Dark clouds were gathering over Auckland city as we packed the van with all of our supplies for the journey southward. Pregnant drops starting hitting the windscreen as we rolled onto the motorway and out of the city. Our first leg of the trip would take us to Napier, in central Hawkes Bay; a five and a half hour stint.
As we drove, we left the grey of the city behind and embraced the green, rolling hills of the Waikato. Within two hours, we arrived at Matamata for a lunch break. In the shadow of the Kaimai Range Mountains, this small town, dubbed “Hobbiton”, is paradise for fans of The Lord of the Rings. Southwest of the township, you can visit the Hobbiton Movie Set, which we did after a bite to eat at O-Del-Emz cafe. The landscape around here is very much Middle-Earth. To the northeast, you can view it in all its glory: a trail leading to the Wairere Falls allows for views across the Waikato Plains.
After our recuperation in Hobbiton, we continued on the road. From Matamata, you can either detour through Rotorua - which is a visit in itself for its hot springs, mud pools, and outdoor adventure activities - or you can continue straight through to Taupo. Because we had spent some time in Matamata, we decided to continue on. We did, however, pause to marvel at the Huka Falls, just outside of Taupo’s township.
Turning off the main road, we took a footbridge over a rushing white-water pool, where the Waikato river exhibits its force. After watching in awe as 220,000 litres fell per second, we continued on the short way to Lake Taupo. All along the lakeside, there are fantastic spots to view the Great Lake. A personal favourite spot is along Five Mile Bay, where you can dig your feet into the sand or collect pieces of volcanic pumice. This place - and all of Lake Taupo - is a haven for swimming, fishing, water skiing and boating. The Five Mile Bay Recreation Reserve is a designated freedom campsite managed by the Department of Conservation, and makes for the perfect pit-stop for journeyers along the road. We had a quick swim in the lake to refresh ourselves before continuing on our road trip.
It’s just under two hours from Taupo on to Hawke’s Bay, and on the road in to Napier we stopped at one of the many stalls selling real fruit ice cream at this time of year. Hawke’s Bay is renowned for its delicious stone fruit, and is dotted with honesty-box stalls on the roadside. We pulled in to the Hawkes Bay Holiday Park just as it was beginning to get dark. We found a good spot for the night, and busied ourselves with cooking dinner. The van had all the necessary utilities for us to throw together a quick meal of soup and toast, and to close the night we enjoyed a glass of wine while we played cards inside our cosy camper.
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