New Zealand North Island Road Trip- Auckland and the Northland

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So we made it to Auckland! After touching down at midnight and jumping on a super shuttle, we finally crawled into bed at 2.30am- phew long day! We stayed at Ponsonby Backpackers, unsurprising in Ponsonby in Auckland. Really lovely hostel, 20 mins walk from the Sky Tower. After a long lie in the next morning we walked into town to the Viaduct district which has the marina and loads of bars and restaurants. And at last Hedd has his first cider since starting traveling in October. The bar also had a Welsh flag outside it which made his day. The next day after a refreshing nights sleep it was time to pick up the car- a little silver Mazda Demio. (We hired it from Apex Rentals). There were no stalling on the first drive for both of us and NZ drive on the left like us, but all the controls were in different places which caused some “arghh” moments! But we managed to navigate ourselves through the city and back to our hostel without any crashes- phew. We then headed out on foot into the city once more to check out the Sky Tower. We opted for the ‘sun and stars’ ticket ($30) which allowed you multiple entry up the tower in 1 day. The life had a glass floor so it was cool to look down and watch as you ascended the 220 meters shaft. First stop was the observatory level but the best level to walk around in is the Sky Deck. You could see for miles and there were info boards explaining what you were seeing. After having a hot chocolate at the Sky Lounge cafe admiring the view of the marina and Auckland Harbour Bridge, we headed back down to ground level and went off in search for the ‘Adventure Capital’ office who we were to hire camping kit from for our North Island road trip. It was quite expensive to hire but it would have been equally expensive to buy and we get to just drop this off with our car in Wellington at the end which is easier than trying to sell/give it away. But if your wanting to buy your kit, head to a store called ‘The Warehouse’, which is a mix between Trago Mills, Wilkinsons and TK Max in the UK. That evening we had a treat and headed to the cinema in Sky City to see the new Sherlock Holmes film and we got sweets and popcorn and everything! It was good fun and felt like home, going to Cheshire Oaks on an Orange Wednesday. One thing I noticed though is that Kiwi’s laugh out loud, really heartily, much more than British do during films, not even at that funny a scene…we must be getting too cynical! The film finished at 10.30pm and we leg it to the sky town so we could use our ticket again before the last ascend at 10.45pm. We made it and I was so pleased we did as to see the city at night with all the twinkling lights was really wonderful.

“The journey is the destination”

So the 7th January marked the start of our road trip and camp around NZ north island. And true to British camping form, as soon as we started our drive out of Auckland it started to bucket down! Undeterred (much) we powered on North up Route 1, following the Twin Coast Discovery Road. We headed north to Warkworth, Brynderwyn (which must have been named by a Welsh person!) and stopped for lunch at Ruawai at 2pm. It was still raining hard and looking at the map, it was at this point when we realised reaching Cape Reinga was unrealistic. The roads are our equivalent of an A road and were windy. That teamed with the weather made the going very slow. So we continued north for a couple of more hours but called it a day at Opononi Motor Camp, just across the road from the Hokianga Harbour Estuary. We battled with the severe wind and rain and erected our tent for the first time, tying it by its guide ropes to a tree so it would blow away in the night! After a dinner of beans of toast we retreated from the rain into our cosy tent and played cards with some ciders in our sleeping bags.

The next morning it was still raining! We got up, practically threw our tent in the boot and headed north in a hope for better weather. We popped into the local ‘i-site’ to check all the roads were still open, luckily they were plus a sneaky car ferry (crossing from C to D on the map without the need to drive all the way around the estuary) which would save some time. We made the 20 minute drive to Rawene, narrowly missing the ferry, so had to wait for the next one 1 hour later. As I drove onto the ferry platform it was just like taking the Torpoint Ferry, but this one wasn’t attached to chains. After 20 minutes we arrived on the other side at Kohukohu and drove on north on route 1 towards the Northern Peninsula. After stopping off for lunch at Kaitaia we then on the road running parallel to the Ninety Mile Beach heading towards NZ northenly point. Our little car wasn’t up to such things as driving on the Ninety Mile Beach. But if you have a 4×4 you could do. Instead we headed down to the beach at Hukatere so we could look up the beach towards Cape Reinga. We couldn’t see much to be honest through all the rain! So we kept heading north stopping at Waitiki Landing Holiday Park to set up camp. The weather had calmed down and was only lightly spitting. So we took the chance to explore Cape Reinga. After parking up, it was just a 10 minute walk down to the lighthouse. It was still blowing a hoolie but we got to see ‘the meeting point’ where the Tasmin Sea and Pacific Ocean meet. It causes waves to explode into each other and creates angled lines of white spray which looks cool out at sea. To the right of the lighthouse we also got to see on a rocky cape the famous Pokutukawa tree, reputed to be 600-800 years old, which represents the legendary departure point for the Maori spirits on their way to the afterlife in Hawaiiki. The tree looks like its clinging to the rock and growing perpendicular to it, but it still grows…amazing!  On the way back to camp we stopped off at Te Paki sand dunes. The dunes are massive and we managed to climb a little one before the weather turned bad again and we retreated once more to our tent.

Next morning (9th) and still tipping it down! We said good bye to the Ninety Mile Beach and the Northland Peninsula and headed on Route 10 towards Paiha- the gateway town to the Bay of Islands. On the way we turned off the road and headed up the Karikari peninsula. We stopped at Maitai Bay to see the twin bays called Maitai Bay and Merita Beach. Maitai Bay is so curved that the waves break on it in smiles. We walked up a bank in the rain to get a better view and I preceded in slipping down it on the way back, covering my entire behind with mud. The kid at the bottom found the whole episode hilarious, giggling and telling her mum over and over that I had fallen over. Needless to say we left pretty sharpish, nursing my pride! After a stretch on route 10 again, we turned off towards Tauranga Bay to drive, what the locals call, the Million Dollar View Road. 16.5 km of scenic driving and sweeping vistas. We stopped off at Tauranga Bay, our car bonnet almost touching the coastline, and had our sandwiches. Back on the road again and getting closer to Paiha, we made one last stop just before Kerikei at Rainbow Falls- a 27 meter waterfall. We walked to the top platform and watched the water thunder over the edge and then headed down the track to the pool and sat admiring the beautiful waterfall. You could feel the spray on your face and dipping our toes into the pool, it was no 30 degrees Fijian water I can tell you…freezing! We arrived in Paiha late afternoon and set up camp at Waitangi Holiday Park 15 minute walk from Paiha, right by the estuary. Our neighbours were 4 kiwi guys from Christchurch who were traveling the north island with a boat and a 4×4 full of booze for their Christmas vacation. They were a good laugh and we drank into the night with the guys…Lewis drinking a whole bottle of Jim Bean within 2 1/1 hours for $100 was particularly impressive!

The next day was our first proper excursion in NZ and it wasn’t raining- yey! We went on a boat trip around the Bay of Islands on a 50 ft catamaran called Carino.  They are the only yacht licensed by DOC to encounter and swim with wild dolphins so we had our swimmers on in anticipation. There was about 25 of us on board and we set sail at around 9.30am from Paiha. After picking up a few more passengers at Russell, we headed north following the coast up from Paiha. We saw a big pod of 15 bottlenose dolphins just by Moturoa island. They jumped up out of the water and swam along the boat really close up. They had babies with them so we couldn’t swim with them which was a bit disappointing but It was super cool seeing them so close up in the wild. We also saw Gannet birds which the locals nickname ‘Jesus birds’ as they skip (walk) on water. We then sailed across the bay to Roberton Island, whose Moari name is Motuarohia Island (‘the island of desire’) and one of the most visited Bays in the Island group.  We anchored up and got a little power boat to the shore. We hung out on the beach and walked up to the viewpoint there where you got a 360 degree view around the Bay of Islands- beautiful. After a haphazard walk/skid down the hill again (I’d learnt my lesson from yesterdays slip!), it was time to get back onto Carino for a BBQ lunch before heading back towards Paiha. We picked up another pod of dolphins and they were diving for food so would disappear for ages and then pop up again right under the boat. Very fun. We decided to get off at Russell to have a look around. Whereas Paiha is modern and overtly touristic, Russell has an old worldly charm. We walked along the beach and then up Flagstaff hill which has a great view over Russell town and the bay. The Flagstaff commemorates the truce between the Moari’s and Europeans back in the day. But it wasn’t plain sailing. The flagstaff was put up by the Europeans and cut down by the Moari’s many times until the Moari by choice erected the flagstaff that now stands. It was fantastic weather and we sat a watched the boats for quite some time before headed back down the hill into town. We enjoyed an ice cold cider at the Duke of Marlborough Hotel which is the oldest licensed pub in NZ. A live band were playing on the veranda and the sun was out and life was good! We caught the aptly named “Happy Ferry” back across to Paiha early evening…it reminded me of the Cremyl ferry across to Mt Edgecombe back home…and walked back to our campsite via ‘Shippies’ Fish n’ Chip shop for some tea. The chippy is an old tall ship which is now permanently docked on the river just by our campsite which is pretty cool. There was no cod or haddock on the menu so we went by recommendation and tried battered Dorry and Blue Nose. We ate from the paper with a glass of wine on our picnic table and watched the sun go down. A perfect end to a great day in the Bay of Islands.

Auckland and the Northlands in a snapshot:

  • Weather= A mix of torrential rain/wind and bright sunny spells!
  • Car snack of choice= Pineapple Lumps (pineapple chews covered in chocolate…its a NZ thing!)
  • Drink= Cider- Monteaths
  • Best achievement= Getting the tent up and keeping it up on day 1
  • Radio station for driving tunes= ‘Rock FM’!

Hedd’s words of wisdom:

So much to cover!! So let’s start with Auckland, just another city, a bit drab, says it all when the highlight was a cinema trip!! What happened to the New Zeland summer? Those first few days of camping were a nightmare, although I’m glad we got 30 minutes without rain so we could enjoy Cape Regina. Things took a much more positive turn at the Bay of Island as we enjoyed a day on a boat and saw the sun again. Its amazing the impact that weather can have on your perception of a place. We also had our first proper encounter with native kiwi’s here (people not the bird – that comes later)!! We met 4 guys from Christchurch on a fishing / drinking holiday. It was an interesting night as we watched one of them drink a litre of Jim Beam in 2.5 hours to win 100 dollars, he won the money, but was definatley worse off for it!! We also found out he wanted to become a driver for the Kiwi Experience buses or as he called them  “The Vagina Liner” as they are full of young european girls who get drunk and fall prey to their sleazy bus drivers!!! We have seen a few of these buses since and their drivers certainly look the type. Thankfully we chose another company for our adventure in the South Island!!

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