Can I write about campgrounds in New Zealand without mentioning the sand flies? I’ll give it a try…
There are a few different types of campgrounds with varying levels of facilities: DoC (Department of Conservation) sites, domain camps, motor camps, and holiday parks.Â When touring New Zealand, you’re likely to experience them all.
DoC sites offer the most basicÂ facilities: toilet(s), most likely pit but in one case flushing, and at some sites, but not all, a watertap. They are usually in “scenic reserves” (aka. beautiful conserved areas) and are a steal at $6 per person per night.
Domain camps are sites run by local city or town council. They are also pretty basic but may have coin showers and feel less “in the wild” than the DoC sites. I’m hesitant to say “less scenic” because there was the case of the Owen River camp, operated out of the Owen River tavern (which was, from what we could tell, the only thing in Owen River). We were bemused by the tavern/campground combo but once a short ways down a hill from the tavern, we were able to pitch our tent by a beautiful river.
Motor camps leap forward in facilities offered. From what I can remember, all the ones we visited had hot showers (only a few coin-operated), kitchens with stoves, sinks, hot water, sometimes even dishes, and coin laundry. The kitchen at the Wanaka motor camp:
After staying in a few, we realized how feasible it would be to leave the camp kitchen at home and travel much lighter. But that’s no fun, is it?
There was a point when the motor camps started feeling a bit too cushy: computers, Internet, TV rooms, cabins, RV washing stations, pop and chocolate bars sold at the office… These places were sometimes called “Holiday Parks” and catered strongly to the RV tourists. In many, tent sites felt like an afterthought and in the worst of them, anything scenic was fenced off and starry nights were diluted with the orange glow of sodium lamps. Our least scenic camp:
It was in Queenstown, when we arrived at our only camping option, the Queenstown Lakeview Holiday Park, where a motor camp finally bruised my soul. We registered at the office, paid 40 NZD and were told to pitch at site #37. Then we entered the park and saw “the grid”:
Seven rows for RVs, and a row at the back for tent sites, each site as narrow as can be to cram in the many visitors that flock to Queenstown every year. City life, I guess…
Looking back on the trip, we stayed in more motor camps than I would have liked to. Particularly during our last stretch, from Wanaka to Queenstown, then inland to the East coast, where DoC camps were far and few in between. In fact, my first attempt at this blog post turned into quite the rant about car campers and trailer parks. But I really don’t want to rant on anything about what was on the whole an awesome adventure. (At least, not yet.)
So to stick with the positive for now, and to disregard my first statement, the motor camps were a refuge from the sand flies (somehow, *shifty eyes*, all populated areas were sand fly free) and the few nights we stayed in cabins were luxurious.