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Archive for January 2013

My family and I love mazes. The giant ones, made of hedges, maize or man-made bits and pieces, which you can literally get lost in. So when the long weekend beckoned and we felt the urge to get away in our campervan, we headed for the closest maze – which just happens to be in Rotorua.

The road from Cambridge to Rotorua in the North Island is an easy one, mostly straight or with gentle curves and with plenty of passing lanes, it’s an easy drive for someone in a rental campervan. It meanders past Lake Karapiro, home of NZ rowing, south to the town of Tirau. This pretty little town is a great place to stop in your rental campervan for a bite to eat or a coffee. If you have a little more time, take the 4.7km Te Waihou Walkway to the amazing Blue Spring to clap eyes on one of the most pristine natural pools you’ll ever see.

Another good place to stop in your campervan motorhome on the way to Rotorua is the magical Fitzgerald Glade. My kids call it the ‘tunnel of trees’ and we always try and make time to park the motorhome here and simply enjoy the feeling of being enveloped by nature. Further south, the road winds gently through forestry country and farmland to arrive in Rotorua.

Amazeme maze and family funAmazeme, a 1.4km hedge maze, is located on Paradise Valley Road just to the north of Rotorua town. Warning – if you put the street address into your campervan GPS system you end up on a wild goose chase miles down the narrow, winding Paradise Valley Road. Ignore the urges of your campervan GPS to drive several kilometres along Paradise Valley Road – you’ll actually find Amazeme just a couple of hundred metres from the main road on the right. The sign is hard to see so keep your eyes peeled. The family and I spent a most enjoyable few hours at this great attraction which focuses on ‘providing good old fashioned fun for families at an affordable price’. As well as the maze (yes, we got suitably and enjoyably lost!) there were loads of games and activities which really were fun for the whole family. I heartily recommend, particularly if you’re travelling with kids, that you include Amazeme in your itinerary (allow several hours, especially if it’s a nice day). Just one thing – they do advertise on their website that they have a refreshment cafe, so I arrived desperate for my coffee fix only to find they don’t serve coffee. Luckily we were able to quickly brew up a coffee in our motorhome kitchen. There is also a good cafe close by in Ngongotaha where you can get your fix if needed!

The host and owner of Amazeme was very friendly and helpful and he gave us lots of tips from a local’s perspective about things to do in Rotorua. As we were travelling with kids he suggested we would enjoy the Volcanic playground on the lakefront in the centre of town, so we headed down there for an ice cream and had a very pleasant afternoon watching all the activity on the lake before retiring to the comfort of our campervan.

Rotorua is truly a great family destination, particularly if you’re travelling by campervan or motorhome. There’s so much to do. We were on a whirlwind trip so couldn’t visit all the places we wanted to, but we’ll be back to see some more! Look out for my next article about Top 10 things to do in Rotorua.

Auckland New ZEalandLast month I wrote about the alternatives to travelling up the North Island‘s busy State Highway 1 from Auckland to Hamilton (or vice versa) in your rental campervan. So, I thought it was only fair to tell you a little about State Highway 1 itself. If you don’t have time to meander your way up the East or West Coast as I’d suggested in my previous article, don’t worry – there’s plenty to see and do on the ‘main drag’. I call it travelling ‘up the guts’ of the North Island. More Kiwi slang

Up the guts of State Highway 1 in your rental campervan

For the purposes of this article, I’m assuming you are heading north from Hamilton to Auckland – perhaps to drop off your rental campervan at Auckland Airport at the Auckland campervan rental depot before you depart. Of course, the route I mention could also be done in reverse, if you’re heading from Auckland downcountry.

Heading out of Hamilton by campervan

You can join State Highway 1 directly from Hamilton city, and travel north through the countryside a short distance to Ngaruawahia (you may need to practise pronouncing that one!). Home of the Maori King, this small town is particularly significant to Maori history and culture. You’ll find the splendid Turangawaewae Marae here. It opens to the public once a year so if you’re planning your New Zealand campervan rental holiday for March, be sure to plan to visit the town on the nearest Saturday to 17 March, when you can visit the Marae and watch the awe-inspiring parade of traditional Maori war canoes on the Waikato River. You’ll also find Waingaro Hot Springs in Ngaruawahia – it boasts New Zealand’s longest  open hot water slides.

If you prefer a more leisurely trip out of Hamilton, try the road through Gordonton to Taupiri. Along the way you can stop for a cuppa at the Camellia Tea House at the Zealong tea estate, or perhaps Candyland, “the sweetest place on earth” to stock up on treats for the glovebox of your motorhome.

North from Ngaruawahia

Heading north in your campervan from Ngaruawahia, where the road from Gordonton connects with State Highway 1, the highway sweeps around the bottom of sacred Maori burial ground Taupiri Mountain and through farmland before entering the riverside town of Huntly. You’ll see the twin chimneys of Huntly Power Station, New Zealand’s largest thermal power station, rising above the town, which is most well-known as a railway town  and coal mining area. Huntly’s Waikato Coalfields Museum is well worth a visit to learn more about the history of coal mining in New Zealand.

Back on the road, and just north of Huntly you’ll find Rangiriri, site of the famous Battle of Rangiriri between Colonial and Maori Forces. Rangiriri Heritage Centre is a great place to stop for a coffee and a browse in the Heritage Centre.

Further up the road is the picturesque rural town of Te kauwhata, pretty much halfway between Auckland and Hamilton and with some interesting cafes and gift shops to tempt you. Or continue north to Herb Haven, my personal favourite State Highway 1 stop for lunch or afternoon tea – their Devonshire tea with edible flowers is simply delectable.

Enough talk of tea and flowers – for people who like their fun a little noisier and faster, further north up the highway you’ll find Meremere Fram Autolite Dragway. This is New Zealand’s only permanent drag racing facility and it hosts many events throughout the year. Meremere is also home to the Meremere Redoubt, a historic earthwork fort built during the New Zealand Wars of 1863-64, in an easily accessible location with commanding views of the area.

Shortly after Meremere the ‘highway proper’ begins. You’ll speed up the Bombay Hills – site of many market gardens servicing Auckland and the surround region – before cruising down the other side into the most southern of Auckland’s many suburbs. If you’re travelling with kids, make sure you allow time for a visit to Rainbow’s End, New Zealand’s largest theme park. While small by international standards, the 9.3 hectare theme park boasts activities for big and small kids including some world class rides.

Closer to the airport, my family and I love Butterfly Creek. Located conveniently close to Auckland International Airport, Butterfly Creek has something for everyone from giant saltwater crocodiles to butterflies and farm animals. My kids love the Red Admiral Express Train, and there’s a great cafe to enjoy a meal or snack too. This is a great place to visit if you’ve arrived a little early to drop off your rental campervan and you need somewhere fun to pass the time.  If you’re travelling with kids, it’s also fun to sit awhile in the viewing area near the airport and watch the massive airlines roar overhead.

Many of the campervan and motorhome rental companies have depots close to Auckland Airport and it’s worth making sure you hire a motorhome from one of these companies for sheer convenience. Though of course if you’ve travelled a long distance by air, you may be wise to spend a night in a hotel catching up on sleep before driving your rental campervan on our roads!

As you can see, State Highway 1 is far from a boring piece of road! If you are planning a ‘quick trip’ down the highway on your rental campervan holiday, try and allow a little extra time as there’s plenty to see and do.

More information to help you plan your New Zealand campervan rental holiday

 

Bring your cameraIf you’re reading this blog, chances are you’ve booked your New Zealand campervan rental holiday, you’re planning to book a NZ campervan rental holiday, or maybe you’re dreaming about a NZ campervan rental holiday! Wherever you are in the planning process, sooner or later you’ll need to start thinking about what to bring with you. I’ve put together this list (inspired by a recent campervan holiday where I forgot to pack sunscreen, shorts and video camera!) as a guide to help you pack.

Clothing and footwear for your NZ campervan holiday

Dress in layers
The NZ weather is very changeable – think ‘four seasons in one day’! For this reason, I suggest you take a layered approach to clothing – plan to wear several lighter layers with a jacket on top. That way you’ll be warm and cosy if it’s cold, but you can strip off to a t-shirt if you need to. Don’t forget your rain jacket – New Zealand is green for a reason, and that reason is rain!

Bring your swimsuit
Even if you’re travelling in winter (and there are some big advantages to doing that – check out our When to Visit page), it’s a good idea to pack a swimsuit. You’ll find thermal pools dotted throughout New Zealand, and a soak in deliciously warm mineral water is just the ticket after a hard day’s sightseeing.

Hats and shoes
New Zealand is a pretty casual place, and smart casual dress will be fine at most restaurants and bars. If you’re travelling in winter, bring your beanie (or you can buy a cosy New Zealand merino wool one while you’re here). Make sure you bring a sun hat (though you can always buy one as a souvenir if you forget to bring one) and comfortable walking shoes. Jandals (flip-flops or thongs) are very handy too for walking around at the beach, thermal pools and camping grounds.

Essential items to bring on your NZ campervan holiday

Basic first aid supplies
I suggest you either bring sunscreen and insect repellent with you or purchase them when you get here. It’s also a good idea to have a small supply of things like band aids, antiseptic cream and maybe some painkillers such as paracetamol (or whatever you usually use if you get a headache or aches and pains). And don’t forget to bring medication if you need it (make sure you have any prescriptions filled out before you leave so you don’t run out of supplies during your New Zealand holiday).

Cameras and mobile phones
Don’t forget to bring a camera because New Zealand offers plenty of scenic photo opportunities! Bring your mobile phone too – you can either put it on roaming, or purchase a NZ SIM card when you get here. Remember to bring chargers for gadgets such as phones or cameras.

Other appliances
If you intend to bring an appliance such as a hairdryer that’s over 600W, bear in mind that it won’t work if you plan to freedom camp – it’ll only work if you’re plugged into mains power.

Torch and first aid kit
A torch and first aid kit are both really good ideas to carry with you on your New Zealand campervan holiday – you could either bring small ones with you, or the campervan hire company may have these available should you need them.

Passport, drivers license and money!
Of course you’ll need to pack your passport and possibly visitor’s visa (see our Preparing for your Trip page for more information on these) as well as some New Zealand currency. You’ll need to bring your driver’s license which the campervan hire company will need to see.

Things to bring for entertainment on your NZ campervan holiday

MP3 player
More modern campervans should have a connection so you can plug in your MP3 player. If you’re the type of person to take your MP3 player with you everywhere, check with the campervan rental company to make sure the campervan or motorhome you plan to hire has MP3 capability (otherwise you can buy cheap adaptors at electronics shops such as Dick Smith).

DVDs
Many motorhomes have DVD players so you may like to bring some favourite DVDs to watch during your campervan holiday, particularly if you’re travelling with kids.

Packing for your New Zealand campervan rental holiday

A final note on what to bring to New Zealand for your campervan rental holiday – bring soft bags! Hard suitcases are difficult to store in motorhomes. It’s a much better idea to bring soft bags which can be easily folded and packed away.

Having grown up in the area, I’ve been lucky enough to visit Waitomo Caves several times in the past. I always enjoy going back – there’s something about drifting serenely along an underground river in a boat staring up at the magical lights of the glow worms that never loses its allure.

So, off I went in the campervan with my excited kids and ever-tolerant husband in tow. The rainy day, while denying us a good view of the lush countryside enroute, added to the charm of the New Zealand native bush setting once we arrived. Rain and bush just seem to belong together!

We approached Waitomo from Cambridge, turning south just before Te Awamutu (the signposting is good), and travelling through Kihikihi and Otorohanga,  an attractive little town with a good variety of shops, including a petrol station and supermarket where you can easily park your campervan and stock up on supplies. Otorohanga is also home to the Kiwi House, a walk-through aviary where visitors can see native New Zealand birds in a natural forest habitat (every visitor is guaranteed to see a kiwi – so if you’ve been looking for them in the bush in vain, you might want to pop in for a sighting!). Although we knew what we were looking for, having checked out the Waitomo Caves website the night before, we did find our arrival into Waitomo a little confusing. Before we arrived at the official Caves, there were numerous businesses advertising caves tickets and tours and it was hard to know which one was the ‘real thing’! (the trick is to drive through the ‘village’, past the camping ground and out the other end – you’ll find Waitomo Caves itself, complete with large carpark and imposing visitor building, just around the corner).

Cafe at Waitomo CavesThere are a number of caves that can be visited at Waitomo (check out the website for details) and combo tickets can be purchased if you’re interested in seeing more than one. As we were travelling with a 2-year-old with a short attention span, we chose just to do the main Waitomo Cave. Tours run every half hour (each one takes 45 minutes) and although we hadn’t booked, we had no trouble joining the next tour (if you’re planning to travel in high season or during the school holidays, I’d recommend calling ahead to book). The ladies at the ticket desk were friendly and helpful, the toilets were numerous and clean, and the visitor building itself is an attractive, modern facility which does a great job of merging structure with nature. The rain falling onto the plastic dome which covers the whole building made it seem like we were inside a waterfall.

Our guide was called Huia and he was a local Maori. There must have been around 25 people in our group, and he had to cater for many non-English speakers. I thought he did a good job and liked all the Maori cultural references, and he was very knowledgeable about the glow worms and their life cycle. The tour had quite a few steps but was a fairly easy walk. There was a bit of backtracking so sometimes we were at the front and sometimes the back of the group. We saw beautiful limestone formations and he explained about the history of the caves, and how the stalactite and stalagmite formations grow. The highlight was definitely the boat trip on the underground river, with nothing but the glow worms for light. It rendered everyone (even our 2 year old) speechless, and was simply a magical experience and one I highly recommend.

The only thing we didn’t like about our caves tour was that there was another group (a tour group all from the same country) right behind us – as in, at times only a few metres behind us. They were very noisy and it was very difficult to hear our guide. It did take away a little from the whole experience. The public tours are 30 mins apart and you’d hope that other group tours would be scheduled so they didn’t coincide with these. We were visiting at a busy time of day – 11.30 am – so perhaps if we’d been earlier or later in the day we wouldn’t have experienced this.

We toyed with the idea of driving our campervan into Waitomo to have lunch at one of the cafes and restaurants we had driven past, but in the end, the lovely natural setting of the Waitomo Caves visitor centre won, so we stayed there and enjoyed a very pleasant, tasty and well-priced lunch before steering the kids through the gift shop (lots of tempting souvenirs) and back onto the road.

I would recommend that if you have time in your itinerary, stay overnight near Waitomo (the Waitomo Top 10 holiday park is well situated and an easy walk from the Caves themselves). Then you can join the first tour of the day, have a coffee in Waitomo afterwards, and still arrive at your next destination in time for lunch. Or, you may choose to stay longer – Waitomo offers many other activities such as black water rafting, rock climbing, abseiling, quad biking, hiking and horse trekking. Plan your trip

The kids both asked to go back to Waitomo the next day – the sign of a successful visit! Waitomo Caves is a definite must in a North Island itinerary.

 

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