You know you’ve had a great holiday when, even as you board the flight home and settle into your seat, vaguely aware of cabin crew pointing out your nearest escape route, you are planning your return. Exactly my thoughts as I sadly left New Zealand, after a 3 week trip in December with my husband and three teenage children.
We were visiting family, so this wasn’t the usual whistle stop tour of the North and South islands that can be achieved in 3 weeks. We were staying an hour from Wellington, positioned at the southern end of the North island, and wanted to have quality family time as well as see some of what New Zealand offers.
We spent a few days travelling North of Wellington. Easily reached in a few hours by car, are the Hot Springs region of Rotorua. Car journeys in NZ are unlike what I’m used to – look out of the window and you are rewarded with a beautiful landscape that gradually changes from lush green hilly farmland to the flatter volcanic plateau nearer your destination. All mesmerizing. The snow capped volcanic peaks of Mounts Ruapehu, Tongariro and Ngauruhoe breathtaking in the distance.
On the journey, we stopped at a gorge with a small campsite. These places are always exceptionally clean, and simply provide what you need to hook up a motor home or pitch a tent for a few nights and enjoy what nature has to offer – in this case, a limestone backdrop to the fast flowing river and Kiwi bush.
En route, we also stopped at Lake Taupo which is worthy of a few days if you have time. Again, sparklingly beautiful scenery, with swimming and water sports and everything a holiday town needs.
Near Rotorua, we stayed in a bach beside one of the smaller lakes called Lake Rotoiti. Many of these holiday properties have at least a kayak or two or a small boat. It would be very easy to just spend your time enjoying the lake, the river (with the highest white water rapids in the area), and the local pub. However, we couldn’t miss a visit to a nearby Maori village called Whakarewarewa which, although geared to the tourist market, was still charming and informative. It also offers the opportunity to see (and smell!) some hot springs, if time doesn’t allow a visit to one of the other thermal areas. A highlight was watching the impressive natural geyser as it exploded and also eating cobs of corn cooked in the boiling springs.
Another must do is the Luge at the Skyline Rotorua. Again aimed at the tourist, this time a little more thrill seeking, this is a great way to spend a half or full day, riding the gondola up the mountain and speeding down on a go kart. No real skill is needed and there are easier or faster routes suitable for all ages.
Traveling from North to South Island is another journey to enjoy. Large ferries with children’s entertainment, cafes and a cinema makes the 2 hour crossing relaxing, albeit expensive! But don’t stay too long inside – standing on the bow as the ferry navigates through the myriad of inlets that form the Marlborough Sounds is a feast for the eyes.
South from Picton’s port and you will soon be driving through the Marlborough region, and miles of vineyards producing some of the finest wines the New World has to offer (in my humble opinion). And many opportunities to try before you buy!
We couldn’t resist stopping at a farm en route to pick luscious cherries. These were dripping from the tree and weighing down each branch, so it was a breeze. Lunch stop was Lake Rotoiti (yes, the same name as the one on the North Island), hidden just off the main road and, out of nowhere, a spectacular view. The camp site and basic facilities making it perfect for a short stop or overnight stay – it’s a popular spot, but difficult to imagine it being overcrowded, there’s simply too much space!
On through breath taking scenery – mountains, forests, rivers, big blue sky, fresh air – to our destination of Reefton. Not a town that is automatically on the itinerary of a visitor, simply because there are so many places, so much to see, in NZ. However, visiting family often means a different experience from the norm, a taste of something off the beaten track.
As well as great cafes, a camp ground, and other accommodation such as Quartz Lodge Guesthouse (which is so welcoming and does great breakfasts), Reefton offers all the history of a once thriving gold mining town, and plenty of charm too. Here is just the place to learn about life in the 1800’s and how a town became established due to the abundance of gold in its surrounds.
One of the highlights of our trip was visiting Black’s Point Museum just outside town, where its knowledgeable curator, Peter Lawn, explained and demonstrated many of its treasures, including a working gold press. The area is surrounded by walks of varying distance and difficulty – a way to discover more about this mining district and the beauty of the region. Many idyllic spots beg for a picnic and trying your hand at gold panning. The thrill of this is definitely in the chase, we came home with some tiny specks of gold, feeling really elated! This is not a fast paced and trendy part of NZ but Reefton has so much charm, character and history, it deserves a place on anyone’s travel itinerary.
This is just a taste of what New Zealand has to offer, just a few hours drive from Wellington. We had booked our accommodation in advance because there was quite a crowd of us and we weren’t planning on camping. If you are camping, or exploring in a motor home, no forward planning is really necessary as there are so many campsites. New Zealand has empty, well signposted roads to drive but also bus timetables and coach trips to suit most needs. We noticed many motorhomes rented from Britz, Maui and Kea campers. These varied in size, were modern and well equipped, with different berth options.
I’ve already decided that next time we visit, I’ll be taking the “point the van in the right direction and see where we go” option. And, by the way, there WILL be a next time