Since I was a baby I have enjoyed camping in tents and caravans.
I've clocked up 30-plus years of roughing it and, although lately I've seen more hotel rooms than tents, it's time to reconnect with a Kiwi tradition - camping. These are my top five sunny spots ...
1 Without a doubt Hahei takes top spot. Our family camped here for over 20 years. It's just a few hours from Auckland (leave in the morning to avoid traffic and never return on a Sunday afternoon if you don't want a drive home with road rage). The beach at Hahei is safe, there are walks, cafes and a restaurant (these days) and, of course, Cathedral Cove - NZ's most beautiful beach - just a short walk away. The negative? Hahei has become a mini Auckland suburb in summer.
2 Tauranga Bay, Northland. I found this camp ground by accident and it's become my new favourite. It has no shops, apart from a very basic one in the camp ground. The beach and lagoon are safe to swim in, the area is surrounded by farms and manuka forests. It's hot up there and you can even camp right on the dune - unzip your tent, take two steps and you're on white sand. A little pricey for camping but worth every cent.
3 For those who want to rough it without travelling too far, let me suggest Port Jackson. This is a Department of Conservation campsite at the very tip of Coromandel Peninsula. Nearest shop, an hour's drive on a bumpy metal road. The benefit is no one around to crowd your holiday. A short drive up the hill and you can look over the Gulf to see the Sky Tower and Rangitoto. Sheep farms, native forests, a huge white sand beach. A place to get away from shops, people, hot water or electricity. I love it but three nights is the most I've handled there.
4 Maitai Bay, Northland. Another DoC campsite, this one is stunningly beautiful. Shops and takeaways are a short drive away. It is mostly Maori or DoC land so is quiet and beautiful. The bay is split into two U-shapes with flat, blue water to swim in, white sand beaches to relax on and flowering pohutukawa to nap under.
5 As far from the sea as you can get in New Zealand, Alexandra in Central Otago, is an amazing summer area to camp in, and quite out of this world if you're from the green North Island. Take your pick of lakes, rivers and camp grounds. Enjoy the driest climate in NZ ... you are guaranteed to have a mostly dry holiday if you stay long enough. Highs of up to 40C and few people to distract you. Fishing, walking or just reading - it's quiet, peaceful and, to me, an inland paradise.