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Last updated 05:00 05/01/2014

Map: NZ's best places to pitch a tent

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Every summer Kiwis migrate in droves to form seaside and lakeside colonies where they live like kings on fresh fish and canned beetroot.

Marriages are tested over tent instructions and friendships formed with gifts of spare crayfish and feeds of snapper. The only rule of camping? Listen carefully for signs of snoring before hammering in the first peg.

The Insider's Guide to New Zealand tracked down great spots to pitch the tent or park the caravan over summer and beyond. Here's a selection.

WHANGAREI

Treasure Island

There are 100 campsites at Treasure Island holiday park in Pataua South at Whangarei Heads and every one was booked for this Christmas. A faded sign near the office proclaims, "If unattended, please take a site". There aren't many places in the world as trusting.

Even when the word is that all the sites are booked, it is still worth driving out to see if a space is waiting to be nabbed because they sometimes become available at the last minute.

Within metres of the campervans and tents are two beaches, a calm lagoon for paddle-boarding and Castaway Bay, one of the best surf beaches in the area.

The camp is charming but not modern, although there are cooking facilities and bathrooms, and powered sites are available. No need for an alarm clock - the smell of fresh bread from the on-site bakery is a wake-up call.

Pataua South has no shops or gas stations so stock up in Parua Bay or Onerahi, especially during winter when the camp store is closed. End of Mahanga Rd, Pataua South, 09 436 2390

KAPITI COAST

Freedom camping

The increasing popularity of rental campers is drawing fresh crowds to freedom camping zones around the country. With miles of coastline to explore, Kapiti offers visitors in self-contained campers nine different areas from which to choose, from Otaki to Paraparaumu.

If waking up with the beach on the doorstep appeals, look for the signs marking the area. Always be respectful of the site and time limits, and stick to the rules regarding rubbish and fires; leave nothing behind but tyre tracks.

For further details and the locations, search freedom camping at kapiticoast.govt.nz.

INLAND NORTH CANTERBURY

The Balmoral Recreation Reserve Camping Ground

On the banks of the Hurunui River is a pearler of a spot for pitching a tent under beautiful trees. Heading north take the first left after Hurunui. It has no power but it does have taps and toilets. No booking required; pay the fees ($5 a night per family) to a committee member on site or at the Caltex Garage (Mockett Motors) in Culverden. Dogs are allowed but motorbikes aren't, nor are fires in summer. Sounds cool. Culverden Rd, hurunui.govt.nz/services.

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Lake Taylor

With space for just 15 tents, this basic campsite is nestled on the edge of Lake Taylor. Explore the area by foot, mountain bike, boat or kayak. Also an idyllic picnic spot - but be prepared for all sorts of weather! From Hawarden continue up Lake Sumner Rd which leads to Lake Taylor (approximately 50 kilometres). The road is rough gravel, but two-wheel-drive is suitable to this point. doc.govt.nz.

Waipara Sleepers

This is a unique (no, truly) blend of Kiwiana backpacker accommodation with lovely touches of home stay: freshly cooked bread, free eggs "fresh at the chickens' convenience", plus a complimentary salad and herb patch. The Edwardian-era railway carriages were brought out of retirement in the 1960s and settled among the trees on freshly laid tracks to nowhere, with junction boxes that connect nothing and railway-crossing signs warning about trains that never arrive. Then came the Nassella Tussock Board hostel for a kitchen and it was good to go.

Good facilities and 21st-century heating in the wagons. It's got the vibe.

12 Glenmark Drive, 03 314 6003, waiparasleepers.co.nz.

FIORDLAND

Manapouri Motels and Holiday Park

This alpine-looking village has been created by American Joelle Nicholson and her two sons. Cabins from the Milford road-tunnel construction were moved here and each is different. Styles including the Doll House and Swiss Chalet make up 24 cabins and nine motel units. There are tidy kitchens and bathrooms, a collection of old Morris Minors, a vintage-games room and quirky camp shop.

It's a great place for kids, with old tractors, a rope swing and a boat to play in. Costs are $68 for two (bring your own bedding) or camp for $16.

86 Cathedral Drive, (03) 249 6624, manapourimotels.co.nz.

Gunns Camp

Most authentic New Zealand wilderness experience? Stay at Gunn's Camp in Hollyford Valley. Book by email, gunnscamp@ruralinzone.net, as there is no telephone reception at all. Coal and wood are provided for the cabins and there are facilities for charging camera batteries etc when the generator is on. There's a museum on site and it's the perfect location for several of the most beautiful day walks, as well as being just an hour's drive from Milford Sound. gunnscamp.org.nz.

The team at NZ Life & Leisure magazine creates the Insider's Guide each year - it is the country's leading, independent travel guide specialising in six new regions in 2014. The Insider's Guide is $19.90 and is available in all good book stores as well as online through mags4gifts.co.nz

- Sunday Star Times

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