New Zealand has been on our bucket list for far too long, and over the next 14 weeks we have the opportunity to explore every corner. We will be travelling around in a campervan and will update you on our experiences as much we can. We will be in the North island for 6 weeks before heading to the South island for the remaining 8 weeks.
Our adventure started in Auckland, where we settled for two days until we picked up our campervan to start our 14 week road trip. After clearing security, customs, and buying a tourist simcard, we took the Skybus directly from the arrivals door to the centre of Auckland for only $13 each one-way. We arrived to our hostel, ‘Choice Backpackers’, within twenty minutes. The calmness and cleanliness of the city, along with no one shouting at us to buy stuff off them was a welcome relief after our 5 months in Asia.
The city holds 1/3 of New Zealand’s population and it’s main stadium, Eden Park, is home to the All Blacks. Despite this sizeable population, Auckland strikes a balance of a relaxed small-town feel and a vibrant city; with food, drink, and shopping options galore. Although the city does not boast a lot of tourist attractions, we were excited to see what Auckland had to offer.
Length of Stay
We stayed for two nights before we collected our campervan. We were happy we had seen everything on our list of things to do and see in Auckland.
Accommodation is expensive in New Zealand where ever you go, so we opt’d for the cheapest reasonable option, Choice Backpackers. The rate was NZ$26 (Approx €15) per night for two single beds in an eight bed dorm. More than half of the people staying in the hostel were working professionals, which says a lot about the expense of living in Auckland. The dorms were a bit cramped, but facilities were excellent with a huge dinning area, kitchen, and an added bonus of free pasta and rice. It was also an ideal location, in the heart of the Central Business District (CBD), which meant we were within walking distance of the harbour, cafes, and stations.
The tallest tower in the southern hemisphere and Auckland’s most recognisable monument, the Sky tower is a hotel, bar, and panoramic viewpoint. If you are looking to get a panoramic view of Auckland, Sky tower is the best vantage point. It will cost you $32 however, so if you are on a budget like ourselves, we have a second best option below.
Our alternative option for panoramic views of Auckland. Mount Eden is one of a number of extinct volcanoes in the Auckland region, but certainly the most popular. Eden is a 20 minute bus journey from the CBD and a 30 minute walk to the summit. The hike up is fairly straightforward with a steady, winding incline from start to finish. We were lucky to get a beautiful day, and were able to pick out all of Auckland’s top landmarks. We certainly don’t feel like we missed out on the views by not going to Sky Tower. So if it’s views you are searching for, head to Mount Eden to enjoy a cool sunset over Auckland.
Food & Bars
On our first day in Auckland, we met up with a couple of friends from England who are now living in Auckland. We went for food at a place called ‘Lord of the Fries’, a vegetarian only restaurant in the CBD. The veggie burgers are delish and come with a huge side of chips, just what we needed after being up for 32 hours. A few days later we discovered we had 2 for 1 vouchers in a free magazine we had picked up at the airport on arrival. If you are travelling to New Zealand, keep an eye out for the ‘Arrival’ magazine. It has a huge amount of discounts and also an app which can be found by searching ‘arrival special offers’. Chris and Steph kindly showed us around Auckland’s nightlife before we settled into a bar in the CBD to watch the rugby. New Zealand is well known for its wine, but beer is also a huge industry. Ten different New Zealand craft beers lined the bar so, of course, we tried a couple of drinks.
Home to New Zealand’s All Blacks, a tour around Eden Park will set you back $40 (€23)pp. As there was local rugby matches on during this weekend in Auckland, we didn’t get an opportunity to go on a tour this time, but will hopefully get it on the way back from Cape Reinga.
Day 1: Auckland-Gulf Harbour
The day had arrived for us to pick up our campervan. This would be our home for the next 97 days in New Zealand, so we were eager to get to ‘Travellers Autobarn‘ early. We arrived at the office at 10 am and we were on the road within 30 minutes. First stop was to stock up on food, so we headed to ‘Pak ‘n’ Save’, a large warehouse with cheap brands (similar to Aldi). We then headed off to Mount Eden to catch a view of Auckland before setting out for our first campsite.
There are no freedom camping sites within 20 km of Auckland so we headed North along the east coast to the closest free campsite, Laurie Southwick Parade in Gulf Harbour. The site was a car-park overlooking the Huaraki Gulf with a beautiful harbour and a bay of boats sandwiching us in for the night. We arrived at 6 pm and the site was almost full and became packed within an hour of us arriving. There were both well maintained toilets and a dump station so we were delighted with our first night’s location and views. You can spot Auckland in the distance on a clear day. The area is thriving with fisherman from the early hours of the morning so campers need to leave the area before 10 am. We settled in for the night and cooked our first proper homemade meal, Veggie Bolonaise.
Day 2: Gulf Harbour-Leigh-Ti Point
Today, we headed further north along the east coast, opting to take the ‘scenic roads’ to a small, quiet town of Leigh before stopping off at Ti Point to camp. We opted for a walk in Matheson Bay where we had our first experience of the silver fern (New Zealand’s Emblem) and the native plant ‘Kaori’. The route is a 45 minute easy but enjoyable loop. We then headed back through Leigh to catch views of Crabb Bay, where if you’re lucky sometimes Orca whales can be spotted swimming . On parking up to Ti Point, we found two new next door neighbours camped behind us; two sea-lions chilling out on the rocks below. Ti Point is a beautiful harbour nestled in Omaha bay. Apart from one other campervan beside us, we had the place to ourselves. The sun soon set over our back garden and we chilled under the stars.
We stayed at Ti point Harbour. It was beautifully secluded and peaceful. Toilet facilities were close by and in good condition. As well as having views over the bay, there is a hike along the coast. We attempted to do the hike but as the area had heavy rain a few days before, the ground was too wet and muddy.
Day 3: Ti Point-Te Arai-Waipu Cave
Our first stop on day 3 was Te Arai beach and reserve. It is an amazingly untouched, white sand beach that goes on for miles and is surrounded by walking tracks that climb through forestry into stunning views. We spent a good three hours here between beach and hill walks, before having lunch overlooking Te Arai beach.
After lunch we reluctantly left the beach and drove north to the town of Waipu. The views along the way, of the green rolling hills followed by coastal alcoves, were amazing. We eventually made it to our third overnight stop Waipu. This was not only a freedom camping site, but also a short walk to the Waipu Caves. These caves are home to thousands of glowworms which we had heard can be found by thrawling through some mud and water. With no access to a washer/ dryer anytime soon, we took off our shoes and headed into the dark cave. After five minutes of hobbling through, we came upon the glowworms. Thousands of glowing worms lit up the roof of the cave- it was amazing. After spending thirty minutes enjoying the view, we headed back to the campervan for an evening of playing cards and chess.
We stayed a two minute walk outside the cave which was suitable for self-contained vehicles. We had access to toilets and a cold outdoor shower. The camp can hold over 20 vehicles so parking up here for the night wasn’t an issue.
Day 4: Waipu Cave-Whangarai-Parua Bay
We left the Auckland district and headed to the next big town of Whangarai. It took us about an hour to get to Whangarai falls. Parking, like much of New Zealand, was free along with access to the waterfall and the surrounding reserve. Whilst the waterfall is not the most spectacular that we have seen, the walks around the Kaori forest were enjoyable and worth the trip. We ended up spending three hours wandering around.
After lunch we went to the Wharngarai leisure centre for a shower as it had been quite a few days since our last and then went towards Parua Bay to find somewhere to camp for the night.
We stayed at Parua Bay Campsite which was a 20 minute drive from Whangarai town. We ended up meeting a Canadian couple who were also travelling and gave us plenty of tips over some tae and biscuits. Whangarai is great for freedom camping and free facilities. Toilets were open all night and despite being close to the road, it was deathly quiet at nightime.
Day 5-6: Whangarai-Paihia (Bay of Islands)
We awoke at 5am to the noise of rain and wind rattling the van. We had planned on climbing Mount Manaia and doing a 3 hour coastal walk but decided that it would be wise to give this a miss as the forecast promised stormy weather all day and instead headed on up the coast to Paihia.
Paihia is the most popular base for tourists to adventure the Bay of Islands. It is a two hour drive from Whangarai and luckily when we got there in the early afternoon, the day started to brighten up. The town itself feels quite touristy. Souvenir shops were plentiful, and any campsites within 10km of the town had a starting rate of $20pp. In the centre of the town is a big iSite Center which has hundreds of brochures and will help guide you to all the activities that can be done around the islands. The main options include kayaking, sky-diving, snorkelling, and hiking.
We chose a walk/ hike from Paihia to Russell along the coastal walkway which is 14.8 km in distance and takes approx 6 hours. To be able to complete the full loop you need to take two ferries; one between Opua to Okiato ($1 pp) and one from Russell to Paihia ($7 pp). As we arrived late on day 5, we explored around the town and chilled on the beach and decided to do our walk the next morning.
The walk from Paihia to Russell starts at the iSite centre and heads 5.8 km south to Opua over footpaths, hills, and beaches. As this is one of the more popular walks, the route is well signposted. We met a nice local man named Terry who walks daily along the track and is the one who lay the stone pathway over the past few years, not bad for a 78 year old. If you decide to walk the track, you will most definitely be stopped for a chat. It isn’t a challenging route with gradual inclines, and mainly flat paths. After taking the five minute ferry from Opua to Okiato, the heavens opened and we took cover to have lunch. Make sure to bring the tea and sandwiches as there is not much in between Paihia and Russel.
The 8.9km Okiato to Russell walk wades you through forestry, which homes the native Kiwi bird. Views along the track were limited and we found ourselves enclosed on tight walkways within forestry for the majority of the 8.9 km. This part of the route was more challenging as we felt we were walking up and down steps constantly for two hours without the benefit of viewpoints. Eventually we made it to Russell, a quiet but incredibly scenic town. The water surrounding Russell was aqua blue and a great place to chill after our walk and take in the fresh sea air. The ferry departs every 20 minutes and drops you off at the pier beside the iSite centre in Paihia. We managed to complete the walk in 5 hours, including ferry times and a half hour chat with our new friend Terry.
After the walk we treated ourselves to $5 Dominos pizza before heading north to get a head start for the next day. We navigated winding and sloped roads through amazing scenery before parking up at our campsite for the night. It was absolutely freezing with no phone coverage, but we were content in our beautiful surroundings.
Day 5: Definitely our strangest place to stay to date. As there was no freedom camping around Bay of Islands, we headed 20km out the road to a four-vehicle car park on the outskirts of Okaihau. This was not our favourite place and had a few strange people hanging around so we would suggest you find somewhere else to stay if you are around the area.
Day 6: We stayed at Raetea North Side Campsite which was cushioned between the towering trees of Raetea and Maungataniwha Forests. As we were still early into ‘peak season’, the official campsite was closed but there were still access to a smaller lot. It meant a nippy 5 minute walk to the toilets but otherwise a perfect patch to camp.
Day 7: Raetea-Cape Reinga
We woke up early having been absolutely frozen all night, but were exited to head to the most northerly point of New Zealand. Cape Reinga is a historical part of New Zealand, with many Maori settling here and continuing their traditions in the region. According to folklore, it is thought that the three wise men originated from here. We met very few campervans and tourists on the 111 km direct road to and from Cape Reinga, and we can’t but feel that so many people have missed out on this gem.
We stopped off at Lake Tapotupotu Bay for lunch before completing the last leg to Cape Reinga. The road to Cape Reinga was brilliant with rolling hills and coastal views interchanging throughout. We parked up mid-afternoon at the iconic lighthouse with pretty much the place to ourselves. We got a gorgeous day and were treated to the best views we had seen in New Zealand to this point. I don’t think words can describe how amazing it was walking around and taking in everything around us, so we’ll let the pictures below explain it best.
After spending hours exploring Cape Reinga we headed back to Lake Tapotupotu campsite. Lake Tapotupotu is very remote with no shops within 50 km. There is access to toilets and cold showers. This was another treat and hands down our favourite campsite to date. We parked the camper facing out over the sea and pulled the camping chairs out for the first time. After dinner, we took in sunset with a glass of wine and looked forward to the next few days at Cape Reinga.
Róisin & Bernard