A little jaunt around the far north
Trip Start Oct 01, 2012
61Trip End Oct 01, 2015
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The flight flew by, after all what's 13 hours when we've been used to on average 20 for the past 5 months. Tai made the most of the free drinks and we both watched back to back films until we landed in Auckland!
Everyone in new Zealand is so chatty, the passport control official, the bus driver, the ticket seller- everyone welcomed us to new Zealand telling us important things we needed to know without us even asking! It was a welcome change from the difficult travelling in south america.
We got on the bus at the airport and headed towards the city, passing through outer city neighbourhoods on route, we turned a corner and suddenly the iconic Auckland sky tower loomed up into the sky in front of us. We arrived at our hostel at around 6 and it was double the price we were expecting but it was only for one night. We put our bags in the room and headed out to explore the city. We walked down to the harbour side where there was a band playing out of a shipping container so we stood and watched for a while before tais tummy started to rumble and we headed off in search of food.
We were pleased to find the streets filled with cheap Asian food halls and restaurants. It seems there is a big asian community here which is awesome as it means there's lots and lots of beautiful food to choose from and after coming from chile and Argentina it was cheap! Unfortunately we couldnt really appreciate Auckland that night as we were shattered and fell asleep around 9 o clock (about 3am south American time)
The following morning we got up early and checked out, we were given a free 30 minute Internet voucher and tried to book ourselves into a different cheaper hostel for 5 days time. We also realised we'd stayed at the wrong hostel the night before explaining why it was so much more expensive!
We headed to the train station where we were served by another incredibly friendly kiwi and headed off to an area on the outskirts of Auckland where we were to pick up our campervan!!
We were super excited and barely even listened to the girl as she went through our pre rental check list. Soon though we were off in our spaceship called stin to explore the far north.
Soon after leaving the offices we managed to get lost having opted out of the extra $5 a day to get a sat nav! After half an hour or so though we were back on track and heading north on the highway, our little de tour meant we needed petrol and after realising there wasn't any service stations we pulled off and handily found ourselves at a huge Westfield, we filled up on fuel, stocked up on food and then decided to have a look around the shopping centre to see if we could get tai a belated Christmas and birthday present - a go pro! We looked around numerous shops all with no luck, we were about to give up and carry on on our journey but decided to try a skate and surf store first. They didn't sell them but being the helpful friendly kiwis that everyone so far seems to be they introduced us to a guy shopping there who owned another skating shop 20 minutes away and he did have some. He gave us the address and it happened to be on our way so off we went. 20 minutes later we had turned off the highway and were driving alongside a beautiful bay where turquoise waters lapped the shoreline. We were in a little town called orewa and left there with a brand new toy to play with!
We carried on our journey up the coast and soon found the road taking us inland slightly, we passed farms with sheep and men herding them on motorbikes, huge birds of pray soared overhead and rolling fields stretched out all around us as the road wove its way through the landscape.
Finally we arrived in paihia - the gateway to the bay of islands, we'd stopped at a handy roadside liquor store on route and found ourselves a campsite which was right by the waterfront, unfortunately the cheapest pitches were behind a building so you wouldn't of known where we were! We started walking towards the town but soon turned around and decided to take our home on wheels instead. Paihia is a pretty little place with wooden buildings, the shops and restaurants all nestled around 3 or 4 streets and on the opposite side a pier with a number of tour boats bobbing along in the water waiting to take tourists out to visit the islands. We were of course one of those tourists and booked ourselves on a tour for the following day, the tour being called "swim with dolphins experience".
Excited for the next day and after exhausting the 4 roads in paihia we decided to head back to the campsite where we shared some fat yak pale ale and set up our campervan for the 1st time. The van was originally a Toyota 6 seater people carrier or something but had been converted into a campervan. Everything was therefore custom built from the table to the curtains to the bed. It was actually pretty impressive how everything fitted in, pulled out and clipped together to transform it into a decent size campervan. The campsite had a fully equipped kitchen but we were enjoying having our little campervan so much we opted to use all our equipment and cooked for ourselves! Later that night a car pulled up and a group of Spanish people set up camp across from us. It seemed a little surreal hearing the language we'd heard so much for the past 5 months being spoken just across from us in new Zealand. Jet lag soon got the better of us and we fell asleep in our van for the first time.
We awoke early after a sound night sleep and headed off to town to board our boat. It was due to leave at 8am and we'd been told to go to pier b however we could only find pier d. There did seem to be a large group waiting though so we hovered near them in the hope we were in the right place. When they started boarding another companies boat though we started to worry and frantically searched around for pier b, we couldn't find it and at 8 o clock asked someone if they could help , their reply was that we were with them and we climbed aboard a bright yellow boat and set off into the sea. They bay of islands consists of over 144 islands and although not home to marine mammals it is visited by dolphins, sharks and whales on a daily basis. We were told that if we didn't see either dolphins or whales we could come back any time for a free trip so we were understandably hopeful.
We headed off sailing (the boat didn't have a sail but not sure how else to describe it) around a number of islands in the turquoise waters, we were told to keep our eyes peeled for big splashes or dorsal fins and so we were all obviously scanning the water eager to catch site of a dolphin.
The waters and islands were beautiful and after a couple of hours and still no sign of dolphins we were ready to accept that we wouldnt see them, we didn't mind though as we were both just enjoying being out on the water. We decided to move out and sit at the back of the boat as no one else was out there and enjoy the bay of islands. After about 5 or so minutes something caught both of our eyes and we looked excitedly out onto the water unsure if we were mistaken, then we both saw it again - a huge dolphin jumping at least 5ft out of the water! We quickly told the crew and we turned around and headed in the direction of the dolphins. The pod must of been around 12-15 big and the dolphins about 4 meters long! We followed the pod for around an hour, watching them as they played around the boat, flipping and jumping out of the water as if they were putting on a show just for us! Then we were told it was possible to swim with them and we headed inside for a briefing before shivering at the back of the boat as we waited to get in. We were told the pod were moving quickly and we weren't sure if we'd been able to swim with them or not. Then just as fast as we were told that we were told to get in and swim! The swell was huge and as we slid into the water we swam with all our might in the direction of the dolphins. We looked down and there they were right under us , then they'd disappear from view swimming deep into the blue beneath us before coming up out of nowhere, shooting past us and up out of the water flipping above! Then we'd lose them again, we'd been told to get their attention to make high pitched noises through our snorkels and wave our arms under the water, so 10 of us were in the water waving manically and squealing like lunatics hoping they would come back, every time I looked up surprising the entire crew would be in stitches but it didn't stop us! Whether it worked or not I don't know but they came back and we swam excitedly around them for around 20 minutes before they left us again and we got back on the boat and followed them. Then it was time to get back in, this time as we jumped in and looked down around 8 were within reaching distance below us. This time however they didn't stick around and we were called back to the boat. We were all buzzing with excitement, hardly able to believe how close we were to wild dolphins. It was extremely tiring swimming in the open water with such a big swell but completely worth it and we all warmed up with hot milo on the way back to the harbour! We raced back to our van- we were 15 minutes over our allowed parking time - luckily we didn't have a ticket, and after stocking up on more food - including Tim tams we were on our way again unable to talk about anything other than our swim with the dolphins!
We'd heard that on our route we would be passing a world famous "fush and chups" shop and we decided to stop there for lunch!
Mangonui fish shop is a little restaurant jutting out onto the water in the tiny town of Mangonui - the shop was very different from the fish and chip shops of home, it had a bar and served salads! We stood looking confused until the lady behind the counter helped us order a portion of fish and chips and curry sauce- it sounds straight forward but it was confusing! Im sure if the people of Mangonui came to the uk they'd be just as confused especially when they saw you can order a Chinese from the same place!
We sat on high stools looking out over the bay and as we were waiting saw a dolphin jump out of the water right infront of us!
The fish and chips weren't exactly world class but it was a nice treat and the setting was beautiful!
We were soon back in our van and on our way up to cape reigna, the northernmost point of new Zealand.
As we drove further and further north the country was becoming more and more remote, houses were few and far between as was everything else. At around 5 o clock we arrived at our campsite for the night, a department of conservation site, it was at the end of a gravel track and a stones throw away from a deserted beach. There's no one attending these campsites and you just have to leave money in an envelope for your fees. We parked off and walked to the beach before coming back and having a couple of beers at the camp. As the sun set behind the hills behind us the sand flies came out and we were forced to hide in our can and play cards by candlelight.
The following day there was a massacre at our camp as tai swatted the hundreds of sandflies which had also made our van home for the night! We had a quick breakfast and headed off for the day. Our first stop just 3km further north was cape reigna. We pulled up and had a km or so walk to the end of the island. We past native plants and explanations of why this is area is so significant. Maoris believe its the jumping off point for souls as they begin their journey to the spirit world. We walked right to the end and truly felt as though we were at the end of the world with nothing but ocean as far as the eye could see. It's also here that 2 oceans meet, the pacific and the Tasman sea and you could actually see where the different currents met as they formed whirlpools and waves. There was some islands that you could just about make out far in the distance and a board told us that a Maori leader once swam there naming it manawa tawhi (panting breath) after the exhausted state he was in when he arrived!
We were now 18029 Km from home as well as we saw a sign pointing towards London! As we were walking back to the van tai pointed at 2 birds on the floor and said, look there's some kiwis, they must be as there not flying! We quickly took some pictures and then crept forward to get a better look, just as we got close the 2 little birds (which we later found out looked nothing like kiwis) flew away!
We headed back to our van and drove (getting a little lost) to our next stop , the te paki sand dunes, when we got there we realised we didn't have enough money to rent a body board and so we were soon on our way again, as we drove back south we stopped for a quick look at 90 mile beach on route.
Our camp for the night was in trounson kauri park. We drove through waipoua kauri Forest on the way and saw some signs pointing to tane mahuta- lord of the forest! We thought with a tag line like that it was definitely worth a stop. We pulled over and headed into the forest, after 5 minutes walk we came to tane mahuta, a HUGE kauri tree. We'd heard these trees were pretty big but we didn't expect anything like this, standing tall at over 17m in height and with a trunk girth of over 13m it dwarfed everything around it!
It was thought to be around 2000 years old, handily there was a little seat opposite and we sat staring in awe at this huge tree!
It was starting to get late so we got back on our way, we saw lots of birds on route including eagles and some bright blue and red ones which we later found out were pukekos
Again we got a little lost but eventually found our campsite which thankfully had lovely hot showers! It was right on the edge of the forest and as we were working out our plans for the following day a lady came selling organic vegetables and told us to walk in the forest at night and we might see some kiwis! We ate dinner and waited for the sun to go down before heading off into the forest with only a head torch which had nearly died and a mobile phone for light. We hadnt even taken 5 steps before we heard a rustling in the bushes, we shined our lights in the direction of the noise and were shocked to see a large black animal pacing towards us, I screamed and hid behind tai, while he fumbled trying to turn the light on full all the while the creature was coming closer and closer towards us, we watched it for a while, it seemed to be very interested in Tai's feet and everytime it came a bit too close for comfort we'd shoo it away but it would just turn and come straight back at us! After a while it disappeared and we turned around heading back to the safety of our van after our near death experience with the small bear!
The following morning we woke up and in the safety of daylight headed back into the forest, we didn't spot any kiwis unfortunately but the trail did lead us past lots of huge kauri trees which would disappear up through the canopy like something from jack and the bean stalk. After a while we came to an information centre which had photos of animals you might see, the bear we saw last night was infact a possum- a rodent or pest which people actually try and catch! It did say that these creatures were rarely seen so we considered ourselves lucky!
We left the campsite and headed back across to the east coast to a town called Whangerai where we had lunch in a car park before getting attacked by seagulls and having to run for cover in a nearby information centre. We got directions to Whangerai waterfalls walked around the harbour and headed off. Dubbed as the Kim kardashian of waterfalls - widely photographed but not too much to it- we weren't expecting much. There were some kids playing at the top precariously close to the edge, scrambling and climbing over the rocks. We headed on the path down to the bottom, although not breathtaking it was beautiful sitting at the bottom looking up, either side was covered in green plants and the pool at the bottom was clear and lead into a rocky stream which passed through the forest.
Our next stop after that was abbey caves. Once we'd parked and headed off towards the signposted caves we passed a couple who told us not to bother with the caves and head to the rock forest instead.
We therefore made the rock forest our first stop, it was very eerie especially as in the middle was a child's grave still with toys placed upon it from over 130 years ago. A little freaked out we decided to head to the caves instead! The first cave we went to was just too scary, it was dark and you couldn't see a path or even a simple route in over all the boulders not to mention we were yet again really underprepared and only had a phone for light! We turned around and headed back, on the way back we saw another cave and some people were climbing down into it so we thought we'd follow, they at least had head torches that worked. We scrambled down over boulders and rocks, all were slippery and muddy and finally jumped onto the floor below before heading off further and further into the cave until the water was waist deep and we couldn't go any further. We turned off out light and was plunged into darkness, the type of dark where you can't even see your hand in front of your face, we looked around us and saw hundreds of glow worms on the cave walls and roof, it was really cool. We stood in darkness for a while and then decided to head back passing the creepy rock forest on route. That night we camped at a place called waipu on another fabulous camp ground right near the sea, this beach was actually more impressive than ninety mile beach and we sat on the sand until the sun dropped down behind the hills, tai managed to get drunk on a litre bottle of raspberry cider and we cooked our final meal of our trip. That night the stars were beautiful and we lay in bed looking at them through the sunroof before falling asleep. The next day was altogether uneventful, we dropped back the van, checked into our new hostel in Auckland and tried to find a smart outfit for my interview the following day.
The far north had been awesome, it was great to have our own freedom after having to rely on buses for the past 5 months- next stop the magic bus!