While we have two great housesits lined up in New Zealand, we had a week to kill between arriving in Auckland and when we had to be in Wellington. We decided to take the time to do a bit of exploring. When we were last in New Zealand, we spent the bulk of our time in the South, so we wanted to flesh out our North Island experience. And since it’s the dead of winter here right now, we decided to focus on the Far North; that is, north of Auckland. So, we rented a trusty spaceship, and went on our way.
Spaceships are like a camper stuffed into a minivan. You have a fold down bed, a mini refrigerator, and a gas camping stove that fits on a mount attached to the side of the car. Plus we had the newer model with a mini TV/DVD player. Pretty much all we needed.
The bed came in immediately handy, as we’d taken an overnight flight from Australia and were exhausted. We made it through buying groceries, and managed to get out of Auckland before getting so sleepy that we pulled over at a beautiful hillside stopping point and had a much needed two hour nap. Afterwards, we were driving along and saw this amazing park on the shore of the Pacific. So, we stopped for a quick lunch of peanut butter and jelly, which would be the staple of our week.
Amazing scenery everywhere! But that’s New Zealand for you.
After fiddling around on dark roads for a while trying to find a decent free place to camp, we finally ended up just south of Kaitaia, in a Department of Conservation campsite which required fording a small stream. We fired up the stove and had a typical camping pasta dinner before hitting the sack.
Next day was pretty much the main event. We wanted to keep driving north, north, north, all the way to Cape Reinga, the far tip of New Zealand. Along the way, we’d stop at 90 Mile Beach, running up the west coast, though our rental contract prohibited us from driving along the “sand highway”. We hit the peninsula and quickly found an access road to the beach, where we spent a while walking around on the small dunes and looking down sand as far as the eye could see.
Turns out we couldn’t have driven on it in any case, as the tide was coming up, and there were locals there warning potential drivers away. I guess cars get lost to the ocean along the beach every year.
We hopped back in the car and headed north again. The road was quite windy, passing through great scenery with scant evidence of habitation besides the occasional smattering of cows. Every so often we’d pass a side road leading off to some beach or another, and decided to visit a few on our way back that afternoon.
After about 90 minutes we finally made it to Cape Reinga. Here the Pacific Ocean meets the Tasman Sea and creates an interesting set of cross-currents with whirlpools and strange wave patterns. The top of the country is marked by cliffs, hills, and jutting rocks, with a lonely lighthouse perched out on the furthest tip.
Although it was chilly and quite windy, I think we were lucky to visit in winter when there was almost no one else there. We pretty much had the whole place to ourselves, to appreciate being in such a unique spot. We even got to find out how far it was to our next stop-off!
On the way back south, we stopped at the giant sand dunes at Te Paki stream, the exit point of the 90 mile beach. Buses drive right down the stream bed for three kilometers to reach the ocean. But besides it being prohibited in our Spaceship, warnings like “Do not stop in middle of stream”, and “Water and Sand together cause problems” would have steered us clear in any case.
Instead we just slipped off our shoes, waded the stream, and went for a mini hike up the dunes. We also discovered that you can rent “sand boards”, and go “dune surfing”, an activity which I’m sure is quite popular in the summer.
On the way out we managed to get stuck by a herd of cows! It was really neat to watch the working dogs shepherding them away from the direction they had meandered and back into their proper field. I’m not so sure the car in front of us was so calm though, engulfed by bovines.
Finally, we visited the white silica sands of Rarawa Beach. You could see glimpses of the beach from the road a few kilometers away, patches of white among the brown and green hills.
When we drove down to it, it was certainly majestic, and has some of the whitest sand in the world.
Apparently, the sand squeaks between your toes as you walk, but we couldn’t tell as it was too chilly by this point to take our shoes off, plus quite windy!