We skipped through Auckland on the freeway and when stopping off to check out a boat ride we found Ray’s dream stop. We met up at a marina with an English couple we had met walking and they told us about this site with free camping surrounded by hundreds of boats. I wasn’t keen but I must admit I did enjoy the passing parade of boats and then the light show of sunset and city lights over the harbour.
The trip up the coast gave us a mixture of walks with some showcasing the coastal scenery with its variety of eroded rocks and inland waterfalls which we always seemed to visit with the sun in the wrong direction.
I love the way the Kiwis not only don’t ban adventurous things but actually gives signs and leaflets telling you how to take step outside the boundaries with just a warning sign saying it’s at your own risk. In this case we visited a number of caves in the Whangarei area with our maps telling us where to find them, how long they are and how deep the water would be. We chickened out of one when the water went above our knees but then in the last one we could see the light at the end as the water got deeper so we ended up waist deep rather than retreating. Another we did retreat from as the jumbled rocks to climb out through looked more difficult than going back 60m. There weren’t any great formations but there were glow worms and it was much more fun finding our own way through the dark than following a guide.
Mountains are always looked for to provide views but of course that means climbing up lots of steps (when it’s a well made path) and then enduring knee jarring descents. They’re always worth it though especially when you are looking down over glorious harbours as from Mt Manaia.
We visited The Hole in the Rock the non tourist way when we reached the Bay of Islands. Instead of taking a boat trip we walked out to the cape (where we couldn’t actually see the hole but that wasn’t why we went). It turned out to be the hardest one day walks we have done so far and we did it twice – out and back. It wasn’t so much the length (17km) but combined with the terrain. We began by climbing to the top of the ridge which was okay but then we continued to yoyo up and down for the rest of the walk. We celebrated if we got 100m of flat walking. Then we finished with the steepest climb of the lot to finally arrive at the lighthouse only to discover the hut was 200 vertical metres below. It was worth it for the grand ocean and cliff views at the end and on the way out, though Ray says he’s not so sure.
There were yet more bays, beaches, peninsulas and harbours as we travelled up the east coast each with their own glorious views. We enjoyed Whangaroa Harbour with the climb up St Pauls rock to see the harbour on three sides and Mahinepua beach and peninsula for a lovely underrated walk and Rays favourite campsite with a magnificent sunrise to top it off. Coca- cola lake near Matai Bay lived up to its name.
We finally reached the last leg of Northland with the trip to Cape Reinga. We had stops to admire a staircase made out of one Kauri log and a side trip that gave us the sight of two dogs moving a mob of sheep along the road by themselves, not a human in sight. At the top were the hordes of tourists heading out to the lighthouse and then the hordes of mosquitoes at the campsite to make a change from the usual sandflies.
After the ten days it took to come up the east coast we went back down the west in three. Instead of the numerous bays and headlands it has two enormous beaches and two very large harbours. We found some nice scenery around Hokianga Harbour and then passed through the forest with the largest remaining Kauri trees.
We finished by revisiting the wild west coast out of Auckland. Muriwai gave us a gannet colony that Ray was pleased to enjoy for free and then we returned to Piha for some different walks. Whatipu was our final stop with more rocky landscapes and a vast beach as well as caves that were sculpted by the sea a long time ago and are now a kilometre inland.