Te Tai Tokerau Northland – where the Tasman meets the Pacific

This was one of the first trips we took when I arrived to Aotearoa New Zealand in the spring (that is autumn for northern hemi folks) of 2015.  It has been nearly two years since then so details will be somewhat lacking in this post.

Brian was attending a conference in Waitangi, the location where the original treaty between the British and Māori was signed back in 1840.  We stayed just south of there in the little tourist town of Paihia, where the majority of the tour boats depart to cruise the Bay of Islands. Our stay here was brief and since my Bri was off working (most of the time) and I was car-less, I was completely dependent on the tourist industry to transport me pretty much everywhere. While this is not my preferred way to travel, I still enjoyed my quick glimpse of many of the popular Te Tai Tokerau Northland destinations.


I had a pretty lazy and semi uneventful first day, taking a little ferry over to Russell.  It is a quick 15 minute journey from Paihia.  Russell is a historic, ‘romantic’ seaside village whose streets still retain the original 1843 layout, but now hold handful of cafes and art galleries lead to short walking tracks. Russell is Aotearoa NZ’s oldest sea port and is part of the settlement of the nation’s first capital in nearby Okiato.

I arrived in Russell fairly early in the morning so there wasn’t much to do but enjoy a cuppa overlooking the bay and take a little walk about.  The town is nestled along a lovely beach lined with pōhutukawa trees where people gather mussels and pull their little boats out to sea.

Russell Beach

There is an easy walk from here up Flagstaff Maiki Hill to Tapeka Point.  While most of the track is through bush or along an undeveloped grassy headland, there are sections that force you on the road, a less than pleasant experience.

The first stop on this little journey was an easy climb up to the historic Flagstaff Maiki Hill.  When the British arrived, they flew the Union Jack flag at the top of this hill. Despite its military protection, Māori managed to chop down the flag several times in defiance before the war of the north broke out.  I unfortunately don’t have a picture of the flag post that currently stands on this hill, but I do have one of the lovely mosaic sundial next to it.  I am not certain of its significance, if any.

Flagstaff Maiki Hill Sundial

After a brief walk along the road and through a small subdivision, a narrow grassy track from Du Fresne Place leads to the tip of the Tapeka Peninsula.  The views here extend out to Bay of Islands, with Cape Wiwiki in the north and Rakaumangamanga Cape Brett in the south-east (see map).

Tapeka Point
Tapeka Beach

Following the same route back to town, a lunch time cocktail at the The Duke of Marlborough Hotel was in order.  Affectionately called “The Duke”, this charming lodge and restaurant is NZ’s oldest pub.

The Duke

Bay of Islands By Boat

The next day Brian had a small break from his conference and joined me on a boat trip of the Bay of Islands.  Fullers Great Sights dominate the boat tours and pretty much the entire town of Paihia.  While the tourist industry has put this Paihia on the map, its a little too much for this small town to absorb, greatly affecting its character.

The tour cruises through many of the 144 islands within the bay, past the Cape Brett Lighthouse, through the Hole in the Rock at Motukokako Island, ending with a stopover at Urupukapuka Island. The Hole in the Rock is a 16m-high hole that was carved through the sheer cliffs of Motukokako Island. On a fine day, the captain can manage even the large Fullers Boat through this narrow opening.

Cruising through the clear turquoise waters of the bay, we were joined by some playful bottlenose dolphins that led us nearly all of the way to our brief stopover at Urupukapuka Island.

Urupukapuka Island is known for its abundance and preservation of its many archaeological sites. There are 8 sites (Māori defensive settlements) and numerous Māori garden and storage pits on this 208 ha island. There is an interpretive walk from the shoreline leading past many of these sites.

The views here expose a land and waterscape of only hues of blue and green.  A great finish to our Bay of Island tour.

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Te Rerenga Wairua Cape Reinga and 90 Mile Beach

Sans Brian, I was back on a Fullers tour heading north to the tip of Aotearoa New Zealand. This journey takes you through the rolling hills of Northland’s rural countryside to the far north to Te Rerenga Wairua Cape Reinga with stops at Puketi Kauri Forest and Ninety Mile Beach and its surrounding dunes.

No rural drive is complete without sheep.  With only a single road access through the far north and industry of mainly agricultural and forestry, this area of NZ is remote and fairly unpopulated.



Puketi Kauri Forest

After what seemed to be dozens of bathroom and tea breaks, we arrived at the Puketi Kauri Forest.  There is gentle 1.6km walking track through the podocarp forest filled with a diverse range of mosses and epiphytes, mature kahikatea and the highlight, the ancient kauri trees. These 1000 year old trees trees have been in the forest well before any humans arrived in NZ.  These trees are HUGE, check out this kauri giant.

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Ninety Mile Beach

Up next, a drive down the beach highway of 90 mile beach, which is oddly only 55 miles long.  This endless, flat beach stretches along nearly the entirety of the west coast of the Ahipara Peninsula, ending only 5 km shy of the northernmost tip of Cape Maria van Diemen.  If you are driving this beach pay attention to the tide schedule and have a good 4wd vehicle.  Those that don’t will require a tow.

On a cloudy and windy day with nothing but endless coastline and single rock in the Pacific Ocean, the beach felt desolate and lonely.  I imagine a sunset here would be lovely though.

We followed the Te Paki Stream, driving through sand dunes for some sand boarding fun.


Te Rerenga Wairua Cape Reinga

Our final stop of the day was at Te Rerenga Wairua Cape Reinga, where the Pacific meets the Tasman.  This cape is considered the most spiritually important place for Māori in Aotearoa New Zealand.  It is where Māori spirits travel up the coast and over to the pōhutukawa tree to descend into their homeland Hawaiki by sliding down the roots of the tree into the sea.  Access to this spiritual place is forbidden, but it can be seen from the pathway that terminates at the the lighthouse.


The Cape Reinga lighthouse is an important landmark of the Te Paki recreation area.  It is here where many hikers begin their 3000 km Te Araroa Walk that extends the entire length of the country.  From here you can see the northmost tip of Aotearoa NZ…so close!

Getting to Northland isn’t the easiest journey.  Most people make the 3 hour drive from Auckland and you will need to tack on a few more hours to reach the far north.  See posts about Te Paki for more about this region.



Categories: New Zealand, Travel

angie campbell

I am an immigrant from the United States living in Wellington, New Zealand. My love affair with landscape, culture, and learning has led to a life filled with travel and academic institutions. Endowed with endless curiosity, I spend a great deal of time philosophizing about anything and everything, but very often pertaining to environmental issues. I should note that I am not formally trained in environmental philosophy, nor do I have the vocabulary competency to pass for someone who has. My writing is a somewhat tongue and cheek.

I am using this blog as a means to work through some of this thinking and to follow my own pathway of inquiry, while providing (hopefully) some meaningful insight of what it is like to live as an American in Aotearoa New Zealand. I am sure at some point there will be some interesting travel photos once I make the leap from iphone to fancy camera.

There is a secondary tab to the this blog spot. Reflections of the Watering Hole is an old blog I started during one of my academic stints studying the social and environmental impacts of oil and natural gas development in the Denver Julesburg Basin in the United States. While some of the information is a bit 'dated' (I started it in 2013), many of the conundrums remain relevant today.

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