Northland and Coromandel Peninsula Road trip
12/11/04 - 12/18/04
|Our Road trip Route|
Because there was so much to see on this trip, we did this journal piece a bit different. Rather than separate the picture albums from the journal text, both (and video coming soon) are included in this journal. We figured that words alone just wouldn't do it!
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With the modifications to Billavan complete, and the van filled to the brim with food, clothes, sleeping gear, dishes & more ... we were finally ready to hit the road for some inland travels. We didn't have to check the weather, we didn't need to provision for an unknown number of days not knowing where our next fresh vegetable would come from, we didn't need to lash down all are goods, and it didn't matter how hard it blew! We were traveling on land!
Just outside of Whangarei, we headed off the main highway to drive along the beautiful Tutukaka coastline - and we weren't disappointed with the views! We made a brief stop at the Tutukaka Marina, just to scope out the boats and stretch our legs. We also popped into the local dive shop for information on diving the Poor Knights Islands (which sounds fantastic). We attempted to find one of the short walks from my 202 Great Walks of New Zealand book, however after three tries at finding the turnoff we gave up and continued on.
We ventured farther out into the boondogs, taking on bumpy unsealed roads to find ourselves in the middle of nowhere, surrounded by cows, sheep, Pukeko birds, and vast stretches of farmland. We stopped for another leg-stretch in Whananaki admiring the beautiful coastline. On our return to the main highway we discovered a small 20 minute walk with more terrific views.
White sand beaches of Whananaki Chris at Whananaki Coast Matapouri to Whananaki coastal views Cows and more cows Pukeko birds Fields of wildflowers along deserted road We like the interesting markings of the black cow And the perfectly round spot on the brown one! Chris & Billavan
Back on the main road, our next stop was Waiomio, where we visited the Kawiti glow worm caves. The formations inside the caves were amazing. The guide turned off his lantern and the roofs were transformed into brightly lit galaxies. Hundreds of twinkling stars appeared above us (which were really not stars at all but the glow worms). The scientific facts of the glow worm are not as wondrous as the viewing ... glow worms are larvae. Their light is created with the energy from their waste product 'disposal' (in other words it's their poop that's glowing). When they finally hatch, their adult life only lasts 3 days, during which the spend the ENTIRE time mating. They have no mouths so the simply die from starvation and/or exhaustion! The cave tour ended with a pleasant 10 minute bush walk back to the parking lot.
Next we took the 'inland' route to Kerikeri where we met up with Ralph & Donna from Ocean Girl for Pizza & Beer before settling down at the nearby Top 10 Holiday Park (campervan/tent camping grounds).
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We started off day 2 with a visit to the Kerikeri chocolate factory in hopes of free samples! Perhaps it was too early in the morning because we were left empty handed staring through the viewing window with drool running down our chins. Next door was a Kauri Workshop with beautiful wood pieces. We purchased a carved Kiwi bird Christmas ornament. Having failed at the chocolate factory, we stopped at an outstanding bakery, picking up ginger bars, caramel chocolate bars, and a gingerbread man. Next we were off for a few short walks (to work off all the sweets). The Rainbow Falls track took us to two terrific waterfalls (one being the 27 metre Rainbow Falls of course). We took a peak inside the Stone Store (NZ's oldest stone building and earliest frontier shop, 1836) but decided to move on while the sun was still shining (rather then spend our time indoors).
Rainbow Falls Walk - neat pond with lili pods Walk along Rainbow Falls trek in Kerikeri Pukeko Bird (yes we're obessed with them) Rainbow Falls Waterfall We were entertained by ducks going after some food. Rainbow Ralls (27m) First waterfall along Rainbow Falls track Chris relaxing by Rainbow Falls KT out on a limb (hee hee) Stone House historical building "Authentic" Steam boat Look back up river towards Stone House
We ventured further inland to check out the Puketi Forest. Huge, magnificent Kauri trees loomed over us as we made our way along the walkway. There were a variety of different walks & tramps that one could follow. We went on a shorter one, with the idea that we just might have to come back for a longer stay.
Another coastal detour took us out to Matauri & Tauranga Bay. We stopped at every little town along this route, and further north as we continued to follow the coast by Taupo Bay, checking out beaches, campsites, and just taking in the sights. (Historical note: The Cavalli Islands, just off of Matauri Bay, is the resting place of the one-time Greenpeace flagship Rainbow Warrior)
After driving by tons of "Cow Crossing" road signs, we finally experienced our own cow crossing! We finished the night off with fish n' chips at the "World Famous" Mangonui Fish shop, and then settled down at a camping park in Hihi beach.
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It started pouring rain around 4am ... not so quiet pounding away against Billavan's roof. We did a bit of lounging before heading out of Hihi beach (what's the hurry when it's raining?). We stopped briefly in Mangonui for a brief walk amongst the small town stores and then again in Cable Bay to check out the bakery and buy some oil. Then it was out to the Karikari Peninsula (not to be confused with Kerikeri). This drive was magnificent. The views and scenery were stunning even with the cloud cover and light fog. We had originally planned on a short hike to the outer edge of the peninsula but with the rain & mud we opted to just drive as far as we could get. Unfortunately the very tip had recently been closed off ... although for years the beach/peninsula tip had been open to the public, just recently the owner had decided to close off the area to the public. Apparently this was big news around the area and had been in the papers and on TV over the last couple of days. We drove out to both Whatuwhiwhi and Rangiputa points before heading to the Karikari Estates winery. It was just noon, so we didn't feel too guilty about a little wine tasting (plus we just had to go since Chris' sister's name is Kari!). The views from the winery were just gorgeous, we couldn't imagine how magnificent it must been with good weather. After a brief tasting (we were driving after all) and a small purchase we continued back to the main highway.
It seemed like we were in the middle of a discussion on whether it made sense to drive all the way up to Cape Reinga on a cloudy, foggy day (where one couldn't see the view), when the sun started to poke its head out! So we went for it. After a brief stop in Kaitaia, and then another stop at a Kauri shop which hosts the oldest set of Kauri stairs we were on our way.
We detoured to the west coast, Waipapakauri Ramp, to view the ninety-mile beach (which is really 90km, not miles). There are actually speed signs posted, as it is a popular tourist attraction to drive along this beach, including HUGE buses, going 100 clicks (aka kilometers) an hour! This is not a beach to do your sun bathing on!!! Not wanting to risk getting Billavan stuck, we decided just to take a look on foot.
The drive up to the Cape was a pleasant, curvy, scenic drive ... filled with suicidal birds. We had noticed these little brown guys with white spotted wings before, but now they seemed to be out in full force ... and they LOVED to dart out in front of Billavan as we zoomed by! More than once Chris had to brake in order to avoid splatting one! There was also some large bird creature that attempting to run into the side of our van, Chris swerving to avoid it. In the end one bird did meet its maker, it was purely unavoidable, luckily there was no blood & gore. Everything was going along nicely until we hit the 25km unsealed portion. While it wasn't raining at the moment, we hadn't really considered the previous 12 hours of rain that had fallen ... the road was a muddy, slippery mess. I was quite happy that Chris had lived on the East coast and could utilize his now driving skills -- boy were they needed! Somehow we managed to not get stuck and to stay on the road. We thought about turning back a few times, but after having already passed through some pretty hairy patches, I figured we should at least be rewarded with the views (and pictures)! Prior to the muddy mess we had planned to stop at Tapotupotu Bay and hike out to Cape Reinga ... that plan was quickly nixed once we realized what a mess it was. The views did end up being pretty terrific -- the fog had lifted just enough to provide great visibility. We didn't stay too long though, as we didn't want to be the last ones to leave (we wanted someone behind us in case we got stuck). The drive back actually didn't seem quite as bad ... a few interested skids here and there, but we managed just fine. Billavan of course was a HUGE muddy mess!
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After utilize the pressure water car wash hose (leaving behinds heaps and heaps of mud), when ventured South along the Western coast. Prior to departing Ahipara we checked into riding blokarts, however there wasn't enough wind and we hadn't hit the tide correctly, bummed we moved on. We followed the Twin Coast Discovery Highway to Kohukahu where we caught the ferry over to Rawene. From there it was on to Opononi and Omapere. Huge sand dunes loomed across the bay - supposedly perfect for sand boarding. We left sand boarding for another day and instead ventured out to the Hokianga South Head where we enjoyed a 30 minute walk -amongst more breathe-taking views.
A bit further down the road we took another side track out to the Waiotemarama Gorge. An extremely short trail led us to a small waterfall. Next door to the path entrance was a game shop with an interesting back-woods-type owner. This guy was towering tall (like a Kauri tree) with a bush full white beard. He was extremely friendly and challenged each of us to a puzzle (I actually solved mine without his help!). The shop's location is interesting ... located next to the trail it is literally out in the middle of nowhere. We drove about 10km on a dirt & gravel road into the backwoods to find the place! It might be lonely, but it sure was an awesome location! Our friends from Whisper (Robin & Duncan) had told us about the shop as well, and we were impressed that the shop owner remembered them (then again I'm guessing he isn't packed with customers on a daily basis).
Down the road we set out on foot again along the Tane Mahuta, Te Matua Ngahere, and Four Sisters tracks. The first track took us to the largest living Kauri tree, which until I just re-read the pamphlet we had thought was the oldest not largest. The estimate the Tane Mahuta to be about 2000 years old. Its dimensions are: Total height 51.5m, trunk girth 13.6m, trunk height 17.7m, and volume 244.5m3! The second track took us to the second largest living Kauri tree, and the final track took us to four large Kauri's growing rather close together. We had intending to also walk the longer Yakas track (where the 7th largest Kauri lives), but it was closed due to mud and flooding.
Just down the road was a DOC (Department of Conservation) campsite. By far this had been the best day of weather yet! The sun had been out all day, it was warm, and not a drop of rain. We enjoyed the remainder of the day reading under the sun while snacking on cheese, crackers, & wine.
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It seems we have hit New Zealand during one of their coldest & wettest summers! We again awoke to rain and heavy cloud cover. We also realized that during our outdoor relaxation the night before we had been attacked by sand flies! We started the morning off with a drive (too wet to hike) up to a lookout point overlooking part of the Waipoua Forest, followed by a visit to Trounson Kauri Park for a short walk. In Trounson Park we learned a couple of interesting facts about possums, such as: an estimated 22,000 tons of vegetation a NIGHT are consumed by possums in NZ; and possums are NZ's number one enemy against wildlife! We also found a little privately owned Kauri Woodshop, where we finally found the bowl I've been looking for at a price I could afford.
We drove out to the Kai Iwi Lakes, which looked like a terrific place to hang out and camp, but as it was not even noon yet, we weren't quite ready to settle in for the night. In Dargaville we stopped at The Woodturners Studio which hosted beautiful wood art (all too expensive for those on a cruiser's salary!), and a cat name KT!!! Next we visited the local Museum which offered a good view of Dargaville as well as the Rainbow Warrior masts.
We stopped in Matakohe to check out the Kauri Museum. We opted to just scope out the ground instead of paying to get in, thinking that we will most likely return with our families (coming in the next few months). From Matakohe we enjoyed a scenic drive along the 16 and then up to Shelly Beach, where we made camp for the night.
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If you can believe it, it was raining ... AGAIN! At this point you'd think we'd be used to it, but it's just tough when you want the sun to come out! Thanks to the rain and our lack of desire to hike in it, we did A LOT of driving this day.
We made a quick stop in Auckland, where I sat in the car studying maps while Chris went into a marine store and marine bookstore. Then it was on to Hamilton and Cambridge. Two cute little towns South of Auckland. When we stomped at the Auto store in Cambridge we ran into friends we met back in Suwarrow (Mark & Lisa). They had purchased a van and were headed down to Rotorua & Lake Taupo. From Tirau (just past Cambridge) we headed towards the Eastern coast and Tauranga. We made a quick stop in Matamata to check out Hobbiton (from Lord of the Rings), but at $50 a head we decided we really didn't need to see the movie set! The entire town was apparently quite proud to have been the host of Hobbiton however, as signs and decorations hung everywhere.
As we traveled up a pretty steep slope towards Tauranga a thick fog settled in around us. The fog along with the surrounding scenery had a very mystic, very Jurassic feel. As we drove through Tauranga (we were heading to check out the marinas) we were thrilled to see Sushi signs -- instantly we decided that we would be camping in the Tauranga area. At the Tauranga Bridge Marina we ran into Roger & Nancy from Equanimity and made dinner plans. We traveled up the road a bit to Mount Maunganui to grab a campsite before dinner. The town of Mount Maunganui was quite a bit larger than we had expected and the campsite was terrific. It reminded us a lot of La Ventana (Mexico) with tons of long-term campers and surfers milling around.
We ended up having Thai instead of Sushi (the Sushi places didn't look so enticing), but it was excellent! The main Strand of Tauranga was a happening place with many patrons having dinner and drinks underneath heated lambs. The smells that wafted around the street were to die for! After a post-dinner stroll we headed back to Mount Maunganui for such much needed rest.
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Although it rained off and on through the night we woke up to dry skies and a bit of sun trying to break through. We took advantage of the good weather with a hike up Mount Maunganui to check out the views. It was a bit steeper than I was mentally prepared for, but with Chris trudging along ahead of me (and me being to stubborn to quit) I managed to pull myself to the top ... once I saw the views I was glad I did!
After showers and a drive their the beaches of Mount Maunganui (which reminded us a lot of home) we headed up the coast to the Coromandel Peninsula. Along the way we came across an interesting vehicle, which we later figured was part of a Gypsy Flea Market that we passed.
The route up to the Coromandel Peninsula provided more breath-taking views! We made brief stops in Katikati and Waihi. In Whangamata we stopped at the local i-center (information center) and picked up another half a dozen or so pamphlets on the various activities (including camping & hiking) in New Zealand ... at this point I think we have information overload!
We were tempted to stop at the Hot Water Beach, but with the rain still pouring down, digging our own hot water salt-water spa didn't sound appealing to either of us. Just before Whitianga we hung a left onto the 309 Road. It was an extremely narrow (not to mention bumpy) road, but the views were well worth the bouncing around (as long as you don't get car sick!). We stopped for two little walks to view more Kauri trees and another waterfall (this time seeing a Siamese Kauri tree and a Kauri Patch).
The town of Coromandel was a very cute town. It seemed clean and old-fashioned with a single main street lined with small shops and markets. We continued down the Western coast of Coromandel Peninsula, stopping near Tapu for more scenic lookouts.
Just passed the town of Thames we hooked a left to take a look at the Kauaeranga Valley. It was our intention to camp within the forest and then do a four hour hike the following morning. By the time we reached the visitor center (to check-in/pay) they were closed. We drove around the area, but many of the campsites also looked closed. Not sure what the deal was, we returned to town, camping at Dickson's Park just North of Thames. When we piled out of the van we were immediately greeted by a rush of ducks. Chris walked up to use the bathroom and I dug out some bread ... by the time Chris returned I was fully surrounded. Although he gave me a hard time, he instantly took over the feeding! They were fearless, talkative animals, and we thoroughly entertained by their quacking, waddling, and jumping.
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Surprise, Surprise -- it rained ALL night and into the morning. In addition the forecast was calling for more rain. It was not looking good for our Kauaeranga Valley hike. We lounged around for quite awhile, hiding from the rain inside the van with our books. Finally we hit the road. We followed the coast around to Clevedon, where Chris spotted a herd of Banded Cows! We had been looking for them from the start of the trip so that I could get a picture. The are cute buggers, with a single white band around their mid-section ... and a bit more furry then "normal" cows.
As we closed in on Manukau and Highway 1, we could see Auckland and the Sky Tower in the distance. We also noticed that this area seemed to be populated by a much richer crown, with each estates towering over acres of land.
We continued on our way back "home" (towards Whangarei), taking the Eastern route this time. The continuous rain and boisterous winds squashed our desire to stop at any of the many Auckland area Regional Parks. In Silverdale we pulled over to check out the supposed Outlet Stores, but it turned out to be a bit of a disappointment (not quite what we were expecting). At Warkworth we took the Matakana Wine Coast and visited three wineries; Ascension, Heron's Flight, and Matakana Estate (our favorite was Ascension). Everyone was extremely friendly, and we were surprised to find the wineries quite full with the weather conditions such that they were.
Billavan had been acting up more and more ... some kind of problem where it seems to lose power going up hills -- we had thought it was a fuel line problem because in the beginning it only happened when the tank was less than half full, but on this day it seemed to happen all the time. Because of this we decided not to take the coastal route (which included unsealed and potentially unpopulated roads), and rather headed straight back to Whangarei.
I now understand why Chris wanted to travel/live in Billavan ... when we returned to Billabong, she seemed HUGE! The bed was gigantic, and it was the BEST nights sleep ever!!!
Phew! What a whirlwind of a trip! All the rain was a bit of a bummer, but the scenery was just fabulous. We can't wait to explore the southern by of the North Island and the entire South Island!