Since we’d seen the southern part of the South Island, we figured we should also see the northern part of the North Island (Northland). We split the long drive from Waitomo into two parts, stopping in the small city of Whangārei for a couple of nights before heading up to the small town of Kaitaia.
Neither Whangārei nor Kaitaia offer much of interest. The main attraction in Whangārei was an admittedly-nice waterfall. We also visited a Kauri tree reserve. Kauri trees are enormous trees native to Northland. They can live up to 2500 years. Sadly most have been logged, and there aren’t many mature ones left.
The small town of Kaitaia is far smaller and more remote than Whangārei. We chose to stay there only because it’s the jumping-off point for a day tour that we’d booked. The tour, on a custom off-road bus, took us up to Cape Reinga at the northern tip of the North Island. To get there we drove up Ninety Mile Beach, which is legally a state road (and is only 55 miles long, not 90). This was novel, and I appreciated the respite from my usual driving duties.
Along the way we stopped to “sandboard” – riding boogie boards down a sand dune. Lauren and I elected to spectate, letting the kids try it out. The experience was not a success, and neither was my attempt at filming it.
After recovering from sand boarding and eating a picnic lunch at a blustery beach peppered with poisonous bluebottle jellyfish, we visited Cape Reinga. Maori believe that spirits depart from Cape Reinga to travel to the underworld, and as such it is a holy place.
The tour gave us a better understanding of the largely-rural life in Northland, and especially this part known as the Far North.
The Far North is also home to the Bay of Islands, a popular vacation destination for Aucklanders. The weather wasn’t all that great during our stay in the Bay of Islands, but we got the gist of it from our base in the summer tourist town of Paihia. Paihia is set up for hordes of tourists, and since we visited in the dead of winter (rain and 55F – no snow) we just about had the place to ourselves. The town wasn’t completely empty, and we learned that an older couple from San Francisco were staying in our hotel. They were in town when the country entered lockdown in March, and decided to stay rather than risk going back to the US.
In addition to summertime diversions like beaches and boats, the Bay of Islands is home to an important bit of New Zealand history: the Treaty of Waitangi. The treaty is an agreement between the British crown and 500+ Maori chiefs, and is treated as the founding document of New Zealand.