Van camping in New Zealand starts at Cape Reinga
I stood in the shade of a lonely lighthouse, watching two seas collide. Cape Reinga, the most northern tip of New Zealand’s North Island, is where the Tasman Sea and Pacific Ocean are in a never-ending battle of currents. I had never seen such opposition in nature. This was where my trip began, but far from where it ended. I was my own tour guide as I traveled in a converted van and began camping in New Zealand for two weeks. My means of transportation, and my residence, was an older Toyota minivan, distinguished with scuffs and paint chips, which had been converted into a camper-van. It had a single burner for cooking, a small sink with a water tank, and a bed. It was fit for exploration.
Hidden Beauty – Only discovered by Camping in New Zealand
Undulating roads traverse through grassy farmlands. Thousands of sheep graze on the hillsides and cows rest in the shade. That can describe most of New Zealand, but the expanse of it all always took my breath away. I had never seen so much wide-open land before. Hidden, and sometimes out in the open, are unexpected natural treasures that transport you into an imaginative world of alien-like fauna, ominous caves, and tree-tunneled trails that ascend into valleys, which can be surrounded by glacier-covered peaks. Most of these hidden beauties aren’t something you’d find by following your typical Trip Advisor itinerary, but instead are often only experienced through discovery and exploration. Traveling in a van and camping in New Zealand by myself on the North Island provided me the freedom to explore at my own pace and venture off the beaten path to discover what lies beyond the suggestions in my Lonely Planet book.
Starry afternoons in a New Zealand Glow Worm Cave
Midway through my journey down to the bottom of the North Island, I found a glowworm cave tour not to far from Rotorua, which is famous for its geothermal pools. People I met at various campsites while van camping in New Zealand said it was definitely worth the money, so I splurged. Adorned in a wetsuit, booties, a helmet with a headlight, and an inner tube, I followed the guide and other members of the tour down into the cave. There was rigged lighting that gently illuminated the cave, but only at the entrance. We sat on our inner tubes in a stream that slithered through the underground labyrinth. It got progressively darker the longer we floated, until it looked like I was gazing up at the night sky. The current slowly moved us along, but I was lost in the “starry” glowworm ceiling.
Sunsoaked Vineyards enroute to South Island, New Zealand
The day before catching the ferry to the South Island for the rest of my New Zealand Adventure, I drove through acres of vineyards to reach the southern tip of the North Island. I arrived in time to see the sun color the world shades of oranges and purples. I parked right above the water’s edge and opened the van’s trunk to cook dinner. The small crashing waves chased a few small penguins up the beach, where they would sleep for the night. I ate my soup in the front seat, lounging with my feet out the window. I couldn’t believe the past six days of road tripping and camping in New Zealand on my own. It was an almost fictional daze of hiking in caves, swimming in natural hot springs, and driving on the beach. This was real. It was all real. I was the captain of my own travels, leading a journey inspired by interest, fun, and the unexpected. I couldn’t imagine what other surprises awaited me on the next leg of my trip as I set out for more camping in New Zealand, this time on the South Island.