In which we get to the tippy top, and head back again

(This is the second blog of our trip to Northland, New Zealand. For part 1 check out this link: blog post part 1)

After Russell we had an epically long driving day – 3 1/2 hours up the East side of the long spit of land to Cape Reinga at the very tip of New Zealand, and then 3 hours back. We’d considered skipping it because, well, it is a bit out of the way but I’m so happy we didn’t.

Cape Reinga is majestical, to use a Kiwi word, and just stunning. All you can see for miles around you is blue water. At the Cape is also the point where two oceans meet, which you can see in the pictures with the variation in water colors.


Where Oceans Collide


The Famous Lighthouse

We spent a lot of time just sitting on one of the bluffs and admiring the view.

On the way back down the Cape, we stopped in for some sandboarding atop the famous Te Paki Dunes! Amazing to go from the ocean to the desert in just a few minutes. You rent “sandboards” in the parking lot, climb up, and go down on your belly. Pro tip: use your feet to brake, not your hands in front of you else sand flies up into your eyes, nose, teeth, shirt…everywhere. I mean everywhere.


The other big draw up here on the Cape is 90 Mile Beach which I feel compelled to point out is closer to 66 miles. The big draw on 90 Mile Beach is to drive your car along the beach or pack into a large tourist bus that drives along the beach. Honestly, I don’t get this either. Why spoil a perfectly nice beach with fume spewing machinery?


There’s a car. On a beach. Woo hoo.

After this came my favorite part of the trip – visiting the big Kauri groves. Kauri are large, ancient trees only second in age to the Sequoia. They grow in girth, not height, making for massive squat trees. They have declined considerably as they grow straight and as they grow the lower limbs fall off, making them into long logs perfect for lumber, and were used for years in the logging industry here. They are now seen as a taonga (treasure) and protected, but still under various threats.

Our first stop before going into the forests was a quirky little puzzle shop I’d read about in the delightful “New Zealand Frenzy” guidebook, which gives you all sorts of off the beaten path trips and tricks.


After this was a hike through a muddy but quiet little Kauri grove. One thing I love about hiking here is that if you’re not on one of the major tourist hikes, you may see no one else on your hike, just enjoy a peaceful stroll through the forest.


Waterfall along the hike


Kauri bark close up. It sheds this rough layer as it grows to become entirely smooth


Then came the tourist Kauri, or Tane Mahuta. Touristy or not, he is a sight to behold.


The largest living Kauri tree known alive today, Tane Mahuta is estimated to be between 1500 and 2500 years old. I can’t even wrap my brain around that! Something that was just beginning life around the time of Ancient Greece and is still alive today.

A little ways down the road is another hike to a few other large Kauri. We took the road less traveled by and found ourselves on another solitary hike up to Yakas, a huggable Kauri.


Trying to hug the massive, massive tree


We checked into a fun Top 10 Holiday Park for a glamping night. These places are great – they have clean facilities and a fun playground for the kids (and intrepid adults)!


Wheee! The prettiest flying fox ride ever

That night, we went for a kiwi walk in the dark kauri forest, guided by a ranger with a red flashlight. While we saw eel, weta (large cockroachy insects) and gloworms in the forest, we did not spot any kiwi! Shy little critters.

Our last stop before heading home was a visit to the quirky Kauri Museum. It goes through the life of the Kauri forests, when logging industry and later Kauri Gum (amber) was big business.


Showing the age and rings of an Ancient Kauri


After this, was a long ride home, back to our little house near the beach, until our next adventure in Aotearoa (Maori word for New Zealand).






In which we head to the tippy top of New Zealand

A couple months ago, I took a week off of work for the kids’ Spring break and we headed up north on a road trip.

Driving in New Zealand is not really a fun experience. It’s often quite lovely, as you are threading your way by deep gorges covered in subtropical foliage, or along a rugged coastline, but it is almost entirely two lane roads that wend their way precariously along them. Much of the time, the maximum speed is 40 mph. So even though distances look short on a map, like 2 inches, it can take HOURS to get anywhere.

We drove to Auckland, excited to find a real sushi place, as we were going to the big city. In this, we were entirely disappointed. I have yet to find sushi here that even matches with the average roll you’d find at Whole Foods back home, sadly. It’s all futomaki and filled with traditional Japanese meats such as fried chicken. We were kindly hosted by our friend Chris’ parents there, and headed out early in the morning.

Our first stop was to the Waipu caves, tucked off road on a gravel path. New Zealand is well known for glowworm caves, where you walk in and after giving your eyes a minute to adjust, look as if you’re outside under the stars because of the thousands of tiny little glowing creatures covering the roof and walls of the caves.  It’s so beautiful, and we first saw this at the heavily trafficked tourist haven of Waitomo last year where you are sheperded in a line and sit in a tiny canoe on a track for five minutes to see the magic. These caves, however, are entirely free.  You pull up, walk across a grassy field of muck and down you go, open to explore to your heart’s content.


The unassuming entrance to the caves

As we pulled up, a group of French tourists got out, completely bedecked in spelunking gear. Waterproof pants, jackets, headlamps, hiking boots with covers, they were PREPARED. As we are trying to be more culturally sensitive here, we decided to do it the Kiwi way – barefoot and using our phone flashlight to navigate. The kids and I scampered forth and may have left Eric behind, which he may have been a bit upset about given that he is not fond of caves in the first place.

Sadly, because I didn’t bring a camera and tripod to take long exposure pictures, you can’t see the glowworms the way we did, so you’ll just have to trust me on it. But it was incredibly cool to scramble around in the quiet underground with the Milky Way seemingly overhead, and feel the mud squelching between your toes.

After that it was onward to Tutukaka, where I had been hoping for a snorkelling trip to the Poor Knights Islands, alas, the weather did not allow for this. Instead we spent a few pleasant days kayaking around the harbor and hiking the beautiful walks to be found around before heading to Russell.


Further up north, our first stop was the Waitangi Treaty grounds. The Treaty of Waitangi (Te Tiriti o Waitangi in Maori) is a document signed in 1840 that theoretically establishes a governance of New Zealand by the British Commonwealth under the Crown, recognizes Maori land ownership and gives them the rights of British citizens. In practice, this is much more controversial. The English and Maori versions of the documents vary considerably in word and intent, and it cannot be argued that the two peoples have had a peaceful and equal existence since the signing of the Treaty. Today, the Treaty seems to be looked at still as a guiding document and one that is used to attempt to redress Colonial wrongs.


Marae (meeting house) with traditional Maori powhiri (pronounced “pofiri” welcoming ceremony)


Ceremonial Waka (war canoes)


One of the big tourist draws in the Bay of Islands on the Northland East Coast is to take a boat tour that takes you out to Hole in the Rock. This is a large Rock in the middle of the Bay with a hole in it. I…don’t see the interest and whoever is responsible for the marketing is a genius. We had still hoped to take a boat out to one of the smaller islands for a trek around, but it was still winter season and we hadn’t planned very well, so instead ended up taking a small boat to go around a bit to one of the largely uninhabited islands. The boat had stand up paddleboards, and we enjoyed a pleasant hour floating about the isolated bay.


Little waterways among the islands