New Zealand seems to lack imagination when it come to place names. Northland is not surprisingly the northern part of the North Island. And it is more stunning than the unimaginative name would suggest.
Planning has become something of a dirty word for us so we pretty much picked our campsite halfway through our first day. Prior to that we had ventured towards the coast and encountered some stunning scenery and amazing roads.
After stopping at a Honey Shop complete with a huge glass walled hive we eventually settled upon a Department of Conservation camp site at Puriri Bay, Whangaruru, which was located right at the end of a small piece of land jutting out into the South Pacific. It took some getting to with around 30km of winding mountain roads but it was worth it. The site was right on the beach and we shared the camp site with around 30 other campers.
After quickly erecting our tent we cooked our first camp meal and as darkness set in we headed out to search for the elusive Kiwi (the bird, not the people with funny accents). Sadly we found none but we did hear them. What was noticeable in the darkness however is the amazing number of stars visible here in the southern hemisphere. I stood and gazed for what must have been an hour in total, including a good ten minutes during a 3am toilet visit.
In the morning we packed up and continued north via the Bay of Islands. We didn’t bother with a boat trip and were quite happy with the lovely view from the shore. A spur of the moment visit to some sort of country fayre resulted in the purchase of some superb gluten free biscuits and as we munched our way through both packets we headed even further north whilst trying to decide where to camp.
We again decided on a site right out on a limb at Maitai Bay. This was a busier camp site but the beach was absolutely stunning. Unfortunately we didn’t get a picture but the swimming was great fun battling with the waves. At times the waves were rivaling Nha Trang in Vietnam.
During the evening a Kiwi camping across from us came over and offered us his leftover crayfish, which he and his son had dived for during the day. They caught 8! It seems crayfish here are about 10 times larger than in the UK. And it tasted incredible. As we ate he gave us some good advice for our next day. Our plan originally was to head to the most northerly part of New Zealand, but news from the camp warden of the arrival the next day of Cyclone Wilma caused us to change our plans and head back south.
When we woke at 7am the next day the weather was already turning. We hurriedly packed the tent away as the rain and wind started to arrive. As we left the camp site other campers were also rushing to pack up and leave. The rain would continue all day non stop.
Our quickly assembled plan was to travel south of Auckland and find a hostel. Hamilton seemed the best place to head for. We were making good progress and by mid morning we were halfway to Auckland when the engine management light of our Hyundai Getz came on. We called the car hire company and after faffing around trying to find us a garage they eventually asked us to return to Auckland to swap cars.
By around 4:30 after battling the Auckland bank holiday traffic (research would have helped!) we eventually swapped the Getz for a larger and more comfortable Nissan Sunny.
(New Car / Old Car)
The day however refused to improve and when we phoned a hostel in Hamilton they advised us we wouldn’t find any accommodation as a big music festival was taking place. So we resorted to sticking a pin in the map and then looking in the guidebook to see if any accommodation was listed. After 3 failed attempts we hit upon the Karangahake Gorge which had one Guest House listed. We called and they had room. We eventually arrived at 8pm.
Despite the setbacks we remain staunch believers in our “seat of the pants” style of travelling and the Golden Owl Lodge is a fine example of why. We will probably struggle to find a more welcoming Guest House or Hostel. John and Judy who run Golden Owl were fantastic hosts and the location in the gorge turned out to be absolutely amazing.
(Golden Owl Lodge…which is for sale if anybody fancies buying a lovely guest house in a stunning location)
After 2 nights in a tent the comfortable beds and brilliant shower were so welcome.
The next day the bad weather was still lingering so we decided to explore the area by car and then go on one of the walks in the gorge in the afternoon. Just up the road was Waihi Town where a huge open cast gold mine is located. We battled the strong winds to get to the viewing platform.
We then drove north up the coast and watched some guys making the most of the large waves to do some surfing.
(me explaining the finer points of surfing to Claire……DOOOOOOOOD)
After a quick lunch we prepared for our walk.
The Karangahake Gorge was once a busy mining town and a complex mine was dug in the hills and the gorge to extract gold. The mine was abandoned many years ago but now some of the mine has been turned into a number of walking trails. The trails utilise old mining tunnels and ledges which makes for an absolutely stunning walk.
(the view from a window in tunnel on one side of the gorge overlooking a walkway on the other side)
(looking back from the walkway to the windows in the tunnel opposite)
We decided to venture from the walking trails to try one of the tramping trails (hiking and thus harder terrain). We climbed a steep rugged hill through forest and then descended to a stream crossing. Sadly the heavy rains had turned the stream into a raging torrent. After considering our chances of making it across we made the sensible decision to return the way we had come.
In the evening we cooked chickens whilst I chatted to a young English couple and Claire planned our next location…Rotorua.