We left Rona, Dave, and Rufus at 4.45am this morning. The tears in the taxi eventually stopped, re-started in the check-in queue, and were set off again somewhere over central Australia. Although we are on our way to Bangkok for 5 weeks of exciting travels, I admit my heart is still in New Zealand with my sista, but hopefully by the end of this 15 hour journey I’ll be ready for the new!
The fam, love these guys!
After finishing up work, we have had the best final 2 weeks in NZ that we could ever have asked for, making the most of every day in this beautiful place!
Goodbye to the dream team of Auckland Council Resource Consents!
First trip was to the aptly named Donut Island in the Coromandel (a small rocky island with a circular hole in its centre accessible via an elusive side entrance). A 5-hour round trip led us to Whangamata, where we hopped on the stand-up-paddle board à deux, kayaked to the island and found the entrance which would lead us to to the inner circle of this local secret. It did not disappoint, and turned into quite the timing challenge as we had to carefully choose our moment to both enter and leave so as to not find ourselves thrown to the side of the tunnel walls by the outgoing tide. We considered a nearby walk to finish off the day, but when Adrien suggested driving back to Auckland and having a Ben & Jerry’s on the beach in Takapuna it seemed like the obvious choice. A perfect end to a great day!
In the centre of the donut
We quickly found a buyer for our car, which left us with no option but to hire a camper van for a trip up north with friends from France, to the Whangarei region and the nearby Tutukaka coast (officially my favourite place in the whole country!). However, the van booking had a complication and we ended up losing a day from what we had arranged. No matter- we decided to splash out on a dolphin and whale watching experience in Auckland! This is something we would never have agreed to do a few months ago, but after 11 months of taking fairly frequent ferry journeys and hoping every time that ‘THIS time we would see dolphins or orca in the water’ (it felt like everyone we knew had been lucky enough to see them) we had to admit defeat and go on the organised safari. It was a very cool experience, but we didn’t manage to see any whales. We did, however, see hundreds and hundreds of dolphins, as far as the eye could see! It was such a beautiful sight. The weather wasn’t great that day, the sea was so choppy we couldn’t stop the boat to have a good look at these gorgeous creatures, so the crew gave everyone on board a voucher to come back for free (spoiler alert- we went again 6 days later, still no whales! One of us is definitely bad luck!).
That evening we joined Lucie and Sylvain up north near Whangarei. The first day was a chilly and rainy one, so we took the opportunity to (re)explore the nearby caves. They all have something different to offer, are off the beaten track and therefore crowd-free! Waipu Cave is an easily accessible glow-worm galaxy, and the Abbey Caves offer 3 caves to explore, all three narrower and further into the earth than Waipu. Here we did Middle Cave (a good first-time cave experience, quick and easy with glow-worms aplenty) and Organ Cave (a geologist’s dream) with tiger-like orange and black striped rock patterns, organ pipe-shaped stalactites, and a tiny tunnel leading to waist-deep water to wade through and spot the local wildlife: the eels (I realise this may sound like some people’s idea of hell- I promise it was super fun!).
The sun began to come out later in the day, so we headed to the Tutukaka Coast. We walked over the headlands of Matapouri Bay to Whale Bay, and enjoyed an apero of wine, chips and dips while watching the most gorgeous sunset.
On day 2 of the trip we had absolutely perfect weather- finally! We drove to the Whangarei Heads peninsula and did the Ocean Beach Headlands 9km walk. This was without a doubt my favourite walk I have done in NZ, and that is saying a lot! It just had everything- quintessential dense Kiwi bush of Ponga ferns and Kauri trees, tricky sections where you have to scramble over rocks and pull yourself up with tree roots, well-maintained wooden staircases to balance out the scrambling, the perfect lunching spot at the the top of a boulder which required minor abseiling up and down, and 360 degree views of the surrounding bays and hills.
It’s always time for a scorpion on a cliff edge… right? (Sorry Mum, it looks more dangerous than it really was, promise!)
We said our goodbyes to Lucie and Sylvain at the end of the walk, and saw them off on their own month-long NZ adventure (so jealous!). Adrien and I drove back up north a little, where the following day we went scuba diving at Poor Knights Island (my first time breathing underwater- equal measures of strange and cool!). It’s something Adrien has wanted to do all year, so we were both really glad to do it, but for him he found the temperature just that bit too low to be really enjoyable (both for feeling the cold and the lack of marine life), and I’m unconvinced that scuba diving = better views of the fishies. However, I was lucky enough to see a big eagle ray chilling on the sand at 12 metres depth, which was very cool. I had a bit of a rocky start; I found the technique practice on the water surface stressful due to the cold, the cumbersome and tightly-fitted equipment, and the choppy waves splashing in my mouth every time I tried to explain what I was struggling with, but once I was underwater and able to breathe normally I enjoyed the experience and felt great that I had tried something I was previously scared to do, and learnt a new skill!
Our last few days were centred around making the most of friends and fam, with a delish barbecue at friends’ on Saturday night and lunch at the Hallertau Brewery back in Auckland on Sunday with Dave & Rona. Hallertau is awesome, it’s a relaxed but bustling beer-garden atmosphere, and definitely makes it into my top 3 dining experiences this year. We went home and sunbathed in the garden (bliss after all the chilly days we’ve had this spring) and in the evening I went to a Lorde concert in her hometown of Takapuna with my lovely friend Cat from the Dancemania days! The next night we had a final goodbye dinner with friends made in and via our houseshare.
Rosy beer garden lighting
Short person problems at concerts- taking photos to be able to check later what was happening!
Goodbye dinner at Mexico
On our last day Rona and I had some good quality sister time, brunch at our fave cafe in Taka, and of course Adrien and I had the always-fun task of attempting to fit our lives into 38kgs of hold and cabin luggage each (a success!).
It’s hard to put into words how much I will miss this place, but the tears at dawn were overwhelmingly over the goodbyes with my sister and soulmate Rona (it’s ok, Dave and Adrien have accepted this!). The country itself has got under my skin, as I think it does for most people who visit. It’s an amazing and special place, where you feel so disconnected from a lot of the world’s problems and yet much more aware of the natural environment and oceans which surround you (and therefore the problems these face). I think this is partly due to how easy it is to find yourself alone in nature here, be it on a walk in the bush spotting an endemic species of bird or tree, on a beautiful beach, or deep in a cave; always so far from the madding crowd. I’ve always been an active person and loved the beach in summer and the mountains in winter, but I’ve come away from this year with a truly heightened enthusiasm for nature, walks, water sports, an appreciation of finding tranquil spots, and a much more ecological outlook on the world.
We will be back before you know it NZ, keep the Sav chilled for us!
Thanks for reading the New Zealand/South Pacific portion of this blog! I’ve had almost 4000 views from all around the world which is awesome, and definitely motivates me to keep going with this diary of our trip. Next instalment: Northern Thailand. See ya there!