Articles posted in the "North Island" category

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!

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.

 

Last week I was fortunate to have the opportunity to travel to Tiritiri Matangi. Tiri (as the locals call it) is a wildlife sanctuary located on an island of the same name, just 30 kilometres north-east of the Auckland CBD, in New Zealand’s North Island.

Tiritiri Matangi IslandTiri is a small island with no proper roads, so you can’t take your rental campervan there – but you can do the next-best thing. You reach the island by ferry from Gulf Harbour, located at the end of the Whangaparaoa Peninsula, north of Auckland. There are two good things about Gulf Harbour (apart from the fact that it’s your gateway to Tiri!): 1) it boasts fabulous views across the Hauraki Gulf all the way to Auckland City, and 2) if you’re travelling in a self-contained campervan or motorhome you can freedom camp there. So, I highly recommend you arrive in the afternoon (beat the peak hour traffic as it does get quite heavy heading north out of Auckland CBD in the afternoons), find a suitably scenic spot in the carpark for your rental motorhome (hopefully you’ll hire one of the big motorhomes with the huge panoramic windows in the back, from which to enjoy the splendid city vista), and enjoy dinner in your motorhome or alternatively go for a wander to nearby Gulf Harbour village where you’ll find a couple of eating and drinking establishments. The following morning, you can enjoy a walk on the rocks or marina and a leisurely breakfast overlooking the water before meandering off to the ferry just a short distance away.

A tip about the ferry: I recommend you book the ferry in advance as it leaves from Auckland before stopping at Gulf Harbour, and I did speak to a couple of campervan travellers who had missed out on going to Tiri the day before because the ferry from Auckland couldn’t fit them on! Also, do check with the ferry company (360 Discovery) as they only travel some days of the week at certain times of the year.

The ferry trip over to the island was relaxing – I enjoyed the views and fresh sea air from the top deck. Tiri is completely pest-free and there are strict biosecurity measures in place to ensure it stays that way. On arrival all new visitors receive a briefing about the island from a Department of Conservation ranger. If you’re lucky and the guided tours aren’t fully booked, you can join one (to make extra sure, book a guided tour at the ticket office before you depart Gulf Harbour). The guided walks are ridiculously cheap and well worth doing.

Kereru on Tiritiri MatangiOur guide was very knowledgeable and took us all over the island, pointing out lots of interesting flora and fauna. The forest (bush) here is really fascinating. Thanks to a combination of pests and farming, the island was pretty much bare until the 1980’s when it was replanted with native trees by a group of dedicated volunteers. The forest is now starting to flourish and it is interesting to see the ecosystem emerging. A number of unique New Zealand native species have made Tiri their home, most notably the kokako, famous for its beautiful song, the flightless takahe and the tuatara.  Sadly we didn’t see any kokako but we saw plenty of other amazing birds including many tui, bellbirds, hihi, kereru and most notably the takahe, which were very friendly and willing to pose for photos!

I should also mention the amazing gift shop on the island. If you are planning to buy New Zealand souvenirs as mementoes of your New Zealand campervan holiday, this is the place to do it! The shop has lots of really unique and beautiful New Zealand-made merchandise and there is something for everyone. I’m going back there to do all my Christmas shopping!

We spent all day on the island and I would have gladly stayed longer. As well as the wildlife, there’s an interesting lighthouse and a lovely beach, perfect for taking a dip after tackling all the bushwalks.

Tiri is a great day out and I thoroughly recommend it for anyone travelling New Zealand by campervan. It’s really great value for money – you only pay for the ferry trip and a little extra for a guided walk, leaving you plenty of money to spend at the shop and/or as a donation to this wonderful project.

If you’re travelling around the North Island of New Zealand in a motorhome, you’ll probably be planning to visit one of New Zealand’s most popular tourist destinations: Rotorua.

Rotorua mudpoolsRotorua is a tourist town. If you’ve never been there before, there are some things that I really recommend you do. Many of the top tourist activities command an entry fee, but there is also plenty to do in Rotorua that won’t cost you anything at all. Here are my top tips for things you should do and see during your campervan rental holiday in Rotorua.

Top things to do in Rotorua on your campervan rental holiday

Geothermal activity – make sure you visit at least one thermal attraction such as Whakarewarewa, Waimangu Valley, Waiotapu (my personal favourite) or Orakei Korako, to view geysers, boiling mud, steam escaping from natural holes in the ground and amazing mineral formations. For a free alternative, visit Kuirau Park where you can see lots of steam and boiling mud, and even soak your feet in thermal hot water, for no cost at all.

Maori culture – Rotorua is a major centre for Maori culture in New Zealand and a maori cultural activity such as a hangi and concert show and/or a visit to Te Puia Maori arts and crafts centre is a must. A cheaper option is Ohinemutu, the original settlement of the Ngati Whakaue tribe, where you can visit the Marae and experience Maori culture for a gold coin donation.

Agriculture – learn about one of New Zealand’s major industries at one of the many farm-related attractions such as the Agrodome. Entry does cost, but if you’ve never seen a sheepdog at work, fed a lamb, milked a cow or touched wool straight off the back of a sheep, it’s worth including in your itinerary.

Thermal pools – Rotorua has for many years been renowned for its therapeutic thermal water, and  you absolutely must have a soak in a thermal pool while you’re in town. Many camping grounds (and hotels and motels) have their own thermal pools, and you’ll also find several public thermal pool complexes varying quality and price. My favourite is the Polynesian Spa in the heart of town. I recommend you pay the extra for the Deluxe Lake Spa and enjoy a luxurious soak looking out over the lake. If you’d like to try a more natural (and free) option, head to Kerosene Creek or Waiotapu Stream, where hot and cold streams meet.

Parks and playgrounds – Those travelling with kids will have lots of fun at the volcanic playground on the lakefront. It’s a huge playground with activities for kids of all ages, a cafe nearby with coffee for the grownups, and plenty of parking space for your rental campervan. It’s also fun to spend time relaxing on the lakefront and watching all the activity (warning: feed the swans at your peril, they are not friendly!).

Go walkabout – A walk in Rotorua’s lovely Redwood Forest is a not-to-be-missed free activity. The walk through this beautiful forest is easy and enjoyable for all ages. If you’re more adventurous, you can hike further up the hill or try a mountain bike ride. The Blue and Green Lakes are also lovely for a short or long walk, and there are some beautiful little beaches if you feel like a swim.

Get on the water – Rotorua might not be on the coast but there are plenty of lakes for watery adventures. Try a relaxing dinner cruise on Lake Rotorua, or some rafting or kayaking on the Kaituna River. For those less adventurous, you can walk along the banks of the Kautuna river to view waterfalls, a cave and a trout pool as well as watch the daredevils on the water!

Go shopping – there are loads of souvenir shops in Rotorua, it’s a great place to pick up a few things to take home. For something a little less touristy, try the Rotorua Night Market which is held every Thursday in the centre of town.

More about Rotorua

Where to camp

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