Northland/Bay of Islands:
90 Mile Beach was our first stop. Contrary to what the name would have you believe, it is not actually 90 miles long. Its more like 55… which is still incredibly long (Also just shy of 90km). You’re allowed to drive on the beach itself, but we were wary to give it a go due to our recent episode of getting our car stuck. So we parked and walked in. It was vast and beautiful. On our way back, we stopped to help a couple who had gotten their rental car quite stuck in the sand. It took a local’s help to tow them out- their wheels were over halfway sunk into the sand.
Cape Reinga sits at the very top of Northland. In Māori culture, this is the place where a spirit leaves New Zealand for their homeland in the afterlife. There is a puhutukawa tree clinging to the side of a rock which is supposed to be the steps down into the afterlife. It stands solitary on the rock, and unlike most other pohutukawa trees, this one has never been known to bloom. Just off the coast where the lighthouse sits, the Tasman Sea meets the Pacific Ocean. You can see the waves from the different sides coming together and crashing on impact. It’s a crazy thing to witness!
We did a little side hike down to the beach, where we had the whole thing to ourselves. We sat and listened to music for a bit, taking in the feeling of being in a place that is sacred to so many.
Signs posted in the area asked that visitors adhere to tradition by not eating or drinking while there. We were happy to comply, but didn’t really think it through before we headed on our side adventure. Its a bit of a challenge not to drink water when hiking in the sun for two hours!
The town of Paihia is located pretty centrally in the Bay of Islands, which makes it perfect for seeing the area! We took a ferry across to Russel on Anzac day, and arrived just in time to catch the Anzac parade making it’s way through town. That was a pretty cool experience, watching the town turn up in support and memory of their soldiers, all led by a man with a bagpipe! We were excited to see the oldest church in New Zealand complete with its historic bullet holes from the Musket Wars. We also wandered a bit out of town for a hike up Topeka Point, which gave us an awesome view of the bay.
We even swung through Waitangi to see the place the Treaty was signed. So much New Zealand history in that area!
The day we drove into the Coromandel was sunny, so we headed straight towards Cathedral Cove to spend some time on the beach. The parking lot is incredibly small, and there is a bit of an uphill road to get to it. So we parked at the bottom and took the alternative walking route along the coast. The hike into the beach isn’t too long, and pops you down right in front of the iconic cove. We opted for a spot in the sunshine and went for a swim in the ocean. It was beautiful and peaceful, and we stuck around until the shade chased us away.
We found a cool hike called Castle Rock, and headed towards it. The directions were a bit vague and we got slightly turned around, but eventually we found the spot. When we got out of our car, we caught sight of the rock we would be climbing, it was tall. Which meant that the hike was steep… in fact it felt more like a jungle trek than a path. At points we were actually climbing rock faces to continue on. The view was definitely worth it, even though we were slapping away swarms of flying ants (who knew that was a thing). Getting down was also quite an adventure, we had to hold onto wooden vines to keep from slipping down.
One of the nights that we camped in the Coromandel we got to see the most spectacular sunset. It was so good that we pulled off the road to sit and watch the sun slip behind the mountains.
We actually drove through Auckland twice before we arrived to it as our destination. Both times we got caught in 5 o clock traffic. (You’d think we would have learned from the first time).
Julia is another member of the awesome family who has adopted and homed us during our time in New Zealand. She and her partner, Matt, let us stay with them for our final days in the country and it was a fantastic way to conclude our trip.
To make things even better, our friend Gaby (Julia’s sister) also flew into town for the time we were there! The 5 of us got to share a number of meals together, from Julia’s spectacular cooking, to delicious take away kebabs, to an amazing Auckland cafe brunch. We also got to know Matt and Julia’s flatmates and chat with them about travel and New Zealand. Huge shoutout to Matt and Julia for being spectacular hosts and to their whole flat for being so welcoming to us!
We went and saw the legendary Piha Beach, where they film a New Zealand reality tv show about rescuing surfers and swimmers. The waves were insane! Lion Rock sits on the beach, but at high tide the waves meet a river the makes it inaccessible from half of the beach. Alec got it in his head to get to the trail head on Lion Rock and was scouting a shallow spot to cross. Gaby decided to help and was just about in the middle of the pool when the tide started to come in! It was like watching an Indiana Jones movie where death is chasing him and he just barely escapes his end! Except… this time it caught up to her. Before she even had time to move, the water level rose from ankle level to waist deep! Her pants were soaked, but she was on the other side. We decided to take the long way round to avoid the same fate, and met her over there. Unfortunately, her phone was in her back pocket and had also gone for a bit of a swim.
Oh and in the end, Alec did make it to the top of Lion Rock 🙂
Mount Eden was also a stop that day, a little more dry. It’s unique because its a hill that gives spectacular view of the city and surrounding areas, including the iconic skyline. But its also the remainder of an old volcano, complete with a grassy crater (you’re not allowed to roll down it unfortunately).
We caught up with a coworker from Rushani’s in Lyttelton and got to see some of the North Shore. The townships were lively and elegant and the view across the bridge was a whole different angle than we’d been seeing it!
An ongoing mission throughout our time in Auckland was to sell our car. We had hoped that it would go in the first few days. We posted it on a number of Facebook groups and a local buy and sell site, Trade Me. The responses we got were disappointingly fraught with spam offers, undercutting prices or full on scams. Lots of people seemed to have questions, but no one actually wanted to come see the car. By our last full day we were getting quite anxious to have it go. We were lucky to find a buyer who met us at the Post Shop so we could transfer the car out of our name before it closed for the day. We dropped the car off at his house and breathed a sigh of relief. We took a bus and train into the CBD and spent some time walking through the streets, constantly amazed by the sheer size of the buildings and city itself. Nothing makes us feel more like small town kids than wandering in a big city. Gaby showed us one of her favorite cafe’s and walked us along Queen Street pointing out different things like our own personal tour guide, it was awesome!
We made sure to have fish and chips one last time before leaving… we’re going to miss that for sure.
But that’s not the only thing. New Zealand has been a spectacular home for us for the last 5 months, and it was bittersweet to load onto our plane. We’re excited for what’s next, but sad to be leaving a place that has become very dear to us. New Zealand has become a home away from home, and we’re already looking forward to coming back.
But for now, we’re off to Australia!