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NZ camping holidays with kids

Kiwis love to camp and I think the reason we are attracted to camping is because we inundated with incredible locations where we can camp, but more and more I feel like its because it offers the opportunity to effectively escape from the chaos of our every day lives and get back to basics. The kids also seem to thrive in this environment. Being outside with the ability to explore seems to be just about all kids need to stay amused.  Last month we embarked on a 1 month camping trip to the north island. Starting from Wanaka, we drove over 1500kms to the first destination in Rotorua.  We had a list of places we wanted to cover, many of which we had never visited before. The first place on our list to explore was the East Cape of the North Island. This was an area of NZ that neither Braden or I had never been to. We had both decided in our own heads that it was going to be the perfect scene for out idyllic beachside holiday.

As we set off from sunny napier, stopping at hunting and fishing and pack’n save on route, we felt well and truly ready for our week long east cape camping adventure. It was an epic day and we were excited to find our first night beachside.

Mahia peninsula was on our radar as a top pick, only two hours drive from Napier and its geography made it appear as though it would have all the natural assets we required. remoteness, multiple surf breaks and sheltered inlets for a spot of fishing.

We passed by Blacks Beach at around 2pm and it was pumping. But we collectively decided that we were better to prioritise a camping spot before we went surfing.  So we kept on driving further around to the township of Mahia.  Mahia turned out to be a cute little township, with a few empty baches. It sits right on the west side of the peninsula and I imagine its almost always sheltered from the wind.  We dropped by the local campground only to find that they were closed. So we proceeded to stealthily scope out the rest of the village to see if we could find somewhere free, but found that no camping signs were reasonably abundant. We decided instead to drive over to the east side of the cape only to find it was blowing its head off.

Plan B was to drive around for next hour or to see if we could find some idyllic location before the sun went down.  Tension was starting to mount as everyone wanted to get out of the car. Finally we did find a spot. I would say that it was likely the only good spot around, so if you are planning on going that way, then save yourself a few hours and just go to this place first. Its right in the north west corner of the bay, and you can see the turn off just after you turn onto ormond drive from mahanga rd. It was a great spot with a nice protected beach. And other than 5 pairs of old man undies strung up next door, it was close to being perfect. Things were looking up. We spent the afternoon at Blacks Beach, where Roy (my brother) and Braden went surfing and the kids and I built a tee pee.

We had a perfect night camping with a couple of stouts, a bbq’d lamb rack and a delicious summer salad topped with grilled haloumi. We have never been ones to go without when it comes to food, hence the extravagent menu. But hey I figure, you need to enjoy some of life’s luxuries and can justify the expense when you are camping for free.

I slept pretty well but it turned out braden was up all night with premonitions of being ransacked. I felt that our choice of locations was quite safe, as we had a few camper van neighbours and I thought having more people around diluted the possibility of being pillaged. However Braden thought that we were just easy pickings and stayed up the entire night with his headlight on.

Waking up none the wiser, I was looking forward to a morning at the beach. Braden was pretty much already packing down camp before I even got out of my sleeping bag. I’m not the best person to try and hurry so I just ignored his suggestions of taking off early and proceeded to laze around at the beach with the kids. However eventually I felt guilty, so I chipped in on pack down and we shipped out.

It was day 2 and we were off to find an even better location. About 20minutes into the drive we passed the Morere hot pools. It looked amazing but it was unfortunately too early in the morning to be lazing around in hot springs. However if I were to drive this route again I would plan to do the drive in the afternoon and enjoy a few hours in the natural hot springs.

And so the drive continued through to Gisborne. We managed to find a really good cafe for lunch called Verve. From Gisborne we continued the journey north to Tolaga bay. This was another hot spot that came highly recommend. We arrived at around 3pm and it was pouring with rain. The camping ground looked largely unattractive and although the bay had potential, it just didn’t quite tick dream spot box. The majority call was to keep driving to the next bay Tokomaru bay. We knew we were a long way off anything else after Tokomaru, so it was a matter of making the most of the last possible option.

It was still pouring rain when we arrived. But Braden being the highly practical and inherintly hardy person that he is, got out and set up the entire camp while we waited in the car. Tarn was close to follow though and had his little macpac Minaret tent set up within a record time.

Braden and I then set off on a bike ride with Bella in the backpack. Riding north around the bay we found the relics of old wharf and other broken down houses and historic buildings. It seemed as though this little town used to thrive once a long time ago. However, now it was actually slightly gloomy. The east cape was living up to its reputation as being largely deserted, other than the odd local and fish and chip shop.  I guess for some people this place is still a paradise, away from the crowds, and offering the same landscape and beaches as so many other popular tourist destinations.  I made a note to myself to come back again in February when it was hot and sunny.

As the rain had not relented, we decided to give in to a night under the foxwing and another delicious dinner with a few glasses of 42 below to take the edge off. Uno was proving to be the game of choice and the 4 year old (bella) was turning out to be a champ. Next morning we were up and out like a shot.

Day 3: up the coast….pouring rain. It didn’t seem worth stopping if I am truthful. Hicks bay was another well known surfing location but it was completely blown out and there was no surf on the forecast. We kept driving. 5 hours later we arrived in Opotoki only to receive news that cyclone cook was on its way, due to arrive the following day.

This was a “phone a friend” occasion. Within 10minutes we were heading to our friends bach, just north of opotoki. The bach that I once knew, was a classic kiwi beachside shack. It had however transformed itself into a pretty amazing 4 bedroom dream house. I won’t lie when I say that I was very happy to have a bed and a hot shower that night. Bella was predictably over the moon to see they had sky tv. But the boys in the team were morbid.

Braden in particular had huge visions of the perfect week long camping trip. I think it went something like; a nice sunny sheltered bay, where he could launch his hoon wave and set up the long line, dive for paua in the rocks, and go surfing. Having these expectations were always going to be an issue. But because he only gets a few weeks a year off training to live out his dreams, he couldn’t help but get excited about ticking all the boxes.  I knew braden was hugely disappointed, but also knew he would get over it eventually.

The getting over it part came the next evening, when we were sitting safely inside 4 walls, while outside trees were being blown over and people were being evacuated.  We embraced the storm and set up our emergency supplies, lit the candles and got happy!  It was quite exciting and how many people get to watch the forefront of a cyclone hit land from the windows of their bach. We were all grateful for the roof over our head that night and quickly got over the fact that we weren’t having the almighty beach camping holiday we dreamed of.

This trip reminded me of the pros and cons of camping holidays. It is such an honest way of experiencing the incredible back yard we live in, but cyclones really put a damper on the experience. I am sad that I did not get to see the East cape in all its glory as its incredible how dismal weather can dampen your whole perspective of a place. But I guess we are just so reliant on the weather when it comes to camping holidays. After some retrospective consideration of all these factors I have however decided that no matter where you are going, if you are camping then you better give yourself a slap in the face before your leave and remember to enjoy it for what it is, not what you dreamed it would be!  NZ is one of the most incredible places in the world and its easy to become complacent with the endless abundance of beauty that we are constantly surrounded by. I think human nature always wants to compare new experiences with old ones, and its for this reason that I think we can find ourselves disappointed, particularly when we come from NZ and our repertoire of experiences is so rich and plentiful. I do feel that having kids allows us to enjoy the same old experiences all over again, as its always going be different when you have the little guys in tow. They teach us to enjoy the simple things, they encourage us to explore nature, and they inspire us to stay embedded in the moment we are in. I look back on this trip and it was such a special time for us as a family.