We left Snells Beach and headed north to do a four-day circle of Northland, the northernmost region of New Zealand. Though we had planned on visiting several interesting and important stops, the journey between them was filled with oohs and aahs as we encountered breathtaking scenery at every turn.
At our first stop, I tried to take a photo, but the images below show all I could see, and all the camera would record. I am now struggling with our old featureless camera body with a difficult-to-focus eyepiece, doing my best and getting frustrated (though thankful that we had a back-up). There may be many more phone-camera photos in these posts until we get this sorted out. And, very likely, by sorted out I mean purchase a new camera. Oy vey.
We knew we wanted to see the glowworms somewhere in New Zealand, and we weren’t planning to go to the area of the most popular (biggest? most expensive?) glowworm caves in Waitomo. I marked several possible glowworm spots on Google Maps so we could visit when we got near, and Waipu Caves was the first one we came across. For campers, there were several camper vans and tents set up (one night allowed) in the parking lot. A short and easy walk from the car and we were at the mouth of the cave. We were there in a very dry period, so the water in the cave was low and the path around was fairly dry. However, we had come prepared with our water shoes (recommended by others to avoid the muddy pathway), so we put them on and waded in.
It was a bit difficult to get to a spot where nobody was following behind with their flashlights, but with time and patience, we finally got a peaceful break. The longer we stood in the dark and quiet, the more little stars we could see above and around us. Just being in the cave was a great experience, and the twinkling worms were frosting on the cake (though worms and cake should probably not be used in the same sentence). No photographs of the light-emitting critters since we didn’t bring in a tripod and camera, and didn’t want to make any light with our phone.
Whangarei Falls and A.H. Reed Memorial Park
A.H. Reed Memorial Park has a boardwalk and pathway to allow viewing access to view some large specimens of the revered kauri tree. A path connects the park with Whangarei Falls, or you can drive between the sites, parking at each one. Another circle path at the falls allows you to walk right down to view the cascading display from below.
Bay of Islands
We stayed two nights just south of Paihia and drove up to catch our pre-booked boat trip around the islands and out to the Hole in the Rock. Our boat picked up more people in Russel, dropped others off on Urupukapuka Island where they would kayak, and then took the rest of us on the longer boat ride to see the Hole in the Rock. We caught a few glimpses of dolphins before returning to Urupukapuka Island for lunch, and then traveling back to Russel, where we disembarked. Included with the boat trip was a ferry ticket back to Paihia so we wandered Russel for a little bit before boarding the ferry and returning.
Kawakawa wasn’t a major stop for us other than the location of our AirBnB for two nights while we visited the Bay of Islands. It turned out to be a lovely spot to stop at, with beautiful valley views and interesting and generous hosts.
There is one major attraction in Kawaka–the public toilets. The Hundertwasser Toilets, named after the artist who designed them. Opened in 1999, they are considered the most photographed public toilet in New Zealand.
Cape Reinga is at the toppiest tip of New Zealand. It’s where the Tasman Sea and the Pacific Ocean collide, and is the place from where Maori believe spirits leave the earth. The drive up (also the drive down) was beautiful and fun–Ken loves a windy country road. The scenery on arrival would have been worth it, even if we hadn’t enjoyed the journey there. We spent quite a while hiking up to a viewing point and then down to the lighthouse before driving a little way back to Tapotupotu Bay for a picnic lunch.
Te Paki Sand Dunes
If you take a commercial tour up to Cape Reinga, your return trip might be along 90 Mile Beach (which is really only 88 kilometres or 55 miles long) rather than on the road. Though the beach is also an official highway and can be driven on when the main highway is inaccessible, it is mostly used for tourist trips. We weren’t interested in taking a commercial tour, or really in driving along the beach, but we did stop at the sand dunes along the beach on our drive back. We didn’t rent a bodyboard but climbed up to watch a bit of the sliding fun. From our vantage point partway up the dune, we couldn’t see the beach, but we saw plenty of sand.
Our next AirBnB was at the end of the road going up to Cape Reinga in a town called Kaitaia. The next morning, since we were only a few minutes away from the south end of the 90 Mile Beach, we drove to a vehicle access road, parked on the street and walked in, hoping to catch a glimpse of the long stretch of sand.
Driving down the west coast, we needed to cross the Hokianga Harbour by ferry. We arrived just a few minutes before the hour and were the penultimate car squeezed onto the little ship. The scenic 15-minute ride cost $22 NZD ($20 for the car and driver, $2 for the passenger). Rawene, on the other side of the harbour, is a cute little village and we stopped to have a coffee and enjoy it.
One of the reasons for driving down the Northland west coast is to see Tane Mahuta, Lord of the Forest. Approximately 2,000 years old, this kauri tree is impressive, indeed. At all the reserves where kauri trees are open for viewing, there are now footwear cleaning stations on the way in and out. This is part of the effort to reduce kauri dieback, a fungus-type disease that is having a devastating effect on New Zealand’s kauri forests.
The final AirBnb of our Northland tour was another winner. Our views were stunning and we wished we had planned to stay longer in the area.
- Glowworms: Where to find them.
- Boat trip: Explore’s Discover the Bay trip booked through bookme.co.nz. Regular $155 NZ each. Booked for $92.80 NZ ($80 CAD).