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10 top family-friendly coastal campsites

Views of the Southern Alps from Gillespies campground. Photo: Katrina Henderson Photography

Summer camping by the beach is the perfect Kiwi holiday. Here’s Wilderness’ pick of the best of DOC’s budget coastal campsites

This summer you could find yourself falling asleep to the sound of kiwi calling, waking moments away from the surf, lying on white beaches under dazzling pohutakawa or adventuring into the wild west. These 10 coastal campsites offer campers of all persuasions their own little pieces of paradise for the summer without breaking the bank.

Pitch your tent, release the kids and soak up the sun, sand and sea.

1. Gillespies Beach, West Coast

You probably won’t find a campsite in a more stunning setting or classically West Coast than Gillespies Beach.

Pristine forest meets exposed beach, strewn with flotsam and jetsam and overlooked by New Zealand’s mightiest mountains. Enjoy spectacular reflections in the lagoon and views of the Southern Alps on a clear day.

Located near an old goldmining settlement, imagine the bustling town of the late 19th century as you explore the five tracks accessible from the campsite. Short tracks lead to historic bucket and suction dredges, relics from the mining days, while longer tracks lead to Gillespies Lagoon, weaving through rimu forest to a seal colony at Galway Beach.

All tracks are easily accessible and the shorter tracks are pushchair-friendly.

“Gillespies Beach campsite is the perfect spot for families to enjoy the diversity of the West Coast,” says Mirella Pomeroy, a trainee ranger at Franz Josef. “Enjoy counting tomtits, tui and seals as you weave through the coastal harakeke track and rimu forest.

“See what peaks you can name from the beach or build your dream home out of driftwood.”

Getting there Approximately 21km from Fox Glacier. Head west along Cook Flat Road, passing the turn-off to Lake Matheson and the Peak Viewpoint along the way

Facilities Eight tent sites, tap water, toilets

Fee Free

Booking Westland Tai Poutini National Park Visitor Centre, P: 03 752 0796

2. Uretiti, Whangarei

Immerse yourself in nature at Uretiti Beach. Photo: Supplied

Immerse yourself in nature at Uretiti Beach. Photo: Supplied

Camp behind the sand dunes of Uretiti Beach, a long white-sand beach in an idyllic spot overlooking the Hen and Chicken Islands. The family-friendly campground is easy to access from the main road, but as soon as you arrive you’ll find yourself immersed in nature.

There is plenty to do including surfing, fishing or swimming from the beach. Locals and visitors recommend exploring this magical spot. Options include walking along the coastal track at Mangawhai Heads or checking out the nearby Waipu glow worm caves.

“Uretiti has a wonderful sunny beach and a fun atmosphere with plenty to do,” says Beth Reynolds, DOC’s northern district bookings officer. “But it’s also a great place to sit back and relax. Waipu is a short trip and has all the amenities you would need, including shops, a museum and cafes.”

Uretiti has year-round camp managers on site.

Getting there 5km north of Waipu turn right at the signpost. Follow road to beach and camp

Facilities Tap water, toilets, cold showers, rubbish bin

Fee Adult (18+ years), $10; Child (5 – 17 years), $5; Infant, free

Booking Bookings accepted from October via the online booking system or P: 09 470 3300

3. Tapotupotu, Northland

Ten minutes drive from Cape Reinga lies stunning Tapotupotu Bay – New Zealand’s northern-most campsite. Situated against a backdrop of lush green hills, this tranquil haven offers an unspoilt beach, abundant marine life and breathtaking views. Camp with the beach at your doorstep or alongside an estuarine river, and drift off to sleep to the sound of seabirds and surf.

“Tapotupotu Bay is a fantastic spot to kick back and relax when visiting the Far North,” says Laree Furniss, a Kaitaia DOC ranger. “Right in the heart of the Te Paki reserves, it’s a great base to explore the surrounding reserve with its varying beaches, wetlands, dunes and, of course, Cape Reinga. I would advise campers to come armed with mozzie repellent.”

A short mangrove boardwalk and bridge links Tapotupotu to a section of the four-day Te Paki Coastal Track. Day-walk from here to Pandora Beach or up to Cape Reinga or make this a stop-off as you explore the whole track.

“With spectacular beaches, coastal forest and sweeping dunes, Te Paki Coastal Track is set to become one of New Zealand’s most popular multiday hikes,” says Furniss.

Getting there From Kaitaia head north on SH1for approximately 90min to the campsite

Facilities 45 tent sites, tap water, toilets, cold showers

Fee Adult (18+ years), $6; Child (5 – 17 years), $3; Infant, free

Booking No bookings required, first come, first served

4. Port Jackson, Coromandel

Classic coastal Kiwi camping can be found at Port Jackson. Photo: Supplied

Classic coastal Kiwi camping can be found at Port Jackson. Photo: Supplied

Shoehorned onto the sandy strip between the beach and the road, this long, thin campsite is hugely popular. The safe beach is at the front of your tent, the pohutukawa trees and dunes are all around you and the northerly aspect means you have sunshine for most of the day. This makes it an idyllic spot to camp and to launch your boat.

“An idyllic campsite for families of all ages, there are plenty of trees to climb and a long sandy beach for family cricket tournaments,” says Coromandel ranger Rebekah Duffin. “Book online early, and enjoy a fun-filled peaceful summer.”

The beach sweeps east to the Muriwai Walkway that begins at the headland and traverses along the coastal cliff towards Fletcher Bay. The views there are stunning in all directions and recent pest control work has seen the cliff-dwelling pohutukawa trees coming back strongly to provide a spectacular sight in the early summer.

A few pairs of dotterel scrape a living at the stream estuary by the eastern end of the beach.

The chance to paddle, swim and fish in this area are countless and with a family-friendly atmosphere, Port Jackson makes a great summer camping site that’s away from the madding crowd.

Quirky fact The most northerly phone box in the Coromandel is outside the camp gate. “Obviously you can’t text on it,” warns Duffin.

Getting there From Coromandel take Colville Road for 22km, turn left onto the Port Jackson Road for 28km until Fantail Bay. Then follow the road for a further 8km

Facilities Tap water, toilets, barbecue, cold showers, rubbish bin

Fee Adult (18+ years), $10; Child (5 – 17 years), $5; Infant, free

Booking For all enquiries from October 1 to April 30 P: 07 866 6932.

5. Anaura Bay, East Coast

Anura Bay on the East Coast. Photo: Supplied

Anura Bay on the East Coast. Photo: Supplied

From Labour Weekend until the end of Easter, camp between white sand and mixed broadleaf forest including tawa, kohekohe, puriri and pohutukawa at Anaura Bay.

Anaura Bay holds great historic significance as the site of Captain James Cook’s second landing in New Zealand in 1769. It is the first place a comprehensive written description of Maori horticulture and village life was undertaken by the crew of the Endeavour. The bay is also home to a fine example of a large East Coast Waipare homestead built in the 1880s.

Today, the campsite is popular due to the proximity of the beach and nearby Anaura Bay Walkway, which begins and ends five minutes from the campsite.

According to DOC ranger Sandra Groves, Anaura is “classic coastal Kiwi camping that draws many families back year after year”. She adds: “It’s a great place for the city glamper or wilderness wanderer looking for some rest and relaxation on the East Coast.”

Nearby places to visit include Cooks Cove Walkway at Tolaga Bay (20km south) and Mt Hikurangi Track (80km north). The area is also home to threatened plants, kereru, tui, bellbirds and fantails.

There are two nearby islands, Motuoroi (in Anaura Bay) which in early times was inhabited by people who were skilled in the art of working greenstone and Motuhina which once abounded with mutton birds.

Getting there On SH35, 85km north of Gisborne between Tolaga Bay and Tokomaru Bay

Facilities 75 tent sites, tap water (should be boiled). Campers must bring their own chemical toilet and rubbish bins.

Fee Adult (18+ years), $6; Child (5 – 17 years), $3; Infant, free

Booking East Coast District Office, P: 06 8690460

6. Kenepuru Head, Marlborough Sounds

There are 18 tent sites at Kenepuru Head. Photo: Supplied

There are 18 tent sites at Kenepuru Head. Photo: Supplied

Due to its remote location 40km along the winding Queen Charlotte Drive, Kenepuru Head is one of the few campsites in the Sounds that usually has room available over the busy summer months.

It is a great base for families with plenty of space for the tent or campervan and you can launch the boat at high tide from the beach.

Sea and land activities abound, including the nearby Queen Charlotte Track, along which the site of an old Antimony Mine in Endeavour Inlet is one possible day trip. Climb Mt Stokes for spectacular 360-degree views of the Marlborough Sounds and Cook Strait.

“Even the family dog can come along,” says ranger Maurice Brown, “so long as it has a permit, brings its lead and cleans up after itself!”

New toilet blocks (cold showers) and cooking shelters were built in 2012.

Getting there On Kenepuru Road, 40km from the turn-off at Linkwater on Queen Charlotte Drive

Facilities Toilets, showers (cold), cooking shelters, tap water, 18 tent sites

Fee Adult (18+ years), $10; Child (5 – 17 years), $5; Infant, free

Booking No bookings required, first come, first served.

7. Kahurangi Point Lighthouse, West Coast

It's an adventurous four-hour walk down the beach to reach Kahurangi Point. Photo: Supplied

It’s an adventurous four-hour walk down the beach to reach Kahurangi Point. Photo: Supplied

For those looking for more of a challenge over the summer break, look no further than Kahurangi Point Lighthouse.

An adventurous four-hour walk (including four river crossings) down the beach at low-tide brings you to the lighthouse, the most remote and demanding destination of our 10 campsites. This campsite is recommended for families with children over eight years and who have experience of the outdoors.

“Kahurangi Point is on the wild West Coast with nikau palms down to the beach, tall podocarp forest, lagoons and granite cliffs,” says Takaka ranger Greg Napp. “It’s a great place to explore the dunes, watch seals, fish off the beach or listen to kiwi at night. The climate is mild, the scenery is magnificent and the location allows for accessible wilderness camping.”

Camp near the old Lighthouse Keepers House (which also offers accommodation as well as wood-burner, toilet and tank water) and enjoy the untamed West Coast’s otherworldly northern tip.

Getting there Four-hour walk down the beach at low tide from the Anatori River mouth car park and campsite

Facilities Tank water, toilet, plenty of space for tents

Fee Free for camping

Booking No bookings required, self registration system.

8. Kohaihai, West Coast

Kohaihai is a sheltered campground. Photo: Supplied

Kohaihai is a sheltered campground. Photo: Supplied

This is a sheltered campsite with Kohaihai River on one side and the Tasman Sea on the other, giving you the choice of either waking up to river or ocean views.

After watching the sunset on the beach, lie back and listen out for kiwi in the neighbouring Kahurangi National Park. Rata flowers turn the hillsides red during summer. Enjoy the beautiful nikau forest and watch out for New Zealand falcons, kea and kaka flying overhead.

“You may get lucky and see the remarkable, rare whio, which live on Kohaihai River and often visit the campsite,” says ranger Suvi van Smit.

Van Smit recommends taking precautions against the local wildlife, though: “Take insect repellent as the sandflies can be fierce and make sure the local weka don’t steal your gear – they love shiny objects like keys.”

Activities include white-water kayaking, windsurfing, fishing and swimming in the river or at, nearby, Scotts Beach (no swimming in the open sea due to dangerous rips). There are short, day or overnight walks from here. Nikau Walk (50min return) is at the very start of the Heaphy Track and passes over Kohaihai suspension bridge and onto a loop track through a forest of nikau palms, creeping kiekie and katote tree ferns.

Scotts Beach (1hr each way) is a great day-walk from the campsite – a good taste of the coastal section of the Heaphy Track – over the suspension bridge and up and over Kohaihai Bluff. There is a picnic table at the peak with stunning views of the coastline.

The remote setting with a white sandy beach and nikau palms on the bluffs give it a distinct West Coast feel. Close by, the Oparara Valley has a variety of spectacular walks, caves and the largest limestone arch in New Zealand.

“This is a quiet site with great facilities,” says van Smit. “Make sure you get in early as popular spots are snapped up quickly.”

Getting there North of Karamea at the end of Council Rd, and the start of the Heaphy Great Walk. Last 3km is unsealed

Facilities Tap water, toilets, barbecue, picnic tables

Fee Adult (18+ years), $6; Child (5 – 17 years), $3; Infant, free

Booking No bookings required, self registration system.

9. Purakaunui Bay, Catlins

Purakaunui Bay campground overlooks the beach and the child-safe Purakaunui River. Photo: Supplied

Purakaunui Bay campground overlooks the beach and the child-safe Purakaunui River. Photo: Supplied

This is a spacious campsite on a beautiful sandy beach in the heart of the Catlin’s rugged coastline. Striking cliff faces can be seen from the campsite and Purakaunui Falls are not far away.

Children can play in the shallow Purakaunui River that runs between the campsite and the beach. For big kids, there is a good surf beach to the south of the camp.

Cosgrove Island, a wildlife refuge, is off the coast and Jacks Blowhole is 10km to the north. Wildlife viewing opportunites are a bonus, as New Zealand sea lions often haul out to rest here and yellow-eyed penguins breed along the coast.

“Surrounded by coastal podocarp forest, filled with kereru, tui, bellbirds and fantails, Purakaunui is a magical campsite that gets you close to nature,” says Owaka ranger Cheryl Pullar. “Rock up in the middle of summer and you’ll still find loads of spaces to choose from, all with breathtaking views.”

Getting there Take the Papatowai Highway south from Owaka, to Long Point Road and then left onto Purakaunui Bay Road

Facilities New vault system toilets, running water and rubbish collection

Fee $6 per person

Booking No bookings required, self registration system.

10. Maori Beach, Stewart Island/Rakiura

Maori Beach is a remote and peaceful location far from roads and traffic. Photo: Neville Peat

Maori Beach is a remote and peaceful location far from roads and traffic. Photo: Neville Peat

An idyllic beach-side campsite in the dunes of Maori Beach far from roads and traffic.

This historic site was a Maori settlement and early European settlers also lived in the area. It was the site of the last operational sawmill on Stewart Island and relics of the mill can still be seen.

“It’s an amazing place to spend time and reflect on how previous generations once eked out an existence,” says Stewart Island ranger Diana Morris.

Podocarp forest surrounds the sweeping golden sand beach with sea and forest birds never far away. New Zealand sea lions are rare visitors to this beach and there is a real possibility of hearing or occasionally sighting a kiwi when staying there. The fantastic swingbridge over the estuary and stream at the far end of the beach provide plenty of scope for exploring further afield.

DOC welcomes volunteers to get involved with predator control work in this area.

Getting there From Oban take a shuttle to Lee Bay where you enter the Rakiura National Park. The campsite is a 3.7km walk from here

Facilities Three-sided shelter, pit toilet, limited water supply, small stream adjacent to campsite, six campsites

Fee Adult (18+ years), $6; Children, free

Booking, or P: 0800 694 732