Parked up at Ngawi, Cape Palliser by Simon Burt

Off the Grid, In the Sun, By the Water

It’s well known that pitching the tent or parking up the caravan is best done next to water, so Wairarapa’s abundance of beaches and riverbanks will see campers flocking here again this summer for sure.

Wairarapa country is camping country. Whether you’ve got a simple pup tent or a fully kitted van, the warmer months always encourage the outdoor spirit in locals and visitors alike.

The region’s many and varied camping grounds provide a feast of opportunities to catch a fish, char a sausage or gaze at the galaxy in the clear, wide skies. From manicured sites with full powered facilities to bush clearings boasting a single, simple long-drop, there is a suitable space for all lovers of sleep under canvas. And with our increasingly complex and tech-driven lives, who doesn’t hanker for a few days and nights off the grid?

For an exhilarating coastal experience it’s hard to beat the DOC-maintained Corner Creek campsite at the western end of Ocean Beach, near Wharekauhau on the south coast. Secluded sites among the shady manukas make it an intimate setting while stepping out onto the beach itself reveals the grandeur of Palliser Bay and the sheer power of the sea. Access (along the pebble beach) can be a little daunting but the reward is a true getaway among the historic huts and baches with no power and limited cell coverage. 

At the northern end of our region, the Eketahuna Camping Ground has undergone a recent renaissance and has been getting rave reviews from travellers. Where the riverside area was once rather unkempt and unloved, it now boasts significant new native plantings, an upgraded kitchen and ablution facility and friendly management who live off-site but seem to be always on hand if required. The river walk is a treat and the trout are huge and impossible to catch.

All our other Wairarapa townships have camping facilities including the quaint, bush-covered Greytown camping ground right next to the town’s classic swimming pool, and Mawley Holiday Park in Masterton which has cabins and self-contained motel-style units for those looking for a break with more of the comforts of home. Both of these are ideal for families.

With the current explosion in campervan and caravan ownership, and the increase in young international visitors, expect a lot of activity around the tourist hotspots like Putangirua Pinnacles, south of Martinborough, where scenes from The Lord of the Rings were filmed. Even in October the small but perfectly formed Ngawi camping area (kindly provided by South Wairarapa District Council and maintained by generous locals) was busy with overnighters in cars and vans. In summer the foreshore of this picturesque fishing village is chocka.

The rise and rise of the smartphone has created a whole new way of finding the perfect camping spot for you while on the move. The free Campermate app is a beauty with detailed information, directions to the sites and often photographs and comments from previous campers.

The availability, low cost and sheer cleverness of some of the new camping equipment has made getting away for a night or two in the wilds a breeze. Solar panels and energy-efficient LEDs mean there will always be light – gone is the glovebox full of D-cells. Shower shelters, water filters, lightweight furniture, sophisticated tents and portable toilets are all increasing in availability while decreasing in cost. 4WD vehicles are ubiquitous and great for accessing the more remote spots.

With wonderful, wild coastal spots such as Lake Ferry or Tora, gentler swimming beaches at Castlepoint, bush hideaways at Mount Holdsworth and Kiriwhakapapa, idyllic riverside retreats at Morison’s Bush or Waiohine Gorge and the family-friendly convenience of the township grounds, there’s no excuse not to load up the chilly bin, find the instructions for erecting the tent, check the tyres and head away for a few nights in nature.