Northland and Ninety Mile Beach

The next day we continued our journey north and made it to Waipapakauri beach near Kaitaia. This is at one end of Ninety Mile Beach (which isn’t 90 miles long, not even 90 km!).

Ninety Mile Beach, New Zealand

The campsite was close to the beach and we went and walked on the beach for a while. Ninety Mile Beach is unusual in that it’s part of the official highway system in NZ, and it’s perfectly legal (and normal) to drive along the sand, though a 4WD vehicle is recommended.

It’s a beautiful, long sandy open beach, and people were out playing in the sea, riding horses and bikes as well as driving along the seashore.

Deciding not to venture all the way to the North Cape, another 70km+, we drove along SH10 past Daubtless Bay and Cable Bay, through Whangaroa, Kerikeri and Paihia in the Bay of Islands, and then took the vehicle ferry from Opua to Okiato, finally driving to Russell, the oldest European settlement in New Zealand. Nice little town with lots of old buildings, but now quite obviously a wealthy area, and the most expensive campsite we’d come across (over NZ$30 with our Top 10 discount card). We had a few beers that evening at a local pub and an excellent breakfast at “The Gables” the next morning.


The Northland part of the trip was taking longer than we had anticipated so we decided to press on with a marathon day of driving, managing to get all the way down through Auckland to Orere Point for the night of Friday 9th December.

Saturday saw us driving round the Firth of Thames, up the Coromandel Peninsular to Coromandel Town (which has the most expensive petrol we’d seen, NZ$1.54 per litre of standard). We had lunch in Coromandel and picked up some meat from the local butcher before setting out eastward across the peninsular to Whitianga. There we did some more refueling and stocking up on food and then drove down to Hahei, close to the famous Hot Water Beach.

A New Van!

We walked round the corner to check out what time we could pick up our van, only to find that the depot had just moved over the weekend and that we now had to go to Onehunga on the other side of Auckland to get the van. We caught a taxi there for about NZ$30 and arrived just after noon. There were two other couples there to pick up other vans and we recognised some of the vans from our South Island travels.

We were due to have a van called “Bruce Lee” but on inspection it didn’t have any opening windows in the back which would have made it very hot in the evenings, so Gerard swapped us to “Herpie” which is painted a bit like “Herbie”, the VW Beetle, and has “Beer Won’t Give You Herpies” sprayed on the back. Not as good a paint job as Darth but a slightly better van. (And yes, we know that herpes doesn’t have an ‘i’ in it, but the guy who painted the van didn’t!).

Herpie, our Wicked Camper

The van is an Toyota Townace automatic with power-steering. I’ve never driven an automatic before so Gerard gave me a quick run through and I soon picked it up. The power-steering makes the van much easier to handle too.

We didn’t get far that day, as we did some food shopping and then got caught in Auckland traffic, so we spent the night at Orewa.

The next day we headed back across country and northward through Waipoua Forest which is full of huge, ancient Kauri trees, and on to Opononi in Hokianga Harbour on the west coast of Northland. We stopped a few times on the way to take photos and admire the scenery. Hokianga Harbour was particularly lovely, with beaches and lovely hills around giving great views.

Opononi beach, Hokianga Harbour

On to Auckland

The Tranz-Scenic train to Auckland leaves at 7:25am so it was another early morning. It’s a long journey, scheduled to take about 12 hours, in our case it was an hour longer due to speed restrictions on the line. We passed through some great scenery, particularly in Tongariro National Park where we stopped for lunch.

Our friend, Neil, kindly met us at the station and took us for a much needed drink in St Heliers. It was great to catch up with him and his news and we’re hoping we’ll see him again before we leave NZ. He dropped us off at Aspen House, a hostel just around the corner from the address of the Wicked Campers depot in Auckland, where we spend the night.


We had a few days in Wellington and spend pretty much a whole day in the fascinating Te Papa museum, which is huge and wide-ranging, covering the European settlement of New Zealand, the Maoris, Pacific Islander culture, wildlife, geology (including an earthquake simulator). Too much to see in a day really.

We also took the cable-car up to the Botanical Gardens, but it was so windy up at the top that we had to come straight back down again.

Wellington from cable car

We enjoyed a few beers at The Malthouse which has lots of “natural beers” on tap, as well as some bottled English Ales. We developed a taste for the Bookbinders beer as well as trying a few of the other varieties.

On the Saturday night before leaving, we booked a couple of deluxe seats at the Embassy Cinema and went to watch “Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire” which we both enjoyed, despite it being almost 3 hours long. The seats were great, all leather and very comfortable, with enough storage space for popcorn and drinks.

WETA Tripod, Wellington

Just across the road from the cinema is a huge tripod sculpture, put there in November 2005 by Weta Workshops of Wellington, partly owned by Peter Jackson. The NZ premiere of King Kong was also to be held at the Embassy on December 14th.

Christchurch to Wellington

Early start as the train leaves Christchurch at 7am, so we caught the free shuttle bus from the YMCA in Christchurch to the station at 6:10am. Check-in was all very smooth and we checked our luggage all the way through to Wellington.

The journey covered a lot of the same ground that we’d done in the van, at least the Kaikoura to Picton section, but it was nice to be able to gaze out of the window and spend a bit of time catching up with the blog. The train was delayed a little due to a mechanical failure and we made it to Picton with only minutes to spare before the ferry left. We hurried over and boarded the ferry, which was previously a cross-channel ferry known as “Pride of Cherbourg”.

The crossing was very smooth and the sun shone all the way to Wellington. We had some food and relaxed after the mad dash from train to ferry.

On arrival in Wellington we picked up our luggage and caught a shuttle bus to the Wellington City YHA. It’s a very nice hostel, well situated close to the Te Papa museum and a large New World supermarket, and just around the corner from the Embassy Cinema where “Return of the King” had its world premiere in 2003.

Back to Christchurch and Bye to Darth

On Monday we headed back to Christchurch to the Top 10 Park in Papanui. There we cleaned the van up ready for returning it the next morning. It was a nice site with excellent facilities but is quite a way from the centre of town.

Having spruced the van up a bit and packed all our stuff into bags, on Tuesday morning we drove back to the Wicked Campers depot to drop of Darth Vader. Jason was there, now with a few more people there to help him out. The cracked windscreen looks like it will cost us a NZ$200 windscreen charge, less than a replacement windscreen will probably cost and if it’s repairable, they’ll refund the difference in cost.

Our lovely Darth Vader in Arthur's Pass, courtesy of Wicked Campers

After saying goodbye to Darth, we walked into the centre of Christchurch via a few secondhand bookshops and a cafe. We bought some bus tickets to the airport and rode out there to visit the Antarctic Experience Centre.

The centre gives a lot of information about the Antarctic, the settlements there, previous expeditions and the wildlife and landscape. The highlight of the visit for us was the Antarctic Storm, where you enter a room full of snow and ice clad in provided coats and overboots before being blasted with wind and noise taking the temperature after windchill factor down to -18C.

Vic in the Antarctic Storm Room

We decided not to bother with the Hagglund trip which is a ride in an Antarctic tractor unit over some rough terrain and water and returned for a night in a proper bed at the YMCA in Christchurch, along with another meal at Dux De Lux down the road.

Arthur’s Pass and Akaroa

Otira Gorge, Arthur's Pass

Starting back eastwards the next morning, we went back through Stillwater, past Lake Brunner and joined up with State Highway 73 through Arthur’s Pass. It was a fabulous day, bright clear blue skies and hot sunshine giving spectacular views of snow-capped mountains and sparkling rocky streams. Fortunately there were lots of stopping points so we took lots of photos, particularly at the Otira Gorge where the road passes under a concrete boulder shelter, and under a chute which carries a waterfall over the road. Then it was down to Klondyke Corner for a view of the plains opening out in the valley bottom before heading for the more open plains of the Canterbury.

Arthur's Pass

We skirted round Christchurch and headed for Akaroa, a French settlement on the Banks Peninsular, an hour and a half south-east of Christchurch, along some winding hillside roads. The views over Akaroa Harbour were breath-taking, making the long 5+ hour drive from Greymouth worth it.

View over Akaroa Harbour

Our campsite was on the hillside above Akaroa, again with a host of mallard ducks to keep us amused, and a lit footpath down into the town. In the evening we walked into town for a drink and a look round the area. Most of the town was closed but there were a number of decent places to eat and drink and it came across as being a nice place, if a little touristy in a slightly pricey way.

Vic feeds a duck at the campsite in Akaroa