Since I was a nipper in the backyard with an old woven mat pegged to the fence line, I have enjoyed camping outdoors! My first real pup tent was demolished in short order. It was like a light bed sheet held up by toothpicks’ – looked good but didn’t work properly!’
Herb’s family camp site
So, by the time I had been tramping over many years in many places – mostly with just a fly or a small tent, I was a dyed-in-the-wool camper! I did not find it difficult to adapt to a larger canvas tent when a family came along. I just applied the same principles as my lightweight days and accepted that I did not have to carry the load on my back!
Ashley from Greenland learns to turn a steak
My wife would have liked a spiral staircase but they don’t do those in canvas. Even so, I wondered how we used to fill the three rooms of a canvas mansion that spilled out to resemble a small village after the kids had decided that they wanted their own little tents! In spite of this, we have always kept it simple and resisted the temptation to get too high tech which is why we prefer the less well appointed campsites. We enjoy places where making do gives you a real sense of achievement and a healthy respect for the environment and what it can provide.
The kids hang out
Over the years we have had some great camping holidays and my wife and I still take a small tent away with us to pitch at a convenient DOC campsite.
Coastal areas have always been favourites. The sounds and smells of the sea are so relaxing and even the sound of the wind tugging in the trees is something that keeps me in touch with the forces of nature. I tend to be a bit of a geek too. Out come the binocs – kaka here, dotterel there, heron over yonder by the banded rail… Summer in the sun!
Variable oystercatcher spotted at the beach
So, as summer holidays approach I bust out the tent and all the other paraphernalia, pitch it in the backyard to check it out and think back a few decades to when the adventure began!
In the North Island, gold mining was a key part of Coromandel’s early development. Similarly, in the South Island, Otago was the centre of the gold rush in the 1800’s. Today, both Coromandel and Otago offer great family camping and sight seeing, and a golden opportunity for those who like to get off the beaten track.
We had a look at Coromandel camping on Monday. Now let’s have a look at Otago.
Bikers on the Otago central rail trail
Dropping into Central Otago from the Mackenzie Country marks a change in many respects. Apart from the colour of the rugby jersey, the colour of the land changes too. The typical schist rock begins to show itself and the sun, if it is possible, gets hotter in summer. The Lindis Pass is usually a thoroughfare to further down to Wanaka or around to Alexandra in the Cromwell Gorge.
To get some insight to the gold mining history of the Otago region, the disused Lindis Pass Hotel that dates from the late 1800s, provides an opportunity to see how isolated the Central Otago region was and how difficult it was for travellers over the pass.
Located at Nine Mile Historic Reserve, the building is undergoing restoration work as the stonemason stabilises the rock in the remnants of the hotel that sits in the middle of the campground.
Keep an eye out for the turn off because the campsite is not signposted, nor is it visible from the road. From SH8 take Old Faithful Road opposite Timburn Road and continue alongside the Lindis River until you get to the campsite. For those who persist, the rewards are worth the effort of going down the six kilometre gravel road—even for smaller camper vans. The road is part of a working farm, so be wary of other users. At the campsite there is a loo, water is from the Lindis River, and an interpretation panel that keeps the memory of the hotel alive. On a hot dry, sunny Otago day, this is a perfect place to camp. And it’s free.
If you are down in Central Otago doing the rail trail, there is a golden opportunity for side trips to historic mining sites in the region. St Bathans is an old gold mining town near the foot of the Hawkdun and Dunstan Ranges, 60 kilometres north of Alexandra, on the road to Ranfurly. Established in 1863 to service the area’s goldmines, St Bathans is a place that time has passed by and the streets are straight out of mining history. There are no facsimiles here.
Oterehua frost Otago Central Rail Trail
St Bathans was typical of a gold mining town because the first buildings were probably not intended to last very long, due to the fickle nature of gold mining. Unexpectedly, some have survived and form an eclectic mix of mud brick and timber buildings including the town hall which has been restored.
Camping is available at the St Bathans Domain campsite. It’s a basic DOC site with toilets and water from a tap. There are nine tent sites and it’s free to stay there. You can always stay in Ranfurly, or in any of the small towns like Wedderburn on the way around the Central Otago rail trail or even Naseby, another former gold mining town where DOC manages the old Post Office. The building contains much of its original fittings and equipment and is currently leased as a craft shop and information centre. A camp ground at Danseys Pass coach inn has the basics of camping on hand and sits adjacent to an old arboretum (tree collection to those who had wondered). The site provides access to Oteake Conservation Park at Buster diggings with gold mining relics like mine tailings and water races.
Getting into a Graham Sydney landscape can be as easy as a visit to Oteake Conservation Park. Over 64,000 hectares of the St Bathans, Ewe, Hawkdun, Ida and St Marys ranges form the park with outstanding landscapes including mountainous high country, rolling tussock hills, scree, wetlands and shrubs.
There is a network of huts in the park but for those driving around and looking for a less adventurous access to the park, the Homestead Campsite is a good starting point. This basic campsite has water on tap and toilets. Like many of DOC’s more obscure sites, it’s free to stay there and provides an ideal platform for exploring options for mountain biking, 4WD, fishing, and easy tramping in the nearby St Bathans and Hawkdun Ranges. From SH85, turn into the Ranfurly end of Loop Road, then into Hawkdun Runs Road and follow the road to the campsite. There are two unbridged fords to contend with but these are not an issue in summer.
In the North Island, gold mining was a key part of the Coromandel’s early development. Similarly, in the South Island, Otago was the centre of the gold rush in the 1800’s. Today, both Coromandel and Otago offer great family camping and sight seeing, and a golden opportunity for those who like to get off the beaten track.
Today I’m going to show you around the Coromandel. We’ll head down to Otago on Wednesday.
A little paddler practices in the shallows
Coromandel – Off the grid but on the internet
The sun shines, the surf bubbles on the beach, pohutukawa blossom and people’s minds turn to summer.
Like generations before them, people repeat the summer migration from urban sprawl to that place where priorities get re-ordered. Where meeting old friends is more important than meeting deadlines. It’s a place that has become part of family folklore and generation after generation, the families keep coming back.
Let’s have a look at the great opportunities that beckon from the click of a mouse.
Colville is an interesting place. Not long after you drive through this small settlement, the road turns to gravel, the cell phone drops out and you drive past the last place to get an ice cream! Mind you, there is a truck that does the rounds of the DOC campsites and ice cream is one of their staples.
A left turn, to continue up the western coastline leads to three stunning campsites. A right turn takes you over to the East Coast either up to Stony Bay, or on the circuit back past Waikawau Bay via Kennedy Bay to Coromandel.
This is the far eastern end of the line for the top of the Coromandel
After you leave Colville, the short climb over the hill to the eastern side of the peninsula leads to a fork in the road. The choice to turn right at the bottom of the hill is the path most taken towards Waikawau Bay. Turning left however, takes you further up the East Coast to the remote beach at Stony Bay.
Stony Bay is a deep inlet, flanked by the bush-clad hills of Mount Moehau. This is the far eastern end of the line for the top of the Coromandel. From the 5-hectare campground, you can drop down to the sea to go fishing or diving, otherwise follow the Coromandel Walkway to Fletcher Bay or loop high up the hill on the mountain bike track (grade: intermediate).
As a standard DOC campsite, Stony Bay has good facilities. There is water from the tap, toilets, a barbeque and even a cold shower. That’s a good excuse to take your solar shower.
Waikawau Bay campsite is DOC’s most popular site in the North Island and it’s not difficult to see why—a stunning beach, an open camp site and relative isolation.
In spite of its popularity, it is easy to get away from other campers, if that’s what you want, and the beach, which stretches to the north, is a great place to do just that—you might have to share the sand with NZ dotterels and oystercatchers, they are all busy with nesting around the summer period. Just remember, it’s no holiday for them!
Waikawau Bay campground has undergone a transformation in the last few years as flood prone areas in the camp are retired and others are brought into use to cope with the demand during the peak season.
The camp shop can keep you supplied with essentials.
Fantail Bay faces west onto the Hauraki Gulf under the giant pohutukawa trees that characterise the coastal vegetation in the Coromandel. The westerly aspect keeps the day warm, and dappled light through the trees keeps the tent sites cool in the hot midday sun.
The fishing must be good because last summer when I was there, some campers I met were throwing back the snapper under 10 pounds (why do fishers still talk in pounds? New Zealand went metric in about 1972).
It was a fishing competition among the camping families who have been coming back for four generations and it wasn’t just the oldies catching the big ones! Having a boat is a good idea.
Fantail Bay campsite has a toehold to a corner of the Coromandel Forest Park and the track behind the camp leads up towards Mount Moehau. In the evening you can climb up the steep hill track for about 30 minutes and hear kiwi. There are a few pairs up there and the pest control operations by MEG (Moehau Environment Group), local iwi, and DOC allow them to thrive.
Shoehorned onto the sandy strip between the beach and the road, this long thin campsite is very popular and it is easy to see why.
The safe beach is at the front of your tent, the pohutukawa and dunes are all around you and the northerly aspect means you have sunshine for most of the day. This makes it an idyllic spot to camp and to launch your boat. The sandy beach sweeps east to the Muriwai walkway that begins at the headland and travels along the coastal cliff towards Fletcher Bay. The views from up there are stunning in all directions and recent pest control work has seen the cliff-dwelling pohutukawa trees coming back strongly to provide a spectacular sight in the early summer.
The chances to paddle, swim and fish in this area are countless and with a family friendly atmosphere, Port Jackson makes a great summer camping site that’s away from the madding crowd. If you are missing your phone fix, the northern-most phone box in the Coromandel is outside the camp gate, but obviously you can’t text on it. Just carry on camping.
It’s the end of the line here. If you go any further east, it will have to be on foot or on a bike around the Coromandel Walkway to Stony Bay.
The old timers will tell you of the days of camping in a sheep paddock. These days, it’s a bit more organised, and a bit more popular. It’s still raw, but with intensive plantings over the last winter, and a bit of subtle landscape management, the place will be stunning in a very short time.
Hardly surprising, the fishing is still good and the location, looking out towards Great Barrier Island, is an image straight off the lid of an old biscuit tin. If you need more salubrious accommodation, there is the backpackers lodge at the back of the campground.