North Island Road Trip: The Far North

Having thoroughly explored the North Island below Auckland, we now found ourselves on the last leg of our trip. North of Auckland is a beautiful region of golden beaches, forest, and relaxed seaside towns. Coupled with a sub-tropical climate and some great wildlife, we were excited to see more of  Northland and it lived up to all expectations!

We began our week-long loop by heading up the Eastern edge to one of our favourite spots, the captivating Waipu Caves which are full of glow-worms. We have now visited many times but gazing up into the blackness of the cave to the luminous worms never gets old, you can read more about the caves in our blog ‘North East Caves and Waves’.

Beyond the caves, we took a scenic little road out to Whangarei Heads and Mount Manaia. Sitting at 400m above the harbour stand three sentinel rocks, these are said to be Manaia and his family cursed to stone after throwing a slave from the peak. The track is well maintained, and full of steps, but at the top the plateau next to the largest of the rocky monoliths gives the most incredible views in all directions. The blues and greens of the harbour below are framed by greenery, bright sandy beaches, lines of waves rolling in on the coast, and inland hills and forest, stunning.

After a night in Tutukaka we ventured out for a day on the water joining Dive Tutukaka’s Perfect Day boat trip. The Poor Knights Islands are a protected land mass surrounded by a marine reserve. The Maori tribe here were slaughtered by invaders while the men were away at war, from then the island has had a Maori protection over it, becoming a sanctuary for rare birds, in fact stepping on land here can get you an immediate $20k fine! Our catamaran moored up in the sheltered bay, surrounded by sea caves, arches and cliffs topped with Pohutukawa. Gannets and Muttonbird’s flew from the nests above us. We enjoyed a few hours here, snorkelling in the reserve with an abundance of fish, Blue Fish, Wrasse, Angelfish, Jellyfish and Spotties to name a few. To warm up after our dip we stayed above the water as best we could paddle boarding through the arches, before enjoying the sun from the boat deck.

Before leaving the Poor Knights, we were sailed into the biggest sea cave in the world, Riko Riko cave. It was quite impressive, easily fitting the boat, with different coloured rocks, some confused plants clinging to the ceiling and growing down to the reflection of the sun. In the sunshine once more, we cruised round to Calypso Bay surrounded by numerous arches including South Arch, the biggest sea arch in the Southern Hemisphere. Our awesome day on the water ended with a relaxing sunny sail back to the mainland, and an evening at the campsite.

Just North of Tutukaka the coast is dotted with glorious bays, Matapouri with its golden horseshoe sands, Woolley’s and Sandy bay too. At the halfway point of our drive, Paihia, we enjoyed a beer on the waterfront before continuing to Rainbow Falls in neighbouring Kerikeri. The falls is just under 30m high and the spray at the bottom gives its name as it catches in the sunlight creating beautiful rainbows above the water.

Our destination for the evening was the Karikari Peninsula surrounded by glorious golden bays, Doubtless bay is the biggest of these, and there are amazing views from the centre of the peninsula to both North and South. A good place to view these and enjoy a vino in the sunshine is the Karikari Wine Estate, designed in an almost Mediterranean style the estate is perched atop the hill surrounded by the turquoise waters, a beautiful setting for any beverage.

At the Eastern point of the peninsula we set up camp at Maitai Bay. Another lovely sandy cove, sheltered by the two headlands and with a wide golden beach, it is an idyllic spot. At night the isolation of the peninsula, accompanied by clear skies meant the stars and milky way were looking incredible too!

On the penultimate day of our road trip we took the drive up to Cape Reinga (nearly the most Northern point of New Zealand, the actual point is one or two headlands over and nearly inaccessible). The drive was beautiful with glimpses of the giant sand dunes to the west, and the silica sands of the east. The Pōhutukawa here were flowering their usual vivid reds but also oranges and yellows.

Arriving at Cape Reinga there is a short walk to the lighthouse, along the way we were treated to views of the rugged coastline below, jagged rocks and quaint bays. At the point of the Cape, the turquoise water of the Tasman Sea meets the darker blues of the Pacific creating an awesome scene. As the seas meet the water churns, with waves and whirlpools shaping the coast here.

The lighthouse is quite a stubby little thing but seeing as there’s not much else around it doesn’t need to be too big. The compulsory signpost here reminded us that we are 18,029km from home, or at least from London. As well as being geographically interesting, the point of the Cape is also very culturally significant, the Maori believe that from here the souls of the dead depart New Zealand back to their homes in the Pacific (Hawaiiki).

Up the hill behind the lighthouse we took in the views to the West including, the most western point of New Zealand, Cape Maria van Diemen. We have now been to, or at least seen, all the farthest compass points of New Zealand.

Making our way back down the Cape we continued south to Hokianga Harbour. The great estuary is surrounded by hills and sand dunes, and we crossed to the town of Rawene on a small car ferry. The final evening of our three-week adventure was in the perfect setting of Rawene Holiday Park. Gazing out over the harbour, we watched the sun set into golden hues, and the star-spangled sky light up over the water.

We awoke to silvery threads of sea mist over the water, a peaceful backdrop as the sun slowly burnt the last wisps away to reveal the beautiful harbour once more. In the bright sunshine we followed the edge of the harbour to Opononi, there we caught an express charter over to the Opononi sand dunes opposite. Hopping off our boat, body board in hand, we trudged up the 30m sand dunes for some sand boarding. Hard work walking up each time but so worth it, it was awesome fun! As the dunes are on the harbour you can launch yourselves head first down the steep sands, reaching 35kph, before skimming out across the water. So much sandy, watery fun, coupled with pretty views, made for an unforgettable morning!

At the very mouth of the estuary there are wonderful viewpoints looking back up stream and along the coast. The nearby Waipoua Forest is a must on any North Island itinerary. A huge Kauri forest home to the biggest Kauri tree Tāne Mahuta, 51.5m high and 13.8m in girth the tree is enormous. Like all Kauri it is a host for other species, at last count homing over 100 different species in its tree top including shrubs, ferns, and small trees like bonsai! Tāne Mahuta is also over 2000 years old and of huge significance to the Maori as the creator of life. By separating his parents Sky Father and Earth Mother Tāne let light flood the world and allow life to flourish. The area is therefore carefully protected from the growing threat of Kauri Dieback disease that plagues the forest. Hopefully this immense tree will stand for many more thousands of years in the beautiful spot.

The final leg of our journey back to Auckland took us to the Kai Iwi lakes, vivid inland lakes with white sand edges and shallow waters. A hotspot for the kiwi camper and water sports fanatics. After a brief stop there we also enjoyed delicious beer and great wholesome food, at a favourite of ours, Hallertau Brewery. Finally, after three amazing weeks on the road we returned to the comforts of our Auckland flat, another unforgettable adventure under our belts.

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