Coromandel and Auckland Travel review with #GoByCamper

Our amazing three weeks in New Zealand were nearing at an end, starting all the way down south in Queenstown, travelling through mountains, around glaciers, through the wine country and even mystical movie sets too. Finally reaching our last two destinations on the epic #GoByCamper road trip with Maui Motohomes.

Coromandel

While Coromandel may appear relatively close to Auckland on the map its a very different story driving there. Famed for its impressive coastline and pretty villages, its a haven for those that want to get away from the urban life of New Zealand’s biggest city. Our journey from the Hobbiton movie set near Matamata took some 4 hours, winding along the coastline with trees hugging the rocky shore. Its a slow but very rewarding drive up the Coromandel peninsular to Coromandel town a very cute little place popular with independent travellers. There’s two Top 10 holiday parks here, one in the centre of town and another just a few kilometres away in a wonderfully secluded setting. We headed for the seclusion and a chance to relax and enjoy the coastline for a couple of nights.

Relaxing in Coromandel

Our road trip has taken its toll on energy levels, with constant travelling and sight seeing. Still very enthused to see it all but sometimes you don’t have to exert lots of energy to enjoy your surroundings. The holiday park is situated next to a small bay called Shelley Beach. Presumably named as its formed from millions, if not billions of shells washed up by the tiny lapping waves. The shallow bay stretches out some way too and you can easily walk 1km when the tide is out.

So many shells!

With so many shells to browse our 18 month old daughter delighted in collecting her favourite ones and seeing how far she could throw them. It’s a beautiful spot with just one road for access and very few cars passing by. The holiday park was quiet and basic which suited us perfectly. No need to worry about noise or distractions, sometimes travel is about staying still and just enjoying where you are. A calming feeling that helps you unwind and reflect on an awesome road trip too. We even had plenty of space to kick a football around with our daughter. It was a little slice of perfection.

Coromandel town holiday park

Auckland

The serenity of Coromandel was just what we needed before hitting the urban landscape of New Zealand’s largest city, Auckland. A place I’ve only flown through once and never visited so I was keen to make the most of our time here and our relaxing nights had recharged our batteries ready to explore! First we had a challenge set and a certificate to receive! Much like Sydney in Australia, Auckland has its very own “iconic” bridge. Of course this being New Zealand, land of outdoor activities and crazy thrill rides you not only can climb the Auckland bridge but also bungee jump off of it. Meeting at their office at the Westhaven end of the bridge, our group received some quick training with the safety gear then its off to the bridge nearby to walk its gantries and climb service ladders up to the archway in the centre.

Auckland bridge climb review

All the while traffic rushes past adding a real sense of dizzying action happening all around us. They offer two packages here, the basic bridge climb or the climb and a bungee jump from the centre of the bridge dropping you down to the water below. Sadly we chickened out of the bungee jump but the bridge climb was no less thrilling with great views of the Aukland skyline you wont get anywhere else. The group of tourists we climbed with were a friendly and excited bunch, half of which did the bungee jump too with some impressive photos to take away at the end of it. For more info check out bungy.co.nz/auckland-bridge/auckland-bridge-climb.

Auckland marina

Our Top 10 holiday park was situated around 35 minutes out of Auckland, while not the most convenient location for exploring Auckland it was a haven of tranquility way from the hustle and bustle. The view from our campervan was fantastic with the shallow sand dunes and long Orewa beach just a short walk away, it was a wonderful place to return to after a busy day of sightseeing.

Orewa beach Auckland

Auckland is a very walkable city with a fairly small central district filled with great places to eat and drink. The marina area was definitely one my highlights, pleasant to stroll around and check out the many hundreds of yachts moored here. There’s a great atmosphere here in the summer months thanks to the open-air bars and restaurants and even a maritime museum worth checking out, you really cant miss it with the hull of an Americas Cup yacht towering over it.

Auckland walking tour

War Memorial Museum

If museums are your thing then there’s no better place to visit in Auckland than the impressive War Memorial Museum located at Auckland domain. This lush green park has plenty of free parking even for our big Maui Motorhome and the museum sits proud on top of the dormant volcano hill with its greek columns inviting you to take a closer look. The museum opened in 1929 and has some very interesting exhibits on both world wars as well as some fantastic artefacts from the country’s rich history.

War Memorial Museum

There’s plenty to learn here about Maori culture and early European settlers too. For us the greatest exhibition was found at the back of the museum celebrating 75 years of Air New Zealand. A sponsored exhibit showcasing the history of the airline, its beginnings, its royal encounters, its uniforms from each decade and a chance to experience a virtual reality version of what we could all be flying in within the next 50 years.

75 years of Air New Zealand

The real highlight for us was a chance to go in the cockpit of a Boeing 737 built in the mid 1990s, complete with all its buttons, knobs, switches, control sticks and pilots hats too! Being avid travellers this kind of exhibition was perfect for us, celebrating a shared love of travel and exploring the world in these magnificent flying machines.

Air New Zealand Exhibition review

The end of our road trip

Its been a truly incredible 3 weeks on the road with our Maui Motorhome visiting some of the very best places to go in New Zealand. Its hard to accept that our amazing road trip has come to an end. Travelling over-land has always been a passion of ours and with a campervan we got to make the most of our time in both Australia and New Zealand. I always envisaged it would be a great way to travel as a family and judging by our toddler’s cheers and smiles along the way its definitely a winner with her too. The freedom to stop whenever we wanted, have the most scenic of lunches and take our time to enjoy the journey as much as the destination. The vans are so well equipped it felt very homely and on numerous occasions was the envy of other holidaymakers. I wouldn’t hesitate in taking another campervan holiday with my family, one of the most rewarding ways to travel!

Maui Motorhome review

A big thank you to Maui Motorhomes for making all of this possible and to Britz Campervans in Australia for their support. You can follow Maui and Britz on twitter and be sure to like their Facebook page for the latest deals and info. Keep an eye on the #GoByCamper hashtag for plenty more photos from people loving the campervan lifestyle!

Read other blog posts on the New Zealand #GoByCamper adventure

Hobbiton review – movie set tour, prices and discounts

At the top of our list of must-do attractions in New Zealand was the Hobbiton Film Set near the town of Matamata. A must for any movie buffs like us and a chance for us to get our geek on and immerse ourselves in this amazing fantasy world.

Hobbiton movie set review 2015Located in the centre of the North Island of New Zealand, the drive to Hobbiton was like entering a different world before we’d even arrived!

The lush green rolling hills that we remember so clearly from the Lord of the Rings and Hobbit movies are not a one-off occurrence at the set. In fact our drive from the Waitomo caves was one of the best of the entire trip, winding through beautiful hills and valleys, sheep grazing on the undulating landscape.

The weather was on our side, warm and sunny like a beautiful spring day, just right for exploring an outdoor film set!

Starting our tour

We arrived at Hobbiton HQ in our glorious Maui Motorhome where we found a cafe, souvenir shop and check-in reception for the tour. Its from here that you join a tour group and your guide to be taken over to the Hobbiton film set, hidden within a valley just a couple of km away.

There’s some great souvenirs here worth checking out, really unique items that makes great gifts for any LOTR fans.

We were very lucky to visit the site in a private mini-van, perfect for us to take our time and make the most of this amazing place, usually tours are taken to the site in a large green coach completely with tour guide.

The drive over to the film set is very picturesque with plenty of sheep in the farmer’s fields all around us, in fact they have full roam of the road too so occasionally we slowed to give way to our furry friends.

As we drove through the hills the landscape opens up with a majestic panoramic view of the Hobbiton set, with parts of it facing back towards you as you drive along the upper most edge of the site. It’s a surreal moment where visions from movies you’ve seen in the cinema and on TV suddenly take tangible form and tease you as the drive concludes at a small car park. We were very eager to start exploring as was our 18 month old daughter.

hobbiton review

The Green Dragon

Our first stop was The Green Dragon, One of the few buildings on this outdoor movie set that is actually a fully working building, the rest of course is movie magic with facades of hobbit houses in the lush green hillsides.

The Green Dragon pub serves as a centrepiece to the entire site and facilities for tourists including refreshments and toilets.

Review of Hobbiton movie set tour

The attention to detail here is truly stunning with beautiful round windows, dark rustic interior and crackling log fire in various rooms of the pub.

Its almost impossible not to feel you’re somewhere real, somewhere thats been here for hundreds of years with a rich history displayed on shelves and mantlepieces.

You have to repeatedly remind yourself that none of what you see existed before 1999 when work started on building the set and the Green Dragon itself only opened in 2012.

Hobbiton tour guides review

Lunch was provided in true Hobbit style with a fantastic board of hearty sandwiches and pies all washed down with an “authentic” tankard of local beer. It also gave us a chance to quiz our guide about the Hobbiton film set and challenge her uber-geek levels of knowledge about the films.

Some 2,000 tourists visit the set during peak season scheduled tours throughout the day.

This helps keep visitors numbers to a manageable amount and stops the film set from being swamped by people.

We’re all here to see the set after all, not the hoards of paying customers, so this crowd management makes a huge difference to the enjoyment levels.

Lunch at Hobbiton

While we may be geeks there are far more geeky visitors to the site than us (although maybe not on this particular day), some come in full Lord Of The Rings fancy dress, there’s been birthday celebrations and even weddings here too.

The Green Dragon has a function room in the form of a large yellow marquee tent, this has to be the ultimate place to have a party! Maybe I’ll get an invite one day!

Review Green Dragon Hobbiton

After our scrumptious lunch it was time to explore this incredible site. First a walk along the edge of The Water along to East Farthing and on to The Garden where real vegetables are being grown and either used in meals at the Green Dragon or the lucky gardeners get to take some home.

Either way it means this area of the set is a hive of activity and looks positively alive, adding a real sense of community to the whole place. Its hard to believe this entire site was once swamp land and was drained in 1998 when work began on building the set.

An easy walk up the hill on green and orange footpaths leads you past plenty of “Hobbit Holes“, small houses fit only for a hobbit, built in to the sides of hill.

They look so natural here and in dare I say a very inviting way to live too! The warmth of the earth around you and pretty gardens to tend to with beautiful views of the countryside. Perfect!

Hobbiton movie set review 2015

Hobbit Hole Highlight

The films would of course have you believe that the insides of each and every house is a cosy wooden interior with log fires, ancient hobbit artefacts and a general slice of “old England” but in reality its very different.

The doors lead to no where, well that’s not strictly true, they usually lead to just enough space to store extra umbrellas should the heavens open above Hobbiton and catch out unprepared tourists.

Most doors are kept closed to keep the movie magic alive, all except one door you’ll find up in Bag End at the top of the village. Overlooking the entire site you’ll find a dark green door surrounded by beautiful flowers and sense of uniqueness about this particular Hobbit hole. Hobbiton set reviewFor this is Bilbo Baggins home and it looks like he may have left in a hurry as the door is open slightly.

Its a tantalising doorway suggesting a world of adventure and excitement within. Amazing how such a little thing can tease us visitors and of course everyone is desperate to have their photo taken here.

To stand outside such a famous door it really brought the movies in to a much more 3 dimensional realm.

A tangible change from what we’d seen on the silver screen, to something real, or at least perfectly faked.

Bilbo Baggins House

Hobbit Party

The centrepiece of the site is The Party Tree and Party Field, a communal area that featured heavily in the first movie of the Lord of the Rings trilogy. A place where hobbits come to party and hold festivals.

The enormous tree towers over the site and the children’s playground here is not only rustic enough to sit perfectly within the grounds, its also enjoyed by tourists! Our daughter delighted at going up and down on the see-saw with another visitor’s child.

Its the little things like this that bring what is essentially an uninhabited and faked village to life with laughter and happiness.

Hobbiton guided tours review

After a pretty walk along the Merry Meander through the woods past the Watermill, also a function room, back to the Green Dragon, we stopped for a quick refreshment and a chance to take a few more photos in this beautiful venue.

Even the toilets look authentic here with dark woods and rustic charm. Being English and living in the west England countryside too, I felt very at home here. It made me feel very lucky to live somewhere that has pubs not too dissimilar to this one.

Only their age and history differ. One could argue the significance of this pub beats many old English pubs anyway!

Green Dragon interior

Somewhere special

Its this feeling of being somewhere so special, that meant so much to the 500 strong cast and crew that worked here making The Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit movies, that means so much to the many millions of fans too, I could have stayed here all day.

From every vantage point around the movie set you feel you’re taking in a view that deserves to be savoured. There’s no sign of 21st century living anywhere around you when you’re walking along the paths by the cute Hobbit Holes.

The authenticity here is amazing, even the clothes on the washing lines are changed regularly to give a real sense of a village very much alive and lived in.

The only downside to our tour was having to leave, we were even teased with the fantasy of laughing off our return to reality and heading back to the Green Dragon instead for another pint of Hobbit Ale and dinner. Something we would have done in a heartbeat!

Hobbiton photography

A huge thank you to Hobbiton Tours for the hospitality and fantastic tour. Our guide was wonderful, very friendly and welcoming with a seemingly endless knowledge of the movies the set and everything that has ever happened here.

There was no question left unanswered and we had plenty too! A visit to the Hobbiton film set instantly makes you want to watch the movies all over again and I could happily revisit the set and explore all of their tour options.

The evening banquet experience definitely caught my attention!

Find out more

You can book a tour online at www.hobbitontours.com and be sure to check out their Facebook Page for all the latest news too. They’re also on twitter and Instagram so worth following there too.

Where to book hobbiton tickets

Prices and Discounts

For the latest deals on group visits, private tours and even booking the venues within Hobbiton for private events check out hobbitontours.com

Read more

Thank you to our sponsor Mai Motorhomes for their support on the #GoByCamper road trip in New Zealand. To see what else we’ve been up to in New Zealand check out the links below.

Waitomo cave tour review

Waitomo cave tour Review – See glow worms!

We’ve seen so many great sights on our whirlwind road trip tour of New Zealand.

From the mountains and glaciers of the south island to the rolling hills and valleys of the North.

So many highlights of our trip already but we were keen to add another with a place we’d heard so much, the Waitomo Caves.

Hidden beneath the rolling green hills of Waitomo lies a underground wonderland quite unlike any I’ve ever seen before. Rather than visiting just one set of caves there are many options here and not just walking tours either.

We were so excited to be invited a long to check out one cave system that was perfect for even our toddler to enjoy.

Waitomo cave tour review

We headed out from our Top 10 Holiday park in Waitomo, for just a short drive to the “Legendary Black Water Rafting Company“. An easy place to find thanks to its big signs and busy car park. Many of the tours start from here with minivans picking up groups and whisking them off to one of the cave system. Their name probably tells you all you need to know, they were the first company to offer water rafting opportunities underground in New Zealand!

Their friendly staff soon had us checked in and there’s a small cafe there to grab a last minute snack before heading to the caves. We opted to follow the mini-van as we had our Maui Motorhome with us. We stopped at a couple of points along the way to pick up more tourists and within 15 minutes or so we were at a secluded and quiet spot where we parked up and continued on foot.

Today we were visiting the Ruakuri Cave system which, according to Maori legends was discovered over 400 years ago by hunters who were attacked by wild dogs that appeared from the cave entrance. “Rua” translates to Den while “Kuri” is Dog. The cave system has been open to the public since 2005 so is relatively new for a dry cave walk.

Ruakuri Caves

I was very interested to see how this tour would work as we had our 18 month old daughter in a stroller and were told this wouldn’t be a problem. The Ruakuri Caves are actually marketed is fully pushchair and wheelchair accessible which the first time I’ve ever seen that on a cave tour.

We arrived at the cave entrance, a small group of just 8 or so and a friendly guide who welcomed us in to the concrete bunker like structure with a locked door leading to the caves. After a short safety briefing he invited us inside and along a curved wall where we waited patiently.

Our guide flicked a switch and slowly each level of a giant spiral ramp illuminated. The spiral just went on and on, an amazing sight appearing in the darkness beneath us. I had wondered how we’d ever get a stroller down in to a cave system and this was definitely the answer! It’s a very easy descent down the ramp to a heavy door taking us in to the start of the cave system.

Ruakuri Cave tour review

The cave walk consists of numerous tunnels opening up in to wider cave areas. Most of the walk is along metal gantries that lift you above the uneven and often damp slippery rock surfaces. The lighting here is turned on as you walk through each section creating a dramatic reveal every time you enter a new section.

Our daughter was happy to be wheeled about in her stroller and often let out a “wow” or an “oooh” when the lights were turned on, entertaining the other tourists as we toured the caves.

It was great to see that even an 18 month old found the cave tour entertaining.

Ruakuri Cave review

There’s an overwhelming number of stalactites and stalagmites all around you here with a repeated warning to avoid them as you walk.

There’s even an alarm system at certain points to help you stay away from some of the more delicate structures. When you learn how long it takes for one of these structures to be formed it really does blow your mind. A few centimetres can take hundreds of years to form, with larger structures taking many thousands.

The lights here have been set up to make the most of the incredible structures with ribbons of limestone so thin the light shines right through.

review of Ruakuri Caves

At one point the dry walking tour that we were on met with the rather wet and wild tubing tour that was floating along an underground river, a canyon with a handy torch we could use to browse its mighty walls and see the tourists below.

New Zealand really is filled with wild activities to do everywhere and it seems this even includes underground cave systems too!

I was almost a little jealous of them as they let out screams of excitement, bouncing through the rapids of Ruakuri although part of me was very happy to be dry and warm with my 1 year old daughter.

Book your Waitomo cave tour here

Glow Worms

One of the highlights of any cave system in the region is without doubt the glow worms, a name that makes them sound so cute and friendly. In reality glow worms are really the maggot stage of the Arachnocampa. In the dark of course all you see is their beautiful glow, a ceiling of light blue stars above you and often all around you too.

We had a number of opportunities to enjoy the sight of these tiny creatures who seek out the cool wet and dark surroundings of cave systems  to call home. Our guide turned all the lights off and requested we keep our phones and cameras off for a moment to enjoy them in total darkness.

Its only then you realise just how many there are all around you. Definitely not very easy to take a photo of in such low light but I gave it a go anyway!

Glow worms tour NZ

These little creatures have more in common with spiders than flies as they cast out lines to catch passing prey. Its for this reason they live in caves where there’s very little wind to tangle their nets. One glow worm can cast up to 70 “snares” that dangle down from the cave ceilings and walls.

To see hundreds of thousands of snares like this was an incredible sight, something I’ve never seen before in my life. Its amazing to think that these ancient cave systems are home to life, in fact huge communities of creatures.

Book your Waitomo cave tour here

Definitely something that has to be seen to be believed and Waitomo caves sure make it easy.

Glow worm Waitomo caves review

Caverns and passages

Our tour took us deep in to the cave system to some very interesting collections of limestone formations. One of my favourites was “The Pretties” where its very easy to get up close to an amazing display of stalactites and stalagmites.

With ample lighting here its a great place for a photo opportunity and a chance to quiz the guide about how these structures were made and also how they were named.

There are some great names too like “The Ghost Passage” and “Holdern’s Cavern” named after the owner of the land, James Holden who opened the caves to the public back in 1904.

In fact the Holden family still own much of the land in the area and work with the local Maori community to preserve these sacred sites too.

Waitomo Cave tours review

The 2 hour tour seemed to whizz by and all to soon we were heading back towards the spiral ramp and out of the Ruakuri caves.

The cool air of the caves gives way to warm humid air outside. I could have gladly headed straight back inside for another 2 hours as there’s so much to see down there. Its quite incredible to think that underground wonderlands like this exist just below us.

The rolling hills of Waitomo are filled with these magical cave systems, made easily accessible to the public and definitely worth a visit when you come to New Zealand. It makes you wonder how many other undiscovered caves there must be beneath our feet. The Pretties

Thank you

A huge thank you to The Legendary Black Water Rafting Co. for their wonderful hospitality and excellent guided group tour of the Ruakuri cave system.

I highly recommend a visit to any caves in the Waitomo region but especially the Ruakuri which is excellent for small children and wheelchair users too.

I really didn’t think cave systems could be made quite so accessible! Also many thanks to Maui Motorhomes for their continued support on this epic road trip project. Check out the links below for everything else we’ve done on our road trip so far.

Book your Waitomo Cave Tour here.

Napier and Rotorua with Maui Motorhomes

Our road trip through New Zealand has taken us to a lot of great places. Traversing both the South and North islands as we work our way up to Auckland. There were a couple of places that we were keen to visit even if our time would be short and sweet. Here’s a couple of them we’d really recommend and wish we could have stayed longer.

Napier

Located on the east coast of New Zealand, this town would be unremarkable if it wasn’t for one event in the some 80 years ago that changed the landscape quite literally forever. in 1931 Napier suffered a huge earthquake, lasting minutes rather than seconds, it completely destroyed the entire town. Buildings were shaken to collapse and coastal town was lifted up several metres too. When building work began the Art Deco style was in full swing and transformed the town in to a masterpiece of architectural beauty, rivalled only by Miami in the USA.

Napier, New Zealand

It really is a gorgeous place to stroll around with plenty of quirky little shops and nice cafes to relax in. The promenade features an outdoor concert stage, the original was in the same location and was once right next to the sea until the earthquake lifted the land and created a much larger beach. Its quite incredible to think of the forces at work here and highly unusual to see a whole town rebuilt at the same time. I imagine this is what the centre of Christchurch will now witness, creating a modern 21st century look to its CBD.

Napier Art Deco Buildings

There’s some great museums and attractions here, a new aquarium along the sea front, numerous art exhibitions, an art deco festival every year and a great museum on documenting the earthquake that put Napier well and truly on the tourist map.

Napier Art Deco 1931 earthquake

Rotorua

Much like its neighbour city Taupo, Rotorua sits on the edge of a lake create by the massive volcanic eruption that reshaped much of the North Island of New Zealand. The geothermal activity here is visible all around as this is where you’ll find hot springs in pretty much every back garden of every home in the city. Tourists flock to this area to bathe in the hot mineral rich water and every hotel, motel and holiday park boasts their own set of hot pools. The drive in to town is a pretty one and you can just keep cruising until you reach lake, definitely the centrepiece of Rotorua. There’s all sorts of activities available here from scenic flights to jet boats, helicopters or maybe a cruise on the Lakeland Queen which chugs out to the water a few times a day.

Rotorua Lake review

This is also the area to come for lunch and dinner as “Eat Street” is just a short walk away and has back to back bars and restaurants all under a sun and rain shade. There’s a great atmosphere here and we had the pleasure of having lunch with an old travel friend here too, catching up on all the crazy travels we’ve done over the years and learning more about New Zealand’s hidden gems and rich past.

Eat Street Rotorua

There are numerous cultural centres here too. We visited the biggest of them and the easiest to spot along the main highway. Te Puia touts itself as both a geothermal wonderland and a park filled with cultural heritage from the Mauri population. early settlers to New Zealand long before the Europeans arrived. Standard tickets are a rather expensive $51 each and this doesn’t include the only performance that happens 3 times a day. For this you have to pay extra and book early as capacity is very limited. Its a great place to see a very reliable Geyser that blasts steaming hot water in to the air every hour or so and for around 20 minutes too.

Geyser in Rotorua

There’s also mud pools and some nice walks although the whole place lakes signs explaining what things are. There’s a traditional Mauri village you can walk through too but again there’s no people with demonstrations or signs explaining things. I recommend waiting for a free tour guide to make the most of this place otherwise you really don’t get good value for money.

Mauri cultural centre Rotorua

We found plenty of parking for our big Maui Motorhome in Rotorua, Both at Te Puia which has two large car parks and down by the Lake’s edge which is free. Rotorua is all about the hot springs and Mauri culture, a great place to immerse yourself in both!

Thank you to Maui Motorhomes

A big thank you to our sponsor Maui for their excellent campervan and continued support on our road trip adventure through New Zealand. For more information visit their website maui.co.nz and be sure to find them on twitter too. You can follow more of our travels through New Zealand and Australia with the hashtags #GoByCamper and #MauiMotorhomes. Be sure to check out and like our Instagram feed too for all the latest photos.

Visiting Taupo with De Bretts Hot Springs and #GoByCamper

Its been an amazing journey so far in our trusty Maui Motorhome, working our way north from Queenstown, through the glaciers of Franz Josef, onwards over Arthur’s Pass to Christchurch and heading ever northward crossing from one island to another to visit Wellington. The next destinations on our tour take us in to the heart of the North Island and to some of New Zealand’s most popular holiday towns.

Taupo

I once visited here in 2001 and it seems I’ve been pronouncing it wrong ever since. While its easy (and a little lazy) to say it phonetically, the correct pronunciation is “Tor Pu” and something the Mauri locals are keen to teach you. Its a very pretty city located on the edge of the great lake Taupo, created by a massive volcanic eruption that didn’t so much as spew lava but destroy much of the North Island, creating an entirely new landscape and was so large it was actually documented as turning the skies red over both ancient Roman Italy and China. The lake is definitely the centre piece of this town and its worth spending some time along its shores. The views stretch on for miles and there’s plenty of good spots you drive to for a better perspective. You can also park your big Maui Campervan at the free carpark towards the end of the promenade drive with ample parking for big vehicles.

Lake Taupo beach

The town centre is easily walkable and quite frankly there’s not much to see in the centre of town other than the lake. The good stuff is all on the peripheral. Although there was a cycle challenge in town the weekend we were there so there were plenty of people, tourists, organisers and cyclists getting ready for the big race!

De Bretts Hot Springs

We were invited to check out a place I visited very briefly back in 2001, one of the highlights of my trip last time and something I was very keen to show my wife and daughter. The entire Taupo area has an immense amount of underground geothermal activity with hot springs offering a fantastic chance to bathe in warm pools and soak up some of the mineral goodness. We were invited to stay for 2 nights at the De Bretts Hot Springs located on the drive in to Taupo from the south. There’s been a hot springs attraction here since the late 1800s but its current guise has been lovingly maintained and upgraded since the late 1980s. Offering a full holiday park experience with huge hot spring pools in secluded surroundings. Our first night was in one of their fantastic “Superior cabins” which is essentially a small bungalow with views of the lake. We arrived at sunset too so had a chance to watch the sun go down and relax in a spacious lounge before a good night’s sleep in a huge super king bed.

Sunset over lake taupo

We love our campervan but it sure was great to have a little more space and comfort just for one night. Our second night was at a powered site in our Maui Motorhome, right next to the play area which our daughter enjoyed immensely.

De Bretts Taupo Superior Cabin

The hot springs themselves are open to the public too for just $22 a day. They’re a short walk behind the little cafe and reception area, down a steep hill and in to a secluded woodland area making it such a picturesque setting. There’s two large pools here at different temperatures with a couple of hot tubs in between and landscaped gardens all around. There’s also a water park for the kids and huge set of tubes you can go zipping down, all with hot spring water  too for a very different pool experience.

De Bretts hot spring pools review

There’s also ample seating around so you can relax, take a dip and take a break as well as grab a coffee and enjoy the surroundings. Its such a peaceful place to be that you spend much more time there than in a normal swimming pool. The two big pools are around 42C and 39C but this does vary from day to day. The water that comes out of the hot springs is actually much hotter than this and is aerated and cooled naturally before entering the pools. Its such a surreal feeling stepping in to a pool with hot water in it. Like stepping in to the world’s biggest bath tub.

Hot spring pools in New Zealand

You’re advised not to put your head under the water as there is a chance the water could contain amebas but water wont enter your system without being forced up from jumping or diving. My favourite was definitely the hotter of the two pools, stinging you as you get in but within minutes its at perfect bath temperature with some waterfall fountains offering an extra chance to enjoy the hot mineral water.

Hot springs at night

It really is an incredible place and our day pass allowed us to return in the evenings for another hot spring dip with our daughter who was clearly amazed that the swimming pool was so warm! Its a great place to visit any time of day but I highly recommend around sunset as the lights come on and the entire setting transforms in to a grotto like wonderland. The hot spring pools are open 8:30am to 9:30pm daily and there’s even private pools you can use as part of your entrance fee. Adults cost just $22 with children $11 each. The holiday park facilities were great and the location was perfect for an easy drive in to town. Check out taupodebretts.co.nz for more details.

Huka Falls

Another natural wonder in this very active part of New Zealand is Huka Falls. A very short drive out of town to a national park that’s free to park at too. There’s some 3 hour treks from here if you’re feeling up to it but no need if you just want to see the waterfall. A bridge spans the intense and noisy barrage of water that squeezes in to a narrow 15m wide channel from the lake and pours over the waterfall with colossal force.

Huka Falls review

Some 220,000 litres per second flow over this fall with brilliant turquoise water and white spray tumbling constantly before your eyes. There’s numerous vantage points here and its all a very easy walk with lots of barriers too. Perfect for taking our toddler to as she could marvel at this new sight in complete safety.

Visiting Taupo New Zealand review

Thank you

A huge thank you to De Bretts Hot Springs and Spa for their hospitality during our stay in Taupo. We had a fantastic time and I really couldn’t get enough of those hot spring pools. Also thank you to our sponsors Maui Motorhomes for their continued support and excellent campervan.

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You can follow more of our epic road trip adventures with the hashtag #GoByCamper and check out @MauiRentals on twitter too. For all our latest travels follow @travelwithamate and like us on Facebook while you’re at it.

Kaikoura with Maui Motorohomes

The beauty of Kaikoura as we #GoByCamper

Our #GoByCamper road trip proceeded ever Northward on from Queenstown and Christchurch to a place that’s been high on my list for some time. Its a pretty little town with quite possible the most beautiful view you’ll ever see in New Zealand! And considering how many beautiful views there are in this country thats really saying something

With just over 3,500 lucky people that call this place home, Kaikoura has really built an impressive name for itself partly thanks to its rich marine life. If you want to go whale or dolphin watching then this is the place to come. The town stretches along the east coast of New Zealand’s South Island with a seal colony at one end of the bay and quite possible the best view in New Zealand to the north.  The Southern Alps meets the sea here with stunning snow-capped mountains that reach down to the coastline.

Kaikoura beach

The whale watching tourism industry is second to none and if you’re not prone to sea-sickness then I highly recommend it. As we are travelling with a 1 year old a rough ride in a boat isn’t really something we were willing to subject her too and the trip isn’t cheap either. But it is a once-in-a-lifetime experience so if you have the budget its definitely the number 1 thing to do in Kaikoura.

Its a great little town to explore too and there’s plenty of great cafes, restaurants and bars as well. We had a great day walking through town and doing a spot of shopping in the independent stores. The town centre is very walkable and there’s a long promenade if you’re looking to exercise a little more.

Southern Alps in Kaikoura

The real highlight for me was driving out to the eastern edge of town where you’ll find a very accessible seal colony. There’s a free carpark with enough space for our big Maui Motorhome. I was amazed by how many we saw right next to the car park, just lounging around on rocks, sunbathing and occasionally splashing in to the water to cool off. It was such a great sight and they clearly don’t mind the crowd of tourists watching them. We spent a good hour here walking around on the pebble beach and got amazingly close to them. A word of warning though, its important to give them space and definitely don’t try and touch them. They can get vicious if provoked so its best to watch from a safe distance.

Seal colony at Kaikoura

What sets this experience off is that from the eastern edge of town you get to see the entire bay with the Southern Alps in the distance. Its truly one of the most beautiful views I have ever seen and when the sun is shining it really can’t be beat. Definitely a great place to get a family photo. Its at times like this I realise how important and iconic the photos are that we take. Our 1 year old daughter may never remember this trip but the photos will last forever and thanks to the beauty of this incredible country they are pretty spectacular too!

Kaikoura with Maui Motorohomes

Where to stay

We stayed at the wonderfully relaxing Top 10 Holiday Park situated just behind the Whale watching office and railway station. The views of the alps here are spectacular and the entire park is green and pleasant. There’s a rather chilly swimming pool if you fancy taking a dip and there’s all the usual holiday park amenities with a very easy walk in to town as well. Kaikoura is a naturally relaxed place, we could have stayed here for a week and just slowed down a little, but our next destination awaits!

Kaikoura photos

Follow our #GoByCamper Adventure

A big thank you to Maui Motorhomes for this amazing experience and to Top 10 Holiday Parks for their hospitality. You can follow more of our adventures, and others on twitter at #GoByCamper and #MauiMotorHomes or via our Facebook page. Be sure to check out the Maui Facebook page too for all the latest campervan gossip!