Thanks for joining me!
Good company in a journey makes the way seem shorter. — Izaak Walton
Thanks for joining me!
Good company in a journey makes the way seem shorter. — Izaak Walton
I don’t miss many things about my former life in the US beyond friends and family. Living in an area that snows is the exception. Sure I can drive to it and play in it often and the Rimutaka Ranges across the harbor from my Welly home see a dusting every so often, but I haven’t felt snow fall on me for three years. I really miss that magic. Although snowfall was not to be this trip, ringing in the winter season on lots of fluffy white stuff was a must. So we headed south to Queenstown.
I can’t really figure out how I feel about Queenstown. The Remarkables rising above Lake Wakatipu creates one of the most scenic city backdrops in all of NZ. However, the city is growing exponentially with poor planning practices and being a tourist hub creates a downtown that is dominated by businesses offering wild adventures. The traffic is absolute madness and the fast growth rate has made everything a bit cookie cutter. BUT… then you look back to the Remarkables and none of that matters and the reality is because this place is all about tourism there is heaps to do at all hours of the day and night. We also discovered on this trip that Queenstown is one of the few places in the area that doesn’t see the May-June inversion cloud, which means lots sunshine!
Flying in and out of QT is a gorgeously terrifying experience. We had lovely views of the city and surrounding lakes on both our arrival and departure.
With a noon arrival we didn’t plan much for our first day; grab a bite to eat, go grocery shopping, and enjoy an easy hike around Moke Lake. I always wanted to check out this lake since I first saw it on the Netflix series Top of the Lake. This hike is off the tourist track so you won’t be dodging traffic. It is listed as a 2-hour walk, but can easily take half that time for fit hikers. On a sunny, calm day with snow-capped peaks, this hike is a real stunner.
A wee little detour to the town of Arrowtown is a great place for leisurely stroll and for us, a post hike. This charming little town tucked into the mountains is the complete opposite of QT. It is quiet and chock full of historical buildings established during the gold rush. We found a great little pub, Fork and Tap, with plenty of outdoor seating and a warm fire and lively bar inside. That strong NZ sun always allows us to sit outside even during the cold winter day, but once it tucked behind the mountains we found refuge by the fire. This place felt like it had a local vibe, but in actuality everyone could have easily been tourists just like us.
We happened to be visiting during the winter light festival Luma, which brightens the city with creative colorful light installations…totally necessary during the dark days of winter. There is something for everyone here, after passively strolling through the installations face painting seemed to be quite popular with the kiddos, while the adults gravitated to the beer tent.
We spent most of trip hiking through the snowy goodness. The only hike we did in QT was up Ben Lemond. This classic hike rises just above the city and can be accessed either from the edge of town or at the top of the gondola. We chose to take the cheater gondola way. I have nothing to prove and although touristy and overpriced I like riding the it. The views from the restaurant provide the simplest way to get a bird’s eye view of the city.
For those interested in getting up a bit higher there is well formed track up to the ridgeline saddle or further up a bit more rugged track up to the top of Ben Lomond. This track can get pretty darn busy as the day goes on, so hit it early if you want the summit to yourself. It is helpful that QT is a bit of a party town so hikers tend to start a bit later than here in comparison to the surrounding area. While I am more drawn to hiking in the wilderness, this city hike is an endless stunner and was a nice contrast to the rest of our time in the mountains.
Ain’t no shame in this ride down. It was a quickie way to get to our recovery meal at Yonder. Not only is the food great at this place, but their heated outdoor seats are amazing!
If you are looking for a little relaxation in QT, head over to the fairly new Onsen Hot Pools up in Shotover Canyon. Here you can spend an evening enjoying a private onsen overlooking the canyon by day or stargazing by night followed by a massage. A complimentary snack and beverage is included. For us, it was the perfect way to unwind at the end our three day hiking adventure.
Or maybe beer or wine tasting is more your style. There are a bunch of great wineries and breweries not far from town. During this trip we tried Amisfield Cellar Door (excellent wine) and Wet Jacket (good wine, great tasting experience, and Winstone cheese tasting is right next door.
We also made a stop at Cargo Brewery which is known for their beer, but also makes wine as well. You can mix up your tasting platter to include both. Sit on the nice sunny lawn or enjoy a seat in the historic Wangaloa Presbyterian Church. We loved the experience, but didn’t really enjoy the beer. The place gets excellent reviews though so maybe our palate wasn’t cooperating.
The city really has it all. See my post about campervanning the South Island for more about jet boating and jumping off stuff…what QT is best known for. Since we weren’t doing any of that, we used the other days of travel to hike some tracks in the Wanaka and Glenorchy areas.
Technically this is in the Lake Hāwea area, but the closest larger (more well known) town is Wanaka. If you are driving from Queenstown, head over the Crown Range Highway for views of the valley (most of the time). As you can see there is this thing called an inversion that keeps the area free of sunshine for most days in May and June. The clouds had cleared upon our return to QT.
The inversion can make for some pretty spectacular hikes as we learned as we climbed Isthmus Peak (1385 m). This 16km hike follows a four-wheel drive track through grazed land to a single track along a ridgeline between Lake Wanaka and Lake Hāwea. Typically this hike is popular because you can see both lakes from the summit with backdrop of some of the most beautiful peeks in the Southern Alps, including Mt Aspiring. Our views were of those peaks forcing their way through a blanket of white fluffy clouds. We first had to endure an hour of climb through dense fog, without knowing if we would ever reach a point that we could see a thing.
I was starting to regret my suggestion of this hike, but we patiently continued with hope Eventually we started to see some blue sky breaking through the cloudy haze and when we broke the cloudy plane we shrieked with excitement. It was magic. The entire hike above the clouds was.
In all of my days of mountain hiking, I have never had a day like this. My heart was filled with so much joy!
One will never forget their first fogbow!
Glenorchy is one our favorite places in NZ. The towering mountains, narrow valley, and relatively undeveloped landscape of this town located at the end of the road is often described as God’s Country. The town is located at the northern end of Lake Wakatipu and is the gateway to beech forests and glacier fed streams in Mt Aspiring National Park as well as the beginning (or end depending on direction) of the Routeburn Great Walk. We still have only scratched the surface here and have yet to be here in the warmer months to reach the Earnslaw Burn Track made famous by the Lord of the Rings.
The drive into town is a real stunner, especially during the calm days of early winter.
The town itself is quite small. With less than 400 people there are only a handful of cafes, a general store, and a tourist shop or two. Most places close for the winter, but you can grab and pint and food year round Glen-Roydon Lodge & Restaurant. The edge of the lake and the famous willows are always worth a visit.
Having already hiked the Routeburn, we thought we would check out its often overlooked sister valley, the Rockburn. This valley can be reached by either the Sylvan Lake Track or the Sugarloaf Mountain track that begins at the same point as the Routeburn. Worried about time after a late start we chose an out and back to Sugarloaf rather than the loop along Sylvan. This track generally goes straight up with little relief. In the winter it gets super icy too so some microspikes make it a far more pleasurable experience. That snow and ice really creates a lovely winter scene.
After about 2.5 miles through the beech forest, you will reach a clearing that allows you to look back at the Routeburn Valley. An unexpected surprise for us.
Just over the saddle views of the far more narrow Rockburn Valley are exposed. The light at this time of the day just didn’t capture the beauty of this valley. I imagine dropping down to walk along the river during the winter months doesn’t provide much sun if any, but I am still curious to return to other hikes through this valley.
No trip to Glenorchy would be complete without the slow drive-bys to admire the braided glacier melt Dart River and sheep stations.
Queenstown and the surrounding area is such a diverse winter playground. You have the choice to chill in town, drive by some lovely landscapes, indulge with wine tasting, or get your heart rate up tramping in the mountains….and of course soon, the slopes will be open. My snowy desires were satiated here, at least for a few weeks anyhow.
Of all of our Tasmanian destinations, Cradle Mountain was what I was most looking forward to. I am a mountain lover and I feel at home the moment I reach this landscape. Cradle was no exception; as soon as I stepped out of the car and breathed the cold mountain air I was filled with joy. Unfortunately for us, the notoriously wet and cloudy mountain was true to form during our visit so we didn’t get to explore it in a way that we had planned. This didn’t stop us from having a magical experience, enjoying quite a few unexpected aspects and an endless stream of rainbows.
We stayed in the Cradle Mountain Highlanders cabins. These are adorable little cabins tucked away in privacy and stocked with wood for warm nights by the fire.
Cradle Mountain National Park isn’t really too large. There are several tracks that as trail runners we could have easily explored in a day or two. However, due to the wind and rain we generally stayed on the lower tracks around Dove Lake.
As we climbed higher to Marion’s Point, a place where you can get a bird’s eye view of the park , we were completely shrouded in clouds and hammered by the wind. We figured that there really wasn’t much point of climbing much higher. I like climbs for two reasons, the burning in my legs and the views. Slowed by the wind and rain, I was getting neither, just growing cold.
We retired to more appropriate activities, such as fireside whisky and wombat searching.
These cuddly little marsupials are the cutest wee things I have ever seen. They can hardly be bothered as munch on grass. They are typically nocturnal, but can be seen in late afternoons in the central highlands and west coast. In the morning, the trails will be filled with evidence of their evening wanderings in the form of their square poops. Even their poo is adorable!
We also saw quite a bit of wallabies as well.
A stop at the often overlooked Waldheim Chalet is worth a visit. The chalet was built in 1912 by Gustave and Kate Weindorfer who lived in solitude at the base of Cradle Mountain for years. Here you can listen to stories of their life on the mountain; his struggle with isolation, his growing fear of the Tasmanian cat, and his deep love for the rugged cradle landscape.
We did a bit of road tripping during our time here. We headed to the West Coast Region to check out the mining and logging culture. We didn’t do any lengthy hikes here as the rain was coming down pretty hard so we opted to spend some time in the Tullah Tavern hanging with locals by the fire and hearing stories of their lives near the mountain.
The town of Sheffield offers a bit more to do, with a variety of yummy cafes, an endless display of murals capturing life in the regions, and art and antique shops.
At the end of each day it was always nice to return to a nice big fire at one of the few lodges in the national park. We believe the weather prompted us to try them all.
As we left Cradle Mountain, we were greeted with a spectacular misty sunrise creating silhouettes of the trees.
And of course rainbows when we left Tas and rainbows upon return from our trip. It mostly certainly was the theme of our trip…color, light, and beauty.
Our east cost time was spent at Freycinet National Park and Bay of Fires National Park, both known for their scenic beauty and pink granite rocks and fiery red rocks.
I really struggle to slow down and relax on our trips. I typically jam pack every must do item in 24 hours and it often feels like a blur. I am trying to rid myself of this habit and I was hoping 2 full days in Freycinet National Park, Tasmania’s oldest national park, would help with that. Freycinet is known for its range of rare and endemic flora and fauna; 80-90% of the native vegetation is remain in tact and a small population of Tasmanian devils still roam the land. It is also known of its abundance of snakes, which I was pretty happy to not see!
The land surrounding the park is dotted by several wineries and casual eateries where you can get fresh oysters prepared in a variety of ways. We took our time driving in to make sure to experience this. Our first stop was Mellshell Oysters, a small food truck on the Swan River, serving up oysters harvested in view of the tables it provides for their patrons. You really can’t get much fresher, making this little a place the best oyster eating experience in Tasmania.
Another great spot for oyster eating is Freycinet Marine Farm. This place serves them up in a variety of ways, but you can also find the classic natural option as well. We sampled the brie and salmon oysters and the mussels, YUM! Another casual, no fuss eatery with picnics tables makes this a great place to share a table and meet other travelers.
Up next, a little wine tasting. We visited four wineries over the 2 days and all had pretty great wine. Gala Estate is located in a charming old store built in 1900, both their wine and the tasting experience was lovely. Devils Corner is a must stop simply for the view, though we found their wine to be just ok. Both Freycinet Vineyard and Springvale Wines made lovely a pinot noir and their small winery feel made visits there seem quite intimate.
We closed out day one by hiking up Mt Amos. This 4km roundtrip hike offers the best views of the park, but requires pretty good fitness, comfort with a bit of scrambling, and appropriate shoes (I can’t stress this one enough). It is steep with slick rocks and we a saw a few ill prepared tourists struggling quite a bit here. In addition to the breathtaking views, the lesser appreciated geology was magnificent. Striated rock faces, large perfectly circular boulders balanced delicately on edges, and slabs that allow you to climb just a wee bit higher provide interest along the track as you head to the summit. This hike will also allow you to escape the crowds headed to the lookout. It was my favorite in the park.
The Wineglass loop trail is another excellent option for exploring. This 11.5 km hike takes you up to the lookout, down both Wineglass Bay and Hazards Beach on Great Oyster Bay and the isthmus in between. There is a good mix of bush walking, beach combing, and rock hopping and the terrain is far easier to manage than Mt Amos.
I appreciated the contrast between the pure white sand beaches along Wineglass Bay and the shell filled and rock outcrops of Hazards Beach.
There are quite a few little bays to check out beyond this hike, all lovely and colorful, really showing off the orthoclase, a pink feldspar rock. A stop at the Tourville Lighthouse offers some big views of the coastline of the Coles Peninsula.
We didn’t see much wildlife in the park, but did spot a few colorful birds from time to time.
When you are not eating, hiking, or wine sampling there are quite a few options of places to stay just right outside or just inside of the park. With a preference towards a beach cottage rather than a tourist lodge, we chose to stay in the Dolphin Sands Area. This little spit is just a small river crossing from the park, but requires a 50ish minute drive as there is no boat transportation. While this sounds lengthy, the drive is lovely and it was worth it. We found the cutest little cottage on air bnb, filled with character, a large book collection and a cozy gas fired stove. The cottage was a collection of buildings with the sleeping and shower in separate little shacks and had a little fire pit out back.
There is beach access providing lovely views of the pink granite mountains and spectacular sunsets and sunrises. This quint and quiet little slice of beauty was a perfect place to celebrate my 40th birthday with my love.
The Bay of Fires is often touted as a ‘must see’ destination. This area of Tasmania is lined with pure white sand and crystal clear turquoise water that is contrasted with the brightest fiery red rocks. It is absolutely stunning, but for us an afternoon and morning was plenty of time to explore.
Unfortunately, the rain had caught up to us this day so we delayed our beach time with a quick stop at a winery and bottle by the fire at our friend’s beach shack. Priority Ridge is a no fuss winery producing some great pinot noir.
The overcast skies the rest of the afternoon certainly didn’t put a damper on our beach exploring. Finding all of the colorful creatures at low tide exposed an alternative up close and intimate aspect of the bay that we may have missed if we were distracted by the famous sun soaked views.
The morning brought us a lovely sunrise complete with dolphins and some sun time to see the bay as the pictures suggested. This is a less traveled area of the country and with ample camp sites, I imagine that this would be the place to be to enjoy some beach time in the summer.
While I appreciate lovely beaches, I would so much rather be enjoying coastlines with a bit more topography. We were off to mountains next to find some big climbs!
I have always been intrigued with Tasmania. It seemed like some unreachable place of remoteness. Any place where prisoners were sent left me with that impression. Now that I live in NZ, it was finally reachable. Tasmania required less than five hours of flying, which by NZ standards is a pretty quick flight. So when I was looking for a more simple trip to ring in the big 40, Tasmania fit the bill. It was far enough away to feel like I was ‘getting away’, but close enough to not come with the fatigue of a long haul flight. It had a diversity of landscapes to explore and a food and art culture that could afford me some slower kick back days.
We spent 9 days driving around the island, touching just about every region where roads can take you. A huge chunk of the island is completely undeveloped requiring a fly in and a considerable amount of walking. Our journey began in Hobart and continued along the south and east coasts to include the Tasman Peninsula, Freycinet National Park, and Bay of Fires. We then traveled inland to Cradle National Park, with a brief beer stop to the west coast region, finishing in Launceston. I suppose if you were really reaching you could claim the later to be on the north coast, but really the city is located quite a bit inland in a river valley.
It has been over a week since I was in Hobart and I still can’t come up with a fitting description of the city. It is incomparable to any other place I have been. Its streets are filled with well maintained historic colonial architecture, art, distilleries, and amazing restaurants. Hobart was just Hobart, it embraced its local materials and food sources and celebrated art in its own quirky way. The city wasn’t trying to follow trends or copy other cities, it was uniquely Hobart.
We arrived in the city after a massive storm and the weather hadn’t completely settled so we thought a day at MONA (Museum of Old and New Art) was the perfect way to duck inside from the rain. First we headed to the Salamanca Market, a huge Saturday market along the waterfront where you can buy local goods and sample yummy food and drink. Bri of course had a try a sausage…something he basically does in any new city if he spots one.
Afterwards we were off to MONA on the ferry. We sprang for the fancy journey there in the posh pit where you are served endless bubbles and snacks. Sure it was a bit overpriced, but we were only headed to the museum once so we thought we would live it up.
MONA is the largest privately funded museum and is described as “subversive adult Disneyland.” The description was spot on as we toured provocative pieces mainly focused on sex and death. The pieces were so dynamic, shifting lights, moving water, videos, or required careful walking through an ‘experience’. You weren’t walking around simply looking at art hanging on the walls, you were immersed in it.
That evening we enjoyed our first 7 course meal with wine pairing at Dier Makr. Brian and I consider ourselves, high appreciators of wine and food, but not very knowledgable. The set menu and pairing took all of thinking out of it for us and we enjoyed allowing the professionals make all of the decisions. Boy did they deliver, it was the best meal I have ever had! Below is the wine pairing with a half eaten desert. It was so delicious that I was thankful I didn’t know how to make it.
Between meals wander through the historic streets of Battery Point and the harbor while stopping for refreshments at the city’s many distilleries. We followed the art walk, which is basically a scavenger hunt of history using numbers to tell a story of events at various places within Battery Point. It gets ho-hum reviews, but if you have the time and enjoy walking, it is filled with knowledge and takes you through a largely residential area that you might otherwise miss as a tourist.
If the art walk isn’t your style, the harbor has plenty of history and shows off the present day working nature of the fishing industry.
Sampling local beers in a city is always a favorite activity of ours. In our failed attempt (access was closed due to the debris from a recent storm) to hike up Mount Wellington, the towering igneous rock towering above the city, we found ourselves in the Cascade Brewery neighborhood. Cascade Brewery is the oldest brewery in Australia, established in 1824 by a former felon. There was some great history to be learned here, but the beer was, meh. I guess craft beer really has ruined us.
One of the newer breweries, Hobart Brewing Company, was more our style. Fitting that after raving about the their beer, we learned that the brew master was formally a brewer at Mountain Sun, our regular hangout when we lived in Colorado.
Feeling pretty boozy by this time, we tried only one whisky distillery, Lark Distillery. I know almost nothing about whisky, probably only swirling a glass a few times a year on a cold winter night. The staff were super knowledgable, we learned so much, and absolutely LOVED their whisky. If you think that you don’t like whisky, a stop here may just change your mind.
We enjoy our time in the main urban hubs of the places we travel to, but our true love is hiking in the wilderness so we headed to the southern edge of the island, the Tasman Peninsula. There is nice little hike out to Cape Hauy that will really make you feel like you are on edge of civilization. I can certainly understand why this area was chosen for the Port Author penitentiary. The hike is fairly short and manageable with a well maintained track and stepped climbs. The first part of the track will wonder through native bush until nearing the coast where the towering dolerite pillars rise from the sea. The geology is impressive as are the sounds of the sea crashing into the rock towers. You can see clear across to Cape Raoul and if you are lucky you can spot a wallaby (or kangaroo), I haven’t seen enough to be able to spot the difference.
After the hike, we thought we better make sure to visit the penitentiary since it was such an important part of Australia/Tasmania’s history and development. The prison was eerily beautiful. The late afternoon light brought out the peach and yellow hues on the walls that were perfectly crumbling in a way that made the ruin filled with so much sadness and inhumanity seem like a work of art. We learned not only of the terrible way the prisoners were subjected to solitary confinement and forced to wear hoods while being silent in their cells, but also of the continued tragedy where 35 people were killed by gun violence at the site in 1996.
There is nothing like a stay at the Tassie Design Shack to brighten your mood after a prison visit. Frankie is a graphic designer that has been renovating her 1960s fishing shack in the best and brightest way. This is a great place to sit back and relax, enjoying the harbor views, collection of boardgames, and woodstove.
We were off to the east coast the next morning and enjoyed a cheery rainbow goodbye.
Leaving the Te Paki behind us, it was time for the ‘beyond’ part of our trip. It was time to clean up, reenter society, and slow down a bit exploring some of the cultural and historical aspects of Te Tai Tokerau Northland. We also had grand plans for some swimming time before winter arrived so we stayed east where the water is calmer as we journeyed south.
Starving for some food that wasn’t camp food, we made a pit stop in Mangonui before heading to our rental bach. The Waterfront Cafe and Bar serves up freshly caught local seafood and handles of NZ beer. I don’t remember having much conversation as we stuffed our faces with this deliciousness.
The bach we rented was a spacious, modern family getaway on the very quiet Mahinepua Bay. This area is rural, mainly consisting of holiday homes with little nearby amenities. We chose the place mainly for the plumbing (Bri loves his outdoor bath), but also for the 360 deck with views of the sunrise over of the Pacific and sunset over the far off Tasman Sea.
The Mahinepua Peninsula is just down the road from the bach. This little 3km walk is packed with archeological sites, including Māori pā. The swimming beaches are abundant as well. Despite it’s short distance there is so much to discover on this peninsula.
If you are looking for a local feel in this sleepy area, head to Whangaroa Bay. This little settlement is known for being a gateway to marlin fishing in the Bay of Islands. There is a little pub serving up fresh catches where you can chat with locals and hear tales of their fishing adventures to. You certainly won’t find many tourists in this little village.
Further south in the ‘true’ Bay of Islands we made our way to the Waitangi Treaty Grounds, the first capital of Aotearoa, Okiato, and the first licensed pub, The Duke of Marlborough in Russell.
Te Tiriti o Waitangi (Treaty of Waitangi) was first signed on February 6, 1840 by some Māori chiefs and representatives of the British Crown. This moment is considered by many to be the birthplace of the nation as two cultures agreed to live in harmony. While events beyond this day challenged this relationship, the site remains a place for government compromise and cultural celebrations. In addition to a world class museum telling the story of the indigenous people of Aotearoa there is an informative guided tour across the grounds ending in a cultural performance where you learn the meaning behind Māori protocol and culture.
Aotearoa’s first capital, Okiato, is a short drive from the treaty grounds. The best way to reach Okiato from the north is via car or pedestrian ferry. The pedestrian ferry is located in the tourist city of Paihia, while the car ferry is a bit further south in Opua. The ferry shuttles cars across regularly and quickly amongst the sailing community.
There isn’t much to do in Okiato, so most of the traffic continues on to Russell, which was our destination as well. There is a small winery in Okiato, Omata Estate Vineyard & Kitchen. This vineyard has a fairly extensive wine selection for its size and offers lovely views of the bay from above. Our stop in Russell was brief as it was simply our lunch destination. We had a fabulous meal at the historic Duke of Marlborough, the first licensed pub in NZ. Once home to whalers returning from sea and prostitutes, the cliental has changed a bit over the years. Russell is often referred to as ‘romantic Russell’ for its historic buildings and charming streets. There is certainly a lot of history to explore here.
Our final destination on our trip was the Tutukaka Coast where we would return to a tent, glamping style. We stayed at Maunga Iti, meaning ‘little hills’ in Māori. This glamping tent perched on the hills above the coast is surrounded by acres of native bush. The tent comes complete with multiple ways (two fires and outdoor tub) to enjoy a cozy night in stargazing and listening to the 40 kiwis living in the bush.
National Geographic deemed the Tutukaka Coast as one of the best coastlines in the world. There are endless bays and an unmodified sandspit to explore. The area is better known for its surfing and diving at Poor Knights Island. We are saving the later for the summer months when boat trips to the island are more regular. We spent this trip enjoying hikes to the lighthouse and swimming in the mermaid pools.
Our time in Te Tai Tokerau Northland was just what we needed, a bit of adventure, a bit of learning, and lots of relaxation. We will look forward to a return up this way soon!
“a thing of beauty is joy forever” – John Keats
It has been a few weeks since we returned from a week in the far north and my heart is still filled with so much joy and gratitude. Te Tai Tokerau Northland is the long narrow stretch of the country terminating at Te Rerenga Wairua Cape Regina where the Pacific Ocean meets the Tasman Sea. With generally only one road in and out, no major airport, and a rural landscape, the far north is remote and considered challenging to reach. Despite often being overlooked by tourists and residents, this narrow piece of NZ with contrasting coasts is filled with natural wonders, Māori culture and stories of heritage, it is a ‘must make’ journey.
We started our trip on the Te Paki Walkway. This three day, ~50 km trek begins in Spirits Bay along the east coast and follows the west coast after reaching Te Rerenga Wairua Cape Regina, finishing in the towering dunes along the Te Paki Stream. The track is considered, moderate/easy which we thought was mildly debatable. The trail is well groomed with easy footing, but if you aren’t used to carrying a full pack up and down long steep slopes it could be grueling.
The track at Spirits Bay has a rather mild start walking along the coastline behind a dune that exposes views of coastline often.
Shortly after crossing an expansive wetland, the track begins to fall into its typical rhythm of steep climbs and descents to small beaches. Around 9 km into the hike, we reached the first camp, Pandora. The lovely beach with flanked with pōhutukawa trees clinging to rocky cliffs is an excellent place to stop for a bight to eat and a quick cool off dip in the ocean.
Continuing from the camp, a big climb ensues; reaching exposed red rocks and breathtaking views across a landscape so narrow one can see both the east and west coasts at the same time. Further inland and sans the coastal breezes, this section is hot and muggy and we were beginning to look forward to reaching the campsite so we could ditch our heavy packs and relax.
As we found the coast once again, views of the Tapotupotu campsite were in the distance. The approach to this site is one of my favorites of the hike. From the bluff above, views of the winding tidal stream buffered by wetlands leading to the bay are exposed. It is just a mile descent from the location shown below.
The Tapotupotu campsite would be the first time we had seen humans since we were dropped off at Spirits Bay. The campsite can be reached by car, so campervans stream in filling a small parking area before sunset. There is a separate section for tents, which doesn’t seem to be the preferred sleeping method here as we had the area to ourselves. Certainly can’t complain about this view!
Despite it’s east coast location, the sunset here was far more showy than the next morning’s sunrise.
Excited to reach the Cape before the tourists arrived, we got off to an early start the following morning. The track from the campsite continues its steep climbs and descents with beautiful views of our camp behind us and Sandy Bay ahead.
It is only 5km to the cape, so it doesn’t take long before the lighthouse is in distant sight. As you approach the lighthouse, the track becomes paved and is often filled with tourists arriving in busses later in the day.
Te Rerenga Wairua Cape Regina is basically known for three reasons 1) it is a sacred site for Iwi, 2) it is where the the Pacific Ocean meets the Tasman Sea, and 3) it is ‘the northernmost point’ of the north island. On the rocks just beyond the lighthouse stands a kahika tree called Te Aroha. Spirits descend the roots of this tree on their journey to Hawaiki. Because of its sacredness, this area can only be viewed from a far. Here you can also see where the waves of the Tasman Sea meet the Pacific Ocean. The whirlpools where the currents meet are like those that dance in the wake of the waka. They represent the coming together of male and female, the creation of life.
A white light standard all around NZ and a directional sign indicates distances of various cities from the cape. Although it is considered the northernmost point, in fact it is not. The Surville Cliffs to the northeast reach just a wee bit further in the Ocean.
From here we started our journey along the west coast towards Te Werahi Beach. It was unfortunate that some small showers were passing at this time as this view is typically far more stunning than this gloomy picture portrays.
There wasn’t a lot of information about this section of track, but we were aware that crossing the Te Werahi Steam at high tide can be challenging. We quickly learned that it isn’t the stream that is the issue, but rather the rocky cliffs just before reaching the beach. There was absolutely zero way to cross along the sand as the tide crashed violently against the rocks. We unsuccessfully tried to bushwhack our way through flax and gorse in the hills, but were left exhausted and blooded after hours so we waited it out (kind of). We enjoyed an extended break with an easy walk along the beach for a few miles.
Once we reached the hills at the far end of the beaches, we climbed into one of the most remarkable and unexpected sections of the track. The deep red and orange rocks and wind eroded cut sand tracks reminded me of being in the Badlands of South Dakota.
It was a lovely arid landscape between the wetlands of Te Werahi Stream and the vegetated hills of Cape Maria Van Diemen. This was my favorite section of the hike. If it weren’t for sunset looming in a few hours, I would have loved to stay to explore this area further.
From the cape, views towards Twilight Camp can be seen for the first time. This little camp is designated as a ‘micro camp’ with a small grassy area fitting 20 or so tents. It is perched on a bluff overlooking the west coast, the cape (north), and Scott’s Point (south). After setting up our tent, we enjoyed dinner on the beach, feet in the surf, and a lovely salt swept sunset. Another stunning end to an epic day.
The hike to the Te Paki Stream is short and easy. While it is lovely, the landscape diversity and beauty don’t quite compare to days 1 and 2. After crossing some rolling hills, much of the hike is along the west coast’s 90 mile beach and Te Paki Stream.
We kept ourselves entertained with breakfast breaks, sand writing, and exploring the clams popping out of the sand for a bit of air as the sky clouded over.
90 mile beach extends far beyond our turn to the stream and in fact is only 54 miles. The beach is famous for its left hand break and for basically being a highway. On a summers days, this beach is filled with dune buggies, wind races, cars, and tour buses…on an autumn morning, it was only Brian and I.
The last bit of track takes up the Te Paki Stream to the sand dunes. The tour busses love to spill scary stories of locals getting stuck driving the stream and beach, but I have seen car after car drive with ease.
The dunes in this area are massive and because they close to the roadway, they are a popular destination for sand boarding. Having grown up in Michigan and lived in Colorado I have spent some time on dunes, Sleeping Bear and Great Sand Dunes National Park and these are equally as impressive.
What a playful end to a soul enriching 3 days on the Te Paki.