Saturday, January 8, 2011

From Northland with love

(A million pictures say a thousand words. You may want to make yourself a cuppa tea before settling in to read this one. We took so many pics that I had trouble narrowing them down! I've done my best to break them up in between the text. Enjoy! PS - my apologies for the awkward formatting...)

New Zealand is a world of many worlds. In one corner you find cascading waterfalls through lush rainforest; in another, alpine ranges that extend as far as the eye can see; and again another, white sand beaches tucked up against crystal blue waters. For the past two weeks we have found ourselves surrounded by these magnificent worlds enjoying all that they have to offer.

Having explored the South Island on our first trip here, we had heard that Northern New Zealand was just as, “if not more” beautiful than the rest of the country. And so, with excitement and curiosity tucked away in our bags, we set off Northbound to check out what all the fuss was about.

We rented another campervan similar to our last romp around the country though this one was slightly “classier” than the first. You could stand up in this one and I didn’t find myself needing to mumble a little prayer under my breath every time we encountered a hill! Our first stop was Northland – home to 90 mile beach, The Poor Knight’s Islands marine reserve, and the setting where the country’s founding document – the Treaty of Waitangi – was first signed. Our first few days were somewhat soggy but the weather was so warm that we hardly noticed it. Highlights included witnessing the converging of two oceans at the top of the country (Cape Reinga), surfing the day away at the beach in Ahipara, quad biking up NZ’s infamous 90 mile beach and coming across 80-90 wild peacocks and a herd of wild horses. I even got to try my hand at paddleboarding on New Year’s Eve!
Enjoying the sunset at our first campsite

A hidden beach tucked along the shore - a truly amazing find

Cape Reinga, where the Tasman and Pacific seas collide
 This point marks the place where Maori believe that the spirits of their ancestors leave our world and enter the underworld
Looking down the coast from Cape Reinga
The beach at our first campsite

A stairwell carved out of the centre of a kauri tree, New Zealand's largest and oldest trees
The beautiful little lighthouse at Cape Reinga
Sandboarding at 90 mile beach
Pete taking a running running leap!

Yup. Our campsite had it all!
A day of sun and surfing in Ahipara (at the start of 90 mile beach)
Another day, another gorgeous sunset
Cruisin' up 90 mile beach

Flying through the woods
Paddleboarding around the beautiful bay in Kerikeri (so much fun!)
Yummy New Year's feast by the water

Organic, grass fed beef with the worx. Yummm!!
New Year's in the booming town of Whangarei...
More paddleboarding. Couldn't get enough.
Not too sure how I feel about this marketing stunt. It did get our attention - I'll give them that!
We were also very fortunate to have the opportunity to go diving for a day out to the Poor Knight’s Islands – a series of islands situated off the east coast of northland. These islands and their surrounding waters are a marine reserve and pending World Heritage Site and are home to incredible volcanic surroundings, huge drop offs, walls, caves, arches, and tunnels. As a result of its environmental protection, this area is full of unique and incredibly beautiful plant, animal, and fish life. Plus, the visibility is up to 30 metres so it truly is a diver’s dream! Throughout the day we came across huge schools of demoiselles, hundreds of beautiful gannets camped out on the sides of the cliffs, a pod of dolphins, and an incredibly colourful underwater world.
Poor Knight's Islands marine reserve
A pod of dolphins come say hello

Exploring the magnificent archways by yak
Say blrrpp!
Diving with the fishies. Pure heaven
Sooo beautiful

Sting ray!
Petey diving down to get a closer look!
Sun rays piercing through the water
A huge school of fish feeding on a pod of flying shrimp. It was amazing to watch them at work, leaping out into the air and shooting through the water like lightening
The world's largest marine cave
Our boat was huge and yet we fit inside no problemo! Looking out from inside the cave
The Coromandel is another arm of the country that stretches out just to the east of Northland. This is THE holiday destination for kiwis and the moment we reached the threshold to the region, we were suddenly surrounded by thousands of cars, motorhomes, trailers, boats. It was festive chaos. We attempted a trip to the supermarket to get some groceries but the linups were literally wrapping around the entire shop. At one point, they had to stop letting customers in as the building had reached its capacity and had become a fire hazard. Later on, we heard that they had to close it a second time so that the staff could restock the shelves! Coming from the quiet towns of Northland, it was certainly a shock to come across this madness. Luckily, as we made our way further north and deeper into the Coramandel, the crowds began to trickle away and eventually we ended up having complete white sand beaches to ourselves. It was absolutely stunning and we instantly understood why this magnificent area is so popular with the locals. Highlights of this region included watching the hours roll by while rotating between reading, floating in the warm shores, and tossing the disc around, hiking up Castle Rock where we were rewarded with incredible panoramic views of both coasts, hiking into a beautiful beach tucked away amongst the forests and rocky cliffs.

En route to Coromandel
Finished my book. Now for a dip. Yup. Life is tough.

Yummy dinner at our amazing campsite
Castle Rock. To the top we are headed!
Climbing up Castle Rock
The view of both coasts from above. What a reward!
Fish and chips. Yummm!
 The third and final region we passed through was Rotorua, known for its volcanic and geothermal activity. We smelled it far before we reached the town but that didn’t deter us from enjoying it thoroughly. We spent the last two days of our journey exploring this volcanic zone and learning more about its volatility and thermal properties. While in Coromandel, a local told us about a thermal swimming hole that we should check out. It’s not mentioned in any guide books and very few people know about it. We spent some time trying to find it, but once we did, the experience was, by far, one of the highlights of our trip. It was incredibly tranquil and breathtakingly beautiful. Other highlights of our time in Rotorua include checking out the horse races which were in town that day, enjoying a fabulous traditional hangi meal and performance from a Maori group and learning about their culture and traditions (thanks Court for the reco!), and coming face to face with Koanga - a male kiwi bird living at Rainbow Falls Sanctuary.
Taking a pit stop en route to Rotorua. Pete soaking up the view.
Black swans
Takahe - a flightless bird that is endemic to NZ
An evening dip in the thermal pool
What Rotorua is known for - geysers, boiling pools, and sulphur deposits. Can't believe they built a city on top of this!
Enjoying the scenery...
But not the stench!
Fancy a dip?
Naturally occuring neon green pool. Insane!
This area is known as "the artist's palette". The colours were outstanding.
Lady Knox guyser. Goes off every day at the same time from pressure build up underground
Boiling mud. So cool.
Boiling mud pools
The most magical place on the planet. A natural, beautiful hot spring.
We couldn't get enough
An afternoon at the races

Rotorua's redwood forest
A little game of frolf
A performance at the Mitai marae

After 14 days of gallivanting around the top of the country, it was sadly time to make our way back to Auckland to return our van and catch our flight.

We are now back home getting life sorted and back to normal before we return to our desks on Monday morning. The Christmas tree is the last thing to be put away. The holidays have officially come to a close. I can’t believe that it is 2011! We are now officially halfway through our time in the beautiful country. Before we know it, it will be time to pack up our things and make our way back to the Great White North. I’m afraid to blink in case I miss anything between now and then. We are just going to make the most of every moment and constantly express our gratitude for being given the opportunity to call this wonderful country home for the year.

I hope you all had a fabulous Christmas and New Years with family and friends and may 2011 be the best year yet!

1 comment:

  1. Wow! What a trip! Amazing. Once in a lifetime. I didn't think it was possible to more envious of the two of you, but I think this post did it...