There is no greater way to see New Zealand than hiring a campervan or car and driving around both islands. The roads are well maintained and there are plenty of camping sites around the country that will suit your needs.
There are a handful of campervan hire companies and the one that we have previously used were Mighty Campers. On this particular trip (circa 2019), we decided to see the north of the North Island. We had learnt from our first New Zealand trip to not be overly ambitious with the itinerary as there is a lot more driving than you think. Plus, you need extra time to have a cup of tea on an empty beach or at a lake surrounded by mountains.
We started in Auckland and stayed a night in the city centre. New Zealand is 3 hours in front of Australia (east coast) so it was already evening by the time we arrived. Every time I go to Auckland, I’m just amazed at how many people there are and how much the city has grown since the last time I was there. The city centre is easily covered on foot with many back streets and harbourside seafood eateries to fill your belly with.
The best thing about campervanning is that you don’t really need to plan that much and can duck in to many places for quick stops. Our first stop was the town of Whangarei, which is about 2.5hrs to get to. Using the app (formally Mighty Campers app) but now called thl roadtrip, this app allows you to find camping sites and be able to book them whilst you are on the road. Depending on your campervan or car, you can book a room or a campervan spot to “charge” your van. Alot of the campervan features such as the fridge and heater will require your campervan to be plugged in to work or charge.
We stayed at the Whangerai Top 10 Holiday Park. Top 10 Holiday Parks are a chain that exist across New Zealand. We found that these were not much different to boutique or family owned camping parks but they had more cabins/rooms which would suit big family holidays. The Whangerai Holiday Park is on the edge of the Parikhaka Park which was great for a steep morning walk into town for lunch. Whangerai is the type of town you want to retire in. The Hatea river runs through the town and the river banks are filled with cafes and restaurants. We spent the afternoon at the Claphams Clock Museum (I’m always up for an odd museum) before walking back to the Holiday Park.
We moved on to Paihia the following day which was a very small surfy town and stayed at the Bay of Islands Holiday Apartment grounds. It was opposite a supermarket which was great to reload on some food supplies. From here, we used it as a base to explore a tiny bit of the Bay of Islands. There is a ferry from Opua which will take you (and your car or campervan!) across the bay to Okiato where you can drive into Russell. Russell was one of the first white European settlements and the architecture is very telling. Cafes lined the waters edge with very grand houses peering over from behind. If you wanted to just be surrounded by water with plenty of walks and hikes, I would completely recommend just staying in this Bay of Islands area.
We then were searching for accomodation at the tip of the north island but the closest we found that had good ratings was in Ahipara at the Ahipara Holiday Park. This was our favourite campsite of this trip. It was large and surrounded by nothing by land, more greenery and a short walk to the Ninety Mile Beach (although not swimming conditions as it was cold!). Ahipara is more of a suburb than town so we only went out to get lunch in Kaitaia but spent more of the time walking along the beach or chilling out on the picnic chairs at the camp site.
We used Ahipara as a base and did a day trip to Cape Reinga. It’s a 1.5 hours drive. In Maori, ‘Reinga’ translate to underworld and Cape Reinga is believed to be the gateway to the underworld. It is absolutely beautiful and luscious and the gravel walk to the lighthouse lets you experience nature at its full force (wind and all). It’s peaceful and also the meeting point of the Tasman Sea and the Pacific Ocean. There appeared to be some trails but most people were there via car.
We stopped on the way back at the Giant Sand Dunes. Yes, there are sand dunes in New Zealand! When they say Giant, they were not over-estimating! It’s free to just park and have a walk around. Sand dunes are always shifting and changing so you may get lucky and see the Tasman Sea. The dunes were quite steep and I was on my hands and knees at one stage trying to climb up (and most definitely not looking down behind me).
After spending a few days at the tip, it was time to make our way back to Auckland by driving down the west side. We made a stop at the Waipoua Forest to see the Tane Mahuta, to see the largest Kauri Tree to be known today. It’s estimated to be about 1250-2500 years old and is an easy site to see. It’s sign posted and you’ll notice the cars parked alongside the road. There is a boardwalk through the forest to see the Tane Mahuta and is a very short walk.
Our last stop was to Muriwai Beach Campgrounds so that we didn’t have to stay in Auckland. This was by far the most crowded campgrounds with a mix of permanent residents and many many camping tents. The camp grounds are a short walk from Muriwai beach which is popular for surfing, black sand and Muriwai Gannet Colony.
Are you thinking of New Zealand? Where are you planning on going? If you’ve been, where was your favourite place on the North Island?