Romy and Sam go Motorhoming: New Zealand’s North Island

Our Route: 

Wellington > Tongariro > Rotorua > Paihia > Auckland

To avoid totally boring you to tears vs. half boring you to tears, I split my New Zealand posts into the South and North Island. So, picking up where I left off on my previous post, we were about to board the ferry from Picton on the South Island to Wellington on the North Island. Just a side note: I bloody hate boats. With a passion. All consuming panic and nausea takes over. However, Sam’s aunty recommended some absolutely ACE travel sickness tablets, which meant that I not only survived but slightly enjoyed….(?) the ferry to Wellington. I could actually enjoy the spectacular views, take in the blueness of the water, the low lying clouds and lusciously green mountains…..AND watch the Fyre festival documentary on Netflix without feeling like I was going to pass out! Brilliant! It is notorious for being a rough journey, but honestly our experience wasn’t bad at all….. could be the tablets talking, but we’ll go with it. 

Once we arrived in ‘windy’ Wellington (as it’s known), we headed straight to the hotel we had booked for a couple of nights, ditching Marco the motorhome for a bed that actually allows you to sit upright, and a loo that you don’t have to empty yourself. Wellington had a great feel, really friendly people and loooads of independent vintage shops and boutiques, which I loved a browse in, even though I really couldn’t cram anything else into my case. It felt busy and buzzy yet not over-crowded and intimidating. We also found some unusual street art down completely unassuming lanes and hidden alleyways, which we loved. 

What to do: 

  • Explore the streets, without a doubt. There’s all sorts of hidden gems, unique places to explore and unusual cafes that you might not find on Google.
  • Te Papa- The Museum of New Zealand. A pretty big museum, but with some brilliant interactive contemporary exhibitions and a (surprisingly) windy lookout deck. 
  • Wellington Cable Car. We struggled to find the entrance to this at first and walked past it about 5 times while grumbling ‘Google maps is so shit!!’ before realising that in fact it was us that were shit… at navigating. A really sweet, traditional wooden cable car with a light tunnel halfway up. The Botanic Gardens were at the top and although very hilly, were extremely pretty but FREEZING when the wind blows… which is all the time. 

Where to eat: 

  • Viva Mexico. A tiny, hidden Mexican restaurant with the best jalapeño poppers with pickled red onion. AND the most delicious vegan tacos. That you would never know were vegan. However, they asked us if we wanted to taste their delicacy, fried crickets…. Which we politely declined. 
  • Fidel’s Café. If you fancy a hearty but healthy breakfast, here is a great shout. Tasty, fresh and pretty decent portions. 
  • They also have a Wagamama (and it’s on Uber Eats)…. We did get quite over excited about this as we were both feeling slightly yaki soba deprived.

We drove from here to Tongariro National Park, planning to do the famous Tongariro Crossing hike, however, the weather got in the way. Despite this, we did a different, brilliant, slightly shorter hike to Taranaki Falls, which had the most beautiful views all along the route. The terrain changed constantly, from open rocky paths with clear snowy mountain views, to narrow forest trails, streams, rushing waterfalls (where we kept saying ‘is this THE one?’) to the final Big Daddy waterfall, Taranaki. I’m actually so glad we did it and made the most of the National Park, despite our plans changing. It just means we’ll have to go back to complete the crossing hike another day!

Rotorua was next. One of our favourite places in the whole of New Zealand, probably a very close second to Queenstown. We stayed at such a great, central campsite (Rotorua TOP 10) with the best welcome. It was a small town, but packed a punch. Reknowned for its proximity to Hobbiton, the Lord of the Rings set, for being the hub of Maori culture and for being located INSIDE a volcano. We loved it and met some amazing people during our stay too. 

What to do:

  • Happy Ewe Cycle Tour. This was recommended to us by some people we met in Australia and I couldn’t be more grateful that they did. It was amazing. Rodger, the guide was honestly one of the nicest (hate the word nice) people I have ever met. Full of energy, enthusiasm and positivity, he really brought the town he lives in to life and you could tell how proud he was to live there. He took us to some amazing locations, gave us such a great flavour for the town and was a complete ray of sunshine. Thoroughly recommend. 
  • Hobbiton. When we visited, I hadn’t seen any of the Lord of the Rings films. I know, I know….but despite this, I loved it. I have a huge fascination with film anyway and it was just absolutely magical. I don’t even think it massively mattered that I hadn’t seen the films. I did lie when the tour guide asked us if we’d watched them I hasten to add….but even so it was brilliant. 
  • Tamaki Maori Village. We did a night experience here and were thrown head first into the wonder of Maori culture. They sang, danced, took us through some traditional crafts and activities, made us a Hangi feast and welcomed us into their village. It was wonderful. 

Where to eat: 

  • Atticus Finch. One of my favourite finds of the whole trip. As I write this, my mouth is watering thinking of the burrata arancini. 
  • Artisan Café. We ate here for every breakfast and loved it. Really lovely veggie options and tasty coffee. 

After Rotorua, we drove past Auckland and right up to Paihia (Bay of Islands). I had a streaming cold by then and luckily we had decided to book an apartment for a couple of nights, so there were a few more comforts (sorry Marco) AND A WASHING MACHINE. We relaxed on the beach and soaked up a little bit of sun (through a sweatshirt) and had a chilled couple of days pottering around the town and reading. There wasn’t masses to do there, but we just enjoyed the scenery and rest.

Auckland was next and where we dropped off Marco and concluded our motorhome journey. We loved Auckland. It was the first place we had been in New Zealand that felt like a proper city. Outdoorsy, picturesque places are probably our favourite, but there are aspects in me that love the city life too and saying that, Auckland actually was very pretty in parts. It was super clean, a great contemporary feel and sooo many cool areas to explore.

What to do:

  • Visit Ponsonby. Our favourite area. Funky cafes, boho boutiques and stylish shops. Oh, and one of the best burgers of our trip was consumed in this area. 
  • Lime Scooters. After our first experience of scooters in Christchurch, we were thrilled to find they had them in Auckland too. They were pretty much our only mode of transport for the 4 days we had here. Fun, cheap and fast!
  • Auckland Tower. So high. Not sure what else I expected, but it had such a brilliant panoramic view of Auckland. And the queue was nowhere near as long as the CN Tower in Toronto, so that was a bonus. 

Where to eat: 

  • Chuffed. Great brunch place, great coffee and located in a tucked away spot, with an outdoor courtyard decorated with twinkly lights and faux fur throws.
  • Ponsonby Central. The foodie area in Ponsonby, with so many different street food spots, cafes and bars and an outdoor/indoor feel.
  • Burger Burger. I couldn’t keep you waiting any longer before I had to reveal where THAT burger was consumed. Wow oh wow. Mouthwateringly delicious.
  • Depot. Yummy, sharing, tapas dishes. Still dreaming about the tempura cauliflower with taramasalata & anchovies.
  • Dizengoff. We didn’t actually eat here, just had coffee. We regretted it as soon as the steaming breakfast plates wizzed past us out of the kitchen. It looked amazing.

We absolutely adored New Zealand. We knew we would. We just didn’t realise quite how much. Without a doubt we’ll go back, experience all the things we missed and feast our eyes on the unforgettable scenery once again.

Romy and Sam go Motorhoming : New Zealand’s South Island

If you read my last post, you will know that our motorhoming newbie status was broken in Australia, road tripping from Sydney to Cairns. We then waved goodbye to the kangaroos, baking sun and sandy beaches and flew over to Kiwi land for the next part of our trip.

I feel like I might have given this post a slightly misleading title. If I’m totally honest, we didn’t stay in Marco the new motorhome every single night on our route and booked the odd night in a hotel along the way…. For complete novices, 6 weeks in total in a camper is quite a long time. We fancied the opportunity to have a shower without flip flops every now and then! Just to clear my conscience… I needed to point that out.

We picked up Marco after a glorious 5 nights in Queenstown in potentially the dreamiest, comfiest bed I have ever slept in and a room with the most spectacular view (The Heritage Queenstown). From there, we had nearly 10 days to make our way to the top of the South Island and get the ferry across from Picton to Wellington on the North Island. Our plans did change a little due to the weather causing a bridge to collapse near Franz Josef, so we will have to return (what a shame) and explore that area at another time!  

So many people said to us that the South Island just pips the North beauty wise and I think I may agree….just. When we came in to land in Queenstown from Cairns I was just blown away. I spent the entire dissent with my nose virtually pressed up against the window, tapping Sam every 5 seconds saying ‘look! Look!’. It was beautiful from the word go. 

 

Our South Island route: 

Queenstown > Wanaka > Christchurch > Kaikoura > Abel Tasman > Picton  

 

So, beginning in Queenstown, potentially our favourite place in the whole of New Zealand. A wonderful combination of jaw-dropping views and scenery, crazy activities and great independent boutiques and restaurants PLUS a buzzier atmosphere than a beehive. Coined the ‘adventure capital of the world’, we were so excited to be there. Again, as always, I won’t outline every single thing we did, but just enough to give you a flavour and recommend some of our must-dos. 

 

What to do: 

 Sam did the Nevis Bungy jump which he LOVED. 134 metres. The highest in New Zealand and pretty well known around the world. Definitely not my thing, but he was on cloud nine when he came back and wanted to do it all over again, so I thought it was worth a mention. 
 Jet boating on the sparkling Kawarau River. We booked ours with Go Orange and did the 60 minute Thunder Jet tour. Absolutely amazing. Brilliant views, 360 turns (again, not usually my thing but I loved it), blasting music and also really lovely guides. 
 ‘Safari of the Scenes’ Wakatipu tour. We were taken in a 4×4 off road, through water and epic landscapes, to areas where Lord of the Rings was filmed. We also went gold panning and we found the tiniest speck of gold which Sam insisted on keeping in a little pot for the whole rest of our trip. 
 Milford Sound. Although it is not particularly near to Queenstown, a lot of tours run to Milford Sound from there. We didn’t realise quite how far away it was and I think if we went again, we would potentially stay nearer there when we’re visiting. Saying that, the tour we did was brilliant and although the weather was torrential rain and wind, we had the best time. When it rains, we were told there are 90% more waterfalls than when it’s dry, so although you don’t have the glistening blue water and green mountain views that you see on postcards, the dramatic crashing waterfalls are an equally amazing treat. 
 Walk/cycle around Queenstown Gardens. They are SO beautiful, gorgeously rugged and foresty feeling, with perfectly groomed spots, flowerbeds and a little bridge over a stream. Delightful. Also they have a great view of Queenstown from the other side. 
 The Luge. First of all, hilarious. Second of all, so much fun. You can get the skyline gondola to the top of the mountain and then take a kind of toboggan down several different tracks, as fast as you can, with the incredible mountainous panorama. We had such a laugh and kept wanting to go back up for more. 

 

Where to eat: 

The food was yuuuuummy in Queenstown. Seriously. And yes, we did spend our whole time scouting out our next meal. 

 Blue Kanu- maybe our favourite meal of the WHOLE TRIP. What!!!! ‘Mixing both Pacifica and Asian style’ tapas dishes. Every single plate we said ‘this one’s my favourite!!!’ Then the next dish arrived. 
 Taco Medic- a tiny little street food place with the most delicious, fresh tacos with really unique fillings. Not a huge menu, but we went there twice because it was just so good. 
 Fat Badgers- mmmmmm. Such good pizza. They’re big too so you can share one between two. They also do poutine, so that’s a yes from me. 
 Cowboys- such a fun bar, with mechanical bull riding. And cowboy hats. I’ll leave that there. 
 Yonder- my favourite breakfast place. Amazing corn fritters with sriracha and poached eggs. Also equally amazing coffee. Oh, and equally lovely décor. 
 Caribe Latin Kitchen- super tasty food. They also make their own homemade hot sauce, which is soooo good.  

 

Look out for: 

 The best deals on tours. Look around before you book something, because as there are so many adventure places in Queenstown, they all want your custom, so sometimes places will offer an especially good price if they know you’re looking elsewhere too. 
 The beaaaautiful Remarkables mountains, where you can ski in winter. They have been in several films and give the turquoise blue water the most incredible backdrop. 

Next was Wanaka, smaller than Queenstown, but with a lovely feel. It was our first campsite night in New Zealand and we were really pleased with our choice. Such friendly people and it was slightly out of the way, meaning it was quiet, but not so far away that we felt completely out of it. We stayed at Wanaka Kiwi Holiday Park. Again, stunning views, a gorgeous bike track running all the way around the water and a FAB burrito food truck called Burrito Craft. An ideal place to refuel (overeat) after a ‘tough’ bike ride. 

Originally, we wanted to head to Franz Josef after Wanaka to do the glacier hike, but as I mentioned before, the weather didn’t want us to do that…. So we went straight to Christchurch. We visited here less than two weeks after the horrifically tragic attack in the city and so were overwhelmed with the memorial flowers, posters, banners and decorations lining the Botanic Gardens. Although the streets were quiet, the people we met were a complete joy and inspiration and welcomed us into their city whole-heartedly. We had our first electric scooter experience here too, which we carried on wherever we could for the rest of our trip. We did laps and laps and laps of the streets, soaking up the atmosphere and stopping only for coffee and an occasional ‘warm up’ hug. 

Our morning breakfast place was also one to note, called Unknown Chapter Coffee Roasters. Great veggie breakfast and they don’t do their poached eggs too watery!!!! A huge plus for me. There’s an amazing ice cream spot too… Rollickin Gelato Café, located inside the Arts Centre. That was also lovely, and had a dreamy stationary shop….which I drooled over for a while. Overall, we thought Christchurch had a really friendly, small city feel that is clearly growing in more ways than one.

Kaikoura was next, mainly known for whale watching. Again, the weather wasn’t great, but our campsite had a beautiful setting, with views of snow capped mountains in the distance (TOP 10 Holiday Park). We were actually really happy to have a relaxed couple of rainy days. It was sunny on the day we arrived (typical) but on our full day, we decided to go for a chilly walk along the black pebble beach, skimming stones, warming up with copious cups of coffee and a cosy lunch nearby at Hislops Whole Foods café.

We then made our way to Abel Tasman National Park. Wow. Wow. Wow. I typed it once and then couldn’t think of any other way of describing it other than: Wow. We did an amazing self-guided kayak tour, that was totally exhausting but something I will never forget. Exploring hidden caves, spotting seals, paddling in blazing sunshine, then a downpour, then windy waves, then sunshine again. I would thoroughly recommend it. The water is like nothing I’ve ever seen, almost lime green near the rocks in parts, and turquoise, deep blue and almost clear in other parts. As I can never fail to mention food, I would also recommend the Fat Tui permanent food truck for a mouth-watering crispy cod burger and the best sweet potato fries.

After a brilliant couple of days, we drove to Picton, where we were to board the ferry to the North Island after a magical time in the South of New Zealand. One thing I have to note about New Zealand, is that even if I don’t mention the scenery anywhere, it isn’t because it isn’t beautiful. The truth is, everywhere you look is stunning. Rambling hills, snow-capped mountains, rushing waterfalls and gorges, sparkling rivers, dramatic vistas… so if I have made a point to mention how beautiful something is, it’s because it is truly special. 

If you have made it to the end of this mammoth post, I really appreciate you reading my rambling travel tales of the South Island. Thank you. If you want to know my more general motorhome tips, you will find them on my Australian motorhoming post!