We did it! We finally bought ourselves a tent and booked in our first weekend of camping in New Zealand (only took us a year and 8 months!).
After emailing one million campsites to check their dog rules, we finally chose Matauri Bay in the ‘winterless North’ for its beach front camping and charming surroundings. What mostly sold it was the response from the owner though…
“We have a dog, and my in laws that own the lease on the park also have dogs, as does my brother in law that works here, running off leash on the beach is fine.”
If you have a dog you’ll understand how these words are music to the ears in the warmer months of New Zealand when dogs are either banned from most beaches or are forced to walk attached to you. We prefer letting Lola run wild and free, barefoot and naked along the sand like the flower child she is…
Matauri Bay Holiday Park is located in Northland, just north east of Keri Keri in the Bay of Islands and roughly three and a half hours drive from Auckland.
It cost the three of us $63 for a two nights stay, which initially sounded a little pricey but it includes showers, a kitchen, and other razzmatazz facilities (on-site store selling ice cream, score). The fact that you get two picturesque beaches to explore and can wake up to the sound of waves lapping just a few feet away is totally worth it.
The campsite is off-leash outside of peak season, but that’s assuming you can control your dog. Lola has selective hearing and likes to investigate anything that moves so she got tethered to the long leash when we were hanging around the campgrounds.
The first night
We left Auckland around lunchtime with our tent, the boards, some beach togs, and dreams of frolicking in the waves under the golden sun with dolphins riding alongside us (this is magical New Zealand after all), stargazing beneath the full moon while toasting marshmallows on a bonfire (like every camping Instagram photo I double tap).
However, as we approached Keri Keri, the heavens opened and those ominous grey clouds burst forth with a torrent of rain. It’ll pass, we thought, and on we went to Countdown to pick up rations for our warm summer BBQ that evening.
It didn’t pass. We took the turning for Matauri Bay Road whilst the weather raged on. Nevertheless, the descent down to the bay was beautiful – even in the drizzle – and nothing was going to dampen our camping spirits. A bit of rain? Pffft. We’re English!
(Note that these blue sky photos are not taken from that first stormy night!)
We arrived to be greeted by two happy pooches (things were looking up) and were told we could set up anywhere. We picked a spot directly overlooking the white sand, beneath the cover of the trees.
Fortunately, it didn’t take us long to set-up our home in a bag (the true test of any relationship) and after a run around the beach with Lola we settled down for our BBQ and beers (waving a metaphorical middle finger to the sucky weather) in the porch of our new digs.
There was a pretty in-tents storm (cue rimshot) that evening and Lola looked a bit on edge with all the walls flapping around our heads. Thankfully everything was intact the next day (which is more than could be said for our neighbours who’s tent was lying flat on the ground).
It was still a little overcast when we woke up at 7am but it didn’t take long for the sun to burst through the clouds and get our camping dream back on track!
Chef Bronka fired up the BBQ for breakfast – I ordered the special of the day (some avocado/peanut butter on toast…you know it makes sense), whilst Lola tried to chase every bird and explore every other tent and camper van she could find.
We set off early to spend the morning at Taipa Beach along the coast of Doubtless Bay, with the promise of some beach brake waves. The locals were restoring the sand dunes so Lola had to stay on leash but there was plenty to be explored.
After grabbing lunch in Taipa, we headed back in to Keri Keri for the afternoon to unleash Lola in Roland’s Wood – an English style country garden I had read about online that was dog friendly. I couldn’t find any bluebells but there were acres of land for Lola to sprint around in and murky ponds for her to explore.
We even picked up some logs of wood for our bonfire that night. Lola managed to get one million of these spikey little plants matted into her fur which would not come out without taking a pair of scissors to her, so we left her looking like a dirty hippy.
The evening was spent in camping bliss, with clear skies, mushroom burgers, cherry beer and a hypnotising bonfire.
Our last day in Northland was filled with blue skies and photoshopped looking backdrops. There is nothing more vivid than a sunny day in New Zealand!
In the morning we climbed the short steep trail to the top of the cliffs to check out the Rainbow Warrior Memorial, which looks out towards the spot where the the wreck was finally placed.
The Rainbow Warrior was a Greenpeace ship which was blown up in Auckland Harbour in 1985 by French government agents in an effort to derail the Greenpeace campaign against French nuclear testing in the Pacific.
The spot has breathtaking panoramic views overlooking Matauri Bay and out to the Cavalli Islands.
We said our farewells to Matauri Bay and headed south towards home, stopping off en route to walk the pups…
Paihia – most beaches (except Te Haumi and Sullivan’s) are good for dog walking, however, there are lots of Kiwis nesting in the local bush so there are not many trails where you can take the dog.
Te Arai Point – dogs are banned from the beach which is rubbish because its got good waves, endless golden sands and crystal clear water that looks perfect for snorkelling. Instead we took the path up the cliff for amazing views over the coast to Forestry, which is apparently dog friendly so is next on our list to explore.
Mangawhai Heads – this was our first visit here and it was beautiful! We wasn’t sure about the dog rules but every dog we saw was bombing around off leash so we followed suit. I’m guessing this will change from 1 December through to Autumn.
What would we do differently?
Pack the snorkels! In our mad dash to get out the house and on the road we left these behind which was a massive faux pas as there were lots of cool rocky areas and calm crystal clear waters inviting you in for some aquatic action.
A bit more research and planning. Spontaneity goes out the window when you have a dog. As much as having Lola is the best thing EVER…it does have its drawbacks with New Zealand’s strict dog rules. It makes life easier if you have a list of dog friendly beaches and parks to hand before you set off (assuming you can translate the confusing rules on council websites).
Take all the gear. We packed relatively light but we should have just gone all out on the camping gear. I don’t mean glamping – just a little bit of olive oil, and salt and pepper for BBQ prep. Probably a couple of lanterns so you can stay up and put the world to rights without sitting in the pitch black (we took head torches but you end up blinding each other). I’m now inspired to create a pre-packed camping kit that’s on hand and ready to go for the next trip (total camping nerd, I know). If there’s space in the car, why not take it?
Marshmallows! How could we forget?
If anyone can recommend any dog loving campsites in New Zealand please let me know! In fact, just any good spots to walk the dog off leash in the summer. When December hits I know it’s going to be slim pickings on places to take Lola for adventures.