Driving The Coromandel and the East Coast of the North Island, New Zealand
We have been back from our NZ trip for just over two weeks and the memories of the journey still appear in my mind every single day. Friends have told me for years that I would love New Zealand. I knew I would, but didn’t expect to connect with it on the level that I did.
Imagine waking up each morning, throwing open the doors of the campervan and feeling the sun on your face. Being near the ocean is a concept I’ve strived for (and still do) constantly. Driving part of the East Coast in our converted Nissan camper made those dreams a definite reality.
I wanted to share some tips for living out of a camper for 9 days…
1. Use Mighway! The AirBnB of RV’s and Camper Vans.
We rented Beluga, a converted Nissan from Nicole and she was an absolute dream to communicate with. Mighway handles the insurance and boring bits via the booking system and then Nicole dealt with the pick up and drop off. She showed us how to ensure the battery that ran the electrics would charge whilst Beluga was moving and how to disconnect it from the main battery overnight so we didn’t run flat. She had equipped Bel with everything we would need for our trip.
Pros: We saved a lot doing this rather than hiring a car and then stopping in hotels. An actual human earned money which will help her in her life rather than feeding a corporate company. We were able to visit so many more places by living on the road and van life is real life!
Cons: As with any larger vehicle Bel could be heavy to drive for long periods of time. Many of the roads on the Coromandel are gravel or sharp bends with very steep drop offs into the ocean. Ensure you take things slowly!
2. Download CamperMate – A handy guide of everything camper related in NZ.
Available via Apple or Google Play, CamperMate has a map list of DOC camp sites (free with a DOC badge on your camper), paid camp sites, dump sites, public toilets/showers, petrol stations, recommended things to do… literally everything you could ever need. We chose to stay in paid campsites for a lot of nights simply so we could have access to showers. This was never more than around £20 a night equivalent.
3. Plan your route, but be open to new adventures.
We arrived into Auckland and spent the first night on the front lawn of my wonderful friends Alex and Brigid. Alex assured us that we definitely needed to drive the Coromandel. Without any clear idea of how long it would take to do in entirety, we took his advice.
This part of New Zealand is nature in its purest beauty. Small towns dot the coastline with Coromandel Town right at the tip of where the main road starts to curve back round onto the East side of the peninsula.
We decided to hit the gravel roads north of the main road. Although they can be difficult to drive in places, they are well worth it. There is a camp site named Port Jackson right on the north coast which is incredibly beautiful.
We did the majority of the peninsula in one day, which in total was around 7 hours driving. We stopped for lunch at Wharf Road in Coromandel Town and eventually ended up staying on the East side at a camp site named Whangapoua.
The next morning we headed to Kua Kawhe cafe which is attached to the gorgeous Luke’s Kitchen in the picturesque small town of Kuaotunu. They serve the best oat milk lattes, vegan frittata’s and sugar free cakes. Whilst we were paying the bill I got chatting to the owner who suggested that on our visit south we visit the Waimangu Volcanic Valley.
Driving down towards Tauranga we visited Hahei beach (the route to Cathedral Cove). Being a mermaid in secret, I went into the sea fully dressed, then letting the warm air dry me. Hot Water Beach is always a suggested spot online but by the time we reached it was way too tourist-y for my anti-social inclinations. Instead we continued south to Whangamata where we had lunch at Six Forty Six.
The same day we went straight through Tauranga and set up for the night in Rotarua, at the wonderful Cosy Cottage Thermal Park. The sulphuric smells from the geothermal waters are evident the moment you get near Rotarua, so be prepared! Lunch the next day at The Terrace Kitchen was divine and we went back to this restaurant multiple times.
The Waimangu Valley didn’t disappoint and I would definitely recommend (if you are reasonably fit) doing the longer hike trail and doing the full walk. There is a bus at the end that brings you back to the start in under 10 minutes. I would suggest the entire thing was around an hour and a half and along the way you can expect some gorgeous greenery and education points about the site.
The day before the wedding in Tauranga we headed back to the coastline and ended up in Whakatane, more specifically Ohope Beach. I’m always attracted to converted shipping containers so breakfast at Moxi was a must. The drive along the ocean from Whakatane to Tauranga is almost on a par with the Coromandel.
We spent our last couple of days back in Rotarua. The Redwoods are incredibly beautiful and they have some great walking/bike trails to follow. I love being in environments that remind you the world is bigger than just your life, and the huge ancient trees towering above us definitely evoked this feeling.
On our last ‘travelling’ night we went to the Polynesian spa for some rest and relaxation. It was the Easter weekend, so was a lot busier than it normally would be, but I would still recommend doing this. It’s a much cheaper version of the Blue Lagoon in Iceland.
4. Take more money than you think you need.
Granted, we ate out A LOT, but we are both foodies and we were on a holiday of enjoyment. The supermarkets in NZ are plentiful, full of healthy grub and it would be easy enough to use a gas stove (check your camper to see if this is included) to cook more often. Restaurants and attractions I found to be similar to London prices. Including the fuel I think we spent an extra £1,000 on top of the flights and camper hire.
5. Pack lightly.
I took way more clothes than I ended up using. We were in NZ as the season changed to Autumn (April) but it was still warm enough to wear one layer and sliders. The campsites (if you choose to stay in paid sites) mostly have washing facilities. Tip: ensure you have change for these, they tend to be a dollar or two per wash. In hindsight it would have been nicer to have more space in the van without big cases.
So, those are my top five tips! Hope you enjoyed them! Have you been to the North Island? Do you have any tips to add? I will definitely go back for longer and do North of Auckland, a bit of the West coast and definitely the South island too.
I took all of the below images with my IPhone, and processed them using LR on my return.