Best in Nelson
Camping is deeply ingrained in our idea of what makes the perfect Kiwi summer. Nelson and Tasman are full of wonderful and well-known places to pitch a tent, and some not so well-known.
During January, our population swells as people from all over the world flock to soak up the sun and grab the best tent sites. For my husband, it is sailing that makes a perfect summer, but we make him spend the odd night under canvas so he knows what he is missing out on. He says it's so he realises more clearly why he likes the boat.
Recently we went to Totarunui, a DOC-owned campground next to the clear waters and golden sands of Totaranui beach. While it is vehicle-accessible (and boat-accessible, says my husband), sites are unpowered and there is no nearby cafe, so it qualifies as "real" camping in my book.
Totaranui is a great base for activities - you can relax on the beach, swim, kayak, fish or explore the native bush on one of the many tracks - the Abel Tasman Coastal Track can be accessed from here.
It is one of my favourite places in New Zealand, and in January it is packed with 850 others who decide it is their favourite place, too. This site, like many others mentioned here is popular, so it is best to ring ahead and book a space for your tent.
For "real" camping try other spots in the Abel Tasman Park - Mutton Cove, Mosquito Bay, Awaroa or Anchorage. These require either a walk-in or a commercial water taxi. My husband has been known to drop off friends, and there is good holding for boats in many bays.
There is camping at McKee Memorial Reserve at the northern end of Ruby Bay. This has good basic facilities, a playground, flying fox, a beach and lovely views of Tasman Bay from your tent.
If you want to go inland, try Molesworth Station, a vast area of farming, conservation and recreation land. There are designated tent sites at Molesworth Cob Cottage and Acheron Accommodation House. The drive is a couple of hours from Nelson, but, once there, it feels like another world.
My final "real" camping recommendation is Quinneys Bush. This is less than an hour from Nelson and is super kid-friendly, with plenty of fun activities, including a water slide. Unlike many DOC sites, Quinneys allows dogs.
If you are a "glamper" (glamour camper), you know that camping is a fun, social summer must-do activity, but you also want a few comforts. At glamping sites there is generally cellphone reception, a power plug for hair straighteners, hot showers and icecream or coffee won't be too far away.
For glamping, you can't go past Motueka Top 10 Holiday Park. This consistently gets good reviews for its well laid out site, large shady trees, good facilities, grassy sites, modern and clean amenities blocks and super helpful friendly staff.
There is more glamping at Kaiteriteri Beach Motor Camp where more than 400 people go in January. The camp is extremely popular and is often booked by the same families returning every year.
Kaiteriteri, famous for its golden sand beaches and perfect climate, is just 60 kilometres from Nelson. As well as sunbathing, swimming, kayaking and boating, the Kaiteriteri Mountain Bike Park offers another good reason to visit.
A quieter option is Pakawau Beach Park, a traditional Kiwi beach-side campground in Golden Bay. Pakawau is a perfect family spot where children can safely ride their bikes or spend hours engrossed in beach life. Adults can relax with a book, enjoy the beach, exercise, sunbathe, fish, launch the boat, swim, watch birds or doze in the sun.
Now that the cafe has reopened at Cable Bay, I have added this to my glamping list. Only a 20-minute drive from Nelson, is Cable Bay Farm and Holiday Park, within sight of the estuary and Pepin Island and a few minutes' walk from the beach.
I love the story that Nelsonians Tracey and James Perry missed the Cable Bay Cafe so much they bought it and have reopened this cosy vintage-themed cafe, two years after the 2011 floods.
So take your pick from one of these places. Book a site, toss a tent in the car, hook up the caravan, or nab a cabin and go camping. Escape from home for a few days.
Spend your days studying cloud movements to see if rain is on the way, making sure the beer is cold, and rubbing on sunscreen. Or, devour books and sleep in the afternoon sunshine. You can do these things at home, but they are somehow more enjoyable when you are camping.