Tauranga & The Coramandel

Our final summer road trip ended up being 3 nights long, thanks to a kind soul making my roster work for me to travel, and thanks to Greg’s employer being flexible with his weekend. With that much time, we were able to go a bit farther than we had previously gone, and we decided to head up to Tauranga, and the Coramandel, with some specific sights in mind.

Some generous and helpful friends of ours loaded us up with all the camping gear we could possibly need and want, and sent us on our way!

We left town after work on Friday night, and ate our spaghetti in the car! We stopped in Rotarua to grab a beer for Greg. You non-Kiwis may be thinking, “excuse me, grab what?” Apparently it’s legal to drink alcohol in the vehicle in most places in NZ, as long as someone else is driving. Yeah. (Kiwis, if I’ve misunderstood this, correct me, please!) We hadn’t done it yet, but we figured we should have the experience at least once. (Cause we don’t have enough opportunity to drink here as it is. #sarcasm) It felt really wrong, but when in NZ… cheers to road trip beers!

We arrived in Tauranga where some new friends, R and S, put us up for the night. We shared some wine and had a great visit with them on their beautiful patio before bed.

The next morning, we headed to the beach by their place, Papamoa Beach, and enjoyed some white sand, sun, and Tuatua catching!

We had heard of catching tuatuas from a couple of people, but didn’t really understand how to do it until we got into the water. We saw some others with buckets out about thigh deep, and wandered out as far as they were. Greg started digging his toes around in the sand until he felt what seemed to be a rock underneath, and then picked it up to find out it was a Tuatua! They are similar to muscles or clams. I tried and found a few myself! The limit is 150 per person, per day, so Greg set out to get a small bucket full for dinner. It was a new, unique experience for both of us, and so cool to try.

We had an amazing brunch with R and S, and then headed into Tauranga, where we climbed Mount Maunganui.

It was a bit cloudy, which ended up being to our benefit, as it was 27°C, very muggy, and we came down drenched in sweat! The views at the top were gorgeous, and I would highly recommend climbing it if you’re ever there. Just make sure you have decent shoes, some water, and a relative level of fitness.

We did some shopping afterwards, and then Greg and I headed to visit some Canadian/Kiwi friends for dinner! It was so great to spend the evening with some familiar faces from Canada, and to glean some wisdom from people who have moved abroad, and experienced so many of the same things as we have, but are years ahead of us on the journey. (Greg also cooked the Tuatuas, and they were pretty flavourful! You can see some in the bowl between us.)

We finished the evening with a walk to the beach to watch the girls run and enjoy the cool breeze. We left Tauranga around 8:30pm to finish our treck to Hahei in the Coramandel, where we camped at the Seabreeze Holiday Resort. The road was extremely windy to get up there, but was nothing we weren’t prepared for by now. We arrived and got the tent set up, and made it to bed before midnight.

Sunday was a relaxing morning of sleeping in, coffee and pancakes. The camp facilities at Seabreeze were amazing to me! I guess they are quite typical here, and from what we’ve heard, some resorts are better than others, but Greg and I were blown away at the amenities this place had. They had a large communal building with several bathroom stalls and shower stalls (there was never a line in the 2 days we were there). They had a big kitchen area with 4 fridges/freezers, about 6 sinks (dish soap provided), 6 stove tops (some pans provided), several microwaves and kettles, toasters, plug-ins where people charged their phones, and even a tv room with couches and chairs.

This place would be amazing to camp at with groups of friends! I’ve never had such a great experience tenting. It honestly reminded me of being at summer camp. We slept in our tent, but we headed to the main building just down the path whenever we wanted to cook, do dishes, use the toilet, or get something from the fridge. We also met a few nice people in the kitchen as well; I really like how this style of camping promotes community and making new friends. A person could have privacy in their site if they preferred, but could also head to the main building to meet others if he or she wanted. It was awesome! Canada could learn from this.

Sunday afternoon, Greg and I headed to Cathedral Cove. We parked and walked the 25 minutes in with our beach gear. We planned to stay for a while and enjoy it, instead of just getting some photos and leaving. I’m glad we did! We had a great afternoon. It was partially cloudy, which allowed us to stay longer without burning to a crisp in the NZ sun. (We still burnt a bit!) Cathedral Cove is beautiful, and a NZ must do.

We wanted to go to Hot Water Beach as well, so we left Cathedral Cove in the late afternoon, with the plan of heading over to HWB, not realizing that we were in the wrong tide window for it to work. We had gotten there too late, and the water was up high enough to cover most of the hot spots. We left with the plan of returning in the morning before heading home.

As it turned out, there was a brewery on site at Seabreeze, so obviously, Greg was pretty happy about that. We cleaned up and headed over for some pints and hot chips before dinner. It was a nice place to relax on site at our resort!

We had a nice steak dinner, cooked on the communal BBQ at the resort, and enjoyed some star gazing before bed.

The stars were so bright and beautiful that far out of town. It felt like we could see every star in the Southern Hemisphere. We’ve learned that down here we can see the Southern Cross, the constellation on NZ’s flag, but it can’t be seen from Canada. We can’t see the Big Dipper from down here.

Another random piece of information for the Canadian readers is that they have these creatures here called “cicadas.” They essentially sound like crickets, but they chirp in the day, from dawn till dusk, and are about ten times louder than crickets. I usually don’t mind them, but while sleeping in the tent, they were so loud in the early evening and morning that we had to put earplugs in. Thankfully I had 2 sets in my bag from the flight over!

On Monday morning, after another round of pancakes, we packed up and headed to Hot Water Beach, at the appropriate time this time! In order to access the hot springs under the sand, one needs to be there either 2 hours before or after low tide. We only had a bucket, but Greg started digging.

Our neighbours in the next hole told us the water beneath the surface needs to be hot right at the beginning of digging. If the water coming up is cold, there is no hot spring under that spot. We had cold water, so we moved to another spot, and started digging again. Those same neighbours lent us their spade, so Greg was able to do a more efficient dig.

The water was warm in the new spot, so Greg kept digging deeper and deeper until we had a sizeable pool to sit in. There was a really noticeable hot spot on the left side of our pool, and it was so hot that it was burning my elbow and waist on the left side. I had to keep shuffling the sand around and moving the water throughout the pool, just like trying to warm up the bath water! We just dug a hole in the sand and made our own hot tub with geothermal heat. NZ has got some amazing things to do!

As our neighbours were so kind to give us tips and lend us their spade, we gave them some of our wine, and had a nice visit with them. Some other neighbours had a hole that was so hot they couldn’t even go in it, and we felt bad for them. As we had to leave a bit early to get home for a party that evening, we gave them our hole, and they were quite thankful.

We enjoyed the scenery on the drive home, and I took my turn to enjoy a nice wine pairing with my lunch in the car (still so odd…). We got home 25 minutes before our friends arrived at our place, and we finished off the weekend with a fun farewell party with friends!

It was a great long weekend, and finale to our summer travels. I’m so looking forward to the next time we get to go exploring in more of this amazing country we’re calling home.

Why You Should Try Walmart and Truck Stop Camping

I love Walmart Camping for several reasons. Years ago I saw the campers parked at our city’s Walmart, and it looked like such a fun thing to do. I’m really not sure what drew me to the idea, other than maybe how carefree and spontaneous it looked. At that time, the camper we had didn’t have a bathroom in it, which for me, is pretty important on my needs list.

Fast forward a few years to when we had a camper with a functioning bathroom, and a generator, and planned a last minute trip to BC – Walmart Camping became something I crossed off my bucket list! We had just been in the British Aisles that summer and it was so cold there, so we literally decided in the airport on our way home to head to Kelowna with our trailer for a week of hot, sunny weather before summer ended. We arrived home at midnight and left town by 8am the next morning! We had our camper on the back, and nowhere booked to stay.

We spent the first night at a truck stop, and the next three between two Walmarts in Kelowna, and it was great. Since then, our family members have started Walmart Camping a bit, and we’ve done it several more times. Here are the pros and cons to staying at Walmart and truck stops:

Pro’s:

1. It’s Free. This is a major plus, especially if you’re just driving through a place, and you don’t need to spend much time there. It feels like a waste of money to book an RV park just to sleep.

2. It’s Last Minute. This could be seen as a con for some people, but the benefit of sleeping at Walmart is that you don’t have to book ahead. We like to drive until we feel like we’re done for the day, and then find the next Walmart or truck stop, and pack it in for the night. We don’t always know how far we want to make it, so booking ahead is a problem for travel days. Last minute stops allow us freedom in our traveling and make it much more relaxing than, “we’re so tired but we have to make it to that city where our booking is tonight,” or “it’s so early, and we could have kept driving for hours if we didn’t have this booking here.”

3. You can shop! We often need either a couple small grocery items, or something for the truck or trailer, and Walmart has it all. Most have a tire shop too, which is great for being on the road.

4. Starbucks. So far, at every Walmart we’ve stayed at, there has been a Starbucks within walking distance for me to go pick up my mobile order in the morning. It’s awesome. Not to mention, there are usually lots of other stores and restaurants nearby as well.

There are a few downsides too.

Cons:

1. You’re not level, or set up. Since you’re not unhooking your vehicle for any length of time or at all, or putting your jacks down (or shouldn’t be) you can’t level out, so we sometimes sleep with our heads or feet higher than we’d like. Just do your best to find a flat spot when you park in their designated area. You can’t set up full camp either, so you’re living in limbo a bit.

2. It can be bright and loud. As it’s meant to be an overnight thing, don’t plan to sleep in. Walmarts are always in high traffic areas, so there’s going to be noise from that. They also have bright lights that illuminate the lot overnight. Patrons start showing up early to shop as well. We’ve had some Walmart mornings where people park right by us and are walking past on either side to get into and out of the store. Truck stops will be loud as the semi’s are coming and going all through the night, and most drivers leave their trucks running while they sleep to control the temperature inside.

3. You can’t leave your trailer there unattended and you shouldn’t unhook. (I know, in the picture just above we’re unhooked! On that day we did this to block the spot next to us because a super huge and loud motorhome bus had squeezed in beside us the night before and ruined our sleep and space. This is potentially another con – you have to deal with other RVers who may or may not be cool, but you do this at RV parks too). You’re really only supposed to spent one night, or maybe two, but they don’t want you actually camping in their lot. It’s meant to be an overnight rest stop.

That means that when we Walmart camp, we take the trailer behind us everywhere we go during the day. This gets to be a bit of a pain after a while. Walmart Camping is great for a few days, or for when you’re driving to and from your destination, but it’s not ideal for long term stays.

4. No hook-ups or dumps. This isn’t really that big of a con, but it needs to be mentioned. Make sure the appropriate tanks are full and empty before you go, and that you have a generator if you want power. There should be a dump at a service station in town somewhere. If you google it, you can find it, but it’s not likely to be at Walmart or close by.

Despite the short con list, the pros way over-deliver for us and we still camp at Walmart or truck stops on nearly every road trip.

We usually do steaks, or a nice meal for supper, and a pancake breakfast too, because who says you have to eat bad food just because you’re staying at Walmart?

One more brief, yet important point! Make sure you call ahead to ask for permission, because not all Walmarts allow camping! Many have terminated the offer due to people being idiots and leaving dog poop or trash behind, or even emptying their tanks in the lot! Who does that? Don’t be an idiot. Super-centres are a good bet to stay at, but we’ve gotten a courtesy ticket for staying at a Walmart in a mall before. Run inside to buy something or fuel up as a thank you if you’re sleeping at a truck stop.

Happy Walmart Camping!