There's a mounting list of reasons not to head to the airport for an overseas trip these days. In the past week alone, there have been flights cancelled in Auckland due to fog, talk of airport strike action, grisly discoveries on a beach in Fiji, and the lingering horror of the Istanbul terror strikes. It's enough to keep even the hardiest travellers on the ground.

But in the midst of winter, when the temperatures drop and there are still three months until the next long weekend, it's understandable that the itchy feet just can't be soothed. Luckily, we have a wealth of options right on our doorstep.

I recently had a rare week off and decided to use it for some close-to-home exploring. Taking advantage of low-season discounts, I hired a campervan and took off on the North Island's Pacific Coast Highway.

Planning for bad weather, we stocked up on food, books and Scrabble and headed from Auckland to Whakatane, onwards around the East Cape to Napier, our destination. The roads were practically deserted, the coastline spectacular and the freedom camping options impressive (thanks to the Bay of Plenty, Gisborne and Napier councils' excellent free facilities all the way).


The sun came out as we climbed the 800 steps to the East Cape Lighthouse. Looking out across the Pacific Ocean - next stop Chile - I was reminded just how magnificent New Zealand is.

Whatever the barriers holding us back from international travel, there's no reason we can't get out there and explore this beautiful country of ours. We don't know how lucky we are.