We started the day by finishing the drive to Wellington. We hadn’t planned to spend much time in the city but we did have enough time to visit Te Papa, New Zealand’s national museum. We looked at a variety of exhibitions – from Maori history and culture to the slightly bizarre display of the largest squid ever caught.
The three hour InterIslander ferry journey was rough at times but we arrived in Picton early evening and took a windy road around the coast to Nelson where we stayed in the Nelson City New World car park, where overnight camping for self-contained vehicles is welcomed. This probably won’t be our most scenic stopover, but at least we didn’t have far to go to buy some food!
In the morning we walked through Spa Park to find a natural hot pool underneath a small waterfall on the Otumuheke Stream. The water must have been about 40 degrees so it was a good way to warm up on another fairly cold morning in Taupo.
We then headed to Turangi, a town just south of Lake Taupo, where we had booked to go white water rafting. We were kitted out with thermals and wetsuits and then driven to the Tongariro River. Over the next two hours our boat of 6 (plus 2 instructors) tackled 60 rapids of varying difficulty, though most involved us getting quite wet! For those of us who wanted to get wetter there was also an opportunity to jump off a 5m high ledge into the freezing cold river (followed of course by the usual cup of hot chocolate!).
We had hoped to spend a bit longer in the Taupo area, and in particular had planned to tackle the 19km Tongariro Alpine Crossing. Unfortunately there were severe weather warnings in place for the next couple of days and so we were advised against it. We decided to cut our losses and start the journey towards Wellington where we’ll be taking the ferry to the south island. We did just over half of the journey and then stopped for the night at the Himatangi Beach Holiday Park.
There is a huge amount to do in Taupo but unfortunately the weather didn’t help us out on this occasion! We started the day in the tourist information office (iSite) looking at the list of things to do in the rain. In the end it brightened up enough for us to walk up to Huka Falls, a waterfall on the Waikoto River. We also visited ‘Craters of the Moon’ (an area full of steaming geothermal craters) and a local glassblowing factory and sculpture park.
We had an authentic New Zealand cinema experience in the evening before parking up for another night at the yacht club.
In the morning we drove west from Rotorura to Waitomo, which is famous for its underground cave systems. There are a large variety of tours available, from gentle boat rides through the caverns to full day caving expeditions. We chose a tour called the Black Abyss, run by The Legendary Black Water Rafting Company.
After being kitted out with wetsuits and harnesses our group took a short bus ride to the cave opening. We began the tour with a 30 metre abseil into the first cavern where, with all our torches switched off, we caught our first glimpse of the glow worms on the ceiling above us. We then ziplined through a pitch black tunnel which was again covered with glow worms, before making our way through a few more caves and stopping for a quick hot chocolate and biscuits to warm up.
We then started the water activities by jumping off a ledge into a black pool and tubing along the river while the guides told us about the caves and their history, particularly the glow worms that have made them so famous. We also slid down water slides, scaled waterfalls and climbed through small crevices and ‘the muddy pass’. After a few hours underground we emerged back at the surface and returned to the centre for further food supplies of hot soup and toasted bagels. This was definitely one of the highlights of our trip so far (the caving – not the food!)
We got straight back on the road and headed for Taupo, our next stop. The local yacht club, which is right on the edge of Lake Taupo, allows free overnight camping for self-contained vehicles so we found a space and pitched up for the night.
We had a relaxing start today, taking a short walk from the campsite to Lake Rotorura, and then looking through the many leaflets of things to do in the area.
We decided to spend the afternoon and evening at Te Puia – a combined Maori cultural and thermal centre. We started by walking through the vast grounds, which are still home to a Maori tribe. There are many thermal features here, including large boiling mud pools and the Pohutu geyser which is the largest in the Southern Hemisphere, erupting up to 30 metres twice an hour. It was also an opportunity to see our first kiwi bird – even if it was on the cctv feed from it’s nest! Even so, this will probably be our only encounter with one, as they are highly endangered and also nocturnal.
The evening began with an official tour around the centre. Te Puia is home to carving and weaving schools for Maori students from across New Zealand, so it was a good opportunity to see the ancient traditions in action. After that, we were formally welcomed by one of the tribe’s leaders, before watching a cultural performance of music and dance. Our buffet dinner had been cooked in traditional hangi style (in an earth oven), and was finished off with some hot chocolate sitting on the naturally heated rocks by the geyser.
We decided to stay at the same campsite tonight so had a second chance to enjoy the hot pools!
After another early start we had a slightly longer boat ride this morning (just over an hour) out to the wreck of the Rainbow Warrior, a Green Peace vessel sunk in 1985. Having been underwater longer than the Canterbury, the Rainbow Warrior is covered with various plant life. Kate did her first dive of the day in Seal Bay, and once again saw plenty of seals.
The afternoon dive was in Lion Bay. Kate had now completed all of her skills training, so we were able to dive together as a group. This was a really good dive with plenty of fish and some eels. Having completed the required training, Kate is now a certified PADI Open Water diver!
Soon after returning to the shore we were on the road again, heading South East towards Cathedral Cove. We decided to stop for the night at the same campsite as our first night, in Warkworth.
We had an early start as we had to be at the Paihia Dive shop by 8am for our first day of SCUBA diving. After collecting our equipment we headed down to the wharf and joined the rest of the group on the boat out into the bay.
Howie’s first dive was onto the wreck of the HMNZS Canterbury, which lies at a depth of 30m. It was a really interesting dive, with the large ship sitting upright and almost completely intact on the seabed. We then moved on to a nearby shallower site so that Kate could do her first ever dive in the sea, and the first of the four dives required for the PADI Open Water certification.
After lunch on the dive boat we moved on to Lighthouse Bay for a dive around the rocks there. We still had to dive separately so that Kate could focus on her training with Tayna (her instructor) but the highlight for both of us was seeing seals playing under the water.
We had dinner back at the campsite and got an early night ready for another day of diving.
We started our first day in Paihia with a 5km walk through the forest to the Haruru Falls. We had booked a dolphin spotting boat trip around the bay for the afternoon, and hadn’t quite left enough time to finish the walk and get back to the town centre, so we had to improvise a little! Kate managed to flag down a car and we hitchhiked the last 3km with a local councillor.
The boat ride around some of the 140 islands in the bay became more of an Orka watching trip, as a large number of the killer whales were passing through the area, which is apparently quite rare. Unfortunately that meant we couldn’t see any bottlenose dolphin, but there should be plenty more opportunities as we head towards the South Island. The relatively famous ‘hole in the rock’ was quite impressive, not least because of the boat captain’s skill in sailing through it.
We don’t plan to eat out much while we’re here, but we decided to treat ourselves to an Indian at Green’s, and had plenty of food leftover for the next night!
Having arrived late at night, we weren’t able to appreciate the amazing scenery at Spirits Bay until the morning. Although this was the most basic campsite so far, it was certainly the best location. After a short walk along the beach, we drove west for just under an hour to Cape Reinga, considered to be the most northern tip of the North Island. The Tasman Sea and Pacific Ocean also meet at this point, which is very significant for the Mauri people.
Just south of Cape Reinga are the Giant Te Paki Sand Dunes, which are not only impressive to look at, but also great fun for sand boarding on! We hired two body boards and spent over an hour going up and down the dunes. We stopped for lunch on part of the continuous ninety mile beach that spans the west coast, and then started heading east along State Highway 10 towards the Bay of Islands and the town of Paihia, our next stopping point. For the next couple of nights we’ll be staying in The Bay of Islands Campervan Park, just 15 minutes walk from the centre of Paihia.
We started the day with a short drive through the Waipoua Kauri Forest, stopping a couple of times for some short walks. The first was to see the Four Sisters (a group of four Kauri trees very close together) and Te Matua Ngahere (the second largest Kauri tree). A little further down the road is the very impressive Tāne Mahuta, the largest Kauri tree in New Zealand, which is thought to be around 2,000 years old. Scientists are currently working hard to fight Kauri Dieback disease, which has already killed thousands of trees across New Zealand.
Our target for today was to reach the north coast of the North Island. After many hours of driving (including 16km on a very bumpy gravel road) we reached the Kapowairua DOC (Department of Conservation) campsite in Spirits Bay.
We woke up to a very rainy morning in Warkworth. After a quick breakfast in the local cafe and look round the shop we were back on State Highway 1 heading north. After a short stop to stock up with food we turned onto State Highway 12 heading west. We then had our first problem with the campervan – an engine warning light on the dashboard – which led to an unscheduled stop at The Kauri Museum, which tells the story of the legacy of the famous New Zealand Kauri forests. Although we didn’t have enough time to look around, we did spend some time in the shop and a nearby cafe where Howie made good friends with the local cat. Meanwhile Apollo decided that there was no need to have the engine fault looked at straightaway so we pressed on, and Kate had her stint behind the wheel. We briefly visited the very picturesque lakes in Omamari before heading towards our next overnight stop, the Kauri Coast Holiday Park.
Distance travelled: 146km
We landed in Auckland just after lunchtime and were collected from the airport by Apollo campervans to collect our home for the next 4 weeks! We left Auckland straightaway and drove north along State Highway 1. We hadn’t been driving long before it got dark so we started looking for somewhere to stay for the night. In the end we found the Sheepworld Caravan and Camping Park in Warkworth, and a very friendly welcome from Ian (the owner), so we parked up for our first night in New Zealand.
Distance travelled: 81km