Park near the water

Summer is coming and that means we all pack our bags, slap on some sunscreen and hit the road. Summer is the perfect time for a roadtrip and what better way to enjoy the sun than camping? On my recent road trip, however short it turned out to be, I found some gems of campgrounds that I’d like to share. We’re talking about southern New Zealand here, so unfortunately it’s sandfly central in summer. But if you can look past those annoying little animals, there are some amazing places to be explored.

Camping in Purakaunui Bay

Camping in Purakaunui Bay

In the heart of the Catlins is Purakaunui bay. The Catlins have an amazing coast and if you want to spend the night with a view, this is the place to go. It can even be a nice place to chill for a few days if you’ve got the right gear. The drive into Purakaunui was a bit nerve wrecking, since I’d just had major car problems and now I found myself driving along a long dirt road with nobody around but sheep. For a second I feared nobody would be at this DOC campsite, but that’s where I was wrong. At the end of the road lay a beautiful beach, surrounded by cliffs and green. There were several other tents and campers there and I totally understood why all of us had made the trip out here.

The camp is only basic, with just toilets and some water taps. There is no shelter for cooking, which is the only downside I can think of. For me cooking in the rain got a little tricky. But the bay… The waves came rolling onto the empty beach and at times brought a seal onto the sand. From underneath the warm blankets in my campervan I watched the seals frolic in the sand through my window. The next morning I watched the sun rise above the sea. On my way out I got to experience New Zealand in a different way. A farmer was moving his sheep from one paddock to the next and since there was only this one gravel road, anyone leaving the campsite would just have to follow. A night at Purakanui bay only costs you $6.

Another gem on the beach is Monkey Island campsite, near Orepuki. It’s just out of the popular holiday town Riverton, but unlike there, you can park your van for free here. It’s not far from the main road and has very basic facilities. The toilet doesn’t look like much from the outside, but it was clean. There is a long road with grass on the side where you can camp. On the other side is the day use area, that looks a bit shabby, with some graffiti in an old shelter.

You’re here for the beach though and that’s what makes it special. From the beach you can see the little Monkey island. At low tide you can walk to the island and climb the stairs. You should have a good view of the surrounding area. Unfortunately I didn’t do it because I missed low tide when I arrived and the next day it was pouring rain. That night there was a storm brewing and the wind was so hard that it rocked my car. Luckily there was some shelter from the wind by the tall bushes.

The last place I’d like to mention is Lake Gunn in the Fiordland. When you go to Milford Sound, I really recommend taking your time to explore the Milford highway. There are so many great places and beautiful walks to do and there are many campgrounds along the way. I don’t know how the others are, but I’d read that Lake Gunn was worth stopping at. It also happens to be the closest one to Milford Sound, ideal if you have an early morning cruise.

Lake Gunn, not a bad spot to camp!

Lake Gunn, not a bad spot to camp!

Everything I’d read was true. It was basic, with just a toilet, picnic bench and some places where you could make a fire. It is a really popular place though, so you’d better be on time. The best spots are right beside the lake and it’s surrounded by the typical Fiordland forest, with moss growing on everything. Then there is a small car park. It’s just so special that you get to camp bang in the middle of nature. There is no electricity, no assigned spots and nobody to tell you when to leave. On these places you really go back to nature. Yes, all these camps are basic. No, there are no showers, so leave your vanity at home. Yet on a road trip, these are the places you’ll remember, not the $30 holiday parks you’ll find in the cities.


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