The Far North


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April 20th 2011
Published: June 4th 2012
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Mucking AroundMucking AroundMucking Around

On the Boat - Russell to Paihia
They say "don't leave town till you've seen the country", yet here we are, having taken the boys to all sorts of places overseas, and none of us have been to the Far North of New Zealand. So we decided to add a couple of weeks to our summer by heading up there.

This would be our third RV trip after USA in 2007 and South Africa last year. We just think its a great way to travel. You've got all your stuff there with you all the time. You can stop anywhere and have a cuppa and a sandwich. The only downside has always been that someone's got to empty the toilet thing.

We went through all the usual stuff at Britz headquarters near the airport at Auckland. Then we were on the road. This particular RV got the thumbs up the minute Mitchell spotted the TV. But the look of joy was short lived when we told them all that we weren't coming all the way up here to look at screens all day.

After a quick stop at the supermarket at Warkworth we cruised on up the coast and stopped at which is where the boats go out to which is New Zealand's best known world class dive site alongside Fiordland. The further we went the more enticing the beaches became until we just had to stop at one. It was an almost deserted one called Matapouri Beach with a township that you could just tell would've been heaving with the holiday crowd a couple of months ago. But the water was great.

Then we carried on to a place called Waipu Cove for the night. The camp ground was right on the beach. All we had to do was climb over the sand dunes and there it was. The next morning it was incredibly calm - there is something about a beach first thing in the morning. We do miss that, living inland like we do, but it makes holidays at the beach all the more special. Susan went for a big long run along it as she tends to do, and then we carried on.

We took some secondary highways to avoid the traffic on the main drag. That was the idea but we needn't have worried. Being mid week and a week before Easter, there was hardly anyone around. There were times driving along through the countryside, which was all brilliantly green dairy farming country, that it felt like we were the only people on the planet.

But as we got closer to Paihia there were more cars around. Paihia reminded me of a beachy version of Wanaka. Not as big and bustling as Queenstown, but really set up for tourists, lots of activities on offer and plenty of different accents floating around. Plus one awesome icecream shop.

We parked up at a campground just out of Paihia on the edge of the river for a couple of nights. Shortly after we set up camp we received a visit from a goose. Yes, a big white goose who showed great interest in us particularly while we were eating dinner on the table next to our RV. I made the mistake of flicking him a few crumbs and then shortly after I felt a nudge in my pocket and looked around to find our friend the goose staring at me as if to say "gimme food or else". In the end he got so cheeky he simply overstayed his welcome and we had to give him his marching orders.

The next day was a bit rough and squally. We took the ferry over to Russell. Whereas Paihia is obviously the commercial centre of the Bay of Islands, Russell is the place with the history. It was the first capital of New Zealand. All around town there are historic buildings plus a superb wee musuem and, believe it or not, an interesting graveyard around the old church. Not hard to see why its called Bay of Islands here either. We walked up and over the back of the village, and there were more bays and more islands.

When we got back to Paihia we dropped into 35 South, the restaurant right on the water, for lunch. The sea was literally slapping the windows it was so rough, but the food was good.

Then we jumped in the RV and drove around the opposite side of the bay to the Treat Grounds at Waitangi. Obviously over the years there have been some famous happenings here. And of course the Treaty of Waitangi was signed here in . The key players were interesting characters. James Busby was the British representative to start with but it seems that he was shunted sideways once it seemed that he was getting too close to the Maoris. In came William Hobson and the deal was done. Hobson immediately claimed sovereignty for the Brits. A fascinating and pivotal episode in New Zealand's history. The Treaty House itself was also pretty impressive.

The next day the weather was better. For my birthday I got to go diving at Matauri Bay while Susan and the boys took a boat trip out to see the dolphins. They saw loads of them including baby ones. But I think I got the good end of the stick this time for once. The first dive I did was the Rainbow Warrior. They'd scuttled it there in fifteen metres of water a few years back after the two French agents had bombed it in Auckland Harbour in 1985. At its shallowest point it is only six metres down and it is pretty much fully intact. You can swim right into it and there were schools of fish all around. Hard to believe. At one stage there we were, sitting on the sand six metres down with our scuba gear on, looking up at the bow of THE Rainbow Warrior no
Waitangi Treaty HouseWaitangi Treaty HouseWaitangi Treaty House

Mawhinney boys showing due respect
less. Kind of ghostly.

The second dive was to a wee island called the Teapot and it was teeming with huge schools of blue maomao plus others as well. But the blue maomao were the most interesting the way they all dipped their head into the sand on the bottom as they swam past. They seemed to completely ignore us, but you couldn't ignore them - there were hundreds of them.

Anyway next stop was a quick look at just out of Kerikeri and then onwards to Tauranga Bay. Eion and Jan Edgar had kindly offered us the family "bach" there. But as it turned out, the road up the hill was a bit more than four tonne of RV could handle so we ended up at the Tauranga Bay camping ground along with half the navy on an exercise.

Not before a fair bit of drama though. Half way up the hill to Edgars we (actually I) kind of got the van stuck and we started slipping back down. It was really steep. One of the tyres must have hit the slippery grass between the concrete bits. Anyway its fair to say I was shitting myself. I got everyone to bail out, which of course they were happy to do. Luckily a local farmer had been watching from his living room on a nearby hill, and he came over with his tractor to help me back onto the concrete tracks. I said thanks but its still not much good to me because its too steep to go up, and I can't back down in this big thing. Anyway he just got in and backed down in about 2 minutes flat, in the dark and all! Made my RV night-reversing skills look a bit sick really but I was just happy to see the guy. I gave him a six pack of steinlager for saving my life.

Luckily the camping ground was right on the beach and the views were spectacular. We did walk up to Edgar's "bach" the next morning before we headed off and, as we suspected, it was a stunning place, totally secluded with amazing views. It would be a superb summer hideaway.

Next stop Ninety Mile Beach.

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