Discover the stunning sights and sounds of New Zealand on a motorhome adventure! Follow along as one family embarks on a unique journey through the North Island
We have never been in a motor home as a family and in fact, I have never been camping, so I was a bit nervous when my parents told me we were going to spend the second week of our two weeks in New Zealand travelling around the north island in a motor home.
First stop: the natural wonders of Waitomo
There are only three of us, but as it was our first time, we booked a 6 berth to have some extra room. We picked up the motor home in Auckland and our first stop was at the Waitimo Glowworm caves.
Ruakuri Caves: discovering Maori culture
We kicked off our day in the Ruakuri caves and learned all about their discovery and the important part they played in Maori culture. We were high up in the caves and could see right down to the black water where people were rafting down waterfalls.
Kids are allowed in the caves as long as they are with an adult, but you cannot touch any part of the cave walls or you will be fined $10,000 and they will fine you if you touch anything, so keep your hands off or your parents will have a heart attack! It is very cold in the caves, so make sure you bring a jacket – it was 5 degrees while we were there. We even saw were they filmed Gollum looking in the water in Lord of the Rings.
The tour goes for 2 hours and involves lots of stairs, which are quite steep in places, so it really isn’t ideal for people with limited mobility, but they do have caves that can be accessed by people in wheelchairs.
Glowworm Caves: a magical experience!
Our next tour was in the glowworm caves and it was absolutely amazing! You take a half-hour walk through the cathedral cave and see where they hold Carols at Christmas time. Some people stood there and sang because the acoustics were amazing – we were lucky to have someone in our group who was a soprano and it was a wonderful experience. The last 10 minutes of this tour is a boat ride in the dark to see the glowworms. You cannot take photos and you have to be very quiet or they will go still and not illuminate and the guides strictly enforce the rules. The glowworms were like fairy lights strung all around the caves and they reflected in the water, so you felt surrounded by lights.
New Zealand's caravan parks
We stayed the night at a little seaside town called Kawhia, where you can take a shovel to the beach and dig your very own hot tub in the thermal springs. You can also kayak or just sit back and experience the amazing views!
One of the things that surprised me is how clean and modern the facilities were in all of the caravan parks. They have big modern kitchens, really clean bathrooms and so many things for kids to do at each park that there is no way you could get bored. And for the tech heads, you can get Wi-Fi but most of the places you have to pay around $5 for 1GB.
Hobbiton: a must-visit for "The Lord of the Rings" fans
I am a huge Lord of the Rings fan so this was one of the things I was really looking forward to our visit to Hobbiton and it didn’t disappoint!
Hobbiton is located on private land, which was a farm until Peter Jackson spotted it when he was looking for the perfect setting to film. It is still farmland, but the movie set is a thriving industry, which makes the owners more money than their sheep do!
You have a bus driver and a guide to take you for a stroll through the township and they show you how they filmed the actors standing in different sized doors to give the appearance they were tall or short. Our guide also told us about the ‘off script’ things that happened while they were filming that they decided to keep in the movie. You will remember each of them and it’s cool to realise they were actually mistakes.
Bagend is located on the highest hill so you can see all over Hobbiton. A highlight is the Green Dragon Inn, where you can sample the beer for the adults and ginger beer for the kids, and then it’s a short stroll back to the bus.
The journey continues: Rotorua!
Then we headed to the Bay of Plenty and drove around and it surprised me how quickly the scenery changed from rolling green hills to mountains and ocean. Travelling in a campervan with all the windows lets you see so much more than in a car. We stayed the night at Papamoa Beach, the van park was right on the beach and they had loads of things for kids to do.
Rotorua is famous for its mud baths and thermal springs and has its own unique smell … of sulphur! Make sure you go to Te Puia, the home of the Whakarewarewa Geothermal valley and the world-famous Pohutu Geyser, and see the mud baths up close. You can experience the Maori culture here and feast on hangi cooked in the hot pits. I have tried a hangi in Hawaii but this one was so much nicer, the chicken was so succulent and the vegies were delicious.
Rotorua has a luge similar to the one in Queenstown, but this one is much longer. I was racing Dad and ended up having a stack and landing in the dirt … wasn’t fun but I made sure I climbed back on for another go! Kids can use the luge and you do get lessons, but if you have little kids, they can ride in front with you.
The weather changed really quickly in Rotorua, we were hot at Te Puia and once we went up the mountain in the gondola it became quite cool and within 20 minutes it was lightly raining and we froze! Make sure you bring a jacket and if you are a bit wary of sharing helmets like me, put your baseball cap on first.
We were frozen, so we went to the Polynesian Spa and booked a private deluxe family spa. We had our own thermal spa in a private room that looked out over the lake. You get half an hour, so we sat in the pool and defrosted and watched the moon come up over the lake, while the steam rose from the spa. It was absolutely beautiful!
The night markets were on, so we headed up the road to sample some of the diverse cultures that make up Rotorua. The food was amazing and we ended up with a bit of everything. We sampled Italian, Thai, Chinese, French, Maori and washed it all down with local fruit juices. The good thing about a motorhome is we could take it back and eat it in our own kitchen.
A relaxing staying at Lake Taupo
Lake Taupo is another amazing place to visit. We stayed at the Lake Taupo Top 10 Holiday Resort and this was, without a doubt the best caravan park I have ever seen. This place was designed with kids in mind and their total focus is keeping the kids entertained while the parents relax.
The pools are thermally heated and they are huge! There are rivers connecting the pools, a cave with artificial glowworms, and a hot pool, which is heated at 40 degrees. This place also has a swim-up bar where you can get the most amazing iced chocolates. And to top it all off … they have dive-in movies so you can watch a movie while you enjoy the pool. Apart from the pool area, there are playgrounds and you can hire bikes and billy carts. You won’t want to leave the Park!
But you need to go and see all the amazing things Taupo has to offer. You can catch the jet boats, catch your own dinner at the prawn park, see the amazing Huka Falls by steam boat and see the huge Maori rock carvings and check out the Huka Honey pot to sample the local honey. Taupo even has a Rafting 6D adventure experience, where you get the chance to take a virtual ride down someone New Zealand’s rivers.
An experience to repeat
Our five nights driving around the North Island was just a brief sample of what this beautiful part of the world has to offer. It was way too short but the good thing is, we know where we want to come back to, which is a good starting point for the next trip. I wasn’t sure if I was going to like travelling in a motorhome but I really loved it and after the first-night mum loved it too. It helps when the parks you stay in are so geared for families and everyone is so friendly and helpful.
Here are my top tips for travelling in a motorhome:
- Pack lightly. The vans don’t have much storage so only pack the things you know you will use.
- Store your empty suitcases at the van depot. Unpack all the things you KNOW you will use and then lock your bag and have it stored at the depot to collect when you drop off your van.
- Don’t forget the basics. It isn’t a hotel so you will need to pack soap and other toiletries, including a hairdryer.
- Use the park showers. They are really clean and even though your motorhome has a bathroom, they are so tiny you can’t move.
- Watch the smoke alarm – it works! We cooked the first night and the steam from the vegies set the alarm off and nearly gave us a heart attack!
- Use the park toilets. I don’t think I need to say any more on this point.
- Wi-Fi is free in some parks but only for 100MB. This gets used up really quickly if your device does an update. Wi-Fi is about $2 for 1GB on multiple devices, so it’s pretty cheap.
- Help your parents empty the waste in the dump station. You’ll be thankful for flushing toilets for the rest of your life
- Get involved. If you have time and there is a function on in the Park, get involved. It’s great fun and an excellent way to meet new people.
- Clean up after yourself. If you make a mess, clean it up. The facilities are for everyone so be thoughtful and considerate of others.
- Make sure you pack things away. One you’re on the road, things will fly around in the van if they aren’t secured. … and things will break!
- Stay seated with your seatbelt on. It’s dangerous to try to move around while the vehicle is moving
- Don’t even think about using the toilet while the vehicle is moving. It’s gross and you’ll probably fall out onto the floor of the van.
– Bella Tipping, kidzcationz.com