After spending more time in the Northland than we had planned, we decided to continue with our travels rather than stop again in Auckland. The idea of a scenic road trip from Auckland to Wellington took shape.
So, we drove to the little suburb of Cambridge, where we found our next campground. Parked beside us was an awesome-looking campervan, which immediately captured my attention, so I had to take a longer look. I then realized that the door was open, and the owner of the campervan was watching me, obviously amused. I said a quick and shy “Hello“ and embarrassedly tried to hurry away.
A few minutes later we met him. Colin and his friend Shammi introduced themselves and invited us into their 9-meter-long Camper where we spent a lovely evening with coffee and very nice chats.
The next morning we took off to our next destination. We were armed with useful tips from Colin and Shammi, and a handwritten note of our new route which Colin had searched out for us the previous night.
We had intended to travel from East to West, which unfortunately is not possible on a direct route. But Colin had provided us with a way to get to where we wanted to go.
After many hugs, we said our goodbyes and went on our way.
We stopped in Cambridge for a little while to visit the Farmer’s Market before we continued our journey.
This was our planned route from Auckland to Wellington:
1. Blue Springs Putaruru
3. Waimangu Volcanic Valley
4. Huka Falls
5. Lake Taupo
8. Otaki Beach
And after all that, we planned to go to the South Island of New Zealand.
1.Blue Springs Putaruru
On our way to Rotorua, we stopped at the Blue Springs Putaruru. And what a beautiful place it was! We enjoyed the multiple shades from deep turquoise to smaragd green and the view of the untouched water.
We were so excited to visit Rotorua because we have never seen something like this before. Rotorua is a town full of hot pools and bubbling geysers. During our research for campgrounds, we had read that there is a free campground directly in town, but that it smells like rotten eggs. We thought, well, let’s give it a try, and got the last spot. The smell was not as bad as was reviewed by many people. Or, maybe we were lucky.
On our walk through town, we could hear the geysers from every corner and saw the steam floating up in the air. And, if we got too close, we even could feel the heat. What a phenomenal spectacle!
Unfortunately, the Rotorua Museum was closed, so we missed that. But even from the outside, it looked fantastic.
Rotorua is also known as a place of Maori culture. There is a Maori Village that is built for tourists, and fully-loaded buses go there frequently. But we thought it was too touristy and not “real”, and so we decided to skip it.
3. Waimangu Volcanic Valley
The next day was another highlight for us. We had to make a decision between Waimangu Volcanic Valley and Wai-O-Tapu. We decided on the Waimangu Volcanic Valley, even if we would have liked to have seen both. But with entrance fees of $44 per person, both tours were too expensive and not within our budget. Also considering our slow travel we had to continue so that we could see other highlights with no rush and could keep our golf route.
The Waimangu Volcanic Valley did not disappoint us. A two-hour walk leads us through the wonders of nature.
We saw craters and lakes, springs and geysers. And, of course, it took us more than two hours.
Due to the bad weather, there were no boat trips on Lake Rotomahane, from where you usually pass geothermal and volcanic sights that are not visible from the land.
From the Lake, we went by bus (there are a total of three bus stations on this way) back to the entrance.
On our drive south, we decided to stop briefly at Wai-O-Tapu but couldn’t see anything from the outside.
Tip: Be sure to check the app CamperMate as there are often offers for different tours. We saved $10 per person on our entry into the Waimangu Volcanic Valley, so it’s worth looking into!
4. Huka Falls
The Huka Falls are admittedly a highly sought-after photo spot. Despite the masses of people there, we wanted to see this spectacle of nature for ourselves. We parked at the other end and made the short ten-minute walk to the river.
The Huka Falls thunder water through the narrow gorge with a maddening force that thrilled us once again with its strength, its incredible blue color, and with nature in general.
5. Lake Taupo
Next stop: Lake Taupo. Anyone who thinks that after all that we have seen, it can’t get more beautiful, is mistaken!
Only the Taupo Lookout we didn’t find so outstanding.
We spent a night at the 5 Mile Beach (free campground) and enjoyed being back near the water.
The small town itself was also worth seeing and we strolled through the streets and enjoyed dinner at a lovely Thai restaurant.
We drove to Napier the following day and were really looking forward to this Art Deco city.
We had seen many pictures and were curious to see if the city really looked like the pictures.
Immediately while entering the city we saw our first example of Art Deco: The National Tobacco Company building!
Our free campground was located at Perfume Point, which was located right by the Pacific Ocean and couldn’t have been better! Even though it was just outside the city, we loved it here and stayed two nights. We would have loved to stay longer, but the camping location had a 48-hour limit.
We reached the Art Deco city itself after a 45-minute walk.
Napier was destroyed by a major earthquake and the subsequent fires in 1931 and the town had to be rebuilt from scratch. The rebuilding began immediately after the quake and lasted for two years. The local architect took advantage of the architectural fad of the time and the opportunity to create an Art Deco city that today is known worldwide.
On our way out of Napier, we stopped at Cape Kidnappers where we played a bucket list golf course with spectacular views and later that evening had another fabulous free campground.
Have you ever heard of Waverly? No? Me neither, until we started our route. James had put this place on our list because there was something that is, let’s just say, a little “different”.
Waverly is located about 44 km northwest of Wanganui which is known for its agriculture and sheep farming.
If you are wondering what we were looking for … a golf course, of course. And what a golf course it was! The Waverly Golf Club will be remembered by us forever. Here you can golf with sheep, 300 in number to be exact. They are the “greenskeeper” of the course as they eat the grass. Only the greens themselves remain untouched by the sheep because they are mowed by human greenskeepers and therefore are too short for the sheep`s teeth.
It was so much fun to play here and watch all the cute sheep. And no, we didn’t hit any of them, they all remained unharmed. And somehow, we even managed to lay our golf bags on the ground in such a manner that they did not end up in any small “land mines”.
Tip: We spent the night before at Cave Beach, where there is a free campground, and where we saw the best and most beautiful starry sky ever. Millions of sparkling stars! And, as if that wasn’t enough, we even saw The Milky Way!
8. Otaki Beach
After Waverley, our route from Auckland to Wellington took us to Otaki Beach. Otaki Beach was very special for us. When we traveled through Thailand, Laos, and Cambodia three years ago, we met Lorna and Graham along the way. A New Zealand couple with whom we have been in contact via Facebook ever since.
After three long years, we met them again in their hometown of Otaki Beach.
We spent four wonderful days with Lorna and Graham, where we went for long walks on the beach and spent nice hours where we sat, drinking hot tea, and chatting together.
Lorna showed us her tattoo studio and her beautiful artwork.
Graham took us on a little hiking tour, where we saw “huts” for the first time. The huts were cabins where hikers can spend the night if the hike lasts several days.
We didn’t see anything from Otaki city itself, but we were much happier spending time with Lorna and Graham by the sea anyways.
Located right by the Tasman Sea, Paraparaumu is a charming little town.
Here is the Paraparaumu Beach Golf Club, which is ranked New Zealand’s third-best golf course. We arrived late, introduced ourselves to the general manager, and took some pictures of the golf course.
We spent our first night in a parking lot directly overlooking the sea. And had the most beautiful sunset.
The next day we played the incredibly beautiful golf course (our favorite in New Zealand!) and then sat down in the clubhouse and enjoyed a coffee before we went back to the parking lot for our second night.
That night was stormy, and we had to settle for the unforgettable sunset of the previous evening.
Since the shops everywhere in New Zealand close at 5 p.m., and we did not leave the Club until after 5 p.m., we, unfortunately, did not see anything of the city.
It was just enough time to prepare a quick meal, eat and then fall tired but happy into a deep and calm sleep.
Tip: From the coast, you can see Kapiti Island, an offshore island that is a protected area and home to many native birds. A maximum of 50 visitors per day are allowed on the island and it is strictly controlled that nobody enters the island with animals that could be dangerous to the birds. If you want to read more about the island, you can do so here.
Wellington was our last stop on the North Island, and we spent three nights here.
The parking lot, which we had chosen as our sleeping place, was located directly at the Te Papa Museum, which every Wellington visitor must go to. It is the National Museum of New Zealand and is insanely good. We liked it so much that we went there twice.
Admission is free. And in our opinion, is an absolute MUST!
From the Te Papa Museum, you are already in the middle of Wellington’s waterfront. Here you’ll find cool bars, a German Hofbräuhaus, and small shops lined up.
Finally, we had sunshine, and even though it was very windy, we could fully enjoy our walks at the harbor.
Wellington is also called Windy Welli because it is so windy here. In the small souvenir shops, you can find cards with drawings of people with wavy hair, the so-called “Welli Hair Do”.
At the harbor, we visited the Underground Market during the weekend. It is an underground car park that is converted into a marketplace. There are many stalls that have everything your heart desires, a place where you can certainly leave a lot of money.
In addition to our daily walks along the waterfront, we visited another museum, the Wellington Museum, which was also free of charge. It highlights the history of the city and is also very interesting.
We went to the famous red cable car but decided once we got there to put the money ($ 8 per way and per person) towards eating.
Afterward, we visited Cuba Street where we had a fantastic Thai dinner.
We didn’t miss the famous Viewpoint Mount Victoria. After a sweaty steep climb up, we enjoyed the stunning views of Wellington in the best of weather.
On our last day before we went to the ferry, we went back again to the weekend market. The Kiwis are such superb role models! Nobody uses plastic bags, and everyone here brings their own shopping bags. The understanding and respect of nature is outstanding, and we wish that environmental awareness in other parts of the world would be as good as it is here.
Farewell North Island
Here we would leave the North Island with our camper Lorna and start our next week’s traveling throughout the South Island.
The time from Auckland to Wellington went by too fast, but the next adventures were already waiting!