350 Days on the Road
Let’s mix things up a bit! As you may know if you have ready any of our travels over this 365 Days: 365 Activities, that we like to travel super slowly. We self-drive and spend multiple days in each destination – all while packing our itinerary full of awesome activities, of course. But today, we are going on a 400+km journey all the way to the northern tip of New Zealand and back. It’s going to involve every kind of road found in New Zealand: gravel, tar-sealed, sand and streams. (Thinking about it, we wouldn’t want to take our car on this trip anyway). That’s right, today we are taking a bus trip to Cape Reinga and Ninety Mile Beach!
A trip to Cape Reinga with Fullers GreatSights
The Fullers GreatSights bus picks us up right on the doorstep of our Base Backpackers accommodation and we are welcomed by our friendly driver, Kevin. From there, we have a few more pick-ups around Paihia under the sunrise which is casting the most glorious pink colours across the cloudy sky, which reflects in the still waters of the bay. From here, we do one last pick-up in Kerikeri, then it’s time to hit the road to the Far North!
On-the-go commentary and delving into Puketi Forest
Kevin is on the microphone talking almost non-stop about each area we pass through, whether it’s to give more recommendations on places to visit, tell some history about the area, or to just give us a completely random fact. We pass rows and rows of fruit orchards as we make our way our of Kerikeri, that morning sun beaming between the trees, until we hit a gravel road and start travelling deeper and deeper into the Puketi Forest. The whole bus is cast in shadow and already it feels colder in the forested valley. With some nifty driving skills on the tight corners of the gravel roads, Kevin gets us to our first official stop of the day: a bush walk through the Puketi Forest.
In awe of the ancient kauri
We take the 10-minute Manginangina Scenic Walk which is entirely over boardwalk to protect the stand of New Zealand’s largest trees, the kauri tree. We arrive at a circular stand of kauri making us feel so small among these forest giants. We have been lucky enough to see a few kauri groves around New Zealand, but nothing as spectacular as this. These trees are more than 1000 years old! Despite there being probably thousands of other wild and wonderful plants and trees in the same forest, these giants really steal the show. We are just in awe of them.
A moment of appreciation for bus trips
Back on the bus, we are starting to feel the novelty of taking a bus trip – we don’t have to worry about driving, we learn heaps with the commentary along the way, and a whole itinerary is sorted for us! Not to mention the fact that we can both sit back and really take in the scenery, which now compromises of foggy forested valley until we get over a hill to rolling hills of lush green farmland. It’s amazing how quick the landscape changes.
Taipa Beach and fish n’ chips
We soon find ourselves travelling alongside the coast looking down on sleepy harbours with docked fishing boats. Kevin tells us the Maori legends of the area, pointing out the “Sleeping Warrior” merged into the hillside. Then it’s time for a refreshment and toilet stop at Taipa Beach – a picturesque golden-sand beach. The beach is deserted until we go check it out, while the majority of the bus grab some coffee from the hotel nearby. After a quick stroll on the beach, it’s back on the bus until our lunch stop in Houhora. Here, we use our lunch vouchers that we were given at the start of the trip to get ourselves a Kiwi classic, fish and chips, and eat them on a picnic bench by the beach. Seagulls threaten to take our lunch away from us, but we will not be fooled again, just like we were 344 days ago! (Yes, we still remember, and we are still scarred).
Feeling so small among the forest giants
Approaching the northern tip of New Zealand
It’s a quick look at the northernmost tavern in New Zealand before making the final leg of the journey to Cape Reinga! The farmlands gradually start to dissolve into the forested scenic reserves of the Far North. The bus rolls over hill after hill, capturing views of sand dunes in the distance – something we are going to have fun with later. At the top of one last hill, we have made it! Cape Reinga! A winding pathway leads down to the famous lighthouse seen at the end of the cape. We walk through an archway which motion-activated to perform the slow blowing of a horn, representing how Cape Reinga is the departing place for Maori spirits.
Oceans colliding and awesome scenery from Cape Reinga
Wonderful views are captured even before getting to the lighthouse. Pristine sandy beaches are broken up by dramatic pointy cliffs. We can also see offshore islands making the backdrop to one of the most bizarre but wonderful sights there is to see in New Zealand: the colliding of the Pacific Ocean and the Tasman Sea. The water breaks into waves creating a diamond shape and crashing against each other, the two colours of the sea/ocean merging.
After getting our obligatory photos at the Cape Reinga lighthouse, as well as the signpost pointing to various different cities around the world, we head on back up the hill and back to the bus for the next adventure of the day: driving on Ninety Mile Beach! Yes, this beach is an official highway of New Zealand, but one where you might just get stuck if you don’t know what you’re doing. Kevin even has to park up to go check out a gnarly section of stream on foot (to which he sinks quickly on one corner – a good place to avoid then).
Sand surfing on the sand dunes
The coach travels without a problem on the sandy Te Paki Stream surrounded by towering sand dunes. It turns out that these are the very dunes we are about to sand surf down now!
Kevin stops the bus and invites anyone who want to to join him outside where he is preparing some body-boards. After a quick how-to, we are taking the steep climb to the top of a sand dune and Kevin is helping Laura get into prime sand surfing position. (Unfortunately, Robin’s broken arm and sand surfing do not mix well, so he is sitting this one out). 3…2…1… Wahoo!!! Laura catches some speed and slides right across the stream at the bottom of the sand dune. She’s soaked but she’s stoked.
“I’m going again!” she says while she takes the torturous climb back up the dune.
The next time, and the time after that, she finds herself flying off the board into the sandy stream at the end. But three times is enough when you have to walk up a sand dune. She gets back on the bus sandy, wet but loving life.
A unique trip down Ninety Mile Beach
The bus follows the stream all the way out to Ninety Mile Beach – a vast desert of coast. We stop once along the way to do our beachy thing – get photos, write in the sand, jump in the sea (wipe all the sand off Laura from the sand surfing), then get back on the bus for the most unique bus ride we have ever experienced. Of course, Kevin is giving us the full commentary, including pointing out some of the New Zealand birds living on this coastline.
A break at the kauri showrooms and back to Paihia
Ninety Mile Beach is 88km long (55 miles – we know, false advertising or what?!) so we get plenty of time to enjoy the unique sandy highway experience until we are back onto the tar-sealed roads and head to Awanui. While Kevin is washing the bus, the rest of us get to enjoy the kauri showroom with creations such as a staircase built on the inside of the kauri tree trunk, as well as many spectacular furniture carved and polished out of the forests that have been dug up from the earth. (As Kevin explained, natural disasters buried forests in the area over New Zealand’s lifetime, meaning some kauri can be dug up from the ground!)
We also treat ourselves to an ice cream, then hop back in the bus for the final time as Kevin brings us back to Paihia. We just arrive back at the Base Backpackers by around 6pm. It’s been a big day but action-packed, that’s for sure! We are not being lured into the hostel bar tonight, but are hitting the sack as soon as possible! We’ll see you tomorrow for more adventures in the Bay of Islands!
Standing on the edge of New Zealand!
Have you read yesterday’s post about parasailing over the Bay of Islands? How about these articles?
- Northland – Guide for Backpackers
- 10 Loneliest Lighthouses in New Zealand
- 22 Stunning Beaches in New Zealand
See you tomorrow!