For this road trip, we opted for a self-contained JUCY campervan so we could freewheel without any fixed itinerary – my definition of heaven. Out east, it’s quieter and more laid back than the tourism hot spots of New Zealand. Some days, you might be the only car on the road.
Start your east coast road trip in Wairoa and follow the Pacific Coast Highway, via Gisborne all the way to Opotiki with quite a few deviations on the way. This is a comparatively remote part of New Zealand where you will find exquisite deserted beaches, rustic little towns, pristine lakes and colourful characters who seldom go near a city.
Lake Waikaremoana, the ‘Sea of Rippling Waters’ in Te Urewera National Park, is just one hour inland from Wairoa and two hours from Gisborne but it feels like an enchanted world. Te Urewera, the ancestral home of Ngāi Tūhoe – the ‘Children of the Mist’ – is a land of legends and mystique. It’s the site of one of New Zealand’s Great Walks, a 46km track that links a series of stunning stunning beaches beaches and meanders up and down through forests of giant podocarp trees. The 1180m Panekiri Bluff provides jaw-dropping views of the ink-blue lake encircled on all sides by the dark-green rainforest. Make sure you do the 30-minute side track to Korokoro Falls where you can inch your way along a rock ledge and stand behind the waterfall. You can climb up a track to the top of the waterfall too.
Lake Waikareiti is Lake Waikaremoana’s smaller cousin, ‘iti’ meaning ‘little’ in Māori. It’s accessible only on foot, an easy two-hour return hike through a forest of tall red- and silver beech and rimu trees. Last time we tackled the walk, we met a mycologist, a person who studies mushrooms and other fungi, and she introduced us to tiny colourful fungi living along the side of the track that we had never noticed before.
Stay the night at the Lake Waikaremoana Holiday Park.