This trip came up totaly unexpectedly and i have to confess, we were quite sad about it at first – because it meant we were cut of our RAROTONGA visit for about 5 days. As we only found out about this plane connection change like 3 weeks before we left, we had very little time to organise everything, rent a car and book places to sleep and most of all – to DECIDE WHERE TO GO. The other option would be the Coromandel & Bay of Plenty area, but due to summer school holidays and New Years, everything was already booked out. So we were left with NORTHLAND PENINSULA – and we loved it! Seriously, we were really happy everything happened like it did, because we ended up having a great time in New Zealand and were absolutely blown away by its beauty and the friendliness of the locals. Seems like everything does happen for a reason. Here´s a long post with lots of photos about what we did and where we went.
Visited: Auckland, Waiheke island, Waipu caves, Whangarei, Bay of Islands, Paihia, Russel, Karikari Peninsula, Giant Te Paki, Cape Reinga, Waipoua forest
How: rented car, boat
Stayed in: apartments
WE VISITED NEW ZEALAND WHEN LU WAS 5 YEARS OLD. THERE IS A SECTION ABOUT NEW ZEALAND WITH KIDS AT THE END OF THIS POST.
HOW TO GET THERE & AROUND
We flew from FRANKFURT via SINGAPORE to AUCKLAND, with Singapore Airlines and Air NZ, both FLIGHTS were much over 10 hrs long, but we booked the overnight ones, so it was not so bad. Prior to this road trip, we have already spent a couple of days in Auckland and on COOK ISLANDS (Aitutaki & Rarotonga) and have landed back in Auckland on the 1st of January 2017. What a great start of a new year right?
We RENTED A CAR (a Toyota Yaris) at the airport and drove off (had gathered some “driving on the left side experience” on Cook islands already). We did not have a navigation, just a GOOD OLD ROAD MAP and we found everything with that one. You have to know that even though the DISTANCES do not look big on the map, it might take you forever to get there. There are NO HIGHWAYS except around Auckland city. Winding roads, sometimes slippery when wet and many strict SPEED LIMITS will make sure you´ll travel slowly. Other than than – a great country for a road trip.
Initially we were looking to rent a CAMPERVAN in which we could also sleep as we saw there are GREAT CAMPGORUNDS, but that was impossible to rent for such a short period of time. So, we booked APARTMENTS WITH KITCHENS, which was really practical. We did also eat out, but for an evening dinner (Lu was happy to eat spaghetti after like 2 weeks) and breakfasts it was perfect. It seemed to us this was the usual type of accommodation around here.
I loved the CLAMS, FISH and FISH SOUPS, lu loved the STEAKS as well – again, lots of FRENCH FRIES to go with everything. As much as I liked it there, I don´t have to eat it for a while now. They also had very good ICE CREAM. Oh and New Zealand has a surprisingly wide collection of different good BEERS.
The SUPERMARKETS were really huge and had everything, also very big international food selection. But do buy some snacks in advance – sometimes when you drive through remote areas or countryside there will be no shops on the way. Gas stations sell some also though.
WHAT WE SAW & DID
On our FIRST DAY we drove around 200 km towards the town called WHANGAREI, where we spent the night. On the way we admired the beautiful green hilly landscape and sometimes stopped at VIEWPOINTS. The one and only longer stop of the day was at WAIPU CAVES.
This caves are one of those tourist attractions every traveller dreams about – no entrance fee, unguided visit possible, pretty much undeveloped – as an extra feature there are thousands of GLOW-WORMS inside and a wild camping area close to the entrance. All you need are SHOES THAT CAN GET WET & DIRTY and a FLASHLIGHT. You enter at your own risk – it is quite SLIPPERY and MUDDY inside so take care. But nothing a 5-year old could not do – Lu loved it and despite being in complete darkness he did not get scared at all.
The ENTRANCE to the cave is very close to the parking lot, so you do not have to walk long to get to it. Stalactites hang from the ceiling and just to the left of the entrance is an enormous stalagmite. There are no tracks or paths inside the caves, you just go wherever you feel like – and you will have to cross water here and there.
Unfortunately none of the “glow-worm-photos” have turned out good, so I´m not posting them 😉 But they did look like stars in the sky when we turned our headlights off and were enjoying this amazing scene in complete darkness.
From here we went straight to WHANGAREI where we made ourselves a yummy dinner and enjoyed a nice sunset. We were pretty tired as it was a long day so it was quite a short evening for us.
On our SECOND DAY we were already here anyway so we decided to take a walk around before driving on towards north. We did a part of the famous HATEA LOOP WALKWAY (around 4km long) and were really positively surprised about this town! It had lots of nice SHOPS, ART GALLERIES, MUSEUMS and PARKS. Not to mention a very big MARINA FOR SAILING BOATS.
I have to at least shortly mention that NZ has THE BEST CHILDREN´S PLAYGROUNDS!! Whangarei was not an exception here. Modern, clean, sun-protected and all of them had drinking water fountains. Lu loved them.
Considering the full parking lot, the WHANGAREI WATERFALLS are clearly the biggest attractions around here. We did a 30 minutes LOOP WALK which takes you from the top of the waterfall to its foot and back up. Some great spots for a picnic along the way.
We already knew people in NZ were soooo friendly but still, we were almost shocked here again – there was one person at the driveway pointing out a free parking space for us, there was no admission fee and no parking fee, there was another person who explained a bit about the waterfalls and gave us tips on where the best spots for taking pictures are, then there was a stand from the “New Zealand´s cancer society” where Lu was given a 150ml free 50 SPF sunscreen, just like that. And they did not do all of this with a grumpy face – no no, they were all smiling and had god mood despite so many tourists visiting that day. Impressive! There are also clean free toilets. AS A TOURIST, YOU REALLY ARE TREATED LIKE ROYALTY HERE.
TUTUKAKA & MATAPOURI BEACH
Since it was a nice sunny day we decided to SEARCH FOR A BEACH we could take a swim at and eat some lunch before heading on to Paihia, which was our final destination for the day. We loved MATAPOURI beach (around 45min drive from Whangarei) especially. The sea was not cold at all here and we really enjoyed swimming. Had some yummy FISH & CHIPS and drove off with salty hair and feet full of sand – not an unusual sight in New Zealand.
Finally here in Paihia, Bay of Islands. It was a wonderful evening and we decided for one last activity of the day – A FERRY RIDE OVER TO RUSSELL TOWN. The ferry takes only 20 minutes and leaves every the hour, the last one back to Paihia goes at 10pm.
We just had a walk around and some yummy ice cream before heading back – we had already bought some fresh ingredients for a home-cooked dinner, so we skipped the RESTAURANTS in Russell, although there were many nice ones. It seems like taking the ferry over for a dinner and the back is a common thing to do while in Paihia.
Russell has actually VERY IMPORTANT HISTORY – formerly knows as KORORAREKA, this was THE FIRST EUROPEAN SETTLEMENT AND SEA PORT IN NEW ZEALAND, for a shorter period of time it was also its CAPITAL. There are several MUSEUMS and old houses, overall it´s a charming little town worth a visit.
We STAYED AT PAIHIA FOR 2 NIGHTS. On our first day we drove all the way up to the end of the peninsula, to CAPE REINGA and back to Paihia and the last day we did the famous BAY OF ISLANDS CRUISE. More about those later on. First a couple of lines about Paihia town.
Paihia itself is quite a large town, or better said – larger than we expected. It has some beautiful BEACH AREAS and again wonderful PLAYGROUNDS for the kids. Lots of SHOPS & RESTAURANTS, TOURIST OFFICES which offer day trips, there are some WATERFALLS you can hike to nearby, lots of WALKING TRAILS and most importantly, it is the main PORT for a Bay of Islands cruise. We liked it and could totally understand why locals are coming here for summer holidays.
WAITANGI TREATY GROUNDS
The Treaty of Waitangi is a treaty first signed in 1840 by representatives of the BRITISH CROWN and various MAORI CHIEFS. Today, the treaty is considered to be the FOUNDING DOCUMENT OF NEW ZEALAND AS A NATION.
This is New Zealand´s MOST IMPORTAN HISTORIC SITE just a short drive from Paihia and I still cannot believe we had to give it a pass. Unfortunately we were to late for a visit as they close quite early and we did not want to pay 40$ per person to just enter for 15 minutes and say we were there. We did read about it and checked out the entrance building at least. If you have time, you really should not miss it, there is a GUIDED TOUR and a CULTURAL PERFORMANCE. Besides a MUSEUM, you can also see one of the world´s largest war canoes and walk through lush gardens.
ON OUR 3rd DAY WE DID THE MOST DRIVING – around 500km which took us like 7 hours. But it was all worth it! Our first stop was at these amazing sand dunes, Giant Te Paki, then we walked to the lighthouse at Cape Reinga, stopped at Karikari peninsula and returned to Paihia just before sunset.
GIANT TE PAKI SAND DUNE
Most known attraction in the TE PAKI RECREATION RESERVE is for sure this huge sand dune, GIANT TE PAKI, where you can slide down with boards or just walk around barefoot. There is a parking lot next to a stream (toilets available) which you have to cross and then you are already on the dunes. If you plan to rent a board (costs 10$), do it at the parking, or already before, along the main street (those are slightly cheaper).
We loved it here! Especially Lu, he could not get enough of climbing & sliding down the dunes :). Definitely worth a stop if you´re passing by.
On to the cape, which is the NORTHWESTERNMOST TIP OF THE AUPOURI PENINSULA. This is an IMPORTANT MAORI SIGHT, as they believe it is the place where the spirits of the dead enter the underworld. Cape Reinga is also on the tentative UNESCO list for now.
There are a couple of parking areas and some park simply along the road when those get full. From here on you will have to walk to the LIGHTHOUSE – it´s a pretty cool walk though, with very NICE VIEWS and information boards.
As if we still did not have enough of driving, we made an EXTRA LOOP on this peninsula in search of a beach. Unfortunately it was too cold for swimming, so we just run around, watched the birds and the shells. We stopped at this lovely TOKERAU BEACH.
This long day was coming to an end – the only thing we could not do because we did not exactly have a suitable car was DRIVING ON THE NINETY MILE BEACH. This is supposed to be a wonderful experience. Back in Paihia Lu wanted to go to a playground and after that it was a quick “dinner + a glass of wine + bedtime” scenario.
BAY OF ISLANDS BOAT TOUR
We´ve seen so many wonderful things already but I think this boat trip was really a HIGHLIGHT AS WELL. There are MANY DIFFERENT BOATS AND TRIP ITINERARIES to choose from – if you know when you will be there do book online in advance! We booked it on spot an evening before and much was already completely full, booked out weeks in advanced. We left the port in Paihia at 10 am after breakfast and packing our stuff & checking out of our nice apartments.
After CRUISING BETWEEN WONDERFUL LITTLE ISLANDS scattered around in this beautiful bay, we made our longer stop at URUPUKAPUKA ISLAND (I swear that´s a real name) and got off the boat at this amazing OTEHEI BAY. We had two options – we go for lunch and sit in a restaurant with a gorgeous view or we skip lunch for now and go on an ISLAND HIKE. Of course we chose the hike. And we did it barefoot, how wonderful. And it was insanely beautiful. Such views.
We were sooo grateful to have nice weather on this day, because I cannot imagine how it is when it rains and I think you really miss out on these amazing views then. Anyhow, we also found a little bay to swim at, called the SUNSET BAY – there was also a little CAMPGORUND where 2 families were spending a part of their summer holidays. It looked so charming. The sea was ice cold though! Only for the tough ones. And kids of course. They don´t care.
After a couple of hours it was time to go BACK TO THE BOAT and enjoy the rest of our boat trip. We were driving on to the famous spot called THE HOLE IN THE ROCK.
We might have gone lucky with the weather but we went EXTREMELY UNLUCKY WITH SPOTTING WILDLIFE. It is very common to spot DOLPHINS otherwise (which we didn´t) and just a day before us, there were ORCAS AND WHALES in the area. Well, you cannot have everything right? The scenery and warm sunshine was enough to keep us happy.
We did have calm seas so we were able TO GO THROUGH THE TINY HOLE IN THE ROCK. Quite scary as the boat was really close to the rocks, but I guess this was not the first time the guys did that.
We returned at 3:30 pm and drove to our next destination after we had one last yummy lunch in Paihia. There were still quite some kilometres ahead of us.
OPONONI & OMAPERE
On the way towards WAIPOUA FOREST close to where we were spending our last night, we just had to stop at this wonderful BEACH and drove to the ARAI-TE-URU RECREATION RESERVE also. There is a nice LOOKOUT.
It was one of those UNEXPECTEDLY COOL PLACES – we were on a beach which was half sand half black rock, watching the mighty SANDDUNES over a stretch of BLUE SEA. What a sight.
WAIPOUA KAURI FOREST
We started OUR LAST DAY with visiting this amazing SANCTUARY FOREST, which is home to some of THE OLDEST KAURI TREES IN NEW ZEALAND, some of these ancient trees are estimated to be BETWEEN 2000 AND 3000 YEARS OLD.
There are different parts of the forest you can visit and there is the same procedure every time you start your forest hike – MAKE SURE TO CLEAN YOUR SHOES PROPERLY as the trees are threatened by a certain fungus, meaning – they can die from it. The forest also has THE LARGEST POPULATION OF THE NORT ISLAND BROWN KIWI. We did not see one though.
Our first stop was at the GIANT TANE MAHUTA – THE LARGEST LIVING KAURI TREE IN NEW ZEALAND. It´s really just a very short walk from the parking on the main road. And the tree is simply impressive. I´ve seen the sequoias in the USA and this is something a bit different and yet similar. So huge. You cannot imagine until you see it for yourself.
Afterwards we did the FOUR SISTERS WALK which leads to a group of 4 kauri trees growing extremely close together.
From the four sister trees we continued to the second largest kauri tree, TE MATUA NGAHERE. Every single of those walks was really nice and we absolutely loved this forest. It was like nothing we have seen before.
BACK TO AUCKLAND AIRPORT
This was our LAST DAY ON NEW ZEALAND and we were just enjoying this green countryside before we returned the car at the airport. We drove through DARGAVILLE and were stunned to see so many CROATIAN-NAMMED WINERIES! We read later on in the book that it was actually the migrants from DALMATIA who brought wine to New Zealand! How cool is that?!
Our flight was at 1am so we really did not have to hurry at all. This post would not have been perfect without at least one picture of SHEEP, so here it is.
We loved it here – it is so EASY TO TRAVEL AROUND, there are NO POISONOUS ANIMALS, extremely FRIENDLY PEOPLE, good FOOD and WINE, the best children´s PLAYGROUNDS, wonderful NATURE and VERSATILE LANDSCAPES. We´ll definitely be back to explore some more.
NEW ZEALAND WITH KIDS
We have seen only a tiny bit of the country but based on that we can say it is one of THE BEST PLACES TO TAKE YOUR KIDS TO. The CLIMATE is great, it is not too hot and not too cold, the NATURE is stunning – the sandy BEACHES, ancient FORESTS, little HILLS, CAVES and so on. Lots of CAMPSITES and WILD CAMPING possibilities make it a perfect place for a little ADVENTURE WITH YOUR KIDS. FOOD is pretty similar to what we know and there are NO POISONUS ANIMALS. I already mentioned the superb PLAYGROUNDS and delicious ICE CREAM. And i was totaly surprised by the FRIENDLINESS OF LOCAL PEOPLE.
The only „bad thing“ for us Europeans is, that it is pretty much far away and the plane tickets are rather expensive. Expect JET LAG for the first days. Other than that it is very EASY TO TRAVEL and we only have positive experiences. There is no LANGUAGE barriers as well, since it is an English speaking country. We and will return for sure.
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