You’ve spent months in winter hibernation, longing for summer when weekends will once again reign supreme. What should you do? Go out there and maximise every minute. These 10 campgrounds are within an hour’s drive of our biggest cities, so you can start the holiday at 5.01pm every Friday.
Auckland to Martins Bay Holiday Park – One hour
Is there anything better than uncrumpling your tent on a Friday eve, hoisting it into place and sitting down with a beer as the sun sets? Martins Bay Holiday Park is an hour’s drive north of central Auckland, so you can enjoy more time by the beach (with the beers) than in the car or a queue. Straddling a long canvas of sand, all sites are powered and range from campsites to beachfront caravans, glamping tents and a luxury eco tent. With safe swimming, a boat ramp, kayaks and SUP boards to rent, spend all day on the water or catch the ferry at Sandspit - a 10-minute drive away - to Kawau Island. At day’s end, the playground, pedal carts and trampoline keep the kids satisfied while the adults cook up a storm in the kitchen. Or rather, recce to the chip shop.
Hamilton to Kāwhia Camping Ground - 1 hour (and a bit)
We’re stretching the limits of a one-hour radius with Kāwhia Camping Ground but it’s totally worth it. Roughly 80 minutes from Hamilton and straddling the coastline, here lies a sheltered campsite, privy to a host of hidden gems. Borrow a spade and drive six minutes to Kāwhia Hot Water Beach, also known as Ocean Beach, and dig a hole. Time it right and Te Puia hot spring will bubble to the surface, creating a black sand hot tub. Bring your kayak and explore the limestone rocks of Kāwhia Harbour, or simply pack your kicks and set off on a two-hour return walk around the harbour. The campsite has free showers, Wi-Fi, a trampoline and a bathroom block with a baby changing room and wheelchair-friendly facilities.
Rotorua to Blue Lake TOP 10 Holiday Park – 15 minutes
Never mind a stone’s throw, Blue Lake TOP 10 Holiday Park is a mere tent peg away from Lake Tikitapu and for $55 per night, you can jump into this idyllic swimming hole as soon as you park the car. An easy 20-minute drive from central Rotorua, with communal barbecues and an on-site hot tub, you can be sizzling snags by 6pm and soothing away a week’s worth of woes by sundown. Kids are kept entertained with a recreation room, playground and bouncy pillow. With cabins, units and sites to pitch your tent, there’s accommodation for every budget but we recommend “Chateau Relaxo” for its grand title. It’s not quite a castle, but it is the perfect small cabin for you and one other.
Taupō to Whakamaru Recreation Reserve – 35 minutes
Who doesn’t like to get a little rough and ready on a Friday night? Whakamaru Recreation Reserve is not your all-singing, all-dancing campground with flash facilities and a coffee cart, but what it lacks in comforts, it more than makes up for in aesthetics. This largely undiscovered camping area sits beneath a large and impressive cliff facing Lake Whakamaru – a beautiful sight and a mecca for water skiers at the Whakamaru Ski Club. Even if you don’t have all the bath toys, it’s an idyllic spot to swim, walk and chill out. The reserve is little more than a half-hour drive from Taupō and there’s no fee to pitch your tent. The Ski Club building (with toilets) is on the same site and is members-only between Christmas and January, but otherwise, you’re welcome to turn up and turn on your weekend.
Tauranga to Sapphire Springs Holiday Park & Mineral Pools, Tahawai – 35 minutes
A river setting with bush walks and mineral pools, hot tubs and three large outdoor swimming pools (fed from the ground at 30-odd degrees) one weekend at Sapphire Springs and you’ll feel like a brand-new you. Start with a quick dip in one of the spring-fed pools and dry off with a stroll in the surrounding forest. There are four bush walks, ranging from 20 minutes to one hour. Those with kids can point the sprogs in the direction of the smaller, kids’ pool and for days when the weather is el scorchio, retreat to the river and cool off in one of the shaded water holes. Come bedtime, there are self-contained motel units as well as powered and un-powered campsites flanking the riverbank.
New Plymouth to Wai-iti Beach Retreat - 35 minutes
If it’s good enough for a wedding, it’s good enough for your next weekend. Dressed with pōhutukawa and coastal good looks, we can see why couples choose to get hitched at Wai-iti Beach Retreat. With its beachfront location, bush, sun and sand, the sign might say “retreat” but the price tag is anything but. Powered sites start from $50 per site, per night, working all the way up to studio camp containers and privately owned cabins you can request to rent from the owner. There’s a seasonal cafe on-site, a six-hole golf course and tennis court, with clubs, racquets and kayaks available on request. Better yet, a recent renovation means Wai-iti Retreat is looking more spick and span than ever.
Wellington CBD to Kaitoke Forest on Pakuratahi River – 45 minutes
Because basic can be a beautiful thing, put the capital city in your rearview mirror and drive 45 minutes northeast to Kaitoke Forest. There’s nothing glam about compostable toilets but somehow, living by the bare necessities does wonders for your soul. Pick a spot next to Pākuratahi River for an inflation-busting $8 per adult and $4 for kids (per night). If your tamariki are under 5, they’re free, as are the daily nature walks and river swims. Guests are permitted to bring the family pooch and you’re also allowed to strike up a fire on the riverbed, so don’t forget to pack your marshmallows, flint and steel.
Christchurch to Little River Campground – One hour
Little River Campground is 60 minutes from Christchurch and 60 years behind the times - in a good way. This is a place where children can run free just like yesteryear; mucking about by the river that runs directly through the camp, playing on the giant swing and slippery slide or simply left to go giddy in the playground. Any more wholesome and you’d find kids wandering around camp with a hoop and stick. The facilities are clean and up-to-date with tent pitches for $20pp per night as well as no frills cabins and a converted shipping container with a queen bed and log burner. As the only dog-friendly campground on Banks Peninsula, the entire family can come and splash about in the river, and if you’ve cooked up one too many snags, the resident eel will gladly wolf them down.
Queenstown to Kinloch Wilderness Retreat – One hour
There are no campsites at Kinloch Wilderness Retreat, an hour’s drive from the hum of Queenstown, but with four-bed dorms starting from $65pp, per night, it easily rivals your standard patch of grass. Budget double rooms start from $165, working all the way up to bougie cabins costing $500 per night for an “EcoScape” complete with expansive windows, epic views and ensuite bathrooms. There’s a restaurant on-site serving nutritious food, including a smorgasbord of vegan options and equally delicious mountain scenery. You’ll also find a fully equipped communal kitchen. The very definition of lush, this is a place where the grass seems greener, the sky bluer and the air fresher. Expect to leave fully nourished from top to toe.
Dunedin to Portobello Village Tourist Park – 25 minutes
This one has both pubs and penguins which is always a winning combo. Tucked in the nook of a quiet road, Portobello Village Tourist Park basks in the sound of birdsong and gentle waves. Seemingly isolated, it’s only a five-minute walk from Portobello township where you’ll find coffee at Cove Cafe, local pub grub and a fish and chip shop. Make the effort to drive 10 minutes south to Allans Beach, a wild and untamable stretch of sand that’s home to seals, sea lions and penguins. The latter are best observed just before sunset, the perfect to-do before returning to camp for a round of drinks and a game of Rummy.