Nestled under a sheer rocky cliff face and in tucked under rolling hills lay our home for the night. That morning Mr Joe (my 11 year old) and I squeezed a tent, camping chairs, mattresses, chilly bins, liquorice allsorts, pillows, sleeping bags, a bag of clothes, towels and a stack of board games in the car then set off for Vinegar Hill (Putai Ngahere Reserve) for our much anticipated Camping Adventure.
I felt my lungs inflate with the onrush of scenery. Air, mountains, trees, people. I thought: this is what it is to be happy.
Where is Vinegar Hill?
Vinegar Hill is a 30 ish hectare reserve sitting beside the Rangitikei River. We chose Vinegar Hill as it is located in the Manawatu Region and was only a short drive from home. About 45 ish minutes from Palmerston North. Coming down the country it is about 10 minutes from Hunterville on the popular road from Taupo to Palmerston North.
Where does the name come from?
This has always intrigued me, an odd name really for a hill. Some peeps think it was named after the Battle of Vinegar Hill in Ireland. Not sure why though, Ireland is quite far away from New Zealand. It is thought that Vinegar Hill was named after a wee incident in early colonial times. A bull cart carrying barrels of vinegar overturned after the bulls slipped on some muddy tracks. The barrels of vinegar broke open and covered the hillside in vinegar. Hence the name.
The name of the reserve, Putai Ngahere, comes from the 300-year-old totara tree that stands as a guardian over the reserve.
What makes Vinegar Hill different?
Vinegar Hill is a well-known LGBT camping spot, though when we went we were pretty much the only campers there. The tradition started in 1977 and has grown ever since. The tradition starting in 1985 (my birth year. Boom!) presented the 'Queen of Vinegar Hill' with each Queen being presented a trophy with their drag name engraved. Quite an honour.
Stormy Point Lookout
If you are travelling up from Palmerston North a stop at Stormy Point Lookout should be made. The views are stunning, stretching out to Mt Egmont (in the Taranaki region) on a good day. If you squint you can also see some of the best-preserved river terrace sequences in the world. I mustn't be very observant coz I didn't spot 'em.
The drive to the lookout is windy, hilly and spectacular. It pays to shotgun the passenger seat on this drive if you are the driver you will be concentrating on getting around the hairpin twists and turns. Lush farmland stretches in all directions and you really experience rural New Zealand.
Camping at Vinegar Hill
Camping is fairly cheap with adults being $9 per night and children $4. In the height of summer someone comes around each evening to collect the fees, however, only cash is accepted so make sure you have some on you. Offseason you need to send your fees to the district council.
There are three main camping spots and basic toileting and shower facilities. Cell phone coverage is limited. But being on your phone is bad campiquette (new word I am coining) so that solves that problem.
The Rangitikei River runs beside the camping grounds and there are plenty of short walks to pound your feet along so you won't need that phone anyway.
A night at Vinegar Hill
As we were one of the only campers that night it was a quiet night. I would imagine it can get very busy though, especially at the height of the Christmas season. We set up our camp and after a cup o' tea it was time to break out the card games. Camping is a wonderful time to relax and connect properly with loved ones without distraction.
Mr Joe and I had many a serious, funny, silly, imaginative, thoughtful conversation over rounds of Monopoly, Exploding Kittens, Rummikub and various other board games. If you are struggling to keep everyone entertained. Don't worry, I have you covered with 50+ camping activities.
The Rangitikei River
The Rangitikei River is a lazy ole river most of the time. Just be wary when you are swimming that the cliff face can be unstable. There are shallow waters to paddle in but it does drop fairly quickly in a couple of spots as Mr Joe found out unexpectedly.
My mum bought my daughter Miss Amelia out for a swim the next day. While Ma and I tried to relax under the shade of the tree shrieks of a high pitched 9-year-old girl being splashed with cold water interrupted our calm. It was time to take action and brave the 'not liking wearing a swimsuit' feeling. Into the water I went.
It was actually really lovely in the water. If you have water shoes (if that's the right term) I would advise wearing them as the river bed is rocky. We floated down the river with the current gently moving us along. Until the splashing turned its attention. to poor ole me. Not getting my hair wet was no longer an option. War was declared.
Meet the locals
Vinegar Hill has a lot of locals. We met two particular locals whilst lazing in the sun looking up at the trees. Two Wood Pigeons (Kereru) showed off their magnificent selves in the trees above our tent. They treated us to a visual feast of birdiness. If you watch carefully, other birds will make themselves known as well.
We had a wee thief in the night too. Quick tip: Always place food in containers or else you will lose it during the night. For more tips check out this post on camping tips and tricks. We woke up the next morning to find our bread missing, guess we were stopping off at McDonald's on the way home. I wonder if Joe had orchestrated this? Sneaky little fella.
Vinegar Hill is a great camping spot, not too far away from civilisation if you need a proper morning coffee with Hunterville being only 10 minutes away but secluded enough to make you feel as though you are bang smack in the middle o' nowhere.
Where is your fave camping spot?
Pssst, have you found my resources page yet? You will find all sorts of freebies including camping checklists, activities and hiking tips and tricks.
Need a little help packing? Ahh, I have the post for you. Check out my Ultimate Packing Checklist