With spring arriving and the temperature starting to warm up, we decided to go camping in Northland and the Bay of Islands in a campervan for the first week of the school holidays.
As a child growing up in New Zealand, I have fond memories of seemingly endless warm summer days on the east coast of the North Island. We don’t get the golden sand beaches lined with pohutukawa trees in the South Island, so I was eager to experience it again with the family.
Getting to Northland to go Camping
We flew from Christchurch to Auckland on a Saturday morning. Within an hour of arriving, we had collected our luggage and been transferred to the Britz depot. Another 30 minutes, and we were heading north over the Harbour Bridge, Northland bound in our campervan!
We’d made no set plans for the trip, on purpose. We had our CamperMate app, which shows all nearby campgrounds, so it was all under control!
We had decided to aim for around 2 hours of driving time per day. The idea was that the two boys, aged 4 and 5, wouldn’t get too restless. This way, we could actually spend some time on the beach rather than in the campervan seats!
Te Arai Point Campsite, Northland
South of Mangawhai Heads, we saw free campsite called Te Arai Point Road. Situated right next to the ocean and complete with public toilets, a dump station and picnic tables, we’d found our first place to stop.
The downside to this site is that you have to drive 10kms along gravel to get there. In a larger campervan, this can be a bit of a mission. But, in the end, it was well worth it for our first night.
The site can also be quite exposed to the wind. Luckily, the wind seems to die down a little in the evening.
There were some people surfcasting from both the beach and the rocks, but they weren’t having any luck.
At around 7 pm it started raining. There is something awesome about being in a warm campervan next to the ocean with rain on the window. It was a great first night on our Northland camping holiday.
Waking up to sunshine, and after collecting a few shells along the beach, we were back on the road. Next stop: Mangawhai Heads, a famous Northland summer camping hangout for many in New Zealand.
We parked up at the main parking area at Mangawhai Heads just before lunch. It’s very campervan friendly, with larger car parks designated for campervans. From there we explored the sand dunes, a short walk away.
While having lunch we managed to spot some dolphins jumping in the estuary! People usually pay loads of money to see this sort of stuff. Here in Northland, New Zealand, you can just drive up and watch!
Kings Beach, Whananaki, Northland
The boys were pretty tired from fighting with make-believe monsters in the sand dunes. So we decided to go to Motutara Farm at Whananaki, a 1 hour and 40-minute drive away. The camp had recently re-opened after the Northland winter. and the place looked superb!is
There are two campsite options to stay here on the farm. We stayed at Kings Beach, where it cost $14 per adult for a non-powered site. Not bad, considering we literally had the whole beach to ourselves for the entire time we were there. Bliss! If you’re in this area and looking for a campsite, I would definitely stay here.
I tried fishing however only managed to catch a few useless rock cod. They were thrown straight back! The water is really clear here, so I decided to go for a snorkel. I spotted thousands of sea urchins (Kina), a Red Moki and a crayfish, just 20 metres from the beach.
There was a large school of Kahawai around waist depth while swimming back in. Why didn’t they take my bait?! It’s a bit frustrating when that happens! Luckily we’d packed easy to prepare fresh pasta, mixed with some smoked chicken and a fresh pasta sauce.
During dinner, there was a brief shower, before an awesome rainbow appeared!
It was becoming apparent that not many people are travelling around the time of the school holidays which surprised me.
The weather might be a little cooler than summer, but it was still shorts and t-shirt weather. I wasn’t complaining about the lack of people, though. I’m the first to admit I’m a bit of a recluse when on holiday!
Bland Bay Motor Camp, Northland
After breakfast, we pushed on for an hour and a half to Bland Bay Motor Camp. Aside from one other campervan, we had this superb Northland campsite to ourselves, too. Awesome!
It was about 10kms on the gravel road and there are five or so one-lane bridges to get here. It’s quite narrow in places but if you take it slow you’ll be fine. There are good, clean facilities here including a new kitchen block. So, if you’re after a bit more space when cooking, here’s a good place to do it.
This was our first powered site of the trip, so we made the most of it by charging up the cell phones and laptop. A big southerly was due to roll in accorin=ding to reports. Sure enough at around 7 pm, we started to get rocked around!
It was awesome to see the huge swells smash up against the islands you can see in the behind our campervan in the photo. They form a protective reef and only a small amount of swell gets through. By the morning it had subsided and we took to the beach for a spot of fishing again without any luck.
Matauri Bay Camp, Northland
We were now into day four and knew we had to turn around and drive back toward Auckland.
So, we decided to head toward Matauri Bay, a 1 hour 40 minute trip from Bland Bay, via the car ferry just out of Russell. The ferry saves you a few hours of driving, and drops you off at Opua on the mainland.
I’d never been to Matauri Bay before, and we were pretty keen to park up for a few days. When we drove over the hill and saw this epic Northland campsite, we knew we could easily spend a few days here!
The Matauri Bay campsite is right on the beachfront and is another beautiful Northland spot. It also was just $45 for four of us in a powered site per night, complete with unlimited hot showers!
We even managed to get a park right on the beach! What an awesome sight to wake up to.
While there were only three other campervans here, there are usually around 1,500 people here over the Christmas and New Year’s Eve period.
The surf report said 4-5 foot swells and offshore wind at Matauri Bay. I had my surfboard with me, so I was pretty keen to get a few waves in.
Being able to step out from the campervan, walk for 20 metres and start paddling my board was incredible! If you’re a surfer, you’ll love it here. That is, as long as you have the same wind and swell conditions that I had.
Returning to Auckland
We spent two nights at Matauri Bay before heading back to Auckland. The final leg of our trip was a 3-hour drive back to Auckland, with a one-hour break in Waipu, a great halfway point.
Arriving at Auckland feeling relaxed, we visited the Auckland War Memorial Museum. From there, we headed for our final night. We’d chosen to park at one of the Auckland Regional Council designated self-contained campsites called Ambury, near Mangere Bridge.
If you’re in Auckland with kids, you have to stay here! There are cows being milked, calf feedings and generally lots of animals running around. You’ll even have Pukeko’s running around your campervan. Another good reason to stay here is that you’re only 15 minutes away from the airport!
This was a great last night on our trip and really topped it off.
We’d seen and experienced a lot of Northland/Bay of Plenty while keeping our travelling down to around 90 minutes per day (aside from the trip from Matauri Bay-Auckland).
Our 6 Night Itinerary for Camping in Bay of Islands/Northland:
1 Te Arai Point Road
2 Motutara Farm, Whananaki
3 Bland Bay Motor Camp
4 Matauri Bay Holiday Park
5 Matauri Bay Holiday Park
6 Ambury Farm
Blog post by Adam Hutchinson