22nd Jan 2012 - 3rd Feb 2012
New Zealand - North north island
We had the most fantastic welcome into Auckland. First off the sun was shining and everything felt so clean, not to mention everyone spoke English. Secondly we had the Van Rooyen’s to look after us. You cannot overrate having nice people welcome you into their home after 3 months on the backpacker trail and after three days of plentiful alcohol, good home cooking, nice company and access to all life’s mod cons we felt human again!
We had decided to opt for the cheapest option for getting around the country possible, and this meant a car and a tent. We had also opted for the cheapest type of rental, known to the Jucy rental company as ‘El cheapo’. With much laughter we picked up our Nissan Sunny, which was an upgrade in any case and hit the road in search of cheap tents and equipment, which we found at Warehouse, well about three Warehouses actually to get all the special offers available. After exploring what Auckland has to offer, the marina, the lovely St Heliers and Tamaki Drive we hit the road and headed north at the crack of dawn, heading for Cape Reinga.
We pitched our tent at Spirits Bay DOC campsite, which has a fantastic location right on the beach and really secluded. The only down side is that the mosquitoes are rampant here. As dusk came on the air was filled with them so much so we couldn’t sit outside and had to rush into the tent and zipper ourselves in. In our haste we let a ton in and so spent the next half an hour trying to hunt them down in with flip flops in hand for swatting. That said it really is a beautiful spot as the morning jog along the beach confirmed.
Cape Reinga is where the South Pacific Ocean and the Tasman Sea meet, and it’s almost the most northern point on the North Island. Traditionally it’s where the Maori believe their souls go to make their way to the underworld, via the roots of a tree set out on a remote rock. For a while when we reached the spot we thought it had been chopped down because when we visited One Tree Hill in Auckland we found out someone had chopped down this sacred Maori tree because, well, I suppose they don’t like them very much. However the stump we found proved to be a false alarm and we were very pleased about that.
We also took a trip out to Ninety Mile beach and the sand dunes nearby. I don’t think it would be pleasant to be stuck in the desert. After tramping up one dune we were both reduced to panting lumps at the top but the views were amazing and I was taught how to moon walk back down, less like Michael Jackson and more like Buzz Aldrin. We stopped further down the beach the following day on way to Paihia and the Bay of Islands. It’s definitely more of a moped/4x4 beach than a sunbather’s beach and we saw both enjoying the large stretchers of sand. Then we headed for Paihia via some of the far north’s wineries. I’ve now been banned from tastings because I can’t help but buy the wine if I like it. A bottle of Ake Ake’s Sauvignon Blanc and Chambourcin (nice grape variety that works well in the area – fruity and yummy) heavier we made it to the Waitangi Treaty Grounds. This is where the treaty between the tribes of the far north and Great Britain was made in Queen Victoria’s reign. It’s one of those treaties that sounds like it’s doing a good thing for the native people, securing their lands against imposters etc but actually secures their loyalty to the British Empire. While we were there we also took in a show of Maori culture including poi and Hakka displays. As we were the only two people in the audience we had to join in. I was pretty useless with the pois but Brandan was much better with the Hakka. We pitched up our tent in Paihia and booked our swimming with dolphins trip for the next day before taking a sunset walk along the beach, taking in Russell and the Bay of Islands.
The next day we headed out on our boat trip and thankfully I was not struck down by a strange stomach bug this time. This meant I could fully appreciate the proper sailing we did on the catamaran and lounge about on the trampoline before we spotted the dolphins quite far out in the islands. They were very lively and it was well worth the money even though we couldn’t swim because they had babies. Looking at how much muscle they have on them I wouldn’t want to come up against a nursing mother in the water! They are truly beautiful creatures and we really enjoyed it. We stopped off one of the islands for some snorkelling and to check out the lookout point while lunch was being prepared. The water was lovely and clean but ‘fresh’ is how I would describe the temperature. Lunch of hotdogs and salad was nice and warming on the way home and everyone had a snooze in the sun.
The next day we headed to the Waipoua Forest and made it just before dark. Spotting a group of guitar players in one patch we headed for the farthest away available spot only to realise in the morning that it was probably free because something had died nearby. In the morning we headed into the forest to see the famous trees, some of which are over 2000 years old. For the Maori these trees are sacred and represent their gods. They’re very impressive and enormous.
The next day we headed to the beach again. The weather was good so we sunned ourselves on the beach, went swimming and watched the sun go down with our bottle of Chambourcin. In the morning we headed off to Goat Island Marine Reserve but not before I was dive bombed by a pack of seagulls on the beach. I went for my job along the beach tra-la-la but obviously there were birds nesting or something because first one then at least 10 seagulls started to dive bomb, swooping low into my face and pulling up at the last minute. It was like something from The Birds and I wasn’t sure whether to run on or back and ended up scrabbling along the beach to the amusement of the early morning swimmer no doubt. Goat Island Reserve was very pretty when we eventually found it, my navigational skills not doing so well again, but according to B the fish were big but not as pretty at the Fijian ones. We spent the night at another isolated DOC campsite which had a spectacular beach right next door. Alas, as with the Toucan, the Kiwi bird has been avoiding us in spite of our nightly walks and use of a red flashlight. The crabs were also avoiding us when we headed down to the beach – not a good night for animal watching.
Finally we headed back to Auckland for our Van Rooyen pit stop via Piha beach. Piha seems to be a bit like New Zealand’s Bondi with its own TV show about the lifeguards that rescue people from its treacherous waters. When we got there it was overcast and the black sand looked a bit too much like mud for me. The surfers were impressive and you could tell it would be v pretty on a good day. The swim zone was laughable though and only about 100m wide on an enormous beach. There were no lifeguards around so maybe that’s why, but the surfers were having a good go at the waves. The only oddity was a couple of blokes who were eating the mussels off the rocks raw and sucking them out of their shells. I think I may have said that it was actually banned in the area a little too loudly because I got the hairy Maori eyeball off them so we hightailed it out of there.
Next up was Rotorua and the middle North Island followed by Wellington and the cross over to the South Island.