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New Zealand's North Island:
29-Day Motorhome Tour Photojournal
Page 3 - Days 21-29

Photographs and narration by Murray Lundberg

North Island Photojournal - Page 1 (Days 1-10)
North Island Photojournal - Page 2 (Days 11-20)

Click on each image in the journal to greatly enlarge it.

Day 21 - Thursday, March 6: Waitomo to Pakiri Beach

The Waitomo Top 10 Holiday Park is beautiful, and we wished we could stay a bit longer (yes, we were saying that a lot), but we had a lot of ground to cover so were away by 9:30.

Norm (our cave guide yesterday) recommended that we take a 3-kilometer detour to the bush walk at the Ruakuri Caves & Bush Scenic Reserve, and although it only took an hour for the hike, it turned out to be one of our favourite locations in New Zealand. To quote the DoC, "the reserve contains beautiful native bush, classic limestone outcrops, caves, tunnels, gorges and cantilevered walkways high above the rushing water. It is also a place of strong historical, cultural and spiritual significance." We were simply captivated by the drama of the place, highlighted by the large natural cathedral seen here (with Waitomo Stream running through it). There is no charge to use this track.

Not being used to either heavy traffic or multi-lane highways anymore, we both dreaded making our way through greater Auckland on the motorway again, and across the Auckland Bridge.

As you can see here, the addition of 4 lanes in the early 1970s (2 on each side) unfortunately ruined what had been a beautiful bridge.

Our first major stop once we got past Auckland was the Cape Rodney-Okakari Point Marine Reserve at Goat Island, where we finally got our snorkel gear wet (that’s Cathy in the picture). This was the first marine reserve established in New Zealand (in 1975) and is a great diving/snorkelling location, with lots of large fish coming almost within reach (though illegal, apparently they get fed by many swimmers). Snorkelling gear can be rented here from Seafriends - currently $16 a day for snorkel, mask and fins, another $13 for a wetsuit.

The road from Goat Island to Pakiri Beach is exceptionally scenic. The community of Omaha can be seen in the distance, on the main beach on Omaha Bay - "Omaha" is a Maori word meaning “place of pleasure”. The opposite side of the summit where this photo was shot is narrow, winding, steep gravel - there are signs saying that use by caravans is not recommended.

Day 22 - Friday, March 7: at Pakiri Beach

Morning on Pakiri Beach. Although we had only planned to spend one night at the Pakiri Beach Holiday Park, before we left for Goat Island we reserved a spot for another night. Our Lonely Planet accurately describes Pakiri "a secret paradise with a beautiful 9km white-sand beach, sand dunes and surf".

Back at Goat Island, we took one of the better tour deals in the country, a 45-minute trip around the island in a glass-bottomed boat, for $25 pp. The captain, Ivan, is passionate about the reserve and was great to travel with. He really enjoyed telling the story of a snorkeller who had a lip torn off while feeding snapper by putting food between his lips!

I got a fair number of photos of different types of birds during the trip - these pied cormorants (also known as yellow-faced cormorants or pied shags) were right at the parking lot at Goat Island.

Returning to Pakiri Beach, we waded across the mouth of Pakiri Stream, hiked down the beach a bit and had a fabulous afternoon of doing nothing but laying on the empty beach and playing in the surf. While we had the beach to ourselves, there were a fair number of people back on the beach that you reach without wading across the stream. We thought about taking a horse ride on the beach as the people in the photo are doing, but were in super lazy mode.

Day 23 - Saturday, March 8: Pakiri Beach to Russell

This is Whangarei Falls, 26 meters high. The falls, located 5 k north of the city of Whangarei (population 46,000), are surrounded by a wonderful little park that's been ruined by vandals - even the trees along the walking paths have been spray-painted with garbage. We’ve been surprised and disappointed by the amount of litter and graffiti in some areas.

Meeting more locals - this happened twice in a few miles around dinner time today.

Although you can get to Russell by road, it was recommended by several people we met that we avoid the long, rough road and take a shortcut via the ferry at Opua, so we did. The very short, scenic cruise cost $15 for the campervan and driver, $2 for Cathy (see tickets).

Day 24 - Sunday, March 9:

We had been excited about this day as one of the highlights of the trip - going out on a boat so we could swim with dolphins! It turned out to be the most disappointing day of the trip, with nothing except a couple of brief and distant views of dolphins. We went with Kings Dolphin Cruises and Eco Tour, on a 6-hour tour with guaranteed viewing. Talking to a local woman on the Russell dock, though, I said that it looked like a good day to go swimming with dolpins - her response was "If you believe that you've been conned like the rest of them." Even the beach where we made a lengthy stop was very poor - certainly the worst beach we sat on during the whole month. Oh well, seeing the Hole in the Rock, the Cape Brett Lighthouse and a huge school of blue mau mau near the surface made it an okay day.

When we checked into the Russell Top 10 Holiday Park yesterday, all of the top view spots were taken so we parked in the lower field, but the manager said that she would have our rig moved to one of the view spots when it came vacant (how's that for service!). We preferred to move it ourselves when we returned from the cruise, and the new site was gorgeous.

That evening, we went on Darryl's Dinner Cruise ($78 pp), a 2½ hour cruise from Paihia, up the Waitangi River to Haruru Falls and back on board the vessel Ratanui. It gets very good reviews, and it was a great evening - about 25 people in a very casual atmosphere, with excellent food (after prawn/mussel starters, your choice of steak, lamb or fish). There's a full bar, and we took advantage of the BYO wine option for dinner.

I don't know what Darryl was fishing for, as nothing ever came on board from the pole seen in this photo of Cathy and I taken at Haruru Falls.

Day 25 - Monday, March 10: Russell to Whatuwhiwhi

New Zealand’s most important historic site is the Waitangi Treaty Grounds. In the Treaty House seen here, the Treaty of Waitangi between Maori leaders and the British Crown was signed on February 6th, 1840.

Matauri Bay

Maitai Bay

Day 26 - Tuesday, March 11: in Whatuwhiwhi

Today was a “down day” with no plans except to relax, and it was wonderful. The day began with rain and showers were forecast to last all day, but after some indecision we decided to go back to Maitai Bay. A school group was there, but we hiked to the far end of the right-hand cove and were alone the whole time. On the walk we encountered this poor little stingray, dead (very recently) just above the high tide line.

The tiny cove where we stopped now has our vote as the best all-round beach in New Zealand - the scenery, the water temperature and clarity, the ability to be alone, and the combination of great swimming and great snorkelling side-by-side surpass any other beach we’ve spent time at. The Free Beach Group calls it one of the best nude beaches in the country.

At about 2:30, we stopped in at the nearby Karikari Estate winery for lunch and a tasting ($10 for samples of 5 wines). The food and 2 of the wines in particular were superb, as is the location - we bought a bottle of their Gisborne Chardonnay to enjoy more of later.

Back at the Whatuwhiwhi Holiday Park, I went snorkelling for a while. Though I never did find clear water, I got very close to several mergansers, so the swim was worthwhile. On the wade back to shore, I came within a foot of stepping on a stingray, though - damn muddy water! Luckily, the large swirl of water beside where my foot had landed was the only indication I had of what had happened.

Day 27 - Wednesday, March 12: day tour

Today we let someone else do the driving, and that decision gave us a much better experience than we could have gotten on our own. The tour, with Paradise Connexion, was to Cape Reinga, the furthest-north point of land that's accessible by road. The minibus picked us up a few feet from our campervan site, and only cost $62 pp, far less than some similar tours we'd been looking at.

Along the way we had a drive up 90 Mile Beach and got a fairly close look at the first day of the $250,000 Snapper Classic. This is the adrenalin sport of fishing, and we drove by almost 1,000 people on the beach. The heaviest snapper this year weighed 9.315 kg.

Turning off the beach, we drove up Te Paki Stream (a.k.a. "Quicksand Stream") in our 2-wheel-drive bus, and along it went dunesurfing, or sand tobogganing. It was great fun!

Our driver, Bob, was excellent. Among other things, he kept us ahead of the other tour buses - we usually saw empty road ahead of us, and as they arrived en masse at a place, we left.

Cathy and I had the seat right behind Bob, giving us exellent photo ops throughout the day. This is State Highway 1 a few k from the north end, where some sealing (paving) of the gravel road is being done. A major reconfiguration of the Cape Reinga carpark and walking track is also being done - that will cut the walking distance to the lighthouse in half. Up to 1,300 cars arrive at the carpark per day during peak season!

The views of Cape Maria van Diemen from the track to the lighthouse are stunningly beautiful. The cape was named in January 1643 by Abel Tasman, after the wife of his patron, Anthony van Diemen, Governor General of Batavia.

Cape Reinga is sacred to the Maori, who know it as Te Rerenga Wairua. Tradition says that the cape is the point where the spirits of the dead leave the earth.

Cape Reinga Lighthouse was the last manned lighthouse to be built in New Zealand. First lit in 1941, it replaced a light that had been built in 1879 on Motuopau Island, seen in the photo above off the tip of Cape Maria van Diemen. The Cape Reinga Lighthouse, whose concrete tower is 10 meters high and 165 meters above the sea, was fully automated in 1987.

Just out of sight to the left of this photo is the turbulent line where the blue Pacific Ocean meets the green Tasman Sea.

After leaving the cape, we stopped at gorgeous Tapotupotu Bay for lunch, and a few of us went swimming in the surf. The approach to the bay is seen here, looking over Bob's shoulder.

One of the events we'd been hoping to experience was a sheepjam, and we got our wish on SH1. An ATV ahead of the flock carried a large sign warning that there was "Stock Ahead", and a one-lane bridge added to the congestion (and the quality of the experience for us!) at this point.

This turned out to be one of our most memorable and most-photographed days of the entire journey, with 238 images now in our "keeper" file.

Both going to and returning from the cape, we stopped at the Ancient Kauri Kingdom facility (as well as being interesting, it's a handy toilet stop). This company extracts kauri trees that were buried in swamps up to 50,000 years ago and processes the preserved wood into everything from bowls and wine stoppers to furniture of all types. This kauri staircase gives you an idea of what can be done - with a couch priced at $45,000, the staircase would certainly be worth several hundred thousand.

Day 28 - Thursday, March 13: Whatuwhiwhi to Matakohe

At Awanui, where we turned off SH10 onto SH1, we detoured north a few hundred meters to get some photos of a church we had seen on yesterday's tour. St. Joseph's Anglican Maori Church was built in 1887. In the second row of headstones is one with a mailbox beside it - we don't know the significance of it.

We stopped at the historic sawmill and shipyard community of Kohukohu (which now has a population of only 220) for a look at some of the old buildings, then continued 4 k to the ferry to Rawene. The ferry runs on the hour from the Kohukohu side, takes under 15 minutes for the crossing, and costs $14 for car or small campervan and driver, $2 for passengers.

Today was mostly about kauri trees, driving south on SH12 along the Kauri Coast through the Waipoua Forest, the best place in New Zealand to see large untouched stands of the trees. We saw Te Matua Ngahere ("Father of the Forest"), one of the largest remaining kauri, in torrential rain. On the walk to it, I commented about another large tree (a rimu, I think), then turned a corner on the track and was stunned by the sight of Te Matua Ngahere - it has a circumference of over 16 meters (52 feet). In the enlarged photo you can just make out a person at the base of the tree. I all of a sudden developed a bad cold last night, and getting soaked on that walk certainly didn't help (it took over 2 weeks to get rid of it).

The Kauri Museum

Day 29 - Friday, Mar. 14: Matakohe to Auckland

Sheep World

drop motorhome, fly home...

We left Auckland on an Air New Zealand 777-200 at about 8:30 pm, arrived at Vancouver same day at 1:00 pm.

We then boarded Air Canada Jazz at 5:00 and arrived at Whitehorse at 7:15. This photo was taken just after we started our descent into Whitehorse - around Atlin, I suppose.

Although we’re going to miss the white sand beaches, yes, we did miss this too. It felt good to be home, particularly because Winter appeared to be over. Although it was -25° the next day, it was gorgeous. My cold was worse, but our MIA suitcase was sitting at the airport first thing in the morning (it got lost at Vancouver), waiting to be picked up, so I headed out into the sunshine anyway.

I brought back 2 or 3 pounds of paper of various types as part of the journey documentation, and in creating this photo-journal I got to re-live the trip over and over.