22 Aug 2017
North Island Roadie!
Back in June, I took it upon myself to stop waiting around for others - I was road tripping New Zealand.
I landed in the North Island, so I figured that’s where I’d explore first. I only had 10 days, so it was going to be a quick trip – jam packed with the best the North Island has to offer. The Toyota Estima was a beauty. It had everything I needed to just pack up and drive. I loved the mobility of a camper - being able to essentially stop wherever you like (with the help of the travel app CamperMate) and travel on your own clock was awesome.
I picked up the van in the afternoon, and just to get the hang of things, I only made the short journey to Hamilton via the Hunua Ranges. Arriving in the evening I decided to stay at Glenview Club (it has a car park for campers). It was my first taste of staying in a campground in NZ. Although not the highlight of my trip, having a pint of pale ale and a hot pie in the cosy club bar and a nice way to begin the trip.
The next morning, I woke super early. Leaving before sunrise, I'd planned the night before to fill my day with as much as possible. Bridal Veil Falls was my first stop, and I was so glad I made an early start. The solo walk through the bush to the falls was amazing. Taking in all the views, from high to low, alone in nature, with such a skinny yet unabated shoot of water flowing into the below swimming pool was nothing less than majestic. New Zealand has a reputation of being expensive, but it depends what you do - this was completely free.
Next up I drove to Waitomo Caves. A short 45-minute tour, it was such an amazing and unique to see the glow worms under the roofs of these natural caves. My only frustration was that I couldn’t take any pictures! By the time I finished up at the caves, I'd been driving for a few hours and had spent more time at these places then I'd anticipated. That being said, June is wintertime in NZ, so it soon got dark. I decided to find a campground for the night, and to rise early for the next day’s adventures.
This became a bit of a trend, rise early, and sleep early. Essentially I was making the most of the daylight hours seeing as much as possible.
What surprised me most was reaching a free campground - Boyes Beach Reserve in Rotorua. It was a quiet night there, but waking up in the morning was quite spectacular. Fog and mist covered the water as far as I could see. It’s also right next to some toilets that are ideal.
After finding a breakfast spot, I decided to fit three hotspots into my day, which required a bit of driving. The Hamurana Natural Springs, Huka Falls and The Waiotapu Pools in Rotorua.
Wandering through the redwood trees in Rotorua was eerily similar to the experience wandering through the famous ones in the USA, with a twist. Right next to them flowed the clearest natural springs I'd ever seen. You could see right through to the bottom of the springs - it was such a tranquil sight. I walked around here for an hour, peacefully talking it all in - the best things in life really are priceless.
By this time I was feeling a bit tired - the sun came out and I was still adjusting to campervan life. Huka Falls was only an hour or so away, so I decided to keep the day going. Arriving just after lunch, this free natural wonder wasn't as peaceful as the last.
Huka Falls was powerful. It was like a huge swimming hole but with a gigantic sky blue river look. I had to walk a bit to find a decent spot - where most of the tourists go the views can be pretty clustered. Luckily I kept searching, and have a tip: when you come into the car park most people visit the falls via the obvious signs across the bridge, but if you take the far left route, you get to see Huka Falls from a distance, in space and generally alone.
The last stop (but certainly not the least) was Waiotapu Pools - one of New Zealand's greatest tourist attractions. By the time I visited I was pushing for time, but the way I walk, I get around quickly! It was $30 to see the active and amazingly colourful geysers, huge meteoric pierced holes into the ground with bubbling gasses and liquids - some reaching over 100 degrees. If any of you are visiting here, do so with time. Rushing it means nothing and although I got some great snaps, I didn't get chance to take everything in, as I should have.
After an exhausting day I decided to stay at Waiotapu Tavern, right outside the Waiotapu Pools. I stayed in my camper out back, but managed to have a couple of Tui's and some hot grub before I hit the hay for the night. This is a great cosy spot.
Next up was probably the best experience of my trip, visiting New Zealand's most active volcano - White Island. Sponsored by White Island Tours, this is a trip that goes a little under the radar in 'must do's' for the North Island, but I can assure you it should be on the list. The guides at White Island Tours were brilliant, and very knowledgeable. After a 2-hour boat ride to the volcano, we roamed around its interior. The terrain of the volcano was stunning, as if it was from a different planet. I felt like I was exploring a new world!
Back on the mainland, I decided to stay in the DOC campsite at Matata - by far my favourite of the trip. It’s tucked in behind the dunes on the beach, with a very scenic and laid back vibe, it was simple, cheap ($8PP) and relaxing. This was a perfect end to a perfect day, and less than an hour from Tauranga.
The next day I decided to take a step back from the attractions, and get back to some good old-fashioned road time. I was taking the Toyota Estima for a spin, stretching her legs around the East Cape. Known to be a little off-beat, I rebelled in just driving and taking stops where I saw fit. That part of the North Island is fairly untouched, especially by tourists with mountains and beaches seemingly on every corner.
One place I did visit was the Eastern Cape Lighthouse. I was informed at Te Araroa Backpackers that every morning it saw the first sunlight in the world, so naturally I decided to get up early to see it for my own eyes. That was a journey in itself. My tired eyes and pitch black surroundings coupled with rocky path couldn't halt me, and after a 20 minute 'sprint' up to the top, a break while I waited for the sun to appear was welcome. Out of breath and out of words, the first sunlight in the world appeared on the 01.07.17, and I was the first to see it.