Aotearoa boasts many out-of-the-way camping and tramping spots that take some time and effort to reach.
Here’s a guide to a few back-of-beyond places. We’re not talking about the back blocks, hunting, off-track or remote Fiordland. We’re talking about the potential holiday spots and family tramps that are accessible, with time, a trailer and probably a 4WD or boat trip.
In no particular order:
Aotea / Great Barrier
An off-the-beaten-track destination easily accessible from Auckland.
Ninety kilometers from the mainland, Aotea is rich in cultural history, offering understated luxury, tramping, natural hot pools, renowned fishing, surfing and one of the best-situated conservation huts in the region – Mt Heale with its panoramic views of the Gulf. North Island kaka are often heard squawking noisily and boisterously overhead.
It’s a deceptively large island and its windy, dusty, narrow roads slow you down to island pace. The speed limit is often 50kmh. The 25km Aotea Track is 2 to 3 days of tramping fun. There are options to make it a circuit with a couple of entry and exit points. It’s a good idea to start at the Whangaparapara end, make your way to Kaiaraara Hut and then up to Mt Heale via the highest point on the island, Mt Hobson at 627m. That way, you can pop out via the Kaitoke Hot Springs track and soak those leg muscles (don’t put your head under the sulphurous water).
For camping, the pick of the bunch is probably Harataonga Campsite, with its sheltered outlook, great beach and a coastal track. If you keep heading north there is the sweeping Whangapoua Beach and the graves of those who lost their lives when the SS Wairarapa foundered in 1894. On Whangapoua beach, you can wander among pebbles on the dunes some distance from the ocean – evidence of a past tsunami.
Much of the island was once dominated by kauri, and it’s estimated an area of 5000ha was felled. There are a handful of stands left and the odd huge specimen in positions that were too hard to log.
French Pass and D-Urville Island
At the time of writing, one of the campsites – French Pass – has limited services due to road damage earlier this year. The road is open amid ongoing repair work in the sounds after flood damage in August. It’s best to check the Marlborough District Council website for the latest information. If you are driving from the Picton end, it will take about three hours to wind your way to the outer sounds. Narrow – very narrow – windy roads take time to travel. Once you reach Okiwi Bay, you are well on your way. If you have a boat, then you are spoilt for choice. If not, there are options. A barge to D’Urville / Rangitoto ki te Tonga island is one.
If you are not going any further than French Pass / Te Aumiti, the lookout track offers views of the sounds – with very fast tidal flows that sometimes stun fish – whirlpools, and the lighthouse.
Kapowairua / Spirits Bay (Northland)
The northern tip of the country offers scenic campsites, lush bush and wide open beaches. Head off State Highway 1 at Waitaki Landing to drive to the beach site, with its scenic vista, long sandy beaches and fishing and relaxing galore. Park up here and do as little or as much as you like.
If you are feeling adventurous then the 48km Te Paki coastal track offers a remote tramp to Cape Reinga, round and down the coast to Ninety Mile Beach. This is self-sufficient camping at its best (there are no huts.)
From Spirits Bay, head west towards Cape Reinga along the beach, mainly following the coastline. There are three DoC campsites, with the Twilight site only accessible by foot and billed as ‘true wilderness’. Watch out for feral dogs and do not approach them. From Twilight it is possible to keep going, tramping south along Ninety Mile Beach – next stop proper is Ahipara.
The Bay of Islands and Cavalli Islands
The Bay of Islands is replete with scenic out-of-the-way, peaceful spots. Visitors are spoiled for choice with stunning campsites, an old lighthouse keeper’s cottage that serves as DoC accommodation, and even an island with a bookable hut.
Motukawanui Island is further north and boasts a 12-bunk conservation hut. Book it for a family or a group and you are almost guaranteed an island of your own.
Urupukapuka Island is the other option for getting what will likely feel like an island to yourself, with three DoC campsites to choose from. If you do not have your own boat, there is a ferry option. And Cape Brett offers a long-ish hike – 16km – from Rawhiti to the old lighthouse keeper’s cottage. If you have got a boat it’s a great stop and if not, a water taxi can drop you off or pick you up to make it a one-way walk.
Stewart Island / Rakiura
Endless fishing, diving and tramping options for the intrepid and the slightly less grunty but still rugged three-day Rakiura Track. The full combined North West circuit and Southern Circuit, unless you take a shortcut with a water taxi or fly into a beach airstrip, is a serious 180km undertaking (Ok, this one isn’t really a summer holiday option but why not consider at least one toughie?) and takes 12 or more days; It could be two weeks … depends on the weather. And there is mud. And sandflies. And possibly mosquitoes. After that you will happily stumble into Oban for a cold drink and a fish dinner.
Plus, you are so far south that in summer it can be light until 10pm.