with nothing much else between us and the lake.

It was idyllic.

I was worried about family camping with so few facilities (wow, it seems I’m boring and I worry too much), but I needn’t have been concerned.

The cooking shelter at Lake Okareka Campsite, Rotorua. Photo: Elizabeth Marenzi.

The shelter at Lake Okareka Campsite
A great place to cook, eat and catch up with other campers

Water: We purchased a plastic ‘bladder’ from the Warehouse and filled it with water from town. This gave us drinking water on tap and, together with lake water for cooking/cleaning/hot drinks, met our needs perfectly.

Toilet: The ‘closed vault’ toilets were clean and, despite the heat, weren’t at all smelly. I was impressed. A conscientious group of Okareka community volunteers look after this site for DOC and do an amazing job.

The toilets. Lake Okareka campsite, Rotorua. Photo: Elizabeth Marenzi.

One of the tidy toilet blocks at Lake Okareka

Shower: You don’t need one. You will live in the lake. It is warm. It is clear. It is wonderful.

Sunset over Lake Okareka campsite, Rotorua. Photo: Elizabeth Marenzi.

Sunrise to sunset. You will live in the lake

Internet: You are thoroughly disconnected.

Yes, that’s a good thing…


It’s time to break the addiction. Anyways, your methadone (i.e. town and connectivity) is only 15 minutes away, should you reach breaking point.

Misty morning over Lake Okareka campsite, Rotorua. Photo: Elizabeth Marenzi.

Quiet contemplation. Hard to do when your smartphone’s screaming at you

Here we spent four nights. Swimming, snorkelling, star gazing, walking, reading, playing with the ducklings, burying ourselves in the hot sand, watching the fishermen, water skiers, wakeboarders and kayakers…

I’ll say it again—it was idyllic—a completely fabulous holiday. I don’t think I would’ve come home happier, or more relaxed, had I spent the time in a fancy resort.

I’m now back at work refreshed, tanned (I know that’s not a good thing—it just happened), connected with my family, full of magic memories, and ready to take on the year.

So, let this be a story for all the time poor, financially strapped families of Aotearoa. Expedia’s not the only place to get a holiday deal.

Consider camping and head to the DOC website to find a miracle.

Note: I’ve got dibs on Lake Okareka—go find your own 😉

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.”

12 responses to Miracle on Lake Okareka


    It really is a magical place out there. I was lucky enough to grow up there, spend the first 18 years of my life calling Okareka home. Still no real cellphone coverage so a great place to get away from it all! I still head “home” often enough for a visit. Another absolutely brilliant place nearby is the DOC camp at the Tarawera outlet. A little bit cheaper and just as great. Spent a bit of time there this year and looking forward to more time off to explore more sites around the country.

      Elizabeth Marenzi 16/02/2015 at 7:12 am

      What a neat place to grow up and be able to call home Phil! DOC’s Lake Tarawera Outlet campsite looks gorgeous. I was going to take the family there if Lake Okareka was full. I’d love to stay there one day, just the same. Happy exploring (and feel free to continue to share the hidden gems you discover). All the best! E


    Yes, DOC campsites are definitely The Way To Go in order to reconnected with nature and disconnect from city life. I also highly recommend Broken Hills in the Coromandel, and Medlands and Port Fitzroy on Great Barrier – if you don’t mind banded rail and pateke poking around your belongings…

      Elizabeth Marenzi 12/02/2015 at 8:14 am

      Hi Monica. Lovely to meet another DOC campsite champion! Thanks for the recommendations too. I think I could handle a bird burrowing into my belongings—it’s gotta be better than the skunk we had one night while camping in Canada!


    Hi Elizabeth. Thank you and everyone else for their wonderful comments. I am part of the volunteer team of Lake Okareka residents who help look after this DOC camp. Lake Okareka Community Assn has an agreement with DOC to manage this camp – we love the area where we live and we want to share this place with other New Zealanders – and the world. I am so glad that you enjoyed your summer holiday here!

      Elizabeth Marenzi 12/02/2015 at 8:29 am

      You are very welcome Sandra! Thank you for being so generous—both with your time/energy, and in sharing the wonderful place where you live with us all. Thank you for caring. Thank you for making New Zealand a better place to live. You (and your community assn colleagues) are an inspiration.


    Looks like a wonderful place. Over the years, our family has done a lot of camping. Sometimes I miss the comforts of a condo or hotel room but most of the time you can’t bet the price! And talk about making your travel budget stretch a little farther…you can’t beat camping! Thanks for posting and sharing!

      Elizabeth Marenzi 10/02/2015 at 10:22 am

      Thanks Kevin—it really was/is a wonderful place. It’s true—you can’t beat camping if you need to stretch your coin. Putting aside the dollars and cents though, while my hotel/motel/condo experiences have been super comfy, camping always makes me feel significantly more connected to a place and its people and, as MasterCard tells us, that’s priceless 🙂

    George Booth 05/02/2015 at 5:41 pm

    Just spent two nights there ourselves. The local community are champions for DOC. They not only clean the place, but are a very welcoming PR crew. We were told of a few ‘secrets’ in the area and just loved every minute of being there. It would be great to have more DOC/Community ventures like this around the country.

      Elizabeth Marenzi 10/02/2015 at 10:04 am

      I couldn’t agree more George—the community volunteers at Okareka really are amazing ambassadors (so much more than cleaners!) I’m pleased your experience at Okareka was every bit as wonderful as mine. Here’s to many more successful DOC/Community ventures (and idyllic camping holidays)!

    chantelle taylor 05/02/2015 at 9:15 am

    Awesome blog post Elizabeth, sounds like a perfect family holiday. I’m adding it to my list.:)

      Elizabeth Marenzi 10/02/2015 at 10:27 am

      Thanks Chantelle. You’d love it. The Redwoods – Whakarewarewa Forest (with around 130 km of mountain bike trails), is just a stone’s throw away.