Camping is deeply ingrained in our idea of what makes the perfect Kiwi summer.
And in these days of multi-million-dollar beach-side "baches", tossing your tent in the car or hooking up the caravan are among the best, cheapest ways to secure yourself some coastal real estate, if only temporarily. The trick is to book early. Some of our best seaside campsites are booked out months, sometimes years, in advance.
Here are our picks for some of the country’s best camping spots whether you're after beach, or comparative seclusion in native bush.
Poukaraka Flats, Whakanewha Regional Park, Waiheke Island
The beauty of Waiheke as a summer holiday spot, as every Aucklander knows, is that less than an hour after you leave the central city, you're in a cruisy beachside resort town, permanently set to "relax".
Poukaraka Flats camping ground, nestled at one end of Rocky Bay on the
south side of the island, is the perfect spot to loll on the beach or meander around the bay in a kayak. Alternatively, use the campsite as a base and spend your days wandering around the coastal forests, wetlands, historic sites and among the native birds of the regional park. It’s also a great safe spot for the kids to swim. You'll need to go prepared though, the facilities are basic with just flush toilets and cold water showers.
Cost per night: Adult $15, children $6; maximum seven nights
Wagener Holiday Park, Northland
Located at the entrance to Houhora Harbour on Northland’s east coast, north of Kaitaia. This is a gem of a campsite. It’s big – with more than 300 sites, but it’s still chocka come summer. It’s a beautiful spot, perfect for fishing, boating, barbecuing, swimming, diving and
Ninety Mile Beach is a short drive away, Cape Reinga makes a great day-trip and if you check first, you can often take your pets.
Cost per night: Starts from $15 per adult and $7 per child
Pohara Beach Holiday Park, Golden Bay
The jewel in the crown of the South Island is a perfect mix of gold sand, turquoise water and warm weather. Of course, that means come summer it is jam-packed with sun seekers.
The camping ground and beach gets chocka but if that gets too much there’s always neighbouring Abel Tasman and Kahurangi National parks and the famous Te Waikoropupu Springs to escape to – or take a four-wheel-drive safari up to Farewell Spit wetlands and bird sanctuary. On the way take the kids to the beautiful and safe Pakawau Beach for a swim.
Cost per night (non-powered site): starts from $40
Kai Iwi Lakes, Northland
For a change from sandy beach camping, but still within relatively easy reach of Auckland, it’s hard to beat Kai Iwi Lakes, found 35km northwest of Dargaville. There is a small, basic campsite among the trees on the shores of Lake Taharoa – the largest of Kai Iwi’s three lakes. The beautiful clear lake waters are perfect for safe swimming, as well as fishing and water-skiing. If you decide you must get to the beach, Baylys Beach is a short drive away.
Alternatively, take the 40-minute walk across adjoining farmland to find
yourself on the wild Tasman coast of Ripiro Beach. There is a network of walking tracks right through the Lake Domain and Waipoua Kauri Forest, home to the famous Tane Mahuta, is a few minutes' drive up the road.
Cost per night: From $15
Te Araroa Holiday Park, East Cape
The East Coast of the North Island is one long collection of spectacular beaches, none more so than those that surround East Cape. Te Araroa Campsite sits nestled between some of the best of them. The campground itself is set back a short walk off a safe swimming beach, amongst tall shady trees.
The facilities are good but fairly basic, and take a decent torch as there’s not a lot of lighting, come sundown.
The beach also has rock caves and tidal waters that are great spots for kids to explore. There’s another great swimming and surfing beach just over the hill on the way north at Hicks Bay, and there’s good fishing along this coast too. And if you're after a little exercise head to East Cape and climb the 700 steps to the lighthouse. If you're really keen you could do it to watch the sunrise.
Cost per night: From $11
Te Araroa Holiday Park
Kaiteriteri Recreation Reserve Camp, Motueka
Motueka has so much to offer. Just a stones throw from the Abel Tasman National Park, you can camp with your family over summer and do as little or as much as you want. The Kaiteriteri Recreation Reserve Camp is a beachfront campground set in the scenic Kaiteriteri Reserve and it overlooks the beautiful bay. The sheltered golden beaches for safe bathing and water sports and walking tracks are nearby.
Cost per night (powered site) – 2 adults $38, child 5-14yrs $9
Riverside Holiday Park, Mangawhai
Located just 100km north of Auckland this is another popular spot. Sitting on its own stretch of beach on Mangawhai Harbour, Riverside has great facilities including a playground for the kids, kayaks for hire and it is a perfect mix of summer seclusion with civilisation in the form of cafes and restaurants not too far away in Mangawhai.
A must-do in this area is a visit to the DoC-managed sand dunes, home to dotterel and oystercatchers. If you're feeling active, take the three-hour circular coastal/cliff-top walk that starts at Mangawhai Heads, taking in farmland and bush areas with great views to Bream Head and over the Hauraki Gulf.
Cost per night: $20 adult; $10 child
Kauaeranga Valley, Coromandel
The Coromandel in summer is all about miles of white sand, beaches and hot-red pohutukawa trees, right? Wrong. There’s also the lush greenery of the Kauaeranga Valley, located 14km inland from Thames. Arguably this is one of the peninsula’s hidden treasures, known mostly to those who venture in to conquer the famous Pinnacles walk.
There are eight DoC-operated campsites here, all tucked in among native forest beside the Kauaeranga River. Facilities are good but basic. There’s not a beach in sight, but there are beautiful swimming holes in the river, as well as a range of walks and great fishing spots.
Cost per night (unpowered): adult $13, child $6.50
Makarora Tourist Centre, Southern Lakes
Here’s another one for those happy campers for whom a New Zealand summer means something other than sandy beaches.
Makarora Tourist Centre sits just beyond the northern tip of Lake Wanaka, in a prime spot for those wanting to make the most of the Southern Lakes District’s fishing, tramping and hunting possibilities. The resort has its own restaurant and swimming pool and there are beautiful views over the river.
If you need a little more civilisation, Wanaka and Haast are both an hour’s drive away.
Cost per night (unpowered): $15pp
Article updated from original December 2018. Adapted article from Kerri Jackson