To the Northlands
Trip Start Apr 17, 2009
58Trip End May 09, 2010
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Where I stayed
We headed out of Auckland in our spacious minivan and drove 5 hours along the main national highway (Hwy 1) north to the town of Kaitaia. Part of the drive took us along a new expressway out of Auckland where a $2 toll is charged for using the road. However, there are no toll booths - instead, you call them up on the phone and pay over the phone or you pay on-line over the internet or you buy “toll tickets” in advance at kiosks located in the area. You have 5 days to pay the toll and they photograph your car tag using special cameras.
On our drive we stopped in a small town to eat lunch at a Subway fast food restaurant. As noted, there are a lot of Subway shops in New Zealand and we have stopped at a few for lunches to go. As we continued deeper north and into the more rural and rugged landscapes the “national highway” grew narrower and more interesting with its one lane bridges, lack of guardrails, and snaking turns through gorges, hills, and along rivers
As we drove around the area we saw an abundance of wild turkeys in the fields along with sheep, cows, horses, and lots of ducks. Beautiful wildflowers dot the green rolling hills and you see geraniums, red hot pokers, and hydrangeas growing wild along the roadside. Also, we continue to see more of these beautiful solid purple or solid white masses of flowers (still don’t know the name yet) This area has a subtropical climate even though it looks like Ireland.
We also encountered what we have begun to refer to as the “suicide birds” for lack of a better term. Yes, this is disturbing, but it has proven to be an on-going problem for us. There are these small black birds that sit in the road and don’t try to fly off until your car is within feet of them. Instead of flying to the side of the road they fly straight up at first and you can’t help but hitting them head on. During our drive to Kaitaia we managed to kill two birds with our car. I have never seen this type of thing. We tried very hard to avoid hitting them, but they just fly right into the front of the car
Late in the afternoon we arrived in Kaitaia. Kaitaia (population 5,000) is the northernmost town of any size in New Zealand. It is located at the base of the north island’s long thin peninsula that juts out about 90 miles north into the Tasman Sea. The peninsula’s tip (Cape Reinga area) is the northernmost point of the country. There are no towns on the 90 mile peninsula and the main road out the peninsula has only recently been paved. This area of New Zealand is referred to as the Far Northland, and it is quite rural.
We checked into our motel and chuckled about the name- The Loredo Motel. The remoteness of the area and the motel’s name made us feel like we were indeed in rural Laredo, Texas. The motel was simple and clean and about as good as you are going to get in Kaitaia.
Kaitaia is a non-descript town similar to a nice small town you might find in the heartland of America
Few Americans visit this area and the people here were quite curious about what made us decide to come up. The first reason we decided to visit is because we have a lot of time in New Zealand and want to try to see most of the major areas. Second, before we left Maine we purchased a book on Amazon called, NZ Frenzy- an Adventurer’s Guide to the North Island’s Wild Places. This book is written by an American and focuses on spectacular out off the way, off the beaten track, places that most tourists never come to see. We have been using this book extensively to plan our stops in the North Island because we prefer to avoid the more touristy areas and want to see the really special, more remote spots. Having said that, there were several places the book suggested visiting in the Far Northland which is why we used Kaitaia as our base for hitting those sites. We spent three nights in Kaitaia which gave us two full days for exploring.
Our first day we stopped at KFC to get some chicken for a “picnic” lunch and drove all the way out the 90 mile peninsula (called 90 mile beach) to the very tip at Cape Reinga
Our goal for the day was to see the Cape and then to do a hike we had read about in the NZ Frenzy book. We arrived at the cape which is beautiful and rocky like the coasts of Maine or Oregon. It is where the Tasman Sea and the Pacific Ocean meet with violent crashing waves. There is a beautiful lighthouse at the point, several hiking trails and lots and lots of wind here
This point is a very important sacred place to the Maori People (indigenous people) of New Zealand.
Side note- the Maori people have been in New Zealand for 1,000+ years and make up about 12% of today’s population. They are believed to be descendants of Polynesians from Tahiti and their language is similar to Tahiti. European settlers arrived to settle New Zealand in the early 1800s and were quite brutal to the Maori and quite deceptive in taking Maori lands. Today’s New Zealand government is working hard to make reparations to the Maori people here.
The Maori people believe that Cape Reinga is the point where the souls of the dead depart this world to enter the afterlife. Seeing how this is the furthest north point of the country and how it juts out deep into the oceans you can see why they would think this is the jumping off point to the netherworld. At the farthest tip of the rock cliffs of the cape (virtually inaccessible to people) is a lone 800 year old Pohutukawa tree. The Maori believe that the roots of this tree, which climb down the cliffs toward the ocean, are the departing point for the spirits of the dead to the Afterlife
Anyway, after photos and walks around the lighthouse, we headed off for the hike. Our hike would be on the Te Werahi Track and was expected to take about four hours and cover about nine miles. The hike started without an actual path and went across open farmland. You were suppose to follow some orange markers and we became disoriented and a bit lost at first. We just about gave up trying to follow the markers and were going to head back to our car when we suddenly found the “hidden” trail. The trail crossed open fields before heading down into a ravine, across a swamp, and back up a rock hillside from which you hiked down to massive hundred foot sand dunes and out onto a stunning golden sand beach with brilliant crashing surf. The hike then went down the beach about four miles before heading back up into the cliffs and then looping along the cliffs back to our car. We took about four hours to do the hike (we played on the beach quite a bit and had our KFC picnic) and never saw another hiker! We had the entire four mile stretch on the beach all to ourselves on a beautiful sunny day. It was WONDERFUL. We could not get over how these beautiful beaches were completely empty of people during the middle of summer. However, as we have spent more time in New Zealand we have found this to be the norm and if you have 10 people on a beach you would call it crowded
That evening we drove back to Kaitaia, killed a few birds en route with our car, and turned in early.
The next morning we headed out to Maitai Bay, Merita Beach/Bay, and Pukehe Volcano. Along the way we stopped off at “Kauri World”. We will discuss Kauri Trees in more detail in our entry about the Bay of Islands. However, Kauri World has one of the largest ancient Kauri tree logs ever found. Ancient Kauri logs are found under old swamps. It is so large that they carved a spiral staircase into the interior of the trunk (see the attached photos). Kauri World was a bit tacky (picture a Stucky’s in America), but we had been told the Kauri tree trunk staircase was worth a stop- And it was.
Anyway, after seeing Kauri World we drove about an hour to the area of Maitai Bay, Merita Beach, and Puheke volcano. Our plan was to do an 8 to 10 mile round trip hike along Merita Beach to Puheke volcano (another hike from our NZ Frenzy book). Merita Beach was a beautiful, long, white sand beach with emerald ocean waters. It looked a lot like the beaches and ocean waters of Pensacola or Destin in the Florida Panhandle. At the end of the beach is the extinct Puheke Volcano- one of the only beachfront volcanoes in the world
The next day we planned to drive to the Bay of Islands and spend a few days there in a small town called Russell.