Coasting under canvas

01:44, Jun 24 2013
canopy camping
GOOD NEIGHBOURS: Our campmates are across the paddock, out of earshot.

Every summer of my childhood, we went camping by the coast. We’d pack the family car with barbecues,  fishing rods, boogie boards,  tents, folding tables, chairs and a mishmash of plastic plates and cutlery. It would all come out on arrival and somehow be rearranged into a camp.

The older and busier I get,  the less I think about adventuring in the outdoors and the more I think about sitting in front of the television  watching an HBO marathon.  The thought of packing and unpacking, missing my own bed and  a hot shower  gives me a headache.  But Liz from Canopy  Camping assured me she had a solution. All I needed to bring was myself and a couple of friends.

Canopy Camping is  glamorous camping, the brainchild of   Liz Henderson and Sonia Minaar, who aim to take the stress out of camping by  eliminating downsides. There’s less packing and unpacking, there are comfortable sheet-and-blanket beds  and a good hot shower.

Kawakawa Station on the Wairarapa Coast near White Rock is the first of their sites, but Liz and Sonia  hope to have similarly beautiful farmland sites all over New Zealand offering exclusive and private glamping before long. The only neighbours are possums and the only snoring to  endure is that of your companions.

Cape Palliser is  an hour and a half over the Rimutakas from Wellington, but a refuelling stop at the Lake Ferry Hotel turns up some honest seafood and spectacular views across Lake Onoke. The drive  to Kawakawa Station along the rugged coastline reminds us of    New Zealand’s fierce beauty.

On arrival we meet Alex and Christine, the hosts and farmers who run the station, and we follow them to the campsite. The four-wheel-drive we’re using is overkill, but we do cross a river and a few paddocks on the way to the manuka bush site  at the base of the hills. The farmers  point out the poisonous ongaonga tree nettle  and show us their camp.

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It’s like  something from a Swedish design blog. The canvas tents  are hardly the low-ceiling-hair-caught-in-zip tents I remember but a pair of bell tents and a big safari-style  tent – room  for 11 campers.

The safari tent boasts a woodburner and more furniture than your average bach. There is a real  warmth to the camp – bright patchwork bunting, beer-crate bookshelves full of worn board games and well-thumbed paperbacks, and crotchet blankets. It’s homely, sweet and cosy.

It doesn’t take long for our campmates – a couple of restaurateurs from Wellington – to find the kitchen. Better than your average campground kitchen, there’s a complete  set of crockery, utensils, cutlery and glassware and a hooded gas barbecue with a view across the rolling dry hills for the elected chef.

We’ve brought a hefty cube roll to barbecue, homemade relish and rocket, Tuatara craft beer and wine from Murdoch James of Martinborough. We’re revelling in the terroir.

If you’d prefer, Christine and Alex deliver home-cooked meals to the  campsite and they offer ntsGirnte breakfast of farm eggs,  yoghurt, muesli and toast and peanut brownies, ginger loaf, pizzas, fresh fruit and a thermos for our walk.

While dinner was prepared by our guests, I fired up the outdoor tub – an old claw-foot bath with a couple of gas  burners underneath. It takes an hour to heat ntsGupnte and  you need to keep an eye on the burners to make sure they aren’t snuffed out, but slipping naked into scalding water in the great outdoors is worth the wait, even if you emerge looking like a lobster.

The next day we had a visit from co-hosts Duncan and Sarah, popping over to tell us about  the Kawakawa Station walk. It is a two-day tramp but Sarah tells me as  soon as their newest hut is complete they hope to make it three. A great excuse to  take a long weekend.

Delicious food, hot showers and comfy huts make this more  like glamorous tramping (gramping?). Duncan offered us a couple of walk plans  depending on how energetic we were feeling and we opted for a leisurely walk up  the river bed.

From higher ground you can catch glimpses of the South Island across Cook Strait.

One of the highlights was the absence of digital interruption. It allows you to  enjoy the time rather than gluing yourself to a screen while you let other people  know how good a time you’re having. It is an escape that we don’t think about often  but should probably enforce on ourselves regularly, escaping the stresses of email,   the lure of the internet or even  the noise of the radio.

I admit I missed that sense of satisfaction you get from pitching your own tents and collecting your own firewood, but relaxing in luxury on a tech-free weekend  getaway the kind of camping I could get used to.

The writer was a guest of Canopy Camping. The organisers are talking to other farmers and property owners to find the next best glamping site. Have a look at canopycamping.co.nz  and kawakawastationwalk.co.nz.

The Dominion Post