Whangarei, beaches and a glowworm cave

A few months ago, after Chris and I had taken my car apart and put it back together (long story short, poor Stanley leaked heavily!), we decided to go on our first road trip and actually sleep in the car. Looking at the forecast, all of New Zealand looked rainy and wet. The least rain was to be expected for the north, so we decided to go up to Whangarei, about 3 hours away from Auckand.


Ready to go on our first adventure in Stanley


On the way up, we looked at campgrounds and decided to stay on the DOC campground at Uretiti Beach (the first of many, many DOC campgrounds we'd stay on), a short drive from Waipu and about 30 minutes south of Whangarei. The campground is directly on the street and very easy to reach. It’s huge for a DOC campground, but it was officially still winter, which meant there were about 10 hardcore camper present. And us camping newbies.

Setting up was quite easy since we only had to position the car evenly to be able to sleep, get the camping chairs and table out and done. We then went to the nearest supermarket and spent a fortune on way too much and too complicated food. Pasta with meat, mushrooms and onions on a cream sauce. Preparing it was quite fun, though, as we only had only my wobbly little screw-on gas cooker I used in Iceland. And it was dark, and apart from headlamps, we didn’t bring any light. So we kept blinding each other while cooking until we decided to eat our dinner in the dark. Luckily it was full moon. The evening was lovely thought, and we were really excited about our first camping-roadtip together.


Sleeping in the car was awesome! It wasn’t too cold and the mattress I bought before the trip fitted perfectly into the car. We took our normal bedding and had a lovely night. In the morning we woke up to the first rays of the sunrise that looked into our windows. I took a quick picture and went back to sleep.

Making brekky and tea was easy, and after some relaxing we went to Whangarei. We actually wanted to hire a kayak there but somehow didn’t in the end, because we spent too much time shopping for camping accessories. We got an upgrade in the form of a sun shelter which we mostly wanted to use as a wind/rain shelter. And we got a good light that doesn’t make you go blind. Yay.

In the end we only had time for a little walk through the nice city center and the pretty colonial houses along the shore of the river.

We came back to the campground just in time to set up our new roof before the weather went crazy! The wind has picked up already, we saw the black clouds coming and hurried to get it all up and ready just as hell broke loose! Windgusts, hail, a lot of rain, all broke down on us as we held on to our new sun shelter that got almost smashed to the ground because it’s a sun shelter after all and not really made for heavy wind. It did survive, though, and we almost didn’t get wet underneath. Succeeded the test for hard conditions. We were still glad that we could sleep in the car and didn’t have to stay in a tent.


The next day, we decided to listen to the tip of the campground hosts and went to the Waipu Cave, hoping to see some glowworms. The road to the caves starts directly on the other side of the street of the campground and took around 15 minutes to get there. The caves are off the main road but still well visited and even though it was winter, there were about 5 or 6 cars parked already. Entry is free as the cave is maintained by the DOC.

Once in the cave you need to wade through a pretty cold cave stream. Be careful, the stones in the water are painful and the wet clay along the stream is extremely slippery. Bring a light with you but make sure you switch it off as soon as you are deep enough in the cave because only with complete darkness you can see the millions of glowworms on the ceiling! And I’m not exaggerating here, it really looked like the starry night sky in this cave, you almost forgot you’re standing in a cave. I have never seen so many glowworms in one place before. Unfortunately only, until someone switches on their torch and all the magic disappears.

Which is why you should come here as early in the morning as possible or even at night, to have this fairy land just for yourself, uninterrupted.

Taking pictures of glow worms in the pitch dark is a challenging undertaking that needs time, practice and a good camera. Make sure you bring it all to burn the glowworms on your lens

On the way back to the city we decided to take the scenic route once more and drove along the coast for as long as possible. Even tough it was rainy every now and then it’s so much nicer than taking the highway.

And if we had stayed on the highway, we would’ve never come past the lovely holiday resort Waipu Cove and especially the amazing Waipu Cove Café! Make sure to stop there for lunch or dinner when passing through, no matter if you’re actually hungry. Believe me, you will be!

The café looks like a funky beach shack you’d expect in a place like this. The food goes anywhere from pizza to burger to the amazing homemade Gnocchi I had. All their veggies are freshly picked from a garden nearby and the meat is coming from farmers in the area, too. Everything looks and tastes like heaven. Just go try it if you don’t believe me!


Our first camping adventure as a couple definitely was a huge success and laid a ground stone for many more, similar adventures we went on ever since and that are still waiting for us. And with every camping trip, we’re learning more about living outdoors and are getting better every time. I also like reading other traveller's blogs, always on the lookout for more tipps and tricks to make sleeping in a station wagon even more cosy. We’re still not pros yet, but if we keep going like this, we’ll definitely get there soon.

You might also enjoy reading about all the other awesome things to do in Northland and the Bay of Islands

Hot tip: Make Northland part of your 2-weeks North Island itinerary!