A home on wheels turns a long weekend into a real holiday, writes Stephanie Holmes
A long weekend and an open road stretched out before us. We were free from work for four glorious days and we had adventure on our minds.
This was the time to explore our own backyard, to see places we'd never seen before, to get a taste of a New Zealand different to our everyday lives.
We had a home on wheels - a motorhome from Mighway - and, unlike the other long weekenders, were weren't heading north or to the Coromandel or to Taupō. We were Taranaki-bound, the sun was shining and the promise of summer was in the air.
Here are some of the highlights from a Taranaki road-trip round-trip.
It's a long trip from Auckland to New Plymouth, so we broke the journey up with a stop at the Waitomo Glowworm Caves. We had 45 minutes to kill before our tour started, so we enjoyed a hearty lunch at the on-site restaurant nestled prettily in native bush.
Our tour guide, Aroha, was the great grand-daughter of Tāne Tinorau, the Māori chief who first discovered the caves. Warmth radiated from her and even though she must do this tour hundreds of times a month, she made it informative and engaging as if it was her first time.
Even though we'd seen it years before, we were left spellbound by the sight of thousands of glowworms clinging to the ceiling as we took a silent boatride through the cave's network of waterways. A truly magical experience.
The drive from Waitomo to New Plymouth revealed many highlights - rolling countryside and impressive hills; the feat of engineering that is the Awakino Tunnel, cut through 250-million-year-old limestone cliffs; and the surprise of stunning beauty as you finally emerge from the winding inland roads and see the first glimpse of the rugged Taranaki coastline.
We reached New Plymouth by early evening, checked into the Fitzroy Beach Holiday Park, then drove into town to sample the best of the city's dining scene. There's a lot to choose from. Recommendations had come from friends for multiple restaurants around town, but we were happy with our choice at Monica's Eatery and its Italian-inspired menu. We rounded off the night with a drink at Frederic's, before parking up back at the holiday park - the sound of the west coast waves lulling us to a comfortable sleep.
In the morning, after an easy breakfast cooked in the campervan's well-equipped kitchen, we hired bikes from Cycle Inn - $10 for two hours - and took on the Coastal Walkway. This is the city's most impressive feature; a 12.7km path stretching from Pioneer Park at Port Taranaki to the eastern side of Bell Block Beach. We enjoyed the easy riding, and the chance to stretch our legs before driving on once more, and rhapsodised about how great it would be if Auckland fully opened up its waterfront so we had could have something similar at home.
We headed out of town on Surf Highway 45, 105km of scenic coast road with crashing waves to the right and - if you're lucky - to your left, perfect views of Mt Taranaki. We were - the clouds broke as we travelled and the perfect conical volcano revealed itself under a bluebird sky.
We found our way to Hāwera and the freedom camping site at the end of Denby Rd. Only three self-contained vehicles are permitted overnight; we were lucky No. 2 and got a prime ocean view from the impressive cliffs above Waihi Beach.
At golden hour we walked along the black sand and marvelled at the rugged cliffs and rock pools. The only others on the beach were two fishermen and their dog, and the solitude was blissful.
FORGOTTEN WORLD HIGHWAY
Day three was our biggest day of driving, but we set off late - the motorhome's bed was so comfortable, and our camping spot so peaceful, we slept for hours.
We went north from Hāwera, through Eltham with a quick stop for a mooch around the antiques stores, and then a detour to see Lake Rotokare and its impressive ancient native forest.
At Stratford, we turned on to the Forgotten World Highway, a 19th-century bridle path that stretches 155km to Taumarunui and winds through stunning hills and old pā sites.
It's not a road for those who get easily carsick, but if you can handle the bends it's a beautiful stretch through some of the most remote parts of Taranaki.
We stopped for lunch in the Republic of Whangamōmona, where the pub is a beautiful example of well-maintained Kiwi history, but the food is sadly average and over-priced. I'd recommend sticking to self-catering in your campervan and just popping in for a drink instead.
There's still a detour in place from Aukopae to Taumarunui, due to slips in September, so factor in some extra time to your journey.
We made it to our final overnight stop after about seven hours on the road, so we were delighted to find a spot at the Raglan Holiday Park with its excellent facilities and even better location.
A short walk into town and we were at another historic pub, the Raglan Harbour View Hotel, where we enjoyed a hearty meal and a seat by the fire; the weather had closed in and we needed to get cosy.
Luckily our motorhome also provided warmth and comfort as the rain raged outside and we made the short trip back to Auckland the next feeling like we'd had a proper holiday. Our home on wheels had done us proud. Hundreds of kilometres on the clock, three nights of much-needed sleep, and countless new memories of the beauty of New Zealand.
Kiwi-owned and operated Mighway allows motorhome owners to rent out their own vehicles, and there are vehicles available to hire across the country. For more details, and to book, go to mighway.com