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Published: April 24th 2016
R: So first, a little explanation. We were going to go to Fiji/Samoa/Tonga. We have not. This is for 3 main reasons. 1) Most importantly, we love New Zealand and we feel like 5 weeks was rushing it and we're happy to stay on. 2) It is NZ school holidays this week which makes all the islands more expensive and out of our price range with the exception of Fiji. 3) Cyclone Winston ripped through Fiji recently damaging infrastructure and we were told we could go to resorts, but most likely nothing else will be open yet. So we happily decided to stay on here.
So we flew back to Auckland from Dunedin on a cheeky Air New Zealand flight and landed in an Airbnb in a 8th floor city central apartment, with a new host, Mary. You wouldn't be surprised to hear that the next day involved wine. We took an early ferry to Waiheke island, a large island just off the coast of Auckland which we missed last time through lack of time. It's a 40 minute ferry ride, and a short bus ride took us over to Onetangi bay and the Oblivion winery which did a rather
good Syrah and Viongier, apparently Syrah is what grows best on Waiheke. The owner showed us the secret vineyard path which snakes between the wineries and through the vines themselves, so we headed off. We headed onto Stonyridge, which has a high opinion of itself, but an idyllic location in an olive grove in the sun, and then Wild on Waiheke, which is something different all together. Here, you can taste wine and microbrews, do archery and zip lining amongst other activities. I settled for a plate of Cerviche and a dark ale with a "drunken" oyster floating in it. Was a very odd experience... Not sure I'll be ordering one in the Kings Head when I get back. After a brief jaunt to a olive oil tasting room we headed back to the main town on the island, Akeroa, to enjoy the beaches and sunshine before heading back to Auckland for dinner.
Then we headed back up route one to Whangerei (which since being in NZ we learned was pronounced Fanger-Ay and we have been getting it wrong). The thai place we went to last time did a lunch special so we made a bee line for it.
Then further on to Paihia, gateway to the Bay of Islands which we had enjoyed last time. On the way we stopped at "Kiwi North" so we could see more kiwis and a great wild bird rescue centre where they patch up all the hawks who get hit by cars and the like, and release them in the wild. While we were there, they tried to release on into the wild, but it was having none of it. It also had one of those "living old village" exhibits, which we briefly looked at, but remembered on our first holiday to Stockholm together, how we both politely went around one, realising later how much we both were hating it. When we arrived in Pahia it was tipping it down so we hid in our motel and watched tV. Next day, the sun was out, so we took the car on the little ferry to Russell, the older, nicer town in this area, which boasts NZ's oldest continually used church and hotel. This is the old capital of NZ from the colonisation days. we took a drive around all the gravel tracks to some beautiful bays, trailblazing a huge dust plume as
we went. Then we stopped in the Duke of Marlborough and had a Maori beer, which frankly, I could have lived without tasting, like most NZ beer.
Although we had already done a boat trip in this area, we booked onto a touristy boat to go a bit further out this time. The last time was a proper sail boat with max 10 guests. This was at least 100 seater so a bit more commercial. It took us to some beautiful islands and a hole in the rock at the cape, which we sat patiently waiting for for 15 minutes or so, as the captain waited for the right moment to launch the boat through it. As we did so a huge group of Indian tourists on the upper deck got a bit excited and several lost their hats... All around us were shoals of electric blue fish jumping around and nibbling at the water - quite a sight. We stopped at Urupukapuka island which gave us great views over the bay, and a chance to escape the hordes.
Then we went up to Mangonui, which was a new area for us as we didn't get this far
Where the Pacific meets the Tasman
last time. We stopped along the way at Whangaroa, which has an obligatory rocky outcrop to climb above the harbour providing awesome views. Pretty steep though and not easy in the 25c heat, but very worth it. The last bit required pulling yourself up with a chain, and it was made difficult by the recent rainfall. (Cate didn't find this out though - she napped in the car!). Our next Airbnb was waiting for us in Mangonui, on the north coast in Doubtless bay. As we got there the light was fading so we made ourselves comfortable and stayed in, punctuated every now and then by the next door fire station sending out a siren call for its volunteer firefighters to attend - who still uses this system - it's 2016!
Next morning, we headed for Cape Reinga, often credited as the northernmost part of NZ and where the Tasman sea meets the Pacific. This is only partly true as there is another set of cliffs which range further north. Anyway, we went and looked, it's about 150km up the cape. You can see in the photo where the two oceans meet and the waves going in different directions
collide. The Maori believe it is the jumping off point where souls enter the afterlife so much of the area is protected from the public, and faint eerie Maori pipe music is played as you enter the main arch from the car park. You can get down to a pretty lighthouse that told a tragic story - of automation - and how the lighthouse keepers were sacked in favour of remote control from Wellington. That must be a boring job...
We stopped at various bays on the way home to eat, and take in the views, and stopped for longer at the magnificent Te Paki sand dunes, which give great views of the sea and are in a valley. The thing to do here is rent body boards and slide down the dunes (called sand boarding) on your stomach. After an initial slog to get to the top, I was off. I did this several times, first choosing slightly less steep slopes, and gradually getting steeper. You control your speed by dragging your feet in the sand, or rather, picking them up out of the sand altogether to go faster. Having done this a few times I headed back
down, thoroughly covered in sand, with sand in every crevice of my clothing, face, fingernails etc etc...
We stopped at Te Kao on the way back down, which has a bizarre little Maori-Christian temple which looked very similar to a mosque which was a bit bizarre and we had an ice cream while watching the traffic (consisting of two vehicles) go by. We had a quick stop at ninety mile beach on the way back, which you can actually drive down if you wish, but we decided not to risk losing our valuable Nissan Tilda in the quicksand that the signboards warned us of...
Lonely planet told us this area was under invested, deprived and gritty (Shelley, our friend from Chile had also said this) so we kept a good eye out amongst the spa hotels, golf courses and vineyards, to the joggers, with expensive looking dogs for those that wanted to do us harm, or break into our car...
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