Now, for the final installment of my Northland trip. The great thing about keeping a blog is getting to relive each adventure and share it with others.
I awoke at Tapotupotu Bay to bright sunshine and a fresh-cooked breakfast from one of the friends I had made the day before, who just so happened to be a chef. Yum! Afterwards, I walked out on the beach, which was enormous at low tide, to say goodbye to this amazing spot.
It was hard to leave, but I wanted to see some of New Zealand’s northwest coast and spend my last night on the road amongst the ancient kauri forests. My friend, Sebastian, was also heading that way, so we departed in our two-car caravan and headed south. Our plan was to stop at Ninety Mile Beach, which takes up most of the western coast of Cape Reinga. It’s known for its enormous sand dunes, which you can surf down with rented boards (sadly, didn’t have time for that). You are also allowed to drive along the beach (not in my rental car, though), so you don’t see a lot of people lounging in the sand. I parked my car near the beach and got in with Sebastian for a brief drive, since we didn’t have time to do the entirety of the beach. I imagine it all looks kind of the same.
Ninety Mile Beach actually isn’t 90 miles; it’s 55. They should have named it Ninety Kilometer Beach.
We drove back to my car and continued our journey south. I thought the kauri forests would be a couple hours away, but it turns out I was very mistaken. My GPS calculated the estimated time based on the speed limits of the roads, which were usually 100 kph. What I failed to anticipate was that most of these roads were so windy that it was impossible to go faster than 40 kph. A good portion of the roads weren’t even paved, so our trip took over four hours. The drive WAS beautiful, though. I felt like I was in a car commercial while driving the serpentine roads through ancient kauri forests. The road even banked in some spots.
As afternoon became evening, the coastal views were breathtaking. There were hardly any towns, just a smattering of tiny Maori villages with names like Omapere and Opononi.
We passed countless towering kauri trees as we headed inland. We passed a pull-off spot for Tāne Mahuta, the “Lord of the Forest,” New Zealand’s largest living kauri tree, estimated to be 2,300 years old. Sadly, we didn’t have time to stop, but I have no doubt Tāne Mahuta will stick around for my next trip.
We decided to camp at Trounson Kauri Park since it was the first place we encountered. The camping area was pretty small, which was nice, and everything was peaceful as dusk fell.
Our sites looked out over pastures on one side and kauri forest on the other. Sebastian cooked a delicious dinner and we sat around as the sky darkened and birds began to call. We saw lots of people entering into the fenced Kauri forest “bush walk” area and decided it must be a good place to try and sight New Zealand’s nocturnal creatures, specifically kiwi. At one point, while we were sitting at our site, my headlamp illuminated a startled possum not more than ten feet away.
As it got later, we decided to trek into the forest. Most people had retired by then, so we were the only ones on the trails. The kauri trees towered over us as we wound our way through the forest and along the boardwalks built to protect the kauri roots. The moonlight shone through the trees, and we even saw a couple of glowworms on an upturned stump.
As we were making our way back, we heard a rustling, and my headlamp illuminated a brown kiwi just off the path. My first words were, “IS THAT A KIWI?!” I couldn’t believe that this elusive and endangered wild bird was mere feet from me. It was so much bigger than I expected, over a foot tall. We stood in awe and watched it walk into the woods and begin snuffling about for food. There are many New Zealanders that never get to see a kiwi in the wild, so I can’t even express how lucky we were to have that experience. It was pure magic.
The next day dawned as beautiful as the last, but I had to depart early to drop my car back off on the east coast in Kerikeri, and I couldn’t underestimate the drive this time.
Here’s a picture of the bush walk entrance by day.
Thank you, Trounson Kauri Park, for giving me the experience of a lifetime.
I’m glad I left as early as I did, since the road east was unpaved for about 20 miles. Because I had to drive so damn slow, I managed to take some shots of the road. I hardly passed any cars, but there sure were plenty of cows and sheep.
I’ve never been so happy to see pavement as I was after this drive.
From Kerikeri, I caught a bus to Auckland and turned in early that night. My flight out was at 6:30 am the next day, so I left my hostel before sunrise and passed a lot of drunk people returning from their night out. We took off as the sun rose over Auckland, and I was in Wellington earlier than I even wake up most mornings.
Here’s a map of my trip. The black line marks my journey from Auckland all the way up to the tip of Cape Reinga, then back down again. New Zealand never ceases to amaze me with its variation and jaw-dropping beauty around every turn in the road. I can’t wait for the next great adventure!