8. Martinborough Top 10 Holiday Park
Why go? This quiet little camp in Martinborough dishes up lots of family activities within a cork’s pop of the wineries which afford additional relaxation opportunities.
Walk Martinborough is a great base for embarking on Wairarapa walks, including a wander to the rock formations of the Putangirua Pinnacles, the clamber to Cape Palliser Lighthouse, and coastal track to the seal colony. Then there’s the Rimutaka Rail Trail following the old Incline, and the foothills of the Tararuas – Holdsworth and Waiohine Gorge – excellent entry points with picnic spots and swimming holes thrown into the bargain.
Bike Much leisure riding can be enjoyed around Martinborough, and many of the area’s wineries welcome little ones so a winery lunch is definitely on the cards. Further afield, the Rimutaka Incline – the region’s most famous cycle trail – makes up one leg of the new Wellington–Wairarapa Cycle Trail. This 150km trail heads around Wellington Harbour and through the Hutt Valley, and over to the Wairarapa over the Rimutaka Rail Trail (and will eventually traverse the coast back to Wellington Harbour). Sections can easily be peeled off for a grand day out. Teenagers with off-road skills will love the custom-made MTB loop trail around ToraTora (toratora.co.nz).
Camp details Lisa and Frank’s camp gets better every time we visit. Small but perfectly formed, it has exellent facilities, decent-sized sites throughout leafy grounds, the town pool next door, and bike hire on site (child-seats available; Cycle Hub accredited). A small playground has recently been added.
Location: 10 Dublin Street West, Martinborough, www.martinboroughholidaypark.com.
9. Smith’s Farm Holiday Park, Marlborough Sounds
Why go? There are a zillion outdoor adventures within a stone’s throw of this campground in a practical Marlborough Sounds location. And the down-to-earth Faull family are just the people to help you find those most suited to your brood.
Walk The most famous walk in these parts is the Queen Charlotte Track (qctrack.co.nz), the trailhead for which is just five minutes drive away in Anakiwa. A return walk of any length can be made from here, or you can form a loop by way of frequent water transport services. There are many more walks besides, including the Waikakaho/Cullen Creek Walkway, an old goldminers’ trail which starts close to the campground. The property itself has farm and bush walks highlighting natural history and farming heritage. There is both a waterfall and glowworms.
Bike The Queen Charlotte Track is a mecca for mountain bikers, although intermediate skills are required. Reasonably skilled teenagers could cope with the section from Anakiwa to Camp Bay – open to riders all year round – a great taster with minimal logistics. A cycle path provides off-road access from Smith’s Farm to Anakiwa (4km away), and your hosts can assist with bicycle hire as they are Cycle Hub accredited. The Waikakaho Track is also rideable but steep in places.
Paddle The Grove Arm of Queen Charlotte Sound is a great place for a family paddle, and with their base just down the road from the Farm, Sea Kayak Adventures (nzseakayaking.com) are perfectly placed to assist with guided tours or freedom rentals.
Camp details Situated on a working beef farm, this quiet rural haven is a great base to explore the Marlborough Sounds. Spacious, never crowded, it has clean, modern facilities, great campsites and comfortable cabins.
Location: Queen Charlotte Drive, Linkwater, www.smithsfarm.co.nz.
10. Cable Bay Farm and Holiday Park, Nelson
Why go? This sleepy corner at the top of the South has a real end-of-the-line feel – most fitting for a bay named after the trans-Tasman telegraph cable! It’s the perfect spot to get away from it all with the convenience of Nelson just 20 minutes’ drive away.
Walk Starting (or ending) at the campground, the Cable Bay Walkway is a 3-4hr tramp along a steep, rugged coastline with impressive bush and spectacular views out over Nelson, D’Urville and Pepin Islands. The other trailhead is at The Glen, nearer to Nelson.
Paddle Just down the road, Cable Bay Kayaks (cablebaykayaks.co.nz) offer a terrific family orientated half-day trip around Pepin Island. Among its many highlights are bird colonies, seal haul-outs, plus waterfalls and caves when conditions allow. Less adventurous seafarers can paddle the calm waters of the estuary.
Adrenalise Around 5km shy of the campground on Cable Bay Road, Happy Valley Adventures (happyvalleyadventures.co.nz) is a fine place to introduce some adrenaline into the mix. As well as their signature ‘Skywire’ flying fox, they offer quad bike tours, horse treks, and a jolly good cuppa and cake in the café.
Camp details Located on a 1000ha coastal hill country farm, this small campground has a quiet, laid-back country feel. Lush pitches with a bush backdrop complimented by a modern facilities block offer simple, natural camping enhanced by the personal service of owners Ian and Barbara.
Location: 799 Cable Bay Road, cablebayfarm.co.nz.
Why go? This striking 7000ha reserve lies 20km inland from Hokitika and the coast. With plenty of adventure to be had within its confines, this is ‘total immersion’ West Coast wilderness with yet more spectacular adventures along its exit routes.
Walk Along with numerous short walks, the scenic reserve boasts two 4hr walkways – the shoreline Lake Kaniere Walkway and the mesmerising Kaniere Water Race which wends along the historic power station water supply route. Further afield, the Hokitika Gorge offers a couple of bush walks along and across the surreal blue waterway.
Bike A grade 1 doddle, the West Coast Wilderness Trail (nzcycletrail.com) traverses 120km between Greymouth and Ross. It’s not entirely open for business yet, but one section that is runs between Greymouth and Paroa – site of an excellent historic pub and the turn-off to Shantytown. This is just the tip of Westland’s cycling iceberg, with goldmining tracks, logging tramways and disused railway lines proving sitters for two wheelers. The Kaniere Water Race, close to the Hans Bay campground, offers a really fun ride, although Dad will have to help haul the bikes through the gulches (soon to be bridged, rumour has it).
Swim The sandy-bottom lake is great for swimming. Tactfully described by DOC as ‘best after a couple of weeks of fine weather’, we can verify that it’s cold and your best bet is a no-hesitation leap off the jetty.
Paddle A lovelier lake for padding or boating you will not find, but you’ll have to BYO. Fishers can try their luck for perch, rainbow and brown trout and salmon.
Camp details Hans Bay is Lake Kaniere’s visitor hub, enhanced by this large grassy DOC campsite on an elevated site opposite the lakeside day reserve. With room for around 40 pitches, this back-to-nature camp offers gloriously little in the way of facilities beyond a water supply, toilets, picnic tables and rubbish collection.
12. Omarama Top 10 Holiday Park, Canterbury
Why go? See what happens when you introduce little people to some very big country. With a bit of luck they’ll see these sparse landscapes like we do – full of beauty and endless possibility.
Walk You’re spoilt for choice in this neck of the woods. The 14,500ha Ruataniwha Conservation Park is on the doorstep, for a starter. Take your pick from various tramps nestled in the foothills of the Alps around Lake Ohau. Aoraki/Mt Cook National Park is only an hour’s drive away, too. You could take the kids on the short hike up the Hooker Valley and kill an hour or two in the excellent Visitor Centre. Heading down the Waitaki Valley, the Kurow Hill walk stretches legs and rewards with views, while the Elephant Rocks, Anatini whale bone fossil and Maori rocks around Duntroon should also be seen if at all possible.
Bike The wondrous 312km Alps 2 Ocean Cycle Trail (nzcycletrail.com) goes all the way from Aoraki/Mt Cook Village to Oamaru, best cycled in this ‘downhill’ direction. It divides neatly into eight gently undulating grade 2 stages, most around 40km long. The whole family may be able to complete the 24km leg from Omarama to Otematata, or you could embark on an even shorter return excursion from any point such as the leg from Omarama towards Lake Ohau, up the sight-packed Quailburn Rd which reaches Ahuriri Conservation Park. Crazy clay cliffs, rare bog pine bushes, kettlehole lakes, birdlife, and historic farming ruins make for great adventure. This whole region is a mecca for family mountain biking; see DOC’s Mountain biking in Mackenzie/Waitaki booklet for pointers.
Camp details Covering 4ha of sheltered grounds and bounded by a stream suitable for a summer dip, Omarama Top 10 has a host of facilities inside and a handful of useful services just a few minutes’ walk away in Omarama township.
Location: Omarama Ave, www.omaramatop10.co.nz
13. Te Anau Kiwi Holiday Park, Fiordland
Why go? A World Heritage Area in our own backyard – how lucky are we? The secret may be well and truly out of the bag, but with so many places to go and things to see, you’ll have no trouble finding some quiet spots where you can share with your family the joys of nature at its most majestic and untamed.
Walk The Milford Road is essential viewing. Allow plenty of time to stop and take some of the many short walks along the way, particularly Mirror Lakes and Lake Gunn. Not far from the Homer Tunnel, the Key Summit Track offers a taste of the Routeburn Track and offsets the 90-minute climb with incredible views and a stunted beech forest. Myriad other day-trip options from Te Anau include chipping off a family-sized chunk of the Kepler Track, or for a path of lesser resistance head to Ivon Wilson Recreation Reserve on the edge of town, which has biking tracks, trees to climb, and other assorted attractions.
Explore Treat the family to a great big ‘Wow’ on a tour of the amazing Te Ana-au caves (realjourneys.co.nz) which starts with a cruise to the isolated western shore. From there it’s a journey on foot and punt, into the caves deep under the Murchison Mountains where water swirls and gushes through a maze of staggered waterfalls, flumes and peculiar rock formations. On the way, learn of the history of the caves and the life that inhabits them, most notably a galaxy of glow worms.
Camp details Te Anau is blessed with a number of excellent holiday parks and a host of DOC campgrounds in the surrounding area. Te Anau Kiwi Holiday Park is great for families, with a resort feel, large communal building with kitchen and lounge, barbecue area, and adventure playground.
Location: 15 Luxmore Drive, Te Anau, teanaukiwiholidaypark.co.nz.
14. Catlins McLean Falls Holiday Park, Otago
Why go? The Catlins are well off the beaten track, and all the better for it as you can have many of its hidden gems all to yourself. Nestled into the wilds, this family-oriented holiday park makes a great base for exploration.
Walk Many of the Catlins’ abundant essential sights are readily accessible off the main highway, known as the Southern Scenic Route. Our advice is to stop wherever you see a DOC sign. Highlights include The Nuggets, one of New Zealand’s most spectacular headlands where a short, easy walk leads to a lighthouse with grandstand views of the rocky islets. Nearby, yellow-eyed penguins may be spotted at Roaring Bay. Wildlife is a major drawcard of the region, with the area around Pounawea estuary a hotspot, particularly Surat Bay with its terrific beach walks made all the more magical by the presence of the New Zealand sea lion. Further south, the tidal Cathedral Caves pocket Waipati Beach, offering a dramatic and slightly spooky adventure. Close to the holiday park, the short and easy McLean Falls River Walk leads to McLean Falls, just one of many spectacular cascades in the Catlins. Yet more eye-boggling awaits at Curio Bay, famous for its 160-million-year-old petrified forest, one of the world’s best examples. What about that incredible swirling kelp?
Camp details Child-friendly, bike-friendly, pet-friendly, horse-friendly, and even welcoming to aeroplanes, this holiday park has accommodation of every description including free-draining, sheltered tent sites spread over a large area, many with power. The onsite Whistling Frog Café is a great spot for a family meal; and bike and kayak hire can be arranged.
Location: 9 Rewcastle Road, Chaslands Highway, catlinsnz.com.