A month has been spent settling into our new home and finding our feet in Takapuna, a charming beach side neighbourhood of Auckland’s North Shore, and fortuitously the area I always thought I’d like to live in. I was right! Takapuna is its own little town, with bars, restaurants, the beach, quick transport links into the centre, and a short drive to Rona and Dave’s. Our house is, as described by a native New Zealander (looking at you Jen), typically “Auckland” and shared with 3 other lovely flatmates.
Evening sun from the balcony
But 4 weeks staying in one place is definitely enough, so this weekend we felt it was time to escape city life and head out in our trusty Golf companion for a road trip. We drove the 5 and a half hours up to the very top of New Zealand (despite feeling like Auckland is already pretty far north, there’s actually 414km more of the Northland peninsula, and long distances just seem more commonplace here), where we were greeted by an endlessly starry sky and a free road side campsite.
In the morning we drove the final few kilometres to Cape Reinga, one of the most popular tourist spots in the country despite the long drive required from pretty much anywhere (luckily we were forewarned that the last place for buying essentials is around 90 minutes from the Cape). It being 8.30am, we were one of the few cars already there and ended up having the short walk to ourselves and being able to take in the view and the feeling of the place in total tranquility.
I say feeling because it was just that; it’s a very spiritual place for Maori culture, and the whole area has this incredible sense of quiet serenity clashing with the immense power of two great waters, the Tasman Sea and the Pacific Ocean, colliding together and creating visible criss-crossing patterns in the waves below. You have the sense of being at the edge of the earth, and it’s easy to see why Maori legend says this is the place where souls leave this life for the next, the word ‘reinga’ in the name meaning ‘underworld’. Even with the knowledge now of where we are on a map you feel that sense of being the furthest away you can be (somewhere between a spiritual and physical sense of the feeling), and when we look north there is empty, vast, nothingness except water all the way up to Siberia- that’s a lot of space for souls to fly free.
What goes up must come back down, so we began the descent and stopped off at some recommended sights on the way. An hour or so was spent climbing the giant Te Paki sand dunes, followed by a stop at the famous 90 Mile Beach.
90 Mile Beach is, funnily enough, a 66-mile stretch of beach which can be driven on at low tide- but never at high tide, for obvious reasons. Having somehow misunderstood Adrien’s instructions on tide charts, I believed the tide to be have been going out for just under an hour and so we drove down to the beach and parked close to the dunes in preparation for a wander (being the sensible and cautious folk we are, we weren’t going to risk driving so close to what I thought had been high tide).
Two guys arrived on the beach in their car just after us with a similar idea, but their simple jaunt to the shore quickly turned into a quasi-disaster as the gods of luck for some reason shone over us and not them: one sweeping wave lapped its way up to the dune, submerging the bottom part of their tyres in water and amazingly missing ours by around 5mm. We went over to help and tried the old “we’ll push you drive” trick but the wheels just spun in the sand and made things a whole lot worse.
Thankfully there is a campsite on 90 Mile Beach, whose kind owners came to the rescue in their pick up truck, only to find that the men’s hire car had no hook for towing. At this point, Adrien and I quickly drove our car off the beach after the campsite owners confirmed that the tide was indeed coming in and would be at the highest of high tides in half an hour, and thus saved ourselves some unwelcome and probably inevitable inconvenience. Just as we were darting back to help in any way we could, the hire car was being reversed at an impressive speed up the sandy track from the beach to the car park by the camp site owner, who had decided the “push and drive” technique would work if going backwards; we can safely assume it was not his first time rescuing an unexpecting tourist from near financial ruin (in car rental terms) and from losing a car to the Tasman.
The rest of the day involved a rainy trip to Maitai bay on the Kerikeri peninsula, another lonely gem of a find, and where we did some Stand-Up-Paddle boarding in the choppy waves. Photos of this challenge were taken and swiftly deleted, the battle between me and the sea resulting in some not so flattering squat poses as I tried (and failed, several times) with all my strength to steer against the waves.
We stayed at another free campsite, in a field just off the highway (but still maintaining complete peacefulness- ahh New Zealand) and in the morning visited a Kauri tree sanctuary.
We were far from the metaphorical beaten track (i.e it was a legitimate road the whole way, but for the entire 30km detour and hour’s walk we didn’t pass another human) and as we gazed at these giants of the forest I asked Adrien probing questions that come to mind in such moments of awe and solitude such as “what’s your favourite New Zealand tree?” (the answer is the Ponga tree, by the way, a relative of the palm tree, and mine is the Pohutakawa, or New Zealand Christmas tree).
Thanks for reading! It’s Easter weekend the one after next, so with our 4 days off we will definitely be heading out on another exploration of a far corner of the North Island. Another blog post is sure to follow!