Up to the top of NZ: Cape Reinga and Ninety Mile Beach

After a chilly start on our campsite in Paihia it became a cloudless scorcher for our trip to Cape Reinga via Ninety Mile Beach.

We set off at 7.30am on the second of two ‘turnover’ days when high-tide is early afternoon, so it was a race to the sea. Ninety Mile Beach is on the west coast of the very north of NZ. It is a national highway and actually only 55 miles long.

Ninety Mile Beach map

Ninety mile beachYou can self-drive along the beach but I was pretty relieved that we were in the safety of the coach, especially with the tide coming in. We had a fantastic tour guide, Derek, who kept us entertained all day with stories and Māori language and traditions.

After driving along the vast beach at lightning speed, Derek took us for giant sand dune boarding. It was demanding walk up the soft sand in the midday heat, but worth it for the thrill of soaring down. Rob’s face, neck and hair got completely covered in sand. It was only afterwards that Derek told us about a tour guide who had broken his neck while boarding the dunes (!)

We continued to the most northern point of the country, Cape Reinga. This area is considered sacred and Māori believe that it is where their recently passed loved ones’ spirits depart New Zealand. The Cape is an unspoilt area with unbelievable views. It is also the point where Tasman Sea from the west and Pacific Ocean from the east meet in a swirl of colour and currents. We walked around the famous lighthouse and the signpost showing that London is 18,029km away reminded us how far we are from home!

Cape Reinga

On the return from Cape Reinga we joined State Highway 1, which runs all the way down the country to just south of Bluff at the bottom of the south island. Our final stop of the day was at Puketi forest – a great place to stretch our legs and see the towering Kauri trees. Kiwi’s are very proud of their native Kauri and are going to great lengths to protect them.

Cape Reinga

My attempt at capturing the sea and ocean meeting

Northland is a glorious part of the country and from our base in the Bay of Islands this tour allowed us to visit some of its most extraordinary places.

The winding roads and beautiful bays of Northland

We’ve just returned from a fantastic few days in the Bay of Islands.

A trusty, if a little rusty, hire car (Halle Berry) took us the 3 hours journey north. We travelled up the east of the Twin Coast Discovery Highway to Paihia in the Bay of Islands. We stopped off at Whangarei for lunch by the harbour and somehow managed to resist a look around the clock museum.

We stayed one night in Paihia and then two nights across the water in Russell. I really loved Russell. It’s a beautiful and very green little town with one main strip of bars and art galleries lining a pebbly beach. From visiting the local shops it seemed to be a tight-knit and friendly community. I also had a definite bias, as in Pahiha we camped in a tent and ate soggy fish and chips, whereas in Russell we were in a lovely lodge 100m from the waterfront. Our deck was the perfect spot to enjoy a glass of wine and watch the people go by.

Halle outside of Russell lodge

Halle outside of Russell lodge

Waitangi Treaty Grounds

From Paihia we visited the Waitangi Treaty Grounds, considered to be the birthplace of the nation. The grounds feature the former house of the British Resident in New Zealand, James Busby. He drafted the Treaty of Waitangi; the document that was signed in the grounds on 6 February 1840 by the British Crown and Māori Chiefs establishing the British Colony of New Zealand. This date is still marked with annual Waitangi day celebrations in NZ. As well as the history of the treaty, the grounds also feature an intricately carved meeting-house and a giant ceremonial canoe (waka). It kept us out of trouble for a couple of hours.

Oke Bay

Oke BayTrying to ignore that it was a distinctly overcast morning, we headed off in search in what had been recommended as a gem off the beaten track. We drove for almost an hour along hilly, tree-lined roads weaving and winding around the coast and were just contemplating a Plan B when we caught a sign and glimpse of the steps up to Oke Bay. A secluded spot with clear and calm blue water, it felt like the Caribbean. It appeared that the few other visitors had arrived in the bay by boat and were kayaking and paddle boarding to shore. I’m so glad (and slightly surprised) that we found it.

On the way back to Auckland we stopped off in Kawakawa to see the famous Hundertwasser public toilets (I shit you not). After driving 25km along a gravel track to reach them I was appropriately bursting to make full use of them. They were more attractive than your average loo, but not sure we’d class it as a ‘must do’.

The famous loos

The famous loos

While in Northland we also went up to Cape Reinga and Ninety Mile Beach, but I’ll save those until the next post to avoid a mammoth essay.

Spotted on the road:

Four Square (convenience store not social network), Jucy campervans – very tempting for the south island, old buses for sale and roadkill.

Northland NZ playlist:
Flight of the Conchords, Lorde, Iva Lankum, The Naked and Famous, Aaradhna and Fat Freddy’s Drop