No effort and oodles of enjoyment make for a wonderful weekend's glamping, writes Emma Russell
The soft tweet of a kingfisher replaces the usual pinging of my phone as I wake.
No drivers roaring with fury as they battle through Auckland traffic. No flatmate's footsteps thumping up and down the wooden hallway outside my bedroom at 7am on a Saturday. No high-pitched scream from the coffee machine at the cafe next door.
And for a short moment, as I slump further into the soft linen sheets covering a surprisingly luxurious puffed up air bed, I forget where I am.
Until a whiff of crisp salt air and the sound of distant waves brings me back to consciousness.
Then I remember: I'm glamping at a DOC campsite on Uretiti beach near Waipū, about an hour and a half drive north of Auckland on the east coast.
In case you've been sleeping this past decade, haven't seen the movie Bridget Jones's Baby or haven't been to or heard of Coachella, glamping is a word coined from glamorous camping.
Instead of waking up drenched in sweat thanks to the lack of fresh air in my normal tent provides and with a stiff back from a sleeping mat that gives little to no comfort at all, I woke up inside a spacious bell tent feeling rather content.
It truly felt as if all my work woes and life stresses had diminished after just one night glamping at this off-grid site.
And for those who are still adamant glamorous camping does not exist, I urge you to try it.
Dirk Paetzold did and he's never looked back.
Twelve years ago he was trekking into the Sahara desert on camelback when he arrived at a Moroccan desert camping site.
"That was when I realised camping can be much more than a Kathmandu tent and a sleeping bag."
More than a decade later, the Germany-born Kiwi decided to bring a piece of his Morocco experience to New Zealand, launching a business he dubbed Landroamer.
Paetzold hopes his new business will make glamping more accessible to New Zealanders.
Customers reserve a date with Landroamer then book the campsite through DOC or Auckland City Council.
After that, it's a matter of turning up with food and drink and without the worry of jamming all the gear in the car and spending hours setting up camp.
"The Auckland region has some incredibly beautiful campsites, and I wanted to help people to experience them," he says.
"Because we provide all the gear, and do all the set-up and pack-down, the camping experience is much more accessible and time-efficient for people."
He said the experience was likely to appeal to those who wouldn't usually consider
"There's no need to sacrifice style and comfort when you're out in nature – we've invested in beautiful, high-end camping equipment to ensure that the experience is memorable for all the right reasons."
"I'm a bit of a romantic at heart, and modern camping equipment doesn't really
appeal to me – there's too much plastic and polyester, and things aren't built to last.
Well-made, high-quality pieces have so much more character, and I think they make
your experience that much more pleasurable."
Paetzold said that before Covid hit, international travellers were the company's focus so when the borders shut it meant many bookings had to be cancelled.
"We've lucky we were in the early days still and have been able to be flexible with our offering but it has been very stressful and the uncertainty is real.
"With the borders closed, we're now looking at how we can continue and get enough business to keep operating solely targeting New Zealanders while we await bubbles with other countries."
Desperate to get away from pre-Christmas stresses, I hopped in a car and headed for Auckland's northern motorway. Dragging my friend Bridget along with me, we didn't stop until arriving at our beachside destination nearly two hours later (peak traffic).
Despite our late arrival, we were met by a friendly DOC staffer who directed us to our "VIP site".
Through some shrubbery, we were greeted with a canvas bell tent perched on a hilltop behind rolling sand dunes. And as if it was part of a magical movie set, this weekend abode was literally glowing as the sun set in the background.
Every comfort did appear to be carefully catered for.
At the front of the tent were a wooden table and chairs, a picnic rug, a chilly bin, a barbecue, cooking appliances galore, groovy lamps and plenty of storage.
Ducking only slightly to get through the entrance of the tent (bear in mind I'm quite tall), I discovered space enough to fit a queen-size bed, plenty of floor space, a trunk filled with all sorts of camping goodies and an array of books to indulge in during our stay.
The next morning, a booklet of "things to do in the area" instantly caught my eye. It was filled with information about exploring the Waipū Caves, swimming at Piroa Falls, hiking at Whāngārei heads, taking a snorkel tour at Goat Island, spending the day at Uretiti beach or checking out Waipū village. There were activities for everyone to enjoy.
First thing was first, I had to take a closer look at the beach on our doorstep.
At 8am in early December, there was not a soul on white-sanded east coast beach that ran for miles. No exaggeration, it was like a dream.
Dipping my toes in the surf was like hopping into a lukewarm bath. Nothing like the polar plunges of a month prior.
Making the most of the "off the grid" setting, I tucked into a book for an hour before deciding we'd better make the most of our surroundings.
A 20-minute drive away was Piroa Falls, which turned out to be about a five-minute walk to some picturesque waterfalls from the road - an ideal activity if you found yourself needing to cool off en route back to Auckland after a trip up north.
There was a picnic table too, if you fancied stopping in for lunch and maybe a cheeky game of cards in among some native bush.
Checking out Waipū village was next on the list. We came across an incredible antique shop called Industry Vintage where Bridget managed to walk away with a mid-century modern coffee table that she somehow was able to fit in the back seat of my petite Suzuki Swift.
We headed back to the campsite with ravenous appetites. Catering to our needs, we toasted some sourdough sourced from Waipu's Four Square and topped it with avocados, cherry tomatoes, parmesan and a side of grilled asparagus.
The rest of our meals were made easy on the Weber barbecue. We spent the remainder of the weekend doing close to nothing and it was great.
Before hopping back in the stuffy car to go back to Auckland, I decided to go for a run along the beach only to be met with a pod of dolphins pointed out by a crew of fishermen enjoying the view.
Feeling drunk on tranquillity, it felt like a reminder of the value of slowing down to absorb the beauty that surrounds us.