Sleep among giants of the ancient forest

By Sarah Ell

Rain and thunder just add to the experience for Sarah Ell and her family
Highfield Forest Retreat. Photo / Supplied.
Highfield Forest Retreat. Photo / Supplied.

It is a forecast to strike fear into the heart of even the most hardened camper: showers, turning to rain, occasional thunderstorms. But what's a bit of rain when you are glamping?

Glamping agency Canopy Camping Escapes has recently opened Highfield Forest Retreat near Kaihu, on the Kauri Coast.

Heading north of Dargaville, we are just about convinced we are lost when we arrive at our rendezvous point, the historic Kaihu Tavern, to meet our host Tracy Hayward.

The glampsite is tucked into the edge of a patch of native forest on Tracy and Simon Hayward's dairy farm.

Rain is threatening, and we are enchanted to find that our hideaway for the weekend includes not only a luxury tent but also an old kauri farm hut, which has been moved on site and gussied up to make a cosy kitchen and living area.

Windows all around let in lots of light and views of the green canopy of young kauri, ferns and manuka. There's also a gas-powered hot shower out the back, and a separate little shed with a non-smelly composting toilet.

The rain starts in the night but we are dry and comfortable in the tent. There's a cosy queen bed for us and camp beds with quilts for the kids, who go to sleep listening to the plock of water dripping off the trees above.

The weather is not great on Saturday, but we have our cosy cabin to cook pancakes in -- using fresh farm eggs provided by Tracy.

It's not so wet underneath the forest canopy that we can't explore in our raincoats. We poke around in the stream behind the tent and walk through the trees up the old bullock track behind the glampsite.

Because we are so close to the kauri forest at Waipoua, we hop in the car and head north. The kids fall asleep as we navigate the winding road through the forest, so we drive all the way to Opononi on the Hokianga (about 50km) for excellent coffee and lunch at The Landing Cafe and a run on the beach once the kids come to.

We take our time on the way back, stopping for a couple of short walks in Waipoua and to wonder at the simply massive size of these trees.

You can see why they made such excellent ship masts, housing and furniture timber, but it seems almost sacrilegious to consider that these wonders of nature were hewn down with so little thought for their intrinsic value.

The weather isn't any better by the time we get back to camp, but we have a dry hut in which to cook dinner and hang out.

Glamping is the way to enjoy the New Zealand bush, while enjoying - almost - the luxuries of home. Photo / Supplied.
Glamping is the way to enjoy the New Zealand bush, while enjoying - almost - the luxuries of home. Photo / Supplied.

My 5-year-old son and I also have a special time together in the outdoor bath, the rain gently falling through the leafy canopy as we lay in warm water, playing I Spy.

In the night my husband and I are woken by heavy rain and enormous cracks of thunder - loud when there is only a single sheet of canvas between you and outdoors - but the kids sleep on.

There are patches of blue sky by breakfast time, so we have a walk around the farm, looking for kauri snails and other treasures, before we pack up and head for the Trounson Kauri Park, just five minutes up the road.

Trounson is a hidden treasure, a mainland island off the beaten track (and it's not even that beaten), and home to kiwi and other native species. A 40-minute boardwalk loop through it is the perfect length for a family walk.

It is a pleasure and privilege to walk among stands of huge kauri, and being able to sleep among the trees, while staying warm and dry, with almost all the comforts of home - added to the experience.

• Sarah was a guest of Canopy Camping Escapes.

Need to know
Highfield Forest Retreat, Kaihu (25 minutes' drive north of Dargaville). canopycamping.co.nz

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