A New Zealand RV Adventure

Words and photos by Coalatree Ambassador Ryan Erickson. Follow his adventures on Instagram, and learn more about his trips on his blog.

New Zealand is the land of contrast. Subtropical beaches, volcanoes and rainforests layer the North Island, while glaciers, fjords and the snow-capped Southern Alps cover the South Island. It’s like Polynesia and Alaska gave birth resulting in a pristine land of one-of-a-kind ecosystems. Recently, myself and two good friends, JT and Shaun, drove a motorhome across the country from north to south over several weeks. This is what we found…

We started our journey driving along curvy roads and vibrant green countryside. Our first destination was Raglan, New Zealand’s most charming little surf town. It’s also the name of the world-class pointbreak wave breaking nearby which put the sleepy beach town on the map. Raglan is considered one of the longest surfing waves in the world. Our first view was a stunner: perfect, playful walls peeling left flawlessly for what seemed like a mile down the bay. For the next few hours, we traded off riding 300-yard long racers down the point. After the second or third waves, my arms were already sore from the long paddle back up the point to the lineup. We found a restaurant in town and spent the evening recounting the details of every wave we caught at Raglan. We were buzzing from the surf session!

Next, we went rafting on The Kaituna River, home to Okere Falls, the tallest commercially run waterfall rapid in the world. Our guides gave us gear and an orientation about how to brace in the raft before going “over the falls.” “Wait, how big ARE these falls?” I asked. Our guide replied “Oh, 23 feet but don’t worry it’s only a 50/50 chance of capsizing. If you do fall out, remember there will be an air pocket under the upside-down raft if you need air.” I was nervous after that briefing. We started floating down the Kaituna, going down three rapid sections before reaching the waterfall. We paddled to the bank to wait our turn. We watched as several kayakers dropped like an elevator over the edge. It looked absolutely terrifying.

Now we were up. We paddled, our guide yelled “Brace!” and we tucked down into the raft as it went vertical down the waterfall. I couldn’t see anything in the turbulence of the rushing water. All I know is that it felt like riding a bucking bull. After what felt like an eternity, we miraculously appeared out of the whitewater still right-side up! We cheered and felt adrenaline pulsing through our veins for days. One of the craziest experiences of my life. After rafting, our guide told us about a secret cliff jump and rope swing. We spent the rest of the day jumping off cliffs, out of trees and swinging off ropes into the crystal-clear river. An ideal natural waterpark.

We continued south and put our RV on a ferry bound for the South Island. The terrain changed from looking like Southern California to Patagonia in just a few hours. We spent a few days in Abel Tasman National Park, a pristine swath of coastal forest peppered with a dozen, world-class, deserted beaches. There are no roads there so we got dropped off by boat at one end of the preserve and picked up on the other end eight hours later after hiking ten miles though pristine old-growth forests and across wobbly suspension bridges. That night we witnessed some of the brightest stars we’d ever seen in our lives.

Over the next few days, we hiked up to the amazing Franz Josef Glacier and headed over the pass of the snow-capped Southern Alps until we reached Doubtful Sound, one of the most beautiful fjords in the world. We took a day cruise of the inlet. The heavy rains of the previous night created hundreds of waterfalls gushing down the vertical walls into the sea. It was amazing to see nature in its most raw form.

The next day we reached Queenstown, adventure capital of New Zealand. Queenstown is a beautiful, happening mountain town where you arrange your adrenaline fix. Bungee jumping, sky-diving, river rafting, mountain biking, snowboarding, river jet-boating, etc. After 14 days and over 2500 miles, however, both our RV and our bodies were running on empty. We reached the end of the line on our New Zealand road trip. We went out to Queenstown’s main drag for a celebratory feast on our last night together in New Zealand. Though we didn’t see Gandolf or any Hobbits, New Zealand blew our minds. If you can’t make up your mind regarding what outdoor activities you want to do on your next vacation, have no fear, just go to New Zealand and do them all!

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