The Northlands of New Zealand are consantly taking our breath away, and it has been a very different experience cruising through meadows and sheep farms and forests and along spectacular coastal routes and up high into mountain passes, all without worrying about road conditions or trucks or how long anything is going to take. Because we have a camper van!
It seems to be how the majority of people visiting New Zealand see the country, and we have seen all manner of camper van: from the basic converted mini-van with a mattress in the back to giant RV’s with all the luxuries. We have been happy with our little minimalist, Japan-made, Kiwi-designed set-up because, although it is small, it is well-designed and space efficient and oh so very cozy in the evenings. We have become pros at finding “freedom camping” sites (as they call them here) to camp at, setting it up after a day of seeing the sights, making some dinner in our little kitchen and cuddling up all cozy and fed nice and early in our sleeping bags to read.
After the first night sleeping in our little auto barn, I am a total convert to “van life” and could happily live this way for quite some time…
So, speaking of the sights: wow, wow, wow. There isn’t anything remotely unphotogenic about this country (that we’ve seen so far anyway), and for the first couple of days of driving through staggering scenery, we still haven’t become numb to these immensely picturesque views that seem to be everywhere you look. And I mean, literally everywhere. After attempting to capture the way the late afternoon light plays on the hillside, or a particularly cute sheep staring directly at you or the size of the sky and the shapes of the clouds reflected in the low tide as it stretches on for miles and miles…you realize that New Zealand is the kind of place where you sometimes just have to put the camera aside and take it all in moment by moment. It’s just the kind of place where you have to see it and feel it for yourself to really get it. Nonetheless, we tried to capture it as best we good, and the little iPhone 7 camera is doing a pretty great job at capturing the essence I would say.
The main and often most stunning sight is the landscape and scenery as we drive, but we did plan our route to include the main tourist draws as well. We were heading north all the way to Cape Reinga along the east coast (including the Hibiscus coast road and the Twin Coast Discovery highway), and the infrastructure for tourists driving is excellent, in that you could probably do no research and just follow the signs to the cool places they highlight throughout the route. We had our must-see places on our list, but sometimes we’d take a bit of a side track and check out a beach or a conservation area just because we could. That is a luxury that you don’t really get on a bike, and we were taking full advantage of it.
Some of those highlights on the first days of our road trip included:
- Kawhiti Glow Worm Caves
After driving along a dirt road for probably a bit further than our rental agreement would’ve liked, we see these rocky crags protruding from the otherwise smooth, green hillsides. It’s a pretty quiet little tourist site with some very handsome cows nearby posing for us, and we even got our own personal tour of the caves which aren’t particularly long or have particularly remarkable subterranean geological features but have glow worms which are the coolest little things that we learned a lot about, thanks to our excellent guide who was the 6th generation of the Mauri hapu (clan) who owned the caves. Although my neck was a little sore from all the craning up at the cave ceilings, seeing thousands of this little species of bioluminescent insect shining away and learning all about them was very cool. There was even a little hike down at the end of the tour through a very tropical jungle and some petroglyph-type rocks we got to check out.
- Mangonui for the country’s best fish and chips and a Cornish fishing village feel. Everybody says you have to try these fish and chips, and we actually drove longer than any other day just to make it far enough to have them for dinner. The place was buzzing with locals and tourists alike but there was lots of room and a lovely view of the harbour as the sun set so we were happy to wait for our order and take it all in.
- Doubtless Bay and Tokerau beach : We spent the night next to this beach after getting there after dark, and woke up to such a surprise! One of the most incredible, beautiful beaches I’ve ever been to in my whole life. We ended up where we spending all morning playing on the beach without a care in the world.
- Kerikeri Stone House – just this lovely little spot by a river that was beyond photogenic. We have also been really fortunate to also have Only Amazing Weather so far in this trip, as you can tell from the pictures….
- Cape Reinga
Almost deserves a post of its own. Actually, yes. It should get a post of its own. So…stay posted!
Musician, teacher, traveller. Currently on a year-long journey around the world. Bronwyn is one of the founders of onlyamazingdays.com.