Madison, David and their two kids spent three weeks road tripping around New Zealand. They picked up a Stationwagon from Travellers Autobarn Christchurch and made their way up to the North Island, ending in Auckland. Here is a recap of their experience…
We recently spent three completely dreamy weeks driving around New Zealand. We planned carefully so we could fit in as many highlights as possible, but because we were in a campervan (which we highly recommend as a means of travel), our plans were flexible. We did end up changing our plans at times (I’ll note where our actual travel differed from what we’d planned), but for the most part, we felt like this was an excellent itinerary to experience some of New Zealand’s best bits.
A word on pace: New Zealand is an incredibly scenic, vibrant, and activity-packed destination—it’s impossible to fit it all into a short trip, and we’d love to return one day and spend much longer! But we also realize that most visitors to this country won’t have the luxury of a slow exploration. Normally we love travelling more slowly: seeing less, but seeing it more thoroughly. Here we opted to fit in as much as we could, partly to give ourselves an overview and partly just because New Zealand has always been one of the places we were most excited to visit and we’d accumulated a long list of must-see sights for ourselves. If you’d like a calmer trip, it’s well worth thinking about spending all your time on just one island, and/or choosing a small handful of places to base yourself for several days each (we’d recommend Wanaka, the Coromandel, Northland, the Catlins, the West Coast of the South Island, or the Marlborough Sounds.)
This itinerary has you starting in Christchurch and ending in Auckland. An open-jaw flight will allow you to spend more days exploring instead of getting from place to place. Renting a campervan will allow you to see more and spend less; while rentals can get pricey, you’ll save money on accommodation and food (if you cook for yourself.) There are also plenty of deals to be had on camper rentals—check for relocation specials or off-season deals. If you want to be able to free camp (stay overnight in a spot without paying), your camper will need to be certified self-contained—it’ll have a blue sticker on the back to show authorities. Download Travellers Autobarn’s app for guidance in finding campgrounds or legal free camping spots.
“How would you spend 10 days of travel in another country? Would you see as much as possible or dissolve in the one place?”
Ashleigh and I contemplated this as the plane docked. We waited for the eager passengers to vacate, rustled about for our carry on luggage, then meandered out of Auckland airport like two lost children.
Travellers Autobarn depot is about a 20-minute taxi ride from the airport. Walking through the door we were welcomed like family. Mike, the Auckland manager was helpful and super informative, running a tight ship in a gracious and natural manner. The office space was clean and filled with maps and brochures of many trips to appeal to everyone. Time passed and within the hour he had us buckled up and on our merry way. North New Zealand is just over 100,00 sq Kms. Ashleigh and I decided to head North of Auckland for a few days and explore.
There is only a couple of things vanlifers need, fresh produce, a bakery and some coffee. Luckily for us, we were in a country that prides itself on all of these necessities. Pulling over we filled our fridge and imaginings of the nights cooking adventures to come. We agreed upon staying south of Marsden Point near the beach, we ogled at the Manaia Mountains, sun dipping and waves sweeping up the shore, tomatoes glistened and popping in the pan. The van set up was perfect for cooking especially when you have the sweet tunes of Chet Faker to swoon the senses. We sat at the table, the magic of evening flavours, savoured with the starry night creeping in.
On waking, a fresh brew of coffee, fruit and muesli we put some kilometres behind us and pushed ever northward, stopping for free range eggs on the roadside before our bellies began grumbling. Just before lunch, we cruised into the Bay of Islands. The Bay is spectacular and looked like a giant had tossed furry hats into the ocean. We took a swim in the water, wandered the markets and decided on watching the sun set on the west coast.
Wiamamaku Beach, a gorgeous free camp spot on the Wiamamaku River just south of Opapere. For the next couple of days we swam and hiked, exploring the region. One afternoon we rounded the mouth of the river to face out into the Tasman sea with the tide was running out.
A local had told us of a place where we could find mussels on a rock we could eat. We played in the sand until the sun began its daily dive. collected some wood and started a little fire. Ashleigh disappeared as the tide yawned and returned with a little bucket full of green lipped mussels, fresh off a rock.
Luckily we had packed some white wine, parsley, chilli and some sourdough. Flames licked the pan as the mussels were shuffled around in the steaming broth. We left feeling old salty sea dogs.
I honestly say, that at that moment I felt incredibly fortunate and overwhelmingly lucky to be alive. Being able to experience the tastes, smells, views and people on these journeys, so easily taken for granted. Tattooing memories. Why do we sit in hotels worrying about wifi? It took roughly three days for me to unwind and stop. Stop being compulsive about trying to get online and watch what’s happening in front me.
The following morning we ventured back to the rock at low tide and Ocean Girl did her thing again. Packing the van, we filled up, then picked up some hitchhikers and headed south to Coromandel.
Tairua is a sleepy town roughly 100kms East of Auckland. We dropped our new found friends off and tuckered in for the night at Mary Beach Reserve.
As the sun peered over the Pacific I awoke and drove a little further north to Sailors Grave Beach. Wound out the top windows and crawled back into the warm bed, the breeze danced across the waters and over our wanting skin. We lay there with the door open for what seemed a lifetime, waves spilling into ears and dream-like state. Venturing around the headland we scoured the coast looking for more of natures delicious wonders but it wasn’t to be.
The following days we combed the Coromandel Peninsula. Tasting the food and taking in the remarkable landscapes. We watched some local music at a fundraiser, took the 309 back over to Whitianga. Ashleigh cradled a piglet before we scaled Castle Rock. Winding back toward the coast, we found a spot to call home for the night named Egan Park Reserve. A stunning creek upstream from the Mahakirau River. After a swim and another tasty dinner we watched the sky turn inside out and large specs of light pierce the thick blue velvet night sky.
Heading back to Auckland. Ahh… It’s hard to consider how much time can be spent in a place like New Zealand and still feel like you haven’t gone close to scratching the surface. What a vast and incredibly beautiful country. Words are inadequate. Experience is the only way to discover the unique land, people and history of the Nation’s first people, the Maori.
Arriving home I couldn’t help but wonder how soon we will return. Until then New Zealand. Don’t change.
“Big thanks to Travellers Autobarn for making this trip possible.”
Written by Jared Melrose Campbell
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Javi Lorbada – a Spanish travel blogger – travelled with us through New Zealand and is bringing you the below story – best day hikes in New Zealand.
New Zealand is one of the most naturally spectacular countries on earth. It’s the perfect place to hire a campervan and hit the road for the adventure of a lifetime.
Once you’ve chosen New Zealand as your next trip destination you would probably know there are hundreds of trails, tramping routes or day hikes if you are keen to explore the island in depth, the Great Walks are multi-day adventures through New Zealand’s best scenery.
Sometimes given your timeframe those walks are not feasible and you can enjoy same scenery doing day hikes.
You can see everything from native forests, lakes, and rivers to rugged mountain peaks, deep gorges, and vast valleys. So here are 10 of the best day hikes to visit on your New Zealand road trip.
Banks Peninsula is usually out of the equation while travelling in the South Island, its certain requires a detour from Christchurch but it will not disappoint. From million years ago volcanic activity, this peninsula created a special landscape.
From Akaroa take the purple track up to purple peak curry reserve, steep track going through native bush leaving behind Akaroa harbour. Around 2–3h up you will have a spectacular view of the whole Akaroa Bay. Go around the mountain to see Hinewai Reserve and some of the many small bays formed by the lava many years ago. Take the Stony Bay Road on your way down, precious views will be your companion all the way down. More information at Akaroa Walks.
Mount Sunday is a relatively easy hike up to 611m, this walk is located in the Hakatere Conservation Park in Canterbury. The views though are priceless, Rangitata River and countless mountains around will make your time unforgettable.
Recently here was filmed The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers, and this site was Edoras, for those LOTR lovers this site will be special.
Mount John trail starts with an important elevation in the first 2km, more than 300 meters up that make this hike a bit steep. The track runs along the side of Lake Tekapo and once you reach the summit you’ll be amazed by the 360 scenic view of the Southern Alps, Lake Tekapo and Lake Alexandrina.
However if you don’t feel like walking up there, you can to enjoy the view you can just drive to the Observatory if you decided to do the latter, the road access has a fee of 8$ to get up there.
This can be one of the most frequented tracks, it’s easy, mostly flat and doesn’t require a great fitness level. Early in the morning will provide solitude in the walk avoiding the crowds.
The hike is a 10km return via the same track with breathtaking views to Mueller Glacier, Hooker Lake, and Aoraki/Mount Cook. Given its complexity, it’s one of the most rewarding day walks.
The Mueller Hut track is also in the Aoraki/Mt Cook area, quite different from the Hooker Valley, this track is kind of advance and alpine experience may be required during the winter months.
Although we didn’t reach the hut itself due to heavy snowfall days before, we went up to the Sealy Tarns, 2h one way.
The track zigzags gently until the tarn, mostly steps you will be rewarded with spectacular views of the Hooker Valley and the peaks in the area.
From the small pond follow the orange markers up the Hut, another 2h.
You’ve most likely seen Roys peak pictures, and it’s true this hike it’s really common among trampers in New Zealand and that’s for a reason.
Very steep hike up to the summit will give you breathtaking views over Lake Wanaka, Mount Aspiring/Tititea, and surrounding peaks, definitely one of the best day hikes in New Zealand.
Probably the best views of Queenstown and Lake Wakatipu, in here you can choose either to stop at the Saddle about 3h one way or continue to the summit to have 360 views. One one side Aspiring/Tititea and many more peaks, on the other
side Queenstown, Lake Wakatipu, and the Remarkables.
During winter times this may require crampons and alpine experience, on a fine weather day the views are simply unforgettable.
The track is really appealing, it’s gradually steep walking through mountain beech forest which means isn’t that cold or hot during summer.
At one point you have incredible views of Bruce Stream. Further up there are some tarns and the view gets better and better, especially to the Waimakariri River Valley and surrounding mountains.
The walk starts at Mangorei Road and you’ll be going through “Enchanted Forest”, trees, locally known as Goblin Forest.
Sooner than you can imagine, on a clear day, Mt Taranaki will be seen and the rest of the walk will be pure joy.
Once you reach the Pouakai take a break and enjoy the coastline views, 20 min further up the tarn will be awaiting you for spectacular mountain reflections.
Easy walk with almost no steep areas, and very interesting points on the way.
About an hour from the start the Taranaki Falls will refresh your walk, 20 meters high with amazing views.
Keep going for another two hours, walking through alpine herbfields always seeing Ngauruhoe and Ruapehu. Firstly, the view of the lower lake at 1240 meters and after a gently steep climb the second viewpoint to the upper lake at 1440 meters.
If you want to go down the lakes, there are not formed tracks, the descent will be steeply through gullies.
In the beginning, we said the Great Walks are multi-day adventure tracks, however, Tongariro Alpine Crossing can be done in one day.
During the summer months, it can be quite crowded if you choose the winter times, be prepared, crampons may be necessary.
No matter how many people you find with you the walk it’s totally worth it, climbing the Mangatepopo Valley to reach the saddle between Mount Tongariro and Mount Ngauruhoe, further up you will reach the highest point 1886 meters from where you can see the emerald lakes.
Whether summer or winter be prepared for a long and challenging day. So there you go, check weather conditions and choose your day walk in New Zealand.
Photography and article by Javi Lorbada, check his blog for more of his work.