North East Caves and Waves

Leaving the city behind for the weekend is always a highlight and for this particular adventure we were heading North East to check out the beaches, surf and a few hidden gems.

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Stopping along the way to our pre-arranged DOC campsite at Uretiti Beach near Ruakaka, we first found Piroa Falls. Just outside of the town of Waipu (to our delight New Zealand is full of bizarre and vaguely rude sounding place names) we followed the gravel track through rolling hills and forested views to the sea.

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Accompanied by the occasional New Zealand Falcon, enjoying a squashed possum or two, we reached the car park and set off on foot the rest of the way to the falls. It was a short walk to the falls meandering down the side of a gorge and then following the river upstream we came to an opening and the waterfall itself. Although only 20m in height Piroa Falls has cut down through the gorge rock and then tumbles into a couple of cascading plunge pools perfect for a chilly dip or paddle. It happened to be pretty busy on the day we visited but is otherwise a lovely secluded spot giving you the feeling you are in the middle of nowhere.

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Continuing toward our campsite after our paddle we headed for the Waipu caves, pulling up into what looked like any old field next to a wood there was really no indication of a cave at all. At the edge of the forest the limestone karst formations begin to appear among the trees and at the bottom of the cliff the rock disappears and the gaping mouth of the cave beckons the curious.

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As with many a cave formation the Waipu caves have been created by the flow of water underground and a small stream runs out of the entrance, as we went further in the chasms and chambers became wetter and there were certainly opportunities to wade through and explore, but we left that for the more daring and less claustrophobic adventurers! As we entered the wide mouth of the cave we lit up the stalactites and stalagmites with our torches and crystalline structures glittered in the light.

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Walking into the darkness and along the stream, the ground was seriously slick from the silt and damp and we had to choose some careful stepping stones over the stream to avoid getting wet feet. As we continued further the caverns got bigger and the stalactites longer making huge natural cathedrals in the rock.

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Once away from the light of the entrance and in a particularly huge cavern we switched off our torches. The darkness was engulfing but as we looked up we saw little specs of bioluminescent light dotted across the roof of the cave. The amazing sight looked like a starry night sky but in reality was hundreds of glow-worms!

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It was incredible that we had just wandered into this cave with no restrictions or payment and were being greeted by such a fantastic natural phenomenon. Shining our torches on the lower lying critters we could see their spindly, silky threads ready to catch any passing insects. We continued into the cave for about 400m before we could see no way of continuing without either getting pretty wet, crawling through small gaps, or falling flat on our faces in the mud…the latter of which had already nearly happened a couple of times already.

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As we turned back we discovered our timing had been opportune, having had the place almost entirely to ourselves for one of those moments in life that makes you feel very small and very lucky, a large bunch of adolescent Americans turned up shouting and showing off to each other, nothing like obnoxious and loud youths to ruin a peaceful, romantic moment! So it was back out into the sunlight and onto our campsite.

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Uretiti campsite was a dream, plenty of space to choose from and sat just behind some low sand dunes from the beach. Entertainingly when checking out the view Guy got dive bombed by an angry pair of oyster catchers that were protecting their adorable fluffy chick, luckily no eyes were skewered and we gave them a wide berth after that!

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Before it got dark we headed the short walk to the beach where Guy hopped in the water for a quick evening surf and I sat and caught up on some reading with the impressively rugged looking Hen and Chicken Islands in the distance. For dinner we had some delicious sausages from the Mangawhai butchers, our favourites so far, and a beer as the sunset turned the sky pinky orange. We sat chatting well into the evening and stargazed, which wasn’t difficult, as it was unbelievably clear and no lights around to pollute our view, the milky way was bright overhead and we were even lucky enough to see two shooting stars before calling it a night on what had been an awesome day of discoveries.

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Waking up in the roof tent the views out over the dunes to the sea and Whangerai Heads were pretty stunning, a great way to start the day. Making our way back to Auckland we headed South along the coast stopping at Waipu Cove. This pretty little town by the sea was currently brimming with people as there was a surf competition on, there were hundreds of surfers all lined up with their boards prior to getting in the water. We figured trying to surf here might be a bit busy, and probably a bit embarrassing, so we continued south past tranquil Long Beach and the inland harbour of Mangawhai Heads to our favourite surf spot, Te Arai Point.

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The beach at Te Arai is beautiful, accessible by a long gravel road and sheltered by the dunes the remoteness just adds to its appeal. The beautiful white sandy beach runs for miles and the water here is bright and super clear, you can be bobbing at a good couple of metres depth on your board and easily still see the sea bed. The wind was a bit off so the waves were a little choppy but they were the perfect size for me. Surfing for us is a bit like skiing, one of those things where you find yourself completely present in the moment. Nothing else really matters at that point, all your worries melt away and it’s just you and the wave, total catharsis. We caught some pretty good ones too, even catching one next to each other which is pretty cool to share the stoke.

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After some good clean waves, some not so clean waves and a couple of hours in the water, we were spent and made the final drive back to Mellons Bay. The North East coast had not disappointed.

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