Two thousand, one hundred kilometres covered, phew! Here’s a wee re-cap of our tour of the country. If you are planning to do a road-trip in NZ in the future, this is one route that may get you started in terms of planning or give you some ideas of where to visit!
Pokohino Bay. This is a gorgeous, secluded bay about a 15 minute drive from Whangamata. From the town, drive North on Tairua Road, take a right on Whitipirorua Road (gravel), and a left down Norman's Access Road. At the end of the road, park the car and follow the sign and a trail going down to the beach. I’d recommend some solid footwear and enough water and snacks! As well as togs and a change of undies so you don’t get chafing on the way back up. The beach is incredible and the track is faaaaaairly maintained. Watch the vlog here.
Green Island Beach. This is more secluded than Pokohino and is an unofficial beach, meaning there’s no DOC sign and the gravel road to get in gets a bit bumpy. It's a similar route to Pokohino, but you take a different gravel road turn-off. I went here with some locals which was the perfect way to explore the nooks and crannies that really are undiscovered to the busy holiday beach-goers that camp out on Whangamata beach on a hot January day. The water was the clearest I’ve seen in a long time and I’d actually put it on my Top 5 Beaches List. We did a bit of surfing and even saw a stingray! Watch the vlog here.
Surfing at Whangamata Beach. This is predominantly a surf town, so if you haven’t tried it before, it’s probably time to indulge in some lessons and commit to getting to your feet. After three days I stood up on the board, and if we were there for longer I’m sure I would have nailed it. It’s a great beach to learn on and depending on where you are staying, you can probably walk from home!
Hamilton Gardens has so much in it and is definitely worth a look around. I especially enjoyed the sustainability section. From keeping chickens to recycling waste, the ‘Sustainable Backyard’ productive collection teaches you about different aspects of garden life that work together well, creating balance with your resources and being productive. It’s really interesting to have a look around and marvel at how well plants, insects, birds, and material are working in harmony, and think about how you could do it yourself. It’s totally free to go in and it’s well worth checking out; read more here.
Browsers Bookshop. This is an impressive, modern second-hand bookshop with a wealth of books organised and arranged beautifully on shelves that make you want to disappear into them. The decorations are simply yet endearing, the touches elegant and new; clean and tidy. The floor to ceiling bookcase is very impressive and there’s a lovely café next door with a sofa calling your names. Watch the vlog here.
Good George Brewery. If you’re into your craft brews, this is definitely a stop to make. It’s located in an industrial area (well, it is a brewery) but has a vibing bar and restaurant that you can spend hours in. The absolute best thing is a tasting platter of beers… you can choose 5 different brews for $15! They come in healthy portions with complimentary pretzels and a whale of a time. Check out the vlog here to see for yourself!
Accommodation: we stayed at Hamilton Central Backpackers which I actually wouldn’t recommend. The rooms were all ‘underground’ and had no windows. The bathrooms needed a clean and the guy on reception was quite unwelcoming. It did have free breakfast and was value for money but if I had turned up for a week I would have been disappointed. I gave it a deserving view on Booking.com.
Mt Maunganui. The obvious choice of place to spend an afternoon, especially a hot one! Walking up the mount is a popular activity but is quite a hike – I’d recommend waiting for the sun to go down and maybe take an evening picnic up. Pilot Bay is also nice for a walk around and an ogle at the boats.
Fernland Spa. We only found out about this place by staying at the BnB that had organised a guest-rate with them. We booked a private spa pool for 30 minutes and it was fantastic (I do love a good spa!). It is usually $13 per person, minimum 2 people for 30 mins in a private pool. Check out the vlog here and see inside the pool.
We struggled to find anything free and short to do in Rotorua, until stumbling across a gem in a wild google search. Kuirau park is located just at the back of the town and it takes about 3-5 minutes to drive there from the I-Site. There are bubbling mud pools with all the steam and ‘aroma’ that you’ve been seeking, without the tourist price tag. We had lunch here (which was a bit smelly) and got our fix of geothermal activity. We were just passing through and didn’t stay the night. Have a look at some bubbling mud in action here!
Hot showers waterfall. This Thermal Springs Park is about 2 kilometres from the centre of town; if you’ve got a car it’s easier to drive. The guy at our backpackers warned us about leaving valuables in the car due to previous incidents so we were careful but there was no trouble. The walk is about 5-10 minutes and do-able in jandals, arriving at a bridge with a hot water shower underneath it. Be careful; the water in the river is quite a bit cooler to slip into but is refreshing again after the scalding water off the fall! We went in the evening to ‘avoid the crowds’, but there were still more people than expected. Check out the vlog here.
Huka Falls. These were amazing! I was absolutely mesmerised. If there’s one thing you have to see in Taupo, it’s this. The blue of the water is crazy and the force of it will have you staring into the deep… You can drive all the way to it, and it’s 30 seconds from the carpark. There are multiple viewing platforms if you want to get a better/different look. There are toilets (50c) and a wee shop as well. Note: it’s a popular stop for tour buses! Check out the vlog here.
Accommodation: We stayed at Haka Lodge Backpackers, which I’d say had the best bunks of the trip. I was stoked with the individual reading lights, storage shelf by the bed and private curtains. It definitely didn’t seem like you were sharing a room with 5 other people! There could be a bit of a wait for showers and toilets but I think it was fully booked out when we stayed so what can you expect (the internet was also not great because of this…). There was huge, lockable storage space under the bunks too, big enough to fit a whole backpack/suitcase while you take your day-bag out for the day.
Ahuriri Beach. This is the ‘nicer’ beach of Napier, with a cute little town attached. Round by the Marine Parade, there were less people (actually no-one else) on the beach and it was black pebbles underfoot. Still a good place for a swim but it’s not as picturesque as other places on the trip!
Art Deco town. This is easily the most impressive thing about Napier; the consistently jazzy artwork strewn around is carefully constructed to build it up as the Art Deco Capital of NZ. With something funky to look at at every turn, it sure does offer something unique! Check it out here.
Accommodation: We stayed at YHA Napier which was a good choice. It had a lovely outside area which was good in the evening, and a wide variety of traveller.
We stopped in Palmy North to visit a friend primarily, and to break the journey up from Napier to Wellington. We mainly stayed in – enjoying a BBQ, some Pictionary and some jolly great company – but we did get out for a walk around the river which was lovely. We played “choose your rich house on the riverfront to retire in” and there was plenty to choose from…!
Te Papa. We visited the Gallipoli Exhibition which was absolutely brilliant. It’s free and is so interactive with lots of different things to look at, watch, and buttons to press. It takes history to a whole new level and even if you have a solid understanding of what happened in and around Anzac Cove, you’ll probably still learn something new. Check out the vlog here.
Markets. Down at the waterfront we saw a pop-up market set up in container-like spaces, and also the Wellington Underground market is on nearby every Saturday morning. Both are within a 5 minute walk from Te Papa. If you are visiting Wellington, maybe do a quick Google search to see what markets are on at the time.
Mikey’s Bar. We had a good beer and a laugh here, sitting in the sun and taking in the relaxed Picton atmosphere. Combined with a lazy walk around the sunset-glowing waterfront, this was a perfect end to the day.
Accommodation: We stayed at Atlantis Backpackers – would definitely recommend. The décor was incredible, all painted and decorated as the great underwater world. Check out some of the footage in the vlog here.
We drove down State Highway 1 which is littered with slips from the November 2016 Kaikoura earthquake. A lot of zones were 30 or 50 kilometer limits with a lot of roadworks going on – but I personally found it engaging looking at the landslides as I remember waking up to that quake early in the morning just over a year ago. It was awesome to see a lot of seals bathing on the rocks as they were in a bit of trouble after the quake and re-gaining healthy breeding grounds again now.
Peninsula. We drove out to Seal Point on the peninsula and saw a couple more seals and a penguin, chilling quite happily. There were some good walks around there (a couple of hours plus) for if you wanted to commit to the headland. I didn’t like to see tourists so close to the wildlife though and wouldn’t encourage that.
We didn’t stop here for the night, but drove all the way through to Hanmer Springs. The alternative route would have taken about 2-3 hours longer. If you're planning to drive the coastal road, you can check out the NZTA guide here before you go to check the status of the road.
This is an adorable little town centred around the Thermal Springs Spa – a hotpools complex with natural minerals to soak up; perfect for after a long day’s drive. They are open until 9pm every day and I’d recommend going in the evening. I can’t imagine sun and 38 degree pools are a good mix! Check out the vlog here.
Accomodation: We stayed at Kakapo Lodge which was fantastic – so spacious and we had a double room to ourselves (a treat after bunking it!). The lounges, bathrooms and kitchen were really clean and tidy, I was impressed and very grateful!
Drive to Dunedin
I personally have traversed this stretch of road a fair few times so we didn’t stop too much (we wanted to get the 7 hours of driving done) but here are some good places if you’re exploring for the first time:
- Moeraki Boulders
Upon reaching Dunedin, it was a beautiful Dunner Stunner day and St Clair was turning it on.
I have heaps of recommendations for things to do and see in Dunedin so I’ll probably do a separate blog for that at some point!! If you are in need of any specifications or recommendations, reach out and I’ll tell you some can't-be-missed places.
Have a good road trip!! If you found this a useful guide, please like and/or share it with others! Kirsty