The ingredients for a great New Zealand summer road trip are simple. You need a reliable campervan, friends or family (or both) and great tunes. The weather needs to be fantastic, and the cicadas need to be loud. You’ll want to know where you’re going for the day, but not much past that. And you’ll want a barbecue and/or somewhere to get good food along the way.!
With all that in mind, we loaded up our campervan in Christchurch on Christmas Eve and set off. We were destined to visit Kaikoura, Whanganui, Coromandel and Nelson. If you know anything about New Zealand, that might seem ambitious. Here’s the story of how it unfolded!
Leaving Christchurch on a Summer Road Trip
We started the journey on Christmas eve. Going north from Christchurch there is always traffic, mainly due to a large number of shopping centres around the St Albans and Papanui area. However, once you hit Belfast, the traffic slowly but surely speeds up.
It’s funny, but as you physically increase your speed, your excitement gauge increases too. I think it’s the realisation that the road trip has just begun!
For me, the best part of this first trip is the stretch along the Kaikoura coast. I use a fairly simple decision-making process: Is there any swell? Yes: Surf No: Dive. This time around, it was the surf.
After a quick bite to eat in Kaikoura it was time to carry on north. We got back on the road and drove for Picton to catch the ferry across Cook Strait to the North Island.
Picton, with its population of 2928 is a great little place. I hope they never move the Cook Strait ferry port, even if it would help the travel times! And who would want to miss out on the Marlborough Sounds?
Wellington to Whanganui
Cook Strait can be a bit rough, but this time the ferry crossing was totally uneventful. Arriving in Wellington, with traffic galore, it was time to blend into the motorway traffic. It’s a two and a half hour trip to Whanganui, a great city on the North Island’s western coast, with black sand beaches.
The city has many lookout points over the city and river, with the best being the Durie Hill Tower. This was built in 1919 and is high enough for most people to get a slight puff on by walking up.
There is plenty to see and do here, especially around Boxing Day each year. “Petrolheads” converge on the city for the Cemetery Circuit motorbike races. They’re also usually keen on the jet boat sprints at Upokongaro, about 15kms north of the city.
North to Taupo
Continuing the summer road trip north via Taupo, this is the point where some envy kicks in. As you drive alongside Lake Taupo, people are cruising around in their boats. You’ll see people water skiing, wakeboarding, fishing and living their best life on the great lake.
What I love about Taupo is that it has a great mix of tourism and local life in the hustle and bustle of the town. The town also provides Portaloos for travellers passing through during peak season.
Somewhere between Taupo and South Waikato, you’ll transition from the forests situated alongside the highways into the lush and flatter dairy farmland of Waikato. If there’s an exact point where it happens, Tokoroa is that place. While the forestry mill has been winding down over the last years, it’s still got a buzz about it.
If it’s still there when you’re reading this, look for the little bakery just opposite the main bus stop in the main street. It seems to have prices that bakeries had 10 or 15 years ago, and the quality of the food is great. The place had plenty of locals flowing through it so it must be popular!
Summer Road Tripping on the Coromandel Peninsula
With a full stomach, it’s onto the great Coromandel, specifically Tairua where it epitomises Summer. The Thames/Coromandel District Council have some great facilities for travelling New Zealand. I have never seen so many rubbish bins before in one place! So, thumbs up TCDC!
Note: We need to make an addition to the earlier list… Surf, sand, nature and ice creams are all essentials on a summer road trip!
The icing on the Tairua cake for me was the most amazing public BBQ’s I have ever seen! Situated in the Puanui Domain they are so clean and have an amazing view find them in your CamperMate app!
After the big drive, we spent the next week cruising around the Coromandel. You can visit and stay at some of the most amazing beaches. It’s incredible to see native bush right to the shoreline and very few people.
The other thing about the Coromandel that I found amazing, is that if you’re willing to go for a walk you can spend a day on a secluded beach and see just a handful of people.
Take a mask and snorkel along, and you can explore the sea life with a range of species on show. Go at low tide and you also increase the chances of seeing a crayfish, if you are in an exploratory and adventurous mood.
It was this point in the trip that I felt the most at home I have ever felt, carrying my mask and snorkel along a native bush track waiting for low tide to catch some kaimoana (seafood) for tea. My happy place!
Back to the South Island
After a week of road-tripping through this Kiwi playground, it was time to leave the Coromandel. On the way, we decided to stop at Mapua, near Nelson. This section of the trip flew by, as there were only a few days before I had to be in Christchurch.
However, a real highlight of this part is stopping at the brilliant swimming hole on the Motueka River. It’s at the end of the Rocky River Road, and you can look for it on the CamperMate app. There’s a cute little parking area, with a small walkway down to the river.
On this day there had been some unusual snowfall on the mountains resulting in a colder than usual river temperature. This meant a refreshing swim, which I can totally recommend!
There’s trout in the river too, so you might want to purchase a 24-hour licence from Fish and Game to try your luck. While I took my mask in for a swim I didn’t see any fish. But further along the river there were plenty of serious-looking fly fishermen, so I’m guessing there’s plenty in there!
Summer Road Trip Complete
Time usually flies by on a summer road trip, and this was no different. We made our way back down the Kaikoura coast, and back into Christchurch. Covering so much distance never felt better, and you never mind arriving home!
Have you got a roadtrip suggestion you’d like to tell us about? Get in touch! We’d love to share your story with other travellers!