Adventures in a Campervan: Week Four

This week was all about beautiful beaches! We made our way from the East Cape up north to the Coromandel. Along the way we took in some striking scenery and some great surf. Areas of this region are almost too gorgeous to be real and we were constantly in awe of its beauty.


Day 1: Week four began with a bit of drizzle in Tatapouri, but our surfers were not deterred. We ate breakfast and quickly made our way over to nearby Makarori beach for another session on the gentle break the campsite manager called ‘Kiddie’s Corner’. Michael and Easton rode the morning waves as we cheered them on. They even rode a few together—father/son waves, cutest thing ever!

This area of New Zealand, just beyond Gisborne, felt so unspoiled. We contemplated staying longer but we knew more rain was coming, so we loaded up and carried on, cutting across the East Cape heading up toward the top . And rain it did, for most of the drive and the rest of the night in our new campsite in Opotiki. We made the most of the ‘camper time’, catching up on math and journal entries, before snuggling up together in the back of the van for an episode of BBC’s ‘Life’ program.


Day 2: We awoke to sunshine and a pretty view of White Island, New Zealand’s most active volcano located just 48km off the coast in the Bay of Plenty. There was a long, sandy beach aside the campsite but it was windy this day and fishing seemed to be the sport of choice. This part of New Zealand is known to have good surf so we pulled out the ‘Surfing NZ’ map and headed on north to Whakatane in search of waves. Sadly we found no surf there nor at Pikowai, where we stopped for lunch. The nice thing about this new obsession though is that even when you don’t find waves, you always find a beach, and we enjoyed lunch on another pretty one.

We kept driving north and made it all the way up to Mount Maunganui, where we found waves—good ones. We also found a very busy campground just off the beach with one spot remaining—score! We parked up the van, grabbed the boards and beach toys, and headed for the sand.

It was a bank holiday weekend so the town was absolutely packed. The popular beach was crammed with surf school stands, food vendors and beach volleyball tournaments, but the atmosphere was fun. The waves were crowded too, but Michael and Easton stayed out in the water until most everyone else had gone back for dinner. The rest of us relaxed the beach. Marlow even took a snooze… until a big wave came up and got us all soaking wet. Oops! We made dinner in our camper and ate outside in the bustling campground.

Easton carrying Marlow
Marlow on beach

Day 3: Michael and I woke early — he to prep the children’s maths lessons and me to catch up on work. When the kids awoke, we ate breakfast quickly and packed up camp, eager to get up to the Coromandel Peninsula and the promise of more sunny days ahead. Referring to our trusty ‘Surfng NZ’ map, we picked Whangamata for a lunch stop and surf session. It was a good choice too, with some of the best waves we’d seen to date, though Easton decided they were a bit too big for his liking. I’m glad he knows his limits.

We carried on north and by the afternoon we found ourselves in a quiet campsite near Hot Water Beach. It was a beautiful, warm summer evening so we decided to dine outside at the campsite’s own brewery and restaurant—a welcome night off from cooking and cleaning. After dinner, Michael did a maths lesson with the kids and we all watched another episode of ‘Life’ in the back of the van.

crowded Hot Water Beach
girls walking with spades
kids in bath

Day 4: Everyone told us that a trip to this part of New Zealand was not complete without a visit to Hot Water beach. We took their advice and headed over early. The hot water, a wonderful phenomena thanks to the beach’s position atop a fault line, is only accessible at low-tide, so we rented our spades, found a nice spot on the sand and waited for the tide to recede. The surf was good too so Michael and Easton had no trouble biding their time.

After a couple of hours we walked down the beach and dug ourselves a hot bath in the sand. Though crowded and touristy, it was an extraordinary experience. Just put your spade in the right spot and hot water comes bubbling up. In some places the water is literally boiling! The kids found an area where the temperature was just right and enjoyed a hot bath on the beach (punctuated by an occasional cold plunge in the ocean). So cool!

Hahei beach
cute quin on rope swing
Easton and stickman
easton on rope swing
ivy on rope swing
ivy swimming
easton swimming

That afternoon we drove to nearby Hahei Beach, a real gem even in a country with hundreds of gorgeous beaches. We found a campsite right on the beach. Michael started setting up camp while the kids and I went to explore the beach. There were a couple of rope swings, hanging from the giant pohutakawa trees. The water felt especially warm that evening and we all ended up going for an evening swim. Magic!

Cathedral Cove
Ivy in cave
kids on boat tour in Coromandel
Michael pushing marlow on rope swing
Courtney and Marlow

Day 5: We spent the day on Hahei Beach, taking cover under the cool canopy of the overhanging pohutakawa trees during the midday heat. We made lunch and did a bit of homeschooling, before heading off for a boat tour of the coast. The tour took us into gaping sea caves (where the kids jumped in for a quick swim), around myriad islands, into Cathedral Cove and through the adjacent marine reserve where we saw schools of snapper. This coastline is so, so beautiful–perhaps the most beautiful we saw in all of New Zealand – with its dramatic cliffs, crystal clear water and white sand beaches. Had the temperature been a bit warmer, we would have sworn we were on a tropical island!

view of cathedral cove
Marlow in tunnel
Michael and Marlow at Cathedral cove
swimming at cathedral cove

Day 6: We squeezed in an hour of schooling in the morning and then made our way over to the trailhead for Cathedral Cove. The famed beach cannot be reached by car so we made the 40-minute walk down the headlands. It was hot, with the intense NZ sun in full force that day, so no one was pleased when Marlow threw a fit five minutes in, insisting that she be carried. We were all a bit hot and bothered by the time we made it down, but we were rewarded with the most beautiful setting. Apparently this was the location for some of the Narnia films and you can see why. This stunning cove with jutting white cliffs, protruding from turquoise blue water, and an enormous rock tunnel is almost too fantastical to be real. Breathtaking!!! We hung out for a while, body surfing and swimming in the warm sea.
That afternoon we hopped back into the van and drove further up along the Coromandel Peninsula, up to the very top. We stayed the night in a quiet campsite in Whangapoua. We camped next to a playground with a trampoline, and hardly saw the kids until it got dark and we called them in for dinner!











Day 7: Our friends from Napier, Ollie and Rebecca, had recommended we check out New Chums Beach, so we decided to pack a picnic and make the 30-minute hike to this secluded, quiet beach. And we’re so glad we did! There’s no real trail to this beach so you have to be willing to scramble over beds of small boulders and around the big trees jutting into the tide. The reward is an incredibly beautiful and tranquil spot with only a few other people. We set up our beach blanket in the shade of one of the many Pohutukawa trees, and spent the day dipping in and out of the water. This isn’t a surfing beach but the boogie board was enjoyed by all that afternoon!

Highlights of the Week:

  • Surfing on the East Cape
  • Hahei Beach
  • Cathedral Cove
  • Hot Water Beach
  • New Chums Beach

What we’re listening to this week:

6 thoughts on “Adventures in a Campervan: Week Four

  1. Absolutely beautiful! It looks like you all are having the time of your lives! I wonder how the weather is there in their winter? My husband is an educator, so we have a month off during the American summer. I would LOVE to take my little girls on an adventure like this!

    • Its the height of summer here now . in the winter we have between 10 and 15 deg celsius temperatures,no snow no frost can be quite a bit of rain here in the coromandel, in the south island they have snow on the alps , 2 very different Islands

  2. Amazing photos, Courtney! So many hidden gems! I love how you all are always exploring off the beaten path, even if it means a longer hike for solitude and tranquility. Also, it looks like Johnny made a few photos and enjoyed a dip in the ocean!? Haha! xx

  3. Stunning! You have captured the imagination authentically with your intention of somewhere slower in the true sense of the word. Soulful, beautiful, calming, magical, open and real all at the same time. How lucky your children are to experience such an adventure as this.

  4. So glad you made it to the bay of plenty! I lived in the mount for a year – such a special place! And cathedral cove is a real gem. Love following your journey, your children are beautiful and very lucky 🙂

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