West Coast Trip: Christchurch to Lake Paringa

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A few years ago, the drive down the West Coast of the South Island was voted one of the top 10 drives in the world by Lonely Planet. Alongside the trip around the East Cape, this would have to be one of my two favourite drives in New Zealand.

There is something beautiful about such an amazing stretch of New Zealand, populated by so few people. I like to do this trip at least once a year. You can read about the previous trips here (fishing trip in Jacksons Bay) and also discovering the hot springs in Hari Hari a few months ago.

Christchurch to Arthurs Pass

arthurs pass

I started out driving over Arthur’s Pass (State Highway 73) from Christchurch and stopping in at the Department of Conservation Avalanche Creek campsite, which is right next to the train station on the right-hand side of you are driving west (Christchurch – Hokitika). It’s a pretty handy campsite and popular, so you’ll often meet like-minded people staying here.

Otira Gorge to Westport

Pushing on toward Hokitika through the Otira Gorge, the traffic was slow as a truck up ahead was going at a super slow speed, I’m guessing staying in a low gear so their brakes don’t overheat going down this steep hill.

Instead of taking the normal route to the West Coast, I turned off at Lake Brunner toward Greymouth. I had bought a surfboard off Trademe and needed to go pick it up just south of Westport.

While in the area I stopped off at the beautiful Iveagh Bay on Lake Brunner, a beautiful freedom campsite operated by the Grey District Council.

You can stay a maximum of three nights if you are in a self-contained vehicle. Don’t even try with a non-self-contained vehicle. You’ll be told to leave, by the locals or the other vehicles staying here.

Iveagh Bay Lake Brunner

Down the West Coast to Lake Paringa

After picking up the surfboard just south of Westport, I found out two Christchurch lads could’ve bought the board back to Christchurch. With 5 hours of driving ahead of me in order to reach Lake Paringa, 2 and a half hours could’ve been really handy!

So, it was a fairly manic drive down the West Coast. And it felt like sacrilege to drive straight past the Glaciers without even taking a look. However, the scenery was great, as you can see below.

The weather was superb, and the surf was wild too, which made for (in my opinion) the ultimate West Coast driving experience!

West Coast view

There are loads of places to stop for photos of this amazing scenery as you drive along. The spot below (located approximately here) was just one. What an awesome spot for a picnic table!

west coast picnic spot

So,

Lake Paringa, West Coast

I arrived just on dusk at Lake Paringa, 30km north of Haast, and put my boat in the water. The head of the lake is perfect for a spot of fishing or hunting because it can be only accessed by boat.  

As it turns out, the flax is very thick at the head of the lake, which needed some serious bush bashing to get through. Something that any deer within 1 km could’ve heard! So, the chances of a successful hunt were pretty slim.

At dusk, I had a go at trawling for trout, as they were jumping all over the place. The fish were feeding on the little insects that fly around and get caught in the water. Sadly, I had no luck. Thank goodness for packed meals!

West Coast Rain and Mosquitos

Westland and the West Coast is famous for rain. Sure enough, after both an unsuccessful hunt and unsuccessful fish, the rain came bucketing down as I was dozing off.

Waking up wet in a tent is not on my list of favourite pastimes. To top it off, the mosquitos were also savages. They managed to get through tiny holes in the tent, even though I had sprayed insect repellent.

Despite the rain, mosquitos, and lack of fish, it was still a great feeling driving down the West Coast, accessing some awesome country like the image below.

There is a DOC campsite at Lake Paringa too. If you are heading down the West Coast, I would definitely recommend dropping in.

By the way, if you have had better success at Lake Paringa, let us know!

Lake Paringa, West Coast

Northland Camping Trip: 6 Days Of Classic NZ

With spring arriving and the temperature starting to warm up, we decided to go camping in Northland and the Bay of Islands in a campervan for the first week of the school holidays.

As a child growing up in New Zealand, I have fond memories of seemingly endless warm summer days on the east coast of the North Island. We don’t get the golden sand beaches lined with pohutukawa trees in the South Island, so I was eager to experience it again with the family. 

Getting to Northland to go Camping

We flew from Christchurch to Auckland on a Saturday morning. Within an hour of arriving, we had collected our luggage and been transferred to the Britz depot. Another 30 minutes, and we were heading north over the Harbour Bridge, Northland bound in our campervan!

We’d made no set plans for the trip, on purpose. We had our CamperMate app, which shows all nearby campgrounds, so it was all under control!

We had decided to aim for around 2 hours of driving time per day. The idea was that the two boys, aged 4 and 5, wouldn’t get too restless. This way, we could actually spend some time on the beach rather than in the campervan seats!

Te Arai Point Campsite, near Mangawhai Heads. You can see how close the campervan is to the beach!

Te Arai Point Campsite, Northland

South of Mangawhai Heads, we saw free campsite called Te Arai Point Road. Situated right next to the ocean and complete with public toilets, a dump station and picnic tables, we’d found our first place to stop.

The downside to this site is that you have to drive 10kms along gravel to get there. In a larger campervan, this can be a bit of a mission. But, in the end, it was well worth it for our first night.

The site can also be quite exposed to the wind. Luckily, the wind seems to die down a little in the evening.

There were some people surfcasting from both the beach and the rocks, but they weren’t having any luck.

At around 7 pm it started raining. There is something awesome about being in a warm campervan next to the ocean with rain on the window. It was a great first night on our Northland camping holiday.

Mangawhai Heads

Waking up to sunshine, and after collecting a few shells along the beach, we were back on the road. Next stop: Mangawhai Heads, a famous Northland summer camping hangout for many in New Zealand.

We parked up at the main parking area at Mangawhai Heads just before lunch. It’s very campervan friendly, with larger car parks designated for campervans. From there we explored the sand dunes, a short walk away.

While having lunch we managed to spot some dolphins jumping in the estuary! People usually pay loads of money to see this sort of stuff. Here in Northland, New Zealand, you can just drive up and watch!

Spot the dolphin in mid-air!

Kings Beach, Whananaki, Northland

The boys were pretty tired from fighting with make-believe monsters in the sand dunes. So we decided to go to Motutara Farm at Whananaki, a 1 hour and 40-minute drive away. The camp had recently re-opened after the Northland winter. and the place looked superb!is

There are two campsite options to stay here on the farm. We stayed at Kings Beach, where it cost $14 per adult for a non-powered site. Not bad, considering we literally had the whole beach to ourselves for the entire time we were there. Bliss! If you’re in this area and looking for a campsite, I would definitely stay here.

I tried fishing however only managed to catch a few useless rock cod. They were thrown straight back! The water is really clear here, so I decided to go for a snorkel. I spotted thousands of sea urchins (Kina), a Red Moki and a crayfish, just 20 metres from the beach.

There was a large school of Kahawai around waist depth while swimming back in. Why didn’t they take my bait?! It’s a bit frustrating when that happens! Luckily we’d packed easy to prepare fresh pasta, mixed with some smoked chicken and a fresh pasta sauce.

Rainbow over Camping Site Motutara Farm, Whananaki, Northland, New Zealand
Rainbow at Motutara Farm, Whananaki

During dinner, there was a brief shower, before an awesome rainbow appeared!

It was becoming apparent that not many people are travelling around the time of the school holidays which surprised me.

The weather might be a little cooler than summer, but it was still shorts and t-shirt weather. I wasn’t complaining about the lack of people, though. I’m the first to admit I’m a bit of a recluse when on holiday!

Bland Bay Motor Camp, Northland

After breakfast, we pushed on for an hour and a half to Bland Bay Motor Camp. Aside from one other campervan, we had this superb Northland campsite to ourselves, too. Awesome!

It was about 10kms on the gravel road and there are five or so one-lane bridges to get here. It’s quite narrow in places but if you take it slow you’ll be fine. There are good, clean facilities here including a new kitchen block. So, if you’re after a bit more space when cooking, here’s a good place to do it.

Bland Bay Motor Camping Site Northland
Bland Bay Motor Camp, Northland

This was our first powered site of the trip, so we made the most of it by charging up the cell phones and laptop. A big southerly was due to roll in accorin=ding to reports. Sure enough at around 7 pm, we started to get rocked around!

It was awesome to see the huge swells smash up against the islands you can see in the behind our campervan in the photo. They form a protective reef and only a small amount of swell gets through. By the morning it had subsided and we took to the beach for a spot of fishing again without any luck. 

Campervan on Russell ferry in Northland
Campervans on the Car Ferry, Russell, Northland

Matauri Bay Camp, Northland

We were now into day four and knew we had to turn around and drive back toward Auckland.

So, we decided to head toward Matauri Bay, a 1 hour 40 minute trip from Bland Bay, via the car ferry just out of Russell. The ferry saves you a few hours of driving, and drops you off at Opua on the mainland.

Matauri Bay camping site northland
Matauri Bay, Northland

I’d never been to Matauri Bay before, and we were pretty keen to park up for a few days. When we drove over the hill and saw this epic Northland campsite, we knew we could easily spend a few days here!

Campervan campsite at Matauri Bay, Northland

The Matauri Bay campsite is right on the beachfront and is another beautiful Northland spot. It also was just $45 for four of us in a powered site per night, complete with unlimited hot showers! 

We even managed to get a park right on the beach! What an awesome sight to wake up to.

While there were only three other campervans here, there are usually around 1,500 people here over the Christmas and New Year’s Eve period. 

The surf report said 4-5 foot swells and offshore wind at Matauri Bay. I had my surfboard with me, so I was pretty keen to get a few waves in.

This photo shows how close to the surf we were able to park at Matauri Bay!

Being able to step out from the campervan, walk for 20 metres and start paddling my board was incredible! If you’re a surfer, you’ll love it here. That is, as long as you have the same wind and swell conditions that I had.

Returning to Auckland

We spent two nights at Matauri Bay before heading back to Auckland. The final leg of our trip was a 3-hour drive back to Auckland, with a one-hour break in Waipu, a great halfway point.

Ambury Park Camp Ground, Auckland
Ambury Park Campsite

Arriving at Auckland feeling relaxed, we visited the Auckland War Memorial Museum. From there, we headed for our final night. We’d chosen to park at one of the Auckland Regional Council designated self-contained campsites called Ambury, near Mangere Bridge.

Ambury Park Camp Ground, Auckland
Ambury Park Campsite

If you’re in Auckland with kids, you have to stay here! There are cows being milked, calf feedings and generally lots of animals running around. You’ll even have Pukeko’s running around your campervan. Another good reason to stay here is that you’re only 15 minutes away from the airport!

This was a great last night on our trip and really topped it off.

We’d seen and experienced a lot of Northland/Bay of Plenty while keeping our travelling down to around 90 minutes per day (aside from the trip from Matauri Bay-Auckland).

Our 6 Night Itinerary for Camping in Bay of Islands/Northland
1 Te Arai Point Road
2 Motutara Farm, Whananaki
3 Bland Bay Motor Camp
4 Matauri Bay Holiday Park
5 Matauri Bay Holiday Park
6 Ambury Farm

Blog post by Adam Hutchinson

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Wainui on Banks Peninsula: A Diving Day Trip

When Banks Peninsula near Christchurch is discussed as a destination, most people overlook Wainui and think of Akaroa. It is well worth a visit, especially for diving!

Getting to Wainui on Banks Peninsula

Wainui is just over 77 km from Christchurch. It’s near French Farm, which is almost opposite Akaroa. It is about a one and a quarter-hour drive from Christchurch. Your best bet is to use your CamperMate app and follow the directions.

With the temperature at a wonderful 26º C and hardly a cloud in the sky, I set off for Banks Peninsula and Wainui with a mask and snorkel. I was hoping to visit an old site I had collected Paua from before.

Cruise liner coming into Akaroa, viewed from near Wainui on Banks Peninsula
Cruise liner coming into Akaroa

Since the earthquakes in Christchurch, the cruise liners dock in Akaroa Harbour rather than Lyttelton. It is always nice to see one of them on their way in or out!

On the way

French Farm is the first settlement you will come to on your way over the hills of Banks Peninsula, around 8 km before Wainui. There are some great facilities here like a dump station, toilets, and picnic area. I also saw around six other campervans enjoying the beach.

The first thing you’ll when you arrive at Wainui is the great beach. It’s perfect to spend a quiet afternoon fishing, swimming or just relaxing. There is some paua in this area, but remember that the minimum size is 125mm. There’s also a maximum allowance of 10 per diver, which is more than enough.

Wainui is off the beaten track, and there are lots of other similar places around Banks Peninsula. Check your CamperMate App for suggestions. If you’re wanting to do some surfing, take a look at Magnet Bay, one of the great left-hand breaks in New Zealand. if you have the time.

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Magnet Bay on Banks Peninsula: Surf, Wildlife and Caves

Magnet Bay is one of many secluded little bays around Banks Peninsula near Christchurch. Each one is beautiful in their own unique way and tucked away from the main road.

Magnet Bay, in particular, greets the southerly swell head-on, resulting in it being one of the famous Canterbury left-hand surf breaks when the conditions are right.

Around 1.5 hours drive from Christchurch, Magnet Bay is the first southern beach on the Banks Peninsula after Birdlings Flat. It’s a rocky beach but as with most locals, beauty comes with the right swell conditions rather than golden sand.

Getting to Magnet Bay

You can use the map on your CamperMate app to get directions to Magnet Bay. However, it is a gravel road after you reach the top of the hill. So, if you’re in a 4-6 berth campervan you will definitely want to avoid this spot! A backpacker/smaller campervan should be ok, but be prepared for a slow trip.

It’s also accessed via a working farm, so just be careful and drive slow as you head down to the end of the road. You’ll see a bunch of pine trees that you can park up next to. On a day with a southerly swell and a Northerly wind, you might be a bit hard pushed to find a good parking spot. In all honesty, that doesn’t happen all that often, so you should be fine.

Wildlife and Fishing in Magnet Bay

Driftwood, Magnet Bay
Driftwood, Magnet Bay

This place is full of wildlife! Seals, Kahawai, Rig and who knows what else. Bring your fishing rod if it’s calm and you might be able to catch yourself something to eat.

There’s also plenty of driftwood that can be used as firewood here. So, as long as you’re careful, you can light yourself a fire. You can also spend the night in one of the caves, if you’re keen!

View from inside one of the caves, Magnet Bay
View from inside one of the Magnet Bay caves. This cave only had space for one, so if you’re a lone wolf you’ll be sweet!

If that’s your kind of thing, bring a mattress or two as the ground is very rocky. Even then, you might find yourself heading back in the middle of the night to your car for the comfort of the back seat…

Even without any swell, Magnet Bay is fun for a day trip and more often than not you’ll be the only ones here. It’s wild with lots of marine life and not far from Christchurch.

Remember to check your CamperMate app for the weather forecast!

Blog post by Adam Hutchinson

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West Coast Wilderness Cycle Trail: Greymouth to Hokitika

A few spare days during some recent holidays saw us heading to Greymouth and the West Coast Wilderness Cycle Trail. Here’s the story!

I love the West Coast of the South Island. You can be immersed in some of the densest bush New Zealand has to offer, all within a few hours drive from Christchurch. Now, imagine someone cuts a cycle path through that dense bush. That is basically the West Coast Wilderness Cycle Trail!

West Coast Wilderness Cycle Trail Map

It’s part of the New Zealand cycle trail network that runs from Greymouth to Ross, which is around 132km in total.

With the weather forecast for near-perfect conditions, we opened the CamperMate app and set course for Greymouth to ride the West Coast Wilderness Cycle Trail.

Gearing up for the West Coast Wilderness Cycle Trail

I personally hadn’t biked more than 5 km total in the last three months, so was a little wary about how I would fare on this ride. We called in to the local sports shop in Greymouth and bought a few spare bike tubes and the owner let us use the bike pump to inflate the tyres.

West Coast Wilderness Cycle Trail

There were four of us on the trip, and we each had a backpack with the bare essentials. We’d booked ahead at the Cowboy Paradise, which served up dinner and breakfast. So, we only really had to worry about snacks along the way.

Starting off on the Trail

The start of the West Coast Wilderness Cycle Trail leading out of Greymouth was on a gravel path alongside the river toward the sea at Blaketown. You meander past some of the old wharf relics like cranes and structures. So, it’s a nice gentle cruise to start you off and make sure everything is running smoothly.

West Coast Wilderness Cycle Trail

Once you hit Blaketown you ride parallel to the coast, until you cross the Taramakau River bridge. There, you’ll head slightly inland for Kumara. This inland section is mostly through thick bush and past muddy bogs, at this point it’s still mainly flat.

The weather was perfect, sunny yet still a slight breeze to keep the temperature down. Soon enough you find yourself at the back of Kumara, a small town with a population of 309. Here you can fill up your water bottles, and stop by the local dairy if needed.

Dillmans Dam

Dillwards am, West Coast Wilderness Cycle Trail

Leaving Kumara, the track starts to get slightly narrower and winds around pine trees as you head toward Dillmans Dam. This is a beautiful water reservoir which you can swim in. The water is really clear and pretty inviting.

By this stage we were starting to wonder if we would make it on time to the Cowboys Paradise Lodge in time for the dinner at 7 pm. So, we pushed on, aware of an hour or so of climbing still to come.

It’s an interesting part of the trip, as you find yourself passing these canals which have the clearest water imaginable.

Cowboys Paradise on the West Coast Wilderness Cycle Trail

Cowboys Paradise, West Coast Wilderness Cycle Trail

We arrived at Cowboys Paradise at 6.30 pm and met Mike the owner. He’s a real character that has been building this place up for 15 years. The rooms were awesome, and the showers were amazing.

If you are doing the West Coast Wilderness Cycle Trail trip I definitely recommend staying here. At around 8.30 pm the sun hid behind the mountains, and the sandflies came out, so it was time to retreat!

Day 2, West Coast Wilderness Cycle Trail

The next day is one of the best parts of the West Coast Wilderness Cycle Trail. If you’re heading toward Hokitika, you’ll cruise down the farm path next to cows and then onto a gravel road, eventually ending up at Lake Kaniere.

As you hit the lake, you’ll see a 15 minute DOC track, which you can take your bike on.

Lake Kaniere, West Coast Wilderness Cycle Trail

There are toilets at Lake Kaniere and a couple of picnic tables. So, it’s a good spot for a lunch break before starting the last stint. It’s also a pretty good spot for a swim! If you go past the picnic tables just around the left you’ll find a small beach.

Final Stint on the West Coast Wilderness Cycle Trail

The last section (for us anyway) was to Hokitika, and again the majority of this section was passing through a nice bush track.

It goes from a track onto the asphalt road, which you’ll ride along for the last 15kms or so. Right after that, you arrive in Hokitika.

If you’ve got time, spend a few hours going to the local museum and the beach. It’s a great spot, Hokitika. From there, you can catch your pre-arranged shuttle back to Greymouth Top 10 park at 2.30 pm.

All in all, the West Coast Wilderness Cycle Trail an awesome trip. It’s not too hard, you’ll spend some time in the bush, and probably meet some characters along the way. If you have a few days and are keen for an adventure, give it a go!

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Whanganui River Canoe Trip in Summer

Whanganui River

With New Zealand’s third-longest river cutting right through the middle of it Whanganui might just be the perfect place to do a canoe or kayak trip.

Yet, during the sixteen years that I spent growing up here, I’d never known anyone to paddle down the Whanganui River in a canoe or kayak! Swimming at Mosquito point, water skiing and a spot of fishing from the town bridge were about all I used the river for during this time.

In 2013, together with six friends, I decided it was time to give the Whanganui River canoe trip a go. The trip gained in popularity since the filming of the movie River Queen there in 2005. While the movie itself didn’t get rave reviews, the scenery was awesome!

So, I searched for some canoe and kayak operators and got in touch with Blazing Paddles, who were very helpful. Our Whanganui River canoe adventure was in motion!

Accommodation on the Whanganui River

The first thing I learned: You will need to secure accommodation independently alongside the river, or you will not be able to do the trip. The Department of Conservation (D.O.C.) has a number of huts and campsites along the Whanganui River. Having decided on the three-day canoe trip, I checked what accommodation was available through their booking system.

I managed to book sites at the Ohauora and Mangapurua Campsites. The booking process is pretty seamless, so with that done, we booked some Canadian river canoes for December 30th and 31st. We would set off from Whakahoro and arrive at Pipiriki, north of Whanganui, on the 1st of January, 2014.

Starting the trip

Canoeing Trip Starting Point

We arrived at the Blazing Paddles starting point at 8 am under a few rain clouds. With the weather forecast for more rain that day, we were a little apprehensive, however, we were pretty excited about the adventure that lay ahead.

After renting a sleeping mattress, we packed all our clothes, food, cooking equipment and sleeping gear into watertight drums and loaded the canoes onto the trailer.

We were driven the 45 minutes north to Whakahoro, in Whanganui National Park, where you launch for the three-day Whanganui river canoe or kayak trip. It can get a little crowded here, but once you launch you’ll pretty much have the river to yourselves, as they tend to space out the launching groups.

Whanganui River Canoeing Trip

We were now all set and cruising down the Whanganui river at a leisurely pace in our two-man Canadian canoes.

The water at that time of year is just the right temperature to hang your feet on the outside of the canoes. Since there’s no major requirement to paddle hard, so you can get into cruise mode.  

We found that the suggested times were very generous, similar to the DOC walking track suggested times. If you often complete the DOC walking tracks faster than suggested, the same will most likely apply to your canoe or kayak trip on the Whanganui River, too.

Campsites and huts

Whanganui River Canoeing Trip

Generally, there’s a hut or campsite every two hours of paddling down the popular canoeing stretch of the Whanganui River. Look for the signposts, on either bank. Some contain specific instructions such as ‘keep left’ or ‘campsite is 150 metres on the right’.

Blazing Paddles supplied us with a waterproof map, so you could see where you were without any hassle.

Ohauora Campsite

Our first booked campsite was Ohauora, where we arrived around 3 pm, after taking some time along the way to stop for lunch.

Ohauora Camp

There was drizzling rain when we arrived, which made putting up the tent a bit tricky. However, there was a small shelter there to cook under. Thankfully, within a few hours, the rain stopped.

While cooking around 7 pm, we noticed some rustling in the bushes nearby. It turns out there are lots of river rats, which could be the reason why wood framing surrounds the cooking area!

Rat-bitten jandals, Whanganui River Canoeing Trip

Unfortunately, the rats are quite friendly, and get pretty close! We made sure not to leave any food scraps out. However, that didn’t stop them from having a munch on some jandals that were in the awning of a tent.

Whanganui River Wildlife

There’s quite a bit of wildlife on the river banks along this trip. Quite often you’ll see some wild goats grazing on the lush grass alongside the river banks. There are also lots of Mallard ducks.

Goats, Whanganui River Canoeing Trip

If you’re keen on eating eel, you could take an eeling line and you would be sure to catch something. I’m not much of a fan of eel without it being smoked, and even then I don’t find it all that great.

Parking up

Most of the campsites will have a good area to pull up on (like this one below, at Ohauora). As you can see, we pulled our canoes up quite high and tied them off, just in case the mighty Whanganui River was to rise overnight.

Whanganui River Canoeing Trip

We left at 10 am the next morning, bound for our next campsite which was just by the “Bridge to Nowhere”, around 28 km away from Ohauora.

We made good progress on day two, and made it to the Bridge to Nowhere stop at around 3pm.

The Bridge to Nowhere over the Whanganui River

The area to pull up at the Bridge to Nowhere is really small. For added spice, it often has jet boats coming in and out of it, too. That can make it tricky to land!

Bridge to Nowhere stopping spot, Whanganui River Canoeing Trip

The best way to attack this is to paddle slightly past the bunch of canoes/kayaks, and paddle into where the arrow is pointing. It’s pretty calm there, so you don’t have to stress too much.

Once we had landed without any hassles or accidents, it was time to take a short walk to see this famous bridge.

The Bridge to Nowhere is a 40-minute walk from where you park your canoe, and well worth it.

Bridge to Nowhere, Whanganui River Canoeing Trip

What a hearty bunch of people that tried settling here!

If you take a look below the bridge you can see some eels swimming 30 metres or so below. Take some meat if you have it handy and drop it down to them.

Mangapurua Campsite

Our second night was at the Mangapurua Campsite. This was just across the Whanganui River from the Bridge to Nowhere, so it was easy to park the canoes.

Mangapurua Campsite, Whanganui River Canoeing Trip

Like Ohauora, it was also small and only had space for about 5 tents. There was an area about 5 metres below this platform. The grass was overgrown there, so we were unsure if this was available for camping on.

We were sorted anyway, and looking forward to having a few New Years Eve drinks to celebrate. For the record, we faked the countdown at 9.30pm!

We woke at 8 am and slowly navigated our way through breakfast, packing up and launching the boats. This was our last stretch, through to Pipiriki, where we would be find our relocated vehicles at 3 pm.

This is later than the normal 1.30 pm time. We couldn’t get any campsites closer to the pickup point, so we needed extra time to paddle the remaining 32 km.

This last day was far slower than the previous two days. The river seems so much slower and you find yourself having to paddle quite a lot on this stretch.

It’s this last day where you find about three rapids where you could potentially fall out though. So, while it’s slower in most places, you’ll have some fun!

All in all, the trip was awesome and hassle-free. Three days was perfect. You get to see a big chunk of the river, and it’s enough time to spend catching up with friends.

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Lake Brunner, Canterbury: Kayaking Trip

Getting to Lake Brunner

Lake Brunner is a beautiful lake around three hours drive from Christchurch. Or, if you’re on the West Coast, it’s about 45 minutes from Greymouth. The lake covers an area of 40 km² with beautiful clear water that’s ideal for kayaking.

It’s a weekend destination for many Cantabrians and visiting tourists. Both make use of the awesome free campsite for self-contained campervans located at Iveagh Bay.

The weather forecast looked to be okay over Queens Birthday weekend. So, we decided to head over on Saturday afternoon.

Lake Brunner
Lake Brunner

We woke to a gorgeous West Coast Sunday morning, including a slight mist which also added to the experience. We took a park on the water’s edge, near the yacht club. After all, you don’t need a boat ramp to launch a kayak!

The awesome thing about kayaking in lakes is just how still and clear the water is. And, with barely a ripple on the beach, this was also probably our easiest launch ever!

Kayaking on Lake Brunner
Kayaking on Lake Brunner

We headed around the Eastern side of the lake, trawling for trout. There were a few little streams that entered the lake from the Eastern side, so we thought that might be the best place to make a catch. I started trying a small cobra lure about 10-15 metres behind the kayak.

With very little weed in the lake, the conditions appeared perfect for fishing. I was hopeful, however, anyone that has read any previous posts that involve me fishing knows I shouldn’t get excited about such things…

Refuge Island on Lake Brunner

refuge island, lake brunner

The mist started to roll in and very soon it got thicker. So, after about an hours paddling we came across this awesome little island called Refuge Island, which we tied up at.

It was quite a cool experience, visiting a tiny island like this by kayak. There is something about being able to throw a stone from one side of the island to the other. It just fascinates me. It’s also kind of neat that it’s an island in a lake on an island.

Unfortunately, the island is also covered by gorse, which can limit exploration opportunities.

We continued on, with the cobra lure behind us seeing very little activity. The lake itself is 109 metres deep at it’s deepest. That seem’s pretty deep, and I have since been reading about thermoclines, an abrupt temperature gradient in a body of water. I think that’s what’s going on in Lake Brunner, but I may be wrong. If you’ve got any information, please let me know!

lake brunner kayaks
Misty Lake Brunner

In all, we had a great time kayaking at Lake Brunner. I couldn’t say it was a successful place to fish though!

Have you had any luck fishing on Lake Brunner? Please pass on any tips you may have!

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Rakaia Huts and Peel Forest: A Weekend Trip

What I find awesome about travelling around New Zealand in a campervan is that you don’t have to travel far to find an awesome place to camp. There’s also a range to suit any budget, from freedom camping sites to fully catered, and everything in between. One of those in-between campsites is the Rakaia Huts Campground, located on the banks of the Rakaia River.

Leaving Christchurch

We left Christchurch right in the thick of the weekend traffic, Friday at 5pm. The new highway takes you out via Lincoln where you can shave 10 minutes or so off your travelling time. That route doesn’t usually see the amount of traffic as the Hornby route, so for driving a campervan, it’s ideal.

Rakaia Huts Campground
Rakaia Huts Campground
Gary from Rakaia Huts Campground
Gary and his assistant guide

Rakaia Huts Campground

Rakaia Huts is one of the more low-cost campgrounds on the CamperMate app. It’s only about an hour or so from Christchurch. So, while it might be a little off the main highway, it’s a good place to come and explore.

On-site managers Gary and Roslyn have created a very friendly vibe here. It almost seems like a big revolving happy family, which we were lucky enough to drop into for one night in our Britz 4-berth campervan. 

Upon arrival, we were greeted by Roslyn and after setting up went and met Gary and other campers in the kitchen. Everyone is on a first-name basis here, very cool!

Rakaia Huts is like a little town, so we went for a walk and bought some honey from an honesty box stand.

Upon returning, Gary invited us for a trip to the river mouth (about 1km away) on his quad bike. It was a nice little adventure before we made tracks to the next campsite, Peel Forest, inland from Geraldine.

Peel Forest

Peel Forest Campsite kitchen and shower block.
Peel Forest Campsite kitchen and shower block.

The Department of Conservation campsite at Peel Forest is awesome. You pay at the camp office which is about 3 km before the actual campsite. It closes at 7.30 pm.

If you don’t make it there before it closes the manager will drop by in the morning. But you will need to have cash!

At $15 per night per adult, it is a little more expensive than the normal D.O.C. campsite. However, Peel Forest comes equipped with a lot more facilities than your normal campground. You get access to electricity, a great kitchen and hot showers. If the campsite is closed when you arrive, there’s another parking area to park on. Just ask at the camp store about it.

Aside from the hot showers, what I like most about this campsite is the number of fun things to do nearby.

The Rangitata River is just a 5-minute walk from the campsite. Take your gumboots as there’s a stream you have to cross to get there. I’m told it has trout and salmon, however, while we did try, we cannot confirm this.

We woke up in the morning to a beautiful sunrise and Pukeko rummaging around the chestnut trees.

It does get a little wet here, so it closes over Winter but opens again at Labour Weekend.

Before heading back to Christchurch, we checked out one of the stunning D.O.C. walks on the Rangitata Gorge Road.

I’ve never seen Fantails (Piwawaka) so plentiful as I’ve seen them here. It’s an awesome spot.

If you have some time to spare in South Canterbury, it’s definitely worth taking the time and spending a night at Rakaia Huts or Peel Forest.

Blog post by Adam Hutchinson

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Abel Tasman National Park: Weekend Kayaking Trip

Abel Tasman National Park is an amazing part of New Zealand, with the beautiful 60 km Abel Tasman Coast Track, one of the Department of Conservations Great Walks. It also has a stunning coastline.

If you’re coming to New Zealand you should experience this wonderful area in some way! We decided to give kayaking a go and chose a long holiday weekend in February to do it.

Getting to Abel Tasman National Park

We booked our camping accommodation over the D.O.C. website and chose the boat access only campsites at Mosquito Bay and Observation Beach. 

I had bought a double sea kayak off TradeMe, to be picked up in Picton on the way through. After the Bluebridge guys had unloaded it in perfect condition, we got the kayak onto the roof of the car and packed our gear into it.

We then headed to Marahau Aqua Taxis to get a water taxi to the upper area of the park.

Setting off from Bark Bay

Bark Bay, Abel Tasman National Park

The first campsite (Mosquito Bay) is near the point you see in this photo from Bark Bay.

It’s right on the edge of the marine reserve and takes around 40 minutes to paddle there. It was a good start to test the kayak without a full day ahead of us.

Before getting into the marine reserve, wanted to try fishing with some squid as bait near a rocky outcrop.

I hoped I might catch some fish for tea, but could only get one small spotty which was thrown back.

Mosquito Bay, Abel Tasman National Park

Mosquito Bay, Abel Tasman National Park
Mosquito Bay, Abel Tasman National Park

We got to Mosquito Bay campsite at about 4 pm. As it was low tide, we had to drag the kayak up the sand about 100 metres. At that stage, the kayak weighed in at about 60 kgs, so if you can manage it, try to arrive at high tide!

You have to drag your kayaks up onto the rails provided so that they won’t float away when the tide comes up. It’s a basic site with water (unfiltered) available on site.

There are also a few picnic tables here too., and the campsite has a very chilled out vibe to it.

You have an awesome beach right on your doorstep, the sand is golden and the water was pretty warm in February.

Mosquito Bay Abel Tasman National Park
View from one of the walkways from the campsite down to the beach. The rocky outcrop in the distance (about 40 metres offshore) has an awesome platform for jumping off!

One thing that I would take in hindsight is a pair of goggles and a snorkel. Of course, you cannot take anything here as it’s a marine reserve. Still, it would’ve been pretty cool to take a look around as the water is so clear.

Observation Beach, Abel Tasman National Park

The next day it was onwards to our next camp Observation Beach. You can probably get there without a stop within 2 hours. But, as we had all day, we stopped in at some quiet beaches along the way and also at Anchorage, a large campsite with a hut for cooking in and a few nice walks.

Kayaking Abel Tasman National Park
Paddling Abel Tasman National Park

We had had perfect weather up until this point and no swell which made for great kayaking conditions.

However, at around 11 am the wind picked up, just as we started to tackle the “mad mile” which was just around the corner.

I asked the water taxi bloke who had just pulled into Anchorage. He said heading south wouldn’t be an issue, but people paddling north were having a bit of a rough time.

Observation Beach Abel Tasman National Park
Observation Beach

As we turned the corner past Te Pukatea Bay we were in slightly rougher waves for about 30 minutes.

Then we rounded the corner into the very sheltered Observation Beach. This is one of my favourite places on the Abel Tasman kayaking trip.

Observation Beach is another boat only access campsite, and a little smaller than Mosquito Bay. This was my favourite site, it had a water tap, toilet and a fantastic beach. Plus, we didn’t need to pull the kayaks right up like the previous night!

Back to Marahau

The next day it was a short paddle of two hours before arriving back at Marahau.

What I really liked about our Abel Tasman National Park trip is that there’s not too much actual kayaking involved.

That means it’s pretty relaxed so you’ve got ample time to stop off and explore at the smaller campsites.

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Freedom Camping in New Zealand: Avoid Fines

New Zealand has a long tradition of freedom camping. Many New Zealanders and tourists travel the country by exploring it in a campervan, stopping to camp as it suits.

CamperMate app showing Five Mile Bay Freedom Camping Site near Taupo in New Zealand

However, it’s important to know that you can’t just park your campervan wherever you like. Many councils have laws or bylaws related to freedom camping. These may include how many where you can park, how long you can stay there, and also what type of campervan is allowed.

Most of the laws exist to keep the regions, towns and cities running smoothly. Some of the rules also protect New Zealand’s environment and ecosystems.

There are also rules about which types of campervans can use certain freedom camping sites. Breaking local freedom camping rules risks an instant fine of $200NZD, or more. And while many New Zealanders welcome freedom campers, parking up in the wrong spot is a sure way to upset people!

Avoiding Freedom Camping Fines

To avoid freedom camping fines, you need to know where the designated freedom camping sites are, and have access to the rules.

The free CamperMate app will show you in advance where the designated camping locations are. The CamperMate app will also display the local rules for each region, city or town, all around New Zealand. You can also view versions in ChineseFrench and German.

Check out this short video about how the CamperMate app helps people freedom camp in and around Greymouth, New Zealand.

The CamperMate New Zealand Freedom Camping Guarantee

We are so confident about the information on the app, we’re prepared to put money on it! If you get a freedom camping fine in New Zealand, as a result of the in-app information being incorrect, we’ll pay the fine for you.

Read our freedom camping fine guarantee here.


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