In a new travel series starting today, Backyard Explorer, Jim Kayes highlights some of the best spots in New Zealand for holiday staycations

It looks like a burst sausage, sitting on the shelf in the shed as a reminder of what happened and what is to come again this summer.

The fly that goes over the tent has been stuffed, haphazardly, into another bag after being left on the deck at home to dry out.

There is simply no way it was going back in the bag with the rest of the tent.  Heck, the tent itself barely made it back in and the zip is only partly closed, it’s contents spilling out like a summer sausage on the BBQ.

Packing up the tent is only marginally less frustrating than putting the cursed thing up, especially if you’ve secured a shady spot that is wonderful when the sun is out but means the dew still covers the fly when you go to pack up.

But mopping it with towels is nothing compared to the marriage-testing torture that is putting up a tent.

Especially if it’s windy.

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We have a system now where my wife disappears and the girls and I put the tent up. And the rule is, once it is up, that’s it.  No minor adjustments, no criticism that the door is facing the wrong way or it’s too far back (or forward) on the post-stamp site we’ve been allocated.

At least in my mind that’s the rule. Not everyone adheres to it.

I thought we’d said goodbye to camping as we bade a soggy farewell to 2004, waking one morning to find our tent at the Omapere campground surrounded by a lake.

Thankfully a cabin was available, so we left the sodden mess where it was and made for dry ground. We didn’t look back for 13 comfortable years.

That changed when the girls joined the Red Beach Surf LifeSaving Club and we were forced back under canvas (or whatever the modern tent is made from) again.

My first foray was in Gisborne. The eldest had a training camp there and while she was in a cabin, I bought a $100 pup tent to have a bedroom of my own.

One night it rained, the tent leaked and I moved to the concrete floor of the dining room. That wasn’t fun so I upgraded for another training camp at Mangawhai Heads, with the manager of Kathmandu in Albany promising the bigger, five-person tent was not only easy to put up but it was guaranteed to be waterproof for three years.

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This wasn’t tested, as it didn’t rain, but the tent, with colour-coded poles, was easy to put up. That, unlike some of our neighbours, was all we put up.

There are 5100 camping grounds in New Zealand with 250 of those Department of Conservation sites and the others ranging in quality from the Top 10 chain, which are reliably clean, jammed for space, and usually impossible to get into at late notice, to others that are rustic but gorgeously situated.

Just as they cater to almost every budget, so too is there a wide range of campers – and a dizzying array of things they bring with them.

At the top end are the families who arrive with a fridge and coffee machine – surely two of the greatest things to take on holiday with you as they cater to either end of the day.

There’s the bloke who brought bean bags to camp, another who arrived with a bar leaner and still more who bring the fully fledged BBQ, lights, sounds, showers, recliner chairs…the list seems endless.

Our first year at Mangawhai was just me with the girls and I cleverly bought ready made meals for our dinners. Whack them in the camp oven, job done.

Except there wasn’t a camp oven.

When my wife and I travelled down the east coast from Whitianga to Wellington in pre-kids 2000 we had a tiny two person tent. Now the tent has three rooms and we’ve bought a separate construction that adds another huge space – like a lounge – off the original tent.

Surely it would be easier to just book a cabin.

We’ve done that too and at the Waihi Top 10, where we have stayed a few times, it is easily preferable to camping as the tent sites are so small you’ll hear more than snoring from the neighbour.

Down the road at Papamoa, we again stayed in a cabin and it came with a view of the beach out front and a coffee caravan tucked in behind us.  Very civilised.

For those craving a more simplistic camping holiday, there are plenty of more basic campgrounds that are just as good and well placed like the beautiful Anaura Bay on the East Coast.

DoC sites are also good, though they will often come with long drops for toilets. These work well provided you follow two very basic rules: Reverse into them and never look down.

Happy camping.

Jim’s top three sites:

Papamoa Beach Resort.  Stunning beach.  Reasonably spacious campground.  Near The Mount!

Mangawhai Heads Holiday Park – safe swimming with a surf beach nearby, plus a local golf course and small but good shopping centre.  Easy 90 minute drive north of Auckland.

Anaura Bay Motor Camp. About an hour’s drive north of Gisborne. It has tent and powered sites, but more importantly, a superb beach.

Favourite DoC site: Kapowairua (Spirits Bay) in the Far North

Don’t forget: To take a hammer, to whack in the pegs.

* Backyard Explorer is a special content partnership between Newsroom and Canon *

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