I have Sublime's "Santeria" stuck in my head because a long-haired French dude wanted to listen to some tunes while we were both making lunch in the shared outdoor kitchen. But also because this place is chilllllll.
Jared and I are at Solscape, a holiday park in Raglan on the west coast of the North Island. It's our last stop before finishing out our trip with a night in Auckland, and it's the first chance we've really had to do nothing but sit and enjoy the view.
Not that we've been completely idle here. We both took a beginners' surf lesson last night (after a frustrating start, I got up several times and road two or three actual waves). This morning, Jared went for a private surf lesson while I got a one-on-one yoga session, only because no one else showed up.
nd now we're sitting in bean bag chairs under a shade tree, sharing the first proper IPA we've found in NZ (Good George Brewing, Hamilton). It's perfect.
Every holiday park -- campgrounds that cater to tents, vans and sometimes offer huts or cabins -- is different. Before we came here, I was envisioning something akin to our nicer state parks, but these places are DELUXE. Most have shared kitchens (with or without provided dishes, cookware and cutlery), laundry facilities, showers and some kind of wifi offering.
Style, extras and layout are where they vary the most. Solscape, for instance, is a lush hippie-surfer hangout. I mean. There's a yoga studio. They grow their own veggies for the onsite café.
Here's a rundown of the holiday parks we've stayed at on this trip.
Glentanner (2 nights, near Mt. Cook)
We stayed here the night before our Plateau Hut overnight and again on our return to lower elevations. Because this was our first holiday park, I was pretty impressed. The shared kitchen was outfitted with ample cookware, although we didn't need much beyond what was already provided in our van, and the lounge area felt similar to our hut experience in Switzerland.
he wifi was okay, but not great, and the showers were decent. In hindsight, this was all very basic when compared to other holiday parks. The views of Mt. Cook at sunset and sunrise can't be beat, however.
And there are bunnies EVERYWHERE. Which gets less cute when there are so many of them and then you see a hawk snacking on one that wasn't quick enough to outrun a car on the highway.
Milford Sound Lodge (2 nights)
If most of the holiday parks we stayed at are kinda remote, this one is the remotest. Milford Sound isn't easy to get to -- you have to pass through the one-lane Homer Tunnel, which was carved through a freaking mountain and only completed in the early '90s. Roads are steep, windy and long. Jared was way into this part of our road trip.
The lodge is situated in a forest, so there are likely to be some trees and bushes separating your campsite from your neighbors. We weren't so lucky, but it didn't matter. It rained most of the time we were in Milford Sound, and yes, there were sandflies to contend with, but this place is so magical that the campground doesn't have to do much to make you happy to be here.
That said, the bathrooms were super nice and the shower heads -- OH MY GOD. Best shower head of my life and I don't care how that sounds. I want one at home. And for the record, it's the rectangular shape that makes this shower head awesome. It is not detatchable.
The kitchen was well equipped (hot water on demand FTW), but the lounge space left us wanting a more communal experience that promoted conversation with fellow travelers.
Jared and I also went kayaking here, which we'll cover in a separate blog post once we get all the photos off of his camera.
Haast River Top 10 (1 night, west coast)
Clean, modern and relatively new compared to the other Haast holiday park, which is closer to the beach. The sites are just on a gravel lot with no trees or shade. The main building is a big, red Quonset Hut.
This was our first experience with a fully open-air kitchen, which was great. It would have been even better if the weather hadn't been so wet and windy. Our van got rocked by a squall that night, which was kind of exciting.
Haast River was decent, but I wouldn't list this place in my top 10 -- there are actually more than 20 Top 10 Holiday Parks, so. Yeah.
Jackson Retreat (1 night, near Arthur's Pass)
We stopped here the night before we did a hike of Avalanche Peak, off Arthur's Pass. This place is ADORABLE. Terraced lawns and gardens play host to van and tent alongside forested streams that promise after-dark glow worm sightings. Hobbits would probably dig it. For some reason, Jared and I took zero photos of this place. Sorry.
The common kitchen and hangout area was also very cozy. We met a couple from Anchorage (he a pilot for Alaska, she a former substitute teacher, both avid hikers) and a family from Holland.
The woman who runs Jackson bakes and sells bread every morning -- we can attest to its deliciousness -- and she was the most informative and organized camp host we'd yet to meet. She had maps and information for everything, which was much appreciated, even if we didn't follow her advice to hike something other than Avalanche Peak (no regrets).
Punakaiki Beach Camp (1 night, west coast, near Pancake Rocks)
This place is separated from the beach by a row of trees. It was our first proper ocean sunset and night-sky star viewing on our trip, thanks to sunny and clear weather.
We didn't use the shared kitchen, so I can't comment on that, but the covered patio seemed like a nice place to eat. I can say, though, that I wasn't happy when I discovered that the showers require you to push a button to activate the water, and then keep pushing the button every 12 seconds to complete your business. I get it. It saves water. But the shower head at Milford Sound raised my expectations and lowered my tolerance for low-flow push-button shower BS.
The Barn (2 nights, Marahau, Abel Tasman National Park)
10/10 would stay here again. Next to Solscape, this is the fanciest holiday park where we had the pleasure of plugging in our van. Lots of outdoor hangout spaces -- including a pool table -- plus an indoor fireplaces for rainy nights, which seem to be a theme of this trip and NZ summer in general.
This is also where we finally did laundry, which was fortuitous timing because on our second day here, we went for a hike and got absolutely soaked. It was so nice to return to our van and change into clean, dry, fluffy clothes.
We'd made dinner in the sweet as outdoor shared kitchen the night before -- BYO everything -- but on our second night, opted to eat out. There are two places to eat near The Barn -- one was closed for a wedding, so we ate at the cafe at the head of the Abel Tasman track entrance. The best thing we had here was a bowl of green-lipped mussels from Nelson.
Fitzroy Beach (1 night, New Plymouth)
Sometimes it's the little things that matter the most. Fitzroy was all about the details for beach-going campers. Multiple outdoor showers for sandy feet, ample hooks inside clean and modern bathroom showers (don't get me started on the lack of hooks on this trip).
There was also a trail that ran the length of camp and all the way into town, about 3.5km/1.8mi. Maybe that's why there were campers who appeared to actually live there.
New Plymouth was CUTE. I'd expected it to be a cheesy tourist town, which is partly true (as evidenced by the "Americarna" classic car show rolling into town Feb. 22, and store windows all bearing bits of red, white and blue for the occasion), but it's a pretty cool industry-meets-art town. Tons of galleries, big art museums and music shops everywhere. Plus, sandy black beaches and many swimming spots.
Solscape (2 nights, Raglan)
Again, this place is all about R&R. Multiple outdoor patios, bean bag chairs and a view of the bay take the guilt out of being lazy. It helps that summer has finally decided to appear (sooo sunny!).
Oh, and Wednesday night is Curry Night at the café, which is worth the drive up from town. With fresh ingredients and a side of stunning view, this was one of the best meals we had in New Zealand.
Our van campsite is on a grassy patch with alternating rows of tent and van sites, and there's a shared outdoor kitchen nearby. Bathrooms are a little weird -- finding them was a challenge, then finding one with or near a sink was a second wrinkle. I actually got lost in the dark on my quest to find a full sink-and-toilet set. I've got it sorted out now, thankfully.
There are signs in every bathroom and near every sink proclaiming "Water = Life" and asking people to be considerate of their water usage -- and only flush if necessary (aka, If it's Yellow, Let it Mellow). Solscape is billed as an "eco-retreat," after all.
One universal truth is that holiday park wifi is never as good as advertised, whether it's paid or complementary. At Milford Sound, they told us not to bother -- it was nice being totally out of touch, especially in such an amazing place, for two days. It's working out pretty well here, and it is FREE, as long as you sit close enough to the Solscape reception office to maintain a signal.
Which is why I had to leave my beanbag chair under a tree and am now sitting at a table on the covered veranda. With the same gorgeous view. Poor me.
Clearly, I prioritize showers and hangout spaces. Probably because it feels really good to relax and refresh after a long day of hiking or watching Jared drive. 😁
We're off to Auckland tomorrow morning to spend our final night in New Zealand before flying out on Friday, which will be the longest day of our lives -- at least 28hrs of travel. We'll keep updating the blog with posts on our adventures even after we get home. There's HEAPS more to share.