I decided before I left New Zealand on my big overseas adventure, that I should make an effort to see more of the country. I had made it to Bluff, the furthest point on the South Island, looking out to Stewart Island, and felt seeing the far north was a good thing to do. It is an amazing road trip, and the roads are a lot better than they used to be, with highways most of the way north.
I booked campgrounds ahead of time, but since it was in December, before school broke up for the year, we were the only ones there most of the time. If you can, I wouldn’t travel in December, as the weather tends to be very four seasons in a day! February to March will be more consistent.
First stop was Paihia, which is about a three hour drive from Auckland. The campground was amazing, with the water lapping near the doorstep of our tent. It is such a cool little town, with plenty of good food, including legendary fish and chips. I never considered that since we were in the ‘Bay of Islands’, it wasn’t a proper beach with waves. But it redeemed itself when we rented jetskis to go exploring around the islands.
From Paihia, it’s a quick drive to Waitangi, where the treaty of Waitangi was signed. This is the document that allowed the handover of land from the Maori to the Crown. It covers a large area, and it is very well laid out, with information about the different areas of the site. It was well worth doing as a day trip, and I’m so glad we did.
From Paihia, you can book tours to swim with the dolphins. If you don’t spot dolphins, you get to go again until you do, so they are usually pretty sure of finding them. The day we did it was so stormy I was sure it would be called off. We boarded the boat, and sat shivering, trying to avoid the waves coming in the window as we tipped around in the bay. It was murmured we might have seen a fin, but the staff seemed pretty sceptical. I was beginning to wish we hadn’t signed up for the trip, when we headed for shelter near an island.
Suddenly, the group was squealing, and a pod of about twenty dolphins were swimming around the boat. I didn’t think I would get as excited as I did. They are such majestic animals, so playful, and so very intelligent. There were a few babies, so we weren’t allowed to swim, as they can get very protective. But it was incredible to watch them diving and playing, and teaching the younger ones the same. We eventually had to move on, so they don’t get too used to human contact. As we were hearing back to Paihia, we came across two adult dolphins, so we got on wetsuits and took the plunge. The water was so choppy and murky, it was a bit freaky swimming round, when a massive fish shoots underneath you without you really being able to react. I think I’d love to do it again, but on a clearer, calmer day!
We got the car ferry to Russell, which once upon a time, was New Zealand’s capital, when whaling was big in the area. We had dinner at the country’s oldest restaurant on the waterfront, which is so beautiful. The campground here too was fabulous, with really good facilities, and an amazing playground (yes, I was all over the trampoline).
The drive to Cape Reinga, the country’s most northern point, was interesting. The road slowly gets more narrow, with huge sand dunes down to the sea. The weather continued to pack in, and since it is such an exposed area, we could barely see out the windscreen, and were getting blown around the road. By the time we reached the carpark at the lighthouse, we could barely see our own feet. We soldiered on, and made it to the lighthouse, where, usually you can see the Tasman Sea meet the Pacific. Imaginations were important, but it was incredible to look down the cliff and see the end of the country.
Te Paki sand dunes are about a half hour drive from Cape Reinga, and seem to be an unknown, even among Kiwis. They are massive sand dunes, which in summer, people use boards to slide down towards the sea. When we arrived, it was pouring down, and there wasn’t a person in sight. It felt like being on the moon, in sand that continued on forever. We walked for probably fifteen minutes, until we lost sight of the carpark, and still we only about halfway to the top. It was a surreal experience. And a very wet and sandy one!
The far north is a beautiful area, with such varied landscape. Everyone functions at a slower pace, and it definitely feels like a holiday. I had an amazing time, but I would advise to travel later into the summer, so you don’t run into the weather dramas we had!