After a short break in Auckland, where we enjoyed the hospitality of our friends on the Te Atatu Peninsula, we set off for the last part of our 2015 summer adventure – to explore the northernmost part of New Zealand – Northland. This subtropical area is well-known for its beautiful beaches, dunes and majestic Kauri trees. Our first steps led to the Kauri Museum in Matakohe so that we could learn something more about those trees. Some of the Kauri trees are thousands of years old and thanks to their colossal trunks also the largest trees in New Zealand. The record holder was the Great Ghost; his trunk perimeter was incredible 27 meters long. Unfortunately, the Great Ghost was burnt in 1850 during a devastating forest fire. Kauri wood used to be very popular especially for house and boat construction. Extensive mining, which began sometime around 1820, eradicated most of their population at that time. Not only the Kauri wood was very desirable. These trees were also used to extract their valuable gum. In the museum, we could see a wonderful collection of gum jewelry as well as many tools, saws and colossal steam machines used in the mining and processing of Kauri wood. Nowadays, Kauris are strictly protected and, unfortunately, very prone to any external activities. Their nutrition is delivered by very delicate roots located relatively shallow in the soil and protected only by layers of fallen rotten leaves along the trunk perimeter. It is forbidden to walk directly along the trunks to avoid damaging these roots and to prevent other Kauris from dying. For this reason, wooden pathways are built along the trunk perimeters on the tourist routes.
Before we could see these giants in nature, we’d decided the climb on an extinct volcano Tokatoka Peak near Wairoa River. To scramble to the top, we had to climb over sharp stones in a cliff, but the stunning view was definitely worth the effort. After that, we refreshed ourselves in a natural shower – small waterfall right on the Baylys Beach and we could set off for the Waipoua Forest to see real Kauri trees. Kauris were even more majestic and gigantic than we expected. The trunk perimeter of the largest living Kauri, whose Maori name is Tane Mahuta (Lord of the Forest), is almost 14 meters and it is 52 meters high. You’ll feel great respect to see this 2500 years old colossus in nature. Even 2 meters wider is a stump of Omahutu Kauri and you can step straight into it to see how huge it was.
As we were getting closer to the NZ northernmost point Cape Reinga, the surroundings slowly changed from green meadows to dunes. We just couldn’t resist exploring more on Te Werahi Track. The stunning views of the ocean and colossal masses of sand had been redeemed by a difficult climb in the dunes – two steps forward, one step back. Trust me; these views are worth your sweat. Cape Reinga is a very popular tourist destination – photo of the famous lighthouse and world’s signpost is mandatory. Of course, we couldn’t miss that, but the queues were rather annoying, so we rushed away to admire the beautiful coastline. The Pacific Ocean meets the Tasman Sea there and you can observe these two massive water bodies and its waves violently hitting each other and trying to gain the control. I always get so amazed by the power of nature.
What is the favorite activity on Cape Reinga? Definitely surfing on the dunes! Climb to dune top (hard yakka), jump on the board and slide down. Surprisingly, you gain quite some speed and you can easily hit your nose (my case) or any other part of your body. It’s fun but the sand gets everywhere. We stayed the night in Te Paki Stream, that is piercing its way through the sand. If your car is 4WD, you can enjoy great off-road fun. We drove the stream at least ten times. After that, we collected some shells on the beach, cooked them on our camping stove and watched the most stunning sunset ever.
Te Paki Stream leads directly to the famous 90 Miles Beach, that is passable at low tide. If you have a 4WD car, driving the 90 Miles Beach is must do. It can be a bit adrenaline as we heard stories about cars drowned in tons of sand. However, when you follow all the rules, it is fairly safe and we didn’t see any wrecks on our way. 90 Miles Beach is the best highway in the world – no traffic, no accidents, beautiful ocean views and swimming break anytime you want. When we exited the 90 Miles Beach, we took the eastern coast road this time to move slowly back to Auckland. Thanks to our favorite backpacker’s travel guide Frenzy we discovered a magical place called Duke’s Nose. You walk few kilometres through the subtropical bush, climb on the via ferrata route and get the most magical view you can imagine. Azure sea, oyster farm fields, dominant rocks and sailboats on the horizon – just like a fairy tale.
From Duke’s Nose, we continued driving on famous Million-Dollar View Road. We pleased our eyes with a view of St. Paul’s Rock and popular Rainbow Falls. The following night we stayed on Aroha Island, known as a great place to spot Kiwi birds in wild nature. Although Kiwi bird is a traditional symbol of New Zealand, only few locals and even fewer visitors can say, they saw it in its natural habitat. You can increase your chances by staying on Aroha Island. Kiwi birds are night creatures and you can scare them easily with white or yellow light torch. To track them down, you need to use a special red light torch our cover the white one with a red cellophane. The camp owner advised us to follow the noise they make. We pricked our ears up and waited patiently for about 20 minutes. Finally, we heard the typical Kiwi whistling: “EEEEEEEH EEEEEEEH EEEEEEEEEH!” We forced our way through the native bush and found it – funny animal that looks like a hairy ball with a long curved beak. We were lucky to observe our Kiwi for at least 10 minutes.
Our last but not least adventure in Northland was a rather adrenaline exploring of three limestone caves – Abbe Cave, Waipu Cave and Organ Cave. Equipped with headlamps, we made our way through an icy stream. The water level was reaching our waistline and slime eels were swimming along us. Poor eels must have been scared by my constant screaming (if they have ears). It was dark, the darkest dark you can never see through. You see nothing but the light cone of your headlamp. We climbed the muddy, slippery cave walls and crawled through narrow tunnels – nothing for claustrophobics. The best part was yet to come. Turn your lights off and wait. They appear one by one slowly as your eyes adjust – thousands of glow-worms everywhere. It was incredible; we were just staring for few minutes with absolute amazement. We felt like in the middle of space galaxy. It was a cherry on the top for our Northland travels. The moment we climbed out of the cave, a sharp drizzle broke down. The forecast looked pretty bad for the following week. Winter was coming and we decided to hibernate in the comfort of NZ largest city – Auckland.