Tongariro crossing? Ruapehu? Central North Island? Looking for a beautiful free spot to park your van or pitch your tent and be close to some of best attractions? Camping at the base of the Kaimanawas could be just the thing you are looking for. We stayed here twice, not to have any cool adventures, but to break up the journey between Auckland and Wellington. Just turn off the Desert road onto Kaimanawa road. Follow the road until you cross the most amazing river and you will find Department of Conservation signage telling you where to go.
Our highlight: Tongariro river
As you follow the road towards the campgrounds you cross the Tongariro river. Looking down from the bridge you can see into the deep gully carved out by the river flowing through for centuries. The water is very blue, it looks deep and cold. The river is used for hydropower so the water level can suddenly rise. You can get closer to the river by driving down a gravel side road before the bridge pictured below. Here you’ll find another bridge, a massive ‘war of the worlds’ish construction. This is not for public access.
There are five campsites in the base of the ranges.
Urchin Campground: self contained only. You have to drive along a windy gravel road to reach the campground. This is a great place to park up if you are planning to walk the Urchin tramp.
Pillars of Hercules Carpark: self contained only. This is a tiny carpark at the end of a long windy road. This is a great place to park up to view the top of the Pillars of Hercules. It is also at the beginning of a mountain bike track, leading to the Desert road. In terms of camping, its a bit boring, but if you wanted isolation you would likely get it here.
Kaimanawa road camping ground: this car park can be used by vehicles and tents and you do not need to be self contained to stay there. It is perfect for an overnight stay but you up again unlikely to want to hang out there. We arrived and the campground at about 10:30 at night and it was pretty full of other vans parked for the evening. When we woke up in the morning most of the other vans were gone so we assumed that they were using it as a park for accessing the tramping in the region. The car park is surrounded by beautiful bush through which you can see gorgeous light in the mornings. There is a long drop toilet but no water that we could find.
Waikoko campsite: this campsite can be used by vehicles and tents. We had a lovely night at this camp ground. We arrived at about 4:30 so I got to spend the whole evening hanging out and exploring this area. There is room for lots of vehicles to be parked up. There is plenty of room so you do not feel crowded. There is a shelter which has a fire pit and a table so would be fabulous in wet weather. Around the back of the shelter is a water tank with running water for you to do your dishes. The highlight of the spot is the nearby river where you can walk down to collect freshwater. The water is spectacularly clean and will be better than you’ve ever tasted in your life.
Umukarikari carpark: self contained vehicles only. This car park is designed for those wishing to walk the Umukarikari tramp. Again this is a small car park surrounded by native bush and you are likely to have a better camping experience at Waikoko. If you want to be up early to do the tramp this spot will perfect for you.
We really enjoyed staying in the Kaimanawas and it was the perfect way for us to break up our journeys to and from Auckland. We will definitely stay here again, especially when we ONE DAY do the Tongariro crossing.
Chloe and Daniel Lawrence Poulsen (aka Twokiwisgoroaming)