To conclude my three month trip through New Zealand I spent my last ten days exploring the area north of Auckland. South Islanders claim their island is the best, and of course North Islanders would disagree. The two islands are so different that it’s difficult to rank one before the other, but I really enjoyed my road trip north of Auckland. There was so much variety in things to do and places to see, ten days was hardly enough time to do everything the area had to offer.
This gorgeous forest is 3 hours and 15 minutes north of Auckland and has some of the largest known kauri trees. Kauri trees date back to the Jurrasic Period where they were once commonplace. They are also significant in native Maori culture, who once used the trees for building boats and houses. I visited Waipoua Forest because it looked like the best place north of Auckland to hike. It ended up being one of my favorite parts of the North Island.
Waipoua Visitor’s Center and Campground is a good place to get information and stay the night. From here it only takes 15 minutes to drive to the main carpark where a short path leads to three separate walks. Each path is different and well worth taking because they all end at a beautiful kauri tree.
Four Sisters Walk
This 10 minute (one way) walk goes to a gorgeous grove with four tall kauri trees. This was the first path I went down and it got me excited for what was to come. The four beautiful trees are situated very close together, as if they are having a secret conversation. The boardwalk circles the Four Sisters so you can take them in at every possible angle.
Te Matua Ngahere Walk
I consider the second largest known kauri tree, Te Matua Ngahere, my favorite out of the four main walks. Although not as tall as Tane Mahuta, its larger girth makes this tree look incredibly impressive. The best part about this walk is coming around the corner and seeing the huge trunk looming in front of you.
This is the longest trail at 3.4 kilometers (round trip), but it allows you to get up close and personal with the giant kauri tree, Yakas. Yakas is the seventh largest known kauri tree and you can touch it. The trail wanders through native forest, over streams, and past Cathedral Cove. This is an easy trail but it gets surprisingly warm the further along it goes. The temperature rose at least 5C on the way there, and down again on the way back. It was very strange.
From the carpark it’s a short drive to reach the Tane Mahuta trailhead. This five minute walk leads to the largest known living kauri tree. The name translates from Maori to “Lord of the Forest,” and while standing in front of this tree it’s easy to see why it was thus named. It is alluring and giant, and commands everyone’s attention from the viewing platform.
This is the definition of Northern New Zealand. Although technically Surville Cliffs is the northernmost point, Cape Reinga is a close second and easier to access. Don’t worry, it still feels like the end of the line out here.
There is a large parking lot next to the start of an interactive walk down to Cape Reinga Lighthouse. The signs are very informative and it’s an interesting little stroll. I came here just before sunset, and once more the next morning. My evening experience was full of sunshine while the morning was a stark contrast of depressing gloom.
The lighthouse is certainly pretty, but focus your attention on the ocean. Here you will see the Tasman Sea and Pacific Ocean colliding together to create an incredible swirl of power. In Maori culture this area represents the creation of life and the coming together of man and woman (Ha! I definitely know some men who make me feel this way). Be sure to climb the small hill to check out the views. It’s lovely on a clear day.
If you want to stretch your legs bring hiking shoes because several trails start here. The Te Paki Coastal Track goes through here as well. It’s a 3-4 day, 48km hike around the northernmost part of New Zealand. Planning for it is supposed to be tricky because of the remoteness, but it’s rumored to be a nice hike.
There is an awesome campsite 5 minutes from Cape Reinga called Tapotupotu Campground. Take the windy dirt road to the bottom of the cliff and you will end up next to a pretty beach. Another 30 seconds and there is a grassy campground with lots of space to set up for the night.
Te Paki Sand Dunes
I had no plans to visit Te Paki Sand Dunes, but I passed so many signs on my drive to Cape Reinga that I had to go. Take the dirt road marked by signs to Tepaki Steam and the sand dunes. There are also signs discouraging small vehicles but my little Corolla did fine. I didn’t pass anyone while driving on this road but the parking lot was full when I arrived at 10am.
There are many places to rent a sandboard along Highway 1, including a shop at Tepaki Steam. It didn’t seem worthwhile to rent a sandboard just for myself, so I skipped the rental and made my way to Giant Te Paki Sand Dunes. The deep, steep sand is difficult to walk up, but loads of fun to run down. It’s easy to find the popular spots by following the massive amount of footsteps.
I found myself on top of a giant sand dune where people were picnicking and sandboarding the day away. Views on top of the sand dunes are amazing because they go all the way to the ocean. It was a view I was not expecting, and I spent a long time gazing over the sand and taking pictures.
Soon I directed my attention to the other side of the dunes. Sandboarding looked very entertaining and I enjoyed watching people succeed (and fail miserably) at sliding down the sand. As fun as it looked though, walking back up the sand dunes after every ride looked exhausting. If I have the chance to come back I will pack lunch and make a day out of it.
Poor Knights Islands
Poor Knight’s Islands should be on any scuba diver’s bucket list. The dive charters go out of Tutukaka which is 30 minutes from Whangarei. These islands are a marine reserve and just as beautiful above the water as below it. So even if you’re not a diver it’s still worth a day cruise.
The diving here is warm compared to the rest of New Zealand, clear, and full of cool critters. The diversity of marine life is due to the Coral Sea currents running through the reserve. For example, many divers are constantly on the lookout for a flamboyant nudibranch, and if you’re one of those divers Poor Knights Islands is the place to go. It’s nudibranch paradise!
I did an overnight with Yukon Dive and loved the experience. The gear they supplied was of good quality, although I was colder than I would have liked. The locals wore dry suits and I looked at them enviously, all bundled up and warm. Besides myself, there was a group of guys on the boat who wanted to dive together. Unfortunately, this meant I got the dive guide all to myself… yeah right, it was awesome! She was a blast and I felt spoiled having her as my dive buddy.
Our first dive was the Waikato, a wreck just outside of Tutukaka Harbour. The visibility was hardly 15 ft and the water incredibly green. My hope for some memorable New Zealand diving wasn’t off to a good start, but soon enough the dives would knock my boots off.
Tie Dye Arch, Landing Bay Pinnacle, The Gardens, Northern Arch, and Middle Arch were our dive sights. I have to say this was some of the best diving I’ve ever done. With 95 dives I’m certainly no dive expert, but I have a decent amount of variety under my belt. The colors were unlike anything I’d ever seen before. There was marine life everywhere. The underwater structures were spectacular.
2 Dive Logs
Tie Dye Arch – April 1, 2017
Visibility 30 feet
Depth 72 feet
Time 50 minutes
Northern Arch – April 2, 2017
Visibility 65 feet
Depth 62 feet
Time 60 minutes
One day I hope to return to Poor Knight’s Islands and dive it all again (but with a dry suite). My only regret was that my usual dive buddy could not join me. He would have loved it, but hopefully next time!
This adorable beach town three hours north of Auckland happened to be a convenient place to stop for the night. I ended up extending my stay because Paihia is a beach-lovers dream. Lots of little shops, great food (including some of the best fish and chips I’ve ever had!), and plenty of beach activities. It’s also a great jump-off point for Bay of Islands and Waitangi Treaty Grounds. If you’re on a budget I definitely recommend Haka Lodge. This is in my Top 3 hostels I’ve ever stayed at. Everything about it is perfect and the lounge is ideal for watching the sunset because it looks out over the ocean. Definitely head to Paihia if you need to relax.
Perhaps is was the bittersweet thought that Whangarei was the last town I would visit in New Zealand, but I thought it was very charming. It’s two hours north of Auckland and a great place to spend a couple days exploring.
It hardly takes a minute to walk to Whangarei Falls from the parking lot, but this park is big enough to spend a couple hours wandering around. At the very least walk 1 kilometer to the bottom of the falls. It’s great on a hot day because the spray from the waterfall is wonderfully refreshing. There is a picnic table and grassy area if you care to pack a lunch and spend the afternoon at the swimming hole.
Whether the interest is shopping, eating, or people watching, Town Basin is the place to go. It’s a cute downtown area right next to the marina. The crafty shops are perfect for picking up a gift after enjoying a trendy lunch at one of the many cafes. I spent a good part of the day just walking around Town Basin.
I tried so hard to see a real, live kiwi, and Kiwi North was my last chance to see these endangered birds. The large room housing the two kiwis in this brilliant nocturnal house is controlled by a keeper. The keeper can change the temperature, humidity, and even make it rain and snow. The room is kept as close to “natural New Zealand weather” as possible. There is very little human contact with these birds because they are eventually going to be released in the wild. I stayed for a whole hour to watch these intriguing little kiwis and would recommend it to anyone.
I tried to take a decent picture of the kiwis, but between the dark room and their timid nature, it was nearly impossible. They blend in very well with the leaf litter and don’t stay in one spot for long.
Little Earth Lodge
If you want a quiet, relaxed place to stay I must recommend Little Earth Lodge. Although a little out of town, this lodge is peaceful and homey. It’s located right next to Abbey Caves and even supplies maps and equipment for your exploration pleasure. The best thing about this place is the price. For less than $100 a night I had my own room, access to DVDs, wifi, and a well-stocked kitchen. It really felt like home.
There are many other things to do north of Auckland, but these are some of my personal favorites. All of New Zealand is beautiful and I will miss it dearly. Taking a road trip through this part of the country was the perfect send-off after a 3 month adventure laden with absolute beauty.