This blog post has been a long time coming, but I knew it would be a big one and I wanted to do it justice by spending enough time on it!
After our Australia trip, my parents flew home for my brother to go back to school and my mum back to work. Matt and I had another 2 weeks until we had to be back at university, so we flew to New Zealand and hired a campervan from JUCY Rentals. If you know Matt, you know he doesn’t plan anything, and I only had a rough idea myself of the route I wanted to take, so it was set to be a spontaneous few days.
We drove from Auckland to Hot Water Beach, a beach which supposedly has warm water under the sand from geothermal activity if you dig yourself a little pool. Unfortunately, we didn’t seem to be there at the right time and the only water we saw was the freezing cold sea water and the hammering rain. Not the best first day!
We decided to find somewhere to camp a little earlier than planned because it was raining too much to do anything. We freedom camped for the first time, meaning that we basically just parked up in a field with no facilities and had to fend for ourselves! We listened to the rain hammering down on the top of our campervan as we drifted off to sleep, which was strangely relaxing.
We drove to the Cathedral Cove car park and did the 45 minute walk down to Cathedral Cove, which was quite manageable apart from an unholy number of stairs! We got to the Cove just as the tide was coming in, and managed to get inside as the water closed in around us, which was really amazing. The visibility wasn’t great out to see but we could see the angry waves crashing against the rocks!
We drove down towards Matamata to stay at Opal Springs, a holiday park which has its own hot pools on site! We asked them about things to do in the area and they recommended a waterfall walk only a short hop from the campsite, which we did that afternoon. It was about 45 minutes to the waterfall but much more challenging than the walk we did earlier in the day – some of it was over a stream with no bridge and there was also a lot of uphills. However, the view at the top was certainly worth the walk! I didn’t get any pictures because I left my phone in the van, but I assure you it was spectacular.
That evening, we relaxed in the hot pools at the campsite, took advantage of their showers and cooked in their kitchen. Freedom camping had been fine the night before but it was much more luxurious to be able to do things without being cooped up in the tiny camper!
We were planning on going to Hobbiton today, but it rained again and the entry was roughly £45 each, which we didn’t think would be worth it in the rain. Instead, we drove around the rolling hills for a while and then drove towards Rotorua. We pulled over at one point to switch on our radio from the back, and got completely stuck in mud on the side of the road! I was worried the van was going to topple over, but we managed to attract the attention of a pick-up truck driving past, who turned around and used his handy rope and tow bar to pull us out.
When we got to Rotorua, we made some lunch and sat next to the lake to eat, which smelt very eggy! We had a small walk around the area and found a very steamy park to explore! We stayed at Holden’s Holiday Park because we found a deal on the CamperMate app, and they gave us some discount coupons for the activities we wanted to do in the area which ended up earning us money!
That evening, we did the Redwoods Forest night walk. It is essentially a load of platforms and bridges put up amongst the tall trees, and the forest is decorated with amazing lanterns and coloured lights which turn on at dusk. It was really magical and I would definitely recommend doing the walk in the night-time!
We went back to the campsite and relaxed in their hot pools (apparently most places in the area have them!) and Matt cooked us dinner.
Today we went to Hell’s Gate Geothermal Park & Spa. We booked in for their Tikitere experience, which includes a tour around the park, a Maori carving lesson and then a private mud bath and sulphur pools. I would definitely recommend trying to get onto a guided tour rather than the standard self-guided, as we learnt so much from the guide and he even let us use some of the mud from their mud volcano as a face mask for our noses! The Maori carving was really fun, and meant we had a nice souvenir to bring back from the trip with us. The mud bath was SO relaxing and my skin felt baby-soft afterwards! I would definitely recommend doing the private experience if you can afford it, as it just allows you to relax a bit more.
We drove to Kerosene Falls near Wai-O-Tapu to have a look around the hot falls. We then stayed in the car park of Wai-O-Tapu tavern for the night.
Today we got up early to go to Wai-O-Tapu Thermal Park. We first went to the site of Lady Knox Geyser to watch her erupt which was pretty cool (they induce the eruption using soap at the same time every day!) Then, we went to the main park to do the whole walk. Two highlights for me were the Champagne pool and also a bright, neon green pool!
That afternoon, we went to Huka Falls, a HUGE waterfall which has around 220,000 litres of water PER SECOND tumbling over it! We did a really long walk which was meant to be a mountain biking track through the surrounding woodland which was really pretty.
That evening, we freedom camped right on the shore of Lake Taupo, which was stunning but very windy!
We wandered around the town of Taupo and bought a couple of bits and bobs, including a pack of cards which we stupidly didn’t bring with us from Australia!
We drove past Tongariro National Park on our way further south. We would have loved to do the Alpine Crossing but unfortunately it wasn’t really the time of year for it, as Tongariro is more used for skiing in the winter! We would have needed to hire equipment and a guide to do the crossing so decided against it.
We stayed at Raetihi campsite that evening, which was very quiet but newly renovated and had the most amazing hot showers!
Matt managed to persuade me to go mountain biking, so we hired bikes and got a shuttle to the start of the Old Coach Road. It was raining and the ground was really loose, so it wasn’t the best of conditions for a beginner like me! I pushed through, despite really hating most of it as it was a hard track made even harder by the weather! I felt so accomplished (and achey!) when we finished, so when we saw a pop-up wood-fired pizza stand next to the bike hire shop we couldn’t resist!
That night, we freedom camped in the most amazing place called the Ruatiti domain. The drive down to it was on the side of an amazing valley with a stream running through the bottom, and the campsite backed onto the stream. There was only one other car there and lots of space, so we parked up next to a fire pit and got a nice fire going. We played cards and drank wine till the sun went down and it was pitch black and the only thing we could see was the flickering fire.
We drove north today, stopping at a few spots along the way to Waitomo. The first was Nevalea Alpaca Farm, where we paid $10 each to feed the alpacas – they were so cute and fluffy! We also stopped at Omaru Falls and did the short walk to one of the best falls we’ve seen on our whole trip!
We stayed at Roselands in their car park that evening, and got a drink in their bar which has some amazing views.
We got up early to go to Waitomo Glow Worm caves. We just did the standard tour but it was so interesting! The actual glow worm viewing on the boat was super relaxing and beautiful.
We then went to Bridal Veil Falls – the car park is only 5 minutes walk from the falls but it was an amazing view of a huge waterfall!
We drove to Raglan, a small surfing town, that evening. We stayed in a campsite right in the centre – I think it was just called Raglan Holiday Park!
Today we explored the individual shops around Raglan – they had some really pretty handmade things and we also picked up some post cards. We got an ice cream and walked along the beach too!
After lunch, we drove back up towards Auckland. We stayed at a DOC campsite called Ambury Park, which was literally on a small farm! There was loads of baby animals, including lambs, calves and goats! We watched the lambs being fed in the evening and also stroked the calves which we took a particular liking to. There were also chickens running around the whole place! It was one of our favourite places to stay just because we love animals so much.
We went to Villa Maria winery today to celebrate the last day of our trip. We did the standard and premium wine tasting ($10 and $15 respectively – what a bargain!) which were both really enjoyable. We also had a light lunch there and enjoyed a glass of bubbly to treat ourselves. We also picked up a present for Matt’s dad’s birthday and had a wander around the vineyard. All in all, it was a wonderful last day and one of my favourites of the whole trip! We got quite an early night as we were all wined out and our flight home was the next day.
We dropped off the campervan today, so had to do all the admin like filling up the fuel and gas, emptying our water and waste tanks and giving the place a good clean. We were really impressed with our JUCY Campervan all in all – it was quite old but it did the job and we got quite attached to it by the end! The funniest moment with it was when Matt had to brake hard to make a tight turn and the entire fridge fell out onto the floor!
We had been craving sushi the whole holiday, and when we went to the lounge at Auckland airport and they had sushi it felt like our prayers had been answered and it was the perfect way to finish our amazing trip!
Thanks so much for reading, and sorry the post was so long! This was the trip of a lifetime and I wanted to be able to read back on this post and be able to re-live every single detail.