A Breezy Bay of Islands…

We woke up to a beautiful sunny morning on our third day in New Zealand, after staying the night at Auckland’s Westhaven Marina. Once we’d showered in the visitor’s shower block we powered up Fred (our campervan) and headed up the Twin Coast Discovery Highway towards Northland. Our plan for the next couple of days was to explore the Bay of Islands, famous for its beaches, clear blue seas and offshore islands, but we had a couple of stops to make along the way!

Our first stop wasn’t particularly glamorous – Fred had been having a problem with his fridge (i.e. didn’t work properly) so we took him to the Auto Electrical Doctor who checked all of his connections. The culprit was deemed to be a very frayed and loose wire, which was quickly replaced, enabling us to continue our journey.

We then drove to Takapuna beach where we took a walk along the rugged coast. The coastline here was transformed by the eruption of the Pupuke Volcano which can be seen just a few kilometres out to sea. The basalt lava flows from Pupuke covered the entire area, much of which was forest and today you can see lava moulds of the trees that used to exist along the shoreline. The largest of these moulds is of a giant Kauri Tree, a few hundred metres up the coast, now protected by a metal grill.

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Once we’d finished our walk at Takapuna we continued to drive north along the East Coast. The road wound past lush green hills, lakes and forest – stretching our poor camper van to the limit with really steep twists and turns!

After a few hours drive and a brief lunch stop we reached the town of Whangarei. Here, we took a short walk to Whangarei Falls – a beautiful 26metre waterfall cascading over an ancient basalt lava rock wall.

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Soon, we continued the drive northwards towards the Bay of Islands until we reached the ‘gateway’ town of KawaKawa. The main attraction here is the vibrant Hundertwasser Toilets – this may seem slightly bizarre, but the toilets are the pride of KawaKawa and were designed by legendary Austrian architect and ecologist Freidrich Hundertwasser who lived in the town. These public facilities are made from brightly coloured ceramic columns, tiles and recycled bottles and certainly make a nice change from the usual drab amenities you find in most towns!

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When we finally arrived at Paihia the weather had taken a turn for the worse. We had been told that a tropical cyclone was on its way to the North Island and we’d timed our arrival in the Bay of Islands just perfectly – right in the middle of it! In fact, we couldn’t actually see any of the islands in the bay at all due to the thick, low clouds that were obscuring them. Nevertheless we wanted to make the most of our time here so tried not to let the wind and rain dampen our spirits!

We parked up along the beachfront for the night, after being shooed away by a security guard who caught us trying to hide Fred behind a hedge. That night we cooked a meal of bangers and mash, washing it down with a glass of red wine as we listened to the waves crashing outside.

The next morning we woke up to a damp and hazy Paihia, but this didn’t put us off any of our plans for the day (despite one of our plans being a three hour walk through a forest). Fred, on the other hand, had a completely different plan to us –he didn’t want to go anywhere! He refused to start, no matter how many times we turned his key, and we were forced to call out the AA to get him going! Richard thought that it was probably all down to the damp and that he’d simply need drying out.  He was right and luckily, it didn’t take too long for the AA to kick Fred into life and we were soon on our way!

Once we’d thanked the AA man we drove to the nearby Waitangi Treaty Grounds. This is an important site in New Zealand’s history as it is where the treaty between the Maori and the British was first signed. The treaty was an important step in forming a united New Zealand and ensuring that European settlers and Maori tribes could live together in harmony under British rule, with Maori retaining ownership of their own land. We decided that we would watch a Maori cultural performance at the visitor centre later that day, but first took our 3 hour walk to Haruru Falls via a track that starts at the Treaty Grounds and winds through Mangrove Forest towards a pretty horseshoe shaped waterfall.

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Once we’d reached the waterfall we walked all the way back through the forest to the Treaty Grounds and managed to catch the 1.30pm Maori Cultural Performance.

It was a great insight into Maori culture and we were treated to some traditional songs and dances as well as being able to join in ourselves! I had to get up on stage and try out some moves with a swing ball, whilst Richard was taught the basics of the world famous Maori Warrior’s Haka dance!

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That afternoon we gave into the guide book recommendations and ate fish and chips by the sea! It reminded us very much of a day by the English seaside- windy and rainy (with a bit of a tropical twist!) but the food was absolutely gorgeous!

Once we had eaten we stripped off and headed straight for the sea. It was absolutely freezing but the waves were too tempting to ignore! We then checked into a nearby campsite (Falls Motel) which had the most amazing view – we were parked right opposite the Haruru Falls that we had walked to earlier!

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We settled down for the night, cooked ourselves some spaghetti bolognaise then went to bed, looking forward to another busy road trip the next day!

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