To the Northlands

Trip Start Apr 17, 2009
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Trip End May 09, 2010


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Where I stayed

Flag of New Zealand  , North Island,
Monday, January 11, 2010



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. We drove through a brief shower which was followed by a stunning rainbow over the hills and farmland beside us. We both immediately proclaimed that this area of New Zealand looked like Ireland with palm trees.

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. Anyway, the first time it happened I was upset about it, but once we realized that these birds tend to do this all the time (and it was not our fault) then we grew more annoyed with them instead of being upset. So, now you will find us screaming “get out of the road you stupid birds” just before we hit one.

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. It is clean, its downtown main street is the hub for shopping, and like most small towns in New Zealand it boasts a KFC, McDonalds, and Subway. However, we were pleased to find that the town actually has two very good restaurants- Bushman’s Hut and the Beachcomber. We ate dinner at both and enjoyed them very much. Frankly these restaurants were a big surprise for us in such a small town in such a rural setting.

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. First, let’s just clarify that while it is called 90 mile beach it is really only 70 miles long- but it is truly a 70 mile stretch of uninterrupted beach with no development on it. The interior main road north had been gravel and was paved during the last couple of years. Prior to that, the actual beach (which is very wide at high tide) was (and still is) used as a roadway to go the 70 miles to Cape Reinga. You can enter/exit your car onto the beach at several “entrance and exit” ramps along the way. There are road signs along the beach, posted speed limit signs, no passing signs, etc and the entire length of the beach is regulated as an actual road. The speed limit on the beach is 100km per hour (about 62 miles per hour). You are not permitted to take rental cars onto the beach which meant we had to stick to the interior paved road to get to Cape Reinga. The drive was very pretty through wild terrain and 70 miles of absolutely no development- no gas stations, no towns, nothing except a few farm houses and sheep.

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. As a result, this is a very sacred place to the Maori and you are prohibited from going near (not that you could get there anyway) the tree.

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 wind was blowing like crazy and made our hike a bit arduous at times. However, it was a beautiful setting and we were once again the only people on the beach- amazing! By the time we reached the volcano we decided not to climb to the top. It is not a hard climb at all because the volcano isn’t much more than a big hill. However, it was getting late and we still had to do the return portion of our hike. So, we headed back along the deserted beach, took lots of photos, and drove our minivan back to Kaitaia (killing a few birds en route).

The next day we planned to drive to the Bay of Islands and spend a few days there in a small town called Russell.

 

 

 

 

 

 
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Comments

Mike K on

I feel like I'm in the minivan with you guys. This may be coming up in one of your next entries, but did you guys tour Whangarei at all? You may remember when I told you about the NZ Atlas I had as a kid. The spine was broken at the Northlands page--I poured over information about this part of NZ. Wherever my armchair travels take me...I always gravitate toward the areas with the mildest weather....

Rachel Scott Marshall on

Are you all Seinfeld fans? You know, George says we have a deal with the birds--they're always supposed to get out of the way. Maybe those birds haven't watched Seinfeld.

Rissy's on

The birds, are trying for a feed of the dead or injured insects that your car squishes. They do seem stupid though, I agree and you probably don't kill as many as you think,cause they repeat the performance for the next vehicle. Thanks for the nice postings, i glad you've enjoyed your stay here. Rissy from Kaitaia

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