A Week in a Campervan- Northland and the Bay of Islands
As a child growing up in New Zealand, I have fond memories of seemingly endless warm summer days on the east coast of the North Island. There's something about the golden sand beaches lined with pohutukawa trees that we just don't get in the South Island and I was eager to experience again with the family. Given that it was spring and the temperature was starting to warm up, we thought we'd explore north of Auckland for the first week of the school holidays.
We flew from Christchurch to Auckland on the Saturday morning and within ninety minutes of arriving, picking up our luggage and transferring to the Britz depot, we were heading north over the Harbour Bridge. The pace in Auckland is certainly fast compared to Christchurch. Luckily, most drivers in all lanes around me seem pretty forgiving about my timid speed of 80kms/hour.
We'd made no set plans for the trip and didn't know at this stage where we were staying that night, just CamperMate which would show all nearby campgrounds. (Check out the bottom of the post for what ended up being our 6 night itinerary). We had decided to aim for around 1.5 hours-2 hours driving time per day, so that the two boys aged 4 and 5 didn't get too restless and actually spent some time on the beach rather than in their car seats.
Just south of Mangawhai Heads, we saw free campsite called Te Arai Point Road, which was a bit of a gem being situated right next to the ocean and complete with public toilets, a dump station and picnic tables.
The downside to this site is that you have to drive 10kms along gravel to get there, which if you're in a larger campervan can be a bit of a mission but in the end was well worth if for our first night. It can be quite exposed here to the wind, but in the evening the wind seems to die down a little. You can see below how close the campervan is to the beach. There were some people surfcasting from both the beach and the rocks, but they weren't having any luck.
At around 7pm it started raining. there's something pretty cool about being stuck in a warm campervan next to the ocean with rain on the window. It was a great first night on our holiday. We woke up to the sun and after collecting a few shells along the beach, we were back on the road heading for a stop at the Mangawhai Heads, a place famous for being a summer hangout for many in New Zealand.
We parked up at the main parking area at Mangawhai Heads just before lunch and explored the sand dunes, a short walk away. This place seems very campervan friendly, with larger car parks designated for campervans.
While having lunch we managed to spot some dolphins jumping in the estuary (see a dolphin mid-air below). You can find this exact location on the CamperMate app under 'Interesting Tips'.
The boys were pretty tired from fighting with mosters in the sand dunes, so we decided to go to Motutara Farm, Whananaki where they had just opened after the winter and a 1 hour and 40 minute drive away. There are two campsite options to stay at here on the farm, we stayed at the Kings Beach, where it cost $14 per adult for a non-powered site. Not bad considering we literally had the whole beach to ourselves for the entire time we were there. Bliss! I did a spot of fishing however only managed to catch a few rock cod, so they were thrown back. As the water was really clear I decided to put the wetsuit on and go for a snorkel around the rocks where I spotted thousands of sea urchins (Kina), a Red Moki and a crayfish, just 20 metres from the beach. There were also a large school of Kahawai at around waist depth while swimming back in. No fish for dinner tonight however, so it was the easy to prepare fresh pasta, mixed with some smoked chicken and a fresh pasta sauce-an essential meal for when you're limited to a campervan kitchen. During dinner there was a brief shower, before an awesome rainbow appearing for a few minutes afterwards (see the photo below).
If you're in this area and looking for a campsite, I would definitely stay here. It was becoming apparent that not many people are travelling around the time of the school holidays which surprised me. The weather might be a little cooler than summer, but it was still shorts and t-shirt weather. However I wasn't complaining about the lack of peopls. I'll be the first to admit I'm a bit of a recluse when on holiday!
After breakfast, we pushed on for an hour and a half to Bland Bay Motor Camp which aside from one other campervan, we had to ourselves. Awesome! It was about 10kms on gravel road and 5 or so one-lane bridges to get here. It's quite narow in places but if you take it slow you'll be fine. Hosts Wayne & Tupou are very friendly. There are good, clean facilities here including a new kitchen block, so if you're after a bit more space when cooking, here's a good place to do it.
This was our first powered site of the trip, so we made the most of it by charging up the cell phones and laptop. Wayne informed us that a big southerly was due shortly and sure enough at around 7pm we were rocked like a Christchurch Earthquake.. It was awesome to see the huge swells smash up against the islands you can see in the background (above), they form a protective reef with only a small amount of swell getting through. By the morning it had subsided and we took to the beach for a spot of fishing again without any luck.
We were now into day four, and we were aware that we had to turn around at some point and head back toward Auckland, so we decided to head toward Matauri Bay, a 1 hour 40 minute trip from Bland Bay and via the car ferry just out of Russell, which saves you a few hours of driving and drops you off in Opua on the mainland.
The surf report said 4-5 foot swells and an offshore wind at Matauri Bay, as I had the surfboard with me I was pretty keen to get a few waves in. I'd never been to Matauri Bay before, and we were pretty keen to park up for a few days and not bother about driving anywhere. The campsite is located right on the beach front and cost $45 for four of us in a powered site per night, complete with unlimited hot showers, a rarity these days. When we drove over the hill and saw the campsite, we knew we could easily spend a few days here.
While there were only three other campervans here, there are around 1,500 people here over the Xmas/New year period. We even managed to get a park right on the beach. What an awesome site to wake up to!
The swell was coming in from the South East, and as there were a number of islands that protected this spot from the swell, had to be this direction for there to be any surf. The amazing thing was being able to step out from the campervan and within around 20 metres I paddling on my board. This photo below was taken from inside the campervan, that's how close you are.
We spent two nights here in total before heading back to Auckland on the Thursday morning. The longest leg of our trip.
The final leg of our trip was a 3 hour and 20 minute trip back to Auckland, which we did with a one-hour break in Waipu, a halfway point. We arrived into Auckland feeling relaxed, and after a visit to the museum we headed for our final night at one of the Auckland Regional Council designated self-contained campsites called Ambury, situated on a working farm and great for kids.
Ambury costs $6 per night per adult, and 5-17 $4, kids under 4 free. If you're in Auckland with kids, you have to stay here! There's cow milkings, calf feedings and generally lots of animals running around. You'll even have Pukeko's running around your campervan. This was a great last night on our trip, and really topped it off. Another good reason to stay here is that you're only 15 minutes away from the airport. We'd seen and experienced a lot of Northland/Bay of Plenty while keeping our travelling down to around 90 minutes per day (aside from the trip from Matauri Bay-Auckland).
Our 6 Night itinerary Bay of Islands/Northland
Night 1- Te Arai Point Road
Night 2-Motutara Farm, Whananaki
Night 3-Bland Bay Motor Camp
Night 4-Matauri Bay Holiday Park
Night 5-Matauri Bay Holiday Park
Night 6-Ambury Farm
Blog post by Adam Hutchinson