Northland Trek with Northerners
In my unemployment, I’ve taken up a bit of travel agentry. I’ve been doing research and customizing travels for friends who are coming through. I, obviously, want people to have a great time with us, but I’ve also been planning things that will allow us to see new things in the country, too.
I had read that there was some winter fishing up in Northland (the region that lays North of Auckland and consists of a large peninsula), as well as a few cute towns- which were supposed to hold a couple yarn treasures. These things along with other reasons drove me to plan that exploration with Jamie and Michelle.
Ironically, we didn’t get up to much fishing or yarning while we travelled, but the Kotlewski’s have been kind in their comments about the trip- so I’m still gonna call it a win! We also got to see a lot of the country as our intended route reveals:
The Big City
Our first day of driving was the longest. We packed Crumpy up on a frosty Sunday morning and organized ourselves to head toward Auckland for a lunchtime stop before heading further North and into new territory.
Espresso workshop was our first stop for our coffee-loving Canadian pals who enjoyed their first pour-over here- which isn’t too common in the land of kiwis. New Zealand coffee is good and well-crafted, but outside urban centres coffee is mainly made using an espresso machine. Drip coffee and pour overs are tough to find in our area. While we were at Espresso workshop, we also grabbed a bag of beans to enjoy with a ‘plunger’ (or french press) while we travelled.
Our lunch choice was a little spot that reminded me a bit of Five Guys at home, a burger joint with a minimalist menu called Better Burger. We were pleasantly surprised by the food quality as well as the price tag for grilled patties, homemade shakes and hand-cut fries.
After a little walk through the CBD we landed at Giapo to indulge for the second time since starting our New Zealand adventure. It’s yet to disappoint! I ordered Hokey Pokey ice cream this time which came with hokey pokey (sponge toffee) spears and dipped in rich chocolate. Yum! Our smiles say it all:
Soon after that little selfie was taken, we had an interesting encounter with a homeless fella who seemed quite taken with Brandon and we decided that was our cue to move on.
We piled into Crumpy and headed off towards Ngunguru (Nung-ga-roo) for our first Airbnb.
Our first Airbnb experience was just a great introduction to a lot of fabulous accommodations. Our host was extremely attentive and thoughtful- being sure to provide us with all we could need on the stay and more, starting the wood-burning fireplace and setting out nibbles (snacks) for us so the house was as cozy as could be when we arrived. A welcomed treat after 5.5 hours of travel!
We arrived in the evening, explored the games room after we’d unloaded the car and decided who would have what bedroom. Then we settled in for a dinner of homemade pizzas (thank-you boys for kicking the ladies out of the kitchen at spoiling us with that act of service) and a couple episodes of Idiot Abroad (which has been a custom for us, as well as a friendly reminder to not be ignorant as we travel, haha).
A few rounds of Trivial Pursuit and warming by the fire rounded off our evening and we were all eager to turn in a bit early for further trekking the next morning.
In the light of day, we were again treated with the unexpected pleasantries of our Airbnb. We hadn’t realized in the evening that the property stretched far beyond our original understanding. There was a huge stretch of land out back that hosted edible gardens, fruit trees, and loads of animals: turkeys, peacocks, ducks, pigs and a bunch of other random creatures.
While Joel and I were checking out the back yard, we met our host who was out checking on the animals and were able to thank here in person for her special touches and thoughtfulness. We also had a chance to ask her how to pronounce the town nearby as we are still learning lots of Maori names.
Another Airbnb win!
As we continued up the peninsula, we were hoping to take in all we could. From Ngunguru to Ahipara we decided to take a bit of a detour to Abbey Caves. The caves were described as a great attraction to take in the glowworms (only found in NZ as far as I know, these worms live in caves and their poop glows in the dark- which is pretty cool) in an undeveloped atmosphere. You’re able to see the caves a few places in the country, but most popularly is at Waitomo caves which are far more tourist-friendly.
We parked along a secondary highway in the ‘car park’-which consisted of a roadside pullout with room for 3-4 cars, and headed down the muddy steps to a hiking trail that resembled a farmers field more than an established path. The trail loop was just over a kilometre long and had 3 large caves which you’re free to explore (at your own risk).
I am a bit claustrophobic and have a vivid, visual imagination that allows me to worry or analyse myself out of things sometimes. It’s a bit of a shame that the dark of the cave, “127 Hours” and the slippery rocks leading into the deep made me shy away from the first cave, but being a compulsive little-sister really challenged me to venture into the next 2 caves. I’m so. glad. I did!
The caves were mostly dark and wet with underground rivers/creeks running through, but when you venture far enough in to escape the daylight you’re rewarded with the view of the warms that (when your headlamp is off) resembles the Milky Way. Lots of glowing specks clustered together on the cave ceiling. Breathtaking.
After getting completely covered in mud and using up all the energy our breakfasts could give, we headed into Whangarei (Fung-gar-ray) for a highly satisfying Vietnamese feast.
We were able to take in one more attraction before finding our house for the next couple nights. I had visited years ago, and was surprised to discover a couple year back while working at the arts studio, that the same artist had designed an apartment building I saw in Germany when I was travelling after Capernwray.
Friedensreich Hundertwasser is a Austrian artist who experimented lots with collage and mosaic techniques in his work. He did some work in Europe before falling in love with New Zealand and being a citizen in his later years. He resided in the Bay of Islands region and designed a public bathroom here. Now known as the Hundertwasser toilets in a tiny town in Northland, it’s a fun little spot that was just off our route, so it worked well for a pitstop.
Ahipara was our next stop and the first place we were staying for two nights. Our neighbour at this Airbnb said we shouldn’t tell other Kiwis about their little slice of heaven and boasted about Ahipara being New Zealand’s hidden gem. We’d have to agree. This place had a lot to offer from shipwrecks to the most splendid sunsets.
We arrived as the sun was setting and drank in the beauty as we drove. The property manager was a wealth of information and too kind to us as she toured us through the house.
Our first full day was used up travelling to the furthest North you can drive yourself in New Zealand. Cape Reinga is essentially the end of the road, and it took us to a beautiful lookout and lighthouse. That day we were as close to home as we will be on this trip!
We had lots of fun taking all the pictures and soaking up the sun and view. In Maori history, the cape marks the place where souls would go into the afterlife. What a beautiful launching point!
Oh the things we would see if we had all the time in the world! Just behind us in the next picture you can see part of some massive dunes that are enjoyed in the area. You’re able to sand board and do all kinds of cool activities there. We’ll have to do that another time- or discover some of the dunes closer to us.
We had hoped to enjoy a picnic at the cape, but read that traditionally you’re discouraged to eat or drink on the land. We respected the request and found an alternative picnic spot for lunch.
It ended up being a great idea to move on, as it gave Jamie the chance to swim in the ocean. The rest of us were still happy to watch as the weather wasn’t quite warm enough to enjoy fully, but Jamie picked a great day- our warmest so far. Sunny and probably close to 20 degrees!
Sunsets and Shipwrecks
After our Northernmost excursion we headed back to the house to catch the sunset. I had read that at lowtide you’re able to see some leftover bits of ships that have crashed on the rocky coast near our Airbnb, which is true… just wasn’t quite what we had all envisioned.
There were a couple big pieces of rusty metal we checked out at Shipwreck beach, but the coolest part of our visit ended up being able to drive out onto the sand!
We drove the couple minutes back to our house on the beach and headed across the road to rock-jump and catch the sunset. The tide was way out which allowed us to explore some tide-pools on the black, volcanic rocks along the coast.
It had been another fun and very full day, we were all happy to retire for the evening. I was able to open the sliding doors wide and plopped myself on a beanbag chair to catch the last moments of light before the sun sunk beyond the horizonline.
The guys gifted us with another amazing meal that night. We were happy to have a BBQ and they guys made a delicious meal of grilled lamb, veggies and potatoes. Delicious!
After our time in the far North, we started to head back down the coast. We were hoping to take advantage of the daylight and decided to head pretty much straight for our third Airbnb just 10 minutes outside Dargaville.
This last house I was pretty excited about it, it’s a riverside getaway that’s both rustic and homey. We all really thought this house was special.
The house was made over several years, lovingly crafted by one builder. The house is almost completely wooden and the inside highlighted the skill and passion of the woodworker along with his wife’s beautiful stained glass work. The house is heated solely by wood-burning stoves- even the water heater depends on a little stove to warm.
I don’t know how we could have planned our time any better, as we were settling into this cozy spot the grey set in and gave us a couple days of rain. The first day there, most members of our crew went to explore and ended up doing a little peak hike and checked out a local beach.
Michelle and I were feeling a bit tired out and done with the car (particularly after a spell of carsickness for Michelle), so we ended up organizing ourselves at the house. We checked out the local attraction- which, according to Google maps, was a church up the road and walked the property a bit before reading for me a yarn-crafting for Michelle by the fire.
The next day was especially rainy, so we all decided we would enjoy the downtime instead of pushing ourselves outside. That suited us quite well. The guys got some work done while the girls enjoyed a movie in the afternoon and some quite time by the fire (again- which I was more than happy with).
Another fabulous meal and dessert enjoyed while watching “Red” finished up our visit at the river house. With several chores the next day to be sure to leave the house safe and secure, we headed back towards the big city!
Auckland, Round 2
On our second trip into Auckland on this trip, we decided to sneak a few more things into the schedule, starting with coffee.
We stopped at Coffee General Origin and we all enjoyed some more locally roasted coffee. This cafe serves a handful of roasteries coffees, which is pretty neat. We all chose our desired caffeine boost from pour overs to Jamie’s first siphon coffee and some milk-based espresso drinks. Good stop.
We arrived at our Victorian-style home for the night and gave ourselves a bit of a break before hopping on the train to take in the Blues vs. Brumbies Rugby game.
It was really fun watching the game- the stands in the picture look very bare, but this is a pre-game junior game we caught part of. The stands filled a bit more, but nowhere near our All Blacks experience. It was great to hear more of the rules from our in-house Rugby expert, Jamie. Brandon and Joel both clustered around their pal to ask questions and learn more about the game.
Blues won and we had a great time- Joel loved being reunited with Fritz’s Weiners, a german sausage stand that we’ve seen at stadiums and markets throughout the country.
We were thoroughly frozen by the end of the game and happily scooted on home for some hot chocolate and to watch a documentary before bed. Auckland had shown up some more fun and we were grateful. We had an early departure, though, in order to connect with our pal, Jason for some luging in Rotorua.
(That subtitle is for all your kids who grew up in the 90s)
We woke up and got ourselves going early Saturday morning because we had a three hour drive ahead of us. Our friend, Jason, from church had invited us to go luging together in Rotorua. We all thought it would be a good time, but few expected it to be as fun as it was.
Luging is now available at COP at home, I believe. You ride these little plastic carts down a hill- which isn’t as exciting as it ended up being. Jamie and Jason became fast friends and quickly formed ‘The Chaos Club” whose main goal was to whip past as many lugers as possible while causing a whirlwind of trouble!
I loved watching our friends laugh like kids as they zoomed past one another and shared stories of crashing into crazy tourist who didn’t seem to understand the categories of track- scenic, intermediate and advanced. We had lots of fun, and would definitely trek back to Rotorua for some more fun luging… although, if it’s sooner rather than later we need all the warm clothes including tuques and gloves!
Us six popsicles walked ourselves into a great Thai restaurant for dinner and headed back to Papamoa to start the unpacking (and re-packing for the K’s) process.
We were gone so long the snails feasted on our mail!
Sunday was full of lunch, last minute souvenir shopping and some recovery before taking Jamie and Michelle to the bus that evening.
We had the best time all together, and are so grateful to our friends for travelling so far for a visit. Thanks for coming, Kotlewski’s!! You’re now part way home, and we hope you have the best summer 🙂