The Northlands, Bay of Islands and ‘Far North’ edition
Rachel, Desi and I checked out of the hostel, and walked down Queen Street, to the train station to catch a train to Otahuhu to be picked up/and pick up the camper van… considering we must have arrived there at close to 11/11.30, we didn’t actually leave until almost 4… as the camper was still having all of its checks done. The guy from the rental place was kind enough to lend us his van though so that we could drive around a little, and go to the local shopping mall. I thought this would be a great opportunity to see how driving something bigger than a Ford or Peugeot felt, although it was an automatic… so not actually all that much like the camper.
Rachel drove to start, and got us through the worst of the Auckland traffic and the almost torrential rain. And then further up north (Warkworth, or maybe Wellsford) I took over and drove us across to Port Albert, for the free camp ground there.
Our home for the next 30 days…
First stop-off, Port Albert
Drove from Port Albert to Paihia, getting there slightly too late to do anything much apart from head to the supermarket to stock up on food, but found the i-SITE, and local information about Paihia and Russell (across the Bay of Islands) before heading to the local free campsite.
Picture – the sunset over Bay of Islands, from Paihia
(Happy birthday Mum!)
We headed back to Paihia, and through to the Waitangi Treaty Grounds (where the Maori Chiefs signed the treaty with the English representatives of the crown).
We saw the 11 o’clock performance for the cultural performance and then took the guided tour and also stayed for the cultural performance, which was really interesting, as it gave a better insight to their traditions, the Maori culture and history. It was really interesting to hear, and understand more, about their traditions, including the facial tattooing, and the craftsmanship and pride that the Maori have – as well as the misleading wording / discrepancies between the English written and the Maori written treaty documents:
• Maori stating that the English would reside and rule over their own, and form trade partnerships with the Maori, while allowing them to retain their Chiefs and land.
• And the English stating that they would reside and rule over all, and Maori would keep their land as long as they wanted to retain it (I.e. they could trade land for supplies etc).
Also – the new Treaty House that has been built there, was made entirely by master Maori carvers, and took 7 years to complete!
After lunch, we decided to head out of Paihia a little, and did the Rainbow Falls walk while the weather was good, before heading back to the campground in the evening.
Waitangi tribe in front of the Treaty House
The traditional tribal greeting – to determine friend or foe…
Intricate carvings around the entrance to the Treaty House
The amazing craftsmanship inside the Treaty House (you can see why it took 7 years to complete!)
Traditional Maori war canoe
(and the rainbow above the falls)
We had a bit of an early start, as the rain was coming down heavy, and the camp ground was close to a river, which seemed to be steadily rising…
So we moved to Paihia centre, for the girls to catch up on some extra sleep, before going to the i-SITE for breakfast. Then, as we were about to set back off… flat battery!
So two of us walked 2km to the (2) nearest petrol stations until we found a very kind guy to help us by giving us a lift back to the camper, then a jump start!
Once we got started we continued heading up towards Cape Reinga, stopping for lunch in one of the Far North forests.
We didn’t quite make it the whole way before it was getting dark, so instead made our way to the Tapotupotu campground, which was actually within walking distance of the Cape, and set up for the night.
We walked the coastal route from Tapotupotu Bay, where we had stayed overnight in the camp ground, all the way across to Cape Reinga lighthouse.
Cape Reinga is famous because it’s one of the northernmost points of NZ, but also, it’s where the Tasman sea (to the west of NZ) and the Pacific Ocean meet, and on a bright day there is usually a noticeable difference in colour where the two meet. On a map it said the route was only 3.1km, so a fairly relaxed walk each way you’d think… but with how steep and then downhill and winding the route was, it was probably closer to 5.5km, and took us just under 2 hours, across hills, cliffs, through the bush and dipping onto the occasional beach…
The views there are spectacular, and reading more about the Cape history, along with the Maori mythology, was really interesting.
One in particular myth, was that the spirits of the dead travel to Cape Reinga on their journey to the afterlife. The spirits leap off the headland and climb the roots of the only tree that has survived the harsh environment, the 800 year old pohutukawa tree. This climb allows them to descend into the underworld and return to the traditional Maori homeland of Hawaiki, using the Te Ara Wairua, the ‘Spirits’ pathway’.
After eating lunch there, or rather in the car park, as out of respect for the Maori culture you’re not allowed to eat on the Cape, we headed back along the same coastal route and then took a well deserved feet up rest before making dinner.
Tapotupotu Bay, from the first incline of the coastal path (there’s a little white dot next to one of the trees off the beach, which was our camper van!)
Preview of the coastal path to come…
One of the beaches along the coastal path
Getting close to the Cape!
A view along towards the lighthouse at Cape Reinga, with the Tasman Sea to the west (left) and the Pacific Ocean to the east.
And it’s only 6211km to the South Pole…
As we were packing up and getting the camper all ready to leave Cape Reinga, two guys (one French the other German) had walked up, as their car had broken down (they thought that the clutch had gone) a bit further up the hill. So they were asking for a lift to the nearest town/point they would be able to phone for a garage. As we’d seen very few other people on the roads, and such a small police presence in the time since driving, we figured we’d help them out, and just warned them to hold on in the back.
On the way down though we had already planned to make a fair few stop offs, partially for sightseeing, and also just so that the driving was split up more, and after speaking with the two guys, they had suggested the sand dunes (and also thought there was a visitors’ centre around it that they could sort for help).
So following the west coast down from Cape Reinga, we stopped off at the Te Paki sand dunes, dropped the two guys off so that they could sort getting their car while we went to explore. The dunes were actually really odd to see as an inland feature, especially as we had just come from the coast, and the beaches there were a mix of stone, black sand and the occasional white sand beach… so seeing such huge mounds (hills really) of sand was breathtaking… and not only with the effort it took to climb to the top of them! I think one of the oddest parts was being able to see the sea from the top of the dune, but also being able to see the landscape between it and us, which was mainly bush.
As we left the sand dunes, we spotted (about 2 km further down the road) the two guys trying to hitchhike, so picked them back up to drop them further down in the next closest town (which was still about 45km away).
After dropping them again, we set off this time to head out further west, and see a bit of the famous 90 Mile Beach (that we’d been hearing about)… technically you can drive a full section of the route up, or down, the west coast along the beach. However, with the stories of cars lost to the tides, it’s not surprising that our rental agreement stated in the terms and conditions we couldn’t drive on the beach!
Instead, we drove down to the nearest parking spot, and walked a couple of kilometres along the beach instead… not quite the same as driving, and after seeing a car doing it, possibly something to try (with a non-rented car, and tide times in hand).
The last stop we made was the Ancient Kauri Kingdom workshop, which was quite interesting just to find out a bit more of the history for the kauri trees native to New Zealand. Kauri is one of the biggest trees in the world, but only found in NZ, and now a protected fauna, as there is possibly only 50 years more before its forests are completely depleted…
The most amazing bit was at the middle of the centre, they had the (partial) stump of a kauri tree, which was over 1100 yrs old, weighed over 100 tonnes, and was 11.5m in diameter… which they had carved into to form a hollow staircase – apparently taking 500+ hours of craftsmanship to finish.
Te Paki sand dunes, scale with the hills beside
Just before it started raining, along with being windy…
And the obligatory feet in the sand shot.
90 Mile Beach, finally with a car on it!
The kauri tree centre piece – a staircase made from the hollowed out trunk portion.