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Rent a vintage campervan to experience New Zealand’s extraordinary North Island landscapes in a way few others do – take the back roads to black-sand beaches and caves that sparkle like the night sky, to the country’s biggest lake and its wildest geyser eruptions



Lion Rock dominates the bay and beach at the surfers’ paradise of Piha

The Māori call them mākutu, or witchcraft, because in New Zealand the roads are magical. One minute they surface, unfolding along pastoral foothills; the next they vanish, furrowing deep into Triassic-period jungles laden with silver ferns. It is an untamed corner of the universe that rewards those travelling under their own steam. With the keys to a campervan, drivers can – on a whim – go in search of a lake glimpsed through the window, or stop to climb a hill spotted in the rear-view mirror – because their bed for the night is never somewhere distantly ahead, but always about two feet behind them.

The near-deserted beach at Piha. BELOW Kitekite Falls, a short hike from Piha


Setting out on the highway from Auckland to the west coast town of Piha, the Kiwi enchantment begins to take hold. Anyone driving to the surfer’s retreat must first negotiate the Waitakere Ranges, an abrupt vegetative Eden of subtropical kauri forest that acts as a barrier between the twinkling lights of civilisation and the untamed coast.

After a 30-minute drive west, the road corkscrews into hills carpeted with nīkau palms, some as giant as pantomime beanstalks, then careers down the other side to meet Piha’s sheer cliffs, pock-marked with nesting sites for gulls. It’s mid-afternoon when the campervan trundles into Piha, passing scattered weatherboard houses and parking in front of a beach being pounded by waves. This volcanic sand has Marvel-superhero strength, so rich in iron it will stick to a magnet.


Following the resurgence in recent decades of interest and pride in Māori culture, last year saw the launch of Emotiki. The brainchild of a manager at Te Puia geyser park in Rotorua, this set of Māori-themed emojis are free to download via an all-inclusive app. Now, instead of texting yellow smiley faces, phone users can send expressive green tiki masks (

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Find the complete article and many more in this issue of Lonely Planet - May 2017
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