Ange and I were very excited to be heading up to the Far North on our ‘Kauri’ adventure! Having enjoyed an early taste of winter here in Queenstown with an unexpected snowfall in mid-April, we were more than ready to head north for some sunshine and warm weather, and we weren’t disappointed – it was blue skies, shorts and jandles all the way (well most of the time anyway) – just as the ‘winterless north’ had promised!
Having spent not much time north of Auckland, I wasn’t sure what to expect, but as we headed away from the big smoke on the first day of our adventure, I got a taste of what we would see. Passing massive kauri tree forests and stopping for lunch at Baylys beach, a beautiful white sandy beach with views for miles! Andy, our guide, kept us entertained the whole way with tales of Maori culture and kumaras – the man is a walking encyclopaedia! That evening, we headed out for an atmospheric night hike through the impressive Waipoua Forest where we were privileged to meet Tāne Mahuta, the world’s largest kauri tree. Illuminated by torch light, he’s an incredible sight looming out of the darkness. I don’t want to give away all his secrets, so best to say it’s an experience not to be missed.
The next day we woke up to another blue sky day and hopped aboard a little boat which took us across the Hokianga Harbour to towering sand dunes. When you think of sand dunes, you might picture little rolling hillocks, but these were more like sand dune mountains! After a 30 minute hike to the top and sitting above the ocean mist, we were rewarded with an incredible view across the Tasman Sea. It’s quite unlike anything I’ve seen before, with strange sand formations, unusual plants, and even a mini grand canyon to explore – I kept trying to put my camera away, but gave up in the end as every which way you turned, there was something amazing to see! Heading back down the dunes, there was lots of trash talk about the sand-boarding ahead . . . I was confident I would beat Ange, given my distinct height and weight advantage, but she’s a speedy wee one and I think I underestimated her determination, as she ended up smashing me out of the park repeatedly. Anyway, this is a touchy subject, so let’s move on.
In the afternoon, we headed from white sand beaches, inland to the Puketi Forest, for a hike through another impressive cluster of native kauri trees. It’s quite different seeing these huge beauties up close and in the daylight. Some of the oldest and largest trees are an estimated 2500-3000 years old, but they still have a beautiful silvery bark that glows in the sunlight, it’s a wonder to see.
Another highlight from our trip was hiking a section of the Cape Brett trail in the Bay of Islands. We caught a water taxi out to Deep Water Cove, about 2/3 of the way along the Cape, before a pulse-raising climb to the ridgeline where we were once again blown away by the incredible views along the Cape and out to the ocean beyond. Hiking through the lush canopy, we had the trail all to ourselves, except for some friendly fan-tails who accompanied us along the way. As we reached the end of the narrow strip of land, we spotted the white tip of the lighthouse just coming into view. This was definitely my favourite view from the trip, and luckily we made it to the warmth of the lighthouse keeper’s hut just in time before the heavens opened. After a somewhat soggy boat ride back to Paihia, we warmed up with a hot chocolate and it was on to the next adventure.
Heading down the coastline we arrived in Tutukaka, our home for the next few nights, a relaxed coastal village, which is the jumping off point for trips out to the Poor Knights Islands. The chain of islands is around 20kms off the coast of New Zealand and is home to some incredibly unique marine life. It’s a protected area so you’re not allowed to land on the islands, or fish within an 800m radius but you can snorkel and dive to your heart’s content. Ange and I choose to snorkel and we weren’t disappointed, as dipping your head below the clear blue waters, there are myriads of colourful fish to see. Ange also had a go on the stand up paddle board, which was entertaining to watch . . . it’s a bit different on the ocean than on Lake Wakatipu aye Ange?! Our last night on the trip was celebrated with a delicious home-cooked meal thanks to Andy – fresh baked salmon, followed by salted caramel brownie, one word . . . yum. It was an awesome day and definitely my top pick from the whole trip – and not just because of the brownie!
Our last day saw us heading back down the coast with a stop at Mangawhai Heads for a beautiful cliff top hike and a few cheeky wines at some of the local vineyards along the way – it was the perfect finish to our five day ‘Kauri’ adventure, both Ange and I can’t wait to get back up that way again soon. The North Island is so different to the South and if you get a chance to experience both during your time here, I can’t recommend it enough. From the white sandy beaches and rich culture of the North, to wild alpine tundra and rainforest of the South, our little country really does have it all!