I’ve wanted to explore New Zealand for some time now. After living in Australia for nearly two years, its neighbouring country has appealed to me in that time. After meeting fellow travellers and New Zealanders speaking about the country, the beauty of the natural landscape, endless activities and kind people, I was finally able to make the trip. My mom and I spent roughly three weeks road tripping the North and South Islands in a campervan, seeing as much as we could see on the open road. From my personal experiences, here are my tips and recommendations for the highlights of the North Island and everything in between.
Campervan Rental and Freedom Camping
First things first, if you’re looking to road trip New Zealand – which is the best way to see the country in my opinion, having a reliable campervan is important. Depending on what time of the year your going you might need to look into booking sooner rather than later. I just completed this trip in January, which also happens to be school holidays for New Zealand and Australia. To say the least, it was busy and had limited options for a rental even months before departing. We ended up renting a comfortable van for two with Eurocampers. Everything was included and supplied, from cooking pots and pans to towels and sheets for the bed. Free pick up and drop off from airports are included which is convenient and a great way to save if you’re on a budget.
In New Zealand, Freedom Camping is generally a field or parking lot where you can park up your vehicle and sleep for free. Before this trip and what I didn’t realize about freedom camping is that your vehicle must be self-contained – this meaning you need to have your own facilities on board with you and the certified fully self-contained vehicle sticker which is generally located on the front or rear window of your vehicle. Conditions and fines do apply so please be cautious of this. I used the free app – campermate – which can locate all the closest freedom campsites, or paid campsites within your area. I found this app to be extremely helpful since not all freedom camping is labelled. If freedom camping isn’t your thing, there are plenty of other paid campsites, hostels, motels, etc.
Auckland – Things to do:
•Sky Tower – option to Skyjump/Skywalk
•Parnell / Gardens
•Queen Street (Shopping)
Sitting at about 1.5 million people, New Zealand’s largest population resides in Auckland. It’s a clean, lush city with plenty of hidden gems and alleyways which make you fall in love with the city. If you plan on being in Auckland for a few days I would highly recommend each of the above places or activities – each have something different to bring, whether you’re a solo traveller or a family with children. Mission Bay and Parnell are my favourites. Mission Bay’s beach town atmosphere will leave you wanting to come back for more, even if its just a quick refreshing dip in the ocean on a hot summers day. Parnell’s quaint streets filled with cafes, restaurants, lane ways, galleries and rose gardens make an afternoon stroll an absolute delight.
Bike rentals are a popular choice throughout the city, its a great way to see a bit of the extras while getting some exercise. If biking isn’t for you, public transport is a great reliable option for those outer suburbs!
Even though Auckland was great to see for a couple of days, I was excited to get out of the city and on the road to see the true countryside of New Zealand. As we drove along the Coromandel Peninsula along highway 25 on route to the town Coromandel, I was blown away by the picturesque views and combination of seaside cliffs with lush rolling hills. The roads are extremely windy so if you get car sick easily make sure to take this into consideration beforehand. Every bend and corner we took seemed more stunning than the last, pulling over for pictures and appreciation of the naturally beautiful countryside every chance we got.
Coromandel Highlights and Must Do’s!
•New Chums Beach
•Hot Water Beach
Hundreds of people flock during low tide to hot water beach, you have a 2-3 hour window where if you dig deep enough hot water will bubble through the golden sand creating your own natural hot springs!
Roughly 20 minutes outside Matamata you’ll find Hobbiton. The price for a standard tour of Hobbiton is $79 per adult. Coming from someone who hasn’t finished reading the books or watched the movies I would highly recommend experiencing Hobbiton. Even though my lack of knowledge of the films wasn’t ideal, I was still able to appreciate Hobbiton for what it was; truly magical. The details in which how Hobbiton came to be are extremely fascinating and its a undeniably remarkable film set. At the end of the tour a complimentary drink is even included at The Green Dragon!
Approximately a five hour drive from Taupo, we finally reached the very bottom tip of the North Island and the Capital of New Zealand; Wellington. I had really been looking forward to Wellington, I’d met fellow travellers who had nothing but good things to say about the funky city. As soon as we were entering along the water I knew I’d like it, I became in lust with all the homes up in the hills looking down over the city and waterfront. We spent a lot of time on Cuba Street – plenty of shops and cafes. We lucked out and happened to be there on the weekend, stumbled into the Harbour-side Markets which are set up every Sunday – they were fabulous! The active and lively city vibrates a wonderful atmosphere to be a part of. It was quiet nice just to roam the streets and get lost a little to see what we might find.
You can discover a 360 degree view of the city from Mt. Victoria – roughly a two and a half hour return walk up the mountain for the spectacular view of Wellington. There are also plenty of bike and walking trails throughout the area for all ages if you don’t want to complete the full hike. If the trek isn’t for you, it makes for a nice drive in and around the windy roads up towards the top of the mountain.
From Wellington, you can take a ferry over to the south island which is about 3 hours. New Island, new adventure… Please keep an eye out for the South Island: Part 2, coming soon!