The undiscovered North of New Zealand
With 65% of all visitors to New Zealand flocking to the South Island on arrival, we decided to buck the trend and take a jaunt to the wild Northland.
Maybe it’s just me but the term ‘Northland’ suggests ‘Game of Thrones’ style biting cold and bleak landscapes; I was anticipating going ‘beyond the wall’.
Here are our highlights of this undiscovered territory:
Following the one road north past bright red sheep and mammoth kauri trees we arrived at Waipu – the Scottish Highlands of the Southern hemisphere. Even the village’s one restaurant (which everyone agrees is the best Italian ANYWHERE) has a strongly tartan vibe. It’s a tiny community where you can attend a yoga class at the scout hall on a Wednesday and they know about it in the local tavern by Thursday.
Did you know the sea could look like this in New Zealand? Mind the sea gulls though!
Within a week of being there I knew which gentleman likes to wear ladies clothing and that if the local council don’t like your B&B sign they will confiscate it by stealth in the middle of the night. Waipu cove is lovely and the recently finished coastal hike (courtesy of an 80 year old Mr Mackenzie) is a must. We stayed at the Strahaven B&B as part of home exchange deal, with daytime views from our makeshift office across white dunes and rugged islands, and at night the splendour of horizon hugging starry skies.
Moving on to the Bay of Islands we rolled into town during a sea swimming competition; we just caught the medal ceremony for the men’s 75+ category. It’s not my business but the gentlemen who jogged up to receive their awards seemed far too sprightly- either there’s something about the air round here or I’d suggest a birth certificates check is in order. I was a bit dubious about our booking at Crisdon Castle, expecting something vaguely medieval but being greeted by a hind-leg dancing, fluffy cloud of a dog dispelled my foreboding. There is something a little fortress-y from the outside, but cross the threshold and the views are about the best I’ve seen in terms of my ‘sit-on-the-bed-and-feel-like-you-are-actually-in-the-view’ rating.
What a view!
It’s the little details which let you know your hosts have actually thought about what is going to help you have a great stay – the strategically placed candles to kick start a bit of romance; the thick furry blanket which frightens you into thinking there is a wolf on your bed half way through the night; the clever design so you can take in the soul-soothing panorama from every view (even the toilet!); the tub that looks more like a chariot than a bath and that blasts away any tension with its industrial strength jets.
We’d been warned that a trip to the very far north and obligatory drive along 90 mile beach shouldn’t be tackled privately, so join a coach party we did. I hate coach tours. Days are structured around a) the potential needs of a peanut sized bladder and b) the kick back arrangements. Seriously, I don’t want to eat ice-cream at 11AM. (And yes, of course we had the bloody ice-cream!)
Now look like you are enjoying your icecream on a main road…ACTION!
The paths and lighthouse at Cape Reigna are a pleasant stop-off and driving through a river, dwarfed by massive sand dunes before 90 mile beach is worth the trip. I would have preferred it if the driver had removed his microphone before sucking boiled sweets though.
Bay of Islands
I wasn’t sure what to expect from this our first overnight cruise. At just 24 hours it didn’t seem too daunting, and it actually turned out to be a great way of exploring this magnificent area. We got to hike around the rolling hills of one of the islands; kayak back to ship via nest laden caves; watch the sunset from the top deck; observe killer whales through the mist of torrential rain; eat a roast dinner whilst moored in a bay and enjoy afternoon tea as we cruised past hidden coves.
View from the poop deck!
Having a cabin with a huge double bed, giant windows and your own bathroom seemed the height of luxury. I feel asleep to a wall of stars, wondering if I might be old enough after all to think that a longer cruise might be a good idea. The only disappointment was not being invited to the captain’s table for a cocktail. It wasn’t quite that sort of cruise after all. We arrived back after breakfast on the deck and a retina burning half hour trying to catch a glimpse of the partial solar eclipse.
Walkworth and Matakana
Our last week in New Zealand was spent in Walkworth. Our 14th home exchange property came with enough land for a friendly sheep, a flock of irritable geese, a series of lily pad encrusted ponds and acres of dense bushland. The veggie patch looked more like a professional market garden. When the owners finally finished landscaping the beautiful slopes surrounding their property the garden centre must have wept.
Fresh Vegetables anyone?
A short drive away is the village of Matakana. It’s where the terms ‘artisan’, ‘rustic’, ‘vintage’ and ‘craft’ collide. You can tell a lot about a place that produced public toilets that look like this.
Surely the most stunning public toilet in the world!
The area is stunning, boasting a ridiculous amount of spectacular coastline and lush scenic reserves perched above turquoise seas. The houses aren’t bad either; the Grand Designs NZ film crew must have simply set up shop here.
Should you go?
Absolutely. If you are a UK citizen you can even get a 6 month tourist visa, which is about the longest we’ve seen. The only drawback- after 5 weeks of spring weather in Auckland and the Coromandel we were well past believing in the fabled ‘sub tropical climate’; it takes more than a handful of palm trees to make a place tropical my friends, ‘sub’ or otherwise. But still, there is something very laid-back and appealing about this area- an easy place to spend a while; I think we will be back.
What did you think of the north of island?
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