Archives For Camping

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.

By Clare Moore, Community Relations Ranger, Marlborough

If you’re not keen on camping you obviously haven’t explored one of our lovely Marlborough conservation campsites.

Family campers walking at Momorangi campsite.

Momorangi campsite

I know campers can be a bit picky, so we cater to a range of campers and camping styles; from lush forest settings, to sandy beaches and shimmering lakes.

You can camp in scenic surroundings from as little as $6 a night.

Wilderness wanderer

For the wilderness wanderer, camping is definitely about getting away from it all. A bit of bush or forest perhaps, or maybe a tranquil lake or a bubbling brook… Ah, the serenity!

To satisfy your quest for peace and quiet, campsites off the beaten track are your best bet. They have toilets and a water supply (possibly a stream), and that’s probably it! You don’t need to book them either and some are even free.

In Marlborough there lots of campsites which would suit the wilderness wanderer, especially those in the Marlborough Sounds which you need a boat to reach, like Putanui Point, South Arm and Tawa Bay.

Awatere Valley in Molesworth Station. Photo: Gregor Ronald (CC BY-NC-SA 2.0)

Molesworth Station. Photo: Gregor Ronald

If you are travelling by car you could visit Titirangi Farm Park in the outer Kenepuru Sound, Cob Cottage in Molesworth or Whatamango Bay on the Port Underwood Rd.

Family camper

Family campers have young ones that can dictate where you can go.

To keep them happy, and yourself sane, you’ll need access to activities in the area to occupy them—and it wouldn’t hurt to have a few facilities to help make things simpler.

Most family campers don’t mind having other families and campers around, and like the idea that an ice-cream treat isn’t too far away!

Pelorus Bridge and Whites Bay are perfect for families – good facilities, safe swimming areas, plenty of walks and not too far to travel.

White's Bay beach at the White's Bay campsite.

White’s Bay beach


If the thought of camping freaks you out a little, because you don’t want to use a long drop and would rather not go without a shower, then you might just be a glamper (glamour camper). You know that camping is a fun, social summer ‘must-do’, but you want to ease in to it gently.

At these sites there may not be cell phone reception, and there won’t be a power plug for your hair straightener sorry, but you will find showers and won’t be too far from an ice cream, or a coffee if you’re lucky!

Glampers in Marlborough should check out French Pass campsite or Momorangi Bay.

The beach at the French Pass campsite.

French Pass campsite

Check out the DOC website to find links to more conservation campsites in Marlborough, and the rest of New Zealand, and dust off your tent, air out the chilly bin, and get out and create some long-lasting memories in our great outdoors.

Where are the best places to go camping in New Zealand? We asked five DOC rangers to tell us about their favourites, in less than ten words. This is what they told us:

Hot Water Beach campsite, Lake Tarawera

“Hot pools abound, cook in the ground, without a sound.” ~ Manu Rangiheuea, Aquatic Pests Ranger, Rotorua

Hot Water Beach, Lake Tarawera. Photo: Dino Borelli | CC BY-NC 2.0

Hot Water Beach, Lake Tarawera. Photo: Dino Borelli


Pelorus Bridge campsite, Marlborough

“Best swimming hole ever, amazing forest, and long tailed bats!” ~ Clare Duston, Community Relations Ranger, Marlborough

Pelorus Bridge, Marlborough. Photo: Jeff Hitchcock | CC BY 2.0

Pelorus Bridge, Marlborough. Photo: Jeff Hitchcock


Peel Forest campground, Canterbury

“Really good facilities, grass spaces, swimming, shady forest and waterfalls.” ~ Andy Thompson, Recreation Technical Advisor, Christchurch

Peel Forest, Canterbury. Photo: Anne Devereaux | CC BY-NC-SA 2.0

Peel Forest, Canterbury. Photo: Anne Devereaux


Lake Kaniere campsite, Hokitika

“Cycle trail, swimming, waterfall, bird song, relax or adventure.” ~ Jose Watson, Partnerships Ranger, Hokitika

Lake Kaniere, Hokitika. Photo: Jason Blair | CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

Lake Kaniere, Hokitika. Photo: Jason Blair


Mavora Lakes campsite, Southland

“In winter, snow, lake, starry skies, mountains. In summer, bliss!” ~ Chrissy Wickes, Biodiversity Ranger, Fiordland

Mavora Lakes, Southland. Photo: Andy Nelson | CC BY-NC 2.0

Mavora Lakes, Southland. Photo: Andy Nelson

Hopefully that’s given you a few ideas for your next camping trip.

Now, are you generous enough to share your favourite New Zealand campsite with us? We’d love to hear from you. Leave a comment below and see if you can tell us in under 10 words!

Happy camping everyone.

Totaranui campground has held an almost mythical quality for me. I had heard so many people talk about it, how they return every year but I had never been there myself. The ballot system over Christmas implied that, like some private schools, you had to be part of ‘the establishment’ to get to go.

Relaxing outside the tent at Totaranui campground.

A moment of relaxation at Totaranui

But when I heard friends were taking their child out of school to go during the off season, I was quick to gatecrash the party. Nervous about asking for more time off work so soon after Christmas my husband was taken aback when his boss said, “You have to go! Take at least a week, here borrow my kayak!”

Feeling a little nervous about the long drive ahead of us, we left Christchurch at 4 am. The children were so excited but were asleep again by 5 am and we were in Murchison for breakfast.

Kayak on the beach at Totaranui campground.

Use of the boss’s kayak was an added bonus

We arrived at the campsite early afternoon. The colours were extreme – sky was blue; sea was green and the sands were as golden as all the advertising photos promise. It reminded me of cheesecake – the moment when you pour the melted butter into the crushed biscuits – mmmm.

As soon as the tent was up, we were heading to the lagoon for the first of many swims. We were sharing a bay with four other families, all Totaranui regulars. They knew how to make the most of the place, especially at this quieter time of year.

Roasting marshmallows at Totaranui campground.

Roasting marshmallows

Being Totaranui novices we learned a lot from them. They had bought flannelette pyjamas as the days were hot but nights were cool. And as well as solar showers they had bought black plastic boxes which they filled up with water every morning and sat in the sun for the children to wash in after each trip to the beach.

The children were in heaven. There was no mention of the TV or the computer all week. Instead they played and dug in the sand with their new friends, crafting mermaid tails and mini pa sites with driftwood. They learned how to paddle a kayak. They stayed up late to see the stars, cooked marshmallows over an open fire. They explored the rock pools, saw a stingray, hermit crabs, and kina. They built little boats out of harakeke and tested their sail-ability on the lagoon. They got bashed over by big waves and wrote postcards to their cousin.

Children investigating the rock pools at Totaranui campground.

Discovering the rock pools at Totaranui campground

The children all picked up a Kiwi Ranger booklet and earned a badge featuring weka and rata as well as the signature stretch of golden sand. The booklet is a great prompt to take time to explore further – it wasn’t until our third visit exploring rock pools that we spotted red sea anemones come to life under the water! A visit from a juvenile black-backed gull to our campsite meant William grabbed his booklet to quickly sketch the bird and note its features, while his campsite journal entry gave him pause to think and record all the special memories from his trip.

In exchange for a week out of school, he also had to fill in a diary entry each day. Some of his entries were quite poetic; “cutting through the waves in the kayak was like killing the waves and the splashes were like splashes of blood” (a bit dark but that’s boys for you!). Some things he didn’t mention were apparently a secret – like the secret jumping rock (Spoilsport Mum!).

Jumping from the rocks onto the beach at Totaranui campground.

Fun on the beach

The highlight for us all was the night walk to see the glow worms. The sun was setting pale and pink just as we made our way across the lagoon. The kids were all rugged up against the cold night air.  As dusk fell the glow worms appeared under banks and amongst tree ferns, little sparks in the dark. It was better than a class room as they excitedly asked lots of questions.

On the return journey each child was given a glow stick, which dispelled any fears of the dark. A ruru called directly above us and a possum ran up a tree and glared.

The beach at Totaranui campground at sunset.

Totaranui at sunset

It was a trip to remember. Now I know why families go back there every year. Once you have been, you will know too.

Totaranui Kiwi Ranger badge featuring a weka.

Totaranui Kiwi Ranger badge

By Angeline Barnes, Community Outreach Coordinator

DOC's Piripiri campsite sign.

Welcome to Piripiri campsite

Last week, while out with DOC’s Manawatu Area team, I met a young girl named Hannah. She had planned and arranged a camping trip for her group of friends and they were camping at Piripiri, a free DOC campsite, along the Pohangina River.

Cooking on the campfire at Piripiri campsite.

Cooking on the campfire

Along with a little bit of help from her mum she had organised the camping trip. She had developed invitations, food plans, budgets, travel plans, sleeping plans and more.

The kids made gifts from natural materials at the Piripiri campsite.

Making gifts from natural materials

To make it happen they allowed one adult to come, purely for health and safety reasons! But the adult’s attendance (in the form of Hannah’s mother) came with rules – she had to sleep in her own tent ‘outside’ of the campsite territory, which was marked with colourful bunting spread amongst the trees.

The campsite was so lovely – a young girl’s dream  – nature as the backdrop, colourful bunting, tents, friends and lots of giggling.

Making chocolate damper dough leads to messy hands.

Chocolate damper dough hands!

Hannah’s mum was allowed to accompany them to the river where they swam (beautiful swimming spot), jumped off a ledge and had a fabulous time. I went and had a chat to them and they were all so happy – creating their childhood memories.

Crowding around the campfire.

Crowding around the campfire

By Jack Mace, West Coast Tai Poutini Conservancy Office

Two tents on top of the Price Range near Mt Cloher.

Camping on top of the Price Range

I recently spent the weekend camped on top of the Price Range just north of Mt Cloher. For those who don’t know where that is, it’s in the coastal ranges between the Whataroa and Waitangi Taona Rivers, just north of Franz Josef. This wasn’t a jolly recreational camping trip though – we were up there to work, taking an inventory of plants, birds and mammals.

Our campsite itself was tucked into a snow basin, thankfully almost all of the snow melted. We camped on the eastern side of the ridge, in an area dotted with the bright yellow of snow buttercups (Ranunculus sericophyllus), and with views out over the Perth and Whataroa Rivers as far as the Garden of Eden Ice Plateau.

View from camp towards Mt Victoria and the Garden of Eden - (l-r) Chippy Wood, Mike Perry, Anneke Hermans, Pete Doonan.

View from camp towards Mt Victoria and the Garden of Eden – (L-R) Chippy Wood, Mike Perry, Anneke Hermans, Pete Doonan

We spent 3 days working down in some hellish steep and uncomfortable country but were well rewarded. Over 75 species of plant in our 20 metre x 20 metre plot, including Mt Cook buttercups, native foxgloves, eyebrights, alpine cress and several species of prickly speargrass.

Kea swooping around camp.

Kea swooping around camp

We spotted a good number of tahr and chamois through the binoculars, including a few potential trophy heads, and had kea and pipits cavorting around our campsite. We even got see the endangered rock wren and giant alpine weta.

Male rock wren scolding us for intruding in his territory.

Male rock wren scolding us for intruding in his territory

Not bad for a weekend’s work.

The view from the top of Price Range near Mt Cloher.

The view from the top of Price Range

New Zealand has an extensive history of gold mining. The principal New Zealand gold fields were Coromandel, Nelson/Marlborough, Central Otago and West Coast. DOC has as many as 1000 gold-mining sites on lands it manages, and some of these are currently used as campsites.

Grant Jacobs the author of the blog, “Code for life”, shares a recent experience he had while on a camping trip at a gold-mining era campsite. He writes*:

“[When] camping in New Zealand, small items left lying around are at risk from thieves. I was reminded of this whilst sitting on the foundation stones of what was once an old gold miner’s hut, the iron remains of the roof and perhaps chimney at my feet, reading a novel with my tent pitched on the other side of the clearing where the thief stalked.”

Tent across the clearing at an old gold mining campsite. Photo taken by Grant Jacobs.

Tent across the clearing at an old gold mining campsite

“Some of these camping grounds are now, and probably were then, home to indigenous thieves. As I sat on the foundation of the miners hut, my back against a tree, I became aware that one such cheeky thief was prowling my tent on the other side of the little clearing.”

A weka under the outer fly of the tent looking for items to steal. Photo taken by Grant Jacobs.

A weka under the outer fly of the tent looking for items to steal

“Those not familiar with weka might think that they would only steal food, but stories say that weka will steal seemingly anything portable that attracts their attention. Of the non-edible objects, lore has it that a bit like the gold miners, they prefer shiny things.

Weka have a bit of a reputation for pilfering small objects. They will take the objects to the nearest cover to investigate them. For this reason it is best not to chase weka but to simply watch where they go and retrieve the objects a little later.

Because of its scavenging habit, the weka can be problematic for conservationists. Some subspecies are threatened, but moving them to offshore islands can disrupt other threatened wildlife species. For example, weka released onto Codfish Island, where they haven’t lived in recent times, threatened the viability of the Cook’s petrels there and had to be removed.

Make sure you check out Grant’s full blog post.

*All text and photos from the blog “Code for Life” are copyrighted content of Grant Jacobs.