These are holiday notes from a recent 4 week campervan holiday around the north island that may be of interest to others? We went over January holiday period with 5 year old child. Start with a few planning generalities and then comment of some specific locations/activities. Did a figure 8 loop out Auckland, down to the Ruapehu volcanoes then up thru Rotarua to the coast, onto the Coromandel Peninsula and then up into northland, to the Cape and then back to Auckland. With 5 year old much of the holiday was about some beach time and short forest and lookout walks. Unfortunately the water was quite cold at only about 16 C – colder than expected. This coldness when combined with many windy days that created dumping swell onto the beaches meant didnt get to spend that much time swimming or snorkeling.
Sites like TripAdvisor have been going long enough now that numerous reviews give you a fair idea of most motels, so no need for special comments here. For camping the whole region was never super busy. C ould get a camp ground every night without needing to book except at some classic beach locations close to Auckland such as Heihe and Goat Island where campsites were filling up by early afternoon
Campervan – chose Lucky Rentals that uses ex Jucy rental vehicles that are about 5-10 years old. These older vehicles seem to go for about half the price of new vehicle rentals. It cost $90 /day over christmas peak period. Diesel has good economy and automatic is easy to drive. You can request a vehicle with a third seat in the front for a third person and in the high roof back a third person can sleep in a mezzanine bed. Diesel seems cheap at $1.50 versus $2.00 for petrol but in some sort of bizarre and complex tax scheme, the rental company recovers a diesel usage tax at about $5.70 per 100 km driven (instead of a pay-at-the-pump approach). You can register at petrol stations for an AA fuel card that gives 6c/litre discount at the common caltex and mobil stations. Almost everywhere parking is free which is a pleasant change from many other tourist oriented countries.
Orakei Korako Geothermal site. This was the only geothermal tourist site not visited on 2008 holiday. The site being quite small and lacking any good geyser activity. All the geothermal sites in NZ are quite expensive. As a geothermal geologist would recommend 1. Waitapu – it has a good geyser and a great bubbling mud pool on the road in and the champagne pool has terracing off one flank (giving a hint of what the pink and white terraces must have been like) and acidic-collapse craters down the other flank so that it pretty much gives exposure to the full range of features of all parks. 2. Waimangu for its a great natural setting inside a very young volcanic rift with some nice bubbling pools etc.
Mt Manganui summit walk had fantastic views and there was also good beaches with nice surf nearby with free parking
Karangahake Gorge had pleasant few hour loop walk through the tunnel (at the west end) and then back up the river track. The nearby Dickie Flat DOC campground was overcrowded and weed infested. The camper van lodge in Karangahake was much nicer and hardly any dearer but it was up for sale.
Cathedral Cove and Hotwater Beach both seemed a bit over-rated and nothing really special. Make sure you get to the Cathedral Cove Carpark above town by about 9am – before it fills up and can have breakfast in the carpark looking out over the beautiful island-studded bay.
Sheepworld north of Auckland had an interesting working sheep dog and sheep shearing display that was much more entertaining and interesting than thought it would be. You can also pay more to go into the petting zoo area but most of the animals are fenced off into pens without much interaction with the kids so hardly worth it.
Goat Island to the north had lots of biggish few that were not scared of snorkelers. The campground on the road in is a friendly and convenient place to stay.
At Bay of Islands stayed at Pahia. The Maori run wharae (community hall) just short of Waitangi offer beach front camping – lookout for the big wood carvings. Camp ground looks a bit bleak but you can use the hot showers in the meeting hall. Money stays in the local Maori community.
D id the boat trip out to hole in the rock for half day but the all day trip (which sometimes has dolphin swimming at not extra charge) is better value.
W ent up to Cape Reinga but it is a lot of driving through pretty degraded country to get there. Almost the whole way there is a windy road through country cleared of kauri forest and then done over for diary before the infertile showed it was not good for agriculture. The last bit at the Cape has natural forest and has some nice campgrounds but I dont really think it is worth the time and money for just a day trip – plenty of similar coastal headland views elsewhere in NZ for much less effort.
Waipoua kauri forests along the west coast were very scenic and worth the trip - the huge kauri Tane mahuta was amazing!
At the end of the trip did a weeks diving at the Poor Knight Islands based out of Tutukaka. Note that of the 'twin wrecks' the Tui has been smashed flat and not dived on for a couple of years. The Waikato was interesting with the ripped open bow and big gun turret but there was hardly any vegetation or fish because the wreck get scoured clean by occasional big storms. Dive Tutukaka is the big operator and they were fantastic. Doing a live-aboard trip would cut down commuting time and lower costs with everything on board – diving, food and accommodation – rather than paying all separately. Dive Tut has just started some liveaboard trips but another operator – Ocean Blue – also does 2-3-4 day live-aboards for a good price. In tended trip with this operator was cancelled due to lack of numbers so cannot comment on their operations.
hope these of some value
david in melbourne australia