Tuesday, 4 March 2014

Up North

Yes, another weekend away (you probably think we don't work). Kevin and I have certainly taken advantage of the summer this year and have committed to seeing as much of New Zealand as possible while we are still here.
So, for the Waitangi Day long weekend, we flew up to Auckland and took a tour of Northland, the northernmost piece of land in Aotearoa. We rented a converted campervan from Wicked (we obviously weren't aiming for discrete) and set off on our journey.

We drove up the Kauri Coast (west coast) and took our first stop at the Waipoua Forest to see some trees. Some BIG trees. Kauris claim be to some of the world's "mightiest" trees because, well, they are huge. First, we stopped off to see the Four Sisters. The walk was beautiful and serene--there is something almost spiritual about being amongst this kind of nature.

We were enamoured at this point and decided to continue on our journey to see Te Matua Ngahere (Father of the Forest), the world's second tallest kauri. This is not it's most impressive claim to fame, however. Te Matua Ngahere is the world's oldest (2500 to 3000 years old) and widest living kauri tree. Kevin had just finished commenting on how yeah, these trees are big, but like, we lived in Canada and there are some big-ass trees there too. And then two steps later, we turned a corner and HOLY CROW. The photo definitely does not due it justice. This tree is over 5m in diameter and 29m tall. Big friggin' tree.

We hopped back in the car and were now really keen to check out the next stop on the kauri expedition, to see Te Mahuta--the tallest kauri tree in the world. At 51.5m tall, this tree is really tall. However, we were less impressed than we were of Papa kauri.

The weather was not cooperating for us on Day 1, so we took advantage when the rain stopped for a few moments to take rest at Pakia Hill in Omapere. There were some pretty wicked swells coming into the bay and a few roosters trying to catch a ride in our van.

We decided to stop at Shipwreck Bay in Ahipara, which is the base of 90 Mile Beach (which is actually only 55 miles long, or 90km--go figure!). 90 Mile Beach is considered a public highway and, if the tides (and your 4WD vehicle) allow, you can drive the entire 90km beachfront up north.
 The weather was terrible and the wind was gusting, but we were tired of driving and needed to set up camp for the night. Funny enough, the shipwreck of Shipwreck Bay is barely visible and almost completely under sand. And despite the wind and cloud, the view was stunning. We attempted to drive along the beach for awhile but backed out after realising we were in a rented vehicle, without 4WD, and hadn't read the tidal forecast. Bugger!

Day 2 proved to be yuck weather again. So much for our anticipated tropical holiday! We decided to drive all the way up to the northernmost tip of the country and see if the rain would disappear behind us. We stopped for a quick scenic stretch-of-the-legs at Houhora and continued driving north.

We got all the way to the top of New Zealand to the foggiest conditions we had ever seen. We could barely see 3m in front of us! We had been regaled with tales of seeing the Tasman Sea and Pacific Ocean crashing together at the top. Instead, we saw white. The ocean was nowhere in sight.

A bit bummed out, we drove all the way back down the Aupouri Peninsula and decided to find a place to retire for the evening. I had read about Matai Bay, dubbed "the most beautiful beach in Northland", and wanted to check it out. We found a nice DOC (Department of Conservation) campsite overseeing the large bay and crossed our fingers for good weather. The next morning the meteorological gods must have listened because we woke up to an absolutely stunning day.
We spent most of the day lounging on the beach, swimming in the ocean, and exploring the turf. This was the kind of holiday we were hoping for!

By the afternoon, we were sun-drenched and ready to continue driving. We made our way down the east coast to Paihia, in the Bay of Islands. This is definitely more a touristy/beach town, reminding us of Kelowna or Penticton if they were on the ocean. We walked the main strip and spent a bit of time hanging out by the beach before realising that it probably wouldn't be the best place to find a camp for the night.

So once again, back in the van. We drove south, through Whangarei, and rolled into Uretiti Beach. Another unreal beach that goes on for miles (kilometres?). I absolutely love living in a country that is almost entirely coastal.

Unfortunately we awoke to some more cloud and light rain. I think we were being punished. We had a flight to catch in Auckland in the evening and wanted to spend some more time in the sun, so we decided to chase some rays.
We finished up our journey at Takapuna Beach, on the North Shore of Auckland. It was jam-packed with people but the water was warm and the sun was hot. It was a lovely way to end our holiday. Despite the weather being unpredictable and uncontrollable, we made the best of it and I can check off yet another region off my "Places to See in NZ" list!