DOC reveals 'hidden gem' campsites
We can now reveal the country's hidden gems, where you can spend a camping holiday in a secluded bush setting for an unbeatable price - free.
The Department of Conservation sites run from tenting Meccas like Totaranui in the Nelson region and Waikato's Waikawau Bay, to tiny, off-the-beaten-track areas.
And it keeps figures on how many people use each site.
The figures at the low end are hard to gauge, but the department estimates there are four slices of paradise going almost unused.
They are the Lawrence campsite in the Kaweka Forest Park in Hawke's Bay, Clements Rd sites in the Kaimanawa Forest Park near Taupo, Kumeti in the Ruahine Forest Park near Dannevirke and Thicket Burn on the fringe of Fiordland National Park.
All four fall into the "basic" category - free, but only providing a toilet and a water source.
DOC Taupo Nui A Tia visitor assets manager Terry Slee said the Clements Rd campsites were "definitely a hidden gem".
Several turns off State Highway 5 between Taupo and Napier, Clements Rd is a 17km long road with several "informal" carparks and "a couple of larger spots".
Mainly used by hunters in spring and autumn, in summer holiday- makers become more frequent.
Slee said the old Clements Mill site had toilets and a stream for water supply. "There's plenty of nooks and crannies where you can set your camp up."
He said the campsite's isolation was part of its beauty.
"You're away from the crowds, you've got a creek and there's a whole range of walks."
Lawrence in the Kaweka park was about 1 1/2 hours west of Napier, 20km down a gravel road, the last 500 metres only accessible by 4WD.
Kumeti, inland from Dannevirke at the border of Manawatu and Hawke's Bay was defined by the Ruahine Forest Park.
It has toilets, a barbecue and a stream for water.
Federated Mountain Clubs president Richard Davies said he had been to all three of the North Island sites and they would make great places for family holidays, provided people were keen to do a bit of bushwalking.
He tipped as his "hidden gems" Mt Holdsworth in the Tararuas, Kuripapango in the Kaweka Forest, and Harataonga Bay on Great Barrier Island.
Down south, Fiordland National Park ranger Ken Bradley said Thicket Burn was established when the Lillburn Valley Rd was made in the late 1960s.
The turn-off is at the small town of Clifden, and the campsite is 5km from New Zealand's deepest lake, Lake Hauroro. Despite occasionally getting snow on Christmas Day, Southland was experiencing its best camping conditions since the 1970s, Bradley said.
"Not a drop of rain since November, 25 to 28 degrees every day, it's been an awesome summer."
Bradley said Thicket Burn's low use could be attributed to the number of sandflies in the area.
A 40-year veteran, he said camping had declined in popularity.
"New Zealand used to shut down for three weeks and everybody took their vacations. Towns were basically ghost towns. Now everybody has to work through."
Forty years ago, the nearby Eglinton Valley would have 10 or 15 families at each of its campsites. "Nowadays you might get a dozen in the whole valley."
MOST USED CAMPGROUNDS
North Island Waikawau Bay, Waikato - 30,000 annual visitors
Maitai Bay, Northland - 30,000 Uretiti, Northland - 26,500
Port Jackson, Waikato - 17,000
Otamure Bay, Northland - 15,500
South Island Totaranui, Nelson/Marlborough - 29,000 annual visitors
White Horse Hill, Canterbury - 17,000
Momorangi, Nelson/Marlborough - 11,000
Kerr Bay, Nelson/Marlborough - 8500
Mavora Lakes, Southland - 6750
Sunday Star Times