Budget Guide for NZ; North Island
Budget Guide for a 3 week Road Trip on the North Island
New Zealand is the most breathtaking and beautiful country I’ve ever had the pleasure to visit. Bursting with colour and vibrance, New Zealand’s aura is lush and green. But with beauty comes price, and this amazing little island certainly does cost. But never fear, for the budget savvy traveller I have compiled an itinerary for the North Island of amazing things to do and see, including all of my best tips for road trips.
USEFUL APPS FOR TRAVELLING IN NZ:
CamperMate: (It’s free!) Useful for locating campsites, and it is colour coded by cost so you can always remain within your budget.
WikiCamps NZ: ($2.99) This app is also useful for finding campsites and is a little more user-friendly, however it does cost a small amount of money.
Essential NZ: (It’s free!) This app is all you’ll need for searching for activities in New Zealand, and it allows you to create a personal wish-list and search by area.
AT Metro: (It’s free!) This app is useful for getting yourself from A to B throughout Auckland on public transport.
Cape Reinga (2 Days)
The most Northern tip of New Zealand is thought to be Cape Reinga, however, what most don’t realise is that the actual tip is mostly inaccessible to the general population as it is housed within a sanctuary. Reinga is a beautiful location, but it was packed with a lot of attitude due to the high wind velocity. There were many tales traditional to Māori culture about the tip; one in specific being that the two seas (The Tasman Sea and the Pacific Ocean) colliding together is a symbol of male and female procreation. Another tale suggests that roots from an old tree lead down through the earth to the water to provide a passage for spirits into the underworld.
THINGS TO DO IN CAPE REINGA
I originally assumed that there wasn’t really many things to do here, and so I almost didn’t visit at all, but I am so happy that I did in the end. I have complied a short list of the best things to do here:
- Cape Reinga Lighthouse: Thriving with Māori folklore, the lighthouse sits at the northern most point and is the meeting place of the two seas.
- Sand Duning at the Giant Te Paki sand dunes: These steep dunes will bring out your inner child. Utilising anything you can get your hands on, be it a boogie board or even just a simple piece of cardboard, you can get your adrenaline rush sliding down the dunes at high speed.
- Horses and a secluded beach at Spirits Bay: Stunning and private beach, which also provides a scenic campsite.
- 90-Mile Beach Drive: Warning, only attempt if you have a 4WD vehicle, otherwise its a great spot to explore on foot.
WHERE TO STAY IN CAPE REINGA
I cannot recommend Spirits Bay campsite enough. It is simply breathtaking. The best campsite on the North island! It’s hidden a short distance down a dirt road, and is worth the journey to reach it. The beach stretches out as far as the eye can see, and is void of human life, however it’s populated with beautiful horses casually grazing on the lush vegetation surrounding. The ocean water is vibrantly green and soothing to the soul. The campsite sports outdoor pit toilets and fresh running water, and costs only $6 per night.
Paihia and Surrounds (2-3 Days)
Despite its small size there’s plenty to do around this charming seaside town, and you’ll soon find that a few days may not be quite enough time. Located north of Auckland, the drive to Paihia is short and scenic, and there are plenty of campsites to choose from. Check out the scenic Bay of Plenty and the awesome Waipouoa Rain Forest nearby!
THINGS TO DO IN PAIHIA
Though we ran out of time to do all the activities available to us, what we were able to do was exciting. Here’s a list of the things we got up to during our stay:
- Kayak around the bay, featuring the mangroves and a waterfall: If you don’t mind a bit of a dip, you can kayak right under the waterfall.
- Dolphin and Discovery Cruise: Beautiful sights and dolphins are guaranteed on every trip, however other sea life depends on the season. In the right kind of weather you may even get to swim with the dolphins.
- Rainbow Falls and the walking trails: This walk is notorious for Kiwi bird sighting, and if you’re brave enough you could even climb the rocks and get behind the waterfall!
- Thousand year old trees at Waipuoa Forest: Although the trails are a popular attraction for the public, it’s worth braving the crowd to see some amazing 3,000 year old trees.
WHERE TO STAY IN PAIHIA
Though there aren’t very many free or even cheap campsites in Paihia, the town is still very much worth the stay. For $14 per night we stayed at a luxurious spot called Bay of Islands Holiday Apartments. For a cheaper option, I would recommend heading to Trounsen Kauri Park Campground. For only $6 per night you will sleep in the forest, enjoy use of a communal kitchen area, have access to hot showers, and even partake in a Kiwi night walk through the grounds, which I couldn’t recommend enough.
Auckland (2 Days)
Auckland is a breathtaking city with a cosy feeling, located on the harbour and surrounded by a cluster of small islands. It’s a must-do on the North Island. The thriving main street, called Queen Street, has some exceptional places to eat. Some of my favourites were Korean Barbecue and Japanese.
THINGS TO DO IN AUCKLAND
Within the sites of Auckland you can choose from a range of activities that you’d expect to find within a city, such as the amazing museums, cultural shows and tracking down the best look-outs.
- Climb Mount Eden: Auckland’s famous crater-made mountain is known for its stunning views and its vibrant and colourful mountain-side garden.
- Auckland Art Gallery: Enjoy informative and complimentary guided tours, which run at 11.30am and 1.30pm.
- Māori cultural performance at Auckland Museum: Though the entry fee is rather steep at $45, this inspiring show is well worth the dollars.
- Ferry ride to Waiheke Island: Relax and unwind on a wine tour around the island.
WHERE TO STAY IN AUCKLAND
Though camper van parking is sparse around central Auckland and rarely free, you can find a couple of city central paid sites at Remuera, which will set you back $20 per person, and Z-Pier, which is $20. A little birdie also told me that if you’re lucky it might be possible to park your camper at Auckland Commerce Club for only $10 per night.
Coromandel Peninsula (4 Days)
One of the North Island’s most serene locations, which has much excitement to offer. There are heavenly beaches, tranquil rainforests and fun activities. This is the perfect camper spot, with an abundance of free parking and numerous adventures to keep you entertained.
THINGS TO DO IN COROMANDEL PENINSULA
In my opinion this is high up on my list of the best “weekend away” spots from Auckland. There is nothing that Coromandel Peninsula doesn’t have. The best bits include:
- Hot Water Beach: Dig your own spa! The best place to get away from lousy weather and relax in the sand spa during low-tide.
- Cathedral Cove: Where to be if you’re looking for the most spectacular beach on the North Island.
- Waiau Falls and Kauri Walk: Located on the 309 road which is a great spot in its own right to explore.
- historical day walk at Karangahake: Intrenched in an old mining town surrounded by a lusciously forested valley.
WHERE TO STAY IN COROMANDEL PENINSULA
Take your pick of numerous affordable and free sites to dock your camper van around the peninsula. Egan’s Park is a great spot, located on the 309 road near Karangahe, just to name one. Another spot that I would recommend is called Dicky Flat, which sits right next to a gorgeous little stream. Honestly, it may be hard to choose just one campsite in the Coromandel. There’s just so many great spaces to choose from!
Rotorua and the Bay of Plenty (3-4 Days)
Rotorua is one place I would recommend seeing, even if you don’t go anywhere else on the North Island. Also known as the geo-thermal city, this amazing place is thriving with streams and bubbles, and the sites absolutely took our breath away. There are hot springs littered all over the place, some of which are free and others which are hidden away in some of the city’s beautiful and peaceful wellness centres.
THINGS TO DO IN ROTORUA
There’s an abundance of different things to do in Rotorua, but some of my top picks would have to be:
1. Kuirau Park: This park is absolutely free, and simply teeming with hot springs which range from mud pools, to brightly coloured ones. One stunning pond had yellow build up along the bottom which lit up the water in spectacular colour, and once you’ve finished trekking around there’s even a foot spa to relax and unwind in.
2. Kerosene Creek: Chill out under luxurious falls of hot geothermal volcano water!
3. If you can afford the cost, do the White Island Tour which departs from the town of Whakatane, and is by far one of the most amazing things I’ve ever done. The White Island Tour will take you through an active volcano island where you can even see molten water boiling away inside the crater!
3. Movie Set of Hobbiton: Nestled comfortably between Rotorua and Hamilton lies the cosy city of Matamata, which is where you can find the tiny village set of Hobbiton. You can explore the Shire first hand on this charming tour, which is something I enjoyed far more than I ever anticipated.
WHERE TO STAY IN ROTORUA
With the help of Campermate, which is a free app, you won’t have any trouble finding a range of campsites around this area. I found that Lakeside, which is located near the roundabout on Lake Road, and Hinemoa Street Carpark are two of the best free spots in town. If you’d prefer a forest park, there are also a range of options only 10 minutes drive away.
READ MORE: 15 Free things to do on the North Island
Hamilton and Waikato Region (4 Days)
Though Hamilton itself isn’t really that exciting, there are adventures and walks aplenty in the surrounding areas. As an example, only a short drive away from Hamilton you’ll find the Raglan Township, which is famous to surfers all over the world as the “longest left-hand break in the world.”
THINGS TO DO IN THE WAIKATO REGION
The Waikato region is bursting with fun activities. There’s almost too much to do, and so for convenience I’ve listed my top picks in the order of price:
- Manu Bay: Watch the surfers, both professional and amateur alike, as they shred up the famous left hand break.
- Ocean Beach: Known for its black volcanic sand, this is a great place for a swim.
- Sanctuary Mountain Maungatautari: This was one of my favourite treks, known for its endangered bird life, which is protected in the area.
- Blackwater Rafting: Based in the Waitomo region, you can happily waste a whole day here if you have a little bit of extra money. Enjoy abseiling, climbing and exploring underground cave systems, which is a must-do in my opinion.
WHERE TO STAY IN THE WAIKATO REGION
This area was one of the friendliest and easiest places to find campsites, simply because there’s just so much space! On the occasion even restaurants and other properties are willing to open up their grounds to provide you with a place to dock for the night. Roselands Waitomo Caves is one area in particular that stood out to me. It’s free, and located in forest surrounds beside a barbecue restaurant, which btw does $10 Beef Casserole dinners every night just to top it off.
Wellington (2 Days)
Though sadly I didn’t get to go this far South, I heard so many great things about Wellington. Some good areas to visit are:
- Cuba Street district: In this area you’ll find hipsters and businessmen alike, mingling in the culture, cafes, shopping districts and the street art. Anything goes here.
- Te Papa Museum: Visit the museum for all things New Zealand. Said to be the best museum in the country, this place has it all, and just to top it off, it’s totally free!
- Weta Cave: This one’s for the movie buffs. Here you’ll find behind the scenes work such as concept design and prop production used in some of the best movies Weta Digital have produced. This place is also free, unless you would like to participate in a workshop.
- Walk Mount Victoria: This walk is famously part of the Lord of the Rings movies and it sports brilliant views of the city below.
WHERE NEXT? 3 Week Guide: New Zealand South Island
Including the essentials such as camper van hire, food, petrol and activities I calculated that we spent an average of about $90 per day on the North Island. If your budget is a little slimmer than this you could probably widdle it down to as low as $70 per day, including camper van hire, petrol and food, but if you’re feeling a little more casual and you’re happy to splurge on activities I estimate you’ll spend more around the $170 mark per day.
Watch my Vlog on NZ: Northland!
READ MORE: 7 Reasons to visit New Zealand in the Spring
Place: North Island
Country: New Zealand
Currency: New Zealand Dollar
$1 AUD = $1.05 NZD
I was there: September 2016
What are YOUR favourite things to do when you travel?
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