It was only a couple weeks ago that my husband and I booked a last minute trip to New Zealand. I wish I could say it was a decision that stemmed from our desire to live spontaneously but for the most part it was because it was time for me to renew my Australia travel visa. Can’t really complain about actually being forced to go on an overseas trip, and since we’ve been wanting to visit New Zealand for some time now, we decided to take advantage of this situation.
To save us a bit of money (since this was a last-minute trip), we hired a camper van through imoova.com where companies need camper vans to be relocated to another city by a certain date so they’ll late people rent them for $1-$5 a day. All we had to do was pay for fuel and optional insurance for extra coverage. They also give you a kilometer limit and if you go over you just have to pay a small fee. We hired the camper van for 4 days (extra days cost an extra $200 per day) and traveled from Christchurch to Auckland.
Day 0-1: Arrival and Christchurch
We arrived in Christchurch late in the evening and stayed in an Airbnb until we could pick up the camper van the next day at 11 a.m. So the next day we spent the morning catching up on sleep and exploring the nearby New Regent Street that is known for its Spanish-inspired architecture and surrounding wall art.
Day 1: Hanmer Springs and Kaikoura
Our first stop was Hanmer Springs. The drive along the way was an adventure in itself. The views are absolutely breath-taking all throughout New Zealand. So even just driving is a treat! We didn’t get to spend time in the thermal pools that Hanmer Springs is known for but the Ferry Bridge and the Woodland Walk were on our list of things to do before heading to Kaikoura.
As we got closer to Hanmer Springs we saw rushing blue water traveling through the landscape. The water was ice blue at Ferry Bridge and it contrasted perfectly with the browns and greens of the landscape. We were in awe with the beauty there. There were a couple hikes we wanted to do at Hanmer Springs but because we were short on time we chose the shortest one at the Woodland Walk Reserve. The trees were so tall and each had their unique features. The trees felt like they were collapsing onto you if you looked straight up and it smelled of pine-scented candles and air was crisp. We didn’t really plan our trail very well so we did quite a bit of exploring before we were able to find our way back to the camper van. Really wish we could’ve spent more time here.
On our way to Kaikoura, our maps took us through the Ferry Bridge once again and we were just as amazed with the view as we were the first time.The drive to Kaikoura was about another 2 hours and we were overwhelmed by the enormity of the mountains. We made it to Kaikoura later that evening and just in time to see a seal still basking in the sun at Point Kean Viewpoint. I believe you’re able to see more seals in the early afternoon when the sun is still warm. If you’re looking for another quick activity in the area, Kaikoura Lookout offers some pretty spectacular views. We arrived there after making a wrong turn to Point Kean Viewpoint.
Day 2: Picton Ferry and Wellington
The main goal for today was to make it to the ferry crossing to North Island by 10 a.m. Our camper van rental came with a free ferry crossing so we didn’t want to miss our booking. The drive to Picton was absolutely stunning! We drove along the east coast and took in the early morning beach views and the mountainous landscape with only the road we were driving on that divided the two. It’s impossible to capture every moment and surprise that New Zealand has to offer when you’re on the road. You’ll just have to take a trip to New Zealand to see for yourself!
Once we made it to the ferry we took in the views of the vast waters that divide North and South Island. We even got to see some dolphins! And it seems that every body of water in New Zealand is as blue as you’ve ever seen. I was also really hoping to even see some whales along the way since we didn’t have enough time for a whale tour in Kaikoura but maybe next time!
Once we arrived to North Island in Wellington, we were starving so we stopped by Cuba Street and explored the array of restaurants and shops there. We ended up eating at a burger place because they had the most gluten-free options. I found eating gluten-free in New Zealand a little challenging. They don’t have as many options as they do in the US or Australia but I was still able to get by. We also stopped by a music shop where they sold vintage and new vinyl, CDs, posters and more. We also stopped by a bookstore and a stationary shop.
We were planning our next couple days in North Island and decided it would be best to keep driving north for another hour or so to save us some driving time the next day. We drove to Paraparamu Beach and camped out there. We enjoyed a walk along the beach and a sunset on the water. We also hear a band playing Kings of Leon at a nearby bar. Wish we could’ve spent more time in the area.
Day 3: Lake Taupo, Craters of the Moon, and Huka Falls
We woke up to the sound of the crashing waves along the beach. We were refreshed and ready to take on the day. We had about 4 hours to drive that day so we were on our way as soon as possible. As we were approaching Lake Taupo, we drove through what is called Desert Road. It was such a random drive because you would’ve never expected to see a desert-like terrain in a place like New Zealand. It was actually beautiful and you still had a nice view of a snowy mountain along the horizon. Once we reached this point I really started to notice how many wildflowers there are in New Zealand. Nothing like seeing a field filled with a variety of tiny colorful wildflowers.
Our first stop on the day’s list of activities was Lake Taupo. It’s actually the largest lake in Australasia! It was packed with tourists and locals and for good reason. We stopped to have some lunch and were in awe with the view of the mountains against the water. The water was crystal clear and surrounded with what looked like black pepper kibble — it wasn’t sand but it also wouldn’t really pass for rocks. Once I stepped into the water I found it shocking that there were people actually submerged in the ice cold temperatures of this lake. And even though it’s summer, New Zealand isn’t what I would call a tropical vacation where you spend your days sprawled out on a towel along the beach reading a book and taking a dip whenever your little heart desires. No. New Zealand gets cold, even in the summer. But after standing out in the sun and on the hot “black pepper kibble” even I wanted to jump in the water despite its Icelandic temperatures.
As we continued driving along the edge of the lake, there were sailboats and people paddle boarding; it was such a peaceful atmosphere. I think if we had known that earlier we would’ve scheduled out a longer time slot to spend there. But we wanted to squeeze in the craters and the falls before it got too late.
The Craters of the Moon is actually a really cool place to visit if you want to experience part of the volcanic activity in New Zealand, especially for only $8 admission. We could actually hear the mud bubbling up from the geothermal activity. You could see steam coming up through the craters all over the park’s landscape. We stayed there for about an hour and headed over the Huka Falls which was directly across the road.
The view at Huka Falls is another good representation of the water in New Zealand. There was so much water rushing from the Waikato River. It really just makes you wonder how much prettier the water would be if there was absolutely no pollution or climate change in this world. We spent a bit of time exploring the different views of the falls and then decided to call it a day and look for another camping spot.
Day 4: Auckland
Our camper van was due back by 3 p.m. so our goal for the day was to make it to Auckland in time and have the camper van cleaned out and ready to return. Once again the drive was gorgeous. There’s just so much variety of landscape in New Zealand. I never did get to pet a sheep or at least take a picture with one but I will assure you that the rumors are true: Sheep are abundant in New Zealand.
Once we made it to Auckland and dropped off the camper van, we felt limited on what we could do without a means to get around. Fortunately, our Airbnb was near Mount Mangere. We had dinner at a nearby restaurant and then made our way to Mangere. Once we arrived, we were amused by the number of people wandering freely on the hills and slopes of the volcanic cone. From far away everyone looked like little mountain goats. There were so many trails to take but we knew that our ultimate goal was to reach the top of the mountain as quickly and easily as possible. We found that many people were using the mountain as a cardio and endurance workout. All around the mountain, there were people holding different workout classes, a playground for the kids, and an area to play some footy. Once we reached the top of the mountain it almost had a dizzying effect on us. You felt like you would fall right over if you stepped just a little too much to the right or the left. It was difficult to capture the entire feeling of it on camera, but just believe me when I say the views of Auckland from the top are amazing and we felt so puny yet on top of the world on that mountain.
By this time we were exhausted so we headed back to our airbnb and took it easy for the rest of the evening.
Day 5: Departure
We slept in and had no other desire other than sleep in on this day. Our flight was scheduled to leave at 4:30 p.m. so we took our time in the morning and killed a bit more time at the Treasure Island Mini Golf after we check out of our airbnb. It was a pretty cool mini golf course and conveniently near the airport.
After our quick little trip to New Zealand, my husband and I want to make it a point to return and spend a bit more time in the country. Next time we’ll be a little more prepared and definitely do more hikes and tours and see much more of New Zealand. And now that we have some experience with the camper van relocation, we’ll know what to expect in the future. It seemed like there was always something amazing hiding around every corner of our trip and we can’t wait to explore again!