New Zealand: North Island - Itinerary and travel information
15.11.2014 - 28.11.2014
Auckland, Paeroa, Karangahake reserve, Waihi Beach, Whangamata Beach, Hahei Beach, Hot Water Beach, Cathedral Cove, Coromandel, Tapu, McLaren Falls, Kaimanawa, Koitiata, Wellington
Like many other travelers, we started off our New Zealand adventure in Auckland as well.
Read the article "New Zealand - the first days after arrival" to learn more about our beginnings and to get some detailed information useful for your first days in New Zealand.
In this article you can find tips on how to get locally and cheaply from the airport - downtown, how our first accommodation looked like, where and how to request the IRD (social number), what is the most foreigner-friendly bank to open a new bank account, wherein Auckland is the best place to buy a car and what are the obligations associated with such purchase.
To be honest, I didn't find the city of Auckland interesting at all. As in all of Zealand, you will not see any breathtaking historical monuments here. At least not comparable to those we have back in Europe speaking of quality and age. Anyhow, not to wonder, as the modern history of Zealand dates back to the late 18th century only. Auckland, as the largest city in the country with almost 1.5 million inhabitants, has not, besides a few skyscrapers, much to offer. Don't expect any cultural shock if you're coming from Europe. Instead, prepare your wallet for a great shock. My first adrenaline experience was to see the New Zealand steep prices!
For your daily grocery shopping, I recommend the Countdown Auckland Metro (19-25 Victoria St.) and New World (125 Queen Street) located right in the city center. If you need to save some bucks - buy some food in the supermarket and cook in your hostel (hostel kitchens are usually equipped for basic cooking). In most of the supermarkets, you can also buy some delicious grilled whole chicken for 10-13 NZD.
There are HEAPS of immigrants who opened numerous cheap bistros in downtown AucklandAuckland and offer pizza, kebab, burgers, fried chicken and much more. For the cheapest Take Out meal expect to pay a minimum of 6-7 NZD (8 NZD for Fish and Chips), for a Big Burger or KFC menu you spend about 6 NZD. Those who want the most Fast Food music for their buck, order XXL Menus BigMac Hunger Buster (12.5 NZD, MacDonalds) or Big Feed (12 NZD, Burger King).
The city tour will take about one day, at most two. The city dominant Sky Tower found right in the heart of Auckland offers an exaggerated adrenalin experience for tourists. Go jump Bungee Jumping (225 NZD) from the tower or walk on the outer ledge around the Sky Tower - Sky Walk (145 NZD).
If you're an adrenaline lover, you better drive to Rotorua (3-hour drive), where you can have a lot of fun at cheaper rates. A combo of Sky Dive 12,000 ft and Raft trip will cost you as little as NZD 330. (http://www.rotoruacombos.com/combos)
We left these wannabe adrenaline activities aside and went out to explore the city instead. The center of all events you will find along Queen Street, starting at the harbor / Britomart train station, and stretching itself 2km all the way through the central Auckland up the hill. You will find everything essential in its surroundings.
It's up to everyone's preferences, but personally, I would not stay in Auckland longer than those few days necessarily needed to settle essential matters related to the beginning of your stay (IRD, bank account, car purchase). Several nights spent in the super smelly and cold hostel room at NZD 20-30 per bed, endless crowds of young Asian students strolling in the streets, countless Arabic fast-food restaurants, eternally drunken unemployed fat Maori guys lying on benches in the city center, hordes of drunk young men and half-naked freezing girls yelling under the hostel windows until dawn, make you do everything you need as quickly as possible and head off to the stunning, tranquil and virgin nature starting beyond the gates of Auckland.
Streets of Auckland
First outdoor cooking session at Erin Park in Auckland and look into our camper van
After two nights of camping in our new van in a parking lot in Auckland (Point Erin Park, now overnight stays forbidden) we moved south-east to Paeroa. You can stay up to 3 nights for free in a parking lot by the river called Karangahake Gorge. Go to Gorge, admire the splendid bridges that stretch across the wide canyon of the Ohinemuri River. Examine the remains of the gold mine, which as part of the region, defined as the area of confluence of Waitawhet and Ohinemuri river, participated in 60% of the national gold production between the years 1880 and 1950. There are several trails along the river, including an 1100-meter-long railway tunnel (try to pass through it) as part of the Hauraki Rail Trail.
The car park has a toilet, drinking water, and a recreation area near the river. In Paeroa (7 km away), you can do shopping at Countdown. Here we managed to open a bank account with ANZ (more here).
Free camping at Karangahake Gorge
On the east side of the Karangahake reserve, we can recommend Dickeys Flat Campsite. A slightly less accessible DOC camp (6 NZD), but surrounding nature is astonishing. There is a dry toilet. Water and hygiene you handle in the river nearby. Nature is fantastic, and marked trails tempt you to explore the surroundings of the river.
If you go further east to the coast, you can not miss the beautiful and picturesque Waihi Beach. Toilet and bbq desks are available. Overnight parking is permitted only for Self Contained caravans.
Waihi Beach in all its beauty
We could not camp at Waihi, so we went further north along the Bay of Planty coast to the surfing paradise of Whangamata. The toilet is here and the shower on the beach as well. Whangamata is an idyllic place for long walks on an endless beach full of millions of shells and home to dozens of rare bird species. The quiet beach promenade in the morning (Beach Rd) turned into a relatively busy visiting place in the afternoon. It seemed to us that the inhabitants of the neighboring villas did not have backpackers too much in love. Several times we noticed the strict, judgmental look of the elderly lady hiding behind the curtain. Beach Rd did not seem to be an ideal place to sleep, so we moved on to the end of Hunt Rd. There are toilets, sea views and seating area. As we noticed later the next morning, sleeping here was illegal. Around 7 AM a city council employee showed up and immediately started checking up on all sleeping backpackers around us. Luckily, she was too slow, I jumped behind the wheel, and disappeared merrily. Good to know - if the Council catches you camping in a forbidden spot, you get fined NZD 200 per person.
Hahei Beach, Hot Water Beach, Cathedral Cove
If you continue further north along the east coast of the Coromandel Peninsula, you can not miss the beautiful Hot Water Beach and Hahei Beach. As the name of Hot Water Beach suggests, the subsoil layer of this beach is tectonic. If you dig a hole in the sand during low tide, it is likely that it gets filled with hot water in a few minutes so you can enjoy a thermal spa.
The impressive natural beauty of Cathedral Cove is a short walk away from the Hahei Beach or Cathedral Cove Carpark. Everything is free, and you can enjoy a few-hour walk.
Hot Water Beach
View of Cathedral Cove
In this picturesque town, we stopped for a short while and let our Estima's melting brakes rest. We got a grilled chicken at FourSquare and had lunch in the small park in the city center. Here, we have also applied for the IRD number (more here). We have heard only good rumors about the northernmost tip of the Coromandel Peninsula, but the accommodation seemed way too expensive, so we turned around and headed back south.
We spent two nights at Tapu Motor Camp. They charged us 10 NZD per person per night (as opposed to the official standard price of NZD 15) for a meadow spot by the beach without electricity. You can use the free communal kitchen and shower (50c, 5 minutes). Electrical outlets are available in the restrooms and in the kitchen. Here we had the unique opportunity to get to know the locals for the first time - local fishermen, who organized a fishing tournament here. After hunting, they invited us to an excellent fish and seafood barbeque dinner, which we thoroughly shed with wine from a private vineyard.
Tapu Motor Camp
Selfie with a local fisherman
This was undoubtedly the best camping spot we've had during the whole stay in Zealand. Beautiful surrounding nature, views, lakes, waterfalls, many hiking trails around, plenty of grass space, free hot shower, clean restrooms and that all for NZD 10 per person per night. The fee is collected every morning (8.30 AM). If you are leaving early in the morning (before 8 AM), you camp for free.
Beautiful views from the top of the hill at McLaren Falls
In the Kaimanawa Forest near Tongariro National Park, you have several options of free camping: Urchin Campsite, Kaimanawa Road Campsite and Waikoko Campsite. We chose the very basic Urchin Campsite hidden deep in the woods. A dry toilet is here. However, we had to get drinking water from the few kilometers away Tongariro River dam. For personal hygiene, we used our solar shower which we hang on the tree.
On the way for water to Tongariro River
We visited this forgotten settlement south of Whanganui on our way to Wellington. There is nothing to do in the town itself, but definitely, have a look at the dunes on the beach. The black sand beach is decorated with dry sun-bleached trunks and branches scattered all over its width - it's a breathtaking scenery indeed. You can stay at Koitata Motor Camp for 4 NZD per car and 2 NZD per each person. There is a possibility to use a modest field kitchen and a washing machine. Hot shower is priced at 2 NZD.
Washed up wood on the black beach in Koitiata
We did not visit the city center at all. We just waited overnight in the suburbs to catch a ferry to South Island the next day. You can sleep for free at Honiana Te Puni Reserve by the road The Esplanade in Lower Hutt. As a bonus, you get beautiful views of the sea and the city of Wellington. Go for a walk to the Petone Wharf. You will like it. Pack n Save, Countdown, and McDonalds are just a short drive away.
Wellington - Picton Ferry
Two transport companies operate on the North-South Island route. More expensive Interislander (https://www.interislander.co.nz/) 65 NZD per person and 140 NZD per car (up to 3.5t). We took the cheaper Bluebridge (https://www.bluebridge.co.nz/) for 53 NZD per person and 120 NZD per car. If you can, plan your trip and book the ferry ahead, at a lower price.
Each company departs from another pier (Bluebridge - Waterloo Quay, Interislander - Aotea Quay), but everything is close to Wellington Railway Station and 10 minutes away by car from Honiana Te Puni Reserve.
Check-in is a speedy and smooth process. Show the booking on your phone to the staff in the Terminal hall, and they will give you plastic entrance cards. After the "ready to embarkation announcement," you will drive to the pier, where the terminal staff will guide you further to the interior of the ship. Leave the car in the parking zone and climb up the iron stairs to the top. It is up to you whether you enjoy the comfort inside the boat (food is not included in the price) or what I recommend - go up on deck. From there you can see the beautiful scenery of the two islands and the clear turquoise sea flowing between them.
Pier at Honiana Te Puni Reserve
Bluebridge Ferry Wellington - Picton: Look inside the ferry
On the deck of Bluebridge ferry on the way to Picton
Bluebridge Ferry Wellington - Picton: Views of Malborough Sounds