Blue lakes, mountain peaks, birds singing and bacon and eggs crackling on the skillet...
Wake up in one of New Zealand's many camping grounds, to summertime heaven, at Lake Ruataniwha Holiday Park, nestled beside the Southern Alps in the South Island.
Early morning fishing in Lake Ruataniwha, as the sun rises it is quiet and so peaceful - it's only a short walk back to the campsite to stir your fellow campers out of bed and up for another 32 degree New Zealand summer day.
At New Year this year (2008) there were around 4000 campers settled in to Lake Ruataniwha Holiday Park and it really did not feel at all like Piccadilly Station - there's so many huge, established trees and with some of the camp set up for formal camping and all the electricity, water and ablutions you will need to use, to room for a little tent, the portable cooker and your bicycle you should find a spot to set up base to explore all the McKenzie country has to offer.
Lake Ruataniwha Holiday Park has not always been a base for holiday-makers accommodation. It is in fact part of the benefits the Upper Waitaki Power Station brought when the massive power project came to the area in the early 1970s.
Previously, Twizel, four kilometres away, was just a tussock bareland. When the power project got underway, Twizel was built as a temporary village in the sight of Mount Cook but after the project wound down the town stayed and thrived along with a brand new 50 acre camping ground beside Lake Ruataniwha.
There are 27 cabins of standard and tourist class, 130 powered sites, unlimited tent sites, two amenity blocks with kitchens, toilets, gas-showers and a coin operated laundry. Kitchens have recently been upgraded and also includes an outdoor barbecue area, covered against all-day sun.
The campsite is hardly able to be seen from the Max Smith Drive road which sweeps above it and down to the entrance road to the camp. This is quite a historic naming of a road in the area as the main Project Engineer was Max Smith and he was indirectly responsible for the international rowing course which is now a major attraction for campers in Lake Ruataniwha Camping ground.
Rowers book into the campsite - some in caravans, tents, mobile homes or use the little cabins set into the well designed campsite and the new motel-like block. Your choice of accommodation is rather a casual affair - we booked a few months before New Year and the wonderfully friendly, carefree camp manager met us upon arrival and changed his mind about where we should park our caravan - who knows why but I think it was as minor as the new site he offered us had a longer electric cable!
Have to say, the new site was just right for us: near the kitchen/ablution block, lots of playing space for the grandchildren away from the busy camp-road and a tree or two to get under as the 32 degree days descended upon us....... expect long, hot, cloud-free days as you relax, chill out in this family-friendly camping ground.
We stayed 12 nights and they were every one fantastic. We had a New Year party with our camping friends and the only disappointment was that we could not let off our huge bag of fire-crackers and there was a fire ban on due to the many trees all around the park. Never mind, there was plenty of cracking hospitality as we all ''first-footed'' around the camp as 2008 rolled in.
It never fails to amaze me the variation of tents, mobile homes, caravans and pop-tops you see in campsites. At Lake Ruataniwha Holiday Park some people have permanent sites set up with strong fences defining their space so they leave their accommodation set up for all year-round. I do not know the cost of this but if you live an hour or two away from the camp I guess it is like having a ''bach'' or second home to get away to over the weekend. Ideal thought and I am sure the walk-in, walk-out aspect is appreciated by lots of Kiwi's in the South Island. Some even take their pets - we saw dogs romping all over the camp - but you would of course need to take a responsible stance about dog doo-doos!
Casual campers who don't have more formal accommodation like a caravan or camper van can make use of the barbecues all around the camp, there is a tv/video room and a small library so when you are hiking/cycling around you still have use of some of the finer things of life.
Now, have to be honest here, there was a huge down-side to camping at Lake Ruataniwha Camp site in January 2008. New Year Day was full capacity and the sewerage founded. For several hours in the afternoon there was no water available and no flush at the toilets. This caused huge problems and a flurry of fixing for a team of experts to restore these services. It did happen a second time and campers were not too pleased. The camp manager told my partner that they would be closing the camp for a few days at the end of January and putting in a whole new system.
So, hopefully the water-works will be much improved for future campers at this casual-friendly-well presented campsite, where you meet people from all walks of life - all happy to settle in and create their own little home-away-from home for one night or several months.
Lake Ruataniwha Holiday Park is in fact a great place to base yourself in the High Country of the McKenzie's South Island paradise - and it has a reasonable tariff for those on a budget or those wanting to book in and blob out for a month or two.
Tent and power sites: $13 to $15 NZ. Standard cabins sleep 1-6 $42-$45 for 2 adults. Tourist cabins sleep 1-6 $55 for 2 adults. Motels sleep up to 4 -$110-$130 for two. (May have changed recently!) You can use Eftpos and get a card phone at the camp shop which is a good place to meet and greet ,near the children's play area. In the height of summer you will go through security here, which is encouraging to know there is only camper vehicles allowed inside the camp.
At the office/shop you can hire coolers, mountain bikes, canoes and get a fishing licence - absolutely necessary for all fishing in this vast recreational area.... if you don't want to fish you may like a 45minute drive up to see New Zealand's highest mountain - Mount Cook (Aoraki), or picnic/boat/jet-ski on the many lakes, walk up to the magnificent lime-rocks, and swim or just laze around the lake which sits beside Lake Ruataniwha Holiday Park.
How to get there: turn off State Highway 8 - (Omarama to Twizel road) it is well signposted - drive along Max Smith Drive until you see the camp signs on your left.
Address: Max Smith Drive, Twizel. P.O.Box 83, Canterbury, South Island, New Zealand.
Contact phone: 0064 3 435 0613
Camping is not everyone's cup of tea - but if you do appreciate the great outdoors - Lake Ruataniwha Holiday Park is a great place to stay and just think of all the new friends you will make while exploring the best of New Zealand's high country.
My lasting memory - pleasant evenings, supping on fine New Zealand wine and nibbling on the finest of food on the platter......and best of all - good friends who appreciate a camp site where people really can camp in confidence of their safety, have fun and all in a well maintained and clean campsite.