Our New Zealand Camper Van Trip
This is the itinerary for our New Zealand Camper Van Trip. Our preparation for the trip, with attention to how we organised things and planned, can be found at Travelling New Zealand in a Camper Van
Day 1 – Auckland to Rotorua via Tauranga
Arrive NZ at 6 am. I’d managed to get some sleep on the plane, about 7 hours, so I was feeling pretty good! Tam had managed 10 hours! The leg from Doha to Auckland was long, about 16 1/2 hours. After customs, you soon realise you are in the country that the Hobbit and The Lord of The Rings trilogy were filmed in. The Giant Dwarf, if there can be such a thing, at the airport left us in no doubt!
Then a quick taxi ride from the airport to pick up the campervan.
As the guy is showing you round the campervan, take a video of a thorough walk around and make sure you get the staff member in it. That way any damage to the van that was already there can’t be blamed on you!
It didn’t happen to us but you do hear horror stories. Also, take the van for a test drive around the block to make sure it handles ok. We didn’t. And we should have! This was our first lesson, to be sure, in travelling New Zealand in a campervan. The clutch was especially awful on this van!
The first drive was from Auckland to Tauranga. A nice place, I’d picked Kiwifruit in the area and done some window cleaning on my gap year so I wanted to take a trip down memory lane and see if anything had changed.
On our way to Tauranga, we stopped at a mine in Waihi. This was to collect a Geocache, it’s a great way to see new things. Our route then took us on SH2 through Katikati.
Katikati is an amazing place, it’s full of murals on the walls. This first started happening in 1990 but now there are over 40 murals to see. In particular, they tell the story of the town, its history, people and events. If you happen to be passing, do stop and look. I think you’ll find it worth your time. Please don’t bring your own marker pen to add moustaches to the people on the murals, they take a dim view of it.
Time to hit Tauranga. Very mixed emotions coming back here but it was fun to see some old sites. The beach at Mt Maunganui is very pretty. The weather was gorgeous sunshine and we hoped it would continue.
Tauranga – Rotorua
It’s just a short hop between Tauranga and Rotorua. The drive is fabulous, some crazy roads with great scenery such as ferns, hills and palms. Our stop for the night was with a family friend, they had a fantastic house with stunning views of the lake. See the photo below for instance.
The lake was formed about 200,000 years ago in a caldera, a crater caused by a volcanic eruption. It must have been loud indeed as lake Rotorua is about 12km by 10km!
Rotorua is amazing, but it smells. Never buy a used car from Rotorua it is said. This apparently, is due to corrosion from the volcanic gases in the area! To be sure, this part of the North Island is very volcanically active. Rotorua is the start of the Geothermal trail and tomorrow, we’ll dive straight in!
Day 2 – Rotorua to Hastings
The day started wet, which was certainly to be expected as Cyclone Debbie was about to hit. Stopping for petrol on the way, we headed to Wai-o-Tapu. Click here to see my full review, Wai-O-Tapu Thermal Wonderland.
Rotorua to Taupo
Just before Taupo, we stopped at Huka Falls. For my full thoughts see Huka Falls. In short, the falls are 9 metres high and the flow can fill an Olympic size swimming pool in 11 seconds!
Lake Taupo was also formed by a volcanic explosion. The last eruption at Taupo was about 186AD. The ash plume above the volcano was between 26-37km high and it erupted over 50 cubic km of ash and debris! I think we can safely assume it was quite loud.
Taupo to Hastings
This was a scary drive due specifically to the wind. Our New Zealand Camper Van Trip was taking a slightly iffy turn. Cyclone Debbie was giving it large. With the high sided camper van it was, in fact, like trying to drive a kite. Several times on the Taupo to Napier road we nearly pulled off to wait it out because in places it was downright dangerous.
Hastings. Hawkes Bay is famous for its apples. I picked apples here when I was travelling. Ah, the joys of apples…. I never want to see another apple as long as I live! We made it to our campsite in Hastings in spite of some scary driving conditions, rain and debris on the road. As we arrived at the campsite we both thought ‘Yay! We’re not dead!’
Day 3 – Hastings to Featherston via Napier
Art Deco Napier tour
Napier is the second largest art deco city after Miami. In this case, all the reasons can be found on my blog post here, Napier Art Deco New Zealand
Napier – Featherston
Time to beat the weather! The cyclone had dumped a lot of rain in the surrounding area. We were certainly glad to be on the move as there was a lot of flooding and we wanted to be driving away from that! With this in mind, we quickly headed to our overnight stop in Featherston.
A very nice sleep at Featherston Motels and Camping. And an extremely bad meal in the restaurant in the Main Street. You can probably guess that by Tams face in the picture. In particular, that microwaved lamb shank will haunt me for years. I could hear them in the kitchen just microwaving the hell out of it. Ding! Ding!
Day 4 – Featherston to Spring Creek
Stopping just above Wellington, we, of course, went to find the 5th oldest geocache in the world, just to satisfy my inner geek, then onto Wellington to catch the ferry.
We had made our booking for the ferry at the same time we had made the booking for the campervan. We had a printout ready of all our booking details and it was no hassle at all. The ferry was running a little late but we didn’t mind.
The Cook Strait, the bit of water between the North and South Island was no problem, the sea state was pretty good. We settled in some comfy chairs on the ferry with tea and meat pies for the journey. The crossing itself is about 3 hours and with the sun setting as we edged towards Picton it indeed made for a spectacular view!
Picton – Spring Creek
A short drive south from the ferry to Spring Creek near Blenheim. We arrived in the dark but that’s not a problem in a campervan, you just pull up and you’re done! This was our stop for two nights. Why 2 nights? Because it’s wine country!
Day 5 – Marlborough
Wine Tasting – Marlborough
Click for my full report on the Marlborough Wineries Review
Needless to say, Marlborough Wine tasting was brilliant. We had, according to my increasing incoherent tasting notes, many different wines from some stunning wineries. And surprisingly, the sun put in an appearance too! In this case, it was just what we needed after the rain and the driving, a chance to drink wine, be driven around and relax!
Day 6 – Spring Creek – Christchurch
This was diversion day, the diversion we had to make was in green. To be sure, it was a long diversion but it was what it was, so we tried to make the best of it! On the positive side, it was more chance to see the gorgeous New Zealand scenery!
However, we did find a nice waterfall on our diversion route. Lewis pass made a nice stop before Christchurch. Another geocache and photo opportunities were found! The pass is the northernmost of three passes which cross the Southern Alps. With a height of 864 metres, it’s slightly lower than Arthurs pass.
Then finally into Christchurch itself. Primarily we were seeing friends here. We also had a chance to look around the town as we hunted for a geocache or two! Christchurch itself is no stranger to disaster with two big recent earthquakes but this is us standing by the twin towers monument to commemorate 9/11. They are real girders from the twin towers. A strangely sombre moment on Our New Zealand Camper Van Trip.
Day 7 – Christchurch to Arthurs Pass, Jacksons Retreat
Before we left Christchurch, we went to the beach, if only I had my bucket and spade! The sun was shining and it was a lovely day, if only we had a few more of them on our New Zealand Camper Van Trip! Sumner beach was surprisingly quiet when we visited. It must be remembered, however, that the population of New Zealand is only 4.6 million!
We travelled through some frequently spectacular scenery as we headed up the mountains to Arthurs Pass. From plains to foothills, with some truly impressive rock formations, they didn’t disappoint! It truly was an awe-inspiring sight.
We stopped to stretch our legs at several viewpoints and places on the way. For this reason, the drive took a little longer than expected. But how could we not with views like this! Even though there was a lot of driving on our New Zealand Camper Van Trip, it’s not like normal driving. There is always something new to see around the corner in New Zealand! The Arthurs pass road is amazing! For example, rock shelters, viaducts, waterfalls and more await you as the road snakes up over 900 metres into the mountains.
I wouldn’t normally wow for a camping spot but this campsite was amazing. In this case, modern toilet block, friendly staff and even fresh local produce available to buy. And the location? Wow!
Day 8 – Rest day at Jacksons Retreat
This was one of the nicest camping grounds I have ever stayed in by a long chalk! Firstly, check out the waterfall by day and secondly the glow worms by night! We needed the rest and surprisingly it wasn’t raining! Yay! We had a very pleasant day just kicking around the campsite. We found a geocache, walked up to the waterfall and spent a lovely couple of hours at the waterfall on site. Then in the evening, we opened a nice bottle of wine we had picked up from Framingham Wines.
Day 9 – Jacksons Retreat – Nelson
After a pleasant rest day, our New Zealand Camper Van Trip continued today. We were certainly energized and ready for a run up the West Coast of the South Island.
If you get a chance, visit the geologically significant pancake rocks. It’s surely worth an hour of your time to see this natural wonder. See Pancake Rocks for more info.
When driving on our New Zealand Camper Van Trip I regularly used the little lay-bys and pull off spots to allow other cars to pass. It’s just good manners as while you may be having the time of your life looking at the lovely scenery, other people are using the roads and the locals see it every day and just want to get past you and your slow moving campervan. Use your mirrors and be considerate!
We stopped at a few viewpoints on our way to Nelson. In short, beaches and cliffs were the order of the day while dodging showers. Of course, we had to stop at one beach so Tam could feed her penguin obsession! It was a very nice ocean drive. Despite the weather!
Day 10 – Nelson – Picton
This campsite was probably the worst we stayed at on our New Zealand Camper Van Trip. This may be due to the weather or the fact that the end is in view, this site just didn’t work for me. I can imagine it in the sunshine looking very nice and inviting with the sea view but due to the weather, the sea was all brown!
Next, a short drive to pick up the ferry to the North Island. A point often overlooked is that driving in New Zealand often takes longer than you think. Due to the winding nature of the roads, add an extra bit of time to your journey. By this time we had it pretty much down pat though. So much so that we also had time for a quick look around Picton before sailing.
The weather looked acceptable for the crossing, it wasn’t a mill pond but I have travelled in worse. Once again tea and a meat pie saw us through the journey! The Interislander was certainly a better ferry than some I have been on! (The Dover-Calais English channel ferry for instance!)
Wellington to Palmerston North
A fairly long drive in the dark and rain but we made it!
Day 11 – Palmerston North to Auckland
This was a long drive but even so, we didn’t stop. There was a storm coming and with this in mind, we didn’t want to be caught in it. see the picture below! Our New Zealand Camper Van Trip just got serious! We especially needed to beat Cyclone Cook to Auckland!
Of course, we had to return camper van. There was certainly no new damage, no new marks! However, there were plenty of old ones but we had the video if they were going to quibble! But they didn’t!
Checking into the hotel near the airport was certainly easy. I can thoroughly recommend this one with its free shuttle bus to the airport taking about 3 minutes. Then meet up with friends James and Andrea for a meal and then a night of the finest wines New Zealand had to offer!
Day 12 – Sightseeing Auckland!
In this case just wandering around and see where our feet take us! The weather was certainly a mixed bag, we had a lazy day wandering around Auckland dodging the showers. We looked around the docks and shopping streets and even watched people throw themselves of the sky tower! In particular, an umbrella was essential today, we huddled under them for lunch!
Day 13 – Depart
Lastly, to the airport using the hotel shuttle. Lounge access courtesy of the Qantas lounge – they are a one world partner with Qatar and you have the right to use it when travelling in Business Class. Failing that a British Airways Gold or Silver Executive Club (or One-World equivalent) card gets you into the lounge. Then sadly, with our New Zealand Camper Van Trip over, it’s time to say goodbye to New Zealand and board the plane.
Our New Zealand Camper Van Trip – Conclusions
I could use all the superlatives I know and still not do New Zealand justice. It was thrilling, interesting, certainly surprising and massively beautiful. If you have ever wanted to go there – do it!
- Have a plan
- Work out a rough itinerary with flexibility built-in
- Work out a route with realistic timings
- Take a video or many pictures of the camper van before you drive it away
- Take it on a test drive
- Bring your own or hire a GPS Sat Nav
- Have an offline or paper map
- Get your ferry crossing sorted in advance
- Plan for any weather
- Always check for road closures
- Pull over and let the queue behind you pass
Check out our other New Zealand highlights.
More on New Zealand Napier – Art Deco New Zealand