Introduction

September 30th, 2009
Driving the Pacific Horizons 6 Berth Camper Van over the bridge near Hamner Springs
Driving the Pacific Horizons 6 Berth Camper Van near Hamner Springs

Our New Zealand Self Drive campervan holiday was well researched and the itinerary was agonised over to ensure we were able to see as much of the South Island of New Zealand as we could in the 13 days that we had allocated. We flew direct from Brisbane to Christchurch on Jetstar where we picked up the campervan and began our holiday.

Having young children our campervan of choice was the Pacific Horizons 6 berth Premium Camper Van, not only was there heaps of room, full cooking facilities, toilet and shower the children were positioned on a bench seats directly behind the front seat.  These ensured no car sickness and ease in reaching them with food, drinks etc. The camper van also had TV with DVD player and 3 huge beds.

Follow us on our 13 day journey around the South Island of New Zealand and we hope that our adventure inspires you to design your own itinerary to take in very best of this beautiful country. With so much to see New Zealand is a country that you will want to visit again and again and each time there is something new to see and do.

As agents for Kiwi Campers, Happy Campers and Pacific Horizons …. all the best New Zealand Tour Operators, we are happy to help you arrange your next self drive New Zealand holiday.

Please call or email Sue or Steve Ledger if you have any queries.

PO Box 557
Buderim Qld 4556

Ph: +61 7 54452829
Fax: +61 7 54452829

steve@smartescapes.com.au

Day 1 Brisbane to Christchurch

September 30th, 2009

Like any start to a holiday there is much excitement and this holiday was no exception.  We enjoyed a smooth start with drive to Brisbane, flight and transfers to the campervans all going to plan.

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Brisbane Airport - ready to go and kids are excited

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Driving New Zealand Countryside - so beautiful

The staff  at Pacific Horizons were very professional and helpful with campervan tips and ensuring we have enough warm bedding etc for the next 13 days.

Off to our first night`s stay, the Christchurch Top 10 Holiday Park – Meadow Park , http://www.tourism.net.nz/new-zealand/accommodation/camping-and-holiday-parks/christchurch/meadow-park-top10/#standard a little difficult to find, ensure you have a good map of the local area. This park was a little expensive (in fact the most expensive for the entire trip) but was fantastic.

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Camping ground in Christchurch

The kitchen and dining area was very clean with large fridges and cooking facilities for our use.  The kids enjoyed the playground which included a jumping pillow and play equipment which catered for a range of ages.  Bathroom facilities were modern and very clean and enough to cater for the number of people who stay a the park , no queues for showers.  There was also a family bathroom facility. This park also had an heated indoor pool and plenty of space for the kids to run around.  Our children enjoyed chasing the ducks and picking the flowers.

Day 2 Christchurch to Picton

September 30th, 2009

We found the campervan park very central and close to shopping centres and a 24 hour supermarket……..great for all those supplies that are needed on holidays.  It is also located only 4klms to the city centre and minutes from the airport (if you get on the right road).

Saying goodbye to Christchurch we headed north towards Picton. This stretch of road hugs the coastline and extremely scenic, snow capped mountains to the west and the rugged New Zealand coastline to the east.  Stop for a photo of  the black sand beaches – not something we Aussies are all that familiar with.

Make sure you stop at one of the few crayfish caravans along the drive closer to Kiakora.  They offer fresh and cooked crays, a New Zealand delicacy. Keep your eye out for seals as you pass the rocks, they enjoy basking  in the sun. Taking time out at Kaikora is a must, drive up to the lookout for a birds eye view of the surrounding areas, snow capped mountains, the ocean and the local farm land.

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Kaikora Coastline looking North to Picton

Continue through town to the point where you will be able to get up close and personal with the local seal colony. Another must. Kaikora is also the point where whale watching expeditions, dolphin and albatross encounters also leave from. Something to consider if you have time.

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New Zealand Fur Seals on Kaikora Coastline - you can almost touch them - BUT DON`T - THEY BITE

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Montana vineyard - wine tasting or a spot of lunch

Then we continued on to Picton, more beautiful scenery as we head to the top of the south island.  The Marlborough Region is a definate area to visit with its well maintained paddocks of grape vines to of course tasting some of the fruits of their labour.

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The girls tried a few and stocked up for the rest of the trip

We stop at Montana, a New Zealand icon??? and one of our favourites, although it is shut we feel a back track tomorrow for a visit is a must.

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The gift shop was good too - but they didn`t have any umbrellas for sale

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Driving through the Marlbourgh region was amazing with the continuous vines

The wind picked up and making driving a little harder than it has been.  We arrived in Picton early evening, finding somewhere to stay and bed down for the night. We stayed at the Picton Top 10 Holiday Park and found it to be comfortable.

Day 3 – Picton to St Anaud

October 21st, 2009

Today the wind and weather along the west coast play a part in deciding where we head.  The cruise through the Queen Charlotte Sound is abandoned so we take a walk along one of the many walks in this area.  At the end we experience stunning views of the sounds.

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Picton Lookout and short walk to the historic Maori Village

Also some Maori culture with sign posts and points of interest along the way.  The Maori Pa is quite interesting and a good learning point for the children. Picton is a main marine access point especially through summer offering diving, fishing and wildlife spotting experiences on a regular basis.

We backtrack to Montana for lunch but not a great choice, a lovely looking restaurant but not a suitable menu for children so on to Blenheim.  This town is a great base to explore the sensational Marlborough Wine Region.  Unfortunately time didn`t permit us to stay too long in this part of the world….that will be another trip all of its own.

The weather has further deteriorated along the west coast so we decide to abandon our plans to travel along to Westport and down the coastline.  Strong winds and driving rains are something we would rather avoid, so head down through the Wairau Valley to St Arnaud on the edge of Lake Ratoiti.  Stunning scenery along the way but the drop in temperature and fresh snow along the way has made us realise that missing the west coast was a great decision.

St Anaud, simply stunning scenery

St Anaud, simply stunning scenery

We camp in the  camp ground on the edge of the lake, stunning views looking down the lake.  The cloud lifts and we enjoy an afternoon by the lake. A stunning place to stay, weather is cool and the forcast is for snow down to 700metres over night.  The heater in the camper will come in handy.

Day 4 – St Anaud to Hanmer Springs

October 21st, 2009
From snow to......

The drive through Lewis Pass is closed sometimes so make sure you check and take your chains

From snow to……heated thermal pools in one day

Today we woke to an overcast day and fresh snow on the mountains….it was cold but these campers have heaters that run off  the diesel so we definately didn`t feel the cold throughout the night. The lake is breathtaking in the morning light.  We head off  to Springs Junction to fuel up and have morning tea. A quaint little cafe that offered almost everything but whitebait fritters.  The locals tell us that Lewis Pass is open, if too much snow over night this closes, so lucky for us it is open.

As we leave Springs Junction it is raining and as we get higher up into the Pass, it turns to sleet and finally snow……..magic, spectacular, falling snow.  The children are beside themselves as they experience something they have never seen before.  Snow plough pass us as they clear the road to allow the traffic through.  That was an amazing experience.

We continue on to Hamner Springs where we will spend the night at Mountain View Top 10 Holiday Park http://www.mountainviewtop10.co.nz/ The kids enjoyed the playground with trampoline and the facilities we good. The park is situated within walkind distance to the thermal pools and town. We enjoyed the afternoon relaxing in the thermal heated pools before exploring town. A quaint little town with snow capped mountains as its back drop.

Hamner Springs in the Middle of Winter is an Oasis

Hamner Springs in the Middle of Winter is an Oasis

Day 5 – Hanmer Springs to Geraldine

October 21st, 2009
Geraldine farmyard was our favourite cmping ground in the South Island

Geraldine farmyard was our favourite camping ground in the South Island

The Farmyard Holiday Park at Geraldine, a great place to stop if you have children
Heading  south today from Hamner towards Christchurch, a nice drive through lots of mountains and rocky cliffs and lots of silver berch trees.  We took the opportunity to restock the camper before we headed off  to Geraldine. A  nice drive south across New Zealand`s longest bridge and Canterbury country before arriving at Geraldine.  This town has a country feel to it with some nice crafty shops to explore.
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Olivia loved playing with the animals

We stayed at the Geraldine farm stay just out for town, this was one of the highlights of the trip, expecially for the children who enjoyed playing and feeding the array of animals, playing the open space (a nice break from their car seats) and riding the quad bikes.  This place was very accommodating even organising a fire pit to roast marshmellows. The facilities were clean and the kitchen was equipped with cooking facilities for our use.

The following morning the park owners saddled the donkeys for the kids to have a ride on before we headed off.  This was one place that is a must if you are travelling with children, they just loved it and still talk about the close up encounters with the animals.
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You have to try the 4 wheel bikes - they have small ones for the kids too in peak season - The big kids loved this too

Don`t forget to ask if the Quad bikes are available to use – great fun for all Big and Small

Day 6 – Geraldine to Lake Tekapo

October 21st, 2009

Finally dragged the children away from the animals and on the road again.

The next part of the trip is very pictureque and we stopped on route for photos with the snow capped Southern Alps as a backdrop.  Arriving at Lake Tekapo is stunning, the lake it self is nothing short of stunning, the turquoise colour is due to the glaciers.  The glacier ice is broken down to a fine powder and is suspended in the water and reflects the light to give it the amazing blue. Here the church of the Good Shephard is a must see and photos through the church window with the lake backdrop are truly amazing.

An aerial view of the glaciers, snow capped mountains and gorgeous glacial lakes.
An aerial view of the glaciers, snow capped mountains and gorgeous glacial lakes.

A New Zealand must do is to take a small plane trip high above the mountains, Tekapo is a fantastic place to take off from.  We flew with Air Safaris http://www.airsafaris.co.nz/ and spent an hour travelling over the lake and across the Southern Alps.  We saw the great glaciers – The Tasman, Fox and Franz as well as almost being able to touch the top of Mt Cook.  The scenery is amazing, allowing you to really appreciate the beauty of this island.

TIP: Try to book a whole plane if you have 7 people.

Hire your own or join another group

Hire your own or join another group

Stunning..........sunset at Lake Tekapo
Stunning……….sunset at Lake Tekapo
Church view at Lake Tekapo
Church view at Lake Tekapo

Returning to land, there is plenty still to do, the ice rink was a favourite and the thermal pools were popular as well.  An easy way to spend a day.

We stayed overnight at the Lake Tekapo holiday park.  Here the amenities were lovely, the only place we experienced where you had to pay for hot water, $2 a shower but nice and clean and there was carpet on the floor and a heater as well. Also a bath for younger children and plenty of room to dress the little ones.

A good array of restaurants in town, we opted for the local hotel and enjoyed the view over the lake as well as the food and a bottle of  the local champagne……..Lindauer of course.

The day was stunning and we also enjoyed a full moon rising over the lake, equally as stunning.

Day 7 – Lake Tekapo to Wanaka

October 21st, 2009

Leaving Tekapo we head to the local salmon farm.  It is built along and in the canal from Lake Tekapo so we enjoyed the lovely colours as we travelled.  The children enjoyed feeding the salmon with pellets. The fish are in pens but enjoy fast fresh flowing water that keeps them healthy and allows them exercise swimming against the current of the canal, this makes for a better quality of salmon. This we can vouche for as we enjoyed fresh salmon for dinner that night and smoked salmon for a few days after.  We bought from the farm and we pleasantly surprised by the reasonable price.

Heading through the Lindis Pass we see a change in the landscape, it is stark, desolate and quite barren.  Like Tekapo this area receives very little rain fall through out the year. In its own way it is still beautiful. The snow capped mountains are always within sight and as we come through the pass the amount of snow increases.

Wanaka appears very soon after and the lake is an ideal spot for lunch.  Stunning scenery again with the mountains in the background and the lake in the foreground. Lots of green space and play equipment keeps the children busy for a while. We then headed off to Puzzling World.  This was an amazing place and well worth a visit, mazes, illusion rooms and eccentric architecture keep everyone happy for the afternoon.

Tonight we stayed at Wanaka Lake View Holiday Park, central to town and room for the kids to run around.  The kitchen and dining was well equipped and had plenty of room. Amenities were clean as well.

Salmon farm drive near lake tekapo

Salmon farm drive near lake tekapo

Enjoying a glass of New Zealand by the lake in Wanaka

Enjoying a glass of New Zealand by the lake in Wanaka

Day 8 – Wanaka to Queenstown

October 21st, 2009

Down to the lake for coffee and a play before heading off.

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Coming down to Queenstown

Travelling on through Burke Pass the amount of snow increases and we stop on the side of the road for a quick play.  Snow balls and snow men were the order of the day, for a while at least.  This pretty spot gave us a quick view of Queenstown in the distance.

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Arrowtown is a must to visit and you MUST get a Venison Pie from the bakery on the end of the street

A steep but interesting drive through the rest of the Pass before we end up in Arrow Town. This quaint little town has retained a number of its old stone and wooden buildings from the Gold Rush era and the tree lined streets are quite pretty.  There are a range of shops to wander through and we all enjoyed the Lolly Shop for a range of New Zealand sweets as well as many of our favourites.  The local bakery was a huge hit with the Venison pie being something to rave about. With a dash of Tuimato sauce they are devine and well worth a return visit just for the pies.

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The Gondala rides were the kids favourite thing to do in Queenstown apart from skiing - it was always faster mummy!!!

Onto Queenstown, only a short drive past Cardrona the snow fields. First impression of Queenstown was how much it had grown in 10 years, we were amazed. First stop was the Gondola and luge rides.  Stunning scenery as you ride the gondola to the top. The luge was a huge hit with the adult as well as the kids, down the luge, up the chairlift was a heap of fun.

The Ledger Family - Smart Escapes Directors and Junior Directors

The Ledger Family - Smart Escapes Directors and Junior Directors

Into town to hire the ski gear for snow skiing the next day.  The ski centre in town is the place to go to organise lessons and ski gear. Book the younger children (under 5) before you get there, limited spaces so need to book early. We found the ski centre answered all our questions and gave suggestions to save money and make the most of the day on the snow.

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This house is let out directly by the owner - Leicester Rutledge - phone NZ 0275 316 701

The backyard is the lake and sooo beautiful - Chelsea is here modeling Esprit

The backyard is the lake and sooo beautiful - Chelsea is here modeling Esprit

Off to our house on the lake, we stayed on Frankton Rd for 3 nights to have a break from the camper and enjoy each others company. The house we stayed in was huge, more than enough space for 4 families. We enjoyed the extra space and the magical veiws of the lake and the Remarkables.  Stunning!!!

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The Ledge has a new meaning - be scared ... very scared

Day 9 – Queenstown

October 27th, 2009
new zealand skiing

Chelsea and Chloe had a ball skiing - they picked it up faster that than adults

Today we skied Coronet Peak, up early and off to get organised. The younger children (under 5`s) were able to attend their creche from 9.00am, allowing the adults a full day of skiing.

Hire the ski gear for children on the mountain, less to carry. Don;t forget to ask for hte starter pack for your first day which basically gives you cheaper hire of skis boots and poles when buying the chair lift passes from Queenstown Ski Junction Corner

The Crache had their own ski area and the 4 year olds and under loved it

The Crache had their own ski area and the 4 year olds and under loved it

Creche facilities were excellent, they had their own little ski field to learn on and the flexibility of having the indoors for playing etc.  The older children attended their lesson with the same age group from 9.30 till 4.30 and included all meals and tuition. The girls had a private lesson, a good option if there are a few of you.  Lessons go for about an hour and then you can take time to practice the new skills or attend another lesson.

It makes you feel like King of the mountain - the slopes were very forgiving

It makes you feel like King of the mountain - the slopes were very forgiving

Great fun with the boys off on their own exploring the black runs. The rest of us were just happy to spend the afternoon on the beginners slopes. Another day on the slopes would have been fantastic giving us the chance to build on the skills we had learnt.  The kids loved skiing and were super keen to go back for more, definately allow for at least 2 days skiing if the itinery allows.

Make room - these girls were wild

Make room - these girls were wild

Day 10 – Queenstown

October 27th, 2009

A great day to enjoy and explore Queenstown and little travel.  We all went our own way with most of us starting in town exploring the shops and shore front. A range of activities in the Queenstown area meant that there was something for everyone, bungy jumping, shot over boat ride and we opted for exploring a few wineries.

Gibbston Vally Winery has the only cave wine tasting tour and worth doing - they only charge about $10

Gibbston Valley Winery has the only cave wine tasting tour and worth doing - they only charge about $10

Gibbston Valley was a highlight with the wine tasting and cave tour a must, the cheesery was interesting and the restaurant was fantastic.  We enjoyed a platter of cheeses, meats, salmon, dips and breads washed down with a glass of reisling….yum.  There are a number of boutique wineries in the district and exploring them all would be an enjoyable day, there are also a number of winery tours that leave from Queenstown if you don`t want to drive.

Back to enjoy the lake, lots of action with kayakers, walkers and bike riders enjoying the tracks that surround the lake.  Lots of ducks provide entertainment for the children as they feed them and explore the trees and foreshore. We have enjoyed our time in Queenstown and vow to come back for a longer period of time with more skiing.  This house has been awesome with heaps of space and modern design with facilities.  It was clean and well equipped making it an ideal holiday destination…..we`ll be back.

Day 11 – Queenstown to Milford Sound

October 27th, 2009

Today we leave Queenstown and head to Te Anau.  It is a stunning drive as we leave Queenstown following the edge of the lake south. A beautiful drive indeed.

We stop at Te Anau for the glow worm expedition.  We take the boat for a ride across the lake to the nearby cave, approximately 30 mins across the lake.  Well set out with paths and meeting room for tea, coffee etc before breaking into smaller groups to enter the cave. We learnt heaps about the cave, glow worms and the local area.  The glow worm grotto was stunning with lots of glowing stars everywhere.

We leave Te Anau and head into Milford Sound, as it is 4.00 pm we aim to travel as far as we can and stop in a camp ground off the track. The first part of the trip is pretty with the road being tree lined in many places, we pass lakes and the snow capped mountains are always beside us. We finally stop after about an hour at a camp spot beside the road.  Toilet facilities and a flowing creek for fresh water.  Stunning backdrop of the snow capped mountains and water fall.  A beautiful spot to spend the night in the New Zealand wilderness.

the drive through the tunnel was a hit with the whole family

the drive through the tunnel was a hit with the whole family

camping in the wildness - shear beauty

camping in the wildness - peace and beauty - but take your own dry wood

The Te Anau Glow worm caves are the only ones to see on the South Island

The Te Anau Glow worm caves are the only ones to see on the South Island

Day 12 – Milford Sound to Dunedin

October 27th, 2009

This was the biggest day of travel for the entire holiday.  We awoke and then headed into Milford Sound, this part of the trip is stunning as we pass snow covered mountains, waterfalls, flowing creeks and forest.  We learn that there had been recent avalaches in the area and the road had been closed for some time  prior to our visit. 

 

Beware of avalanches - the drive is amazing Beware of avalanches – the drive is amazing

We see the remnants of the avalanches with diggers clearing the road sides so we can pass.  Avalanche signs warn visitors to not stop in these areas.  We arrived at the boat terminal to see our friends off on one of the many cruises through the sound. 

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We head back to Te Anau, stopping along the way at many of the walks and lakes.  This is truly a stunning part of the world and well worth the trip.  It was nearly a drive that we weren`t going to do but were so glad we did and would probably do it again. It is truly stunning and you can easily see what draws people to this area to hike the Milford Track.

We head to Te Anau, stopped for lunch at one of the many cafes and restaurants the town offers. We then head off across the Otago Plains to Dunedin.  We leave behind the mountains and replace it with green rolling hills and lambs, heaps and heaps of new lambs and farming land.

We arrive at Dunedin and find a campevan park close to the ocean.  Great facilities, cooking, washing and bathroom. Lots of restaurants in this area to choose from.

Day 13 – Dunedin to Christchurch

October 27th, 2009

This morning we are heading off to the Cadbury Factory in Dunedin, this was one trip that is receommended you book. It was heaps of fun, extremely informative not to mention tasty. Lots of taste tests and information as we explore the chocolate factory. 

Cadbury Chocolate Factory really is worth the tour

Cadbury Chocolate Factory really is worth the tour

It is only a short walk to the Dunedin train station, the most photographed building in New Zealand and understandably so.  It is a beautiful building set in stunning gardens, we were lucky with the timing of our holiday the gardens were in full bloom and the cherry blossoms trees are also in full bloom. 

Cheery Blossoms outside the Christchurch Train Station

Cheery Blossoms outside the Dunedin Train Station

Dunedin Train Station - the most photographed building in New Zealand

Dunedin Train Station - the most photographed building in New Zealand

We head north to Christchurch stopping at Boulder Beach for a play.  An interesting beach with massive rock boulders, the girls enjoyed exploring and climbing the rocks.

Back on the road and a nice drive up to Christchurch, the return of snow capped mountains with green paddocks and sheep.

Bold Beach is worth stopping in to on the way towards Christchurch

Moeraki Boulders - is worth stopping in to on the way towards Christchurch. The Moeraki Boulders are unusually large and spherical boulders lying along a stretch of Koekohe Beach on the wave cut Otago coast of New Zealand between Moeraki and Hampden

An easy drive up the main highway and we return for our last night to the same campervan park as we stayed on the first night, Meadow Park holiday park.  Its central position means we can sleep in and leisurely pack before dropping off the van and heading to the airport for the return trip home.

Day 14 – Christchurch to Brisbane

October 27th, 2009

Our final morning in New Zealand, it has been an amazing holiday full of adventures and fun. We have found New Zealand an easy holiday destination with lots to explore and experience.  It has been very affordable and a definate place we will revisit.  Our next holiday will be the north island of New Zealand again in a campervan, we have enjoyed the flexibility of the van and found it an affordable and  comfortable mode of transport.

Please call us on +61 7 5445 2829 or email sue@smartescapes.com.au to help organise your travel especially the Camper Van and activities -

Discounts apply to friends and family

New Zealand North Island Self Drive. – Read about our campervan holiday around the North Island.

January 8th, 2010

On our second self drive holiday in New Zealand we chose to discover the North Island and we were in for a treat.  From the moment we landed in Auckland we found a choice of destinations and activities that had something for all the family.  The shopping and sightseeing in Auckland, the wineries of Hawke Bay, the natural beauty of the New Zealand coastline including Cathedral Cove and natural sea caves to the fantastic and envigorating natural mineral pools dotted throughout the island.  We were in for a treat.

Read all about our 14 day trip through this picturesque country.

Day 1 – Auckland

January 8th, 2010

Tip number 1 with campervans, if you have a late flight it may be cheaper to spend the night at a close motel/hotel and pick up the camper the next morning.  Our flight was delayed which meant we were unable to pick up the camper till the next day, so we lost one day`s payment.

Auckland, the city of sails has much to offer.  We enjoyed some shopping at one of the Westfield shopping centres, with the exchange rate the Aussie dollar goes a lot further.  Take a drive through the CBD and explore the viaduct , with over 20 restaurants and cafes to choose from it is a great place to sit back and relax and watch the world go by.  Take a walk up the Sky Tower, be  a dare devil and do the bungy jump or enjoy a meal in the rotating restaurant, a 360 degree view of the city.  A great place to get your bearings and decide what to do next.  We also recommend taking a ferry across the harbour to Davenport on the North Shore.  Stroll along the many beaches and discover the colonial architecture this quaint village offers.  A day trip to Rangitoto or Waiheke Island also offer a range of experiences for the New Zealand visitor.

Auckland City

Auckland To Piha Beach

January 28th, 2010

A must see spot on your North Island trip is Piha Beach, this wild black sandy West Coast beach is rugged but gorgeous at the same time. At low tide there is much to explore along the beach, view the keyhole and take a wander around to the blue pools.  Take a dip in the ocean but alsways remember to swim between the flags.  Feeling adventurous, tackle Lion Rock at the Northern end of the beach or take a bush walk and learn all about the logging trade of the local area in the early 1900`s.  It`s a beautiful walk through the bush beside the creek up to the waterfall.  Very pretty walk, don`t forget to take the mossie spray!

Stay at Piha camp ground, a great spot for the kids with open spaces to run and a purpose built park to keep them entertained.  Facilities include a kitchen, tennis court along with clean amenities all withing walking distance to the beach and across the road from the shop.

On your way back to Auckland stop at Elevation Cafe and Restaurant for spectacular views over Auckland City and surrounding districts.  Enjoy a coffee, glass of wine, snack or a meal in relaxing stunning surrounds.

Lion Rock at Piha Beach

Lion Rock at Piha Beach

Auckland to Miranda via One Tree Hill

January 28th, 2010

Leaving Auckland we headed south, stopping at one of Auckland`s historic land marks, One Tree Hill. Set in a gorgeous park we found it an ideal spot for lunch, leafy trees and play equipment made for a relaxing lunch. Take the road up to the top of the hill for spectacular 360 degree views over Auckland City.

Leaving Auckland we head towards Miranda, an easy drive along the motor way and then through farm land with scenic views of the Firth Of Thames in the distance.

Miranda Van Park http://www.mirandaholidaypark.co.nz/offered more than we originally thought, not only was it the cleanest park we had ever stayed in but it had fantastic facilities for families.  A range of accommodation from van sites, motel rooms, studio apartments, 1 and 2 bedroom chalets and lodges for upto 10 people.  Facilities include trampoline, playground and cubby house for the children.  TV internet and lounge area as well as a mineral pool.  This was fabulous and like all amenities at Miranda Van Park was immaculate, being closed each day for cleaning.

Miranda Caravan hot pool is better than the public one next door

Miranda Caravan hot pool is better than the public one next door

Drive up the road along the Firth of Thames scenic drive to the local hotel and fish and chip shop. Gorgeous scenery and we also discovered a free camp spot right on the water.  No facilities but free camp sites are a rarity in New Zealand.

Dusk at Miranda on The Firth Of Thames

Dusk at Miranda on The Firth Of Thames

Miranda to Harhei

February 9th, 2010

The mineral pool is a popular place first thing in the morning and a great way to start the day. Headed off towards Thames for a fuel and food stock up before heading across to the Coromandel. A scenic drive with lots of windy roads but lots of places to stop and take in the views.  We headed to Cooks Beach for a quick look, a great winery called Cooks Beach Vineyard http://www.cooksbeachvineyard.co.nz/ is well worth a stop…..awesome chardonnay. Cooks Beach is a sleepy little place with a beautiful beach and great for fishing, boating and safe swimming.  The local camp ground was going through a total renovation and not operable when we visited but is a great place to stop and spend a few nights http://www.cooksbeachcamp.co.nz/ . Take a drive to the local lookout for stunning views of Cooks Beach and the Coromandel.

Views over Cooks Beach

Views over Cooks Beach

We headed on to Harhei for the night, only a short drive.  The local camp ground is set in a great location, close to the beach and if you visit Harhei in a quieter time of the year you may be lucky enough to get a camp spot at the top of the sand dune overlooking the beach.

Harhei Beach - Coromandel

Harhei Beach - Coromandel

Harhei – Catherdral Cove and Sea Cave Adventures

February 9th, 2010

Harhei is a stunning part of New Zealand and we chose a local tour operator to showcase what it had to offer.  Dan at Whitianga Adventures http://whitianga-adventures.co.nz/ has lived in the area all his life and very knowledgable about the landscape and flora and fauna in the area. 

Dan - Sea Cave Adventures

Dan - Sea Cave Adventures - this was amazing - got to do this

 We were blessed with a stunning day and the landscape didn””t disappoint either.  Dan picked us up from Harhei Beach right in front of the camp ground and showed us along the spectacular volcanic New Zealand coastline and the sea caves that have been in the making for hundreds of years.  They were simply stunning and we were able to enter a number of these caves to be able to take in the full extent of this stunning landscape.  We also boated around Champagne Rock, Stingray Bay before we opted to be dropped off at Cathedral Cove and take the stunning walk back to Harhei.

Sea Caves at Harhei

Sea Caves at Harhei

Cathedral Cove is a stunning sheltered bay which is a popular walking destination for tourists.  An easy walk even with the children, took about an hour to return to Harhei but we were not in a hurry and regularly stopped for photo opportunities.  Remember to take food and water, there was a makeshift tent selling drinks and food but locals were working hard to put a stop to this.

Cathedral Cove

Cathedral Cove

A photo opportunity on the walk back to Harhei

A photo opportunity on the walk back to Harhei

Hot Water Beach

February 9th, 2010

Hot Water Beach is a natural phenonomen which sees tourists flock to the beach with spade in hand to dig themselves a hole to sit back and enjoy the natural hot water that rises out of the ground.  Check the tides as it is only really viable one hour each side of low tide.  Lots of local businesses display tide times and also hire spades for the experience. This was a very popular spot during our holidays and we saw the population of Hot Water Beach almost triple. There are some awesome cafe and restaurants in town and surfing is a popular past time. A nice place to spend a night or a few hours.

Hot Water Beach

Mt Maunganui

February 9th, 2010
Mt Manunganui

Mt Manunganui

We left Hot Water Beach and headed towards Tauranga and `The Mount` as it is affectionately named. Mt Maunganui is situated in the city of Tauranga in the Bay of Plenty region of New Zealand. It is New Zealand`s favourite summer holiday destination with its white sandy suurf beach on the ocean side, and a safe sheltered inner harbour beach. Mount Maunganui is also the name of the extinct volcano which rises above the beautiful Mount Maunganui surf beach. We stayed at http://www.mountbeachside.co.nz/ at the base of The Mount and directly opposite the beach.  This place had a feel like Burleigh Heads with its Esplanade Shops, variety of restaurants and tourists.  A very popular destination and it is easy to see why.  The Mount is covered in walking tracks and at any time of the day there we oodles of walkers enjoying the range of tracks which cater for all abilities and all with stunning ocean views.

Spend some time enjoying the beach and walk to the sounthern end where the land juts out allowing you to walk along it and take in the scenery back towards the Mount and down towards Papamoa. Amazing views of the local islands the stunning beaches.

Mt Maunganui

Mt Maunganui Sailing

Adventure Sail - Tauranga

Adventure Sail - Tauranga - a must do while in Tauranga

We chose to explore the harbour with Phil and Adventure Sail http://www.adventuresail.co.nz/ We enjoyed the scenery and even saw some penguins!!! We left port and entered the bay, allowing us to fully appreciate the mountain.  A stunning morning and one we all enjoyed.

Mt Maunganui to Rotorua

February 9th, 2010

Leaving Mt Maunganui we headed south to Papamoa, another beach front area which has seen huge amounts of developments in previous years. We stocked up with food and petrol before heading towards Rotorua. We picked a great time of the year to travel……….berries!!! Blackberries, blueberries and raspberries by the punnet we devoured and they were cheap.  We travelled pack lots of little vans who had set up on the side of the road selling not only berries but a range of stonefruits, avos and some vegies.  All very cheap and very fresh.

We arrived in Rotorua and chose to stay at the Rotorua Themal Park on the outskirts of town.  Again like many parks in Rotorua it had its own mineral pools, of differing temperatures as well as a fresh water pool for the children.  We spent quite a lot of time in the pools over the 3 days that we stayed here. 

The park was quite spacious and campervan areas were set in shady areas all close to the large kitchen and dining room.  The amenities were clean with ample hot water.

Rotorua Thermal Park

Rotorua Thermal Park

Rotorua

February 9th, 2010

Rotorua has to be one of my favourite places in the North Island and this is my 3rd time here and we just had to revisit the museum, the Redwood Forest and the Luge and Gondola, a big day.

The museum is set in gorgeous grounds full of roses and parks for the kids to play on.

Rotorua Museum

Rotorua Museum

Take a drive through the grounds to the lake in the centre of town.  This is one of 16 lakes in the Rotorua vicinity and provides a number of activities.  Check out http://www.rotoruanz.com/ for activities to do in the Rotorua district.

We headed to the Redwood Forest, this amazing forest is full of redwoods and New Zealand native bush.  The forest has been sign posted with many running and mountain biking tracks to choose from.  Children were given age appropriate questionaires to complete focusing on conservation and appreciation of the park as well as look and find activities which kept their attention as we spent over an hour exploring this amazing place. Great gift shop with a range of souvenirs and the girls handed in their completed activity sheets to receive a certificate and lolly pop.  A great way to encourage conservation of the bush.

Redwood Forest - Rotorua

Redwood Forest - Rotorua

Off to the Gondola and Luge on the outskirts of town.  This is owned by the same people as the Gondola and Luge in Queenstown so we knew what to expect.  Lots of fun!!!!!!!! Again, awesome views over Rotorua and the lake on the way up to the top and fast trip to the bottom of the hill before jumping on the chair lift to do it all over again.  Heaps of fun for the whole family.

Views over Rotorua

Views over Rotorua

For dinner we attended a Maori cultural show and traditional hungi at Miti Maori Village http://www.mitai.co.nz/ It was set in the bush with Maori locals who entertained us with traditional songs and wardances.  We particularly enjoyed the Waka (boat) arrival with its warriors in traditional dress with weapons chanting their songs.  The setting was supurb with the natural clear spring and river providing a wonderful back drop complete with glow worms.  The meal was great and we thoroughly enjoyed our evening, sharing it with a range of people from over 15 nations world wide.

Warriors arriving in the Waka

Warriors arriving in the Waka

Traditional wardance

Traditional wardance

Rotorua to Napier

February 9th, 2010
Lady Knox Geyser

Lady Knox Geyser

Today we headed off early to watch the Lady Knox geyser erupt (daily at 10.15am) and learn about the local geothermal landscape and thermal effects on the surrounding land. This happens at Wai-O-Tapu Thermal Wonderland 20 minutes from Rotorua http://www.geyserland.co.nz/ 

This amazing place is thousands of years in the making at allows you to explore the geothermal landscapes and witness such amzing sights at the Champagne Pool (clear bubbling pool), naturally coloured pools, mud pools, steaming grounds and huge volcanic craters. The pools were amazing colurs due to the minerals that were in the water. It was an amazing place and one of only 4 areas in the world where you will see a landscape like it.

The park was well set up and very informative making for an enjoyable morning.

Coloured pools at Wai-O-Tapu

Coloured pools at Wai-O-Tapu

Drove on to Taupo, stopping at Huka Falls – torrents of water cascading down from Taupo Lake to a stream before spilling into a wider lake.  The amazing force of the water turns the water a beautiful blue colour due to the levels of oxygen in the water.

Huka Falls - Taupo

Huka Falls - Taupo

Drive through Taupo, set around the lake fringed with lake view houses and some lovely cafes and restaurants.

On to Napier, quite steep mountainous drive, nice scenery of New Zealand natural bush and streams with pine plantations and grape vines as you get closer to Napier, which is situated in the Hawke Bay wine district.

Hawke Bay wine district

Hawke Bay wine district

Stayed at Kennedy Road Holiday Park, it was a good pick with close proximity to town, shops and it had great facilities for the kids including a jumping pillow, climbing equipment, swings, trampoline, heated pool and bikes for hire.

Kennedy Road Camp Ground - Napier

Kennedy Road Camp Ground - Napier - Must stay here

Napier Vineyards

February 9th, 2010

Explored Napier, a popular tourist destination with a unique concentration of art deco everywhere you looked. An interesting city with a good range of shops and activities.

View over Napier

View over Napier

Lots of vineries to visit in the area but we chose just a few, Mission Estate http://www.missionestate.co.nz/   and Church Road http://www.churchroad.co.nz/ which are situated close to the centre of town. Both offer wine tasting and winery tours and We loved the setting of Mission Estate which is in an old restored seminary and historic tours are held daily.  It has a lovely restuarant in the garden beside the water feature, a great place to stop and have lunch. Both have amazing wines and we were excited to hear that most can be easily purchased at good bottle shops in Aussie.

Mission Estate Vineyard

Mission Estate Vineyard

We then headed to Hasting and the Havelock area to visit Black Barn, Te Mata and our favourite Craggy Range. Black Barn winery is an amazing place offering accommodation, concerts and running a farmers market on Saturday mornings during summer.  Local produce is vaired and plentiful in this area so if possible organise your holiday to explore on a Saturday http://www.blackbarn.com/ There wines were very enjoyable but not available in Aussie so a few were purchased to be enjoyed once we arrived home.

Te Mata is another local winery making beautiful wines in the same vicinity. http://www.temata.co.nz/index.php Visit Te Mata Cheese factory http://www.tematacheese.co.nz/ for beautiful cheeses, we really enjoyed their washed rind cheeses, especially the Irongate.

Driving to Craggy Range Vineyard was an amazing drive. The vineyard is set with Te Mata  Peak as its backdrop, simply stunning.

Entering Craggy Range Vineyard

Entering Craggy Range Vineyard

Craggy Range Vineyard

We left Craggy Range and took the beautiful drive along the Tuki Tuki River through farm land to Cape Kidnappers Camp Park.  Very basic park but set right on the beach which the girls enjoyed.  A surfing haven as we discovered as surfers came out of the woodwork at high tide. We enjoyed the long twilight as we watched the surfers and the surf…….very rough,windy but beautiful.

Kidnappers Cove

Kidnappers Cove

Cape Kidnappers to Wellington

February 9th, 2010

A beautiful place to explore with a prestigious golf course here as well as a gannet colony.  There is another van park, Clifton Motor Camp which is also situated right on the beach, has a boat ramp and is within walking distance to the gannets http://cliftoncamphawkesbay.co.nz/  A must visit is the local cafe situated in Cape Kidnappers, a beautiful spot for brunch and coffee with the biggest coffee cups in New Zealand.

Cape Kidnappers cafe

Cape Kidnappers cafe

Headed off to Paraparaumu (north of Wellington on the beach) via the Tararua Ranges.  This too is a stunning drive with the ranges in sight all the way with their wind turbines sitting on the top of the range and then through the gorge with its deep valleys, stunning scenery and railway tunnels.

The gorge

The gorge

Lots of fresh fruit and vegie stalls along the road and also many farms allow you to buy direct from the farm, so great to stock up with the essentials.  Stop at Otaki for a great range of shopping before heading to Paraparaumu -  which is the main town on the Kapiti Coast and is a popular holiday destination for Wellingtonians. It is well serviced with a range of shops, boat ramp, golf club and a range of holiday activities.  Check out http://www.jasons.com/New-Zealand/Paraparaumu/ for what they recommend. 

Continue on to Wellington and the choices for activities are endless. Wellington offers visitors a vibrant and sophisticated city experience set within a natural amphitheatre of a harbour and lush green hills. Check out http://www.wellingtonnz.com/australian_visitors/theres_so_much_see_and_do/wellington_highlights for a range of itineries depending on the amount of time you have to spend in the city.

Scenic drive through the countryside to Paraparumu

Scenic drive through the countryside to Paraparumu

Wellington to Taupo

February 10th, 2010

From Wellington there are  choices as to which way to head north, there are more vineyards through the Martinborough District or follow the coast line up through the middle of the North Island, we chose this way and then had to choose if we were going to visit Mt Raupaehu (maybe snow) and then onto the glow worms at Waitomo caves or head straight through to Auckland stopping at Taupo for the night. If you have time, stop at Foxton and see the windmill or Tirau – this little place was just buzzing as we drove through, there are cafes and craft shops lining the main street.  Giant sheep dogs and sheep made out of corrugated iron put this place on the map. Great parks for the kids to have a stop and stretch their legs or enjoy a leisurely lunch or coffee. http://tirauinfo.homestead.com/tirau.html for more information about thus quaint little place.

Windmill at Foxton

Windmill at Foxton

The Waitomo Caves are amazing and a sight to behold and the black water rafting is an adventure. Check out http://www.waitomo.com/ for more information.

We drove up to the desert region and were not disappointed with the sights that we beheld, snow capped Mt Raupaehu was a awesome sight.

The desert road

The desert road past Mt Raupaehu towards Taupo

Snow capped mountains in December

Snow capped mountains in December

From the snow capped mountains the road leads to the lakes of the Taupo region.  We follow the edge of the lake for about 40 kilometres into Taupo.  Stunning scenery as you can almost reach out and touch the lake.  Arriving into Taupo we stayed at DeBretts http://www.taupodebretts.com/ another great camp ground attached to mineral pools.  The park also had lake views and clean amenties with park facilities for the children. The pool complex contained a range of mineral pools at differing temperatures, fresh water pools, water slides for the children, private bathing rooms and a massage centre.  Staying at the park also gives you a discount on entry and they are open 7.30 till 9.30 every day.  A great way to finish the day.

DeBretts Camp ground with mineral pools at Taupo

DeBretts Camp ground with mineral pools at Taupo

Taupo to Auckland Beaches

February 10th, 2010

From Taupo we travelled north through Auckland to a number of beaches just a short drive from the city. New motorways make this trip a quick one, don`t forget to pay the toll at the roadside booths before you travel through the tunnel, an engineering feat!!!!!

One of our favourite stops along the way is at Matakana, coincide your trip on a Saturday and stop at the local farmers market and a stop at Ascension vineyard is a must do as well. http://www.ascensionwine.co.nz/home A stop at Morris ansd James pottery and tileworks is another must do. http://www.morrisandjames.co.nz/ Their hand made pots are just beautiful and if you have the time join their free tour which runs Monday to Friday at 11.30.

Morris and James - Matakana

Morris and James - Matakana

Morris and James - Matakana

Morris and James - Matakana

Our favourite beach is Buckleton Beach, this quiet bay provides great fishing, boating, swimming and awesome rock pools for the kids to explore. Close by is Sandspit and Omaha which are also worth a visit.  Goat Island is a marine reserve close by and is a great place to visit for a snorkel, swim and to explore the rock pools.  The glass bottom boat tour is great to see these protected fish up close.

Fishing out from Buckleton Beach

Fishing out from Buckleton Beach