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Renting a campervan and travelling around New Zealand is an excellent way to get to those “out of the way” places while still retaining some special home comforts: proper bed,  hot shower, chilled drinks, and power for your ipod!

Sometimes, though, getting to the end of the road isn’t enough of an adventure . . . sometimes you want to keep exploring.  This is where cycling bridges the gap.

New Zealand is on its’ way to creating one of the largest networks of cycleways in the world. For those who are interested, bringing a bike (or renting one while you are here) is the perfect companion to a campervan rental.

First, the campervan provides you with a secure base from which to ride one of the hundreds of developed trails around the country. Second, cycling gives you the opportunity to stretch out and experience New Zealand’s beauty close-up and personal.

So where can you ride? New Zealand roads are notoriously winding and narrow. Fortunately,  hundreds of kilometres of developed cycle trails exist around the country. Trails range from leisurely one hour loop trails to 3-4 day cross country adventures. Rotorua and Queenstown are excellent places to ride. Outside these more developed riding centres, many communities have invested in their own trails, giving cyclists the opportunity to get an ‘insiders view’ into some of New Zealand’s most untouched wilderness and rural environments.

Where can you find information about riding? Most communities of 4000 citizens or more will have an official information centre, or “i-Site”. These centres provide extensive infomration about the local region as well as activites within the area. If they do not have a dedicated cycling trails, they will certainly be able to offer advice on where to ride a bike. Towns without information centres will invariably have a garage/petrol station or local shop where you can ask locals about things to do in the area. Alternatively, for those keen on cycling their way around the country, visit the NZbybike link to find out more about some of the country’s network of cycle trails.

Where can you rent a bike? Most larger centres, and some more popular small ones, will have bike shops with rental bikes. Depending on the type of cycling you want to do, shop experts will offer advice on the type of bike to hire, as well as trip plans. Highway/road cycling is recommended for those with signficant road riding experience; however mountain biking is well suited to any age and ability. Some campervan rental companies are now offering hire bikes as part of their ‘optional’ menu.

When planning your trip to New Zealand, consider using a bike as a secondary means of transport. Not only will it keep you fit along your journey, it is an excellent way to discover more of what the country has to offer.

Happy Riding!

Situated at the end of one of New Zealand’s most spectacular roads, the little village of French Pass nestles comfortably between the torrent waters of French Pass and New Zealand’s 8th largest island, D’urville Island.

With a small DoC Campsite,  and a boat ramp metres away, an annual trip to the Pass to fish and enjoy the pristine environment is always high on our agenda.

Getting to French Pass is a big part of the fun. While the road is well maintained, it remains a true ‘kiwi’ road, gravel in most places, with one lane bridges, and sheers drops alternating between the east and west.  Sheep and cattle roam freely over the hillsides, and cattle stops (and gates) are frequent. You will quickly secure all drawers and loose items after passing over your first cattle stop!

View from French Pass Road (courtesy French Pass Sea Safaris & Beachfront Villas)

View from French Pass Road (courtesy French Pass Sea Safaris & Beachfront Villas)

The views from the road are stunning. I read in one travel guide that the drive takes 2 hours from the turn-off from State Highway 6. I suppose it would if you drove non-stop. We normally allow 3 – 3.5 hours for the drive. We stop often, take photos, and make a cup of tea (or two) along the way. If you are driving from Nelson, add 45 minutes to reach the turn-off, or coming from Blenheim, add 1.5hours.

After a long drive, it is always a pleasure arriving in French Pass. The road winds dramatically as you make a short, sharp descent into the village. After a long drive at elevation, it always comes as a bit of a shock to suddenly be at the beach. The views to D’urville Island are always stunning, and the jetty is a welcome site after a long, dusty drive.

The DoC camp is located on the waterfront, and has 18 sites. It is always a good idea to reserve a site from November through February as the place fills with Kiwis escaping for a week or a weekend during the warm summer months. If you bring a boat, there is boat parking along the waterfront (for larger boats) and smaller ones can be kept with your vehicle in the campsite.

If you are keen to experience the outdoors, French Pass has a large number of activities. Boat-based wildlife tours (seals, dolphins, whales) are available, as are fishing charters and bird watching excursions.  Hiking tracks are numerous and range from easy to difficult. Ask the local shop owner for some suggestions if you aren’t sure which direction to head.

Of course, fishing is a priority for many visiting French pass, and the jetty is a perfect place to drop your line.

Jetty at French Pass (courtesy French Pass Sea Safaris & Beachfront Villas)
Jetty at French Pass (courtesy French Pass Sea Safaris & Beachfront Villas)

Making time to to visit French Pass should be on everyone’s list of “must do’s” for their Kiwi campervan adventure. Sure, it takes a bit of time to get there, but that is the point. Taking time ensures you really ‘take in’ what’s around you. French Pass will rank as one of the most beautiful, and memorable, journeys on your road trip.

One of the nicest things about traveling by campervan is discovering little-used side roads that take you in the ‘heart’ of a place.

We recently had one such experience as we drove from Wellington to Napier. We weren’t in a rush (the best way to enjoy a campervan adventure), so we thought we’d detour and visit the town of Martinborough and the coastal village of Lake Ferry.

Martinborough is a quaint town full of good restaurants, gourmet food producers, antiques, quality accommodation, an excellent campground, and wine . . . lots of wine.  I like to make full use of my on-board kitchen, so I took to the street to find some tasty local delicacies that I could use for lunch. I didn’t have to look far.  We were re-fuelling the van, when I spotted local food store Providore nearby. It turns out it was the perfect place to start my food exploration of Martinborough. The freshly prepared food selection was almost intimidating in it’s range, but I managed to struggle through!

Martinborough (courtesy of newealandphoto.info)

After buying some fresh scones, marinated olives, delicious local cheese and crusty bread, I headed to the Martinborough Wine Centre to find out a bit more about the local drop. The staff were extremely helpful. They gave me a quick run-down on what was produced locally, how it was grown, and their best tips on choosing the right wine for my food choices. After enjoying a free wine tasting session (yes, free) I made my selections and headed back to the van where my husband was keen to check out my purchases.

With our stomachs rumbling, we turned onto Lake Ferry Road and headed toward the wild, wonderful coast near Lake Onoke. If you’ve never visited this part of the Wairarapa Coast, it’s well worth the trip. Brisk sea air, remote untouched beaches and views that stretch on forever are a few of the highlights. And did I mention the traffic? Or rather, the complete lack of vehicles? If you’re from one of the more densely populated areas of the country, or visiting form a city from overseas, the Wairarapa is truly a breath of fresh air.

It didn’t take us long to find a ‘pull-out’ perfect for a mid-afternoon picnic. With the sun shining, a gourmet selection of goodies to eat, and seemingly no one else for miles, we had to keep reminding ourselves that we were only one hour from Wellington.

Funnily, we were commenting on how we hadn’t seen another vehicle for over an hour when a Toyota Hilux pulled in beside us. In the truck were a couple of locals on their way to do a bit of fishing near the lake outlet. My husband (also a keen fisherman) and the men soon began exchanging stories about their favourite fishing spots. As often happens, the exchange led to an invitation to join the men later at the Lake Ferry Hotel. Evidently the hotel makes some of the best fish and chips in the country. I was sold.

Fishing at Lake Ferry (courtesy of www.lakeferryhotel.co.nz)

So, with out bellies full, a lovely beach beckoning, and the prospect of catching a kahawai, we headed to the road end at Lake Ferry. With a couple of hours before sunset, Steve headed out to join the men on their kawahai quest and I decided to beach comb and take a few photos. It’s incredible how fast time passes in beautiful, serene places  . . . so different from sitting at a desk!

As the sun set, I was rejoined by my husband and the two fishermen (unfortunately, fish-less) who both, it turned out, were New Zealand wine enthusiasts. We listened as they told story after story about their favourite local wines, the winemakers, and the development of the Wairarapa wine industry.  As dusk turned to dark, our conversation turned to food. We had exhausted our supply of local delicacies during the wine discussions, but I remembered the promise of excellent fish and chips made earlier in the day . . . my stomach growled.

Unbeknownst to us, one of the men (Bill) had ordered a heaping supply of fish and chips from the hotel and had it delivered to our camper van! Amazing. With food in hand, a driftwood fire glowing, and good company in our midst, we spent the rest of the evening exchanging stories: about the places we loved, the people we’d met, the fish that had been caught,  and those that gotten away.

Thanks for the great visit Wairarapa . . . we’ll be back.

 

 

 

 

Most visitors travelling into New Zealand will arrive in Auckland.  For those who haven’t been to New Zealand  before, the Auckland Airport is world class. In fact, it was voted one of the Top 10 Airports in the World, and the best in the Asia Pacific region 3 years in a row. That’s quite a nice way to start a visit to any new country.

Auckland at Dusk (courtesy of ytravelblog.com)

The airport is approximately 45 minutes drive from the heart of downtown Auckland. Taxis and buses are easy to find outside the main terminal building, and camper van & car rental companies will either have an office located next to the arrivals area on the ground floor, or a free pick-up service to take you to their office (usually very near the airport).

New Zealand’s  largest city, Auckland has a plethora of activities for every kind of visitor. From harbour cruises (an absolute MUST for everyone), fine dining at the Viaduct, world class aquariums, museums and art galleries, excellent shopping, and regional parks for mountain biking and hiking, Auckland is a city of surprises.

Some of Auckland’s highlights include:

  • A day trip to one of the many Hauraki Gulf Islands
  • Wine tasting on Waiheke
  • Farmers Markets: choose from La Cigale French Market, Otara, Hobsonville , Parnell or many other quality markets for a morning of fun
  • Hiking & Mountain Biking: grab your bike or your cross trainers and head to one of 10 parks located within an hour of downtown Auckland
  • Shopping is exceptional in the CBD
  • If you love the sea, take a walk along the scenic Tamaki Drive and stop in at Kelly Tarlton’s Sealife Aquarium

Tamaki Drive at Sunrise

 

If you haven’t planned to spend time in Auckland, do yourself a favour and modify your itinerary . . . you won’t regret your decision.

 

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