Shandelle Battersby escapes to the wilderness of the East Coast in a luxury campervan.

As far as breakfast spots go, it would be hard to beat our beachfront campsite at Matata, just north of Whakatane, with its views of crashing surf and picturesque Whale Island.

We'd lucked out really, choosing Murphy's Holiday Camp at random because the 50-year-old site was about three hours out of Auckland, which seemed a good first stop on our week-long campervan trip around the East Cape.

Quietly congratulating ourselves, we parked up and plugged in right in front of the beach, enjoying the sea spray dancing through the sunset and an endless parade of surfcasters, swimmers, surfers, kids playing on the shore and dog walkers, as we downed a couple of gin and tonics

The pounding waves lulled us to sleep and provided a picture-perfect view at our outdoor breakfast table the next morning before we continued on what was to be an epic journey of nearly 1400km around one of the remotest parts of the country.

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If you've got a bit of time to explore the Cape, campervan is a good way to do it, thanks to the many great campgrounds and flexibility for freedom camping. Over six days we stayed at Matata, Te Araroa, Tolaga Bay and Mahia Beach, before heading back to Auckland via the Waioeka Gorge to Matata again and the Blue Lake at Rotorua.

After a few hours of driving and sight-seeing each day we'd find somewhere to park up at night to recharge both us and the van, enjoying the freedom of staying where and when we liked, paired with the comforts of home.

There were quintessential Kiwi moments, such as when a photogenic piglet wandered into our campsite at Te Araroa one morning when we were getting ready to hit the road. The pretty pink porker froze on his trotters for a couple of minutes, then turned and scarpered back to wherever it was he'd come from before we had a chance to offer him some scraps.

Just out of Opotiki we came across a couple of shirtless - and helmetless - local characters racing each other on tinny motorbikes in the middle of the road, laughing their heads off and having the time of their lives. In Tolaga Bay a three-legged jack russell raced us down a back street and lost.

There was fish and chips of course, and a shandy, at the pub in Waihau Bay; locals on horseback; kids leaping off long, crumbling jetties; gravel roads; tinder-dry fields with tidy hay bales; more utes than I've had hot dinners; one-way bridges; and miles of deserted wild beaches flanked by majestic scarred cliffs.

And nowhere else in New Zealand will you find so many pristine marae (there are over 150), pretty country churches, and cemeteries in the middle of paddocks.

A church in Waihau Bay. Photo / Alan Gibson
A church in Waihau Bay. Photo / Alan Gibson

At 7.2M long and 3.25m high the sight of our six-berth Kea Frontier van was a little daunting at first as we edged our way carefully out of the RV Super Centre lot at Albany, but she was surprisingly easy to drive and we had her sussed after a couple of days. There's definitely something magic about being so high up, the van had plenty of windows for visibility, and thanks to the power steering even reversing wasn't too bad once we felt comfortable with her dimensions.

When you arrive at your destination all you have to do is plug in to the power source, wind out the attached awning, and set up your table, chairs, snacks and gin and tonic, cooled down with the ice made in the tiny freezer of your little fridge. There's a small bathroom on board but we made do with campsite facilities - less work and a lot more room - as well as a DVD player, sound system, and plenty of clever cupboards offering loads of secure storage.

You can't, of course, just park up anywhere, no matter how tempting it can be. On the Cape you need a permit from the i-Site (a minimum $16 for two nights) and a chemical loo to freedom camp at specified locations.

Our van had plenty of space inside, with one double bed up a ladder above the cab, and two more convertable from seats in the middle and rear living areas of the van. Dinner time was easy - with a microwave, four-burner gas hob, rangehood and plenty of bench space, there was no need to deal with campground kitchens (though it's best to avoid smelly food because it does tend to linger long into the night).

With a speed limit of 90km/h, there are times you need to do the right thing and pull over to let your fellow motorists pass; on the Cape this was mostly appreciated with a toot and a wave.

The one downside is though you're mobile this does have its limits - you can't just leave your tent and head into town for a meal at the pub, because the whole house has to go with you. And finding enough parking space at the supermarket can definitely be a challenge.

Matata Beach north of Whakatane. Photo / Shandelle Battersby
Matata Beach north of Whakatane. Photo / Shandelle Battersby

But you'll forget about all this as soon as you see a neighbouring camper struggling to put up a tent, only to have it blown down again in the middle of the night when the weather packs in. Having an actual roof over your head has never been so sweet.

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The RV Super Centre sells new and used motorhomes, campervans, caravans and trailers, and stocks every accessory you can think of, both in-store and online. rvsupercentre.co.nz