Canterbury campers looking for a dog-friendly campground don’t have a whole lot of options – most commercial campgrounds won’t allow dogs and most national parks prohibit them. But DOC do have a few campgrounds around the country that do permit dogs (on a lead) and Mt Thomas (Wooded Gully Campground) northwest of Rangiora is one of them.
We’d never camped there before this year but rather than struggle to find a dogsitter at short notice we decided to go camping somewhere we could take the furkids too. It’s always a risk camping somewhere completely new. There are no guarantees it will be the pleasant stay a camping trip should be. You could have the campers from hell next door, rocks for grass, exposed to the elements or 3rd world facilities. Fortunately our Mt Thomas camping experience had none of that and we’d be happy to go back sometime.
Getting to Mt Thomas Forest campground
While the official DOC webpage for Wooded Gully Campground (WGC) provides some useful information, it’s not overly helpful in terms of getting there, in fact they’re actually wrong. It does provide the NZTM2000 Grid reference but I have no idea how to translate that into a dot on the map (or even a lat/lon) so here’s the map to get there.
My tablet doesn’t have 3G or GPS so I was a bit stuck once I got to Rangiora but the local Henry’s were kind enough to draw the last part of the directions to the campground.
The Wooded Gully Campground
WGC is a standard DOC site with minimal facilities but it has four flushing toilets and running water which is more than ample for quake-hardened Cantabrians. There’s also a creek, so if the camp runs out of water (like it did just before we left) then you can boil water from there. We arrived Christmas eve so there were plenty of campsites to choose from, and we picked what we think is the best spot just by one of the main firepits and not far from creek. It was relatively flat and looked out over the trees so you got a real feeling of serenity and solitude.
One thing it doesn’t take long to notice is something that blights a lot of beautiful spots around NZ, and that is sandflies. They attack the minute you step out of the car, hungry for fresh blood and unless you’re coated in insect repellant, have a diet rich in Vitamin B and are surrounded by a group of nudists, you’re gonna get bitten. They were worse than our sandfly experience at the actual Sandfly Point in Milford Sound, but fortunately we came prepared with repellant, citronella candles, fly spray and a smoking fire, which meant it kept them bearable. In fact by day three we hardly noticed them.
While the DOC website says $6 a night, the sign at the campground said $5 and the DOC warden who checked our tent ticket on day two was happy with $5. $20 for the two of us to stay three days in a well-cared campground is good value by anyone’s standards.
What to do around Mt Thomas
Queenstown it isn’t but personally high-adrenalin activities aren’t the reason I go camping. Lazing around the tent, eating when I feel like it, and in general ignoring any preset timetable or routine is my modus operandi. However if you can’t bear to sit still there are walking tracks in the area, including a trek up to the top of Mt Thomas, which takes approximately two hours. The happy campers who set up next to us on day two, who we nicknamed the von trapps on account of their love of singing together, in groups, as one big happy family, ventured off into the hills at one point, leaving the camp eerily quiet (to be fair they were actually good singers).
There are some designated fireplaces and we were fortunate to be parked right next to one so got the full camping experience including toasted marshmallows, sizzlers in the pan (including rescuing the odd one out of the ashes) and the sheer joy of smoke-induced watering eyes. For a towny, setting up camp and getting a roaring campfire going is what it’s all about.
There is the creek that you can cool your feet in, or it’s a 10-minute drive down to Ashley Gorge for something you can actually swim in.
Since dogs are allowed on a lead, we took our two small ones and I think they really enjoyed the change of scenery and smells. With their extended leads they could wander around the tent as they pleased, or just find a shady spot to catch some zzz’s. Who says dogs don’t know how to go camping?
Without the sandflies it would have been perfect but even so the beautiful scenery, good facilities and well-maintained camping area make the Wooded Gully Campground a great place to visit for a few days, and a great option for dog owners looking for somewhere to share the camping experience with the four-legged friends.
If you have any questions about the campground, or want to share your experience, add your comment below.