This was one of the first trips I 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.
My partner 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 cruis the Bay of Islands. Our stay here was brief and since my partner was off working (most of the time), I was carless and completely dependent on the tourist industry to transport me pretty much everywhere. Although this is definitely 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 with a handful of cafes, art galleries, and short walking tracks. The town’s streets still retain the original layout from 1843. Russell is 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 fine cup of coffee 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 there little boats out to sea.
I spent some time here before heading up the peninsula to Flagstaff Maiki Hill and Tapeka Point. This is an easy walk from the town center. While most of the track is through bush or along an undeveloped grassy headland, there are sections that force you on the road. Walking along any road with NZ drivers is not an enjoyable experience as they speed past you with little concern.
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.
After a brief walk along 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).
I returned to town following the same route, browsing the shops and having a lunch time cocktail at the The Duke of Marlborough Hotel. Affectionately called “The Duke”, this charming lodge and restaurant is NZ’s oldest pub.
Bay of Islands By Boat
The next day my partner 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 here. They may actually be the only outfit in town, they certainly were our only option on that day. I would be stuck with them for the remainder of the trip. I don’t mean to be down on Fullers, they do a great job all over NZ. I just despise large, overcrowded tours, which they specialize in. However, it was a beautiful day, we were outside, and the scenery was spectacular.
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 pā sites (Māori defensive settlements) and numerous Māori garden and storage pits on this 208 ha island. There is an interpreted walk from the shoreline that take you past many of these sites.
The views here expose a land and waterscape of only blues and greens. A great finish to our Bay of Island tour.
Te Rerenga Wairua Cape Reinga and 90 Mile Beach
Sans partner, I was back on a Fullers tour heading north to the tip of New Zealand. On this day I was on a bus…I really needed to mentally prepare myself for this one. I despise coach tours and this one was a full day jammed packed with other tourists like myself. I survived and in the end enjoyed each destination on the tour.
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 a picture of 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.
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, this beach felt desolate and lonely. I imagine a sunset here would be lovely though.
We follow the Te Paki Stream, driving through sand dunes for some sand boarding fun.
It felt so good to get out of the bus to climb these massive dunes, speeding head first to the bottom, repeating as much as time allows. If you fall off, no worries, the sand is as soft as can be.
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. We have yet to make it back to this region. However, since my trip was incomplete, void of a visit to Waitangi (my partner was able to explore here), we will most certainly be back.