New Zealand: Wild beauty at the road's end

By Jill Malcolm

Jill Malcolm uncovers six of New Zealand's best motorhome destinations in some of the remotest regions of the country

Motorhomes offer a way to see hidden parts of the country.
Motorhomes offer a way to see hidden parts of the country.

Pounawea Motor Camp

A highlight for motorhomers travelling through the Catlins is the campground in the tiny settlement of Pounawea, just 3km from the town of Owaka and the beginning of the Catlins Coastal Rainforest Park. The camp, shaded by tall totara trees, is next to a scenic reserve of virgin bush and the saltmarsh flats of the Owaka and Catlin River estuaries.

A bush walk in the reserve leads through dense native woodlands. Another track begins in the forest and continues along the estuary. The area is rich in bird life - waders, waterbirds and kereru - and every morning singing tui and bellbirds claim the area as their own. Upgraded facilities are now in excellent order. As a great base for exploring the northern Catlins, it is no surprise this camp is consistently given a thumbs-up by those who stay there.

Gunn's Camp

Deep in a wild Fiordland valley is a camping place built on a long history.

This was once the site of Deadman's Hut where legendary runholder, back-country hero and pioneering tourism operator Davey Gunn established a base and spent 30 years of his life. After Davey's death, his son, the equally legendary Murray Gunn, who retired in 2005, ran the camp. Nowadays it's managed by the Hollyford Museum Charitable Trust.

In the camping area there are plenty of unpowered sites but just three powered sites. A generator supplies power to them by day but is closed down at night.

But the real power at Gunn's camp is its environment in the deep valley of the Hollyford River, shadowed by the towering Darran Mountains. It's wild and wonderful. No wonder the Gunns stayed on so long. It might be a hard place to live in but even harder to leave.

Motutara Farm

The barely-there village of Whananaki North, about 22km inland from Hikurangi in the Far North, is divided from South Whananaki by a wide curving estuary.

Connecting its two shores is the longest footbridge in the Southern Hemisphere.

The estuary's north head is an undulating peninsula farmed since 1920 by generations of the Barron Family. Owners Helen and Bruce Barron, have turned the 75ha property into a superb camping ground. Hillside terraces have been levelled to make individual sites among embracing foliage. Others are marked out on the beachfronts or in the sheltered valleys.

Whananaki is the way campgrounds used to be.
Whananaki is the way campgrounds used to be.

Waves on two surf beaches unfold against shortbread-coloured sand and shady pohutukawa leaning drunkenly along the fringes. This is the way camping grounds used to be - just cold water and long-drop toilets by way of facilities, and nature providing the rest. The tip of the peninsula has been gifted as a reserve and undulating walkways over farmland lead to rocky inlets and secluded beaches.

Tapotupotu Bay

Three kilometres before Cape Reinga a metal road leads to this remote horseshoe-shaped bay, which is bordered by a wide beach of creamy-coloured sand. The DoC camp makes the most of the flat, grassed area next to the beach and the tidal river estuary leading to the mangroves. Cold showers, toilets and water are available and payment is $6 a person a night (cash). Fishing from the beach can be excellent and there are rocky platforms at either end. At the west end of the bay a steep track leads up the cliffs to Sandy Bay and to the Cape Reinga Lighthouse (five hours return). You need to be reasonably fit as the climbs are taxing. Even a short climb affords a wonderful view of this wild and beautiful corner of the northern coastline.

Poukaraka Flats Camp Ground

Getting your motorhome there will lighten your pocket but camping on Waiheke Island is still an economical way to stay on one of Auckland's favourite playgrounds. The campground is at a designated area known as Poukaraka Flats, which is in the Whakanewha Auckland Regional Park on the shore of Rocky Bay. It is secluded by the hills and forest around it and divided and sheltered by thickets of mature trees.

Whakanewha park is on the southern side of the island - a large area of mature forest, cascading streams, walkways and a crescent-shaped beach cut in two by a bush covered headland which was once the site of a pa. The campground has flush toilets, cold showers and gas barbecues and although the beach is not its best feature it is favoured by families with young children as it's shallow and calm.

Lake Waikaremoana Holiday Park

The very remoteness of Lake Waikaremoana in the Urewera Mountains of the North Island has saved it from the claws of development. Even today it takes some getting to - on SH38 from Rotorua (a wild road I would not recommend for RVs) or a twisting 60km drive from Wairoa. Waikaremoana translates as "sea of rippling waters" which is exactly what it is - a great stretch of water surrounded by soaring mountains of mudstone that are covered in a tangle of forest.

A prime parking spot above Mokau Beach affords wonderful views.
A prime parking spot above Mokau Beach affords wonderful views.

At Home Bay is a holiday park where most people who stay at the lake end up; but there is another delightful DoC camping spot at Mokau Inlet, 17km further on. The road is not recommended for large motorhomes. Except for summer holidays this gem of a place is away from the madding crowds.

- NZ Herald

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