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  • Writer's pictureAnne Basquin

Farewell to Goat Island Campground

Leigh’s beloved Goat Island Campground shut its doors in July of 2022. Two years on we reflect on what the campground meant to us, to our community, to Goat Island’s international visitors, and the impact of its sudden closure. 

If you were visiting the breathtaking Goat Island Marine Reserve sometime in the last three decades, the entrance to the campground nestled in the valley behind the marine reserve’s car park would have been easy to miss. But once you’d driven up the camp’s long pine tree-lined driveway to its cluster of main buildings, stepped out of your car to look across the camp’s sprawling verdant fields and stunning views out over the Hauraki gulf to its outer islands, the campground became near impossible to forget. 

Goat Island Campground Driveway

Goat Island campground offered an ideal getaway for those looking to immerse themselves in the natural beauty of the area — nature lovers, adventurers, snorkelers, revelers, WWOOFers, artists and writers, travelers and families on a budget. The camp was home to several long-term residents as well—a mix of the owner’s friends and family, artists, WWOOFers, international visitors and workers, and local business owners. The authors both spent time as long-term residents of the campground and were especially grateful for the refuge of the camp during the long lockdowns of 2020 and 2021 due to coronavirus. 

Field at Goat Island Campground

The campground’s quirky and eclectic mix of bungalows, cabins, and caravans was offset by the freshly-mown green of the large terraced field to the east, where campers pitched tents and parked their cars and campervans. A large north facing quonset hut with a long porch running east to west held the main kitchen, recreation area and toilet block. Tables and bench seats and large wooden furniture, handmade by the camp’s owner, offered places to sit back and enjoy the sun or hide out from the rain. 

Bonfire at Goat Island Campground, Auckland, New Zealand

The campground was not just a place to stay but a hub for fun and activities. Its well-equipped kitchen, pool table and nightly bonfire created a relaxed and enjoyable atmosphere. The large shared bonfire area was the heart and soul of the campground, providing the perfect setting for meeting new people, sharing stories, and making lifelong friends. Campers gathered most nights to eat dinner, talk, play guitar, sing, and watch the stars come out over the outer islands. Visitors could also hire snorkel gear, making it easy to explore the underwater wonders of Goat Island.

Goat Island Campground was a portal to another world and to a more diverse and thriving ecology—for thirty years no pesticides or sprays were used on the land. The frog and bee populations were booming, and flowers were always in bloom. A herd of near-wild Hereford cows roamed the scrubland and steep bush, and natural springs and creeks crisscrossed the hills and valley. Groves of bamboo surrounded the camp's many buildings and its more private bungalows were set amidst screens of greenery. The towers of bamboo provided building materials for fences and huts and backyard bars and occasionally ended up in a bonfire—more than one camper interpreted the exploding stalks of flaming bamboo as gunshots. 

The vibe at the campground was easy and carefree—it did not run on a tight schedule but on its own time which could depend on the sun, the rain, the tide, or the general feeling of the day. For many visitors, this slowed-down pace drew them to the camp again and again, and for others, not so much. 

With the ease and lightness that pervaded the camp also came a deep respect for the natural world and this too was much beloved by campers. How often in our fast-paced busy lives are we offered the chance to slow down and watch the world, watch the sun cycle over the sky, set our watches to the incoming and outgoing tide, to which light is best for a snorkel?

Campers at Goat Island Campground

Even if you only stayed at the campground for one night, this changed awareness followed you on your departure, turning your mind and body towards the natural ebb and flow of all things, towards the appreciation and conservation of the natural world. 

People from all over the world remember the magical setting of Goat Island Campground. Visitors came from near and far for solo getaways, hen and stag dos, WWOOFing, family weekends away, road trips with friends, free-diving and scuba-diving weekends, meditation retreats and so much more.

Luckily the campground is an impossible place to forget and leaves those of us privileged to have spent time there with vivid memories—of early morning snorkels and late nights around the campfire under the stars, of waking to the lowing of near-wild grazing bulls and the camp’s expansive views, of starting each day with the feeling that in this beautiful place, at this beautiful time, anything could happen.

The decision to close the campground and sell the land was made suddenly by an absent co-owner of the land. All of the camp’s buildings were demolished—the kitchen and toilet blocks, the bungalows and caravans, the houses, the water catchment and septic system. Two years on, the land sits unsold and vacant, unable to host campers. 

This beloved retreat may have closed its gates, but we remember the beautiful times we shared there and the spirit of community and appreciation for nature the campground fostered in the hearts of its visitors. We bid farewell to Goat Island Campground, carrying cherished memories and the bonds formed around its bonfires with us. 

Owner of Goat Island Campground

To everyone who made Goat Island Campground a special place, and especially the owner Tim and his sons, we thank you for being a part of its story. We hope the memories made here will inspire you to continue exploring, cherishing and caretaking our world. 

Until we meet again, happy camping and safe travels.

The view from Goat Island Campground, Auckland, New Zealand

Words & photographs by Anne Marie Basquin. You can read and see more of her work at

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