On Day 4, we ended up staying at what turned out to be one of our favorite camp sites of this whole trip.
Like I mentioned in my Huka Falls / Lake Taupo post, on our fourth day we wanted to drive as far south as possible. It was mainly a driving day in order to cut down our driving time on our fifth day to Wellington. We got as far as the district of Manawatu (~4.5 hour drive from Taupo) and stayed at the Mt Lees Reserve. I enjoyed it so much I felt it required it’s own separate post. Also… it’s completely FREE….
We didn’t come across any other cars for miles and miles as we drove to Mt Lees Reserve. Normally I would say, “We’re in the middle of f’ing nowhere. It’s just farmland.” BUT it was gorgeous farmland. It was beautifully empty. We arrived just an hour or so before sunset. Just enough time to explore the grounds quickly.
Below is the entrance to the campsite. When you turn in you’ll see a sign stating the path ahead is private property. So turn into the lot on your right. The night we stayed there the lot was pretty empty. It was just us, an older English couple, and a young couple who arrived much later in the night.
The older English gentleman (whose RV you can see in the above left picture. They had a satellite dish on their RV!) greeted us warmly. He had stayed at Mt Lees several times and knew the grounds pretty well. On his recommendation, we quickly took one of the nature walks on the property before the sun set.
You walk to the end of the lot, past the restrooms, and towards the right. You’ll pass the Summerhouse and see the sign pictured below for the reserve. We rushed through it pretty quickly because we were running out of daylight hours but there are plenty of interesting informational signs about the plants and wildlife in this reserve.
We got to the end of the trail and caught a peek of the sunset just above the tops of the forest. There’s a bench where you can sit and romantically watch the sunset but there was also a swarm of flies so we headed back. Just outside the entrance of the reserve we found an old swing hanging from a tree. I swung to my hearts content before remembering that we had seen a flock of sheep across the road and hastily ran towards them.
I couldn’t stop photographing the sunset and beautiful empty roads.
By now it was dark and time for dinner. The kitchen space in the RV is of course cramped. I generally kept our meals simple with some sauteed meat and veggies and lots of fruit. We also made a lot of pasta. I tried to cook pasta (or anything else requiring me to boil a big pot of water) when we stayed at campsites with kitchen facilities in order to conserve our own LPG.
We rented two outdoor folding chairs and a table from Wilderness for an extra fee. We didn’t use it as often as I hoped but at Mt Lees KT insisted we eat outdoors. I’m really glad he did too because after we ate and shut off the lights, the site was AMAZING. We looked up at the night sky and were blown away. Just completely speechless. I had never seen so many stars ever before. And so clearly too. That’s a memory that will stick with me for a long time. Standing in the middle of a deserted lot, completely dark, completely silent, staring in awe.
New Zealand does have an area on the South Island that is a dark sky reserve. Meaning an area that is kept completely free of artificial light pollution. They’re usually near observatories and used for studying astronomy. If I could see the stars this clearly now, I wonder how it looks from the dark sky reserves.
I got up early the next morning to explore the campsite some more in hopes of capturing some good photos during the golden hour.
After feeding ourselves (and some rather aggressive guests), we were on our way to Wellington!
Mt Lees Reserve
Address: 199 Ngaio Road, RD 9,Palmerston North, Manawatu, 4479, New Zealand
GPS Coordinates: -40.186984, 175.451609
Contact: +64 6 329 3938; email@example.com
Hours: 9am-5pm, 7 days per week
Cost: FREE. Donations accepted. There is a mailbox outside the Summerhouse where you can place your donations.
Facilities: public toilets, picnic tables, NO showers, NO dump station, NO wifi