Campervanning NZ’s North Island (Part 1 – Bay of Islands, Coromandel & Rotorua)

We arrived in Auckland on the 11th and headed straight to Rachel’s friend’s house. Rosie and Ross were extremely welcoming and made us feel immediately at home, even cooking us an incredible roast dinner! We stayed there for two nights and spent our time playing with their two kids and planning our upcoming epic road trip around the country.

On the morning of the 13th it was time to say goodbye and head into the city to pick up our enormous Jucy Condo Campervan. When I first saw it I’ll be the first to admit it looked pretty daunting to drive, so I very kindly let Rachel have the first go…she got the lovely task of driving us around the city to get everything we needed, and then out onto the motorway. But she did very well, and soon enough we were on our way north to the away of Islands. After about two hours, we swapped over and actually I found that driving Roxy (what we named our van) wasn’t too difficult at all…sometimes I’d even forget that I was driving a campervan and not my little Seat Arosa back home. Eventually we reached our first camping destination of the trip, a DOC Site (Department of Conservation) called Omature, in a place named Whananaki. It was a night of a lot of ‘firsts’…our first dinner in the van, our first time making the beds (we have two double beds, one that pulls out in the main cabin, and one that pulls out in the roof…both equally comfortable), and our first night’s sleep.

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The next morning, after an accidental lie in and a quick explore around the campsite and neighbouring beach, we were on our way north again. We stopped for lunch in a little town called Paihie and then went on to visit Haruru Falls (a small waterfall), before heading to a place called Matauri Bay, a gorgeous stretch of beach with white sand and bright blue seas. Then it was back to the van and onto our next camping ground, another DOC site, Paxton Point Conservation Area…less pretty than the last one, but just as adequately equipped.

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Day three started with us driving to the very northern point of New Zealand, Cape Reinga, where there are some incredible views and a few walks to go on. With the one walk we wanted to do out of action due to conservation work, we wandered down to the lighthouse instead and sat looking out at the ocean in the direction of home, wondering what everyone was doing on the other side of the world. After that we drove down to 90 mile beach, where we had a bit of a mishap when we inadvertently drove into a patch of sand and got, well, stuck. Very stuck. Luckily some very nice people (one of whom was a Tarzan lookalike) had just had the same problem further up the road so knew exactly what to do, and soon enough (with some help from a jack and few pieces of wood wedged under the wheel) we were on our way again.

We had intended to stay at another DOC campsite that evening, but when we got to about an hour away and were running low on petrol (with the only petrol station for 50k closed), we decided not to risk it and instead stayed in a holiday park in a place called Opononi…we had a powered site so could charge up all our electrical items and there was even hot water to shower in…heaven!

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Our next day was a designated driving day…we had a long way to go – all the way from where we’d stayed on the east coast of the Northlands, down past Auckland, then east and north to the Coromandel Peninsula. All in all it took us about 8 hours I think..with a few stops in between at places such as Dargaville and Warkworth .That’s a lot of driving for one day. Especially in a big heavy van. We reached our destination for the night at about 8pm, another DOC site (loving these…cheap and in awesome locations) on Wentworth River. We parked up under the trees, had some dinner and bedded down for the night.

We got up fairly early the next day and drive to a place called Hot Water Beach where, at certain times of the day, you can dig yourself a hole in the sand and it fills with hot water from the springs below…amazing. There were loads of people there when we arrived, so there was no need to dig our own hole…we just jumped in other people’s after they left! The water was gorgeous…almost too hot at times! Then it was on to Cathedral Cove, where we walked for about 45 minutes (I know. Me. Exercise?!) down to the beach and saw the big archway in the rocks formed by the sea over gazillions of years. Rachel went for a quick swim in the freezing cold sea, and then it was back to the van for some lunch before we started the long-ish drive downtown Rotorua.

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About 4 hours (and what felt like a million wrong turnings) later we eventually reached the city and found our campsite for the night – DOC site Lake Okareka…recommended to us by some friends, and we could see why…this was by far the most beautiful place we’d stayed so far, so thank you to Matt & Vicky for that one!

After a good night’s sleep we headed back into Rotorua city centre to visit the I-Site (such a useful source of information), use the Internet and have a wander around. It was a pretty chilled day as we’d decided we were going to stay another night and give ourselves a break from driving. We sat by Lake Rotorua, watching all the black swans, before heading back to the campsite for a movie and an early night.

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Next up, Waitomo Caves and beyond…

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