Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Coromandel: A Road Tripper's Delight

New Zealand's Coromandel Peninsula is a mecca for holidaymakers, thanks to its lengthy coastline, varied beaches and friendly small towns. Here is a leisurely trip from Auckland which will take in the wonders of this special place.

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Day 1: Auckland to Thames

This is an easy 2-3 hour drive which will ease you into your road trip. Head south out of Auckland on State Highway 1, and turn off onto State Highway 2 then 25 which will bring you to the Kopu Bridge. Although recently rebuilt as two lanes, this bridge is a tradition amongst holidaymakers. It was previously a one-lane affair which meant long queues in rush hour friday nights and sunday afternoons, but is nonetheless beloved as the gateway to the Peninsula!

Once over the bridge, it is about 10 minutes to Thames. This little community is an ex-gold rush town which peaked in the late 1860s. Now it is a lovely town with plenty of shops and eating places, as well as a lot of history! You can take a guided tour of a mine at the Thames Goldmine Experience, and also visit the museum there which tells the history of gold mining in the area. The Rapaura Water Gardens is a beautiful spot to visit, and every Saturday there is a market in the town. There are great walking tracks in the Kauaeranga Valley behind the township which are great for experiencing a bit of the natural beauty of the Coromandel.

by Eli Duke Flickr Creative Commons

There are several places to stay in Thames- for example, the Dickson Holiday Park.

Day 2: Thames to Otama Beach

From Thames, head up the coast on SH25, along the tidal coast that borders the Firth of Thames, separating the peninsula from Auckland. This pohutakawa-filled coast makes for a very scenic drive! A great way to do it would be to do some shopping in Thames before leaving and make a picnic lunch so you can stop and enjoy the views- try Te Mata Bay, or somewhere overlooking the Manaia or Te Kouma Harbours. Take the morning to explore!

Thames Coast
by Sally Flickr Creative Commons

 Coromandel is the next major town you will come across. It is quite charming and home to many artisans, so have a look in the many arts and crafts stores. You can also take a look at the unspoilt and remote northern part of the Peninsula with Coromandel as a starting point.

From Coromandel, turn right and continue on SH25. This will take you over the hills to the eastern coast of the Peninsula and the towns of Matarangi and Kuaotunu. Matarangi has a picture-perfect white sand beach and is somewhat of a high-end holiday resort complete with golf course, and Kuaotunu is a beautiful coastal village with a white beach, several shops and amenities and great opportunities for swimming, snorkelling and diving.

Kuaotunu Beach
by Rosino Flickr Creative Commons

For Otama Beach, turn onto Black Jack Road in Kuaotunu. This road is not for the fainthearted as it is not sealed all the way, so probably shouldn't be attempted with a large motorhome! Otama is a stunning long beach backed by grassy dunes, with camping sites and cabins protected from breezes behind the dunes. The camp is quite remote and therefore has limited facilities, but there is water, toilets, a rubbish drop and a freezer for freezer pads only.

Otama Beach
by travelwayoflife Flickr Creative Commons

Day 3: Otama Beach to Hahei

As with the previous days, this one does not require a lot of driving, but there are lots of things to see and do along the way! From the Otama Beach campground, backtrack to Kuaotunu and head south on SH25. You will soon coma across Whitianga, one of the Peninsula's bigger towns, so take the opportunity to visit the supermarket or department store if need be! There is a lot happening here- boat cruises in Mercury Bay, diving, fishing, restaurants and more.

After skirting the Whitianga harbour, a side-trip is recommended to check out Cook's Beach. Turn off left onto Hot Water Beach Road then Purangi road to find this lovely little beachside town with a great fish and chip shop and a lovely estuary where the Purangi River meets the beach.

Cooks Beach

Instead of getting back on the highway, you can go from Purangi road straight onto Hahei Road and get to the beautiful Hahei. Before you get there you will come across Hot Water Beach, a major drawcard for visitors and holidaymakers. It is a surf beach with natural hot springs bubbling up through the sand, These are only reachable at low tide, so come back when the tide is down and bring a spade to dig your own spa pool!

Hot Water Beach
by The Energy Flickr Creative Commons

Hahei has a wonderful beach itself, but is also where you will find the beginning of the path to Cathedral Cove, a hidden paradise which was used as a set in one of the Chronicles of Narnia movies. A few minutes drive from the town is a carpark where the 25-40 minute walk to the cove starts. It is well worth the short hike!


Hahei Holiday Resort is a great place to stay right on the beach, with sites for motorhomes!

Day 4: Hahei- Auckland

See a few more places on the Peninsula before heading back to the Big Smoke! Heading south on SH25, you will come across the township of Tairua and it's sister community Pauanui which is just across the harbour- or a 20 minute drive around. Tairua has shops and restaurants, and a surf beach to the north of the harbour heads. In summer at high tide you are likely to see kids jumping off the bridge into the river!

Pauanui as seen from Paku Hill in Tairua
by Joshua Eckert Flickr Creative Commons

To head back to Auckland, get on SH25A shortly after Tairua and head back across the Peninsula to Thames and the Kopu Bridge. A great pit-stop on the return trip is Pokeno, which requires a small dogleg south when you hit State Highway 1. It is famous for huge icecreams!

Have a look here for great deals on New Zealand motorhome hire.

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

The Northwest: Seattle to San Fran

See the northwest coast with this leisurely road trip through three states and wine country! Starting in Seattle and heading down the coast to San Francisco, the highlights of this trip are the wonderful cities of Seattle, Portland and San Francisco, and the wine country that is the Napa Valley area.

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Day 1: Seattle to Portland

Seattle is a beautiful city based around the Puget Sound, and you will pass through several other urban centres on the way out, such as Tacoma and Olympia. If you have an extra day, you could use it to drive the Olympic Loop, a trip full of forest and coastline scenery. This also passes through the famous (or infamous) Forks, the town in which Stephanie Meyer's Twilight series is set. This loop could also be fit in to the same day as driving Seattle- Portland, if the trip is a little less leisurely!

by Jessica Spengler Flickr Creative Commons

 Olympic National Park
by Joseph Novak Flickr Creative Commons

Further south, you will pass through Longview, nicknamed the 'City of Trees.' This pretty town by the river is home to the Mount St. Helens National Volcanic Monument, an area around Mount St. Helens which is set aside for research, recreation and education. This beautiful part of the country has a Visitor's Centre and great walking trails.

Mount St. Helens
by Ewen Roberts Flickr Creative Commons

Portland is a unique city, straddling the Willamette River, with Mount Hood to the east. It laid-back and feels like a smaller city than it is, and has an alternative vibe- often touted as being very 'hipster!' There are a lot of microbreweries to visit, and lots of parks and gardens around the city. The hub of activity is Pioneer Square in downtown Portland.

There is ample opportunity to park up your motorhome in Portland: try Fairview RV Park or the Roamer's Rest RV Park which is not far out of Portland.

Day 2: Portland to Medford

See some more of Oregon on this day with only 5 hours driving. One of the first places you will pass through is Salem, a farming community which grew during the gold rush. Though small, it is the capital of Oregon, and home to the Oregon State Fair in September and August. There is a lot of history on display in the town, such as the Downtown Salem Historic District, the Mission Mill Museum, the Discovery Village, the State Capitol Building and several other museums and estates.

Salem State Capitol Building
by Doug Kerr Flickr Creative Commons

If you want to see the Oregon coast, Newport would be a great side trip to make- come off the I-5 onto US-20 and head westwards. You could add in a day here, or make it a quick detour just to get your toes wet! Newport is a charming seaside town with some lovely beaches close by, and the route there will take you through Corvallis, home to the Oregon State University which is known for marine research.

As you continue towards Medford, you will come across Eugene. As with much of the Pacific Northwest, this is a city of people who love their microbrews, coffee and ecologically-friendly lifestyles. Sport is big here, and there are also a lot of hiking and mountain biking trails.

by Scott Batchelar Flickr Creative Commons

Medford is just above the Oregon-California state border, and is a diverse city with many historical and cultural attractions. Rafting and Salmon fishing in nearby rivers are also popular pastimes! Find an RV Park in the area to spend the night- Medford Oaks, or the Holiday RV Park are some options.

Day 3: Medford to Redding

This is not a lot of driving, so that you can enjoy the beauty of northern California! The I-5 will take you through the towns of Ashland, Yreka, Weed and Mount Shasta. However, the biggest attraction along here is nature! You will pass the Klamath National Forest, encompassing nearly 1.7 million acres.  Turn off around Yreka to explore this amazing forest.  There are 5 different wilderness areas, and plenty of trails to walk.

by Michael McCullough Flickr Creative Commons

Near the town of Mount Shasta is Mount Shasta itself, a stunning mountain surrounded by the  Shasta-Trinity National Forest. Some attempt to climb the peak, but it is a real climb to be undertaken by real climbers! The Hirz Mountain Lookout is a great way to get views of the area, and there are campgrounds should you decide to stop for a few days.

Just before you get to Redding you will come across Shasta Lake, created by damming the Sacramento River. it is the houseboating and wakeboarding capital of the world- how's that for an interesting combo?

Shasta Lake
by Renee V Flickr Creative Commons

Redding is a great place to shop, with many specialty shops.  There are plenty of places to park up and rest before heading in to the coast the next day!

Day 4: Redding to Fortuna

The best way to get the most out of this part of California is to head out to the coast from Redding, so instead of continuing on the I-5, take the CA-299 out to Arcata and Eureka on the coast.

You will pass again though the Trinity National Forest, and the small town of Weaverville, a small town where the history of California's gold Rush era lives on. This charming town is a very charming spot, relatively undiscovered as a tourist destination.

by Eric Fredericks Flickr Creative Commons

There are some wild and scenic beaches out this way, and Eureka's Old Town is worth a look! One of the prettiest parts of the coastline is just north of Eureka at Trinidad State Beach. Arcata is the home of Humboldt State University and, seperated from the rest of California by the redwood forests, has somewhat of a counterculture going on, with many hippies in residence!

Trinidad State Beach
by Erik Fitzpatrick Flickr Creative Commons

Fortuna is a little further south and inland, on the shore of the Eel River. A lot of festivals take place here, such as the Daffodil Festival, Art and Wine in the Park, the Fortuna Rodeo and many more, so check out what's on while you're visiting! Try the Riverwalk RV Park for the night.

Day 5: Fortuna-San Francisco

This day covers wine country and is over 5 hours of driving, so split it in two if you have the time! Head south on US101 and soon you will come across the famous Humboldt Redwoods State Park. It is the last remaining area of old-growth redwoods, and as such is a crucial part of the natural history of the area. Running parallel to the main highway for 30 miles is the Avenue of the Giants, where the road is flanked by giant redwoods. A must-see! There are also several Drive-Thru trees off this road, but be warned that many motorhomes will not fit!

Avenue of Giants
by Doug Kerr Flickr Creative Commons

The road passes through Garberville and Willits, and passes the beautiful Lake Mendocino just before arriving in Ukiah. Now you're starting to get into a bit of wine country! Clear Lake is another large lake which requires a bit of a detour off the main route, and is the largest natural freshwater lake in the state.

Santa Rosa, Sonoma and Napa are all centres for exploring the picturesque vineyards, hills and countryside of this part of California. You will find all sorts of wine tours leaving from these places, and it is a good idea to do these rather than drive around wine-tasting in a motorhome! Often you can go on a tour right from an RV park- try the San Fran RV resort, Wine Country RV Park or Vineyard RV Park.

Wine Country
by Derek Key Flickr Creative Commons

San Francisco is a liberal, hilly and fascinating city! It has great Victorian architecture and huge ethnic and cultural diversity- as well as a true American landmark in the Golden Gate Bridge. Spend a few days getting to know the city if you can.

See here for some great deals on USA RV Rental!