A Poem For The Year Of 2020

Uluru sunrise

As many of you will know, this post is not my normal type of travel blog! Instead, the need for something a little different seemed more appropriate today.

The picture is from when we watched the sunrise at Uluru, Australia, reminding us of how good life will be once this is all over.

A Poem For The Year of 2020

The Year of 2020
💜💜

Welcome to the year of 2020
Forget the cushy life of plenty

💜
Hidden away behind closed doors
Time to do those DIY chores
💜

Working from home as busy as ever
Between episodes of The Crown, The News and Weather

💜
Keeping us safe is the name of the game
From a virus immune to fortune and fame

💜
That panic buying was just all so sad 
It made matters worse and got us all mad

💜
It’s not much to ask to walk once a day
And shop for essentials in a sensible way

💜
Whilst embracing our world of self-isolation 
Scientists race against time on a new vaccination

💜
To beat Coronavirus that’s circulating the globe 
We must unite as a nation to lighten the load

💜
Let’s all join together to fight this disease
Look out for our neighbours and those in need

💜
The day will soon come when this will all end
Our healing will start and we WILL all mend

💜💜💜💜💜💜 

                                                                                                                                     
                                                                                                                                     Sonia - Campervan Castaways 

Stay safe and keep well

Sonia

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Coronavirus Nightmare LIFE ON THE ROAD

Life on the road in this Coronavirus nightmare

When we left home back in late November, if anyone had told us that the World would soon be seeing a catastrophic event like no other, we’d have thought them mad. It’s shocking how quickly things change immersed in idyllic travel plans to suddenly living life on the road in this Coronavirus nightmare.

Singapore Stopover

Our fabulous Singapore stopover en-route to New Zealand now seems like a distant memory. Whilst we strolled the humid and historic streets of this fabulous metropolis, over in China, the events that would change all our lives were already beginning to unfold.

Full Flights and Bustling Airports

As we landed in Auckland during the first week of December, there was no indication of what lay ahead. Our Singapore Airlines flight was full, the airport bustling as excited travellers happily went about their transit though the hectic terminals.

Passing through immigration and customs was quick and easy. The only questions asked were the usual cleanliness of our camping and hiking equipment and if we’d packed any food in our baggage. Cheerful officials and not a face mask in sight, things couldn’t be more relaxed.

First Reports Of A Strange Virus

Looking back now, I’m not quite sure of the exact moment when Nigel started reading to me the reports of a strange virus spreading through China.

My guess would be early in the New Year, when he began to follow news bulletins coming out of Wuhan. He became a little bit obsessed with it, so much so that I told him to just read to himself and spare me the details.

It all seemed so distant, something that was happening so far away. Although awful reading the reports of those people infected, we felt no need to worry about it here in New Zealand or anywhere else outside of China for that matter.

Spreading Beyond China

Before long, Nigel began finding more information of the virus spreading within China. Then the inevitable, it had started spreading beyond China and out into other countries, Singapore included.

Still thinking, this thing would just disappear as quickly as it came, I was rather blasé about it. Nigel, though was fixated, relaying to me every bit of information he found. The more he read, the more terrifying it became, yet despite this, I still felt things wouldn’t effect us – how wrong I would be.

In New Zealand Normal Life Carried On

Just one month ago, the thought of the whole world immobilised by this virus seemed like something that only happened in movies. Here in New Zealand we were carrying on as normal, with no confirmed cases here and ban on people entering from China, surely New Zealand would be safe?

Then things started to get really bad, Italy and Iran badly effected, as well as so many other countries with the virus rapidly spreading.

The ever growing reports still seemed slightly out of our reach, although ever more disconcerting. Certainly life here on the road in this Coronavirus nightmare wasn’t making much difference at all to our movements or daily lives.

How Quickly Things Can Change

When the first case of Coronavirus was announced here in New Zealand we knew things were about to change. This was only a couple of weeks ago, the person had come in from Italy and we knew things were going to get bad.

Trying to forget about the virus began to get really hard. In the ever changing circumstances across the world, we were forever checking for updates. Things were moving so fast we were beginning to loose track of what was happening.

With a 13 hour time difference between the UK and NZ, the first ritual each morning comes with checking the news and social media bulletins.

New Zealand news we’ve found to be really limited compared to our UK counterparts. I now follow official Facebook pages of everyone and everything from The Foreign Office to the NHS, The Prime Minister to the Welsh Assembly Government and so much more in between, including all major UK news channels.

Watching The Nightmare Unfold

When you’re away from home, sometimes things seem so much worse than they really are. This is one occasion when we don’t think but know things are bad and getting worse by the day.

As soon as the UK announced it’s first confirmed case, which seems like ages ago, the nightmare has just spiralled, in what is just a little over a week ago.

More and more countries began introducing travel bans, self-isolation and lockdown. Now our minds are focused on home and getting home, rather than travels in New Zealand.

Trying To Remain Calm

I’m not sure if the New Zealand folk just didn’t realise the severity of the virus in other parts of the world or if they just didn’t think it would effect them here. Whatever their reasons, we can’t believe how incredibly naive some of them have been.

When talking to locals, all those we spoke to just didn’t think that it was a problem. Many times we’d heard them talk of “over exaggeration”, “they don’t get things like that here” or “it’s only like flu’.

Whilst we’ve tried to remain calm but with the sense of reality that is coming, some of the locals have definitely had an air of complacency around the situation.

It’s Now Hitting New Zealand

Over the weekend, we’ve seen more and more flights cancelled, New Zealand introduced a 14-day isolation period for anyone coming in from anywhere in the world with just a day’s notice. Things have really hotted up here now.

More cases of Coronavirus were confirmed, cruise ships were told to leave New Zealand waters immediately and all are now banned. Queues at the supermarket have begun, empty shelves of soap, pasta and arguing amongst the frustrated shoppers.

Across the world in the UK and Europe, the news is just getting bleaker by the day. As we heard the first whispers of introducing self-isolating of the over 70’s for 3 months, the unprecedented events took to a whole new level.

The list of countries in lockdown or with closed borders or both and others with strict entry requirements, even for transit, will make our journey back to the UK an interesting one.

Spending Time With Family

Our whole reason for trips to New Zealand is to visit our children. Having spent the past couple of weeks around Wellington, we’ll stay here now until our departure, spending quality time with our Sons, one of whom lives here in the capital.

The weather has been beautiful, hot and still, oblivious to the pandemic now circulating the globe.

Walks are a perfect way to get away from it all, as we try to have a piece of normality before things become more difficult for all of us.

Nigel would like to stay on here in New Zealand until things get better. I, however am unsure, it sounds idyllic but often in times of crisis, home is the better antidote. When lockdown comes, I’ll want to be home and ready to help relatives and the community.

Life on the road in this Coronavirus nightmare

Life on the road in this Coronavirus nightmare is at the moment somewhat unchanged for us. Yet, there are some big differences under the surface.

There have been so many Europeans in campervans that we’ve come across in recent weeks, many who’d just arrived. Normally, we’d happily exchange travel notes and polite conversation.

For us though, our habits changed dramatically. Keeping our distance to avoid talking and any close contact, we must be coming across a bit stroppy. Everyone seemed to be coughing, or were we just getting paranoid?

Hand washing, as with most people has become an obsessive ritual, whilst eating out or social drinks are a thing of the past. It feels strange to be so unsociable, yet sensible is the order of the day.

Countdown To Departure

With our flight pre-booked, the countdown to departure is never far from our minds. Will it be cancelled? Are borders going to close? Could New Zealand tell all overseas nationals to leave? Are further restrictions going to prevent transit through Singapore?

The list is endless, but for now, we’re trying to hold on as planned. This though, is probably unlikely to happen. If we have to make a sharp exit, we’ll pack our bags and prepare for any flight we can get.

In the meantime, New Zealand is coming to terms with an inevitable recession. The tourist industry here is huge and is about to be wiped out almost instantly, as will many other countries around the world.

Wishing all our fellow Campervan, Overland and Motorhome travellers a safe road ahead.Wherever you are right now in the world, take care and look after each other and let’s hope this Coronavirus nightmare is over very soon.

New Zealand
Keep Smiling

New Zealand’s North Island In A Week

New Zealand’s North Island In A Week

So many fellow camper travellers blissfully announce their mission to tour New Zealand’s North Island in a week!

At first, we thought these people slightly mad-goodness, where would you start? The normal 6 week trips of yesteryear, seem to be now dwindling down to just 3 between both islands.

In our opinion, this country has too many amazing sights to limit to just a few weeks for both Islands. After several trips lasting a few months at a time, we still haven’t seen it all! Deceptively lengthy distances between main sights could make short trips rather tedious.

Having said that, if that’s all the time you’ve got and you’ve made your mind up, we’re here to give our insight into those best places to see in New Zealand’s North Island in a week!

Kerikeri Bay of Islands
Kerikeri in the Bay of Islands

Jet-lag and where to start

Firstly, don’t forget if you’re arriving from Europe, you’ll have Jet-lag to get over. Then you’ll be either arriving in Auckland or Wellington, which will determine which city you visit!

The drive time between Auckland and Wellington is around 8 hours without stopping. Therefore, it makes a big difference where you start your trip and finish it for that matter!

Our pick of places to visit, Wellington, The Capital is at the bottom of The North Island

Wellington

One of the coolest capitals probably in the World, Wellington is just fab! With enough coffee culture, arty vibes and tempting beaches to add to the youthful appeal, it’s a capital city like no other.

Spend the day on foot, everywhere is accessible in this compact city from strolling the waterfront to shopping on Cuba Street. Take the cable car up to the Botanic Gardens for views across the city.

Wellington
Take a stroll along Wellington Waterfront where city meets the sea

Tongariro National Park

Around a 4 hour drive (add time for drive breaks) from Wellington is the Winter ski resort hub of the North Island. Home of the famous Summer one-day hike The Tongariro Alpine Crossing.

Mt.Ruapehu, is not only the North island’s highest mountain at 2797m but it’s also one of the worlds most active volcanoes. Dominating the landscape, it’s surrounded by Mt.Tongariro and Mt Ngauruhoe, the latter being the youngest Volcano on the North Island.

This volcanic mountain range has some excellent shorter walks from the main centre of Whakapapa village. The Department of Conservation visitor centre there has details.

Tongariro National Park
Walking in Tongariro Natonal Park

Lake Taupo

About an hour’s drive from Tongariro National Park is Taupo, one of the main resorts on the North Island.

This is New Zealand’s largest lake, formed from a huge volcanic eruption around 25,000 years ago! It’s still very active, with thermal hot spots throughout the area.

There’s plenty to keep you busy, too much for this short trip so you’ll have to decide! From Bungy to Jet boats, Sky Diving to walks, soaking in Thermal pools to watching thundering river rapids.

Lake Taupo
Lake Taupo New Zealand’s largest lake

Rotorua

A thermal wonderland at every turn, Rotorua is about an hour and a half drive from Taupo. You’ll be mesmerised by the steaming, bubbling and boiling natural attractions beneath your feet!

There maybe a smell of Sulphur in the air but that’s all part of the experience. Rotorua is located on Lake Rotorua and it’s phenomenal! This volcanic thermal area is full of natures natural thermal dynamics.

Soak in thermal pools, stroll the steamy Kuirau Park in the town centre, or explore one of the thermal area attractions that are open to visitors.

Rotorua
Steamy water in the public park – Kuirau Park, Rotorua

Coromandel Peninsula

About a 3 hour drive from Rotorua will take you to one of the biggest natural attractions in New Zealand – Hot Water Beach.

This busy but sort of “must do” sight must be timed around 2 hours before low tide (check times with tourist sites). Take a spade to the relevant section of beach and start digging your own thermal pool in the sand! You won’t be alone, it’s no longer the quiet little spot it used to be, but it’s a great experience all the same. Watch out though – that water gets boiling hot, don’t burn those feet!

The Coromandel offers a whole lot more than just hot water! This area is stunning, there’s walks galore, fabulous beaches and the other very well known tourist sight of Cathedral Cove.

We could and have spent weeks on The Coromandel, so if you only get a sneak peak, be sure to go!

Cathedral Cove Coromandel Peninsula
Cathedral Cove on The Coromandel Peninsula

Auckland

If I’m honest, Auckland isn’t one of our favourite cities. It has a bit of a claustrophobic feel, but maybe the ongoing infrastructure works in the centre don’t help. It’s about a 2 hour drive from Thames, the main town on The Coromandel.

Nonetheless, if you’re coming all the way to New Zealand, it’s only natural to check out the most well known Kiwi city. Not to be be confused as the capital, the “City of Sails” is also a city built around volcanoes.

The waterfront is the best bit, bustling cafe’s, bars and all those boats with the cityscape and that well known sky tower as a backdrop.

Auckland
The Auckland waterfront with the Sky Tower in the back ground

Bay of Islands

I really wouldn’t want to miss The Bay of Islands off a trip. This sub-tropical paradise is full of stunning little inlets, bays and laid back towns.

The crunch thing is that it’s another long drive North of Auckland, around 4 1/4 hours before adding on any stops to reach Paihia, the main resort town.

There’s so many beautiful locations around here, Kerikeri and Russell are just the main ones. A simply beautiful region, stunning beaches, blue seas and incredible fresh produce.

Bay of Islands
The beautiful Bay of Islands – Paihia

How to Choose

With 7 locations in 7 days, something has to give! Our pick of places to see in New Zealand’s North Island in a week, is a difficult one.

It’s not possible to do them all, and much will depend on where you begin. If you’re coming from or going to the South Island by road will be a big factor, as Wellington will be the one location that you’ll have to be at to get across the Cook Strait!

Whatever you choose, we hope you have the most amazing time. Hopefully, like us, you’ll be able to return again to see those places you didn’t quite manage to reach!

Wellington
Looking Across The Cook Strait from Wellington – The Mountains of The South Island In The Distance

Thanks for reading “New Zealand’s North Island In A Week”. Feel welcome to subscribe to future posts below:

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The Forgotten World Highway

The Forgotten World Highway
It’s a Sign! The Forgotten World Highway

Driving The Forgotten World Highway

The oldest Heritage Trail in New Zealand is by no means forgotten. This 155km route took us on a journey over 4 Saddles, across 12km of unsealed road, through a 180m long tunnel and best of all….to a Republic! Yes this is The Forgotten World Highway and as we were about to find out – things got a little dirty!

“Let’s give this a go” one of us suggested at the iSite in New Plymouth. We always think if a route gets a name it’s got to be worth the effort! When it’s called The Forgotten World Highway, our imagination really got the better of us, without doubt, this was a ‘must do’ to take us back in time.

The Forgotten Highway
Heritage buildings on the old frontier route

Starting Off Well

Beginning in Stratford, the last main town before the start of the route , we were well prepared. Stocking up on fuel and a few last minute groceries to see us through the couple of days we’d allowed for the adventure.

With a really limited phone coverage, zero fuel stations and not much in the way of supplies, we had this covered! It was like the Outback of Australia all over again!

Before we knew it, we were off – meandering nicely through the old farmlands and rolling hills, just us and the cattle for company. Not ones to miss our morning coffee, we soon stopped at a viewpoint enjoying fine views across the landscapes.

New Zealand
Hmmm….not your average sign!

The Bridge To Somewhere

This is where our bright idea of a two-hour detour became a bit of a disaster. We’d meandered along nicely up to now, then decided to take the gravel road from Strathmore via Makahu, both hamlets in the middle of nowhere.

Speaking of nowhere, The Bridge to Somewhere, is actually a Bridge which has that name – how cool’s that?! It’s a cousin to the more famous Bridge to Nowhere, which we walked to from a separate trip on our canoe journey on the Whanganui River.

There were several of these bridges built, all to gain access to land given to returning soldiers after the war. Unfortunately the land turned out to be too difficult to farm so the bridges were of no use, hence the names.

The Bridge To Somewhere
Crossing The Bridge To Somewhere

Dust Clouds Overwhelm Us

Oh my goodness – we’ve been on gravel roads before but this was something else! What had we done? This 30km return detour just to see a bridge turned out to be one messy business.

The unsealed road was as dry as a bone, the plumes of dust were wallowing out from under the tyres, drifting off behind us as we slowly went along. Doing everything we could to lesson the mass of dirt surrounding our every turn of the wheel.

The road was narrow, with nothing en-route except an occasional farm house, there was no sign of the bridge. It seemed as if we’d driven for miles with nothing in view.

Finally we caught sight of a fellow human! Noticing our slightly out of place appearance, he wondered over to see if we needed help – pretending to be expert’s at handling the dust, we wound down the window and happily asked “how much further to the bridge?”

The response of another 10km must have sent the look of dread through the window! Wishing us luck, we parted company and left our countryman to his flock!

The Bridge To Somewhere
The river meandering below The Bridge To Somewhere

Covered a Thick White Layer

By the time we reached the Bridge to Somewhere, we looked like we’d been in a fight with a bag of flour!

The van was covered in a thick white/brown layer of dirt and that was just the inside! We could have cried – but instead jumped out, walked across the bridge, drove over too, turned round and after a couple of pictures set about re-tracing our steps for the 15km return.

What a waste of time! The bridge was rather pretty but not worthy of the effort.

Forgotten World Highway
Old Frontier Country all around

Deep Clean

Back on the tarmac road of The Forgotten World Highway, time was ticking on. Thank goodness the sign for the only main village in these parts came into view – Whangamomona was a welcome sight.

Thankfully, we found a basic campsite in this former bustling frontier town. Opening the doors of the van to a layer of fine dust was inevitable. This stuff finds its way through every nook and cranny, our new van was now well and truly broken in!

Hot buckets of water was the only option, emptying everything out onto the grass, wiping the whole contents of the camper over was a painstaking task.

I hate dust at the best of times, but this was another level. The evening was spent wiping, cleaning, washing and re-loading. We felt it in our noses, our hair was white and our eyes gritty, by the time darkness fell, we were out for the count….hot showers first, of course!

Forgotten World Highway
A reminder of the good old days

The Republic of Whangamomona

Trying to forget the dust incident, we couldn’t not have a good look round this gorgeous historic village of Whangamomona.

Here’s the quirky bit – it’s actually a Republic! Declaring itself the Republic of Whangamomona in 1989, it has its very own presidential election and a Republic Day!

The best bit, other than the traditional architecture, was getting our passports stamped at the Whangamomona Hotel bar. The coffee and cake went down a treat too!

So after officially entering the Republic of Whangamomona, it was time to depart.

Forgotten World Highway
Relaxing at The Whangamomona Hotel

Driving Through The Narrow Moki Tunnel

A little further along The Forgotten World Highway, came the next big feature of the route. The tiny Moki tunnel entrance didn’t look much bigger than our van, deceptive in appearance, it actually has a height of 7m.

That’s because, they lowered the floor in 1989, so that triple-decker cattle trucks could make it through. It’s home to giant fossilized crabs, so we got out to take a peak before driving on through.

At 180m long, it’s actually quite a sight, no wonder the locals call it the “Hobbit’s Hole”, it could easily be part of a movie set. After a quick look inside, it was back to the wheel, slowly driving forward into the darkness.

Forgotten World Highway
Approaching the tiny looking Moki Tunnel

Riding the Railway lines

Once on The Forgotten World Highway, we soon did forget all about the dusty mess and got on with enjoying the ride.

Passing old railway lines brought an interesting view – golf buggies riding the rails! Not something you see every day, but here, you can take to a network of old tunnels, over viaducts and along the disused railway lines.

Another Detour Mt Damper Falls

We stuck to our own transport and carried on to do a 14km detour, this time along a tarmac road to see the North Island’s second highest waterfall.

This is Mt Damper Falls and after parking up the van, we did a 20 minute walk across a grassy path, over a little bridge and into pretty bush.

Then we saw them…the 85m tall falls, dropping over the edge of a tall white cliff, surrounded by thick, native bush. All rather lovely we thought!

Forgotten world Highway
The Mt Damper Falls

More Of the Dreaded Gravel

We knew this bit was coming – a 12km section of gravel road and we were dreading it! In preparation, we’d soaked the van before leaving, to try and capture any dust in the moisture.

We hoped that the morning dew had dampened the dust too, then got ready for the onslaught and crossed our fingers.

Thankfully, this well used section of dirt road didn’t bring the same clouds of the dusty stuff. Emerging on to tarmac road was a relief but we needn’t have worried, all was well, the inside was dust-free and we could breathe a sigh of relief!

The Scenic Gorge on The Gravel

The most picturesque part of The Forgotten World Highway just happens to be on this 12km section of gravel road. Could we really relax and take it all in?

Really, that’s all we could do, why spoil the main event over a bit of dust? The road winds along the river path, narrowed out cliffs towering around the water, filled with the greenery of thick bush.

This is Tangarakau Gorge, a peaceful, idyllic route winding through this remote part of the North Island.

Old Meets New

Our 2-day journey on The Forgotten World Highway had come to an end. The road led us further out of the wilderness and back to the town of Taumarunui.

The familiar large yellow ‘M’ symbol of Mcdonalds, reminded us of how far this country has come and how much times have changed since those early pioneer days of farming and working the land.

This certainly was an interesting route, taking us back in time and reminding us that a little dust didn’t hurt anyone!

Forgotten World Highway
Walking to Mt Damper Falls

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Freedom Camping in New Zealand

Freedom Camping in New Zealand

Freedom camping  New  Zealand
Our campervan parked at Tokerau Beach Freedom camping area in the North Island

Freedom Camping in New Zealand

Parking beside the ocean as the surf laps against pure white sands, a cooling breeze bringing relief from the Summer sun. The view is priceless, if it were a property, it would be worth millions of dollars. For us in our Campervan, it’s free, providing overnight parking- this is Freedom Camping in New Zealand at its very best.

We’ve spent a few months each year touring New Zealand in our Campervan. To be honest, initially we were very naive about Freedom Camping, the logistics and rules that surround it.

A Complicated System!

Although similar in principal to some European Motorhome parking schemes, such as Aires in France or Sosta’s in Italy. Freedom Camping in New Zealand is probably about the best you’ll find anywhere in the world, for legally stopping overnight in a Motorhome.

So, let’s begin to explain this fabulous system of Freedom Camping in New Zealand!

New Zealand
Parked at a freedom camping spot alongside a very nostalgic Kiwi motorhome

What is Freedom Camping in New Zealand?

These are designated areas where Campervans can legally stay overnight, usually for free, provided by local council’s across New Zealand.

Who can use areas for Freedom Camping in New Zealand?

Anyone can stay overnight at a Freedom Camping location, so long as the Campervan is certified as Self-Contained. Occasionally other rules apply, such as a restriction on size of Campervan.

What is a Self-Contained Campervan?

For a Campervan to be certified as self-contained, the rules changed a couple of years ago. This was to prevent people sleeping in vehicles that didn’t have on board facilities.

Following the change, the criteria was tightened. Campervan’s must now have a toilet which can be used when the bed is made.

You can supposedly no longer have a vehicle passed as self-contained, where it’s impossible to use the loo – typically having one stored away unused, in the back of the people carrier or car!

Freedom Camping New Zealand
The Self-contained sticker on the back of our campervan

This is generally what a Campervan needs to be certified self-contained and what we had to ensure when building our own campervan:

Fit water and waste tanks big enough for 3 days use;

Install a sink, connected with a smell trap to the sealed waste tank.

Have a portable toilet, secured for travelling with enough space around it to be used when the bed was made up, with elbow space and enough head room above, again with a holding tank capacity for 3 days;

A vented waste tank with 3m long hose to dispel the waste and a fixed rubbish bin with a lid.

In addition, there had to be capacity for the number of people who can travel legally in the vehicle, 3 in our camper. This was 12L per person per day minimum for water tanks (if waste had been smaller, we’d have needed a monitoring device) and 3L per person per day for the toilet.

Check NZMCA For further details on requirements for self-containment

Freedom Camping New Zealand
A typical Freedom Camping Sign Stating the Rules for that location

How to be officially certified as Self-Contained?

Campervans are independently inspected by registered inspectors to ensure they meet the rules.

If passed, a paper certificate is sent to the owner, along with a blue Motorhome sticker to display on the rear of the Campervan and a blue certificate card, which must be displayed in the windscreen. This states the vehicle registration, date of expiry etc.

Our own campervan inspection was independently arranged, we had to drive to the inspector where everything was checked to ensure it met the standards.

The certificate lasts for 4 years. Our certification arrived in the post about a week after inspection, although we were told it had passed on the day.

Can you use Freedom Camping if you’re not Self-Contained?

This is where confusion sets in. Each region is different and areas within regions vary again with the rules. The vast majority of Freedom Camping is just for Self-Contained vehicles, however there are a few locations where Non Self-Contained vehicles are permitted along with some tent areas.

The only way of knowing for sure is to obtain the information from the relevant council or i-Site where you are travelling through and to read the signs carefully at the various Freedom Camping locations.

If the signs say “Self-Contained” then they mean it! If Non-Self-Contained are allowed, the sign will say so and these will almost certainly be situated next to a public loo.

Is Freedom Camping the same as Wild Camping?

In a nutshell – No! Freedom camping is a properly provided overnight parking place, it’s the authorities putting you where they will tolerate you!

Freedom Camping in designated areas is a legal way of parking overnight, as long as you stick to the rules stated at the location.

It’s also the safer option, whereas Wild Camping is just parking up for the night, where you could be vulnerable, parking illegally or in an area where by-laws forbid it…the list goes on!

How do you find a Freedom Camping area?

Freedom Camping areas are well signposted once you get to the location.

Signs will indicate the parking places to ensure you park properly, within the designated area.

Finding the area usually comes from:

Passing by and noticing the signs and other campervans;

Leaflets from an iSite or Tourist Information with a list of locations in the local vicinity;

Road maps – look for the Motorhome symbols for both dump areas and parking;

Apps – There are a few out there, we use Campermate

Will there be facilities?

Usually a public loo is close by but not always. Otherwise, the idea is to use your own on-board facilities, which is why your vehicle should be fully self-contained.

What about showers and dishwashing?

There will be no shower or washing-up facilities. However, there could be a cold shower at a beach location, for those coming off the beach!

Hot showers are rarely, provided by the local council, although we have found the odd one!

There are never any washing up facilities.

Are Freedom Camping Areas Always Free?

As the name suggests, this is Freedom Camping, so yes they are free to use!

Local council’s do, however, provide some motorhome camping areas that have a fee.

For example:

Auckland has several regional parks. Walking tracks, leisure activities and camping areas for motorhomes to stay overnight are available for a low-cost fee.

Similar overnight parking areas for motorhomes are available in Wellington and Auckland centre. Here, you pay at a parking meter in the parking area itself, expect to pay between $30-$40.

Auckland motorhome parking
Motorhome Parking in Auckland at Westhaven Marina

How long can you stay for?

This varies for each location, so you need to check on arrival by reading the signs. It could be just 1 night or up to 3 or 4 nights, read the rules and stick to them!

Will it be marked parking bays?

The parking area could be grass, gravel, dirt or a hard surface. There may or may not be designated parking lines marked out on the ground.

Can you park anywhere at the Freedom Camping location?

No – you must park within the section allocated for Freedom Camping.

This will usually be shown on a sign and in addition, there will often be signs indicating the parking place.

Most areas have signs and arrows which show that the Freedom Camping area is between the arrows!

Freedom Camping New Zealand
A Typical Freedom Camping Sign, Rules will differ at each location

Surely no one actually checks – do they?

This is the biggest myth of all! The authorities really do come round and make sure that parking is in the designated areas. They don’t want you overstaying you’re welcome or parking incorrectly.

We were naive in thinking that it didn’t really matter where you parked. However, we’ve had official visits on almost every Freedom Camping area that we’ve used.

Usually these are in the evening and early morning. Traveller’s have told us they’ve had written warnings, speaking to some who have been fined (often around $200).

In the Whangarei district, we had 3 visits by different officials within a couple of hours! This included the Police, a Freedom Camping ambassador and a security officer! The latter moved 3 motorhome’s and their occupants on – for parking outside of the designated area.

Lastly, we’re not immune – having a verbal warning by a Ranger in Wellington. Arriving after dark, the area was full. Parking one space after the marked zone, we thought we’d be ok.

The following morning, a knock on the door resulted in a sharp warning and a log of our details. It was the Ranger, who even put his hand on the bonnet to make sure it was cold!

Freedom Camping New Zealand
Freedom Camping area near Red Rocks, Wellington

Are They Always Scenic Locations?

Very often yes, but each one is different, so it’s not always guaranteed to be a picturesque setting.

What about the dump and filling with fresh?

There are public dump areas throughout New Zealand. They won’t always be at the same location as the Freedom Camping area.

At the dump, the waste water is dispelled using a long hose attached to the waste pipe of the Motorhome. This flows into the same drain as the toilet waste. They’ll be a water tap for washing the loo out and cleaning the drain after use (not to be used for filling the fresh or drinking).

A fresh water tap is nearly always available too, but this will be separate from the toilet/dump point.

Never empty the waste water down a drain in the road, always use the designated area.

Is Freedom Camping like a campsite?

No! The space to park will often be small. There’s a strict limit on the amount of days you can stop and no facilities.Think of it as a place to park overnight if you have everything in the van to keep you self-sufficient.

If you need somewhere to wash your dishes, brush your teeth or go to the loo then a campsite is the place to be. What you shouldn’t be doing is using the local’s public toilets as a bathroom and kitchen!

What do the locals think?

Until last year, we had no idea that Freedom Camping in New Zealand was so controversial.

It became apparent that the locals really don’t like it. In fact, we’ve felt quite uncomfortable, overhearing the locals comment as they pass by.

Questions are usually, “Have or got a toilet? Also “Are you Self-contained?” Followed by the declaration of problems they associate with tourists in small vans. Supposedly those without the toilets that like to fertilise the landscape and hang washing out on display!

It doesn’t seem to be an issue that’s going to go away anytime soon. Here in NZ, the press often have a story on the perils of Freedom Camping. Seemingly, a few council’s have closed some areas as a result.

As pressure mounts from disgruntled locals, welcoming tourists in campervans and keeping the local community happy, isn’t going to be easy.

Are Touring Caravans Permitted on Freedom Camping Areas?

In France and other countries in Europe, Aires are only for motorhomes. Here in New Zealand, they allow caravans too, despite not having on board waste/fresh tanks, relying mainly on portable containers. Of course, caravans also need a car to tow them, taking up an extra space.

Whatever your opinion, Freedom Camping welcomes all forms of self-contained vans.

Can you sit out and have the awning out?

This all depends where you are and how much room there is. Sitting outside is part of the package, many motorhomes have awnings out, regardless of taking upon too much room.

Using polite discretion, ensuring space for a neighboring motorhome is the best option.

Freedom camping new zealand
Parked at a Freedom Camping area with lots of space around us

Enjoying the Freedom

Knowing you are parking somewhere authentic, whilst enjoying the natural surroundings, is a unique mix.

That’s the big difference between “Wild Camping” and “Freedom Camping”. The safety aspect of parking in areas provided for you, amongst some of the most beautiful scenery. Actually, it can feel like ‘Wild Camping”, without the drawbacks or uncertainty that come with that.

Freedom Camping is Here to Stay

“The locals may not like it, but it’s not going away”! This is the fact of Freedom Camping, it’s how one Ambassador described it to us just a few weeks ago. A culture so set in the heart of New Zealand life that we should embrace it for all it has to offer.

As long as we all respect the rules, certainly don’t use the area as a toilet and don’t overstay our welcome, then we can do no more. What we don’t want is to give an ammunition by being disrespectful.

Watch Out for Snappers!

Last year we were on the freedom camping area in Coromandel Town, when a car sped across the parking area, coming to an abrupt halt at the foot of our bonnet. The passenger window wound down and a camera aimed directly at our van and us, before it sped off again!

Why, we will never know! Reminding us though, that we can all be vulnerable to the digital era.

Finally, just enjoy it!

Last but not least, Freedom Camping offers the most enjoyable, freedom in some of the most amazing locations.

As travellers, we pay back into the local economy one way or another. Embracing, respecting and remembering the country back home that we’re representing overseas is in important part of sharing this wonderful country with those local communities.

Freedom Camping New Zealand
Freedom Camping on the North Island’s West Coast

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Mobile Data Roaming Abroad

Mobile Data Roaming Abroad

Mobile Data Roaming abroad – this is one sore subject! In an age dominated by the need for mobile internet, why is it so problematic to actually get online when you’re abroad?

What we thought was the perfect solution to getting online on the road, has materialised as not being the case at all.

Rewind to last Summer, a lifetime ago in travel terms, I know. After a few months on the road, we’d somehow began using far more data than on previous trips.

Three Mobile Provider

We have two iPhone’s. Both had an allowance of 12GB of mobile data roaming per month with “Three”, costing £14 per month.

I would also buy a data only sim to use in our iPad. A fairly costly solution but it worked well on past trips. I used to get 24GB for around £55 (I’d buy one when they were on offer).

Before this, we only had 4GB each of data roaming and the same, 24GB amount for the iPad. So, basically, we should have been far better off than on past travels.

Running out of Data

We’re not completely useless with technology, so we made sure our background data was switched off. Turning off unused apps and anything else that we rarely used.

Never ones to watch TV, films or Netflix, our only data use was Apps such as Park 4 Night, Campercontact and the usual Social Media, e-mails and the WordPress blog.

However, on the last trip, we were running out of data each month. Despite having 8GB more on each phone, we could no longer use Apps to find somewhere to park up each night, having to switch off both Park 4 Night and Campercontact to reduce data.

Changing Data Allowances

On our return to the UK, fed up with the situation and finding free or public Wi-Fi inadequate, we had to take action.

Taking a short break in London before heading home, meant an opportunity to sort our data out with “Three”, before heading off on our next adventures. We passed a store so ventured in to get advice.

Explaining to the Sales person our predicament, we ended up being in store for a some time. We told them what had happened on our trip through Europe and how it’s strange, as we used to manage on far less data.

Both our contracts had expired, so we were free to go elsewhere or renew to a different contract with “Three”.

Giving information, such as length of time in Europe, what we use data for etc and most importantly, concerns over our upcoming trip to New Zealand. It was imperative we had enough data for future trips.

Three In-Store Advice For More Data

The sales person checked our data usage on the Three system for each month, confirming what we already knew – that we were using the 12GB allowance.

After some lengthy conversations, checking our accounts, usage and our brief of what we need from a contract, they suggested what they described as the best solution.

They recommended reducing our phone data back to 4GB per month from the 12GB. This would reduce our bills from £14 per to £10 per month. We’d still be able to use the data abroad, including New Zealand for our next big tour. We own all our phones and the iPad, so these aren’t on contract.

In addition, they suggested buying two HUAWEI mobile broadband device’s. On a “Three” monthly contract of £9 each per month, giving us 20GB of data each. In total they said we’d have 48GB between us each month.

This way we’d be getting double the amount of data per month, for £10 more, between the two of us.

Double Checking Data For our Destinations

The ‘Three” sales person showed us the device, explained how it worked and suggested that if I just wanted to use it for my iPad, that I could put the SIM card directly into that instead.

They also explained, that each broadband device could connect to five devices. Useful, to share between us, spreading the data being used.

We asked a number of questions, including, if there was a “fair use policy”; if the data was capped; was there any restrictions for use etc. Most importantly, was the data roaming of 20GB included in our destination of New Zealand as well as Europe?

The staff member went off to double check, confirming that it was 20GB unrestricted. We even had a conversation about New Zealand too, as they didn’t know much about the country.

Mobile broadband
The HUAWEI Mobile Broadband device

Signing a New Contract

With all our questions answered, reassurance about the data allowances and where we could use them, we decided to go for it. Hoping this should be enough for our internet usage on tour.

After almost 2 hours in store, we said our farewells.

Fast Forward To New Zealand – Using our Mobile Data Roaming Abroad

We set up the Huawei devices and downloaded the App that connects the device and the phone/iPad before leaving home.

On arrival in New Zealand in early December, we switched everything on and started to roam.

The signal strength was superb, fast and reliable, we were really pleased.

Then came the first sign that something was wrong. Nigel had a message on the HUAWEI App, stating that he’d used 90% of his data. This only became apparent after we’d gone on the App itself.

It then ran out altogether! Thinking it must be because we’d watched the General Election on the Sky News Facebook page – a one-off occurrence, we dismissed any concerns.

Instead, we simply switched on the 2nd HUAWEI device which was linked to my name, so we’d start a new 20GB of data.

Finding Out How Much Data You Have

This is where it all gets very tricky. The only way we could find out how much data we had left was to check our ‘My3’ account. This we could only do when we had the data on! Otherwise it only recognised our mobile phone sim and that account, which unbelievably isn’t linked to the other data sim contracts.

We only realised this a little later on, although the HUAWEI App showed data used, it didn’t correspond for some reason. We then had a message on the HUAWEI App, stating the data was running low at 90% used.

A few days later it ran out. There was no further notification, other than not being able to access the internet and the eventual light on the device showing red not green.

I then couldn’t access the ‘My3’ because the data had run out, so there was no way to double check. Despite numerous attempts to log on, it just wouldn’t allow me.

Month 2 and Doomsday

As we approached the re-set day, this is when the new month started after payment, we eagerly awaited switching the devices back on.

Two weeks in and Nigel’s roaming stopped. On checking the HUAWEI App, a message showed that he’d gone over his data allowance for the month.

We then switched to my device, I’d kept the sim in the HUAWEI device rather than put it direct in the iPad.

When I switched it on and checked the HUAWEI App, it showed I’d used 14GB of data despite it having not been on since re-set.

I then checked the ‘My3’ App, which thankfully, showed I had used ‘0 data’ with ‘20GB remaining’. I thought the HUAWEI App must have been delayed refreshing, so carried on regardless.

Then, without warning, I had a message a week later, on the HUAWEI App, stating I’d gone over my allowance for the 2nd time in 12 months, so my account was suspended!

There was no warning, other than a message the day before stating I’d used 90% of the allowance, which I didn’t see, as I hadn’t opened the App.

It displayed a usage of 24GB, this we couldn’t understand, as we knew that just a week before, the actual account on ‘My3’ showed 20GB remaining and 0 used.

The My 3 App

The first thing we attempted to do was access the actual Three account to check the data use. This we couldn’t do because we had no data for it to recognise the account!

After wasting time trying various methods to get online to our account, we had to give up. I then noticed, in small letters, on the Three website, that you can’t access the mobile data account through registering in the normal way, on an iPad. Instead, you have to contact Three!

With this, we thought the easiest thing to do would be to phone them – wrong! When calling from abroad, the time difference of opening hours and numbers to call were not obvious. Instead we chose online chat.

Online Chat Nightmare

This started promising enough, with me doing the introduction message, explaining the problem. Stating we were in New Zealand, couldn’t access the internet etc and the device showing I’d used 24GB data. Explaining too, that the previous week it showed 14GB, but my Three account showed 0.

They checked my account and reassured that I’d used 11GB of data with 9GB remaining for the month.

It seemed there was an error on the HUAWEI App, so I was told to re-set it, take the App off and install it again! This would be easy if we had wi-fi – but as I wrote in my chat, how do I do that with no internet connection?

I then asked, how could I access my remaining data? I’d re-set the device, but it still wouldn’t connect. I was reassured again that I had 9GB of data left – then the bombshell!

Out of the blue, came a chat declaration! I couldn’t access my remaining data because I was in New Zealand! A country that only had an allowance of 12GB not 20GB.

I asked for a password so that I could access my account and look for myself. This was sent straight away by e-mail. I could then clearly see the ‘My3’ account showing the data remaining as 9GB.

I was adamant we had 20GB, because that’s what I’d been told and sold in store. Chat was still telling me I only had 12GB. This disagreement continued for some time, whilst I explained that no, we definitely got told 20GB for NZ. Then Chat then disconnected me from the chat!

Mobile broadband
The Online Chat from Three, Saying I Have 9GB Left

Phoning Three Instead

I could see where this was going, but firmly believed the online chat were wrong. Instead, we found a phone number and got through to a Three call centre.

Firstly, I was told never to use the HUAWEI App to see what data is remaining! Advising, to only check the ‘My3” App, this being the only accurate way to see what data I have.

The call centre advised that many mobile providers use HUAWEI. As it’s not inclusive to Three, it’s no good for determining the data use.

She then checked my account and advised that I had 9GB of data remaining. Once again I was instructed to re-set the device, trying several times, without any luck!

She then declared the worst outcome! That because I was in New Zealand, I only had 12GB of data not 20GB!

To cut a long story short, she eventually logged a complaint. Stating that we were given incorrect information when told we’d have 20GB.

No Way of Knowing How Much Data Remains

When I asked how we could check how much data we have, she confirmed that we can’t. So her initial statement of the ‘My3’ App being correct, turns out that we have to ignore anything it tells us!

Basically, the HUAWEI app showed a usage of 24GB in one week, whilst the My3 App showed 9GB remaining. Nowhere did it show that the allowance was capped at 12GB.

Complaint and No Mobile Data Roaming Abroad

As it stands, we have no data on either of the mobile broadband. As a goodwill gesture, the call centre added an extra 3GB of data to my phone, reassuring me that she’d filed a complaint and I’d hear back within 2 days.

Just as I told her we’d need to also put the same complaint in for our other account, she put me on hold! 10 minutes later she returned to the call, asked if I was still there, just as I said “yes, what about…..” she hung up on me!

What a nightmare!! So Nigel then had to contact Three, he received an additional 3GB of data for his phone too, whilst they promised we would duly get a phone call back about our complaint. Of course, we are still waiting and I’m not holding my breath!

Internet Dominated World

We live in a world dominated by Apps and getting online. Everything is geared for being able to access the internet, yet it always seems so difficult to do so.

Despite trying our best to achieve the best possible data before leaving home, we were given the wrong information it seems.

Luckily, we have some wi-fi today, using our Son’s broadband connection.

I’m not sure how we’ll use the ‘Three’ devices when our data re-sets next week, if it does re-set!

With no way of knowing how much data we’ve used, it will be impossible to know if we go over, before it actually switches off.

If it gave a simple notification when using it, that would be fine, but the message in the HUAWEI App, if you’re connected, comes too late. Also, the call-centre advised these were incorrect anyway, so who knows what is the correct information.

In the meantime, our mobile data roaming abroad is still not sorted out. We’d love to know how you connect whilst out on the road. Hopefully, there’s some solution, feel free to let us know the trick to staying connected out on the road!

Just before I click “publish” here’s a quick update – as we’ve still not been contacted by Three, Nigel got in touch this morning on online chat. They have assured him we will be getting a phone call back today! Once again, we have no faith that this will happen, but time will tell!

Watch this space, we’ll keep you updated!!

Mobile Broadband
Online Chat from Three Confirming Again I have 9GB Left

If enjoyed reading “Mobile Data Roaming Abroad” why not check out some of our other blogs!

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Hidden Gems of The North Island

Hidden Gems of The North Island

New Zealand
Castle Point Lighthouse has been Featured on the TV’s Coast programme

Hidden Gems of The North Island

We’ve all heard of the big name towns and ‘must do’s” of New Zealand’s North Island. Although amazing as those are, many incredible locations, those hidden gems of the North Island, are often completely overlooked.

Here, we reveal our favourite hidden gems of the North Island, discovering a whole lot more to the extraordinary landscapes, through off the beaten track locations, away from the busy tourist hot spots.

Hopefully, you’ll get to explore these too and see a quieter, but equally beautiful side to the extremely diverse, natural beauty of New Zealand’s North Island.

Martinborough – Hidden Gems of The North Island

Snuggled amongst the vineyards, is this extremely classy town in the Wairarapa region, to the North East of Wellington.

Sampling one of the fine wines on offer, from the numerous white-washed establishments, is all part of the experience. Around 40 vineyards are to be found here, the best way to reach the vines is by bicycle!

We set about on foot, although you can hire bikes in town. A map conveniently locates all the vineyard routes, so all we had to do was choose which ones to sample! Gosh, such hard decisions!

Martinborough New Zealand
A classic car to go with the Classy feel of Martinborough

Castlepoint

Recently featured in the British TV programme “Coast”, it’s not difficult to see why, this picturesque headland is just so mesmerising.

Swathes of golden sands lead to a tidal spit lagoon, where vehicles of all descriptions park on the scenic beach, below the watchful eye of the lighthouse above.

Come nightfall, the gleaming white of the lighthouse, is replaced by a colourful display of dramatic light effects. Under a full moon, when the natural moonlight lights up the ocean it’s just enchanting.

We were lucky enough to bump into the lighthouse keeper, or should I say, the guy who looks after the light display! Fully laden with fresh fish, hot off his BBQ, he happily donated a few delicious Terakei for our supper..yum yum!

Castlepoint lighthouse New Zealand
Castlepoint lighthouse lighting up the night under the full moon

Cape Palliser and Ngawi

It may be remote, but perhaps that’s why this is home to the North Island’s largest breeding Seal Colony. This place is awesome! The coast is rugged, the waves high and the Seals with their young were everywhere on our visit.

Just before the huge Seal colony is the weirdest sight we’ve seen for a while! At Ngawi, a display of rusty bulldozers line the beach, bringing in fishing boats, in a typically Kiwi style!

If you carry on to the very end of the road, you’ll come to the lighthouse. Accessible up a large wooden staircase, once at the top, the views stretch out across the ocean, worth every bit of effort for those coastal views.

Cape Palliser New  Zealand
Seals at Cape Palliser
New Zealand Bulldozers
Bulldozers on the Beach at Ngawi

Kuirau Park – Rotorua

Ok, so Rotorua is possibly one of the biggest tourist hot spots on the North Island, but many of the thermal highlights that attract the coach loads, are pricey and busy at that!

So, this is where Kuirau Park comes in. This free park, is a just that, a park! However, this natural thermal wonderland complete with bubbling muds, steaming pools and heaps of thermal activity, will leave you in awe of this ultra cool, hot spot!

Walk on towards the lakeside village of Ohinemutu, for a cultural stroll alongside the steaming pavements (yes, steam literally comes up through the kerb stones), passing a beautiful Maori meeting house along the way.

Rotorua New Zealand
Steaming pools at Kuriau Park
Rotorua
The Beautiful Maori Meeting House

Aratiatia Rapids – Taupo

Between October and March, the floodgates open 4 times daily, releasing a colossal deluge of water, through this empty, boulder-laden gorge. It’s part of a Hydro-Electric dam system, where the water is released at 10am, 12pm, 2pm and 4pm during Summer.

As the siren starts, water gushes at an astonishing rate. View points allow for spectators to marvel at this explosive force, it really is a sight to see and sound for that matter.

Aratatia Dam New Zealand
The boulder-ridden gorge before the floodgates open
Taupo
The floodgates open, water filling the gorge

Putaruru Blue Springs – Near Hamilton

Well this was a surprise find, supplying 60% of New Zealand’s bottled water, taking 100 years to filter through, from the plateau above.

The result, is the clearest, blue fringed stream, catching different lights, reflecting even more colours on the surface.

An easy walk, which we took from the car park, leads along the stream, with picnic areas alongside. A longer walk is possible, but I gave this a miss for once, feeling sorrow for myself with a heavy cold.

Blue Springs North Island NZ
The blue waters at Blue Spring, living up to the name
Blue Springs North Island NZ
An easy walk from the car park alongside the springs

The Other Hot Water Beach – Ocean Beach, Kawhia

We’ve all heard and possibly been to the very busy Hot Water Beach on The Coromandel, but we hadn’t realised there was this little gem over on the West coast.

It took us a while to get there, but the result was well worth the effort. Climbing up a large sand dune path, lead us over to the huge Ocean Beach and the Te Puia Hot Springs.

These soothing hot waters, rise up from the black sands of the beach, all we had to do was find where from-heck where would we start?

With just one other couple on the beach, it wasn’t exactly obvious to begin with. So, we just took off the shoes and got to work, with our feet, soon realising that the water was warm, we’d hit a spot almost straight away.

Digging with a bucket and a frisbee (typically too disorganised to bring a spade!), we soon had a very round hot pool to soak in and the beach to ourselves.

Hot Water Beach Kawhia New Zealand
Our very own hot pool on the deserted Ocean Beach

Mangapohue Natural Bridge – Near Waitomo

This super scenic short walk, through limestone rock formations is just stunning. Following a boardwalk through a narrow chasm, the route alongside a stream is so scenic.

Emerging out into farmland, to join a small track back to the start, lead us passed fossilised rocks. An added bonus to an already, worthwhile sight.

Steps then lead us up towards the hollow of the former cave. Meandering through a natural stone bridge, towering overhead, was simply beautiful.

Piripiri Caves – Near Waitomo

A short walk from the car park through scenic bush and there we were, at the entrance to the most gigantic cave!

In typical Kiwi fashion, a wooden staircase has been built inside, wandering in we took a peak into the darkness. The hollow of the formation appearing to swallow us up, this place was massive!

Torches on and a glimpse up at the ceiling, revealed giant Oyster fossils, staring back in the dimly lit cavern. Crazy, beautiful and oh so big..brilliant!

Marokopa Falls – Near Waitomo

Along the same route as Piripiri Caves and Natural Bridge, comes these exceptional falls.

Another short scenic stroll leads to the 30m High falls, which are simply beautiful. Glistening in the sunlight, the cascading water seemed so elegant. New Zealand is certainly not short on water falls, but these were just so lovely.

Marokopa Falls
The stunning falls at Marokopa

The Forgotten World Highway

It’s 155km long and takes in a 12km section of gravel road. Whilst the highlight was probably getting our passports stamped, at the rather quirky town of Whangamonona. Incredibly, it’s independent Republic – how amazing is that?

We started out at Stratford, branching off for a 30km round detour, along the unsealed road to The Bridge To Somewhere. Not a good idea, unless you love dust-filled lungs and van to match! We were covered in the stuff, inside and out!

It’s an out of the way kind of place, full of remote farmland, resembling the Wild West, not many folk seem to come this way, adding to the simplicity of the route.

Another 14km detour along another gravel road, then a 20 minute walk, took us to the 74m high Dampner Falls, one of the highest in the North Island.

A Narrow tunnel and scenic bush line the route to the finish at Taumarunui. Now all we had to do was clean the van of dust – what a task that was!

Forgotten  World Highway
The Independent Republic of Whangamonona
Forgotten World Highway
Nige at the road sign!

Aongatete Swimming Holes, Katikati

This peaceful little oasis appears following a 30 minute bush walk, leading to several delightful swim holes.

We arrived to find a pool to ourselves, an infinity moment, swimming to the edge and looking over into the next pool below.

Both taking the plunge with a refreshing dip in the cool river water, just us and the birdsong for company. Oh, we also spotted a little owl in the trees on the way back to the van, so keep those eyes peeled!

Aongatete Swimming Holes North Island NZ
Aongatete Swimming Holes, just beautiful

Raglan

It may not be quite the hidden gem for the surfing brigade, but for those not so interested in riding those waves, Raglan may just get overlooked.

We love the other side to Raglan, the picturesque estuary, character shops and not forgetting, the best Fish and Chips on the scenic wharf.

You can’t help feel it’s a little bit of a hippy vibe, where anything goes, but nothing much needs to be done here, other than enjoy the relaxed, laid back feel.

Raglan North Island NZ
Paddle Boarder’s out at Raglan

Bridal Veils Falls – Near Raglan

This really beautiful, drop waterfall is well worth the 300 steps that take you to its base.

A viewing platform at the top, means you don’t have to take on the hike back up, either way these are so pretty! Plunging into a pool beneath, we stopped to take it all in from the lower viewing platform.

Bridal Falls New Zealand
Bridal Falls is just stunningly beautiful

Opoutere

An estuary full of sea birds, a forest walk to a glorious white sandy surf beach, nothing much here, other than the scenery-pretty idyllic!

We stopped on a lovely freedom camp overlooking the water, just perfect!

Waikato River Trails

Walks, cycle trails and lots of fabulous freedom camping spots. This route, following a series of river dams along the river, brings numerous, scenic lakeside stops.

Waikato River Trials
One of the Freedom Camping spots along the Waikato River Trails Route

Pauanui

This place is just so ultra plush…oozing style, relaxed vibes and sleepy beach day atmosphere.

Surrounded by the stunning estuary, mountains, beaches and a fabulous marina, it’s just such a classy place to spend some time.

Add to that a couple of really nice little freedom camping spots and a grass strip runway, where you can do some plane spotting, especially, the local acrobatic planes that do some cool tricks in the sky above.

Pauanui
The grass runway at Pauanui

Kai Iwi Lakes

A trio of fresh water lakes and quite frankly, the bluest I’ve ever seen! Resembling something more reminiscent of a Caribbean beach, its white sands surrounded the crystal clear water.

To add to the beauty, there’s a 7.5km walk, that took us around the lakeside, stopping for a picnic on the white sandy shore. The aroma of Manuka trees filled the air as we meandered this easy route back to the van.

There’s a couple of camp sites to choose from, both full on our visit in January and unfortunately, no freedom camping sites.

Kai Iwi Lakes North Island NZ
The beautiful blue lake at Kai Iwi lakes

Karikari Peninsula

A feeling of remoteness set in as we drove the long “Inland Road” along the centre of this scenic peninsula. It’s all about the beaches here, long swathes of white sands, clear blue sea and unspoilt coastline.

We parked alongside Tokerau Beach, a fabulous freedom camping spot alongside the ocean.

Further along at the end of the peninsula lies Maitai Bay, where a lovely DOC campground lies between 2 incredible bays. For us, this was too irresistible, we had to spend a night under the stars in this fabulous setting.

At Rangiputa, is found the most stunning bay, a tropical looking paradise, with hardly anyone around.

There’s some walks too and plenty of rock pools, swimming and surf to keep you entertained.

Karikari peninsula North Island NZ
Parked alongside for a beach picnic at Rangiputa

Whangarei Heads

Wow! This place is stunning, so much so that we could have stayed for weeks. Located just outside of Whangarei, this peninsula of fabulous inlets, amazing walking tracks and incredible beaches, seems too good to be true.

It doesn’t seem to attract the international tourist numbers of other NZ locations, although popular with plenty of Kiwi’s. We loved it and with several good freedom camping spots on offer, all with amazing beach locations, we really were rather spoilt here.

If you like hiking, you’ll be pleased to know, there’s some pretty hilly tracks, keeping those legs toned and heart pumping. We did several including, Mt Manaia, Busby Head, Smugglers Cove, Te Whara Loop and Patua South.

Just one last thing, there’s not much in the way of shops here, so stock up in Whangarei town before heading this way!

Whangarei Heads North Island
Nigel standing on the end of a natural Lava jetty at Whangarei Heads

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Top 12 Walks In The North Island

Top 12 Walks In The North Island

Top 12 Walks In The North Island

New Zealand is pure bliss for us walking enthusiasts. There are so many trails on offer, that we could literally do nothing else but walk! Routes are well marked, many have drop toilets and above all, they are extremely scenic. It’s such a difficult decision to choose “The Top 12 Walks In The North Island”!

For the past couple of years we’ve spent a few months touring in our campervan, walking each day and enjoying every minute! So here’s our pick of the “Top 12 Day Walks In The North Island” of New Zealand.

We’ve not included The “Best Day Hike in The North Island” but you can read about our walk here: https://campervancastaways.com/2020/01/11/the-tongariro-alpine-crossing/

Putangirua Pinnacles – Wellington Region

Top Day Hikes New Zealand
Nigel and our Son walking amongst The Putangirua Pinnacles

The 3 hour return walk began alongside a scenic DOC campground, leading through a dry river bed (well it was on our visit!). After 45 minutes and an uphill climb on rocky pebbles, the base of the amazing pinnacle formations surrounded us.

Towering high above, these vertical statuesque structures, rise upwards towards the sky, it’s an incredible sight. A separate path lead us up to a viewpoint overlooking the Pinnacles. From here, we took the ridge route back to the car park, through beautiful bush, rewarding us with glorious views too!

Cook’s Cove Walkway – North of Gisborne

New Zealand Walks
Above the Cook’s Cove Walkway, Where Captain Cook Landed

A hilly start through bush, gave way to a clearing and the most beautiful views across to Tolaga Bay. Passing through farmland, we reached a huge hole in the rock type formation, stepping inside for a view out to sea.

In October 1769, Captain Cook set anchor here, coming ashore, and later going on to circumnavigate New Zealand. The 2 1/2 hour return walk is a pleasure, even without the historic element. It’s all about the views and the feeling of solitude as you sit and admire the surroundings.

New Zealand Walks
Looking out to sea from the carved out rock formation

The Redwoods Forest, Yellow Walk – Rotorua

New Zealand  Walks
Nigel walking through the huge California Redwood Trees

Just 3km outside of Rotorua lies the vast Redwoods Forest. Beginning from the visitor centre, are a series of colour-coded walks through the forest, as well as mountain bike routes. We chose the 7km return “Yellow” walk, an easy loop through the incredibly dense California Redwoods.

The big bonus with this circuit, is the views from an elevated section, overlooking the spectacular thermal wonderland of Te Puia below. On our visit, we could just about see the huge ‘Pohutu Geyser’, as it shot up to 30m into the air!

New Zealand Walks
The Huge “Pohutu Geyser” steaming below us during the walk

Lake Tarawera Trail – Near Rotorua – Top 12 Walks in The North Island

New Zealand Walks
Lake Tarawera is completely beautiful

This one-way walk takes around 5 hours and had us returning by water taxi! We booked this the day before with Tarawera Taxi’s, a family firm, who has lived there for generations. Tracey, the current owner, told how, her Grandfather, would take visitors to the famous Pink and White Terraces, in the 1800’s, before they were destroyed by a huge volcanic eruption.

The walk itself starts at “The Landing” car park, next to the lake. An absolutely beautiful hike, through lush bush and rewarded with stunning lake views.

After a few hours, a slight detour, lead us to a natural hot water bathing pool, it was just divine and perfect for a respite from the heat of the day. A further 1 1/2 hours, mostly uphill, had us arrive at our finish and a welcoming hot water beach on the lake.

The steaming water was an ideal place for us to soak, whilst waiting for our boat and the 30 minute ride across the lake, back to the start. There’s also a DOC campsite here, so you could book to stay overnight.

New Zealand walks
Nigel in the hot pool en-route to the lake finish

Rainbow Mountain – Rotorua Region

Rainbow Mountain New Zealand
The Blue Volcanic Lake At Rainbow Mountain

If you like a bit of a climb, then this may be for you! An uphill track took us past steaming volcanic rocks and a fabulous blue lake, towards the summit.

Rainbow Mountain is named because of the colours of the volcanic matter, that’s naturally in the ground. The pink, orange, and yellow tones are the really obvious ones on the walk!

As we reached the top, the panoramic views stretched across towards Taupo and Lake Tarawera. It was the same route back down to the start, so no change of scenery, on this 3 hour walk.

As a extra bonus, we drove down the road to Kerosene Creek when we finished. This natural, thermal stream was ideal for a good soak after the walk. Just don’t expect the narrow, hot flowing water to yourself – it got fairly busy during our visit!

Rainbow Mountain New Zealand
The Views From The Summit

Taupo – Waikato River to Huka Falls Trail

Taupo Walks
The Bungy Jumping above the Waikato River

A 14km return walk, alongside the Waikato River from Taupo town centre. Passing Taupo Bungy, where the turquoise blue river, teases those who dare to leap from above. Here, we stopped to watch the excitement as they took the leap of faith.

The path then has an interesting twist, in the form of a hot water stream, that flows into the river in ‘Spa Park’. Never ones to resist a dip in a thermal pool, we stripped to our swim suits and found a very lovely, super hot rock pool for a good soak!

Continuing on from the hot stream, the path lead us to the mighty Huka Falls. These huge rapids, cascade along a narrow gorge, where the Waikato River is squeezed into this 10m deep chasm.

Spa Park Taupo
Nigel in the hot stream at Spa Park

Mt.Taranaki – Dawson Falls Walks

Mt Taranaki  New Zealand
Walking the trail with the mighty Mt.Taranaki dominating the landscapes

Combine fabulous weather, incredible scenery and the perfect Volcano-shaped Mt.Taranaki. You’ll get the picture and it doesn’t get much better than this!

We started our walk from the Dawson Falls Visitor Centre, where several routes start. We selected the Wilkies Pool track, passing lava formations where water cascades form small pools, whilst views down to the coast and up towards Mt. Taranaki itself provide a stunning backdrop.

Taking the uphill path to Stratford Plateau, treading gently on the narrow, eroded steps, the view at the top leant for a picnic stop, overlooking the great volcanic peak.

From the plateau, the steep, path lead us down lots of steps, following the Enchanted Walk path. Crossing streams and a high, swing bridge, swaying across the gorge.

A hike up through bush for another 1 1/2 hours, before arriving back at Dawson Falls, made this walk a full day for us.

There are so many hiking routes around Mt.Taranaki, if this isn’t for you, it’s a walking paradise.

Dawson Falls walk Mt Taranaki
Crossing the swing bridge amongst beautiful bush

Mangorei Track, Mt.Taranaki

Mt. Taranaki Mangorei Track
Tackling the 3000 steps on the Mangorei Track

We must have been mad to want to tackle the 3000 steps up the mountain, but we do love a good challenge! This is the Mangorei Track, leading up to Poukai Hut, where we arrived, after a 2 hour walk through the lush bush. Legs feeling the strain after those 3000 steps.

As many headed back down, we trampled on to hopefully catch the reflection of Mt. Taranaki, in the pools of the tarns, another hour or so further on.

For us, this proved fruitless, as the clouds set in, drowning the view of the Taranaki peak, there was no chance of the glistening reflections of this peaky mountain in the pool.

A brilliant day hike all the same and in clear weather, this would be the icing on the cake.

Mt.Taranaki
The famous Instagram pic – not playing game on our visit, with the only reflection being the clouds over Mt. Taranaki!

Collins Drive Walk – Puketui Valley, Tairua

Puketui Valley Walks
About to enter the old gold mine tunnel

Well this is a walk with a difference, certainly one where there is light at the end of the tunnel – quite literally!

Forming part of the old Broken Hills gold mines, the walk began alongside a DOC campground, climbing steeply up the side of a mountain, with a scenic river and bush alongside.

Before we knew it, we’d arrived at the entrance to the old, 500m long , gold mining tunnel. Completely pitch black, we used our phone’s as a torch to guide us through the darkness.

Wooden supports, still hold the walls in place. Whilst spiders on the ceiling, glow worms and what looked like a Weta, kept us on our toes – this was proper creepy but weirdly enjoyable.

As we emerged into the daylight, the route took us to the summit lookout, giving views out across the range, before descending back down the mountain to the start. Swim holes close to the car park are an ideal cool down after the strenuous, 2-hour return hike.

Puketui Valley
Pretty swim holes at the end of the walk

Karangakake Gorge – Waihi

Karangahake Gorge
Walking the old railway line at Karangahake Gorge

Picture an old railway line, gold mining relics and a scenic river and you’ll know what to expect from this 9km return walk.

Where better to start, than at the quaint railway station at Waikino, before following the river along the disused railway.

The big attraction comes, with a walk through the dimly lit, 1000m long, old railway tunnel. A few ceiling lights guide you through, emerging into the daylight and cross-crossing river bridges, before returning via the gorge itself.

Re-tracing our steps for part of the return journey, was the only downside. Nonetheless, a scenic and interesting walk, through historic countryside.

New Zealand walks
About to enter the 1100m long old tunnel

Kerikeri River Track

Rainbow Falls  Kerikeri
We arrive at Rainbow Falls in Kerikeri

Sometimes, we just need a bit of a gentle stroll in idyllic surroundings, rather than a hard-going hike. This walk, ticks all those boxes and more, providing the most glorious sight of the Rainbow Falls, plunging into the pools, of the moss-covered rocks at the end of the trail.

Taking you on a well laid path, through the greenery of the bush, meandering alongside the river. Birdsong accompanied us, along with the sounds of the river, whirling over stones beside us.

The return the same way, back to the start at Kerikeri basin, is a couple of hours. The historic stone house and water-side pub, across the river at the basin itself, are a good place to chill afterwards.

Kerikeri
Kerikeri basin and the historic houses

Wairakau Stream Track – Totara North

Wairakau Stream Track
The Views From The Plateau are Stunning

It’s often the lesser known places that end up being the most remarkable. This 5 hour walk left us completely mesmerised, it was simply stunning.

Situated near Whangaroa, in Northland, Totara North is a tiny hamlet. The walk leads though leafy bush and involves a few river crossings, adding to the picturesque settings.

Just when we thought it couldn’t get any better, along came the views of the estuary and Lane Cove, where we stopped for our picnic.

From here, there’s an option to walk the Duke’s Nose Track. An extra hour each way, this took us up a hilly track, ending in a 10m long metal rail, which hauled us up the rock face, onto a plateau.

The views across spectacular bays were worth every once of effort, despite the legs being a bit shaky after the experience of clinging on to a metal rail!

A definite surprise find, and one that will go down as the most fabulous day walks for us.

Duke’s Nose Track
Duke’s Nose Track had us Climb this 10m long metal rail

https://www.doc.govt.nz/

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The Tongariro Alpine Crossing

The Tongariro Alpine Crossing – New Zealand’s “Best Day Hike”.

Tongariro  Alpine Crossing
Nigel beside the Emerald Lake

After several weeks of hot, dry Summer sun, the rains came to interrupt play. Typically, this coincided with our arrival at Whakapapa, the mountain village at the heart of Tongariro National Park and gateway to New Zealand’s “Best Day Hike”-The Tongariro Alpine Crossing.

Undeterred, all we could do was wait. The previous year, we’d missed the window of opportunity by a few days. The cold air had set in and with it, our cold feet chose to leave the long mountain trek for another time. This would prove a wise move, as this is no walk in the park, even on the best of days.

The 19.4km Volcanic Wonderland

At 12 miles in length or 19.4km, The Tongariro Alpine Crossing, is not only a big day out, it’s also high. Climbing 750m from the start, to the landmark Red Crater, it descends 700m to the finish on the opposite side, at Ketetahi Road.

Covering a vast volcanic wonderland, of steaming vents and blackened lava fields. Consisting of an active volcano trio: Mt Tongariro; Ruapehu and Ngaruhoe. Each, make up The vast and hugely popular Tongariro National Park. The highest of these peaks, is Ruapehu, at 2797m, it’s also the highest in the North Island.

Tongariro  Alpine  Crossing
The Rocky Lava Landscape

Sitting It Out Until The Forecast Improved

As the weather closed in, we checked the prognosis with the National Park Visitor Centre, in Whakapapa villlage. With a window of reprieve set to come in a few days later, we retreated over to Taupo, about an hour’s drive away.

From here, we’d be close enough to make our move, once the weather improved. Hopefully, we’d be away from the cold air of the mountain area.

Finally, the forecast from the met service showed signs of improvement. As the last week of February approached (height of Summer in New Zealand), our moment came.

Still, the night sky brought chills and a real nip in the air, even on this lower ground. We knew up on the mountain, there could be a real chance of frost or even ice.

The iSite in Taupo, perfectly caters for The Tongariro Alpine Crossing. Up to date forecasts, detailed equipment lists, maps and information adorn the walls. We checked with the staff on the situation for the following day, at last, yes, the weather looked perfect. This meant, the shuttles were running once again. Fingers crossed, our moment had come.

Tongariro National Park

Tongariro Alpine  Crossing
Lunar-Like Volcanic Mountains

Arranging The Shuttle To The Start

The crossing is a one-way trek, with parking no longer permitted in your own vehicle. So, basically, a shuttle bus has to be arranged, to take you to the start, or possibly pick you up at the finish as well. Buses start at around 5.30am and carry on up until about 9am, with a journey time of 30 minutes, to ferry walkers to the start point.

We booked ‘The Mountain Crossing’ shuttle bus, for an 8.30am start, through the iSite in Taupo. This would leave from their dedicated car park , located at the closest point to the finish, where we’d also park our camper for the day. We chose a later time, simply because the weather was so cold, we wanted the sun to be up and any frost to be gone!

We also wanted to have our van parked at the end of the walk , ready for our return in our own time. If we’d have arranged a shuttle from some other location, we’d have had a shuttle to the start and a pick up shuttle back to their parking area further away.

These buses left at set times during the afternoon, with the last being around 5pm. We didn’t want any pressure to rush back or fear of missing the last bus!

Tongaririo National Park
Our Camper Parked in Whakapapa Village Gateway To Tongaririo National Park

The Night Before and The Biggest Pig We’d Ever Seen

Feeling like we need to do a bit of a rehearsal, we ended up checking out the shuttle parking and the actual finish, ready for the following day.

Knowing where exactly to drive to and how far it was, from the end of the walk, made it all a lot clearer.

Now, all we had to do was find somewhere to stop for the night, close to the start. This is where it got a bit tricky! We couldn’t book anything in advance, simply because, we didn’t know if the shuttles were running until the day before, following the bad weather.

So, we had to find a campground within easy access for the morning. Our first choice, turned out to be closed, for a private function. Our second option was full, which left our final choice, a basic camper stop, conveniently located, just 10 minutes to the shuttle bus.

“Crossroads”, is a field, with horses roaming round freely, a drop toilet and optional 5am shuttle service to the start of the walk. At $20 per night, this would do us perfectly.

Just as we stirred our carb-filled pasta dish on the outside stove, the biggest pig we’d ever seen in our lives walked past! It was worth the $20 just to see it!

A Frosty Feel

As the sun went down, the cold set in. Out came the sleeping bags, on top of our usual, home style bedding, always a sure sign of a chill in the air.

Just one last check after packing up our rucksacks and filling the drink bottles, with the recommended 3L of water each! Not leaving anything to chance, we’d allowed for extra layers, plenty of food, sun protection, a first aid kit and just about everything that we’d need for that ‘just in case moment’!

Now, all that was left was an early night!

Tongaririo National Park
Parked on Frosty Ground at “Crossroads” Camper Stop

Up With The Early Birds

By 5am, we were awake with the sound of other happy camper’s heading off for their shuttle buses. It was so cold, frost covered the grassy camp and the windscreen was frozen solid!

The last thing we wanted, was to crawl out of the warm sleeping bags! As no one was really left close to us to annoy, I braved the cold and started the engine. Hoping, that the ice melted and the heater of the cab would soon blow some hot air through.

After a hot mug of tea and a hearty breakfast, we gathered our bags and drove to the shuttle car park for the 8am. The car park was really full, with cars parked from people on those earlier shuttle buses. Checking in at a little hut, we were told to board the bus ready for our 8,.30 departure.

As the bus filled to capacity, the doors closed and we were off. After 30 minutes, mainly along a narrow gravel track, we arrived. Thankfully there were toilets at the drop off point. So, with a quick stop came the chance to take off some layers. The sun had come up and the warmth soon felt quite intense, skies were blue and clear-we’d hit the jackpot on the weather front!

Tongariro Alpine Crossing
Nigel on the shuttle bus

Walking The Tongariro Alpine Crossing

20km is a long way for a day hike. I’m adding a bit on here, as by the time you walk extra bits before and after, you may as well round it up!

The first few km were easy enough. A gravel path to begin with which soon lead to a pretty boardwalk, with the best possible weather, making perfect walking conditions.

Drop toilets along the route, were really well placed, ideal after sipping on that 3L of water each. Oh, you need your own loo paper, by the way!

The Tongariro Crossing
The gravel path at the start of the walk is easy enough
Tongariro Crossing
Winding our way through the first part of the walk
Tongaririo National Park
Volcanic Peaks Come into View
Tongariro  Crossing
Walking The Boardwalk Towards The First Climb

Views of Mt Taranaki

As the first steps come into sight, we set about putting in the first bit of leg work. In the distance there were queues of people, walking up a ridge. Those that had left earlier, were now coming into view. We were told there would be 3000 people walking the route today, a trail reminiscent to rows of ants, could now be seen all around us.

Our legs put in the effort to reach the top of the steps, gratefully, laid into the hillside, leading to a rocky plateau. The views took our breath away. As we glanced behind, the perfect shaped Volcano, Mt Taranaki, stood proud, it’s snow capped peak, appearing to touch the blue sky above.

Tongariro Alpine Crossing
Nigel after the first sets of steps with incredible views behind

Now was a good time to stop for coffee, as always, the trusty flask came out and we perched ourselves on a rock for a break.

Lunar Landscapes And Volcanic Peaks

All along the route, were marker poles, like the one in the photo with Nigel here. These are to help get your bearings, when the weather is poor, hard to to believe, it can be so bad, when it’s such clear visibility and warm air.

Climbing on through the the lunar landscapes, we’re surrounded by the flows of lava, now darkened masses of craggy rock. The flat, yellowing ground below our feet, brings colour to the otherwise, blackened landscapes.

The volcanic peaks of Ngauruhoe and Tongariro are in our views, both are off-limits to walkers. We wouldn’t attempt either one, but notice a couple of lone hiker’s ignoring the rules and appearing like dots in the scraggy slopes.

Tongariro Alpine Crossing
Volcanic peaks surround us
Tongariro Alpine Crossing
Lunar Landscapes and Volcanic Peaks
Tongariro  Alpine Crossing
Heading across lunar landscapes to the climb up towards the Red Crater

The Famous Red Crater of The Tongariro Alpine Crossing

The ridge up towards the Red Crater became closer, the people clambering up were packed in like sardines. The remnants of ice from the previous night, clung to shady sections ahead. The parts which had melted, were now wet and muddy, trodden by the thousands that had already walked before us, earlier in the morning.

At this point, a queue began to form, of those ill-prepared in their converse pumps, stuck like glue to the orange toned mud. Whilst, those eager to make it at a steady pace up the slippy slope, had to just linger until safe passage allowed.

All we could do was wait our turn, frustrated at going so slow, we found it more difficult to climb up, without getting a rhythm going and a good pace to glide us up the slope.

Finally, we were nearing the top, after a couple of slippy sections, where I’d felt myself slip backwards for a split-second.

Amazing views were now upon us, the brilliant weather, playing up to the hype of this incredible walk. As we stood on the red earth of the ridge, the stillness and clarity around us, brought the most stunning panorama.

We could see for miles around, from Lake Taupo to The Dessert Road, we were on top of the world! It proved difficult to take our pics, too many people, all trying to do the same thing, meant lots of strangers in our shot!

The Tongariro Alpine Crossing
The Queue of People Climbing up The Red Crater
Tongariro Alpine Crossing
Nigel at The top of The Red Crater
Tongariro Alpine Crossing
Views of The Red Crater

The Descent Towards The Emerald Lake

The descent was a bit tricky! A deep shale and fairly long, steep section lay in wait. More queues had formed, making it difficult to get going down hill.

The initial sandy gravel and steep slopes, made it hard on the legs and boots! Some people had froze on the spot, whilst we tried to give encouragement, we managed to make it down without too much hardship.

Digging our heels into the sandy base, seemed to help us gain a sturdy footing, whilst others chose to run down, like mountain goats.

It was difficult to miss the stunning outlook from here, amazing views below of the Emerald and Blue Lakes. This had to be a spot for our lunch.

Tongariro Alpine Crossing
Starting the walk down the shale slope towards the Emerald Lake
Tongariro Alpine Crossing
Nigel at the Emerald Lake
Tongariro Alpine Crossing
Our Lunch Stop At The Emerald Lakes
Tongariro Alpine Crossing
Looking out Across the Steamy Landscapes

The Blue Lake And Steamy Landscapes

After a good break for our picnic lunch, it was time to move on. Another small climb lay ahead, after crossing a flat section of volcanic dust, the path lead towards The Blue Lake.

Heading around the mountain, we caught sight of Lake Taupo, way ahead in the distance. The views stayed with us for the second half of the walk, as we passed steaming vents on several sections.

Rocky, darkened lava flows surrounded us, whilst bright red colours brought a vibrant glow to the earth.

Tongariro Alpine Crossing
Looking pleased to be entering the second half of the walk!
Tongariro Alpine Crossing
We Pass The Blue Lake
Tongariro  Alpine Crossing
Lava Flows Across the Landscapes

The Tongariro Alpine Crossing – The Final 9KM

The last section, or final 9KM, was all down hill, yes, it sounds a long way and it was! Steps and paths of matted, metal and plastic underfoot, seemed to make it rather difficult on the aching feet!

Grateful for all the toilets en-route, we took another stop overlooking the views before heading on down the mountain. By now, it seemed such a long way to go, before we’d reach the van.

The good weather and fine outlook spurred us on. As we meandered down the paths, several people ran past us, late for their last shuttle bus.

The last few km, took us through a pretty forest section, a welcome change of scenery, before reaching the public car park and the finish! Hooray…We’d done it!

This car park has limited parking, it’s where some shuttle buses pick up from and as we cleared the trees, groups of weary walkers boarded their buses back. Some still running past, just about making it onto the last bus.

For us, it was a further 1km back to the camper, at the shuttle parking. We were shattered and this last bit seemed like an awful one way!

As our camper came into view, there was only one thing left to do-drive to some hot pools for a good soak!

A great end to a fantastic day and perfect to ease those aching limbs!

Tongariro Alpine Crossing
Nigel taking a selfie with Lake Taupo in the Far Distance (Behind the hills)
Tongariro Alpine Crossing
The path winding down the mountain
Tongariro Alpine Crossing
Here we are Finished and Shattered But Loved Every minute!

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The Whanganui Journey

The Whanganui Journey

Out of New Zealand’s 10 Great Walks comes the red herring that is ‘The Whanganui Journey’. This epic adventure actually involves no walking at all! Instead, the Journey into the lush wilderness takes place on water!

Yes, ‘The Whanganui Journey’, is actually an epic canoe adventure, and we were about to jump in at the deep end, on our first ever canoe trip!

Whanganui River Great Walk
Our Son in front of us paddling along the river

The Whanganui Journey – A Great Walk That Isn’t A Walk

In fact, ‘The Whanganui Journey’ is the only one of the world famous Great Walks of New Zealand, that does not involve setting out on foot!

With options of two different starting points, covering either 3 or 5 days, we novices, wisely chose the shorter distance. Covering 88km, our journey on the North Island’s Whanganui River, would begin at Whakohoro.

This incredibly remote location, is the main starting point on the river. The route takes you through thick bush, following wide gorges, passing moss covered waterfalls, as you head towards the finish at Pipiriki.

Organising and Planning

We’d booked our canoe hire for the Whanganui Journey, several months in advance, with Whanganui River Canoes. The owner’s also have a campsite at their base, in the village of Raetihi. This is one of the closest campgrounds to the finish and unbelievably, to the start-one and a half hours drive away!

Staying at the campground the night before and hiring the canoes from there, meant we had transport to and from the River included. We could also safety park the camper on site, for the duration of the trip.

Whanganui River Canoes

DOC Great Walks

Raetihi Holiday Park

The overnight campground’s for the Whanganui Journey, also had to be arranged and booked in advance. Our first night would be a DOC (Department of Conservation) bunk at their John Coull Hut. Whilst our second night, was to be a cabin, at The Bridge to Nowhere campground, where the promise of a hot shower sold it to us!

The Day Before

By late afternoon on 21st December, we’d checked into the campsite, ready for The Whanganui Journey and adventure ahead. Blimey…What had we let ourselves in for!

On arrival, we were each allocated a large barrel for clothes and equipment and a small barrel for food. A yellow dry bag came with the bigger barrel. We could safely pack our kit inside this and then into the sealed container. The food had to be put inside a bin liner, before locking into the small barrel.

A couple of waterproof cases were also given, for storing electrical items, where they’d hopefully stay dry or at least float if they ended up in the river!

Packing up our barrels at Raetihi Holiday Park. They also run Whanganui River Canoes

Rain May Stop Play

It soon became clear that we might not even get started on our trip. After heavy rains and high winds, none of the canoes had been allowed on the river for 5 days.

As the water levels had risen, so too had the dangers of the river in full flood. We wouldn’t know until the next morning, if the water had receded enough for us canoeists to take to the water.

If any more rain fell overnight, especially upstream, then The Whanganui Journey would finish before it began.

Settling in at the campsite

Raetihi Holiday Park and the views towards Ruapehu in the background

The Raetihi Holiday Park was actually really lovely. Commanding fine views across to Ruapehu, the snow-capped slopes of this volcanic wonderland, glistened in the evening sunlight.

A newly modernised toilet block, powerful hot showers and excellent camp kitchen, were a perfect addition to the convenience of the location.

We’d been joined by our son and his girlfriend, and our other son and 3 of his pals from his pilot training school. Luckily, we had a cabin booked, along with a glamping tent and our campervan pitch.

The site was so full, that the owners had built an extra cabin that day to accommodate us. Literally, they just finished it as we arrived.

Before settling in for the night, we had to watch a safety video at the campsite office. This detailed everything we should expect about The Whanganui Journey.

Lots of it showed what to do to avoid falling in and how nothing could be done, other than float to a bank, if you did fall in! It all sounded so simple!

One last check of the packing and that was it, time for bed. It was such a cold night, wrapping up and staying warm under the covers seemed like a really good option. Summer in New Zealand can still be really cool overnight, this was a really good reminder of that!

The Whanganui Journey – Gravel Roads and Plenty of Dust

An early start the next morning had us braving the cold air, until sunrise brought a welcome warmth.

Tea and Coffee was laid on at the campsite office, as we all assembled at the meeting point, ready for the 8am departure. Thank goodness the weather was on our side and we were good to go!

Boarding the bus was quite exciting, with canoes attached onto the trailer behind us, we were almost ready for the off! Our camper and cars had been moved to the parking area and keys locked away with the owners, for safe keeping.

The driver hopped on board and off we went! The drive to the start was long and dusty, mostly covering unsealed roads, plumes of dust billowed out as we sped along.

As the dust settled inside the bus, we covered our faces and felt our freshly washed hair, weighed down by a fine coating of the grey stuff. We now knew, we’d be feeling unwashed and unkempt for the next few days!

Boarding the bus with our canoes on the back

At Last – Whakahoro Was Upon Us – Start of The Whanganui Journey

The drive to the start was scenic, but brought a realisation as to how remote this place is. After 90 minutes on the road, our driver announced our arrival at Whakahoro and the chance for a toilet break at the DOC campground…..thank goodness for that!

The drop toilets were more than welcome, and a chance to get ready for the next few days of the non-flushing variety!

In front of us, several other buses were already unloading canoes on the narrow lane. This dead-end track lead to a muddy slipway to the waters edge, our launching site and the start of The Whanganui Journey…this was going to be messy!

Typically, our bus was last in the queue. This meant hanging around, with our nervous energy yet to be unleashed. All of our barrels were loaded underneath the canoes, so we couldn’t reach any of our kit until it was unloaded.

Frustratingly, our final preparations; such as packing away some of the layers that we no longer needed, after the cold start and finding a snack to nibble on, had to wait.

There was then, what seemed like a bit of a rush to get organised, as our turn finally came. Quickly stripping off what we didn’t need to wear, slapping on the sun lotion and insect repellent and actually strapping the barrels into the canoes. The Whanganui Journey had now come upon us in a flash!

Whanganui Journey
Our group: Nigel, Mike, Khalsa, Brad, Alec, Sonia, Vicky and Luke!

The Whanganui Journey – Time to Be Seated

Finally, our turn to step into the Canadian style canoe came. Just as were about to set off, our canoes had to be moved to one side to make way for a rescue jet-boat….heck this was a bit unnerving!

Apparently, no sooner had one group taken to the river, than all hell had been let loose and they’d somehow requested a rescue mission!

We wondered what on earth we’d let ourselves in for. The glum looking party retuned to shore, minus their canoes, so, it was now our time to find out.

Wading through the the muddy bank to our waiting canoes was a dirty business. “Just one last thing” announced the owner, “here’s an emergency beacon, just press SOS if you need immediate rescue”. With that, he handed us a small yellow device, placed it inside a yellow waterproof box and got ready to let us loose.

Into the canoe we staggered, took to our seats and before we knew it, with a push and a shove, we were off! Yikes!

A picnic stop on our first day

Finally We’re On The River – The Whanganui Journey Began

Frantically trying to remember everything we’d been shown from the safety briefings, we knew straight away that teamwork was total priority.

If the 3 days on the river was going to be a success, we’d have to get along, work together and definitely not have any marital differences.

We’d decided that Nigel would steer (that’s sitting at the back) and I would be the engine at the front! Being up front, also meant that I had to be lookout – gosh, how hard could that be?!

Oh, it sounded all so simple, but we were about to find out from the start, that this was a lot harder than it looked.

Whanganui Journey
Lovely waterfalls are everywhere along the river

Let The Paddling Begin

The first part of the river was actually not the Whanganui River at all, this was a gentle, smaller river, that flows into the Whanganui river.

We had instructions to turn left and did as we were told. Then the vast expanse of the Whanganui River, in what looked like full flood, appeared ahead of us.

Whirlpools swirled in the murky water, obstacles of fallen trees, rocks and occasional debris, soon came into view. The task of keeping an eye out for things that could topple us was constant.

This was a real adventure and we were on our own! The other 6 in our group had taken to the water before us and were nowhere in sight.

It was just us and the surrounding birdsong, which echoed from the gorge-type walls of the river. Rising above us, the thick greenery of the New Zealand bush, resembled something from a far-flung land.

We soon got into a bit of a rhythm, enough to keep us gliding through the wide swathes of water. Before long, we saw the distant outline of the other’s up ahead too.

Whanganui Journey
Gliding through the river, typical scenery along the way

Ready for Lunch

It would be another 2 hours of paddling before we caught sight of our lunch stop. This was at one of the basic DOC campgrounds, that are located every couple of hours along the river.

Apparently, there are usually beaches to pull in at, but for us, with the river so high, these were submerged beyond reach. Instead, there were no shallow segments of water, not even a river bank to launch ourselves onto.

Thankfully, our lunch-stop had a small muddy verge, where we could aim to land. Hoping, that we’d make it before missing the opportunity to stop, we steered with all our strength to get to the bank.

We threw our rope over to our waiting group, who were already on dry land. After a few tugs on the ropes, we were pulled ashore. So relieved, that we’d got our first stop in the bag!

By now, the heat was beating down, so not only was this time for food, but also the sunscreen and more insect repellent.

Our rest was short-lived. After a quick picnic and use of the drop toilet, we knew we’d have to be back on the river, to make it to our campsite for the night.

Department of Conservaton
Our lunch stop at a DOC (Department of conservation) campground

Battling The Headwind

This first day, should have taken around 7 hours to complete, except that you apparently move quicker in a full river. All was going well, until we hit the only obstacle that we hadn’t accounted for-a strong headwind.

For some reason, we’d never expected to be battling the gusty stuff at any point in the journey. As the wind blew up the valley, there was no escaping its strength.

The only solution was to paddle harder and get the task done. At this point, we knew, this was no walk in the park! This was going to need all our upper body strength, concentration and cool wit, to get us through.

Whanganui River Canoes
Nigel and I paddling along the river

Our First Night – John Coull Hut Campsite

After 5 hours of paddling, our first night campsite came into view. John Coull Hut, another DOC campground was upon us.

More frantic steering, had us glide in between a mass of parked canoes. This was not easy, with no beach to happily wade onto, our only option was to leap out of the canoe and haul each of our canoes up the steep bank.

A flat strip of grass, provided a space to park up our groups canoes overnight. We never expected having to physically carry each canoe onto dry land!

First though, our barrels had to be unloaded and carried up to dry land. There was no room alongside the river, due to the steep, muddy banks and sheer number of canoes, that had arrived before us.

This would have been such hard work. However, an organised team effort, had everything carried up to the tent area and our own shared hut, high above the river.

Whanganui River
Carrying our canoes and barrels above the river at John Coull Hut campground

Settling in To Camp

John Coull Hut
Dishwashing & Washing Sink on the Terrace at John Coull Hut

The hut was over-booked, so we quickly had to find a bunk amongst the rows of mattresses that were taken. After the heavy rains, some people had become grounded in previous camps. This meant a backlog on the river and more people than expected at our camp.

The campground itself was really basic but good. A kitchen adjacent to the bunk room had gas burners and running water. Although this had to be boiled, it meant we didn’t have to carry extra supplies on the journey.

Outside, a small sink for washing and a separate sink for dishwashing, looked out onto the river below. Several drop toilets were located between the tent area and the hut. Although smelly, they were generally clean and the next best thing to a flushing loo.

A terrace area with large picnic tables and an indoor dining area, with a log burner, made it all actually rather comfortable. As darkness fell, we retreated to our bunk beds, where the nightmare of a bunk room began.

John Coull Hut
The outdoor eating area at John Coull Hut

The Chorus of Snoring Starts

Snoring reverberated around the room, almost in a chorus. Sounds from a horror movie, like nothing we’d heard before. The worst culprit, a middle aged man, 2 bunks away, made the most deafening sounds imaginable.

Before we knew it, all we could do was laugh. In a kind of way that you do as a child, when you’re at a school assembly. Trying not to giggle in the important part, but then you can’t stop yourself!

The laughter soon turned to tears and after about an hour of being sandwiched between the snoring, we gave in. Instead, we grabbed our mattress and took to sleeping on the kitchen floor.

There we were, thinking, we’d solved the problem – how wrong were we? Well, unbeknown to us, the Snorer from Hell 2 was unleashed next to the log burner! At that point, we gave up trying to sleep. As a new dawn came, it was time to put it down to experience and get ready for day 2 on the river!

John Coull Hut
Our son in the bunk room at John Coull Hut

Day 2 Begins Below The Mist

As a low mist cleared from the treetops, the sun broke through and the chill from the early morning gave way to warm air.

Fully refreshed as can be after no sleep, we relied on coffee and cereal to awaken the senses! Just as well, as we needed all our energy to carry those barrels back to the canoes, as well as manoeuvre the canoes, onto the river.

We were told, that there’s usually a small beach here to provide a much easier landing exercise, than this steep bank experience.

As we safety made it to our seating positions, without toppling over, relief came in. Quickly followed the need to focus on the direction of paddle, before we ended up just spinning around, like something from a Kylie hit!

Ahead of us lay another long day. Although the river levels had dropped a little, they were still much higher than normal.

Whanganui Journey
Trying to keep together on day 2 of paddling

Lush Landscapes Keep Us Focused

We were told that the river can rise up to 13 meters after heavy rain! Canoes have to be tied securely, out of the water overnight. It’s been known, for the canoes to disappear with the rising water or be carried away down stream.

Every now and then, we would spot a submerged tree, peaking above the water. After watching the safety video and seeing how a canoe can topple or get stuck against one of these huge trunks, we had to be really on guard, to avoid a collision.

Occasionally, we’d cross some bumpy rapids, strong currents and spiralling whirlpools. The river is wide, the valley alongside is a mix of complete natural bush, blending upwards towards the sky, whilst a canopy of greenery covers the wilderness.

Moss-filled cliffs, hide behind cascades of exotic looking waterfalls, whilst narrow inlets, carved out against the passage of time, provide a mystical, forgotten world. It all looks like a far away jungle, as if expecting monkey’s to swing between the trees.

The headwinds were still annoyingly against us, but the determination to combat the aching backsides and energy depleted arms, overrode the niggles.

Whanganui River
The thick green bush towers above the river

Catastrophe Averted

Our first stop of the day, after an hour and a half, was a welcome one. The basic DOC campground provided another drop toilet and a picnic bench. Plenty of sand flies joined us for our break, reminding us, to keep spraying that insect repellent to the body parts!

Next almost came our capsize moment. As Nigel stepped over the barrels to take his seat at the back of the canoe, a sudden lack of balance swung us over to the left. As I got ready to get wet, Nigel’s bottom half disappeared under the water, as our fellow canoeists leaped from the river bank to grab hold of the unsteady canoe.

Thank goodness, for those quick thinking crew members! Catastrophe was just about avoided, the only evidence was a few buckets of water, that had now settled around our feet, along with the loss of a drinks bottle into the river. Luckily, this bobbed up and down like a cork next to us, so we could save it from floating off into oblivion.

Progressing ahead of time down stream, we were soon upon the only part of the journey, where you pull over to do a bit of a walk- that’s if you want to!

Whanganui River
Enjoying the scenery during a calm spell on the river

The Bridge To Nowhere

Bridge to Nowhere
The Bridge to Nowhere comes into sight through the tree lined path

This was ‘The Bridge to Nowhere’, but first we had to get there, which meant landing on a very high, muddy bank, in a strong current. A flurry of canoes had already parked up, making access really tight.

Adding insult to injury, was the arrival of the jet-boat. Crikey, this was all a bit daunting for us novices!

For the sake of some background info, the jet boat is the alternative means of transport, for anyone wanting to see The Bridge to Nowhere. This bright yellow boat, catapults visitors upstream in a flash, so they can visit the bridge without much effort!

As they look on, we have to paddle and steer like crazy to get to shore. As the yellow jet boat, gets wedged against our canoe, we have to navigate round it’s rear end, avoiding getting caught in a section of rapids. Using all our strength, we finally steer to a tiny section of free river bank.

Hauling our rope ashore, to our anxious looking crew, each dashing to assist in pulling us to dry land. There was nothing left for us to do, other than reach for a sweet treat and get some much needed sugar through the veins.

A walk in the wilderness

Bridge to Nowhere
Arriving at the Bridge to Nowhere, a 90 minute return walk from the river

Our walk to the bridge, took us through the bush, along a well marked path. The 45 minute route, gradually meandered up hill, until we reached a clearing in the trees. There in front of us, above a small river, was the pretty arch of the bridge.

The story behind the structure is a bit of a sad one. The land here was given to returning soldiers after the 2nd World War. Supposedly as a gift, to allow them to farm the land.

They soon realised that the land was unsuitable for use, so they never got to use this fruitless gift. Nowadays, the only reminder is the bridge that was built to access the land. Of course, with no useful purpose, the structure became known as ‘The Bridge to Nowhere’.

Located in beautiful bush, the bridge is actually lovely. Below it, we could see huge eels swimming in the river.

Following a photo opportunity, we returned for the 45 minute trek back to the canoes. A picnic lunch followed, under the shade of the sun, before setting off for the next section of the journey.

Easier said than done! Getting back into the canoes was really awkward. The jet boat was still parked up too, the only way we could get to one of our canoes, was to step on the deck of the jet boat first…not to the amusement of the slightly grumpy driver!

A bumpy ride

All was going well, after finally getting back on the river. That was, until our jet boat friend whizzed passed! The waves grew larger and larger, the swell seeming huge against our tiny canoe!

As we just about managed to ride the storm, the waving tourists almost seemed to have a bit of a smirk on their faces, or were we now just paranoid?!

The day had gone quicker than anticipated, great teamwork and sections of calm water, made the earlier part of the river more enjoyable.

Then, we hit a continuous headwind once again. An hour or so later, we were loosing our enthusiasm. The only option was to just grit our teeth, put in the effort and talk our way through it.

Bridge to Nowhere
Looking down into the Eel-filled river below the Bridge to Nowhere

A Campsite with a bar and a Campfire!

Finally, there it was, a large sign on the right hand side of the river. This was our next overnight campsite stop, at The Bridge to Nowhere Campground.

Steering swiftly towards the slightly easier looking river bank, we were overjoyed to have arrived. It had been a long day, but apparently, we were told it was quicker as the river was full…one consolation!

A smiley face soon greeted us from a quad bike, this was amazing, it was the manager who’d come to collect our barrels and show us round camp.

Surprisingly, we were first to arrive for the night. Goodness knows how, but we obviously weren’t as bad as we thought!

Our really basic bunk room had the most fabulous views across the river. Perched high above the valley, the outdoor deck was a welcome rest area, for a mug of coffee. A pile of firewood was delivered on the same quad bike, ready to warm ourselves by, after dark.

Bridge to Nowhere Campground
The camp kitchen at Bridge to Nowhere Campground

The really big appeal of booking his campground, instead of the DOC Tieke Camp across the river from us, was the really simple fact that there was both: A hot shower and a Bar!

Not quite 5* luxury, the actual facilities were very tired and even more basic than basic. The hot shower was perfect though, and everyone took advantage of this welcome refresher. There was only one place to head after a good clean up- yes the bar!

Bridge to Nowhere Campground
Our cabin at Bridge to Nowhere campground

A Sofa and a Beer

Walking 5 minutes uphill, we found The Lodge. This proper homestead, complete with flushing toilets, had a huge verandah and the smell of comfort food drifted over us. Perched overlooking the most fabulous river views, is where we settled for a beer and a comfy chair.

Bridge to Nowhere  Campground
Enjoying the bar and views at the Lodge at the Bridge to Nowhere campground

The only way in and out of this place is by boat. The location is stunning and to think, that it’s all been built in such difficult terrain, is even more mind blowing. Guests can spend the night here in comfort and a group were on their way by boat, as we warmed up the sofa!

As the smart looking Europeans arrived with their suitcases, we headed back down to our camp, swapping the sofa for a wooden bench and a glowing campfire.

Talking into the night, reflecting on the journey so far and gazing up at the clear night sky, seemed all rather perfect after such a hard day on the river.

Thankfully, we didn’t have to share our cabin with any strangers. So fully refreshed, after a good nights sleep, we were ready for the final day ahead.

Bridge to Nowhere campground
The cosy campfire outside our cabin at Bridge to Nowhere campground

4 Hours To Pipiriki and The Finish

This last day was to be the shortest, with only 4 hours of paddling ahead of us. To be honest, we all just wanted it to be over and done with! 3 days seemed so long on the water. We all commented, just how glad we were, to have not chosen the 5 day option!

As the time approached 8.30am, we realised we were the only ones left at camp, after what turned out to be a full campsite overnight. All the canoes from the DOC site had also gone, so we were now keen to get on the river.

We’d been warned that the last day came with the worst rapids and a 50-50 chance of falling in or capsizing.

With that in mind, we were all apprehensive, not knowing what to expect. Thankfully, the quad bike took our barrels to the canoes, after we’d loaded them into position, we were off.

It took all our determination to get into the rhythm of paddling. This final day brought out the aching limbs, fatigue and desire to just finish. Still, the headwind blew, how could somewhere that looked so sheltered, be so windy?

Our last day, saw the landscapes change, we could almost feel civilisation, driving us on to Pipiriki and the finish.

Whanganui River