Slowly descending through the sparse cloud cover looking down on the lush green hilltops, our first glimpse of New Zealand was one of stark contrast from the dry, baron landscape of Australia. Auckland provided welcomed change from downtown Sydney, as it felt more like a large town compared to its unofficial capital status. Our first challenge was to establish a mode of transport to get us out of the city and off the beaten track. We looked at buying a car or van but most that we viewed were either vastly overpriced or dangerously under repaired, so having made the decision that we didn’t want to end up at the mercy of a potentially expensive engine failure, followed by a mechanic’s report that would summarise; “well its gonna cost ya”. We rented a station wagon and hit the road, but not before sorting out the sleeping arrangements as we folded the back seats down and inflated a rather snug fitting airbed. Killing two birds with one stone, securing both transport and lodgings in our shiny silver Nissan, we began our journey by heading north towards Cape Reinga and certain spring showers. We were lucky enough to be blessed with fine weather
for our first day and made a beeline for the coast in search of the deserted white sands of Pakiri beach.
One the way we stopped at Goat Island complete with zero goats but blessed with particularly clear water that makes it possible to view the marine life from standing on the rocks, and although it was tempting to dive in at this famed snorkel location, the strong south westerly and the cold, sub tropical Pacific would surly have made for a frosty reception. A drive on a gravel road wound up the coast and through sheep speckled green hills before heading back down and finishing at Pakiri beach. Throwing ourselves in at the deep end and with the weather in our favour, we started our tour of New Zealand with some freedom camping in the local car park. A feast of pasta and veg was cooked on our newly purchased stove, and watching the sunset over the hills, Lucy remained excited at the prospect of spending the next four months in the back of a car, where as Dave began to question if this was all such a good idea. The weather closed in for the next two
days few days fueling Dave’s lack of morale, and with dark skys and cold winds making for a miserable start, things could only get better. After narrowly missing sharing our breakfast with 3 horses that had wondered over from a nearby field, we moved onto the local campsite to get out of the persisting wind and cook in a kitchen.
The weather thankfully picked up as we arrived in Whangarei meaning we could take a walk around the local forest of A.H.Reed Park and venture out to Whangarei falls. Being as organised as possible with the intent to get an early start we made sandwiches after breakfast only to find that our car battery was flatter than Paris Hilton’s debut album. Proving that you can plan all you want but if someone leaves the interior light on overnight, your buggered. After being reassured by the fact that our breakdown policy didn’t cover flat batteries we were lucky enough to get a jump start from Brett, our campsite owner. After finally getting underway and with a new found optimism after our setback, we headed further north through hilly, winding roads towards Russell and the Bay of Islands. We were constantly
reminded of the British countryside, with green rolling hills to the horizon, and farms dotted sporadically across the landscape it seemed odd that we were on the other side of the planet, as we could have been anywhere in Devon, and expected to see a traditional English pub around every bend, alas, compared with home, the countryside was completely publess.
Russell is a tiny village left over from the days when sailors used the port as an R and R stop during the 1800’s. Known amongst the many missionaries as ‘The hell hole of the South Pacific’ due to its profound culture as a centre for drinking and prostitution, you’ll be sad to hear that Russell today is a quiet, sleepy village more intent on selling ice cream to tourists than burlesque. During our time here we took a 4 hour walk around the edge of the peninsular scrambling over rocks and jumping parts where the tide was to high to cross, past deep rock pools full of crystal clear water, and up to a lookout point at flagstaff hill that provides panoramic views of the bay, and across to Paihia.
We left Russell via car ferry to
spend a few days in Paihia, and spend our first night in a bed since Auckland. We went out to the Haruru falls, and took a walk up to another lookout trough dense forest, stopping regularly to admire the coiling ferns and the intertwining vines that Lucy thought at first to be an irrigation system. Blondes. We had a great couple of nights in our hostel making new friends with our dorm-mates over drinks in the local bars, and watched the Kiwis beat the Lions in the Tri Nations. This was our first encounter of a beer fueled Huka, as the locals got stuck into their famed fanatical support, we hid our pasty English faces behind our pints.
Our next stop was KeriKeri and we arrived as the heavens opened meaning we had to spend the rest of the day hauled up in the car. It really was so bad we couldn’t walk to the campsite T.V room. Our second day was more fruitful as faced with the prospect of rain we took a 2 ½ hour walk to rainbow falls that winds into the forest along the riverbank. At the top of the 27 meter falls Dave poised
precariously close to the cliffs edge with camera poised, waiting for a gap in the clouds and for the sun to appear, revealing a sprawling rainbow created by the cascading spray.
From KeriKeri we made our way up to Waitiki landing situated right in the far north and only 20 kilometers from Cape Reinga and the northern most tip of New Zealand. The Cape marks the meeting of the Tasman Sea and the Pacific Ocean, and, more than just coordinates on a map there is a clearly visible line where they meet, and in stormy weather the waves traveling in opposite directions create a swell of up to 10 meters. 90 mile beach runs the length of the west cost of the far north peninsular, and at its most northern point is covered with huge sand dunes standing over 50 meters high. Being in New Zealand, a country at the forefront of extreme sports where towers and bridges are there to be jumped from, and its looked down upon not to jump out of a perfectly servicable aircraft, it turns out that 50 meter dunes are there to be surfed. Renting body boards we headed for the sand where
we finally found out what New Zealand is all about, taking part in unsupervised, potentially crippling activities. Climbing to the summit was taxing enough and after warming up on some of the smaller dunes we headed for the biggest one we could see, and flung ourselves down it headfirst. We had been previously warned that someone had just been taken to the doctor with concussion after wiping out at the base of this run, but un perplexed by this warning we held on to our boards for dear life and bloody well did it anyway. By the end we had sand in places we never knew we had, and even three showers later we probably had some still lodged in the back of our eyes.
Heading south for the first time we spent a couple of days exploring Waipoua Kauri forest. The Kauri trees are amongst the biggest in the world and gave the chance to not only experience the vast plant life in the forest, but gave us the chance to stand next to and be totally dwarfed by these massive lumps of wood. With a girth of 16 meters and a estimated 2000 years behind them these
old boys have been through it all, surviving European invasions and World Wars, mass deforestation, and we hope, the threat of mass tourism.
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