I recently took to the road in a Wilderness motorhome and explored the Coromandel and Bay of Plenty regions in New Zealand’s north-east corner.
For the most part this region felt very much undiscovered – the roads were empty and beaches were quiet. If you love nature, then this is one New Zealand coastline to add to your list of places to visit.
I was in awe of the diverse array of landscapes found in the region. It was hard to believe you could be driving along a coastal road at sea level one minute, and be winding your way over a rugged mountain pass just moments later.
I picked up a Freedom 2 Motorhome with Wilderness and drove it from Auckland up along the west coast of The Coromandel, back down the east coast all the way down to Whakatane, before returning to Auckland.
The beauty about travelling in this region is that everything is in relatively close proximity, making it an ideal destination to visit over just a few days.
Despite being the first week of winter, the temperatures were warm enough to make it feel like a summer break. This is a popular destination for Aucklander’s to escape for the weekend and is quite often missed off the international travellers itinerary, purely due to not having enough time to visit every place in New Zealand in just a couple of weeks!
Here are some of the reasons why I rate New Zealand as one of the best countries for road trips.
- Waking up to epic sunrises
There’s something pretty special about waking up to the sight of the sky being painted with pinks and oranges as the sun rises over the ocean. Even better when you’re wrapped up in your cosy duvet and sipping a coffee from the comfort of your motorhome!
I made sure I was up to see each sunrise on my visit to The Coromandel and Bay of Plenty and even hiked up Mount Maunganui in the dark so that I was up at the summit in time to see the sun rise over the eastern horizon and watch the city lights slowly dim as the town came to life in the morning.
- Inspiring natural wonders
It is one thing being able to see White Island from afar, but an even more thrilling experience being able to walk across New Zealand’s most active volcano. Situated just 49km off the coast of Whakatane, it is one of the world’s most accessible volcanos, and the boat ride over there is an experience in itself with our group spotting a few whales along the way.
Home to some of the most impressive geothermic activity in the country, you’ll walk across the sulfur covered surface and alongside bubbling creeks or steaming vents rising out of the ground.
You’re given gas masks and helmets for protection as the fumes can be quite potent, the closer you get to the crater lake. It’s also a gentle reminder that this is an active volcano and at any moment there could be unexpected activity which is what makes this adventure so exhilarating.
In Rotorua, you’ll find another fascinating geothermal hotspot filled with bubbling mud, pools of boiling water and spectacular geyers – like the one erupting in the background of the photo above. Named the Pohutu Geyser, it is the biggest of its kind in the Southern Hemisphere and can reach heights of up to 30m, erupting once or twice each hour.
You can even pack up a lunch box filled with meat and vegetables and cook it in one of the park’s natural steam vents!
This is the world-renowned Champagne Pool in the heart of the Wai-O-Tapu Geothermal Park. Reaching 65m in diameter, it has a surface temperature of 167’F and gives off bubbles which are formed by carbon dioxide. The pool is quite deceiving too, while it looks like a shallow depth, the centre reaches a huge 62m beneath the surface.
The steam rising out of the pool made for a super eerie setting and felt like I was in an open-air sauna at times!
- The plethora of thrilling adventure activities
New Zealander’s keep coming up with crazy and adventurous activities and the OGO is definitely one to add to your list of must-do’s. It starts with a drive up the hill, a dive into the OGO, a top up of warm water and then you’re off down the specially designed track!
Another Kiwi invention is the world-famous Skyline Luge and in my opinion Rotorua has the best tracks of all the sites around the globe. Not only are the views epic, but the tracks are designed with hairpin corners, twists and tunnels that guarantee some awesome fun.
If you’re up for something with even more speed, head to the Waikato River for a thrilling jet boat ride down the country’s longest river. Not only are you surrounded by spectacular scenery in every direction, the adrenaline really starts pumping with you throw in a few 360 degree spins and the driver puts his foot to the floor for max speed (and fun)!
You can even go claybird shooting at the Adventure Playground – I tried out the pump action and semi-automatic shotguns which were a lot of fun.
- The Culture
I heard a few people refer to being on ‘Coromandel time’ while I was visiting the region and it sure is reflected in the laid-back lifestyle of the friendly locals – you can really see the happiness they find in the simple things here.
Whether it is going for a morning walk along the beach, taking out the paddle board on the calm ocean or heading out to a nearby surf break to catch the early morning waves, the active lifestyle was very appealing to me and probably a big contributor to the healthy well-being of the locals.
Something I’ve never done while living in New Zealand is experience a Maori cultural performance, or visit a Marae. Watching a Powhiri (welcoming ceremony) take place was a pretty enlightening experience and definitely the highlight of my day at the Te Puia Marae. We visited the arts and crafts school and learnt how to weave. I find the Maori culture incredibly fascinating and highly recommend a visit to Te Puia to experience it for yourself on your road trip through New Zealand.
- Roads surrounded by striking landscapes
It seems that around every bend in The Coromandel, there’s a new mind-blowing landscape that comes into view. This was the first place in New Zealand that actually reminded me of the beaches back home in Australia.
There are also a lot of short walks located along the main coastal road which make for nice breaks throughout the journey. Cathedral Cove was a stand-out for me, after seeing so many amazing photographs of the towering limestone cave structure, it felt even more impressive in real life.
Another great find was the relatively hidden Waiau Falls on the Coromandel Peninsula. Just 7km off State Highway 25 on the 309 Road east. This is also favourite swimming hole for locals over the summer months.
- Camp sites with world-class views
There’s something pretty special about falling asleep to the sound of the ocean and waking up looking directly out your window towards the beach. This particular freedom camping site was at Buffalo Beach in Whitianga and has to be my favourite place that I visited throughout the whole road trip.
As the region was so quiet at the time, it meant I had complete freedom to choose where I wanted to park up for the night. This was the hardest part as there were so many epic locations that I could choose from – ‘freedom camping’ locations include Cooks Beach, Hahei, Whangapoua, Pauanui, Whangamata, Papamoa Beach, Mount Maunganui, and Whakatane.
If you don’t have a self-contained vehicle or would prefer the amenities in a holiday park, there are also some really affordable options, just like the Mount Maunganui Beachside Holiday Park near Tauranga.
- Unique and quirky Kiwi finds
The remote New Zealand roads are filled with quirky cafes, honesty boxes for fresh produce and unique sculptures although this particular farm tops the list for me.
On my way to find the Waiau Falls I came across a section of straight that was covered in tiny creatures swarming the road. After slowing down and approaching what looked to be a farm, I discovered these were actually hundreds of pigs – of all shapes and sizes. I immediately pulled over and jumped out to take a look. A guy name Stu, or ‘Pig Man’ as he’s also affectionately known as owns the farm and allows visitors to stop by and feed the friendly pigs. I had so much fun feeding and patting the pigs, especially the cute little piglets.
While the New Zealand’s South Island is iconic for its scenic drives through mountainous landscapes, this lesser-known region is even more ideal for road trips. Not only are there fewer tourists around, it’s a lot warmer and being able to just pull over by the beach and cook up some dinner while watching the world go by is a highly attractive quality.
Now what are you waiting for, book that ticket to New Zealand!
Who: Wilderness Motorhomes
Who: White Island Tours