A long-desired wish from our daughters is going to materialize as we head to New Zealand and hire a motorhome. Searching the internet, we find a lot of commercial rental operators, but especially in Summer they are often fully booked or with extremely high rates. That’s when we find Mighway, labelled as the ‘Airbnb’ of the recreational vehicles. We are surprised to find such an innovative platform, connecting RV owners with travelers as ourselves. And even more: Mighway assists travelers throughout the road trip and often beyond. It’s that quintessentially Kiwi approach to hospitality that makes the experience much more personal and memorable.
We plan to visit the North Island, not only to meet with our extensive family living on the other side of the world; here we hope to find some of the secret places of this stunning island. And since we love the sea and travelling off the beaten track (some of New Zealand’s most charming beaches are far off the tourist trail in the east), this part of New Zealand is perfect for exploring with our own motorhome. When we pick up our vehicle, everything is ready to go, it has been thoroughly cleaned and the linen is supplied direct from a commercial laundry. Off we go, totally in style, with “our” immaculate 6 Berth 2016 Fiat Ducato Rambler. There’s room for 6, but we prefer to leave the dining table in place and just use the two prepared beds. The motorhome shows a sticker certification telling that we are self-contained by having our own toilet (and shower), a fresh and waste water storage and a bin. The certificate allows us to stay for free at allowed places of freedom camps. And freedom it is, since we didn’t reserve any accommodation.
>> Our rental comes from Auckland, the largest urban area and one of the most expensive cities in the world. It is also the only city in the world built on a basaltic volcanic field that is active. Still, many people choose to immigrate and live here. We do understand why: it’s a vibrant and a multi-cultural hub of food and wine, music, art and culture. With a family and some time on your hands: check out the beaches north of the city such as the beautiful Omaha Beach. Or explore West Auckland with 16,000ha of native rainforest, beautiful waterfalls and sweeping beaches called the Waitakere Ranges. All this is nearby the popular surf beach Piha.
>> The countryside is steep and hilly when we head through the Coromandel Peninsula, named for HMS Coromandel, a ship of the British Royal Navy, which stopped here in 1820 to purchase kauri spars. This beautiful area is largely covered in stunning temperate rainforest, but no problem at all for our motorhome. Our first free camp Tapu Domain lies at the First of Thames coast line in a tiny little village (with a café that provides great Cappuccino). The coast is stunning, but rocky, although our girls entertain themselves tremendously while climbing the giant trees on the campsite. Nearby is hiker’s heaven: the Coromandel Forest Park with such neat tracks to explore.
>> We continue our trip on the 309 Road right across the Island; with a mixture of sealed and unsealed roads it is a challenging but fun route. There are several viewing points, a couple of short walks, and a cool waterworks park that you can visit along the way. The waterworks park will take about 2-3 hours or more if you decide to go swimming in the water hole as well, but it's a great place for a picnic stop. Our motorhome brings us to Whitiangi Campground, a traditional Kiwi campground, surrounded by a shallow river on one side and bush on the other. And soon we take out the body boards to try the Buffalo Beach, less than 5 minutes walking from the campsite. Captain Cook landed on this beach, that now has his name, in November 1769, to watch Mercury (hence the Bay’s name) cross the sun. After some astronomical calculations Cook worked out the latitude and longitude, put New Zealand on a map and planted a British flag on Kiwi soil and claimed the territory for King George III. Besides a rich history Whitiangi is a nice little village offering much more: diving, horse riding, you name it.
>> Since it’s just easy to pack our stuff, we only stay one night. No trip to the Coromandel Peninsula would be complete without stopping at Hot Water Beach. Driving to the next free camp, we pass along and it seems this is a truly unique experience that every Kiwi should experience at least once in their lifetime. An underground river of hot water flows from the interior of the earth to surface in the Pacific Ocean – a long beautiful white beach located between Tairua and Whitianga. Two hours either side of low tide visitors flock to the usually deserted Hot Water Beach to find hot water bubbling through the golden sand. We are surprised to see so many families digging like crazy to create their own spa pool in the sand to lie back in and relax.
After this fun cultural experience the sun is shining fierce when we arrive at free camp Waiponga Reserve, Opoutere. We park the motorhome and walk through a little coniferous forest to another fantastic beach; the waves are just perfect. A little river flows next to the camp, and the girls will certainly remember their jumps of the wooden bridge. No need for a shower today.
Next destination is Morrinsville. If you follow the same route, don’t forget to visit the Karangahake Gorge a historic gold mining location with its dark railway tunnels. Along with steel truss bridges, this walk is in the beautiful setting of Ohinemuri River gorge.
>> After meeting our lovely overseas family, we drive on to free camp Bulmers Landing: New Zealand lake life views at its best. Besides some locals visiting the place is totally deserted at the time of our stay. When the girls try the water, we discover why. There’s quit some weed in the water; the girls love it, but probably not all people do. We love the nature and silence; all we can hear is birds chirping. It seems it can get busy in holiday season and if you prefer more people around and probably less weed: there’s a nice family camping on the other site of the lake. We are heading east, but if you choose to go west: don’t miss Waitomo Caves to go tubing, abseiling and climbing with the glowworms.
>> Another adventure awaits with New Zealand Riverjet, located between Rotorua and Taupo. This boat ride takes us through a remarkable landscape with impressive sights on the hot water springs in the mountains. After a leisure’s ride our driver asks us to disembark and we soon know why our rides is called The Squeeze: we find ourselves wrestling through narrow crevasses and waist deep water. Finally, we get behind a refreshing waterfall cascade, a wonderful experience for all of us. Our way back on the river jet is quite a bit faster; our adrenaline is pumping through our bodies as the powerboat makes so called “Donuts” on the water every now and then. And every low hanging trench of trees next to the river is used to sneak under. An absolutely thrilling and unforgettable experience!
>> While recovering from this adventure, we need to move on again to get to our next destination. A scenic drive leads us passed the famous Tongariro Forest Park; an area with incredible views of the snow on Mount Ruapehu. It’s already getting late when we arrive at the hills around River Valley Lodge. This lodge is in an isolated location and famous for the white water rafting. Or if you are not keen on water activities, explore the valley by horseback riding trough steep gorges and over rolling hills. Really, this adventurous destination needs its own article. So please read our review by clicking here.
>> The city of Wellington is a tempting destination, but with young kids we try to avoid long distances and instead head east for the coast. The Clifton Road Reserve near Hawke’s Bay is a nice place to relax and unwind and lies next to a vineyard. Since the early days of Maori, many generations have been attracted to grow crops in this area because of the fertile soils, ideal climate and long growing season. Once the swampy lowlands were broken in and European sheep farms were divided into smaller blocks, the land was used for market gardens and orchards. Think about tobacco, peas, corn, tomatoes, beetroots, apricots and peaches. In the 19th century winemakers find the climate and river gravels ideal for grapes. This coastal region with its Mediterranean conditions and sea air is today one of Hawke’s Bay’s primary wine growing areas.
Again, the coastline in this area mainly consist on pebble beaches, but that does not prevent us from horse riding along the ocean. No need to book long ahead at Boutique Horse Trecks in Clive; we just call the owner the evening before and ride the very next morning. We can choose our “own” horse and to brush and saddle it and yes of course our kids like to ‘paint’ their horse. All of this makes the ride a bit longer, which is no problem at all: it’s our holiday. As usual the kids are given quite easy horses while Menno and I happen to get the more speedier horses; it’s always hilarious how this turns out. We start off with some acrobatic tricks on the horses to feel comfortable and although it’s a cloudy day, we are surprised to see all our horses willing to get their feet wet and give us an unforgettable experience. The horses can work with all levels of riding experience: beginners, intermediate and advanced riders.
Not far from Hawke’s Bay nature lovers will appreciate Cape Kidnappers: an extraordinary sandstone headland named by Captain Cook after an attempt by local Maori to abduct one of his crew. The cape is home to the largest and most accessible gannet colony in the world. The Black Reef colony can be viewed from the beach. There are several ways to get to the colony - on foot, sitting on a tractor trailer, in a 4WD vehicle or by kayak.
>> Opoutama Beach is just a short drive; this gorgeous beach, also known now as Blue Bay, is part of the Māhia Peninsula and a family holiday destination. It’s a white sandy beach and perfect for kids as it’s safe for swimming, relaxing, picnics, walking and surfing when conditions are right. At certain times of the year, it is possible to observe dolphins frolicking in the surf. In fact, the whole Mahia region is well-known for its surf, scuba diving, hiking and fishing. And the recommended Morere Hot Springs are just 15 minutes away, towards Gisborne.
We meet some Maori people here, all friendly and thankful to find people with interest in het history of this region. One of the Maori ladies actually descends from Dutch immigrants. She searches oysters in the bay, which can be done twice a day at low tide and is happy to share some with us. The peninsula is the tribal area of the Rongomaiwahine tribe. In Maori legend, Whatonga who came in search of his grandfather Toi, settled at Mahia and was a great explorer. The community these days is still generally a mix of Maori and European. Shore whaling was briefly important on the Mahia Peninsula. A big sign in front of the free camp gets us back to 1943, when US forces arrived as part of their preparations for the push through the Pacific to practice beach landings. The marines stayed for just over a fortnight and set up camp. A local began taking photographs but within minutes was arrested; they did not want to risk any of the photos becoming public. Now, the photos are shown on the sign.
>> A stunning drive follows through National park Te Urewera where you find impressive lakes, forest and stunning waterfalls that makes up the Lake Waikaremoana Great Walk. And what about the Rere Falls with a natural rockslide. So, with good weather conditions: get on a boogie board and slide! We promise our girls a pool for a change and discover Ohiwa Beach Holiday Park. It’s a clean family park, with many locals enjoying the warm sea water. Indeed, the sea is perfect: the Pacific Ocean and Ohiwa Beach are only steps from the campground – and the Ohiwa Harbour even closer. The park has been built up to have full facilities for camping and a selection of units to stay.
>> Off we go again, for a short drive to Matata Campsite with the most coloured sunset sky ever. This site is within a coastal setting with fishing and swimming next to the Matata wildlife refuge. The waves are a bit high and rough for kids, so be aware. But what’s so outstanding about this place is the complex dune land wetland-open water system on the freshwater-saltwater interface. Hikers and birdwatchers will love it.
>> Yet, after a good sleep, we need to get back and hurry up to our family in Morrinsville and later Auckland. But if you take the road via Rotorua, you can experience the famous bubbling mud pools, shooting geysers and natural hot springs. The place is also well known for showcasing the fascinating Māori culture.
Freedom, off the beaten track, magnificent nature and family time!