Great uncle Jack and great auntie Amelia had a campervan and when I was 10 years old I thought that was damned cool. They lived in Wellington and we lived in Auckland, so I only saw it once. Back then we travelled around the country a lot, so I was enthralled by the idea that if we had a campervan then it wouldn’t matter which boringly exotic destination my parents hauled me to because I’d still be able to watch cartoons on the telly.
So, when I’m handed the keys to a Britz Venturer campervan over two decades later, the first thing I ask is not something sensible like, ‘What do I do if I get a flat tyre?’ or ‘How does the power work?’ but is instead the quite shameful enquiry of, ‘Is there a TV?’.
There is. But –– and this is something that would flabbergast my younger self –– over the course of my four-day trip it stays hidden away in its sliding compartment. Even during the hours I know for a fact the cartoons are on.
The two hybrid bicycles strapped to a rack on the back of the campervan are another thing that would have delighted the young me. Unlike the telly, however, these get plenty of use on the journey.
This trip is whistle-stop and snuck onto the tail end of a working week. And, while I can’t describe any of the destinations as exotic, they are far from boring: Waihi Beach, Rotorua and Taupo. A night in each of these tourist favourites and onto the next.
Normally I wouldn’t bother with such a busy itinerary. With limited time, I’d rather choose one place and stay put as all that packing and unpacking would just be a hassle. But, when your accommodation moves with you, staying still seems anathema. You want to keep moving.
We meander out of Auckland. It takes a while to acclimate to piloting a 7.2 metre-long behemoth and we stop in Ngatea for brunch and in Paeroa for a browse through the antique shops on the main drag.
In Waihi we have a gander at the bustling Martha’s Mine, an impressively gigantic hole smack bang in the middle of town. These streets were once paved with gold; apparently this current operation seems intent on burrowing to the very centre of the earth to discover more of the pretty yellow stuff.
When we eventually trundle into Waihi Beach our tummies are grumbling, but it’s an awkward hour; too early for dinner, too late for lunch. I’d been looking forward to dining at the town’s RSA which, from its hilltop vantage point, has a great view looking out across the Pacific Ocean. But, after a cycle along the beach, we instead opt for fish n’ chips beachside, as both dusk and tide take over the sandy shoreline.
The next morning, I crank up the campervan’s barbie for bacon and eggs on cheesy English muffins accompanied by fresh plunger coffee and served with a beachfront view that’s even more delicious.
After brekkie we double back through Waihi and into the Karangahake Gorge, which links the Waikato to the Bay of Plenty. Scattered throughout the gorge are the rusting remains of the area’s gold rush. Duel use walking and cycling tracks wind around and through these remnants and lead you down to the Ohinemuri River, the gushing force that forged the canyon millennia ago. Despite the threat of rain, we jump on our bikes and tackle the Railway Tunnel Loop. The highlight is right there in the name – a one-kilometre path through the heart of a mountain. This old rail tunnel is lit, but not by much, reducing visibility to bugger all. Under the earth, in this stiflingly creepy dark, I can’t help but be reminded of every horror flick I’ve ever seen. It’s a freaky experience.
Fortunately, there’s no psycho killers lurking in the dark and, once the nerves have settled, we load the bikes back on the van’s rack and drive through the rain to reach Rotorua in the afternoon. No trip to this city is complete without a visit to the Polynesian Spa hot pools, which we do before checking into the campground.
The next morning we’re hollering our way through Rotorua’s mighty Redwoods Forest. Boasting one of New Zealand’s oldest mountain bike networks, the forest has around 130km of trails that range from beginner to insane. We ride The Dipper, a twisty-turny trail filled with bumps, jumps, ramps and steep arcing banks. It could just as accurately be dubbed The Rollercoaster. It’s awesome fun. We go around twice.
In this stiflingly creepy dark, I can’t help but be reminded of every horror flick I’ve ever seen.
The Dipper doesn’t ruin us, but any excuse for a soothing dip in a hot pool is welcomed and so we turn off the highway and onto the two-kilometre unpaved road to Kerosene Creek. This secluded natural hot spring is one of Rotorua’s worst kept secrets. Cascading into the main bathing area is a small waterfall, and its steam dances up from the stream and into the sunbeams breaking through towering bush. The temperature is spot on and we stick around for an hour taking in the beauty while bathing in its water. Upon exiting, we’re a little alarmed by the rusty orange tinge where the white used to be on our togs. We’d forgotten about the clothes-staining iron content of natural springs.
We awake the next day to a glorious morning in Taupo. The air’s brisk, but the day’s bright and clear. Taupo’s an incredibly pretty town and, on days like these, when the waters of the great lake shimmer and sparkle deep and blue, it’s magic.
We park by the lakeside and unhitch the bikes for one last ride, content just to tootle a little way along the lakeside, with the joggers and dog walkers and families and lovers who are all out on this marvellous morning doing the same. It’s the kind of day you want to never end.
We drag our final departure out as much as we can by enjoying a lakeside lunch, but we can’t keep putting it off. The table and chairs are packed away, the dishes are cleaned, the bikes are strapped up and the campervan is pointed out of Taupo and towards home where winter and our cat wait for our return.
Reported by Karl Puschmann for our AA Directions Autumn 2019 issue