Upon setting ‘wheels on ground’ in Wellington, our first mission was to find the i-Site to go plan our day. Like all, they were very helpful, and we quickly got a map with all the sites marked that we wanted to go check out.
Quick Tip: parking isn’t free anywhere here, and can work out quite expensive! This is what you do. Next door to the i-Site, visit the city council building (think that’s the name), and just ask them for the ‘Coupon Parking’ voucher. This entitles you to park in any ‘coupon parking zone’ for free for whichever period you got. We paid $7.50 for the whole day.
We parked the camper at Oriental Bay, and walked along the wharf to the city centre. Wellington isn’t THAT big, and if you have just a moderate level of fitness, getting everywhere on foot isn’t a problem. AND you get to experience the ‘vibe’ and get a proper feel for the place, instead of just rushing from A to B.
We took the cable car up the hill, which gave us some nice views of the city, and at the top weleisurely strolled down through the botanical gardens. We walked through the city, visited the ‘Beehive’, and also checked out Cuba Street. We ended our day at the amazing Te Papa Museum. This was the best museum we’ve ever been to, and gives you a really good look and understanding into NZ’s history and how the country changed to where it stands today. Best of all – IT’S FREE. I like free. [We actually didn’t know it would be so comprehensive, and would’ve liked to spend some more time there. Set aside AT LEAST 2 hours to look around.]
Knowing people in the area is always a bonus, and so we packed off at our friend Mara’s for the night. Good food, good company, a warm shower and bed – happy campers 🙂
The next morning we were off early again, because it’s quite a stretch to Napier. Along the way, we stop at a few small towns – either to refill our gas tank, buy some authentic NZ woollen socks or try the ‘day’s special’ at a cute little bakery.
Close to Napier, at Hastings, we explore Te Mata peak and just leisurely cruise around taking in the scenery and the beautiful wineries. Now, where we come from in S.A., we take pride in our wines. So we were naturally going to size up the NZ wines to those what we know…
And yes, they DO indeed make the good stuff. Not that I claim to be a connoisseur about all things wine – but I might know a thing or two. Our first stop was at Black Barn Winery, where we tried some reds, and walked away with a beaut – a nice Merlot Cabernet Franc.
We stopped at a place on a farm with the name Chalk and Cheese for lunch. We sat outside and had a gourmet sandwich and deep fried camembert cheese, accompanied with some local Havelock North IPA beer. [This was a treat for us, as it was on the more expensive side, and not something we could do every day – budget!]
We arrived in Napier, the art-deco capital of NZ and just strolled around town to get the feel for it. To be honest – initially we were a bit underwhelmed. I think we built it up too big in our heads (mistake when traveling). But, the little shops, cool coffee shops and cafe’s changed our outlook. The antique shops, old cars and architecture makes it quite different from anywhere else in NZ.
A nice place to stroll around is also Ahuriri – it’s a historic fishing village. That night we camped just 20 min outside Napier, at Eskdale Caravan Park. This is a lovely spot, with big open grass areas, many trees for shade, and next to a river. It’s $15 p/p and you have kitchen and laundry facilities, and nice warm showers.The next morning we decided to go do breakfast with a sea view! We drove to Waipatiki Beach. It’s quite a drive there, but worth it. It is a beautiful bay with mountains on either side of the beach. There are some walkways and we explore to get better vantage points to take in the area. Back in Ahuriri we walk around some more. We buy fish and chips at the Frying Dutchman (Hoki is such a tasty fish!) and have it picnic style next to the ocean under a pine tree on the grass in town. After lunch we drive up to the Bluff Lookout to take in the views of the area. (Massive amount of logs at the wharf waiting to be exported!)
Our next mission – wine tasting! Our first stop was at Mission Estate Winery, which is the oldest winery in NZ, established in 1851. Tasting is $5, and you get a beautiful glass afterwards. Our next stop was at Moana boutique winery. They make wines on a smaller scale, but a lot of dedication goes into it, and the result is exactly what you’d expect – beautiful wines. We are not fans of Chardonnay, but let me tell you, they are the first winery that, in my opinion, got it right!
DON’T pass up the opportunity to visit Mr. D restaurant in Napier. Their donuts are delicious, and coffee top notch.
For the night we are camping 45 min outside of Napier, at Glenfalls Recreation Reserve. This is another great campsite, amongst the rolling hills, next to a river (good for fishing). We swam and just relaxed – the tranquility of the area just carried us away!
On our way to Taupo, we do a quick stop to check out Waipunga Falls. It’s right next to the road and a good choice to just stretch your legs!
Again on arrival in Taupo, we hop into the i-Site to get a map, and to plan. We also book our Tongariro Crossing transportation through them ($30 p/p) for the next day. We hop in to Pak n Save to shop for our hike – some energy bars, fruit and trail mix, and sports drinks.The Huka Falls is a must when you are here. A huge volume of water rushes through a narrow ‘trough’, and flows over the 11m waterfall. It’s said that the amount of water flowing through there can fill an olympic sized swimming pool in 11 seconds! There are a few platforms from which people can check out the impressive falls.
We took the walking track upstream, to go swim where a hot thermal stream enters the cold Waikato River. The hike is amazing, with the water being very clear, and many people enjoy the river by swimming or kayaking on it.
We also stopped at Aratiatia to see the river level rise. They basically release water through sluices, which then almost ‘instantaneously’ creates a fast flowing river! We needed to cool off, so we drive to Acacia Bay for a nice dip in Lake Taupo.
Again we were fortunate enough to know people that live there. It was nice having a bed, and hot shower on tap. Deon and Retha were gracious hosts, and we had a lekker braai that night, and even a PEPPERMINT CRISP TART for dessert. What a treat!
Tongariro Crossing (Taupo)
This is something we have really been looking forward to on our trip! We started early to get to the Ketetahi car park – our pick-up point. The shuttle took us around to the Mangatepopo Hut – the start of the one-way hike.This was such a memorable experience, and deserves its own entry! We hiked 19.4km that day, taking us about 7h30min to complete. Even though very taxing on our bodies, it was one of the best things we’ve ever done in our lives. The landscape and the views are just amazing. You almost feel like you’re walking on another planet – it simply is not an environment you see every day!
Nearing the end of the hike, which is all downhill now, we were really starting to feel it… We could feel our muscles reaching their ‘break-point’. But, there’s no stopping and you just have to push through that final bit in whatever way!
On the way back from the hike, we stop next to the lake for a swim and for some food. We could feel the fatigue setting over us like a heavy cloud. If you’re driving after this hike, be careful – there have been numerous cases of people getting into accidents driving back to Taupo from the hike due to fatigue and a lack of concentration!
We are slowly but surely making our way up north. Next we stop in Waitomo for a different kind of rafting. We check in to the “Legendary Blackwater Rafting” company, and get ready for our ‘Black Labyrinth’ tour that starts at 1:30pm. We were getting ready to check out the caves filled with glowworms…
We suited up in a wetsuit, pair of boots, and a helmet with a lamp. A little bus took our group to the entrance, we got our instructions and safety guidelines from the guides, and then we entered the cave system through a fairly tiny hole, leading to the pitch dark inside…
This for us was another cool experience, and we can see why it is such a popular thing to do in the area. We wound our way through some tunnels, drifted on inner tubes, jumped down some small waterfalls – all in the dark, awesome! At some point we were all asked to turn off our lights, and when we looked up, the ceiling was illuminated by little blue/green lights – the glowworms! It looked like thousands of fairy lights, and a kind of Christmas decoration – it was a really cool sight.
After the caving you get to have a nice warm shower, followed by a bagel and hot soup – all very welcome after the darkness and cold!
RotoruaNext we drove to Rotorua, where we camped at Boyes Beach for the night, next to Lake Okareka. The next day we woke up early to get ready for the river rafting we booked. We were really excited about this, as we’ve only heard good things of the Kaituna river rafting, and we have never done any rafting classified as Grade 5.
We had so much fun! We shared the raft with 4 other Germans, and our guide, Hudson, was quite the comedian. We went through a few rapids, and quick river flows, and down a 2m waterfall, all in preparation for the ‘big one’ – the highest commercially rafted waterfall in the world at 7m high! It was crazy. Before going over the edge, you tuck your feet in under the seat in front of you, you hold on to the ropes, and shoot up a quick prayer! The boat enters the water vertically, and for a moment it feels like time freezes, and then you feel movement again as the raft bounces back to the surface. M got ejected, and I had to drag her back on to the raft – we laughed so much. All in all a very good day – what an exhilarating experience! [We went with Kaitiaki Adventures.]After speaking to some other travelers, we learned that the Skyline luge in Rotorua is way better than the one in QT – we just had to go see for ourselves! We had so much fun previously, so this time we bought the ticket for the gondola and 5 luge rides ($55 p/p). And yes, it’s truly better! Why? The tracks are longer, more scenic (amongst trees at parts), and a little more ‘dangerous’ (it adds to the thrill though, right!?)
The rest of the afternoon we spent next to Lake Tarawera, where we found a nice quiet spot to suntan, swim and read. After a fun-filled day, we needed to unwind and relax a bit. The next day we were planning to go to Wai-o-Tapu, so we drove in that general direction to look for a campsite. We pulled into Guy Roe Reserve, and it was so nice and quiet, right on another small lake.
The next day we arrived early-ish at Wai-o-Tapu and walked around the geothermal area for a while. We walked the ‘red circuit loop’. After that it was about time to get to the Lady Knox geyser, to see her erupt. Afterwards, we headed back to the main geothermal area, and walked the other two circuits. It’s quite special seeing the bubbling mud and water, the coloured pools, the steam, and it sinks in then that it really is a thermally active area where you are moving around. It’s not every day you get to experience that…
After these soaks we were quite smelly (think what mud smells like…), so we drove to Blue Lake for a nice swim, tan and lunch. Afterwards, we go for a jog/walk in the Redwoods forest. There are many trails, and just being there amongst those huge trees and other green vegetation is very calming. [If we had more time though, I would’ve liked to grab a mountain bike to explore the numerous trails in the area!].
On our way towards Whakatane we stop at the town Kawerau. We see a sign for a waterfall, and decide to investigate… After about 25km of gravel road, we finally arrive at the parking lot for Tarawera Falls. There is a short leisurely walk along a pristine river that ends at the most amazing falls. An immense volume of water gushes through 2 holes in the rock face. We swim under the waterfall in the crystal clear water, with no one around but us – really refreshing!
After the waterfall excursion we drive on to Whakatane (actually pronounced “F”-akatane we learn later on), where we explore the town, have a picnic lunch at the seafront and check out the surfers taking on some humongous waves.Our final stop for the day is at Matata, where we camp for the night at Matata DOC campground. The massive, wide, white beach was so devoid of people, it felt like we had the whole area to ourselves. We could also see White Island in the distance, which is home to the most active volcano in NZ…
You could certainly pick up on the holiday vibes as we pulled into Mt. Maunganui. Beautiful beaches, surfers, volleyball games, cruise ship docked at harbour… We hiked up Mt. Maunganui to see the views – and yes, they are good. From the top most lookout you have a nice view down the length of the beach, the ocean to the left and the town and harbour to the right.
There are some nice shops and eateries to wander through. At this one bakery M eats a delicious Mint Lamb Pie, and I feel adventurous, so I try a Mussel Pie – not bad at all!
We are Hahei bound, and on the way we have a quick stop at pretty Waihi Beach. The drive here is really scenic, and we can see why everyone we spoke to always gushed about ‘Coromandel’.
Before our final stop for the day, we just had to go check out the “Hot Water Beach”, to see what the fuss is about. It’s a huge stretch of beach. We see the big crowd of people, and go investigate. Short of the long – we still don’t know what the fuss is about. So, you dig your own hole, to get to sit in lukewarmish water? That’s what you choose to do with your time? I dunno hey, maybe the conditions on the day wasn’t that great, or the holes wasn’t deep enough…A little drive further and we pull into Hahei Holiday Resort. This place is right next to the beach, and the perfect spot to set off from when visiting Cathedral Cove. Back to the beach: wow! One of the nicest beaches we’ve been on in NZ – it’s wide, the sand nice and white, water perfectly blue, some ‘rock’ islands in the sea, and some nice waves coming through for bodysurfing! What more can you ask from a beach?
The next morning we set the alarm for 7am, throw down a quick breakie, and we’re off to Cathedral Cove before the masses arrive. The walk is pretty simple – with the ocean in front of you, head left, and you’ll see where the track starts climbing… Keep following the track, which takes you on a nice stroll with some awesome panoramic views of the ocean along the way.
We got to the beach at around 9am, and there were only a handful of people there. It was nice just being there, with no crowds to speak of. We could actually get some pics without anyone standing in the way. We highly recommend visiting, it’s so worth the hike to get there (just go early)!
After our hike, we drive on to Whitianga, shop at Countdown and have lunch at the dock. We didn’t see the whole town, but it seems like a really nice area. As we drive on, we pass by some stunning beaches (and nice houses!), which it seems is the norm for the Coromandel… The drive to Coromandel Town is over a pass, and again, very curvy. The roads here are so narrow and high concentration is necessary!In Coromandel Town, we have a quick look see, and a quick ice-cream before we head south again on SH25 on the lookout for a campsite for the night. After not finding a good enough spot (our standards are pretty high round about now :)), we check on the map and decide to head in to the Kauaeranga Valley. There are a few DOC sites, and we decide to stay at Hotoritori DOC campsite for our final night in the camper. In the area there are some nice trails (varying lengths) to hike, also some MTB trails and even a natural swimming hole with a ±8m jump – Hoffman’s Pool.
The next day we drive down the west coast of the Coromandel, all along the ocean. It’s very scenic all the way, with lots of trees almost forming ‘tunnels’ over the road as you drive. We drive to Pukekohe where we unpack everything, clean the car, and return it at the dealership in Auckland.
It’s weird how used to something you get when you use it for nearly a month, every day. We knew every quirk, all the spots to store something, and the perfect cruising speed. We have very fond memories of our time spent touring around NZ with our Rocket, and I don’t think our experience would’ve been the same without it.
For our last night in Auckland we stay with our friends Janeke and Johan again in Pukekohe, where we share all the happenings of our journey with them, and just hang out for old times sake – around a braai of course!
Our flight the next day is only at night, so we pack our bags, and go out for the day in Auckland to explore. We walk around the Viaduct – a cool area filled with boats, yachts, markets, food stalls and restaurants. It’s a bustling area, with everybody outside enjoying the perfect weather.
We had lunch in this old building, which was a police station long ago – Brew on Quay. Think dark stained wood, wooden chairs, old bar and high ceilings… Wouldn’t have my last meal any other than a good old fish and chips! Our time was coming up, and our friends dropped us off at the airport. We are so grateful for them taking the time to give us a personal tour of Auckland. Their hospitality and kindness meant a lot to us, and we are truly thankful for everything.
In 25 days we drove 4883 km. I think we had a good glimpse of NZ. But still, only a glimpse. We can’t wait to go back again, rent a camper and explore the other areas we unfortunately didn’t have time to visit. New Zealand was an absolute treat, filled with awesome sights, and beautiful memories. Until next time!
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⇐Marené’s TIP of the day:⇒
- Shop at these places: Countdown, Pak n Save, New World. Pak n Save is generally cheaper, but mostly all of them have decent specials (especially on meats).
- Roads in NZ are narrow and windy. Be careful as you drive, there isn’t much room for error – the road ‘shoulders’ are very small or many times non-existent. It usually takes longer than planned to get from A to B, due to the fact that roads are definitely not straight in NZ, and I can almost guarantee you’ll want to stop along the way for a few pictures…
- If you are used to camping, and don’t mind roughing it a bit – get a solar shower bag. Trust me, you’ll thank me later. Most DOC campsites don’t have showers, and if you don’t want to swim in that icy cold lake, and feel all sticky and icky after exploring/hiking/biking the whole day, invest in one of these bad boys. Lay it out in the sun during the day, shower warm later that afternoon. You’re welcome.
- Campervans: uneven surface at camping site? Do this: park camper perpendicular to the slope, get two big enough rocks and put them in front of the two wheels lower down the slope. Drive camper up onto the rocks, voila, no sleeping in a slanted bed tonight.
- Breakfast of champs: many times we were on the move every day, so you need to get a move on as fast as possible (get to the next destination to start exploring ASAP). So we usually just woke up, packed up quickly and started driving. When we feel the hunger creeping in (anytime between 8-9am), we pulled over somewhere nice, preferably with a view, and made breakfast. An easy, but still healthy breakfast, is fresh fruit (think longer lasting – apples & blueberries were in season for us) with yogurt, covered with some muesli.
- 7 day DOC campsite pass. Get it ASAP if you’re planning to camp at DOC campsites for a few nights in a row. How does it work? Shortly: you pay 20 bucks (per person), then you can camp at most DOC campsites for free for 7 straight days. Just go inquire at DOC office in QT (or anywhere else).
Budgeting tips: (all prices obvi in NZ$)
- Laundromat: $5 (wash), $5 dry.
- 4 Pack Bundaberg: $6.20 (don’t know it, you’d wanna find out!)
- Big 4L water: $3 (@ Countdown).
- Fergburger (in QT): $12.50.
- DOC campsite: $10/6 per person.
- QT luge: $45 (gondola & 2 luge rides).
- Fill up tank of small campervan: $80-90.
- 6 Pack beer (cheap) $ 12