Choosing a campground can be hard work, but the Department of Conservation has handy hints for finding the right spot this summer.
A massive 123,908 people stayed at Department of Conservation (DOC) campgrounds last summer, said DOC director of recreation, tourism and heritage Gavin Walker.
Uretiti Beach was the most popular bookable campground in the North Island. Tucked behind sand dunes, the campground is close to the long white sands of Uretiti Beach, which is great for swimming and fishing. The glow-worm filled Waipū Caves are a short drive away and can be explored by self-guided adventurers. Uretiti campground is just off a main road and is a 20-minute drive from the popular coastal track at Mangawhai Heads.
The most popular bookable campground in the South Island last summer was Tōtaranui, where visitors can camp next to the clear waters and golden sands of a beach at the northern end of the Abel Tasman National Park. Tōtaranui beach is perfect for swimming, snorkelling, kayaking, fishing, and exploring native bush on nearby tracks. The nearest shops and cafes are 25 minutes drive away.
Other top campgrounds in the North Island were Waikawau Bay and Port Jackson on Coromandel Peninsula, Mr Walker said. Waikawau is a white sand surf beach, great for fishing, swimming and kayaking. Families flock to the campground, with a third of visitors being children. The campground backs onto native bush that can be explored on the Matamataharakeke Walkway.
Otamure Bay and Pūriri Bay north of Whangarei were also among the five most popular DOC campgrounds in the north. Otamure offers camping beside a golden sand beach, popular for snorkelling, swimming and fishing. Visitors can walk in the nearby Motutara Recreation Reserve or take the Watkin Powell Track.
Waikaremoana Holiday Park is a popular campground beside Lake Waikaremoana in Te Urewera forest. Visitors can explore the surrounding bush, visit waterfalls and fish for trout in Lake Waikaremoana.
In the South Island, Momorangi Bay, Pelorus Bridge and French Pass campgrounds in Marlborough are among the five most popular campsites. Momorangi offers tent sites near a sheltered bay in Queen Charlotte Sound. Swimming, boating and fishing are popular activities and the campground boasts a short walk to a glow-worm grotto.
Godley Head Campground in Christchurch is also popular, offering camping in the middle of a World War II defence battery site. A mountain bike track is nearby, as is Taylors Mistake Beach, where people can swim and surf. A walking track from Taylors Mistake to Godley Head passes through the campsite and allows visitors to walk around the coast and headland.
Many DOC campgrounds that don't take bookings are also packed during the peak season.
"White Horse Hill campsite at Aoraki Mount Cook National Park is very busy over summer," Mr Walker said.
"Other popular non-bookable campsites include those along the Milford Road, Maitai Bay campsite in Kaitaia, Tāpotupotu campsite near Cape Rēinga, Mātātā conservation campsite in the Bay of Plenty and Lake Mahinapua campsite on the West Coast."
Those seeking somewhere quieter to pitch a tent should steer clear of the main tourism routes, he said.
Hidden gems can be found on the North Island's East Coast, in Taranaki and in the far north of the South Island's West Coast.
Last year, DOC campsites outside of Great Walks raised more than $7.5 million in revenue that was invested back into the campsites, Mr Walker said.
DOC campgrounds range from being totally free to costing $21 a night.