Seda: Wow! What a feeling this is… Driving around NZ in a car and having the freedom to go anywhere you want is great. We are also sleeping and cooking in this car which is proving to be an excellent experience, we love it!
Andy: Every other car on the road is a campervan, sleeper car or a caravan. It’s not hard to see why. This country is so beautiful, when visiting you really ought to see as much as you can and camping seems to be the best option for backpackers and tourists on a budget.
Seda: We were given a slightly better but older alternative to what we had paid for because that was not available somehow. Lucky for us because this bad boy has got rotating front seats which means at night time, the size of the bed resembles a football pitch. Plenty of room and a great sunroof to watch the stars through…
Andy: I requested an extra blanket at the booking stage from the hiring company for my ever-feeling-cold wife. The response came as “Of course Andrew, happy wife happy life!” I like the sense of humour these guys have.
Seda: When we finally made it to pick up the car, we found out that Mr. Funnyguy was from England and to prove that the English stick together abroad, he’s also given us the camping table and chairs for free. A gesture that we massively appreciate as there is nothing better than chilling on a camping chair in the morning, listening to the birds with a cup of coffee in hand…yes!
Turns out it’s not too cold for ever-feeling-cold wife so the extra duvet ended up underneath the sheet over the mattress. An extra layer that makes our feathery soft bed even cosier! Set up is very straight forward, done in 2 minutes. There is a great kitchen set up with cooker, sink, fridge and storage. There are cutlery draws complete with peeler and can opener. Amongst the pots and pans, there is even a whistling kettle which is a must-have, obviously!
Andy: The first campsite we went to was at a place west of Auckland called Piha Beach. It was about 45 minutes from the city and was an awesome place with kitchen, hot showers and even wifi hotspots.
Getting used to the car was petty straightforward, just remove wife, turn her chair round, stretch legs…Simple! It’s essentially a big people carrier so drives just like a normal car, except it’s pretty heavy. But then again, we wouldn’t want to be racing around in this beautiful place.
We stayed one night at Piha before heading back to Auckland and beyond, into the New Zealand countryside. After a quick stop at the nearby Kitekite Falls, we headed to a place called Tainui in Wagarau National Park. It was a tiny town on the edge of the Firth of Thames. We stopped by the waterside to have some lunch, because our kitchen is fully functioning now.
There are campsite phone apps like Campermate or Rankers app you can use whilst travelling around NZ which tell you what facilities each place has, directions and most importantly, the price. Very handy.
We arrived at Tainui campsite and was greeted by the camp custodian. He asked if we were just turning around, or if “You and your mum” wanted to camp?! We both were so surprised that we could hardly speak! He seemed a bit of an eccentric character calling himself Uncle Tom! He then tried to seamlessly correct himself hoping that we hadn’t noticed by asking if it was just myself and the “Pretty little thing” sat next to me?! We did laugh about that, considering I’m nearly 4 years older than the good Mrs C.
Seda: I know my roots need doing but seriously, how bad must I look?
Andy: At Uncle Tom’s campsite we had a whole field to ourselves when we went to bed, but by the morning we had neighbours! A very young German couple in a camper arrived in the night and stopped next to us. We had coffee with them and chatted all morning leaving way later than expected.
Seda: This sleeper car idea is the sweetest when we pay little or no fees for camping somewhere overnight. The very particular New Zealand Government has strict rules about freedom camping as they don’t want their pretty county to smell of sh*t apparently which we is fine as I wouldn’t stay somewhere without a toilet anyway. This unfortunately limits the places we can stay overnight for free. There are number of designated ones all around the country but being self-contained (meaning having your own toilet) is a prerequisite.
Variety is the spice of life right? That’s what we do, when we have to use laundry facilities, need to top up some water and fancy a quiet night of sleep, we pay the going rate and stay on a campsite. However if/when there is a free campsite with public toilets, we are there to check it out. Where we stayed on our third night was one of them. Behind a public library building, the car park with totally secure designated freedom camping spots across from the police station with awesome public toilets, they even have a name… Exeloo!!!
Andy: These Exeloo at Hauraki Ngatea Free Overnight Camping were kind of cool. As soon as you go in there is a voice talking to you, and Burt Bacharach music plays while you do your business! It states that you only get 10 minutes useage, so heaven only knows what happens if you go over that?!
The kind people of NZ, or maybe just the library staff displayed the Wifi info in the window too (see below picture). We were the first to arrive, but it got busy later on. There were also 2 sets of female travellers in beat up old campers. Seeing NZ by camper seems to be the way to go as they really are all over the roads as we travel around.
We did some quick shopping in nearby town called Thames. It’s so nice to do grocery shopping like normal people and buy fruit and veg. We stayed in Whangaiterenga camping ground that night which is one of the cheap grounds run by DOC (Department of Conservation) in Coromandel Forest National Park area. These have no showers and generally long drop toilets. Luxury at its best!
A lovely Canadian couple pitched their tent next to us with whom we ended up chatting all evening. We meet many couples while we travel this way in NZ. Who knew it was a great way to boost our social life, to get in to a car and sleep in the wild with total strangers turning up at all times of night to sleep next to you, I mean to your car! They told us that they’ve been to natural hot springs and have been stinking of sulfur no matter how many times they showered since. No, we didn’t notice the smell, thankfully.
We went for a nice trek the next day to a look out point Cookson Kauri trek. It’s a climb but gentle enough with a rewarding view at the top. There was a lovely breeze at the top and awesome views.
Seda: One thing you are not short of in Coromandel Peninsula is fantastic walks through well looked after paths. Although we really didn’t appreciate that the 700 steps you have to take to get to the top was not mentioned anywhere, we did persevere and got to see one of the biggest trees in the country.
Our drive from Te Kouma campsite to New Chums Beach was a short one. This is a popular secluded beach but not very easy to get to! If you do arrive in one piece without tripping over the roots or slipping over the rocks, you have to find a clear bit of water to swim in. I lovingly named them chocolate colour waves but these rotten sea grass was neither nice nor appetising.
Coromandel peninsula has got loads to see and we went through the town of Coromandel itself then onto Whatianga. We were on our way to Hot Water Beach. A place we’d heard cool things about. It’s a beach where a thermal river runs under the sand and you can dig out your own spa pool and relax. Sounds idyllic right? Well, this is the reality of it.
Seda: If you told me a year ago that I would sleep in a car parked overnight at the back of a library building, I don’t think I would have believed you. We’ve been used to living out of a backpack for 9 months but we are now getting used to living fully in a sleeper car. Whilst I miss my cooker at home that wouldn’t be affected by the wind around, I still love the luxury of pulling onto the side of the road and making a coffee at the back.
I’m mostly delighted because Andy is enjoying it too. Because he was never into camping, I was shocked to see that he cooks awesome dishes for us and actually finds it enjoyable! I always knew I’d get him to join the club…turns out avoiding tents was all it took.