We explored the to us unknown east coast of the New Zealand North Island. Unfortunately, we had only 5 days time for it. On Tuesday afternoon our trip began. From Auckland once across the inland to the city of Napier. From there back along the Pacific coast. Since we could not return the camper on a Sunday, we decided to shorten the trip by one day. That’s why we followed the way back through the Raukumara Forrest National Park and tried to get back on our sofa on Saturday afternoon.
We’ll just take it up front; we wished we had more time.
What was waiting for us on our first trip as a family of three ?!
- Distance: approx. 1.100 km
- Highways: 20, 1, 5, 2
- Passed cities: Hamilton, Cambridge, Gisborne, Whakatane, Tauranga
- Visited cities: Taupo, Napier, Mahia, Opotiki
- Number of nights: 4
- Number of free campsites: 2
- Number of paid campsites: 2
- Places of interest: Waikato River, Lake Taupo, Waipatiki Beach, Napier Art Deco City, Hawke Bay Mahia, Raukumara Forrest Park, Manganuku Track and Opato Stream, Ohiwa Beach
Once in a lifetime, traveling by camper around both islands of New Zealand.
After completing this trip, we would have also checked off that on our wish list. Checking off only the list, however, should by far not be the goal. We were much more attracted by the stunning nature of the east. This region of the North Island was the only coastal section, which we have not seen yet. So the way should lead us there into the unknown.
No sooner said than done!
The first trip as a family …
began with the pickup of our camper. In this process, we also mastered the first challenge. Since we always self cater when camping, we had quite a bunch of luggage. So we tried to find a cab that would take us to Tui Campers with all our luggage and not exceed our budget. The driver would have fit another 20 backpacks into his small cab. It wasn’t cheap. The rides costs are very different. We have driven this route many times and had everything from 35 to 90 NZ$.
After the handover at Tui Campers we still drove a distance of over 130 km in the afternoon. For this we needed 3h. Road conditions are not always comparable with those we know in Germany. The way from Auckland leads on Highway 20 to Highway 1. The more rural we came, the quieter and more idyllic it was! Driving through the city of Hamilton/ Cambridge we could explain why this region was chosen as one of the filming locations of the Lord of the Rings trilogy. Right from the roadside we found signs to small tracks. On these you can walk through the beautiful green hills at the foot of a small stream. So every wanderer will directly perceive the feeling of the Shire. However, there are fewer hobbits here instead of thousands of grazing sheep.
At a free campground we spent the night directly at the Waikato River. We can recommend the Moana Roa Reserve Campground because of the beautiful scenery along the river and with a direct view of the green hills and fern trees. The main road leads right past the campground, but hey, it’s free and you’re quickly back on the road the next morning.
After the first overnight
the way led us to Taupo. Once there, we took a walk along the promenade, which is not particularly noteworthy for us. The volcano lake is not as beautiful to admire from here as it is on one of the offered boat/sailing tours. The water is so crystal clear, you’ll really feel the need to jump right in from the boat. As a highlight you drive to the almost 10 meters high Maori art – carved into the rock. The work is by a stonemason of modern times but no less spectacular and one of the attractions of Taupo.
So if you don’t plan to explore the lake from the water, we recommend skipping Taupo as a town and instead walking the Thermal Track just before Taupo, visiting the Craters of the Moon and perhaps taking a dip in one of the hot springs.
Following Highway 5 towards Napier, we decided to spend the night at Waipatiki Beach Holiday Park for NZ$40. This is a half hour drive north of Napier and is one of the most beautiful places we have ever seen. It is worth it! It is a bit hidden in a valley and rewards its visitors with a golden sandy beach. The bay is great for swimming. To get to the water, you can either walk directly through a small river, which flows into the sea, or walk around the outside of the bay on dry feet. (Put on clothes that can get wet beforehand and walk right through the river. You only get wet about up to your waist and it’s fun 🙂 )
On this day we were almost alone on the place. After a hot shower we lie with open rear door and view of the bay in the camper, the child snores in the arm and we agree: For no money in the world we want to exchange this moment.
After the second overnight
we left the idyll and visited the beautiful city of Napier. There is a wide beach to explore on both – the north and east sides. The beach at Marine Parade is gray and rough, but the colors of the water and sky just blew us away that day. This section is pretty well equipped with places to park, clean restrooms, changing rooms, and plenty of playgrounds.
Directly behind it is the Art Deco town center, which has been restored in parts.
After spending the morning in Napier, we drove 2 hours along the east coast. Always looking at the Pacific Ocean and following the North Island Pacific Coast Highway.
The Opoutama Beach Freedom Campground offered us another free overnight option. The beach near the small town of Mahia is wide, only on a small section, at the beginning you are allowed to stay overnight in a self-contained vehicle. The rest of the beach we like to explore on our feet and again it will be one of those nights where we can look out of the car onto the water. We feel comfortable until the first inconsiderate teens show up in the evening.
Seems to be a popular place of the local village youth, who hid smoking weed behind the toilet.
The next morning, more campers had also arrived, immediately jostling and scowling for their obvious regular spot – an older retired couple. The two were so pissed off that immediately after the trailer was parked in a suitable, although not desired place, the flower boxes were demonstratively put down as a demarcation and the canopy was extended.
Funny we think – actually they only had to ask us, because we were anyway as good as on the jump.
So if you don’t mind the proximity, you’re in the right place.
After the third overnight
we drove further along the Pacific Ocean direction Gisborne. This region seems to be a very rich wine and fruit growing area. Unfortunately, we did not take the chance to visit the town of Gisborne, as we intended to explore the Rere Falls. The Rere Falls should be rather an in-between destination, because 2 km behind them joins a naturally created rock slide. Sliding down the rock in swimming trunks and falling into the water – that was to be the destination. Here’s a little tip – mentioned destination can only be reached from Gisborne via a 36 km long sealed road. Anyone coming from any other direction will have to take detours and drive for hours on a gravel road to reach it. So it really only makes sense to follow the signposted road from Gisborne.
Definitely don’t be as dump as we were and try it from the other side.
So we followed Highway 2 through the Raukumara Forrest National Park.
The way through the national park is about 150 km long. Although Google indicates that we need 2 hours, we needed much longer in real time. So our vain attempt to reach the waterfalls via the mentioned gravel road from the highway failed miserably.
We therefore made a short stop at Manganuku Bridge Campgroud. Here you can walk over the old wooden bridge of the same name and the equally named track up into the mountains.
When we stood there with our feet in the clear river water of the campground and saw the unique fern forests of the park, our waterfall performance was already forgotten and we had a small highlight for today. What we do not suspect now yet, is the …
last overnight in Opitiki
… becomes the next highlight. At Ohiwa Beach Holiday Park we stay overnight on the last evening of our trip.
The park is comparatively expensive and we were even charged for the 6-month-old baby. But our child could even bathe in a baby tub, which was available in the shower area for women. This luxury is not even at home 🙂 .
Joking aside with children you are really in good hands there. From outdoor pool to jumping pillow and playground everything is available.
We were once again impressed by the location directly behind the dune, the fine soft, dark sandy beach – that is forever wide. Wonderful!
The next morning we went back home and we were really lucky that our child coped so well with the long car ride. As mentioned in the beginning, we would have needed more time for our route.
Nevertheless, we have recovered well in the five days. It reminded us again why we are doing all this and that we are lucky to be here.
We especially liked the region around Napier.