This summer we wanted to embrace the close-by and the convenient. I don't know if it was because we were being lazy, or we couldn't face long car drives in the heat, but we decided to stick close to home, and enjoy a quieter Auckland and its surrounds.
I've stayed out at Te Henga (Bethells Beach) a few times over the years, always renting Airbnbs that never really excited me, and I'd had my eye on the Wainamu luxury tents for a while. A last-minute cancellation meant we lucked in on a stay across New Year's Eve, and we were wildly happy. Only a 40-minute drive from home, it fitted in with our urban holiday ideals perfectly.
I am allergic to the word "glamping" because it sounds smug, so instead, I would describe the experience in a beautiful patch of land behind Lake Wainamu as "Luxury Naturing" at its loveliest. Jim and Anna Wheeler, proprietors of the three isolated campsites on their land, have thought of every single thing you might need.
The tent has both a bedroom and a living area, complete with wooden floors, couches and a front porch. The queen bed is, sincerely, the most comfortable bed I have slept in away from home. Fresh linen, candles to read by — it's not only functional but romantic.
The campsites are off the grid, so it's lantern light after dark, and the effect is incredibly relaxing, as you begin to match your rhythm to the sun coming up and going down. It also means that at night it is pitch black, and the hand in front of your face is a stranger. But make it out of the tent, and the most luminous star show will light your way.
It's magic tucked up in bed listening to the ruru call the night hours and waking to the most rambunctious dawn chorus you can imagine. For anyone in love with nature, this camp is a dream, with resident tui and pīwakawaka spying on you wherever you go. There is no water shortage at Wainamu - if the rain tanks run low, the freshwater lake feeds the water supply. There's an outdoor shower and bath nestled in the trees for complete privacy. It's only birds who'll perve at you.
On-site there is the best outdoor kitchen I've ever seen, complete with handmade cabinets stocked with dry stores, and fresh bread and farm eggs left for you on arrival, as well as milk and yoghurt in a heavy-duty chilly bin filled with ice.
Flowers from the farm decorate the benches and tables, there's a gas cooker, a Weber barbecue, and a fire pit freshly laid if you want to light up the dark and roast marshmallows (they're included too). It's like being in the Swiss Family Robinson movie — rustic but functional — and a bit wild and free. Preparing and eating food outdoors makes you appreciate it more, I think; it's a good way to live, taking time to boil a pot of water for pasta, sitting under a sun umbrella at a big wooden table, chopping up herbs and garlic and chilli.
Lake Wainamu is a short stroll from the property. You enter the tributary from a private track and wind your way towards the lake, jumping the streams of people arriving from the carpark. We woke early each morning, heading to the water before anyone else was up, and the stillness was precious; dragonflies skimming the water and not a soul around.
The lake is terrific for swimming, and rolling down the dunes sand-encrusted like a sugar doughnut, and tumbling into the water is a particular joy. So too is the walk to the waterfall, which I'd never done before, the bush track fresh with green and thick with birdsong. The pools at the falls are freezing, but perfect for cooling off after the walk.
It's a quick drive to the beach from the campsite if you want to roam that wild black-sand beach, and if you need a break from cooking, the Bethells Cafe, housed in a very cute caravan, is a great pit stop. I've been a fan of their kumara chips for a very long time. They also have icecreams, which is one thing I've never managed to take on a camping trip, no matter how sophisticated the chilly bin, and how comprehensive the ice.
We came home from our stay feeling bathed in calm. Falling asleep to the soft glow of streetlights, I missed the dark and the quiet in an instant. The morepork call had given way to the motorway song, and as I lay in bed, I considered the forthcoming public holidays, and when we might have time to go back to our West Coast paradise for another dose of the wild.