The road trip begins!!
Tim and I finally set off on our long-awaited road trip on Wednesday 24th September. We had been dreaming about it for so long, it was very exciting to finally be on the road!
So far, we have spent most of our time exploring Northland, situated at the very top of the North Island. As we left Auckland and drove out into the countryside, we were both struck by how similar some of the scenery is to Devon and Cornwall, with rolling green hills and fields full of cows and sheep (except here there are often fields of deer and alpacas too!). Our van has been fantastic, economical and very reliable so far. We eat by candlelight every evening, and can make the bed into a cosy sofa for 'movie mode' etc.
Our first stop was Karekare, the beautiful beach where the film 'The Piano' was filmed. We clambered over the enormous sand dunes to be met with awesome views of the vast, bleak beach. Enormous, craggy, forested cliffs rose up from the sand, and the surf pounded the shore. We had the beach to ourselves, and saw a starfish and a very cute seal among the rocks, which checked us out for a while before heading back to the sea.
We also visited Piha, a very famous beach for surf competitions, and climbed Lion Rock to enjoy an excellent vantage point over the enormous swathe of golden sand. The sea here is very rough and dangerous, and even top surfers have had their lives claimed here.
We went to visit the world-famous gannet colony at near Miriwai. This was truly something else as we watched theses incredible birds reuniting with their life-long mates on the rocky outcrops. These amazing birds have their offspring in New Zealand before flying off to Australia, and returning to mate again the following year. The older birds nest in the middle of the rocky outcrops, while the younger ones have to nest round the edges. Very precarious! They were so elegant and streamlined - perfect for diving into the sea for food at 145 km/hour.
We went jogging while the sunset along the black, glittering sand beach at Miriwai, and the next day strolled through picturesque rainforest to a 46-metrewaterfall in the Waitakare Ranges. We hope to return here at Christmas when the summer has arrived because the pool at the base of the water fall looked perfect for swimming!! The rainforest was so lush, it reminded me of walking through the Malaysian virgin rainforest at Taman Negara (except that was 130 million years old!!).
Every time we turned a bend, we were met with another stunning view over the rolling countryside to the rivers and sea beyond. We stayed a night amidst wild peacocks, with views of bee hives and farmland, and a ceiling of a million stars at night.
Next, we crossed to the east coast and have been spending the last few days exploring every nook and cranny of the coastline all the way up to Cape Reinga! This included getting a bit lost and ending up on a millionaire's estate! We tried to turn round but Phoebe got stuck, and we had to go and find a local lad to pull us out!! It is so much fun having the van, because we can get out and explore whenever we like, and the Department of Conservation (DOC) campsites are always in really beautiful natural settings. Driving from the west to the east coast, we noticed how the farmland has gone from gently rolling hills to much more dramatic, steep folds of land that look like a pretty massive force has pushed them up and made them concertina together. An amazing backdrop to the stunning coastline found on the east coast.
There is a noticeable difference between the wild and windswept coastline of the west, and the picturesque, gentler beaches of the east. We started our journey up the east coast of Northland by stopping at Otamure Beach at Whananaki, where we camped in a peaceful field beside the beach. The neighbouring beach was one of the most beautiful I have ever seen. It was a little cove, backed by subtropical rainforest growing down the cliffs right onto the beach edge, and crystal clear, turquoise, calm water. We were the only people on the beach.Tim spotted a huge brown ray in the shallows. We strolled along the beach and found some beautiful paua shells which ornament our table at supper now.
We continued our journey north, stopping to camp in Puketi Forest where we admired a stand of beautiful old kauri trees. It is so sad that the majority of kauri trees is New Zealand have gone. Years of logging of these magnificent trees have put the tree's future in jeopardy, and there are now only approximately 5% of the original population left. The trees were used for building and furniture, and the gum for making lino.
We also stopped at Whangaruru North Head, in a field where we were the only campers, overlooking a beautiful swathe of sand, and little headlands all around from natural harbours and inlets. The beach had trees growing in the sand, with rope swings handing from them.
One day, we stopped off for a picnic lunch at a beautiful natural harbour, and saw a little boy pulling a trolley along a jetty. I looked closer, and we realized he was being handed something by someone in the water. We went over, and saw a long-haired Maori man pickled in tattoos in the water, collecting oysters. We asked if we could buy some off him, and he said we could have some for free!! They were real beasts, and we chose 4 oysters and 2 green lipped mussels. They were delicious!! That night, Tim also caught a karwai fish in the sea, so we enjoyed 2 nights of delicious free seafood!!
The Bay of Islands came next. I had been so looking forward to spending a few days around this stunning area. The road to the bay took us past some stunning little beaches, with golden sand and turquoise waters. However, a couple of hideous towns have appeared along the bay, creating a real eyesore in an otherwise idyllic setting. I have heard that the islands themselves are mercifully undeveloped, and the best way to see them is by boat. We may return here in the summer to do some diving and so I can swim with dolphins!!! The town of Russell , nestled in the centre of the bay, is very picturesque, and boasts old, clapper board houses and a real villagey feel, with great views over part of the bay. It also boasts New Zealand's oldest church. All the campsites around the Bay were either really tacky or too expensive, so we were not able to stay long in this area. We did have time to go for a walk in a rainforest however, and emerge on a hill with stunning views over the Bay.
We reached New Zealand's northernmost campsite by 6th October. The scenery became increasingly bleak the further north we travelled, with a real windswept feel to it. We were relieved that our campsite was in fact very picturesque, with a white sand estuary beach view from the van, which curved round into an exposed but attractive bay. We set off the next day on the 2 and a half hour hike to Cape Reinga. The most northerly point of New Zealand is not actually accessible to the public, but it is possible to drive or walk to Cape Reinga. This is where the Tasman Sea and the South Pacific meet , and is very important to the Maoris. The reason for this is because the 800-year-old tree at the Cape is where the deceased depart their earthly life to join their ancestors. The tree guards the entrance to the underworld.
The walk to find said Cape and tree was wild and bleak. We were battered by increasingly strong winds as we walked, and I noticed how the coastal path was rather closer to the cliff edge than was sometimes comfortable! The walk was fairly spectacular, with great views back to the bay where we were camping, and finally to the Cape in the distance. The path wound its way along the edge of the cliffs, dropping down to an empty beach where we found some gorgeous paua shells washed up amidst the tide line of seaweed and sponges.
The Cape had a suitably end-of-the-world feel to it. We were buffeted by strong winds as we walked as far as we were allowed, and admired the solar-powered lighthouse that is now monitored electronically from Wellington. A tour group had arrived by coach, and we felt proud of ourselves for having walked from the bay where we were staying as we had a much better impression of the wildness of this bit of coast. We saw the Cape stretching out into the sea and the drama where the South Pacific Ocean and the Tasman Sea collide. We admired the view for a while and the vast empty sandy beach to each side of the Cape before turning round and beginning the long trudge back.It started raining and we huddled in the undergrowth to eat our picnic!! The next day we returned to the Cape but drove this time, to get some pictures of it in the gorgeous sunshine. It looked completely different this time!!
Yesterday, we were quite relieved to be leaving the far north. We stopped for a night at Maitai Bay, a pretty, tucked away little bay next door to Doubtless Bay (Captain Cook noted in his log that there was no doubt that is was a bay!) and drove further down the coast today to where I am writing this now in the camper. The scenery has returned to being picturesque, with rolling green hills, pretty bays and copses. We are camping at Matauri Bay and the beach is just a few metres from where I am writing. At the end of the beach, you can climb up the headland, where a beautiful memorial to the Rainbow Warrior ship is located. This was a Greenpeace ship that was docked in Auckland harbour, preparing to go and try and sabotage a team of people from France who were testing nuclear explosives in the Pacific. The French government got wind of this, and sent special forces to bomb the ship. It sank, killing a crew member. 2 French terrorists were caught and the French authorities had them imprisoned on a Pacific Island until they were released only 2 years later and returned to France to a heroes' welcome. Grrrrrrr!! Greenpeace subsequently built a new ship and successfully sent that out to the French testing site.
The carcass of the Rainbow Warrior was brought to Cavelli island, just off this bay, where people are welcome to dive the vessel. Tim and I visited the memorial and a pod of over 30 dolphins swam by! It was so fascinating to watch them. I had never seen so many!!