A Whirlwind Tour of the North Island: Part 1


In order to test our newly discovered relocation car travel hack for ourselves, we planned a quick road trip from New Zealand’s South Island to the North. While the South Island gets the bulk of the tourists and accolades, there were several sites up north that we wanted to ensure we saw before leaving New Zealand altogether.

Our relocation vehicle turned out to be the Mighty Jackpot, and boy was he Mighty indeed. Although the kitchen area was a bit tight and the self-contained toilet was a pullout porta potty, we really loved the five days we spent in this guy.

Our Mighty Campervan in front of Lake Tekapo

In addition to awesome gas mileage, great window size, and the ability to handle speed limit speeds, Mighty had a bed that came down fully done (after the first night) at the press of a button. It made the late nights so much easier and the mornings so much faster. If you’re looking for a self-contained campervan for two people on a midrange budget, definitely check out the Mighty Jackpot. We loved the flexibility!

cooking at our free campervan spot in Taupo

We started our trip in Queenstown and breezed through most of the South Island, as we’d already seen it on a previous road trip. Our first new stop was at Kaikoura, which is the town famous for whale watching and swimming with dolphins. To be honest, we weren’t too impressed by either the scenery or the vibe. We didn’t partake in any of the tours, so we can’t judge those, but in terms of natural beauty, we thought the Otago Peninsula was more impressive for both scenery and wildlife. Plus, I’m not sure anything can beat our free swim with dolphins down in the Catlins!. In Kaikoura, we didn’t even see any seals at the seal viewpoint, though it could have been because we were there later in the day.

Kaikoura lookout

Our next to-do was a few hours in the Marlborough wine country, well worth a detour.

Marlborough wine country

We tasted some delicious pinot gris and gewürztraminer, though we didn’t find the pinot noirs as impressive as those from Central Otago. Our favorite tasting room was at Forrest, which was started by two doctors and has a really fun (and sometimes medicinal) vibe. They also have this one wine that’s about 8% alcohol and tastes like a Granny Smith apple in a glass. Yummy and refreshing, especially because the sun was finally shining!

wine grapes

From there, we crossed the Cook Strait on the Interislander ferry, which was running almost 1.5 hours late due to high winds.

Marlborough Sounds

It was a pleasant cruise and the Marlborough Sounds were pretty, but nothing really took our breath away, at least not compared to the assam laksa I had for dinner in Wellington.

Assam Laksa, in Wellington!

I’ve been craving this spicy, sour, fishy soup since we left Penang and the bowl I had at a hole-in-the-wall restaurant in Wellington hit the spot.


We made up for the unromantic dinner with a walk through Wellington’s harbor and a stop at one of the famous beer bars in town. Swank, right?

inside Hashigo Zak Beer Bar

The number one reason I wanted to come to the North Island was to do the famous Tongariro Alpine Crossing, dubbed the best day hike in all of New Zealand. We were planning on climbing “Mt. Doom” and everything, but unfortunately the weather gods had different plans. Instead of seeing three volcanoes and a bunch of multicolored lakes and craters, we battled freezing cold rain and immensely powerful wind for all 19.4 kilometers of the hike. We saw almost nothing but fog the whole time, which was a huge downer. The walk is supposed to take 6.5 to 7 hours, but because of the bad weather, we saw no reason to linger and finished it in about 4.5 hours.

it was cold and rainy on the Crossing when we did it
TIP: Be prepared for anything if attempting the Crossing

We started out with sun and sweat, but about 3km in the weather changed and it poured the rest of the time. At the least, have quick-drying pants, a waterproof jacket, and a hat. Bring sunblock as well, though we never used ours.

"Normal" Volcanic risk on the crossing.

To make up for our horrible morning on the Crossing, we sped our way to Taupo, where we soaked in the free hot springs to warm up and heal our feet.

Taupo hot springs

And checked out the insanely blue Huka Falls.

Huka Falls

The afternoon beat the morning for sure!

Interested in following the rest of our North Island road trip? Next, we explore the mud pools and hot springs of Rotorua and the insane underground world of the Waitomo Caves.

Disclosure: Mighty offered us the relocation not knowing about this blog, so the service and vehicle we received seems to be typical of the company as a whole. We wouldn’t hesitate to rent from them in the future. Plus, they have free espresso machines in their offices :o)