Exploring the Northland - Just me, myself and I

on October 06, 2010

Last weekend I spontaneously decided to go on a trip. The last bigger one has been a while. Wasn't sure yet though where to go so I found some Couchsurfers in the Northland region, texted two of them and thought - if one is answering me on such short notice, this is where I'm going to. Took only an hour until Graham told me he'd host me. He lived on Karikari Peninsula about half an hour northeast of Kaitaia so I took my Lonely Planet and wrote myself a trip itinerary.

Since I spend the night at Gritje's place who lives close to Highway 14 that leads to Dargaville this is where I was starting at. My first stop was Baylys Beach on the West Coast.



According to the Lonely Planet it belongs to Ripiro Ocean Beach which stretches along the West Coast for as much as 100 kilometers. It's a nice spot, there were some people on horseback enjoying the sand and others on motorbikes. You can also drive along the beach in your car but should only do so if you have a 4WD. So I stayed at the edge where the road just ended and the sand was still hard and firm. It's said to be New Zealand's longest drivable beach and there are supposed to be many shipwrecks just off the coast.

Maybe half an hour north along Highway 12 are three freshwater lakes called Kai Iwi Lakes.



It didn't look as nice as the guidebooks said when I was there but then it's not summer yet. It might also have looked a little rough because there was a lot of construction work going on. A lot of the pine trees along the shore had been taken down probably because they were too old and about to fall down. Also for that reason the campsite at Lake Taharoa, the biggest of the three, is closed until further notice.

Leaving the lakes going further north I eventually entered Waipoua Forest. It houses some of the oldest and largest Kauri trees in New Zealand. The road winds through the forest for about 18 kilometers - most of the time you can't go faster than 30 or 40 kilometers an hour because it is so steep and windy that everything above that would throw you off the edge.

There are a lot of walks you can do in the forest and signs will lead you off the Highway to any of them. The shortest I did was to see Tane Mahuta - the Giant Kauri.



It might not look like it because the picture lacks another object to compare sizes... But this tree is more than 50 meters high and the trunk's girth more than 13 meters. Yet, the most impressive fact of Tane Mahuta (The Lord of the Forest): It is probably more than 2000 years old!!! That makes it the oldest Kauri tree in NZ.

This giant stands at the northern end of Waipoua Forest. Further south is a lookout and a carpark from where several other walks lead, such as the Four Sisters - four giant Kauri trees grown rogether at the bottom - or Te Matua Ngahere (The Father of the Forest), the widest living Kauri.

You can also stop at Trounson Kauri Park just half an hour inland from the Highway. There is an easy half-hour loop walk starting from the car park that leads you through the forest. I even saw a wetter there - one of New Zealand's ancient bugs. They are quite huge, look a bit like a long-legged spider with antlers... NASTY!!! Wouldn't want to come across those in the wild...

After tiring myself out with all those walks I kept going north to Hokianga Harbor. At Opononi I saw this huge sand island (or was it just the other side of the harbor?)...



Later I was told by my host family that you can do all kinds of fun stuff over there: sandboarding (which I've done in Australia and absolutely enjoyed!), hire a quad, ... So I will definitely go back there later on.

In Rawene, a cute little seaside town, I took the ferry over to Kohukohu which cost me 16 dollars but saved me lots of driving time and petrol. Via Highway 1 I made my way up north via Kaitaia to Karikari Peninsula. To some of you that might sound familiar - that's where those 60 and more whales stranded just a few weeks ago ;-(

Finally arrived at my couchsurfer's place who took me to a family BBQ. Turned out to be what we called a "United Nations Barbeque" cos there were so many nationalities present! Besides me there was another German couchsurfer and two German girls woofing, two Czech couchsurfers, lots of Maoris, one "true" Kiwi, one with Irish ancestors, one Samoan and a little boy who was half Australian. What a mix =D



Sunday started rather lazy as we all didn't get much sleep. Were eating and drinking and talking until sometime in the morning *lol* The boys were thinking about going to Cape Reinga or collect some mussels at a nearby beach. I was happy to join them no matter what - but they just couldn't make up their minds! And I'm still too much German to just sit around and "go with the flow". Besides I had to be back in Whangarei in the evening and didn't want to waste my time just hanging around doing nothing. So eventually I took off again on my own.

Stopping at a few beaches I made my way back home along the East Coast.



This beautiful beach is called Cable Bay and belongs to Doubtless Bay - a popular spot for boat trips, fishing, diving, dolphin sightings...

In Kerikeri I stopped at the town basin and visited Rewa's Village.



It's the replica of a Pre-European Maori Fishing Village that also houses the Discoverers Garden with lots of indigenous plants. There is a 5 dollar entrance fee which is alright I guess. You get to watch a 12 minute video first that tells you about the early English settlements in the region and the interactions between Pakeha (White people) and Maori.

My last stop before heading home and getting ready for our weekly Sunday dinner was Kawakawa. There's nothing really there as it's just another small town. However, they do have one thing that's worth visiting - a TOILET!!!



Art fans among you might have recognised the typical design. And yes, you are right. The public toilets in Kawakawa are made by Friedensreich (Friedrich) Hundertwasser! In 1997 the Austrian architect was asked to design and build those. Since he'd been working on projects in New Zealand before of course he didn't say no to this one either.

By the way - did you know Hundertwasser became a Kiwi (a New Zealand citizen) in 1986? He's also buried in New Zealand - somewhere near Kawakawa where he had purchased a farm. The toilets were one of his last projects to finish.

You'll find more pictures of my trip on Facebook.

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