It was the surrounding rugged landscapes, echoing the wild beauty of the Scottish Highlands that drew us to make our home in the alpine village of Hanmer Springs, in the Hurunui district of the South Island. Much of the area to the North of the village is only accessible during warmer months, and we’re just over the peak of summer now. So last weekend, we ventured up into the ranges to experience the long vistas, high mountains and distinctive terrains up close. Only 47km from our doorstep, but 50 minutes of loose gravel roads later delivered us to High Country Camping, Lake Tennyson, New Zealand.
Perched at an elevation of 1,102 meters, this campsite is isolated and basic, yet less than an hour from Hanmer Springs village. The journey there is an experience in itself, with the gravel roads tracing the path of the Clarence River through a glacial valley in the St James Range. Accessible by car, weather permitting, the road and bridges are not suitable for vehicles over 7m. For the latest updates of any related alerts or road closures, consult the Molesworth Station – be aware they can happen at short notice.
Lake Tennyson Campsite
The high country vegetation consists of tussock grass and small, hardy shrubs and very few trees, mostly low lying like a sepia coloured knobbly blanket hugging the hills. Situated in a glacial basin surrounded by mountains and high hills, the Lake Tennyson campsite slopes gently towards the lake. There is no shelter from wind in this landscape.
The Eastern side of the lake is easily accessible for a 30 minute (return) walk. The lake itself could be explored by small boat or kayak. Although the Western side of the lake is also accessible, it would probably be best visited with a 4WD off-road vehicle as the terrain was is changeable and you have to cross a river to get to it.
Overall this is an idyllic spot – with a rugged beauty representative of the area; however the weather can change rapidly and you should either camp with extremely sturdy equipment, or be able to depart at short notice.
We really loved it – and with a few adjustments to our camping set up we definitely plan to return in the future.
This is a basic Department Of Conservation campsite
- Fees – free.
- Toilets – 2 long drop toilets, they were very clean.
- No potable water – take your own water or boil lake water to ensure it’s safe to drink.
- No Fires – there is a total fireball at all times. Although you can see evidence of fire pits, it doesn’t mean you should use them. There are no barbecues or cooking shelters.
- No dogs – this is to protect the native fauna and the unique ecosystems that they depend on to survive.
- Limited shelter – there is a picnic shelter with picnic table, this has a roof but is open to the weather on all sides. The shelter, with a display describing some of the area’s history, was fairly busy during the day as people came and went.
- No Rubbish – take it all with you, including fruit and vegetables scraps (so that you’re not feeding pests that harm the native life).
- No cellphone coverage – not without driving back at least 41km.
Before you go
- Check the forecast for Lake Tennyson – you definitely need the area specific mountain forecast.
- Check your tent is rated and suitable for the forecasted weather.
- Ensure your tent, poles, ropes and fly are all in good condition – the weather is unforgiving.
- Carry a kit for on site repairs.
- Tell someone where you are heading, and what time to expect you back.
We love to eat well while camping. This trip we took our barbecue and had corn cooked our faourite way. As fans of slow food, Nick made crumpets for breakfast over looking lake Tennyson. If you love camping and exploring this beautiful country, Kaitoke Regional Park in the Greater Wellington Region was a favourite spot when we lived in the North Island.