State Highway 1 in your rental campervan
January 23, 2013
Last 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.