Discover The Beautiful Northland

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The popular tourist route for many travellers is to arrive into Auckland and head down to the South Island stopping at Christchurch and Queenstown. However we would like to encourage travellers to make time to explore the true beauty of the North Island, the area known as the Northland as it is north of Auckland! We believe it has even more to offer than the Coromandel region.

Whenever we go camping we always try to go just a little bit off the beaten track and go beyond the tourist drives, we always tend to find ourselves stuck (in a fun way!) on these types of unsealed roads….you know.. the ones with cows on the road!

Waiting for the cows to pass...
Waiting for the cows to pass…

For more about our love for Freedom Camping check out our article here!

Here are a few spots we love in the Northland region:

Snells Beach

This beach is just 1 hours and 35 minutes drive from central Auckland. Drive to Warkworth and turn left to follow signs to Kawau Bay. From here you get incredible views of Kawau Island and the Hauraki Gulf. It is not too off the beaten track, you don’t have to drive very far to get food, fuel and supplies for your camping trip.

We discovered a beautiful family run campsite a little further on from Snells Beach in Algies Bay called Bethshan Seaside Cottages (don’t worry it has camping spots!) we don’t usually fall in love with a campsite that isn’t run by the Department of Conservation (DOC) but this one was run by a local family and has been owned by the same family for generations! For 40 bucks (get me getting into the lingo!) you will find excellent kitchen and bathroom facilities (when I say excellent, I mean clean, hot and most importantly no charge or timer for showers!). We made full use of the free use of kayaks, boats and paddle boards and recommend you do too!

Kayaking at Snells Beach
Kayaking at Snells Beach

They have a lovely beach front location, top of the range BBQ’s and even a pontoon with a trampoline on it (yes a trampoline..in the sea). We had loads of fun kayaking out and then catapulting ourselves into the sea! This spot is not far from Auckland in fairness hence why this place is described in my blog post as a weekend trip from Auckland.

Whananaki:

If you don’t fancy the husstle and bustle of Paihia and the Bay of Islands we suggest checking out the DOC sites here. 32km’s after Whangarei on State Highway 1, turn off and head towards Whananaki eventually you will hit Whananaki Heads. It is a beautiful seaside village with not much but a few up market Bach’s and two campsite – one DOC and one family run. The family run campsite is on the edge of an estuary so a great fishing spot.  There is a DOC campsite further up the road right on beach front. Further along on the estuary edge there is a foot bridge leading to the other side of the estuary it is here that you start to get a real sense of what the Northland region is all about.

Russell – Bay of Islands:

Sure you could head to Paihia with all the youngsters and party away and then go on the generic boat cruise around the bay. But if you can’t afford all that we suggest heading to Russell. A small quaint town with a qurky britsh feel. Why you ask? Because this place was the first capital city of New Zealand and has deep European and Maori history!

Beautiful view of The Bay of Islands from Russell
Beautiful view of The Bay of Islands from Russell

To get there cross the car ferry from Paihia and explore all the reserves and paths on your way to Russell. There is a great scenic look out at the top of the hill and you can see beautiful panoramic views of the Bay of Island on a clear day. This is a good way to avoid the tourist trap of an overpriced boat trip full of people getting sea sick!

Whangaroa Harbour

Now this is my all-time favourite Northland spot and yes we may be a little bias as my partners family originate from here. But if you want to get off the beaten track, eat good fish, visit a place rich in culture and enjoy true remoteness -do stop here! The best way to explore the area is by boat but if you can’t just simply climbing the Dukes Nose or St. Paul’s Rock is enough to get a real sense of the vast natural untouched beauty of this harbour.

St.Pauls Rock
St.Pauls Rock

There are many historic sights (old Maori settlements) and many Bach’s along this harbour and we are truly lucky to visit this area every few months and wake up to the view that is our featured image for this article! A great campsite nearby is Tauranga Bay Holiday Park with absolute beach front pitch’s and again a great pontoon for the kids to jump off into the sea – standard!

Absolute Beach Front - Tauranga Bay Campsite
Absolute Beach Front – Tauranga Bay Campsite

Cape Reinga and Ninety Mile Beach:

You can’t go North without going all the way to the top! The sand dunes at 90 mile beach is a good enough reason as any. Check out our pictures below, it is pretty self-explanatory! Hire a board, embrace the hot sand on your feet and climb to the top of that sand dune. Then admire the view close your eyes and glide down in a fraction of the time it took to get up!

booarding

Sand boarding Fun!
Sand boarding Fun!

Cape Reinga is avery special and spiritual place for Maori people. At the lands end beyond the lighthouse is where the Tasman Sea meets the Pacific Ocean. According to Maori where the two oceans collide and is where Maori spirits begin their final journey in a spectacular swirl of currents!

lighthouse

Don’t forget to drive your car on Ninety Mile Beach as well – just because you can!

Kauri Forest and the West Coast:

Once you have gone as far you can, you will need to come back! We suggest breaking the drive up and taking another route back to Auckland. Don’t forget the west coast! Here they are a few lovely towns like Opononi and Rawene. It is different from the East Coast in many ways.

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The Kauri Forest is worth a visit to view the largest native tree in NZ. (The Kauri Tree) The “Lord of the Forest” stands at 51.5 metres go on I do some tree hugging!

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What is your favourite spot in the Northland Region? Post with your comments below!

The Tongariro National Park

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The Tongariro National Park is near Lake Taupo on the North Island it is by far the most scenic region to visit on the North Island.  The “must do” hike of the National Park is the walk that is most commonly described as one of the “Best Day Walks in New Zealand” – The Tongariro Alpine Crossing. However we believe there is so much more to this National Park than meets the eye. We have been camping there twice now and each time we go we discover new walks and great places to explore.

Climbing the Alpine Crossing can be challenging, but there is more to see and do here!

The Tongariro Alpine Crossing isn’t just a day walk it is also one of eight “The Great Walks of New Zealand” consisting of 43 km’s of walking stretched over four days! Or alternatively if you’re not cut out for that there is a much shorter path (19 km’s) that can be done in a day. It has now become so popular that it is not a walk where you go to get off the beaten track, it is safe to say it is a tourist trap!  If you do the walk in the height of the summer you will most likely be doing it with thousands of people who are embarking on the same path as you.

The last figure I read was that over 4000 people hike the crossing each week in the high season! So getting that perfect picture without people photo bombing your photos could prove a little tough!

This article is not about saying to others don’t do the Alpine Crossing, it is without a doubt an epic journey and if you have the stamina to complete it you get a great sense of achievement and you will most definitely feel proud of yourself! Many travellers we have talked to have not visited the park simply because they don’t think they can finish the “job!” I would hate for anyone to remove this National Park off their “New Zealand Bucket List” for that reason so please do visit the park even if you don’t think you can handle 8 hours of walking as you are missing out big time!

Instead of discussing our experience of Tongariro Alpine Crossing we have decided to focus on pointing out other areas of the park that may just have less people on the same track as you! If you can’t manage the 7-8 hour hike here is our guide to exploring the park a different way!

The Whakapapa village & Mt Rupheau:

The Tongariro National Park consists of three active volcano’s Mount Ruapehu, Mount Ngauruhoe, and Mount TongariroAll beautiful iconic in their own right. Whakapapa Village is the main hub and a key starting point for many of the walks. The information centre here is run by the Department of Conservation (DOC) and is a great place to start if you have no guide book and no clue where to go first! The village has accommodation ranging from a luxury stay at a Château to small family run camp sites. If you have a guide book or have followed some other travel bloggers advice you really don’t need to stop here, unless you are embarking on other nearby walks, more about this later.

We suggest driving straight past the village up the hill towards Mt Ruapehu to what is locally known as the “Top of the Bruce” (It’s called Bruce Road). The drive climbs up towards the volcano and leads into the Whakapapa Ski area. In the summer this ski village is deserted! You will only find a few people who have made the effort to see the park past the Alpine Crossing and from here the views are incredible.

Bruce Road
Bruce Road

On a really clear day you can see Mt Taranaki and beyond you real do feel like you’re at “The top of the world!” There is a stair lift open all year round which will take you to “New Zealand’s Highest Café” a novelty I know but from the cafe there are some great 2-3 hour walks steadily climbing the mountain with hardly a tourist in sight! For more information on these walk’s simply pop into the shop and café at the car park where you can pick up a free map. On the way back down the road to the village if it is late and you are in a self-contained vehicle there is a lovely little spot on the side of the road with this view!

To check out more about freedom camping read our article here.

Now that is freedom camping at its best!
Now that is freedom camping at its best!

Camping at The National Park:

By camping at the DOC campsites in the National Park (often free or $6 per person) and avoiding the village campsite you get to discover more parts of the park and more less trodden tracks! The first time we visited the park we camped at Mangahuia Campsite it was a small campsite by a stream with very few pitch’s. From here you could simply leave your car of camper and explore the park on the Whakapapaiti Valley Track an easy 1.6km loop walk.

Apologies for the small picture, our forest trek!
Apologies for the small picture, our forest trek!

The second time we visited we did actually embark on the Alpine Crossing (check out our feature image!) and needed some where free (we were on a budget!) to rest our tiresome legs afterwards! We decided to camp at Kairmanawa Forest Park a short drive from the National Park on the east side.

Do make sure when you camp at these free campsites you bring enough food supplies as well as water to last a few days, there was also a stream here (for a wash or two!) and a long drop toilet but not much else! From the campground there was 1-2 hour short loop walks in the bush to explore. Not a lot of people get time to explore this forest park’s so it felt great to get off the beaten track a little.

Other Walks within the Park:

From the village there are a few really great 4-5 hour loop walks that can be achieved at a steady and easy pace.

The walk to Taranaki Falls is the one walk that really sticks out in my mind. The walk is a 2-3 hour (6 km) loop walk from the village. The waterfall tumbles 20 metres down a large lava flow into a boulder ringed pool, it was a great sight and a fantastic walk to complete in an afternoon! For more walks like this check out the DOC website, the link is here!

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The excellent thing about this park and indeed the whole of NZ is that many walks begin from the roadside, you will be driving along and all of a sudden you will see a sign for an hour or two loop walk into the bush nearby, please don’t drive on pull over and check it out, take you camera and get exploring!

The Park is too stunning to put into words!
The Park is too stunning to put into words!

We would love to hear what your views on the Tongariro National Park? Is it on your NZ Bucket List? Please place your comments below!

Try a Campervan Relocation in NZ

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Freedom of the great open road!

The wonderful world of campervan relocations means that you can go on an exciting road trip, and benefit from reduced rates by relocating the van on behalf of the rental company. This is a big thing in New Zealand and Australia, and has great appeal for those travelling on a budget.

Costs

Renting a campervan can be an expensive part of your trip, especially when you take into account insurance and fuel costs. The main attraction of campervan relocations is the fact that many companies offer this option at a highly discounted rental rate, or sometimes even free. (And if you’re really lucky then you may even get fuel vouchers too!)

On the flip side, you need to be fully aware of hidden costs that can incur. For example, you may be required to pay a booking fee, or place a deposit (often non-refundable.) Then there’s the necessity for adequate insurance, and often hire fees for the extras, such as bed linen and accessories (i.e.. table and chairs). Make sure you factor these into your budget – you can find more about these great offers on websites dedicated to Campervan relocations such as Transfer Cars  or Imoova.

More often than not, these deals will be for those travelling South to North, so Christchurch to Auckland for example. In this instance the ferry may even be thrown in for free too! (And if it’s not, then it’s worth pushing for.) If you’re looking to take advantage of a campervan relocation deal then you should look into routes available with these companies before booking your flights. You may also be able to find deals around popular destinations such as Queenstown and Wellington.

Accommodation and Transport

It’s not hard to see why a campervan is the most popular form of travel for people visiting New Zealand. With or without rental costs, this option provides you with all your accommodation and transport needs, proving to be a cost effective and efficient way of getting around the country. It will save you buckets of time searching for places to stay and public transport timetables, and, considering the availability of freedom camping (which we’ve explored in more depth here), you can further cut costs by not having to use campsites. Bonus!

Freedom

While many people will have their whole trip planned weeks, or even months, ahead of date, companies offering campervan relocations offer plenty of last minute deals. This is great for residents of NZ who fancy an impromptu adventure, not needing to worry about booking flights etc. It might be that you have a route in mind and you go searching for a deal around this, or that you see what’s available and just go for it!

Having found a campervan relocation deal you will have destination A and B in place and a timescale for delivery, but that doesn’t mean there isn’t room for spontaneity along the way. Travelling by campervan really does give you an authentic experience of NZ, allowing you to soak up your surroundings at your own pace.

Rather than having accommodation and transport booked in advance, you can manage your own time and journey in a campervan. If you fall in love with a place you can stay on for a few extra days, and make up your time elsewhere. You can also hit the road whenever you feel like covering some miles. (Perhaps that means an early start to reach that beach by sunrise!)

And last but definitely not least, in a campervan you’re so much closer to NZ. This form of travel allows you to explore the nooks of your environment – wandering down unknown roads to see what delight you may stumble across. Just short of pitching up a tent, you’ll benefit from life in the outdoors, being able to cook and eat in the open, or sleep under the stars – only needing to use your van as a base.

All said, travelling by campervan is a very special way to see NZ, and if it’s your priority to do so, then finding a company that offers relocations is highly recommended for those looking to cutting costs. Just remember to look into exactly what you will have to pay for, never assuming at first glance that it’s just one big freebie!

Try Freedom Camping in New Zealand

When travelling around New Zealand accommodation and camp sites can be a very costly part of anyone’s trip. You’ll struggle to find anywhere cheaper than $20 per night, which quickly eats away at your budget.

Many countries have very few opportunities to park up in places aside from campsites, making spontaneity difficult and, not to mention, pricey if you end up with a fine from pitching up in undesignated areas.

Luckily, New Zealand is quite against this, and instead is well known for promoting ‘freedom camping’. Freedom camping means you can park up for free on public conservation land – staying overnight in any town library car park, as long as your transport is self-contained (has a toilet).

It’s important to remember, however, that this doesn’t mean you can park just anywhere. Some land prohibits camping due to previous problems and disturbances, or for conservation reasons, and will usually have a sign to say so. Therefore make sure you look around the area before pitching up!

There may also be other restrictions in place such as locked gates, meaning you can’t come and go as you please, and your camper must display a sticker to show that it’s self-contained.

Many of these car parks possess good facilities that are open all night – some with showers (mainly outdoors) and mostly free outdoor BBQ in parks. Naturally people must treat these areas with respect – considering other campers and keeping noise to a minimum, as well as making sure all litter is cleared up. Large fines may be incurred if you leave waste behind!

You can find more information about the freedom camping in New Zealand regulations here: http://www.doc.govt.nz/parks-and-recreation/places-to-stay/freedom-camping/

We love Freedom CampingThere are many awesome apps available that you can use to find out where these freedom spots are. Some cost, such as Wikicamps (success from a crowd sourced database), and others are free, such as Campermate. Campermate is a extremely user friendly app. A simple browse of the map will lead you to easy to read descriptions of the camping areas and more importantly directions! You can even leave comments and reviews of the camping area for other users to read! These apps are also useful for discovering alternative camping opportunities, including people’s land and various pit stops.

The easy Campermate App

You will often find that some spots, offering free camping, will be providers of various services such as shops and fuel. Therefore they make their money in other ways which is an interesting tactic!

A spot that did just that for us is The Purangi Winery in The Coromandel Peninsula, we were camping near Hot Water Beach and found ourselves stuck for a reasonably priced camp site nearby. A quick search on led us to finding a family run winery on the road towards Cook’s Beach. The deal was to spend $40 per couple at the winery on either food (they do great pizza’s!) or alcohol and you can camp on their land for free. Granted it was just a field with a portaloo but what else do you need for one night?! Well for forty bucks we got suitably smashed on Feijoa wine and tasting all there delights which they produce at the winery plus we got to rest our heads for the night, and as a added bonus saw a shooting star! It definitely beat’s the lights out at 10.30pm rule at the family run camp site nearby that’s for sure!

It’s a clever technique, and one that appears to have worked out well for the winery especially if you if you’re interested in what they’re selling! (In this case, if you don’t drink wine then perhaps the pizza is the better deal!) To find out more about spending an perfect weekend at The Coromandel Peninsula check out our article here!

Overall by taking advantage of freedom camping and designated camping spots, you’ll save yourself buckets of money that can be put to better use on enjoying your trip! You will find AA books in all fuel stations that have discounts for activities and good routes for drivers. You’ll also find that freedom camping is far from slumming it, offering everything you could possibly need, as well as a great environment to meet other fellow travellers.

If you have any amazing freedom camping spots that you have come across on your travels how about leave us a comment below and let us in on the secret?!

Who wouldn't want to Freedom Camp with this view!
Who wouldn’t want to Freedom Camp with this view!