1. Cathedral Cove
2. Hot Water Beach
5. Hobbiton Movie Set
8. Tongariro Alpine Crossing
Driving to Cathedral Cove
Avoid 'The 309 Road'
Driving from Coromandel to Cathedral Cove, your phone will send you on the 'fastest' route through 'The 309 Road'. Do not take this road, it is extremely high, narrow and dangerous for camper-vans with no opportunity to turn around. Take the main road route via State Highway 25 instead.
CLICK FOR GOOGLE MAP LOCATION!
1. CATHEDRAL COVE TRAIL
Drive to the small village of Hahei for Cathedral Cove. Make your way to the top of Grange Road to start the 1.6km trail. On a slight incline, it passes two cute bays, Gemstone & Stingray Bay, but save them (and your legs) for the way back! Weave through the Remembrance Garden and exotic forest until you reach the Cathedral Cove steps. The beach is small, quaint and cute. We visited at 11am (late August) and it wasn't too busy.
Tip: Entering Hahei, follow the big blue sign right for Free Visitor Parking. A huge carpark with free toilets. The walk to Cathedral Cove is approx. 1 hour from here. The top of Grange Road (start of trail) has a small car park, but costs $15.
2. HOT WATER BEACH
Tired legs from Cathedral Cove? Take the 8-minute drive from Hahei to Hot Water Beach. A seemingly everyday beach with an incredible (not so) secret 20cm below your feet. Geothermal activity along the beach naturally heats the underlying water. The most natural, thermal experience - to dig your own hot bath! The trick is to find a spot that pivots between a "hot" (up to 64 degrees celsuis!) and "cold" area of water to create a "just right" bath temperature. Once you've given Goldilocks a run for her money - have a soak, relax and enjoy the view.
Tip: You will need a big spade! Rent one from the majority of Holiday Parks in the area, we stayed at the TOP 10 Hot Water Beach holiday park (3-minute walk away) and rented a spade for $5.
Tip: The "Hot Water Beach" section is only on a certain 20-metre stretch. Bear left and it is the area between the large rocks and the sea.
Tip: Timing is everything! You must visit 2 hours either side of low tide, otherwise the sand area you need will be under water. Ask your accommodation or check daily tides here.
Tip: There is a Pay & Display car park here if you are not planning on staying in the area.
New Zealand drive on the left-hand side of the road (same as the UK), however they measure speed in KMPH, not MPH.
Wallabies are considered a pest here. We saw road signs stating if you spot one, to report its whereabouts...
New Zealand has very similar birdlife to the UK, including sparrows, starlings and even pheasants!
3. A GEOTHERMAL WONDERLAND
We've now reached the home of New Zealand's geothermic activity - Rotorua! Witness this natural phenomenon at 'Wai-O-Tapu' Thermal Wonderland. The Thermal Park + Lady Knox Geyser is $32.50 adult ticket. Follow the trail of violent bubbling, steam and the poignant sulphur smell to discover scorching pools of all colours - from grey, orange, lime green and pink. It takes approx. 1-1.5 hours to complete. There is a gift shop, toilets, and large parking area on-site.
Tip: The Lady Knox Geyser (signposted turning just before Wai-O-Tapu) explodes at approx. 10.50am everyday. Stop here first after buying the combined adult ticket from the Wai-O-Tapu ticket office.
Tip: The Wai-O-Tapu ticket office is cashless and accepts all major debit / credits cards only.
Tip: Don't visit on a full stomach, the intense "eggy" sulphur smell is enough to turn the strongest of stomachs!
5/10 minutes from Wai-O-Tapu. Recommended spot for swimming in natural 'hot springs' for free off the highway. Parking area is very dodgy, suspect cars loitering. Theft warning signs everywhere. I went to take a picture (Liam watched the van) and we left straight away.
Avoid "Kerosene Creek"
! High Theft Area !
4. REDWOODS TREETOP WALK
The Whakarewarewa "The Redwoods" forest, a 5-minute drive outside of Rotorua, is the perfect place to escape to nature for a few hours. Fancy a walk up in the trees? $29 each will give you access to the longest suspension bridge tree walk. It has a total of 27 platforms, 28 bridges (the longest being 37m)! Allow 40 minutes to complete and be in awe over the majestic Giant Sequoia trees. They are quite something!
Tip: There is miles of parking along the road, the best place to park is near the iSite (Visitor Centre). This is where you buy tickets for the Redwoods Bridge Walk.
Fun fact: The wire rope used for the Bridge Walk is 13mm thick and has a minimum breaking force of 12 tonnes!
5. HOBBITON MOVIE SET
My fellow Lord of the Rings fans - This one is for you! Arrive at 'The Shire's Rest' (where the tour is based), check in, await your bus to drive you through 5-minutes of farmland towards a hidden gem - the real film set of The Shire. The details are breathtaking, step into Hobbiton and spot 40 hobbit hole facades, washing lines, Shire community posters, fishing rods, and even real vegetable patches. Take a photo next to Bilbo's infamous "No Admittance" sign outside Bag End. Finish off the tour with your feet up and a free drink in the Green Dragon Pub. Truly a magical experience.
Fun Fact: The set has a team of 40+ constantly tending to it - including landscapers, gardeners, prop designers and decorators to keep it pristine all year round.
Fun Fact: The 'Hobbit Holes' are all just external facades. All internal filming in Bilbo's house was filmed in Wellington!
Fun Fact: Only 2/3 of the Hobbiton set was used in filming, the other 1/3 was built just in case the camera needed to pan.
6. WAITOMO GLOW WORM CAVES
Discover a magical hidden underworld at Waitomo Glowworm Caves. Through subtle lighting, pass delicate cave formations as you and your guide descend further into the darkness. Half-way down, reach the tallest cave chamber - The Cathedral, famous for its incredible acoustics. Prepare for goosebumps as your Tour Guides song echoes proudly throughout. From this point, a calm silence is required at the dim streams, as glow worms are very sensitive to sound. Step into your boat and prepare to be stunned. Silently gliding, above you thousands of illuminated glow worms sparkling like the night sky. A magical experience that cannot be missed. Adult ticket is $55 each.
Tip: The main centre for the Waitomo Caves is instantly recognisable by a large, glass dome structure. Directly opposite is a huge free car park.
Fun Fact: The Cathedral has hosted a number of celebrities testing out its acoustics, including a performance by Katy Perry!
Fun Fact: The glow worms use their hanging 'saliva' strings to collect food, and can have 20-30 dangling at a time.
Powered site, 5-6 Camper-van spots, 3-minute drive from Waitomo Caves, cosy alpine lodge feel, animals everywhere (dogs / pigs / sheep), huge DVD collection to borrow for free, huge communal kitchen, large communal toilets & hot showers.
It is forbidden to take any photographs or videos at all in the caves to not disturb the sensitive glow worms / cave formations. This includes cameras without flash.
! No Photography Allowed !
New Zealand Lambs
Lambing season in New Zealand is late July - September. Visiting then? Prepare to see thousands of these cuties skipping across the fields.
7. TODDLE AROUND TAUPO
Making your way down North Island, reach the central heart of Taupo. This quiet little town is home to the largest lake (by surface area) in NZ - it is almost the size of Singapore! Take time to kayak the lake to the 'Mine bay Maori Rock Carvings', wander round the small shops, snap next to the 'LOVE TAUPO' sign and - Go and visit the official "World's Coolest McDonalds" and enjoy chicken nuggets in this old military plane turned dining area!
Freedom Camping site, large capacity, one public 'no flush, drop down' toilet. Get there early (3/4pm) to bag a great spot directly next to the lake. Prepare for the wind to rock you to sleep! Only self-contained campers are permitted to freedom camp.
A dual carriageway is rare in New Zealand (especially out of Auckland). The majority of main roads are single carriageway 'State Highways'. They provide numerous passing lanes and stopping bays to allow cars to pass slower vehicles.
New Zealand sell alcohol in their Countdown supermarkets, whereas Australia do not and always have a separate 'Beer Wine and Spirits' store nearby.
New Zealand call the wind 'Northerlies' or 'Northwesterlies' for example.
8. HIKE THE TONGARIRO CROSSING (WINTER)
This extremely popular day-hike in the Spring / Summer sees an ants trail of 5000+ people a day crossing the volcanic craters and the bright emerald lakes. Usually, a free hike which only requires booking a shuttle on each side. However, in Winter conditions, it is a whole different ball game.
Freedom hiking is not permitted in Winter if deemed too dangerous. Shuttles will not run. The only way to complete the hike (or partially) is with a guided company, Adventure Outdoors NZ. Adult ticket is $175 each, includes return transfers, all safety equipment (fleeces, pants, shoes, tops, ice axe, 'cramp-on' snow spikes, helmets and sunglasses (to prevent you being 'snow-blind!). All this plus extremely friendly, professional guides.
Words cannot describe the awe as you stand on 2 metres of untouched snow, the entire landscape all to yourself and your small group. Otherworldly!
Tip: The Tongariro Crossing will require a very early start (Trail is approx 8 hours long). Stay in 'National Park', a small village very close to the crossing, the night before. There are approx. 3 camp-sites available, we stayed at Plateau Lodge.
Tip: Do not wear cotton if you hike this trail (in Winter). The dampness on the material will freeze as it hits colder climates at the top, making it very uncomfortable.
It is approx. 4.5-5 hours drive from National Park to Wellington. A good half-way point is a town called 'Levin', you drive straight through on State Highway 1. There is a McDonalds & Countdown supermarket right next to each other.
The Drive to Wellington
9. WELLINGTONS MOUNT VICTORIA
The perfect place to escape the 'hustle and bustle' of Wellingtons narrow lanes is high on a hill - Mt Victoria Park. Once you level out and catch your breath, relax and take a winding stroll through this beautiful park. Want a view? Head towards the Mt Victoria Lookout. Tackle another slight incline for breathtaking rewards - 360 degree views overseeing all of Wellington!
Tip: Don't want to walk to the lookout? You can drive straight there and choose from 2 free car parks.
Fun Fact: On a clear day, you can clearly seeing airplanes land and take off from Wellington Airport's runway!
Freedom camping car park. 20+ close knit spots available, very popular. Get there early (no later than 3pm) to get a spot. It's a 50-minute walk into Wellington City centre (below Mt Victoria underpass). Remain parked to not lose your space. 2 on-site toilets. Only self-contained campers are permitted to freedom camp.
10. THE HOBBITS HIDEAWAY
Attention my Lord of The Rings fans. Mt Victoria is also home to the filming location of 'Hobbits Hideaway' - the infamous scene where the Hobbits hide below a tree root from a Ring Wraith. Find a park map and follow the Yellow Route (Hataitai-City).
Fun Fact: The 'Hobbits Hideaway' scene is initially quite unrecognisable as the tree was superimposed into the film!
11. CUBA STREET & QUIRKS
Keep your eyes peeled for all of the fun, quirky details around Wellington city centre. Including lots of street art, funky colourful architecture, pop-up cafes and shops, rainbow zebra crossings and even traffic light figures doing the Haka!
Tip: The home of Wellington's quirks is the pedestrianised 'Cuba Street', sat between Ghuznee and Manners Street. Here find delightful independent gift shops (i.e. IkoIko, Cosmic and Wonderland), a funky water bucket fountain and weekend markets.
Tip: On Cuba Street, try Lord of the Fries 'shoestring fries' - they are the best!
12. TE PAPA WATERFRONT MUSEUM
Rainy day or a spare few hours? Be sure to visit Te Papa Waterfront Museum in Wellington. 6 levels to explore, for free! Best floor being Level 2 with the breathtakingly realistic WETA Workshop figures in 'Gallopoli: The Scale of our War' exhibition. Don't want to pay $68 for Wellington's WETA Workshop tour? Just come here for free. Level 2 also features a 'Nature Exhibition' with lots of New Zealand wildlife taxidermy and even an interactive Earthquake house!
Tip: Level 6 is just a lookout, Level 5 has portrait artwork and a cool interactive area, Level 4 is a space for seasonal installations and Level 3 focuses Maori history culture.
13. WATERFRONT TO ORIENTAL BAY
From the museum, continue along the main waterfront for a calming walk towards Oriental Bay. Spot the pops of coloured houses layered on Wellington's hillside. Pass a small picturesque Marina lined with blue boatsheds before reaching the sweet little beach of Oriental Bay. If you want more, continue on as there is plenty more coastline to stroll along!
Tip: Do not take any shells or natural beach debris from Oriental Bay beach, as it is a protected area.
14. RIDE THE CABLE CAR!
The infamous Wellington red Cable Car has been connecting hilltop residents to the city for over 100 years - It would be a sin to miss it! Pop inside the car and peacefully plod 5 minutes up the hill, stopping off at 4 small villages. Kelburn is the last stop, where you can find a large free botanical gardens, a space education centre (Tuesday, Friday eveings and all day weekends), a Cable Car museum and shuttle buses to 'Zealandia' Eco-Sanctuary.
Tip: The Cable Car ticket office is down a small pathway off Lambton Quay high street. It has a small cable car replica on top of the sign. Return adult ticket is $9.
Tip: Look out for the neon light displays as you go through the small tunnels!
Book your journey from Wellington (North Island) to Picton (South Island) through Interislander NZ Ferry to secure a spot on your required date. For 2 people and one large campervan it was $300. They often have great promo codes on throughout the year, check before you book (we saved $78)! The boarding process is very easy. With helpful guides, park your camper onto the ferry and head upstairs to relax, get a cup of tea and enjoy the views!
Interislander Ferry to the South Island