So, we’ve emerged from another winter to be rewarded with longer days and the promise of summer holidays spent with family and friends. And in a spirit of optimism we’re ready to start planning our camping trips.
This summer will be even better than ever. No, really, because as of November this year we have more than 20 new cycle trails, many of which take the ‘mountain’ out of mountain biking and make scenic, off-road riding accessible to nearly everyone.
As off-road cyling gathers momentum across New Zealand, so the number and diversity of accessible wilderness adventures increases, too. Never has there been a better time to take a family holiday in the great outdoors. Here are some tips and inspiration to get you going. – Sarah Bennett and Lee Slater
1. Russell-Orongo Bay Holiday Park, Northland
Why go? Not only incredibly picturesque in that nestled-in-a-cove kind of way, the tiny town of Russell is full of history, close to a range of outdoor adventures on sea and land, and odds-on it will be warm and sunny.
Walk The Full Circle Walkway (www.boiwalkways.co.nz) connects Russell, Paihia, Opua and Okiato – forming a loop of 5-6hr walking broken up with a couple of short ferry rides. Easily tackled in stages, the 3–4 hour Russell to Okiato section close to the holiday park has accessible, flat boardwalk stretches suitable for pushchair outings. Also nearby is spectacular Cape Brett, offering a 6-7hr one-way walk which keen teenagers may well enjoy.
Bike The holiday park itself is perfect for young riders, with plenty of room to ride well away from driveways. Parts of the dual-use Full Circle Walkway may also be cycled, and linked up with various back-road detours. Ask the locals for options to suit your abilities. The holiday park is a Cycle Hub, has bikes on site, and can fix you up with local rental, too.
Explore Russell is a great place to rediscover New Zealand history and eat ice cream at the same time. Walk off any indulgences on the half-hour walk up Flagstaff Hill where Hone Heke chopped down the flagpole.
Camp details A 5.6ha-site with a spacious tent area and lots of native bush (and endangered kiwi, teal, fern birds and North Island weka), it’s no wonder Russell-Orongo Holiday Park has been described as a ‘great big adventure playground.’ Location: 5960 Russell Road, Russell, russellaccommodation.co.nz.
2. Ohiwa Beach Holiday Park, Bay of Plenty
Why go? Sitting in the surrounds of a sandspit, bird-filled tidal harbour, bushy nature reserve and lovely beach, this holiday park is a great base from which to enjoy the myriad activities of the eastern Bay of Plenty.
Walk The nature reserve behind the campground features a trail which climbs to the the site of Onekawa pa where a viewpoint captures the harbour and smouldering White Island. For a longer walk, take a tiki-tour up the scenic Waioeka Gorge to Tauranga Bridge, New Zealand’s only surviving harp suspension bridge, for a pleasant loop walk with the prospect of a dip. Located in the Urutawa Conservation Area, the Pakihi Track (part of the Motu Trails, www.themotutrails.co.nz) can be walked ‘in and back’ as far as you like for an achievable family walk in spectacular, bushy surrounds.
Bike Another of the three Motu Trails, the 9.5km Dunes Trail is perfect for families. Starting in Opotiki and gently meandering eastwards along the coast, it hugs the sand dunes providing grand views over the ocean and inland to the mountains. Bike hire and shuttle services are available.
Paddle The estuarine waterways of Ohiwa Harbour offer tranquil kayaking adventures, rich in plant and birdlife including banded rails, bitterns and fernbirds. Kayaks can be hired from the camp office.
Camp details A particularly well landscaped specimen, Ohiwa Beach Holiday Park has prickle-free lawns and excellent terracing affording views from almost every site. A combination of pohutukawa and palms offer shade and a bit of privacy, and although packed to the gunwales over the holidays, extensive facilities (including lots of play equipment for children) will ensure a stress-free stay.
Location: Ohiwa Harbour Road, ohiwaholidays.co.nz.
3. Kakaho Campsite, Pureora Forest Park
Why go? Straddling the ranges between Lake Taupo and Te Kuiti, the Pureora Forest is a hidden wonderland of tall trees, clear rivers and rare wildlife. This is the perfect place for an educational ‘field trip’ that the kids will think is a whole lot of fun.
Walk There are numerous short walks and tramps in and around Pureora Forest. Starting from Kakaho campsite, the easy-peasy 30-minute Rimu Walk ambles to a lookout with great views, while the Bog Inn Track, starting nearby, reaches a fascinating wetland complete with weird and fragile plants. More walks start from Pureora village where DOC’s Field Base is located and the Timber Trail begins.
Bike The 77km Timber Trail (www.doc.govt.nz) offers riders of all abilities the chance to immerse themselves in the rich heritage of this area. It passes through ancient forest (with some 800-year-old trees), historic timber-milling sites, and along a bush tramway. Several short rides can be started from Pureora village, including the 5km Crawler Tractor Loop, and the longer 23km Maraeroa Cycleway (www.paharakeke.co.nz), a loop taking in quiet country roads and forest trails.
Wildlife Flocks of native birds can be found in Pureora, including kokako, kaka, robins, whio (blue duck) and karearea (New Zealand falcon). There are also native bats and Hochstetter frogs.
Camp details DOC’s Kakaho campsite, located next to a stream on the eastern side of Pureora, offers cheap camping with basic facilities to match. It’s the perfect base for bushwalks. DOC also has cabins at Pureora.
Location: Link Rd from Pureora Field Centre or Kakaho Rd from SH32, www.doc.govt.nz.
4. Beachhaven, Waihi Beach
Why go? This bright and breezy holiday park sits alongside one of the Bay of Plenty’s safest beaches, and in the midst of a diverse range of family activities including passage through the legendary Karangahake Gorge on foot or two wheels.
Walk The Waihi area is a walker’s paradise. Those who love coastal scenery and have enduro-kids in tow will enjoy the 4-5hr walk from Homunga Bay to Waihi Beach. A shorter option from the campground is the 1.5hr return walk to Orokawa Bay with a half-hour add-on to the pretty Williams Wright Falls. Just 15-20min drive away, the historic Karangahake Gorge is a hotbed of walking opportunities, many being loop walks. Child-friendly options include the Windows and Railway Tunnel walks, both of which involve spooky tunnels and the use of a torch.
Bike the Hauraki Rail Trail (haurakirailtrail.co.nz) also passes through the Karangahake Gorge – specifically the spectacular 14km section from Paeroa to Waikino, an easy grade 1 path even a pushchair can negotiate. The entire 77km trial linking Thames, Paeroa, Te Aroha and Waihi (section not yet complete) can easily be split up into stages with local transport connections available. The website has full details on this and bike hire options.
Rail Add another dimension to your holiday on the historic Goldfields railway (waihirail.co.nz) which runs between Waihi and Waikino on weekends, public and school holidays. Bikes can be taken on board.
Camp details Beachhaven is right on Waihi Beach, which at low tide provides a wide and hard-packed 10km stretch of sand. Inside the camp gates you can expect all the amenities that make for an easy and fun-filled seaside break.
Location: Leo Street, Waihi Beach, www.beachaven.co.nz.
5. All Seasons Kiwi Holiday Park Taupo
Why go? A perennially popular lakeside resort well known for its iconic outlook and ample visitor services, Taupo offers an increasingly diverse array of outdoor activities including some seriously good bike tracks of all grades.
Walk Exciting short walks abound, including the steamy Craters of the Moon (cratersofthemoon.co.nz) loop, and those leading to and around Huka Falls. Along the town waterfront and extending south to Five Mile Bay, the Lions Walk is good for a stroll or stride. Energetic types may walk up the dormant volcanic peak of Mt Tauhara (1088m) where there are views for miles on a clear day.
Bike Still some way off completion, the 93km Great Lake Trail (nzcycletrail.com) follows the western shore of Lake Taupo. Conveniently, the open section of track starts 15min west of town at Whakaipo Bay, and travels 14km through to Kinloch where it joins up with another 14km track to Kawakawa Bay. Competent teenagers should be able to conquer this intermediate track. The extensive system within Wairakei Forest (biketaupo.org.nz) offers something for everyone, while novice and slow-mo riders can share the Lions Walk (above).
Soak On the edge of town, Spa Thermal Park has a natural hotpool where a creek meets the river. To find it, look for the bridge and the eroded footholds where people have slipped themselves into the drink.
Camp details Within an easy walk of the town centre, All Seasons Kiwi Holiday Park Taupo is a tidy, urban park within close proximity to all major attractions with the convenience of all mod cons, Cycle Hub accredition, and the bonus of a thermal plunge pool.
Location: 16 Rangatira St, Taupo, www.taupoallseasons.co.nz.
6. Ohakune Top 10 Holiday Park, Ohakune
Why go? On the southern side of Mt Ruapehu, Ohakune is not only on the edge of Tongariro National Park, but also within cooee of Whanganui National Park: two great wilderness areas and yet more around the edges.
Walk The remote and historically diverting Bridge to Nowhere is easily reached on a tour with a jetboat leg along the Whanganui River. Closer to Ohakune, the volanic wonderland of Tongariro National Park has easy tramps galore, including several excursions close to town. The Lake Rotokura Track encounters all sorts of waterfowl in two rush-fringed lakes surrounded by swampland and beech forest. A couple of other interesting options start from the Ohakune Mountain Road, such as walk to the beautiful Mangawhero Falls.
Bike The historic Ohakune Old Coach Road (ohakunecoachroad.co.nz) opened late in 2010. It’s a grade 2, 11km ride from Ohakune to Horopito, which makes up the first leg of the epic 317km Mountains to Sea Trail (nzcycletrail.com) that goes all the way to Whanganui. This section is ideal for families, with information panels and a side-trip to the restored 294m Hapuawhenua Viaduct.
Camp details Nestled against a bush reserve, Ohakune Top 10 is a peaceful, particularly green holiday park with spacious grounds. Along with lush grassy sites and a host of facilities, this is a great example of the classic Kiwi campground cranking itself up a notch in line with the demands of the modern camper. It’s Cycle Hub accredited and has bikes for hire.
Location: 5 Moore Street, Ohakune, www.ohakune.net.nz.
7. Arataki Motels and Holiday Park, Hawke’s Bay
Why go? On the edge of Havelock North, this charming old place has a ring of Hi De Hi about it which your children will probably love. It’s also in the midst of endless holiday pleasures.
Walk Fifteen minute’s drive away, the top Te Mata Peak car park is the starting point for a series of loop tracks. The views are staggering, as are the feats of the hang gliders who launch from the top. The Cape Kidnappers Track is another must-do, but with kids in tow it may pay to eschew the long, somewhat testing return beach walk in favour of the tractor/walking tour with Gannet Safaris (gannets.com).
Bike Largely flat, predominantly sunny, and very scenic, Hawke’s Bay was always a sitter for new cycle trails. Now they’ve got them, most notably an epic coastal trail (nzcycletrail.com) running all the way from Bay View in the north, to Clifton (just shy of Cape Kidnappers) in the south, taking in the bustling port of Ahuriri, Napier’s Marine Parade, and the seaside settlements of Haumoana and Te Awanga. Tributary tracks lead around the Tukituki and Turakirae Rivers, the wildlife-filled Ahuriri Estuary, and winery landscapes. This extensive trail network is easy to ride in sections and passes some of the Bay’s best attractions.
Camp details It may have seen better days, but old-school Arataki Holiday Park has character and charm in spades. Beyond the micro-village mash-up of cabins and caravans lies a simple camping field, offering a cheap tent pitch on the edge of upmarket Havelock North. It also has stacks of child-distracting amenities such as an indoor heated pool, crazy golf, skateboard ramp and tiny tots area.
Location: 139 Arataki Road, Havelock North, aratakimotelandholidaypark.co.nz.