Road-Tripping The Land Of The Long White Cloud* In A Campervan
*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.
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.
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.
We all got to Raglan, a world-famous surf town on the west coast, in time for a fun-sized swell.
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 also hosts the excellent Waikato museum:
and the beautiful Hamilton Gardens:
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:
a quaint seaside church:
many beautiful marae gates (marae are traditional Maori village meeting houses):
and the longest pier in the southern hemisphere, at Tolaga Bay:
We got lucky with some fun surf on the east coast as well.
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:
We stuck to the west coast with Tim, surfing Raglan again, and exploring and surfing Taranaki.
Here’s Tim ripping it up at Raglan:
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 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:
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:
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!
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.
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:
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
But we definitely can’t complain. Our next stop is Fiji!