In a country where we all live so close to nature, it’s little wonder we harbour a national passion for getting back to it.
Whether you do it in comparative style — as a glamper or in a motorhome or caravan with all mod-cons — or whether you do it with a bivvy or tent, groundsheet and sleeping bags, camping is one of the best ways there is to see the out-of-the way bits of our country.
Most holiday destinations have a campground or motor camp to cater to campers. You’ll generally find a spot where, for a few bucks, you can pitch a tent and use the communal facilities for cooking and ablutions. Most motor camps have cabin-style accommodation or on-site caravans for hire for those who wish to rough it after a slightly more refined fashion.
The Department of Conservation administers a network of well over 200 campsites, all strategically located to place you within easy reach or eyeshot of the splendours of our national parks and recreation reserves. The facilities at these range from the basic — the cold-water camps at some of our prettiest beaches, for example, where the showers are (as the name suggests) cold and the toilets are of the composting or long-drop type — to the comparatively luxurious, where there are flushing toilets, barbecue facilities and a friendly ranger to keep order.
Whole generations of New Zealanders go misty-eyed when the lid is removed from a bottle of insect repellent, remembering camping holidays from days gone by and roadies yet to be.
The scent of crushed kikuyu grass sparks instant nostalgia for all those mornings you woke at sunrise, as the sun’s first rays set the interior temperature of your tent soaring. And if you somehow reproduce the rattle of rain on canvas, you evoke powerful memories of bygone summers. For although it’s a fact that the mass pitching of tents is one of the more effective rain-making rituals known to humanity, it’s also true that a dash of adversity makes the camping experience more memorable.
You know you’re a Kiwi when you’ve been inducted into the brotherhood or sisterhood of those who know how to spark up a primus or a gas stove, and have learned the futility of trying to dodge the plume of smoke from a campfire. For while fires are no longer allowed at formal campsites in most of the North Island, you can still have a decent blaze in campgrounds around the South Island.
After all, the stars seen through eyes smarting from woodsmoke is the preferred Kiwi view of the night sky.