Easily the most popular method of experiencing the sweeping and diverse landscape of this country; camper vanning can immerse travellers within the natural playground that is New Zealand. The destination holds an array of treasures to enjoy, ranging between powerful geysers to recognisable movie sets. For your next road trip through New Zealand’s North Island, here are a few inside tips.
Best Time to Visit the North Island
Seasons of the North Island
- Spring – September, October and November: 11°C - 18°C
- Summer – December, January and February: 16°C - 24°C
- Autumn – March, April and May: 13°C - 18°C
- Winter – June, July and August: 8°C to 14°C
The peak season for travel to the North Island of New Zealand is in the summertime due to the warmer temperatures of the year making camper vanning much more comfortable. However, van prices can rise during this time-frame if there’s an increased demand. Crowds within the cities can also be much larger.
On the other hand, the low season for travel is during the winter months of the year. The colder temperatures decrease the demand for campers, overall making them much more affordable during this time.
The best time to visit the North Island is during the shoulder seasons of travel, which is autumn and spring. Temperatures will be warmer than winter, although cooler than summer. Crowds won’t be excessive and camper-van rental prices will be reasonable.
Renting a Camper-van in New Zealand
When renting a camper-van in New Zealand, there are many different aspects to take into consideration. How much are you willing to pay? How new do you want the model of the camper-van to be? How many people are travelling with you? Does the camper-van have toilet facilities? How important are these facilities to you? How far are you planning on driving? Do you need an automatic or a manual van? Before renting, you should have a clear answer in your mind for all of these questions.
If you are buying an older model van, it will be cheaper, although the risk of breakdowns increase. This risk can increase if you are driving for a long distance. If you choose a newer model, with facilities, this will further increase the price. Toilets aren’t hard to come across, so facilities insider the camper aren’t typically detrimental, in normal circumstances.
It’s simply important to take into consideration your situation, your needs and your expectations before renting a camper-van. Do your research, shop around, and when a good deal pops up, suiting all your criteria, be prepared to buy.
North Island Points of Interest
Te Puia Geothermal Valley
For a direct look at the remarkable power of nature, be sure to stop by the fascinating Te Puia Geothermal Valley of Rotorua. Visitors of Te Puia are often drawn to one of the most consistent geysers on earth, Pohutu geyser, erupting twice every hour at heights of up to 30 metres. Guests can also check out a variety of other attractions such as the Te Horu Geyser, various hot pools and mud pools. For a look at the variety of diverse experiences, ranging from architecture highlights to kiwi exhibitions, check out the facility’s website.
Entry Price: Adult: $54 (NZ). Child: $27 (NZ)
Time to Allocate: 2 hours
Hobbiton Movie Set
Middle-earth fans from all over the world tend to gather at Hobbiton, hoping to gain an insight into how the iconic Lord of the Rings and Hobbit movies were made. Begin this walking tour in the shire, meandering among hundreds of little hobbit holes and an authentic vegetable garden. Make your way up to Bilbo’s house for some unique photo ops, before heading over to the Green Dragon for an in-house brewed lager or cider. Non-alcoholic options are also available. Be sure to stop by the gift store for an authentic Hobbiton souvenir. For any middle earth fan, this destination is unmissable.
Entry Price: Movie Set Tour. Adult: $84 (NZ). Child: $42 (NZ).
Time to Allocate: 1.5 hours
After a winding drive on top of a cluster of lush mountains, with sweeping views below, you will arrive at Cathedral Cove. Embark on a hike through colourful greenery, overlooking the clear ocean and surrounding islands, before reaching the white sand beach. The cove is one of the most picturesque spots on the whole island, with the iconic natural tunnel overextending the beach that travellers enjoy walking beneath. As the beach can only be reached by boat or foot, the secluded natural atmosphere is quite remarkable.
Entry Price: Free
Time to Allocate: 2 – 3 hours
An undeniable highlight of the North Island is Lake Taupo, the largest lake in New Zealand. Visitors of Taupo can enjoy the lake through a variety of activities, whether it’s a lavish yacht cruise to the Maori Rock Carvings, parasailing or fishing. Simply sitting on the border of the tranquil lake is an experience, with unique views of the ever extending lake accompanied by sights of the towering Tongariro National Park lurking in the distance.
Entry Price: Free
Time to Allocate: 1 - 2 days
Waitomo Glow-worm Caves
A renowned attraction of the North Island is the Waitomo Glow-worm Caves. Guests can venture deep down into the caverns to be provided with an in-depth yet comprehensible history of the natural structures and how they were formed over the years. After wandering even deeper throughout the network of tunnels, hop into a boat and gently float along the water, with thousands upon thousands of glow worms illuminating the path from above. This is an experience that cannot be missed when touring New Zealand.
Entry Price: Adult: $51 (NZ). Child: $23.50 (NZ)
Time to Allocate: 1.5 hours
Planning Your Route Around The North Island
Before you plan your journey, be sure you’ve rented a camper that is durable enough to drive throughout the North Island with ease. Random breakdowns can be enough to taint the good memories of a trip. Renting a reliable, newer model can assist with this.
When it finally comes to planning your route around New Zealand, your journey is likely to be dictated by the point of interest you’d like to see. Here are the various distances and times between iconic attractions throughout the island to help during your itinerary planning.
Auckland to Cathedral Cove
- Distance (km): 176 km
- Time: 2 hours, 40 minutes
Cathedral Cove to Hobbiton
- Distance (km): 164 km
- Time: 2 hours, 30 minutes
Hobbiton to Rotorua
- Distance (km): 70 km
- Time: 1 hour
Rotorua to Waitomo
- Distance (km): 141 km
- Time: 2 hours
Waitomo to Taupo
- Distance (km): 150 km
- Time: 2 hours
Foods to Buy for the Camper-Van
Your camper-van shopping list will be determined by what storage facilities your camper-van has – a fridge, how much storage space etc. Be aware of your camper-van's cooking and storage facilities before buying groceries. Below are some staple items to include on your shopping list. Additional items can be added, depending what you are intending on cooking. Some simple items to cook while camper-vanning include spaghetti, sausages and vegetables, burritos and burgers.
A Camper-van Shopping-list
- Milk or milk powder
- Sandwich spread (peanut butter, Nutella, Vegemite)
- Muesli bars
- Fruit and vegetables
Equipment to Bring with you
Keep in mind that your living space shrinks when setting off in a camper-van. Be mindful of what you pack and only bring the necessities. Below is a packing guide for a New Zealand road trip.
- Travel documents
- Driver’s license
- Walking shoes
- First aid kit
- Insect repellent
- Toiletries – soap, shampoo, conditioner.
- Travel insurance – a necessity for any adventure.
- Clothing (appropriate to the season)
Apps to Download for the Trip
There are currently a variety of applications available that can make your road trip around NZ much smoother. Some applications can even save you some money. Before setting off, do some research to see what's available. Below are two apps I found very useful for my recent trip around New Zealand.
- Offline maps – Navigating around New Zealand with maps on the internet is likely to chew up a lot of your data, costing you a small fortune. Offline maps allows you to navigate across the country without using any of your data.
- Camper-mate – A useful application when it comes to finding a spot to rest for the night, camper- mate differentiates between paid, low cost and free campsites. The app can also provide photos and contact information for some of these spots, which can prove to be extremely useful.
A road trip around the North Island of New Zealand can be one of the most memorable ways of seeing this destination. Travellers can feel immersed in what the country has to offer through a road trip, with countless of exciting destinations and breathtaking landscapes right in their grasp. Although the idea of vanning is very exciting, it is also important to ensure you are getting the best deal on your camper-van. Shop around for a price to suit your needs, and once you have rented your van, prepare for the journey of a lifetime.