Tuesday, 20 November 2018
Route: Auckland – Thames – Coromandel – Whitianga
Distance driven: 193 km
After two nights in Auckland, it was finally time to start our road trip adventure around New Zealand. Even if renting a car and exploring the destination by hitting the road is more the rule to us, rather than the exception, this was the road trip I had been eagerly waiting for. It would be our very first trip with a campervan, something that I’ve been dreaming of for years (yes, I was dreaming of it already before #campervanlife became the hippest and coolest phenomenon ever). During our month in New Zealand, we’d be driving two completely different campervans, which meant our New Zealand road trip would be quite a field trip considering my future adventures.
Agnès had repeatedly warned us about the deceptively long distances and the time driving them takes. And there was something else she kept reminding us about: the New Zealand weather! We had left Finland in mid-November when snowfalls and freezing temperatures were knocking on the door. A couple days later we arrived at New Zealand where spring was slowly turning to summer. Despite the season, it would be no news to experience all four seasons within an hour.
It really didn’t take long to witness it. We left our ‘host family’ in Auckland with clear skies and hot sunshine. Only 20 minutes later at Travellers Autobarn, we run to shelter from the first hail shower of the trip.
Welcome to New Zealand!
The first thumbs up: Travellers Autobarn
Perhaps you’re wondering why on Earth we would change the car during our trip? Well, long story short, we had booked a free transfer car for our return journey from Christchurch back to Auckland. The story about the pros and cons of having a transfer car will follow as we proceed with our road trip.
Our original plan… or wish, more correctly, was to find more than one transfer car, but the stars (or the dates, more correctly) weren’t on our side. As we relentlessly kept waiting until the very last minute, many of the car rental companies had sold out their campervans for our dates. Finally, we got a reasonable offer from a dealer site Rankers for Travellers Autobarn. We obviously didn’t have any experiences with car rental companies in New Zealand, so we could only rely on the reviews we found online and Facebook groups.
Travellers Autobarn turned out to be worth all praises. While picking up the campervan, we found out that the dealer site, Rankers, had messed up our car insurance. Despite the problems, we got the camper (with insurance) and were able to start our road trip swiftly. The best of all, the super friendly and efficient staff member pleased us by giving us discounts and additional equipment worth hundreds of dollars; camp chairs, heater and a considerable deduction of the one-way fee, to mention a few.
As this specific campervan served us as our vehicle and our home without even the tiniest problem for the 18 days, I have absolutely no hesitations with recommending Travellers Autobarn to you, too.
Unfortunately, I can’t say quite the same about Rankers. When going through the credit card invoice after the trip, we found out they hadn’t refunded us the undelivered insurance we paid for. They’ve been prompt with replying emails and admitting the mistake, so I’m confident we’ll get our money back. But when we picked up our car we learned it wasn’t the first time this happens with dealer sites.
Lessons learned? Whether it’s about hotels, cars or cars that function as hotels, it’s always best to book directly with the company, without dealers. Don’t get me wrong, Rankers is a great source for finding reviews and recommendations for car rental companies, but I wouldn’t necessarily rent a car through them anymore.
The second thumbs up: the i-SITE!
We had received another helpful tip from Agnès that we proved right on our way to the Coromandel Peninsula. In Thames, we visited our first i-SITE, a tourist information point that you can find in every town and nearly every village and tourist destination in New Zealand. It’s good to remember as I assure you, alongside with Campermate app and offline maps, i-SITE is your best friend on your New Zealand road trip.
No app or offline map can compete with the real-time information you receive from the ever so helpful i-SITE staff. I didn’t count, but I dare to say this with an experience of minimum 20 i-SITEs across New Zealand. Thumbs up indeed!
If you need one more reason to visit i-SITE, I’ll give you one; Besides the accurate and real-time travel tips, ideas and brochures, in every i-SITE you’ll find a clean and free toilet (you’ll love them, especially when you’re living in your van). On the other hand, the amount and state of public toilets in New Zealand were one of the biggest surprises during our month-long trip, as silly as it sounds. You’ll understand the meaning of the free facilities when you travel for a full month with a portable toilet aka a port-a-potty.
In New Zealand, you’ll need it to make your van self-contained, but you won’t NEED it. Thanks to public toilets.
Wow, I almost got distracted there. Let’s get back to the point.
It was our first day of driving, and we had no idea where to go or what to do in the Coromandel Peninsula. The most famous attractions of the peninsula, Cathedral Cove and Hot Water Beach, would be on our list to do tomorrow. We had used Campermate to find a few free camping options in Whitianga on the other side of the peninsula. Our only problem was that our calculators and guides stated the driving distance and time were a lot longer than what they seemed looking at the map. This was exactly what we had been warned about.
Without the lovely staff of the Thames i-SITE, we would have never dared to take the shortcut through a rainforest to reach Whitianga faster. The road wouldn’t be suitable for massive motorhomes or even the largest campervans, but our Toyota Hiace Hi-Top would manage it with no problems. Slowly, but with no problems.
And I’m grateful we took the shortcut. Besides the stunning Waiau Falls, I managed to discover the side of New Zealand I didn’t realise existed; The infinite rainforests that glow in thousands of shades of green.
Or am I the only one whose images of New Zealand, created by travel media, are the English-dales-like green hills full of pasturing sheep and the snowy-topped mountain ranges? It’s time for a new image, as in New Zealand, the landscapes are dominated by evergreen forests and the endless number of astonishing waterfalls they conceal.
The truth about New Zealand weather: one spring, four seasons
The whole month of driving around New Zealand was full of valuable lessons, but here’s the most important one: despite the season, know that it rains in New Zealand. A lot.
I’ve heard rumours of areas that get more than 300 days of rain a year, but I couldn’t find any statistics supporting this claim. Instead, I found statistics stating that several areas in New Zealand have 170-180 rainy days a year. Basically, it means that if you choose to travel to New Zealand, you’ll have more than 50 % chance to get wet (even without dipping in the waterfall pools).
The hottest period of the New Zealand summer is between January and February. Even then, the average temperatures climb just above 20 degrees. If you’re looking for a holiday destination with guaranteed sun and heat and avoiding rainfalls is a priority to you, DON’T TRAVEL TO NEW ZEALAND.
Phew, now it’s said.
There’s no reason to give up hope, though. As it turned out, the New Zealand weather phenomena are very local. It might be pouring down in one place while the neighbouring town enjoys clear skies. The best weather app to use in New Zealand is MetService, but even that you can’t rely 100 % on. The weather warnings are helpful but not always correct, as we got to prove during a ‘severe thunderstorm’ in Wanaka.
To be completely honest with you, the weather in New Zealand changes so rapidly that sometimes even looking at the sky won’t help you.
Another critical thing to point out when talking about New Zealand weather is the almost non-existent Ozone layer. For that reason, wearing sunscreen and a hat is highly recommendable even on a cloudy day.
How about the weather during our first day of driving?
Sun and heat. Hails. Sun and heat. Rain. Sun and heat. More hails. Thunder. Sunset. Thunder again. A little more hails. Until the clear sky full of stars and a beautiful moon took over the Coromandel Peninsula and lulled us soft asleep on our first campervan night in New Zealand.
Looking for more travel stories to read? Try these ones:
× Mallorca in Winter – Go or No? Escaping Slush to the Balearics
× The Day I Accidentally Hiked to the Top of Two Different Countries
× Fatal Beauty – Divine Beachy Head, Where a Selfie Can Kill You
× Wintry Swedish Lapland Gives More Than It Takes