The plan for the next two weeks was to hire a car and travel the North Island. We hired a car that we could sleep in and just stayed at campsites along the way. We had a rough idea where we were heading but ended up going anywhere that looked nice in the guides. Our first stop was Whangarei, capital of the Northland. On the way there we stopped off for a break at Pakiri Beach. There wasn't too much to see in Whangarei except for the waterfalls which were lovely. The campsite we stayed at was very well equipped with kitchen, pool, hot tub, BBQ area and a cosy lounge. As we later found out this was the norm for campsites in New Zealand, it's nothing like the field you get in England.
We then headed North to our next stop which was the Bay of Islands. We decided to stay for a couple of days as there was a lot to do. We stayed in a great place called Haruru Falls, our pitch was on the river bank looking across to the Falls, the scenery was gorgeous. Whilst in the Bay we went on a day long boat trip which travelled round the Islands. We saw lots of dolphins and a whale very briefly, we stopped for lunch in a small cove and did a bit of swimming.
Our next stop was the north point of the Island, Cape Reigna. When we arrived at the campsite in Waitiki Landing, just south of the Cape, we thought it was strange that it was empty, by the end of the evening it was clear to see why with the swarms of mosquitos everywhere! We woke up in the morning with our worst mosquito bites yet. The views from the Cape itself were spectacular. You can actually see where the Pacific meets the Tasman Sea and there is no land in sight anywhere, it's extremely vast. We looked down from the cliffs and saw a large school of dolphins and a bit later on a rather large shark which was worryingly close to the shoreline so we decided not to go swimming.
Heading back south we made a brief stop at the beginning of 90 Mile Beach then headed back through Auckland towards Hamilton. We stayed overnight in Hamilton then went to see some friends of the Whitehouse's who had recently emigrated to New Zealand.
We then carried on south to Waitomo and it's famous caves. We took a tour around the Glowworm Caves which were amazing. They are full of stalactites and stalagmites which are thousands of years old. We took a boat on an underground river in the pitch black to see the Glowworms. This was a very rare sight as they are unique to New Zealand, the only bad point was we weren't allowed to take any photos so you'll have to guess how good it was.
The next day we headed down to The Tongariro National Park. It is New Zealands oldest national park and a World Heritage area, also very sacred to Maori. It had the most spectacular scenery we had seen since leaving the mountains in Peru in December. The majority of it is made up of Volcanoes which are still active. There were several walks you could do , we chose to do the day long Tongariro Crossing. It is 17km trek over steep volcanic terrain and was very tough but the views made it very worthwhile. It took about eight hours and lived up to it's reputation as New Zealands best one day walk.
Next stop was Rotorua via Lake Taupo, again the scenery was very beautiful. Rotorua was Ok apart from the strong smell of sulphur coming from the numerous hot springs and thermal geysers. We went to see some active geysers and took a guided tour round a Maori village.
Our next stop was up to Mount Maunganui in the Bay of Plenty. It was a really nice town with a great beach so we spent the day there topping up our tans.
We then went up the Coromandel Penninsula and stayed in Whangamata. We had some lovely views from the campsite with horses running round the field next to us. We then went on to Hot Water Beach in Mercury Bay where you can dig yourself a hole in the sand and have your own hot bath. We then drove round the other side of the Penninsula and made our way to Thames. It was here in Thames we decided to go to Fiji, so we booked a few days on an Island called Beachcomber, part of the Mamanuka Islands...anyway we were coming to the end of our couple of weeks camping and needed to be back in Auckland for the 26th as we had booked to go to the One Day International Cricket Match between New Zealand and Australia. Before we got to Auckland we stopped at a lovely place called Murawai Beach. It was a big beach with lots of surfers and lovely views. It did smell a bit funny up by the cliffs as there is a huge Gannet colony living there...we got pooed on from a great height!!
Well, the trip around the North Island was brilliant! The views and the scenery are breathtaking, even when you are driving along the roads, you literally turn a corner and are faced with spectacular hills , forests and stunning coastline. We also saw such a mix of wildlife and plants, including loads of birds of prey and even wild parrots! It is easy to get around, the roads are all easy to follow and there are really scenic coast roads we took. The campsites are amazing and of really high quality almost always coming with large outdoor swimming pools and top class facilities. The people are really friendly, helpful and welcoming. We enjoyed every minute and is definately somewhere we will come back to.