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Road-Tripping The Land Of The Long White Cloud* In A Campervan

July 13, 2013
*New Zealand is called Aotearoa in the Maori language, meaning “land of the long white cloud”.

One of the first things we did upon arriving in Auckland was to visit an orthopaedist to get a second opinion on Michael’s broken toe.

x ray

No surgery was necessary, and the doc told him he was OK to surf on it three weeks after the accident, as long as it didn’t cause any pain. Michael got the green light to surf!

And then ahhhh…Back to the bliss of living in a campervan and the freedom of the road. We rented an awesome Volkswagen T5 with a permanent high-top roof (nearly, but not quite, tall enough for Michael to stand up full height inside), from Wilderness Campers.

A couple of days after we arrived in NZ, our friend Fumi and her boyfriend Zac met up with us and rented their own camper from Wilderness as well.

campers at shippies

We had a super fun week of tooling around the North Island with them, eating yummy foods, soaking in some hot springs and being awed by incredible landscapes.

pohutukawa couples tree waikite 2 waikite 1

oysters mussels oysters

coromandel drive 4coromandel drive 2 coromandel drive 1coromandel drive 3

coromandel view 4coromandel view 3coromandel view 1coromandel view 2

We all got to Raglan, a world-famous surf town on the west coast, in time for a fun-sized swell.

del raglan 1del raglan 2 del raglan 3del raglan 4 del raglan 5del raglan 6

After one great week, it was time for Fumi and Zac to head home. Michael and I took to the road after the swell died down, but not before sampling some tacos and arepas from the Juantanamera taco truck down Volcom Lane.


Juan makes the best tacos and arepas we’ve had since Mexico! His truck (soon to be renamed West Coast Tacos) is not to be missed. Make sure you visit for a meal if you go to Raglan.

One of our first stops after Raglan was the town of Hamilton, just 45 minutes east. It’s got an outstanding farmer’s market.

hamilton market 1

hamilton market 2

sausage eater

hamilton market 3 hamilton market 4

Hamilton also hosts the excellent  Waikato museum:

waikato museum

and the beautiful Hamilton Gardens:

hamilton garden 2hamilton garden 1hamilton garden 4hamilton garden 3

The Waikato Museum and Hamilton Gardens are both free!

Next, we drove the East Cape, along part of the Pacific Coast Highway:  a slow, coastal road from Opotiki to Gisborne. It’s a wonderful drive, with lovely vistas and lots of small towns to stop through, with fun things to see, such as NZ’s biggest pohutukawa tree:

big pohu Collage

20 meters high, 40 meters wide and over 350 years old, this pohutukawa tree is named Te Waha O Rerekohu.

a quaint seaside church:


many beautiful marae gates (marae are traditional Maori village meeting houses):

marae gate

and the longest pier in the southern hemisphere, at Tolaga Bay:

longest pier

660 meters long!

We got lucky with some fun surf on the east coast as well.

barrel 1barrel 2barrel 4barrel 3barrel 5barrel 6

te awanga

It was then time to head back to the west coast, to meet up with Michael’s old college friend, Tim, who was flying in to meet us and renting a camper as well for ten days. On our way to meet him, we stopped for a glimpse of the pretty Huka Falls:

huka falls 1 huka falls 2

We  stuck to the west coast with Tim, surfing Raglan again, and exploring and surfing Taranaki.

tim and michael

Here’s Tim ripping it up at Raglan:

tim 2tim 1tim 3tim 4

man o war



double rainbow 


Lion rock Collage

For the last few days of the trip, there was a big swell predicted to hit the west coast. We were hoping the conditions would line up to deliver fun waves at famed Northland point break Shipwreck Bay, so we started heading north.

One memorable night on our way north, we camped at a Department of Conservation campsite called Trounson Kauri Park, located right next to a forest reserve that contains many kiwi birds. Kiwis are nocturnal, flightless birds unique to NZ, and aren’t often seen in the wild. We took a nighttime kiwi-spotting walk through the forest, but were unlucky. We could hear them around us, but just couldn’t spot them!

We spotted kiwis! Behind a glass case in a museum...

We spotted kiwis! Behind a glass case in a museum…

We did spot a big eel in a stream, though:


The next day, we stopped along the way to visit Tane Mahuta, the biggest kauri tree in New Zealand:

tane mahuta Collage

I love the fact that they name their trees!

When we got to Ahipara, the town where Shipwreck Bay is located, it was raining cats and dogs and blowing strong onshore winds, and the swell didn’t seem to have shown up. We hermited in our campers to stay dry and went to bed early with our fingers crossed. The next morning, we woke up to blue skies, offshore winds, and head-high waves wrapping around the point!


It was the day before we were to fly out of Auckland, and we’d finally scored Shipwreck Bay. It had been high on our NZ surfing priority list, along with Raglan.

New Zealand is a special country with many unique and quirky aspects. Here are a few examples:

New Zealand has more sheep than people:


The beautiful pukeko is as common as the pigeon:


They sell kiwi fruit by the truckload:

kiwi truck

Delicious, tangy-sweet tamarillos, also known as tree tomatoes:


Famous New Zealand green-lipped mussels, nice to eat steamed:


Impressively designed one-handed-squeeze ketchup packets:


A surfboard company named after me!

del surfboard

New Zealand has a real campervan/caravan/RV culture. Everywhere we went, we saw some kind of rolling home parked in many driveways and even on the lawns of traditional houses.

funny camper 2funny camper 1nz bus

The RV campgrounds all around the country (called “holiday parks”) are very well-equipped with nice facilities like kitchens, hot water showers, and play areas.  It costs between $10 and $20 NZD per person per night to park your vehicle in a holiday park. In many of the holiday parks, there are permanent caravans owned by New Zealanders as holiday homes.

Our campervan rental came out to $25 NZD per day, since we rented it for a duration of 30 days in the low season. This made it a very affordable way to rent both a vehicle and accommodation. We mostly stayed in holiday parks, but were able to freedom camp a few times in designated freedom camping areas, cutting our daily accommodation costs down. We cooked most of our meals in the van.  I would highly recommend renting a campervan if you’re planning on visiting New Zealand; it will allow you to see and do more during your stay, and to get to a lot of places that just aren’t as accessible by public transportation. The feeling of discovery and freedom is beyond compare!

A few reasons why we chose Wilderness Campers:

  1. They don’t take a $2500 to $5000 NZD security deposit on your credit card, the way most other campervan rental companies do. This charge is sometimes treated as a cash advance, depending on your credit card company, and thus incurs interest charges up until you return the camper and the rental company takes the deposit off the card.
  2. All of Wilderness’ campers, including the lowest end one, which we rented, are certified self-contained, meaning you’re provided with a portable toilet and can therefore “freedom camp” wherever district councils allow. Without this certification, you won’t be allowed to freedom camp anywhere without getting a fine if you’re caught. Some district councils are a lot less flexible than others with respect to allowing freedom camping (even with certification of self-containment), but if you were determined, you could map out locations to legally camp for free the whole time you were touring around. Check out Camping Our Way for more info on freedom camping, and Rankers’ campground listing for an exhaustive listing of holiday parks, campgrounds, and known freedom camping spots.
  3. Wilderness got great reviews from other travelers on Rankers, a well-known New Zealand travel review site. We found their customer service to be exceptional the entire month we were on the road.

We left New Zealand reluctantly. The landscapes are magical, and we really love travelling by campervan.

tree silhouette

But we definitely can’t complain. Our next stop is Fiji!


10 Comments leave one →
  1. July 13, 2013 7:26 am

    Wow! I will have to paint some of these pictures. Beautiful photography Kids! What was the blue squiggily thing with a white shell like thing? Also, Some bathing beauty! Love, Mom

    • July 13, 2013 9:59 pm

      Hi Momma Fran! We were thinking about you painting a lot of the scenes we photographed while we were taking the photos! 🙂 The blue squiggly with white shell thing was a Portuguese Man O’War — stings bad if it touches you! But so beautiful, isn’t it? We will be seeing you and giving you big hugs and kisses in person very very soon!!! ❤ XO Your kids

  2. July 13, 2013 9:09 am

    Hi M + D –

    Great post…NZ looks amazing. Also fantastic Fumi made it out to see you! Michael, glad your toe is all healed up and D, your hair looks blond[ish] in one of the photos…is that right?! I want you to surf around the world FOREVER. xoxo M

    • July 15, 2013 1:53 am

      Hi Melissa! Yes, my hair’s gotten blonde from being in the saltwater and sun all the time. I swear it’s natural! We would love to surf around the world forever, but you would have to come meet up with us. We’ll see you soon! Around end of August/beginning of September in NY? XO

  3. Uncle T permalink
    July 13, 2013 11:40 am

    It’s summer here at 35 Deg C and over 40 with humidex. I saw a lot of warm “woollies|
    in your wonderful photos. The commentary is wonderful as well. The last picture was scary but fun.
    Elizabeth is on Vancouver Island with sister and will be for almost a month. She will get to see Ian and Jen.
    Ian and Jen will be in Toronto for a very short visit with Alex and family and I wil drive down to see them all.
    Then a week at home with my sister and her two grand daughters. Cabin will be vacant for the first time in 35 years. Brother in law and wife have gone home after 2 short weks.
    Lots of time for fish fry and and roasted marsh mallows.
    Really would like to see you both back here but enjoy your amazing trip / adventure.
    much Love
    Uncle T

    • July 13, 2013 9:56 pm

      Wow, that’s warm! Yes, it was winter when we were in NZ. Not as cold as Canada in winter, but we were glad to have the warm woolies! 🙂 We will be undertaking a cross-country US/Canada road trip to visit friends and family throughout late August and September and we will come visit you guys for sure! We’ll email you the approximate dates when we figure out the plans in early August. If you are at home then, it would be so wonderful to spend time with you both again. You are high priority on our visiting list!!! XO M + D

  4. Karen permalink
    July 13, 2013 4:55 pm

    Enjoyed reading all about your travels around New Zealand and seeing your beautiful photography. We, too, had a wonderful time there – not surfing but catching up with my family. It was great bumping into you at Huka Falls. Already looking forward to your next blog post. Take care! Karen

    • July 13, 2013 9:51 pm

      We’re happy we met you guys at Huka, too! Glad to hear you had a good trip, and maybe we’ll see you once we’re back in the mainland US! XO D + M

  5. bencooleyhall permalink
    August 22, 2013 3:14 pm

    Welcome home, friends! I can only imagine how it feels. Ren (5) and I just returned from two weeks of Southwestern desert adventuring, and even that felt like a world apart. If you are anywhere near Rhode Island, I do hope I will get to see you! We do surf here, too (I don’t, but people do, and I will happily give it a go).


  1. Coming Home | Surfing Round The World

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