Want to avoid the crowds on your next camping trip? Wilderness has researched remote campsite that can be accessed only by foot or boat and come up with these 10 stunners. Spread across New Zealand, these 10 DOC campsites are as little as a five-minute walk or in some cases a day’s kayak into the wilderness. All offer a free, or near-free, option for those who wish to ditch the car and go camping under their own steam.
1. Pandora, Te Paki Coastal Track, Northland
Just around the corner from Kapowairua (Spirits Bay) and the outstanding Waitahora Lagoon, Pandora campsite on the Te Paki Coastal Track is a stunning spot for an overnight getaway. The site, which has minimal facilities but is a good spot for fishing and swimming, is about an hour’s walk along a well-formed track.
DOC’s Kaitaia recreation manager Phil Karanga says Pandora “is a beautiful spot on the northern coast, nestled in regenerating coastal forest with huge, ancient pohutukawa. It has a sheltered beach and stream, and is a peaceful place to relax”.
The Te Paki Coastal Track (previously known as the Cape Reinga Coastal Track) is a 3-4 day tramp along northern and western coastlines. It traverses a variety of landforms including giant sand dunes, wetlands and coastal forest as well as areas of historic interest.
Getting there Follow signposts for Cape Reinga. Near the Cape, a car park and signage is on the right-hand side of the road
Time 1hr from Pandora car park
Facilities Rainwater tap, toilets, 30 tent sites
2. Twilight, Te Paki Coastal Track, Northland
This is a new site about an hour’s walk from the Twilight/Te Werahi car park and is set between Twilight and Te Werahi beaches. It’s a sheltered spot flanked by native trees from where you can explore long sweeping west coast beaches, towering dunes and wetlands. The site is on a ridge and, at dusk, you can watch – from the appropriately named Twilight – as the sun sinks into a seemingly unending ocean.
“It’s a good spot for diving and fishing, although, typically for a west coast beach, the sea can be turbulent and unpredictable at times,” say DOC’s Phil Karanga.
Getting there Follow signposts for Cape Reinga. Close to the Cape, a car park and signage is on the left-hand side of the road. A marked track crosses farm and scrubland to the campsite
Time 1hr from the Twilight/Te Werahi car park
Facilities 25 tent sites, rainwater tap, toilets
3. Waikahoa Bay, Mimiwhangata Coastal Park, Whangarei
You’ll be at this secluded bay, fringed with pohutukawa before you realise it. There are views from surrounding hilltops over a diverse coastline and fragments of coastal forest and wetlands support rare species including kiwi, kaka, wood pigeons, brown teal, snails and plants. You can go diving, snorkelling, kayaking, fishing, surfing, walking, or just take it easy and relax.
“Northland’s warm climate makes Waikahoa Bay an excellent option for a late summer holiday,” says park manager Chris Moretti. “There is a steep five-minute walk over the hill to a small number of tent sites, so it’s never overcrowded.”
Getting there The site is about 48km from Whangarei. Turn off SH1 onto Russell Road. At Helena Bay turn south onto Webb Road, continue to the Mimiwhangata Coastal Park turn off. From Teal Bay the road is gravel, narrow and winding and there is no campervan access.
Facilities 35 tent sites, tap water, toilets, cold showers
Fee Adults $10; children (5-17 years) $5
Note: Mimiwhangata Coastal Park is a working farm. The campsite is open from November 1 to May 31 and books out quickly over December to end of January.
4. Crosbies Hut, Coromandel Forest Park
The remote Crosbies campsite and hut are at an old farming settlement established in 1880 by Thomas Hunter Crosbie. Back then access was by foot, horseback or horse-drawn sledge. Now it’s a 4-6hr tramp along the Memorial Loop Track.
“An accessible way to spend time somewhere inaccessible,” is how DOC ranger Bridget Baynes describes the campsite, which offers panoramic views of the Coromandel main range – north towards Maumaupaki and Mercury Bay and from the Firth of Thames in the west to Table Mountain and the upper Kauaeranga valley in the east. The lights of Whitianga are visible at night.
Getting there The site is approximately 12km north-east of Thames. It can be accessed from a number of tracks, with two access points from Thames Waiotahi and Karaka
Facilities Five tent sites near the hut (maximum of 15 people)
Fee Adults $5; Chrildren (5-17 years) $2.50
5. Oroua, Ruahine Forest Park
This is a peaceful campsite amongst red beech forest alongside the Oroua River about an hour’s walk in Ruahine Forest Park.
The Oroua River is one of the main rivers flowing out of the western Ruahine Forest Park. It’s an area popular with hunters, trampers and fishers. Tracks from the valley give access to the Ngamoko and Whanahuia ranges. Regenerating forest on the edge of the park is evidence of past logging in this area. There’s a small whio (blue duck) population and a well-supported community project is in operation to reduce stoat predation.
“Oroua campsite is a very safe, picturesque and comfortable place for young families and those new to backcountry camping,” says DOC ranger Duncan Toogood. “Give it a go.”
Getting there From the car park on Petersons Rd, a well graded track descends to the park boundary. Shortly after this an arched wooden bridge crosses high above a narrow gorge in Umutoi Creek. At the junction, head down to the Oroua River.
Facilities 30 sites, long-drop toilet, picnic area and poles to erect a cooking shelter (BYO tarp and ropes). Water is from the river
6. Graces Stream, Rimutaka Forest Park
In less than an hour’s drive from Wellington and around a 20-minute walk in Rimutaka Forest Park, you can be at Graces Stream campsite.
“It’s a pleasant bush campsite with plenty of flat open spaces for tents, all beside a little stream and close to loads of good walks into the Orongorongo Valley,” says Kapiti/Wellington visitor assets ranger Pete Blaxter.
As well as walking, you can hunt, mountain bike and go horse riding. The park is home to several native bird species including North Island brown kiwi, bellbirds, tui, kaka, kereru and ruru.
Getting there Follow the coast road south of Wainuiomata for 10km to the main gate (Rimutaka Forest Park entrance). Drive to the top car park and walk along the Five Mile Track
Facilities Toilets, water from stream
Map BP33, BQ32, BQ33
7. Blumine Island/Oruawairua Campsite, Blumine Island Scenic Reserve, Queen Charlotte Sound
History and birdlife are attractions at this north-facing, pest-free island campsite. That is if you don’t count the wetas.
Wekas could be on the beach and bellbirds, tui, parakeets, grey warblers and saddleback are likely to wake you at dawn. Endangered rowi kiwis may serenade you at night.
Ruins of Second World War gun emplacements and barracks lie deep, yet relatively easily found (about an hour from the campsite), in the bush
DOC visitor assets ranger Willie Abel reckons it’s a great place to camp, especially in the afternoon sun. “It’s probably worth noting the new camp toilet is much more popular than the old concrete one which used to have about 30 resident cave wetas waving their feelers at you as you tried to enjoy a quiet moment.”
For those who may be disappointed on missing on this weta experience, there’s still plenty of other wetas lurking in the darker corners of the military buildings.
Getting there Kayak or take a water taxi from Picton. No jetty or moorings available. (It’s a pest-free island so double check your gear to make sure you don’t inadvertently take any mice or rats ashore)
Time A full day in the kayak; 45min by water taxi
Facilities Long-drop toilet, picnic table, information signage
Fee Adults $6 adults; Children (5-17) $3
Map BQ29, BP29
8. Lake Guyon Hut and campsite, St James Conservation Area
This place is a “bush-ringed beauty” according to Waimakariri ranger Jeff Dalley.
It’s set alongside the lake on the site of a long-gone 1870s homestead. There’s shelter and shade from surrounding mountain beech forest and the site is large enough to find a private spot to pitch the tent, or, as Dalley suggests “hitch your horse”.
“It’s a perfect base for exploring the St James,” he says.
Getting there From Hanmer Springs take Clarence Valley Road over Jacks Pass to connect with Tophouse Road. This road gives access to the Fowler and Maling Passes. An historic pack track runs over Fowlers Pass, down into Stanley Vale, via the infamous zigzag, to the valley and lake. A shorter, less demanding, route is over Maling Pass (by 4WD) to the Waiau River, followed by an easy walk or bike along the St James Cycle Trail.
Time Via Fowlers Pass, 16km: 5.5hr walking, 3.5hr riding. From Maling Pass road end, 7km: 2.25hr walking, 1.25hr riding
9. Canyon Creek, Ahuriri Conservation Park
Fly fishing can be an enjoyable past-time here, but the park is also popular with trampers, hunters and mountain bikers.
The campsite would suit anyone wanting a comfortable place either amongst beech trees or nestled beside the bush edge.
“There are plenty of places to camp privately in the bush, with suitable flat platforms around,” says DOC ranger Ian Guthrie. It’s suitable for families, too being easily reachable about 20min from the road end.
Canyon Creek flows near the site while Canyon Creek Track is 10 minutes walk away. It’s worth the hike up to the top of the canyon for a spectacular viewpoint.
Getting there The conservation park boundary is 21km along Birchwood Road, the main road up the Ahuriri Valley, which is signposted off SH8, south of Omarama. From the boundary it’s a 4WD track to the road end.
Time 20min from the road end
Facilities Longdrop, water at Canyon Creek
10. Hall Arm, Doubtful Sound, Fiordland National Park
This campsite is about as remote as you can get and is nestled in the first arm of Doubtful Sound.
The site is just above high tide, with little clearings in the beech podocarp forest where moss hangs in tendrils from the huge trees.
To reach the site, cross Lake Manapouri, go over Wilmot Pass, then take a boat to Doubtful Sound. There are boat operators and a kayak company that can help with the trip.
You’ll likely see pods of Fiordland bottlenose dolphins and just around the corner from the campsite, beyond The Narrows, the fiord is free of boats and is renowned for the sound of silence. The rocks are slippery and the sand flies enthusiastic.
As DOC’s Beth Masser says: “Every time I’ve been to the Hall Arm campsite I’ve been blown away by the atmosphere – you really are there on nature’s terms.”
Getting there Access by boat or kayak only
Time Allow the best part of a day from Manapouri
Facilities Six campsites, toilet and water supply