Finally Aotearoa! We had been looking forward to this for a long time. It’s one of the places we had always wanted to explore. When ever we’ve asked people about NZ it’s been described like England, but a lot better. It’s a little bit behind in some aspects, but makes up for it in others. It’s mind blowing that the population is so different from the UK since they are nearly the same size. UK has around 65 million people and New Zealand has around 4.7 million people.
This was the first time in a while we were flying into a landscape that looked relatively familiar to home, but much greener. It was a delight to have cool fresh air when the cabin doors opened, as much as we’ve loved the warmer, humid, sweat inducing climates, this was a relief. We managed to get through immigration without any problems. After years of watching every episode of border control this had put us on edge, but the staff were genuinely lovely. Even though we knew we hadn’t packed some forbidden fruit, you just never know.
We spent our first two nights in Auckland so we could explore the city and achieve our first priority, winter clothes! We took the free shuttle bus to the Dress Smart shopping outlet to try and bag some bargains. We kitted ourselves out with the sexiest thermal layers the cheapest money could buy along with hats, scarves and jumpers. It had been our original plan to do this for the first 4 months, as we knew shorts and flip flops would be our staple wardrobe and would save our backs a bit. We explored around the city centre and the harbour area. Which is mostly old industrial plots and some nice boats.
It was time to pick up our house for 6 weeks! We booked this beauty while on a beach in Gili Air. We’d read loads of blogs to try and decide which was going to be best for us. We thought getting the slightly larger camper would be sensible rather than just the bog standard car one, where the boot opened up for you to cook outside. The price was not greatly different and we thought with it coming into winter an inside option would be nicer. One of the most sensible things we’ve done. There were many a giggles while we were snuggled up in the warm, watching people getting very cold trying to cook their food.
Unfortunately we couldn’t plan to go everywhere in warmer seasons. This worked out so much better financially and for exploring in New Zealand. The cost of our campervan because it was “off” season was $25 a day. For the exact same van in the summer, it’s $200 a day! This is just beyond mental, considering the weather did not affect us that much. It was fairly chilly sometimes, but mostly dry and we got the bonus of seeing snow when we got to the south. There are less tourists so it makes freedom camping easier, also less blood sucking flies (flying vampires!) and the paid campsite are much cheaper. We would happily go back in the off season.
We christened the van Pamela. Pam had a two hob stove, fridge, microwave, heater, double and a single bed, usb chargers and lights, endless storage. It was a novelty driving again as we hadn’t done it for over 4 months. We headed straight for a local Pak n Save and went slightly over the top with food. It’s kind of Costco size and we’ve not had to do a proper supermarket shop since we’ve left on this trip. Plus we didn’t have to worry about over buying as we had so long to get through it all. Once the essentials were brought (bubbles and snacks) we headed towards the Coromandel.
It was starting to get dark, and we weren’t 100% sure how all of Pam’s connections hooked up to the mains, we decided to find a place while there was still some sunlight. We came across the Tapu Creek caravan park – this was a relatively small camp, right by the river and nestled near the mountains. We were the only non permanent campers and payment was through an honesty box. We managed to figure it all out, get settled and cook our first tasty meal and celebrate with bubbles. In the morning we freshened up and found out what it was like to have the first of many very very cold showers.
Our initial thoughts of driving around NZ were that this place is stunning to drive, endless winding roads and beautiful views. Compared to the Auckland so far we had seen very few people. And compared to the chaos of Kuta in Bali this place was deserted. We made our way up to Coromandel town and visited the I-site to get some information.
We had read that these are a perfect resource for local activities and information. They proved to be invaluable for hidden gems, as well for confirming camping areas including the freedom camping to avoid any fines.
From the staff at the ‘isite’ we found several points to visit around here and plan the next couple of days. We headed to long bay scenic reserve where there is a 330 year old Kauri tree and a beautiful walk through the woods that ended going around the shore line. The tree was impressive and to think of the world over 300 years ago when this little guy was just a seedling.
That night we did our very first freedom camping. “Freedom camping” Seems to be something the locals either love or hate. Basically the local council designate areas which allow people to camp for free. Sometimes requiring your vehicle to have a toilet and a certification to say it’s self contained which means it has a dirty water collection system too. Lots of places there are local facilities so no need to use a toilet in your van. We were organised enough to never have to use the porta potty in our van. Neither of us wanted the pleasure of cleaning it out.
The trouble seems to be that some people go to these areas, leave a mess either through dumping their rubbish or worse dumping their excrement. We can only presume this might be an issue in the peak of summer, since we genuinely had no issues while we travelling here for 6 weeks. A lot of articles blame foreigners and a lot blame locals due to the vast homelessness problem. We Just hope whoever is causing the mess and upsetting residents, they have some consideration in the future, we don’t want to ruin the freedom and fun of freedom camping.
Unfortunately we were unable to get to cathedral cove as it was closed due to previous the bad weather and damage caused.
Next place on the list we wanted to go was the Hot Water beach. This was going to be our first experience of the special relationship between New Zealand and the volcanic world. So we are travelling around at the start of winter – it’s not too cold yet, but cold enough not to want to go anywhere near the beach in your bathers. It was a refreshing treat getting into your swimming gear while it was 5 degrees, hiring a spade and heading to the beach for hot sand. The whole scenario sounds made up and if it was not for the other people heading to the beach then we might have been even more dubious.
We were advised to walk bare foot near the area so you can feel where it is warm. It was a lush sensation and felt like walking on underfloor heating. You then had to push your foot down to make sure it was not too hot as you can seriously burn yourself once you start digging and sit your bum in it. The life guards had put flags up for the main areas to avoid. We found a nice spot and got digging, well one of us did some digging… Some people seemed to be going for an olympic swimming pool but we just wanted enough to cover our cheeks and keep us warm. It really was warm and cosy just chilling in our private pool.
From there we headed towards Mount Paku for a short hike to the summit. It’s only been since about 6,500 years ago you could access here by land. Sea levels rose and allowed the sandpit north of Paku to develop and establish a land bridge, connecting the island volcano. Here we had our first of many encounters with Fan Tail birds who seemed to either be trying to hug or attack us. Turns out they get close to humans because when we walk through bushes we disturb all the little bugs they love to eat. So we just cause a feeding frenzy and had not turned into Mary Poppins like we were hoping.
We headed to our next camping spot – somewhere with a shower and decent food. There was a popular fish and chip shop that had a queue out the door. We queued up and ordered the food and was reminded that we do sound slightly different to the locals when the cashier shouted “cheerio” in her best old time london accent, brilliant…
Rotorua was next on the list! This place is famous for not smelling that great, loads of history and extreme sport.
We visited the living Maori village and went around with the local guide whose great great great grandfather use to live in the village. She was an excellent tour guide and had several attempts to get our group to pronounce the name of the village (It’s officially the bottom one, Emma did surisingly well with a northern twang). There is a high level of risk living in this village. Several homes had already been abandoned as huge holes just open up in the middle of them due to the delicate nature of the surface. Every morning someone has to go and check for new damage around the village.
The history and way of life was truly fascinating. They use to use all the natural resources they had to their advantage. Different hot pools have different functions from bathing, burning animal hairs off, washing clothes etc. They use wooden boxes placed over the natural steam vents to cook all their food and it is still a popular method today. Although a few modern appliances have certainly made there way into modern Maori life. The outside baths are still used today, they are meant to be a perfect for healing cold achey bones. Even the floor radiates so much heat, which Emma was grateful for with her old lady back.
We were treated to a Haka, which we were in the front row for… It was a little intimidating and occasionally wet. An amazing experience up close and learning all the history surrounding it. They’ve had to start building the graves in the cemetery above ground becuase they can’t dig deep into the groundsince it will just crumble into a hot pool. They’ve also had to change the tradition that if anyone dies from the village while they’re abroad, they are shipped back at the expense of the community to be buried. As more people from the village started living aboard and ultimately dieing aboard this was becoming far too costly. So now they are cremated before being brought home.
One thing we loved about NZ is that there are farmers markets everywhere and honesty vegetable stands by the side of the road full of tasty treats! Nature’s candy. It was Sunday and the only thing going on in this town was the farmers market. It was like old school Sundays in England when nothing was open. We found a cheap campsite which came with a free hot pool which was empty. Most hot pools you generally have to pay extra for and they are full of randomers. We assisted an older traveller who had parked up next to us in the dark, she couldn’t figure out how to get the lights on in her newly picked up van. She was from Germany, recently retired and wanted to travel so just did it. Amazing to still have that spirit in her later years.
Whakarewarewa Forest or Redwood forest as more commonly known was absolutely stunning – we had kitted ourselves out with a thermal flask and filled up with snacks. These woods are also mountain bikers dream, they have awesome and well maintained dedicated tracks. We opted for the smaller hike of 4 hours rather than the 4-5 days. Most of the dedicated hikes are offered over multiple days. We think these would be more ideal in the slightly warmer climate, especially the ones in the south.
Pig and whistle is a dedicated mention to Uncle G and Chris – it’s a fundamental teleport back to british life. This one was in an old police station and would be described as nice by Graham.
Luge time! This was so much fun – just a slightly more extreme version of sledging except no snow required. They had 3 tracks and once we found the one you could get a small amount of “air” on, we went on that several times. Emma became a speed demon and aggressively overtaking people. Also its an awesome time to take great couple photos while wearing sexy helmets.
You can’t visit NZ without coming across some of the Lord Of The Rings or The Hobbit film locations.We found Gollum’s pool, did our best “my precious impressions” and took a few photos. Near Mt Ruapehu or more commonly known as “The Gates of Moordoor” there is a hike to Taranaki falls.
This is the very beautiful Mount Ngauruhoe which is an active volcano. It last erupted back in 1977 and we would love to come here in the summer to climb it. It’s meant to have spectacular views of this beautiful landscape.
Nervously looking over the edge of Taranaki falls.
This place is stunning and once you’re away from the falls heading back in the middle of the fields it’s so deafeningly silent. We then headed up to Mt Ruapehu, we didn’t want to go too far up because there was snow and ice. Pam was not built for that sort of terrain but we couldn’t resist a little visit.
As we had spent more time exploring here than we expected we decided to drive a little bit further in the dark to make some progress. We had seen on the camping app we were using that there was some freedom camping 8km off the main highway we were driving along. There were several apps that gave you latest reviews and locations of spots to go to. The road leading to it was very windy, dark and when we arrived the whole area was pitch black.
As this was freedom camping it meant no power for the heater, and boy was it cold! Emma is wrapped up like a cocoon. The thermals, double sleeping bags and hats saved the day. Camper van breakfast and enjoying the view by the river. Then got to see the beautiful view of the journey through the hills we had missed in the dark.
We arrived in Napier and felt like we’d gone back in time! This place is an art deco architecture town centre. This came about after a devastating earthquake in 1931 that killed 256 people and injured thousands more. When it was rebuilt it was the art deco era and they have maintained it that way since, with a few modern twists.
We brought the self guided tour book – and headed off to enjoy the beautiful buildings and pretending to know who famous old architectures were. Obviously Frank Lloyd Wright was involved! After that we ended up at the earthquake museum. As well as the devastating time after the quake and about the loss of life, we learnt about some of the Maori beliefs. According to Māori tradition, earthquakes are caused by the god Rūaumoko. The history about the Māori gods is truly fascinating and definitely worth a read.
We found Mister D’s cafe which came highly recommended for tasty donuts – you get to self inject with your favorite filling and pay more for it. It’s a clever business really – we pay to finish their product. But we loved the novelty and it was super tasty. We purchased some local wine and tried to find our way back to the camper. There is a wine trail that goes around Hawke’s bay which is where Napier is situated. There are many places to rent a bike and head off around all the wine yards you can make it to.
It would be rude not to visit New Zealand’s oldest prison, Napier Prison built in 1862. Only slight worse facilities than Emma’s old work. It had a number of hangings and held a lot of members of biker gangs and a few Brits. Now it’s a museum and hostel and you can spend a night in the cells. Not for us.
Perfume point is a freedom camping hot spot! So some of the freedom campsites come with very limited spaces and can be in a variety of spaces from town centre car parks, a random field or this one by the sea! Perfectly positioned for sunrises and had an en suite situated 100 yards away. You can only stay a maximum of 3 nights at this one or otherwise people would live there. We ended up staying three nights since this place was beautiful and we really loved the town of Napier. As we were staying somewhere for a couple of nights and didn’t have to drive in the morning, we went out for food and drinks.
From here our adventure in Pam continued south and we found out how much the Kiwi’s really love Liz. It seems a little more than us, untill then lots of love to everyone at home.