Christchurch-Kaikoura-Whanganui-Coromandel-Nelson; Tale Of A Classic Summer Roady
Summer time in New Zealand is amazing..The weather is fantastic, Cicadas are making that amazing sound and everyone has a smile on their face no matter what town you pull into. Starting the journey on Xmas eve in Christchurch heading North there is always traffic, mainly due to a large number of shopping centres around the St Albans/Papanui area and the last minute shoppers. However once you hit Belfast and the traffic slowly but surely winds up as the 100 km/hour traffic sign is in site (and no traffic cameras are visible). It's funny, but as you physically increase your speed up to the speed limit it's almost as if your excitement gauge increases too, not so much as from the speed but from 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..For me it's a simple decision tree. Is there swell? Yes-Surf No-Dive. Then it's a quick chicken strips wrap from the Kaikoura Subway and back on the road heading to Blenheim/Picton for the ferry to the North Island. I hear they are thinking of changing the port where the ferry comes in to somewhere closer (to Christchurch) which on the face of it would be great for reducing travel times but seriously who wouldn't want to visit the quaint little town of Picton with its population of 2928? Arriving into Wellington and it's traffic galore, here I was thinking Christchurch was bad. It's time to take a chill pill and casually exit off the ferry and blend into the motorway traffic for a two and a half hour trip to Whanganui, a great city with a population of around 45,000 situated on the west coast (yes, that means black sand beaches!) and around fourty minutes drive from its bigger sister Palmerston North. The city has many look out points over the city and river, with the best being the Durie Hill Tower, built in 1919 and high enough for most people to get a slight puff on by walking up. Plenty to see and do here especially around Boxing Day each year as petrol heads converge on the city to get their fill in the Cemetery Circuit motorbike races or the jet sprints up at Upokongaro, about 15kms north of the city and up the river. Travelling North via Taupo, this is the point where envy kicks in so while you drive alongside Lake Taupo, people are cruising alongside in their boats water skiing, fishing and pretty much living the life on the great lake. What I love about this place is that it has a great mix of tourism and local life, intersecting in the hustle and bustle of the town. Did I mention the Portaloos? For travelling, this is such a great facility situated on the left hand side as you drive through with ample parking and conveniently located 100 metres away from the information centre. There's a boundary somewhere between Taupo and South Waikato when you transition from the thick Pinus Radiata forests situated alongside the highways into the lush and flatter dairy farmland of Waikato, I'd say that Tokoroa is that place. While the forestry mill has been winding down over the last years, it's still got a wee buzz about it. Definitely recommend this little Asian 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. With a full stomach it's onto the great Coromandel, specifically Tairua where it epitomisesSummer. Surf, sand, nature and ice creams. 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, thumbs up TCDC! The icing on the 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 (-37.00441014370932 , 175.8664663959979) otherwise download the CamperMate app. A week was spent cruising around the Coromandel, visiting some of the most amazing beaches with native bush right to the shoreline and very few people. What I would find amazing is that if you are willing to go for a walk you could spend a day on your own beach and see just a handful of people. With a mask and snorkel you can also 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 at this point in the trip 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 (sea food) for tea. My happy place! It was time to leave the Coromandel and head back to the South Island destination Mapua/Nelson. This section of the trip flew by as there was only a few days before I had to be in Christchurch, however not before stopping off at a brilliant swimming hole on the Motueka River at the end of the Rocky River Road (-41.156862,172.920696). There's a cute little pull off 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 so was an extra refreshing swim. Thoroughly recommended! There's also trout in there too, so you might want to purchase a 24 hour licence from Fish and Game to try your luck, a 24 hour licence for an adult will cost you $23 (at the time of writing). 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! If you want to stay in touch with the CamperMate project you can check us out on Instagram for some random road trip pics, Twitter for real-time road alerts or Facebook for some random posts about travelling in New Zealand. Enjoy the rest of your summer (or winter if you are reading this in the Northern Hemisphere).