2 Week Adventure Road Trip Guide To New Zealand's North Island Via Camper Van
We had a blast in New Zealand, and to my surprise, it was a super easy place to travel around in. We booked our trip for the end of November, hoping for good weather and less crowds, as December in New Zealand gets twice as expensive and is much more crowded. I think we picked an amazing time to see the North Island. There were hardly any tourists and the weather, except for a couple of rainy days, was perfection. Our van was fairly inexpensive compared to December prices and we didn't have to book much of anything in advance because there was plenty of space available for activities in November.
The map below is the general driving route we took across the North Island. I have a bunch of holiday parks and DOC sites marked on this map too from when we were planning our trip before we left. I'll go into more detail on what we decided to do. You can click on the map below to be taken to an interactive google map to explore it further.
I'll break up our trip in the order we traveled. It might be kind of a long post.. 12 days is a lot to cover.
Day 1: Aukland and Clark's Beach
We started our trip flying into the Aukland airport (we spent about $800 USD each on our tickets), and took a taxi to pick up our camper van from Spaceship Rentals. We rented the Beta 2S, with table and chairs, and gps. This cost us around $800 USD for the 12 days of travel. This was going to be where we slept and ate for the next 12 days, as well as our transportation across the North Island. It was already later in the afternoon when we arrived our first day so we didn't end up exploring Aukland, we drove straight to Clarks Beach to check in at the Clarks Beach Holiday Park. There was almost no one there except for us, and it was a cute relaxing area. We picked up some fresh fruits and veggies from a local market we passed on our way there and some more groceries and beer and the gas station. The lady at the Holiday Park recommended we try Clarks Beach Takeaways for fish and chips and so we took a chance and went there on our first night. It was a small little restaurant and when our order was ready she brought us out our food wrapped in a big paper package. It was the best fish and chips we had our whole trip. Perfectly crispy, perfectly seasoned. We devoured it. We had a chill evening, with a beer, showers, and our first New Zealand sunset. A nice way to ease ourselves into vacation mode.
Day 2: Hobbiton and Froggatt Edge
When we woke up on Day 2, our car battery was dead. Fortunately we found someone at the holiday park who could give us a jump, and then we were off to go to the Hobbiton Movie Set Tour in "The Shire".
We made it there just in time for the day tour we had booked earlier that week. We had really wanted to go to the Hobbiton Evening Tour (where you get to eat hobbit food and walk around Hobbiton in the evening), but it was all booked up when we looked to book earlier November. Apparently it books up pretty fast. The day tour was still cool, but sort of felt like a zoo with all the people that were there, but it ended with a Hobbiton Beer at the Green Dragon, and that was good with us.
After the Hobbiton tour we made our way to a climbing area on our agenda called Froggatt's Edge. When we arrived we checked in with a local climbing shop (just a local who lives there and runs a small shop in his home it seemed like), he sold us the North Island Climbing Guidebook and gave us a list of some of his favorite climbs in the North Island, and then we went to go climb for the rest of the day.
Froggatt's Edge was beautiful, and on the weekday we had the place to ourselves. Located on a local's farm property with the most beautiful pastures ever. It was dreamy. The climbing was rad too. We climbed all sport climbs there and they were pocket and sharp and overhung and slabby. Lots of cool variety.
We got wrecked there and then camped at the Wharepapa School which was only 5NZD/person per night, and it allowed you to camp on some grassy land at the back of the school and use their outdoor facilities.
Day 3: Froggatt's Edge and Waitomo
Day three we spent most of our morning and afternoon doing some more climbing at Froggatt's Edge. Then we headed out for Waitomo to check into the Waitomo Top 10 Holiday Park, where we would be sleeping in our van the next 2 nights. Back home it was Thanksgiving Day, so we went to Curly's Bar in Waitomo and ordered a Thanksgiving feast and shamelessly borrowed their wifi to download the Lord of the Rings Movies and Music. Hobbiton had got us wanting to watch them.
Day 4: Waitomo
Our van battery died again, and we had to ask some locals to give us a jump again.. and we were starting to think there might be a bigger issue with the battery.
However, it didn't put a stop in our plans that day because we were within walking distance of the company we were going to go caving with that day. We signed up for the 7-Hour Epic Caving Tour with Waitomo Adventures.
It started out with a 100m abseil, which looks more terrifying in the photos that it actually was, but it was an awesome intro into the cave. Once we were in the cave, we waded in and out of water, squeezed through some tight passes, climbed up some rocks until eventually we ended up in a big area where there were a bunch of these beautiful glow worms. Like nothing I've ever seen before. It was like looking up into a cave galaxy. We spent some time there admiring the natural cave lighting and continued our trip out of the cave, and then showered up and had dinner with our group cooked by our guides.
It was a great tour, definitely would recommend doing this or one of the other tours to go check out the glow worms if you ever visit Waitomo.
Day 5: Tongaporutu and Mokau
Our original plan for this day was to hit up Tongaporutu, check out the Sister and Elephant Rocks on the coast, and then head back inwards to Tongariro. However, On our way to Tongaporutu, in the middle of no where road, we pulled over to take a picture of something and then the car wouldn't start again. Battery died. So 30 minutes of roaming calls later ($80USD charge), we were able to get someone out to us to get us a jump, and then were told to hit up New Plymouth for a new battery (since it was out near Tongaporutu). So we made our way to New Plymouth, got some fish-n-chips (but left the car running in fear of it dying again), until we finally got a new battery (covered by the Spaceships Rentals company, they did end up comping us 1 day of our travel and paying for our taxi back to the airport to help cover us missing one day of travel).
After losing a good part of the morning and afternoon, we finally made it out to Sister and Elephant Rocks, with just barely enough time to see them before we had to head back in due to high tide. It was still really beautiful out there though.
We decided to spend the night on the coast in a town called Mokau. It ended up being a really great evening. We walked around this cute little empty town for a while, and we ran into these "pet sheep" in front of one of the locals house. She told us their names, Mary and Dragon, and we made friends with some sheep.
Then we spent some time goofing around on the beach. The waves were intense on the coast, but the lighting and the weather was amazing that day.
We spent the night cooking food, drinking wine, and talking with other travelers at a Holiday Park in Mokau. It ended up being one of my favorite days of the trip, even though our plans were changed.
Day 6: Tongariro
The day we drove up to Tongariro, it was raining basically all day long. We had originally planned to Whanganui National Park and maybe do some paddleing/water rafting, but it was too rainy. We checked into the Tongariro Holiday Park and spent most of our day driving around and trying to see pretty things, but the visibility wan't very good.
However, even the most rainy days in New Zealand were still beautiful. We ended up going to some hot springs for a while and then cooking dinner, doing laundry, and watching Lord of the Rings in our van.
Day 7: Tongariro and Hawkes Bay
We were planning to do the popular Alpine Crossing Trek in Tongariro, which would have taken us a good chunk of the day to complete, but when we woke up it was still pretty bad weather and there were no shuttles running (in order to discourage tourists from doing the Alpine Crossing I'm guessing). We decided to try to hike up to Blue Lake and turn around.
The hike was awesome! We brought ponchos to try and stay dry and lots of layers in our attempts to stay warm. In the end however, the Alpine crossing won and we ended up turning around before we got to the Blue Lakes because the rain turned to ice and the winds made it super cold.
Our hands were frozen and legs soaked. I think we turned around just in time for it to stay fun. :)
We decided to get a leg up on our schedule and drive to Hawkes Bay, which ended up being one of my favorite drives that we did.
When we got to Hawkes Bay we checked into Hastings Top 10 Holiday Park and then headed to Mata Peak for a bit of hiking and Hawkes Bay views. Going at sunset was so worth it.
Day 8: Hawkes Bay
We decided to rent a couple of bikes from our holiday park and go ride around Hawkes Bay to do some Wine Tasting. We made it to 3 awesome winery's and shoved some bottles in our backpacks for later.
After riding around we went to go find a beach to hang out and read and relax out, and we went in search of more fish and chips. The wind was crazy at the beach though, and we kept getting blasted with sand, so that didn't last long. The fish and chips were on point though.
Day 9: Taupo
We slept in and made our way to Lake Taupo and checked in to Lake Taupo Top 10 Holiday Park. We decided to go to the lake and rent some Kayaks and go check out the Mauri Rock Carvings.
It took us a little over an hour to make it to the carvings, which were super epic looking, like something out of an Indiana Jones Movie. We did found out later that the carvings were only 30 years old, but they were still cool. We were pretty exhausted after the kayaking, so we drove over to see Huka Falls and walk around town a bit.
We ended the night at the Holiday park, soaking in the hot tub and making dinner and chatting with fellow travelers.
Day 10: Kawakawa Bay and Rotorua
We had our sights set on more climbing, and decided to hit up Kawakawa bay and climb some classics before hitting up Rotorua. In our guidebook we read that the approach was 2 hours long, but I guess we were feeling pretty confident we could probably trim that down to an hour/hour and a half.
Well, when we got down closer to the climbing area, it was around an hour 45, but then we got confused by the directions in the guidebook and totally got lost and ended up bush whacking (through spider webs and up steep hills) for another hour or so.... until, 3 hours later we finally found the specific multi pitch climb we were looking for. Ha!
The views were fantastic though! The one multi pitch climb we did was cool, but had a bunch of spiderwebs all over it, and then we had wasted so much time trying to find the climbing, we had to leave soon after to do the approach hike back. I didn't have a lot left in me either after all the spider webs. We realized when we got back that we hiked a half marathon pretty much with over 3000' of gain.
So on our way to Rotorua,not even barely outside of Taupo we get a flat tire. AND right when we get that flat tire a rain cloud plopped itself right on top of us! Michael was a champ though and busted out some man skills and fixed the flat with the spare and we made it to Rotorua in time to check out the Thursday Night Market and get some well earned treats.
Day 11: Rotorua
There were so many things to do in Rotorua, but we only really had a day here, so in the morning we went to go check out the California red wood trees in New Zealand. We got to walk around high up in the trees. :)
Then we spent the second half of our day renting mountain bikes and shredding inWhakarewarewa Forest Mountain Bike Park. Michael says it was some of the best riding he's ever done. It was awesome!
We ended the day checking out hamurana springs, getting thai food, and drinking beers. We were staying at the Rotorua Top 10 Holiday Park, which has some natural hot springs hot tubs. We sat in these for a while and talked with a bunch of people at the holiday park before calling it a night.
Day 12: Coromandel
For our last day, we headed up North to Coromandel, and checked into the Hot Water Beach Holiday Park. We went to grab some fish-n-chips for lunch and then hike to Cathedral Cove (a good hour out and back hike).
We were definitely in beach vibes… trying to hang onto our last day of vacation.
We decided to go check out hot water beach after our hike to Cathedral Cove. There are a few spots of the beach you can dig down deep with shovels and create natural hot springs for yourself on the beach. However, the area where the thermal activity is, is very small, and when we got to the beach it was PACKED! So we dipped our toes into other peoples baths to feel what it was like and just messed around on the non-thermal parts of the beach.
We ended our evening trying to drink all the alcohol we still had left (4 beers and a bottle of wine), packed our stuff, and finished the Lord of the Rings movie in the van.
Birds of New Zealand
I think Michael has a talent for bird watching in his future. He captured these beauties while on our trip across the North Island.
It was sad to leave New Zealand. We really enjoyed our vacation there and we really enjoyed the van life. I love how simple things can feel on vacation. Sleep in, get a coffee, go wreck yourself climbing or mountain biking, and then come back cook a good dinner and drink some wine and watch a movie. No schedules, beautiful scenery, minimal crowds. It was awesome. We can’t wait to go back and see the South Island… Maybe in 2018.
I also made a home video on youtube about our trip. You can check it out here:
A few key notes and special things we learned on our trip to New Zealand
- If you get a rental van, make sure your battery is in good condition! and make sure you have the tools to change a spare tire. Also, it might be worth investing in an international phone plan in case you have car issues. Also, rent a gps.
- Drive on the left hand side of the road, and be prepared to take round-a-bouts everywhere
- Be prepared to see sheep.. everywhere! learn to love them :)
- Order Flat Whites when you get coffee
- Fish and Chips (Clarks Beach Takeaways were our favorite fish and chips of the whole trip)
- Van camping is only allowed at holiday parks or DOC sites, don't pull off on the side of the road anywhere
- Download the Lord of the Rings movies PRIOR to arriving in New Zealand, because the free wifi is not very good in most places
- DO check like 4 months ahead of time to book an evening tour at Hobbiton, if you're into that kind of thing.
- DO go caving in Waitomo
- Bring 2 towels... we only brought one.
I really hope you get a chance to experience everything that New Zealand has to offer! It has been one of my favorite trips we have ever taken!