When we're allowed to travel again, we'll all be in need of some open road and a new outlook. Add one of New Zealand's most picture-perfect campervan parks to your post-lockdown wishlist, writes Ewan McDonald
Children of the 70s, and decades either side, may be familiar with that endless are-we-there-yet? family holidays. The car packed to the gunnels with kids, dog and kitchen sink, the hours spent rolling in the back seat trying to hold on to your lunch, praying you're just about to arrive wherever it is you'll be spending the next fortnight.
The only thing worse than the trip there? The trip home when, inevitably, you and a trailing convoy of other tired, frustrated holidaymakers get stuck behind a road snail – aka a caravan.
Back then the only options for a travelling with a home-away-from-home were towing one of those wibbly-wobbly road snails or heavy-steering a house bus. There was little resemblance to today's campervan with hotel-level amenities, including a kitchen sink, allowance for the dog, and flexibility to up-sticks when the mood takes you.
But where to go? Well, here are our top suggestions for heading out on the highway, or byway, and finding a view when you get there. Remember: councils set local rules for freedom camping in their parish, so check before you leave home.
Fancy falling asleep to the sound of lapping water or waking up to stunning sunrise views over a cuppa? In Northland, head to Paihia Top 10 Holiday Park where you can have waterfront views for breakfast or sleep within cooey of historic sites overlooking the Bay of Islands at Russell Top 10's deluxe camper spots.
Or motor inland to enjoy nature's sights and sounds at Kauri Coast Top 10. In a stunning park-like setting, with a beautiful river running through, it's a chance to listen for kiwi or join a guided night walk through Te Tai Tokerau forests.
Around Auckland, escape the hustle and bustle for a warmer winter at Pakiri Beach Holiday Park. Only 90 mins north of the Big Congestion, it's nestled in a peaceful rural landscape with uninterrupted views of white sands and the Pacific with plenty of activities to keep you occupied on and in the water.
The city's most visited and accessible open sanctuary, bringing together conservation, recreation and farming, is Te Haruhi Bay campground at Shakespear Regional Park. Best of all, it's only an hour's drive north from the CBD, well within "Are we there yet?" territory.
On the other coast, Clarks Beach Holiday Park is only an hour away on the Manukau Harbour shores. For kaimoana lovers it has fantastic fishing and scallop gathering opportunities; for day-trippers it's only a short drive to Southside attractions like Rainbow's End and Spookers once restrictions are eased and the venues are open.
Hahei Holiday Resort sits cheek-by-jowl with the popular Coromandel Peninsula beach, with views of Mercury Bay and its islands.
For a front-row seat to the never-ending story of wildlife in the Hauraki Gulf, Rays Rest Camping Reserve in Kaiaua offers a spacious escape. Freedom camp up to two nights by parking at the edge of the arc of white-sand coast, gazing into the blue distance. DoC parks offer unspoiled locations like Fletcher Bay, a remote beachfront campsite in a farm setting. Perfect for water sports, it's also at the start of the Coromandel Coastal Walkway. For river-based sports, Puketui Valley is set in a grassy bush clearing on the Tairua River's banks. Bushwalks in the hills behind include a 500m tunnel.
Whether you're seeking world-class sporting action or peace and tranquillity, Mighty River Domain at Waikato's Lake Karāpiro is worth a visit. Try water sports on the lake or walk local tracks including Sanctuary Mountain Maungatautari with its 16m forest canopy viewing tower, abundant birdlife and plants including 600-year-old rata.
Raglan Holiday Park lies on a peninsula in the west coast town's harbour, almost entirely surrounded by water. No wonder it's described as a private hideaway, with only a two-minute walk to the beach.
In Rotorua's thermal wonderland, Waiteti Trout Stream Holiday Park will have you (ahem) hooked on fishing from the stream banks. Set in 1ha of mature forest, the park is a peaceful setting in which to get back to nature; free kayaks and children's activities keep everyone happy.
More watersports and fishing are on hand at Blue Lake Top 10 Holiday Park alongside the clear waters of Tikitapu, aka Blue Lake, in its cradle of native bush. (A plea: close by is Rotokakahi, aka Green Lake. Please understand and respect its cultural importance.) For those keen on staying dry, the majestic redwoods of Whakarewarewa Forest are a serene spot for walking or mountain biking or chowing down on Eastwood pizzas.
Looking for epic water vistas? The Southern Hemisphere's largest lake, Taupō will spoil you. Motutere Bay Top 10 Holiday Park is the only campsite on the lakeshore with spectacular all-weather, all-season views. It's only 45 minutes to the Whakapapa skifields for more winter adventures.
If you've always had a thing for a Volkswagen trip, Motuoapa Bay Holiday Park is a must: next to the town's new marina and a short stroll from the lakefront, you can choose a retro Kombi Cabin and live the VW dream.
With a range of freedom camping parks available in Hawke's Bay, there's no excuse not to take in stunning views like those out over Te Awanga and Cape Kidnappers from Marine Parade in Napier or looking north toward Mahia Peninsula from Perfume Point in Westshore.
For a closer view of Cape Kidnappers Peninsula and its gannet colony, head to the large reserve on Clifton Rd between Te Awanga and Haumoana settlements, staying at the Clifton Motor Camp. While you're there, meander along the Hawke's Bay Trails to appreciate award-winning wineries.
Waipatiki Beach Holiday Park is considered a little slice of Kiwi paradise, only 150m from one of the Bay's most beautiful beachfronts. Just 35km north of Napier, it's remote yet close to great activities including Waipatiki Scenic Reserve.
In the heart of Ruapehu, it'd be a shame to park up at Kiwi Camp for a night and leave. Instead, make it your base to see and do all there is in National Park (the village) and the park itself. Take in spectacular mountain views from afar, or get on the slopes for skiing, boarding, or hiking the famed Tongariro Alpine Crossing.
New Plymouth has ocean views you can set your sleeping patterns to. Wake up to slip-slapping against the breakwater at centrally located Belt Road Seaside Holiday Park or drift off to sleep listening to the water at Fitzroy Beach Holiday Park. From either, admire views of Taranaki Maunga, stroll the Coastal Walkway, sip a coffee at The Kiosk and watch the kids run amok on the sands.
Rest up in your camper or rent a studio apartment at Wai-iti Beach Retreat with glorious bay views, then explore the black sand beach or bush. Maybe hire clubs for a round of golf.
On the western side of the Marlborough Sounds, facing Tasman Bay, is Okiwi Bay Holiday Park - small, friendly and peaceful. Explore the native bush or rugged coastline, laze in one of the many secluded bays or enjoy the riches of the sea with excellent fishing and diving.
Camp beside beautiful, sheltered Momarangi Bay, a DoC campground surrounded by bush-covered hills in the Grove Arm of Queen Charlotte Sound, or just stop by for a scenic picnic.
Picton's TOP 10 and Waikawa Bay Holiday Parks both offer a warm welcome and plenty of accommodation options. They're also the ideal base to explore the Sounds and its scenic cruises, winery tours, hiking Queen Charlotte Track before making your way north on a ferry.
Think glistening golden sand, great fishing, swimming and access to the splendour of Abel Tasman National Park and you've described the Nelson Tasman region in a nutshell.
Families return year after year to the seaside resort of Kaiteriteri Beach Motor Camp because it's right on the water and there's always plenty to do. For a slightly quieter spot that's equally beautiful, head north to Totaranui Campground; if you can't decide, head halfway between Farewell Spit and the Abel Tasman to Golden Bay. The holiday park of the same name lets you escape the traffic noise and streetlights to appreciate beautiful night skies and cosy beach fires.
For closeness to modern comforts and a relaxing beach retreat, Tahuna Beach Kiwi Holiday Park ticks both boxes. Close to the city centre, it's set among 20ha of parkland with fantastic sea views and the Kahurangi Ranges beyond.
In Canterbury, turn off the highway at Cheviot and drive to Gore Bay, a remote beach escape of childhoods past with no reception, no distractions and infinite fun. The Gore Bay and Buxton Camping Ground straddles two sites along an endless coastline – perfect for campervans and families with a tennis court, bush walks and playgrounds.
Central Otago's Naseby Holiday Park is tucked away in 7ha of larch and native trees next to a natural dam. A bit chilly for winter swimming, so give the ice sports a go - curling, ice skating and luging. It's also a great spot for spectacular night-sky viewing that's nigh on impossible in most cities nowadays.
One of our most stunning coastlines – and there are plenty to choose from – is The Catlins in Southland. Don't forgo the chance to sleep beachside, with views of sheer cliff faces and sounds of crashing waves at DoC's Pūrākaunui Bay Campsite. The Pūrākaunui Falls aren't far off, plus there's a good surf beach to the south. Cosgrove Island wildlife refuge is off the coast, and Jacks Blowhole is 10km north.
Staying in the area, natural alleys of flax provide the Curioscape Campground in Curio Bay with plenty of sheltered and private sites, from which you can spot rare Hector's dolphins and New Zealand sea lions as well as the bay's Jurassic fossil forest.
Those in the know say Colac Bay has one of Southland's best freedom camping sites, with a beautiful beach, occasional surf, friendly atmosphere, a relaxed pace – and snorkelling for paua. Now that's a Kiwi getaway!
Before travelling, ensure you are abiding by the current alert levels as set by the New Zealand Government.
Check alert level restrictions and Ministry of Health advice before travel. covid19.govt.nz