New Zealand's campervan homestays

New Zealand's Native Parks scheme lets visitors park their campervans for free at people's homes

No one wants to be a mere tourist: we all want to be "travellers," encountering the real country we're visiting. On my own trip to New Zealand I was no different, determined to glimpse authentic Kiwi life. These days there are plenty of ways to do it, with multiple schemes allowing you to stay with locals – whether, homestays, even your trusty B&B. But what of the visitor who, like me, was travelling around New Zealand in a campervan?

Help was at hand in the form of Native Parks (, an ingenious scheme that lets you park up at the home of a regular New Zealand family, free of charge. The pitch might be in a paddock on a vast sheep farm, in the driveway of a cosy cottage, even in the car park of a local business. There are currently 88 places to choose from. One of Native Parks' aims is to draw visitors to different regions and out-of-the-way rural areas, to show off local food, drink or attractions that most tourists would otherwise miss. The range of locations is enormous: all they have in common is that they aren't regular campsites, with not a tightly cordoned-off pitch or coin-slot washing machine in sight.

Our first Native Parks stop was a 90-minute drive south-west of Auckland. There was next to nothing around: just flinty, mist-shrouded hills redolent of the Scottish Highlands, the lush green broken only by outcrops of stone grey. As night fell, the lights from Anne and Philip Woodwards' farm ( promised the cosy shelter of home – and they didn't disappoint. We pulled in, hooked up our power cable to the socket and sat down for a homemade supper of fishcakes followed by rhubarb from their own garden. Anne told us about the realities of life for a New Zealand family, struggling to make a living from farming alone.

That night we slept in the campervan as normal, but somehow it felt more snug, knowing there was a farmhouse with a log fire and a family standing between us and the whipping wind.

Next morning, the Woodwards showed us round, trudging through the thick bush vegetation and into their very own cave. Wading through water, gazing at the stalactites and stalagmites in the cathedral-like central cavern, marvelling at the glow worms – the kilometre-long Nikau Cave would be a fully fledged tourist attraction, complete with turnstiles and giftshop, in most places. But here it's just the Woodwards' backyard.

Nikau Cave, New Zealand
Nikau Cave, New Zealand Photograph: PR

Not every home listed in the Native Park book (which you must buy for NZ$75 [£37], as the entries are not available online) has quite the same lure. At the bottom of the North Island, useful as an overnight stop before taking the ferry south, is Owlcatraz ( Curious to name a cage-free owl sanctuary after America's most notorious maximum security prison, but Owlcatraz's owners seem unable to resist a pun. One creature was called Owl Capone, another Owlvis Presley – and we campervanners had to make do with a stop in the car park.

A more enticing prospect was Fat Albert Smokehouse (, near the small South Island town of Fairlie. Next to the old schoolhouse, lovingly converted by Alison and Keith Hatton, was a kind of landing strip of grass, ideal for a campervan, sheltered behind a windbreak of trees – with perfect views of Mount Dobson and Fox Peak, both snow-capped, even in summer. The Hattons invited us in for a taste of their home-smoked salmon – the gravadlax soaked in vodka is a speciality – around their dining table. While Keith told us of his flying days in the New Zealand Air Force, we congratulated ourselves for, in Alison's words, "getting to know the real Kiwi".

• A campervan trip to New Zealand with (020-7483 6555, costs from £1,459pp based on two travelling in November 2011, including return flights with Air New Zealand to Auckland and a campervan for 10 days. More information about New Zealand at


Jonathan Freedland

The GuardianTramp

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