Camping and summer are like wine and cheese—you can’t have one without the other. With all of its lakes, beaches and walks, the top of the south is spoilt for choice when it comes to serene camping spots to park up for a night or two under the stars. What’s harder than putting up the tent is picking where to go—especially when your options are all as good as these.
Lucky for you, we've rounded up our favourite camping spots in Nelson and its surrounds so grab your besties and make for glorious nature.
If you’re keen on some camping, but don’t want to venture too far, Mapua is the place to go. Only a short half-hour drive from Nelson, the Mapua Leisure Park is the ideal spot to escape reality for a day or two. With a fully equipped kitchen, showers, a sauna, and even The Internet, you could barely call it camping. The Mapua township is only a small walk or bike-ride away and is an absolute gem. Indulge in one of the many cafes, treat yourself to a real fruit ice cream, browse the boutiques, and then jump off the jetty to cool off. This is the ideal mini-vacay, just make sure you don’t accidentally stumble into the “clothes optional” part of the camp unless that's your vibe of course.
Abel Tasman National Park
This spot is a local favourite, so it had to make the list. Tōtaranui is located in the Abel Tasman and is a real hot spot in the summer. The beach is literally golden, and the scenery is unreal— who wouldn’t want to wake up somewhere so stunning? There are plenty of activities to fill your time, like walking one of the many tracks in the National Park, indulging in the beach right next to the campsite, or spending the day exploring the stunning coast by kayak. The drive is 45 minutes from Takaka, or why not take a water taxi from Kaiteriteri beach to kick off your adventure. However you get there, you won’t regret spending some of your summer camping here.
Camping anywhere in Golden Bay is a dream, but Pohara has to be one of the best. The Kiwi classic Top 10 Holiday Park makes life easy no matter what kind of camping you’re keen on. They have both powered and unpowered options, as well as cabins for those who may want to go camping minus the actual camping. It’s also in the ideal location, just nine kilometres from Takaka, and close to the Abel Tasman National Park, Te Waikoropupū Springs, and Anatoki Salmon. An absolute prime beachside getaway.
Nelson Lakes National Park
Camping at Lake Rotoiti is a right-of-passage for the locals due to its easy camping and serene setting. Just one and a bit hours from Nelson, the Kerr Bay campsite is ideal for spending a couple of nights al fresco. You’ll be treated to stunning views of the glassy lake, and those daring enough can even take a plunge off the jetty to swim with the resident eels. For those not so brave, feeding them is also an option. For walks, you’ve got plenty to choose from, ranging from 15 minutes to an hour and a half walk right around the lake. If you do choose to come here, bug spray is definitely a must!
Queen Charlotte Sound/Tōtaranui area
Located in the Marlborough Sounds, the French Pass campsite is the perfect spot to enjoy the edge of the South Island. Unplug and unwind at the DOC campground, which is a two-hour drive from Nelson. It’s a bit more on the basic side, so make sure to bring your own water and don’t expect your site to be powered. For day activities, the beach is there for lounging and swimming, and the short French Pass lookout track is the best spot for taking in the postcard-perfect scenes of the Marlborough Sounds. At $15 per night–cash only–we reckon this is the ideal spot to spend a bit of time this summer–as long as you don’t mind cold showers.
Queen Charlotte Sound
While you’re up that way, you may as well spend a few nights at the equally idyllic Momorangi Bay. This campsite has a bit more on offer, with hot showers and powered sites available, so the price is a little higher at $20 per night. Nearby is the Queen Charlotte track if you fancy a bit of tramping, and at night you can check out the resident glow worms. Momorangi Bay is only an hour and a half drive from Nelson, so why not pack a car and take some time to enjoy this piece of paradise.
Kahurangi National Park
For a camping adventure, why not venture five hours from Nelson to Kohaihai. This West Coast campsite is the ideal location for any nature junkies out there, with a number of both day and overnight tramps along the Heaphy Track, white-water kayaking in the nearby river, or beaching it up at Scott’s Beach. The campsite itself is located in the Kahurangi National Park, and much like French Pass, is more on the basic side with unpowered sites and untreated tap water. But don’t let that stop you from heading west to appreciate the native beauty that is Aotearoa.
Curious as to what else this gorgeous region has to offer? Check out all the best things to do in Nelson.
Image credit: Torrent Bay, Abel Tasman by John Tran, Mapua by Jamie Curd, Ship's Cove, Queen Charlotte Sound by Wolfgang Kaehler.