Day 8: Cape Reinga-Kaitaia
There are a number of walking tracks around Cape Reinga and we had planned two days of hiking and sight seeing. The views the previous evening were amazing, so we had the camera charged and lunches packed, ready to explore historical Mauri sites and untouched landscapes along the northern shore of New Zealand. However, we awoke to torrential rain and wind and our two day plan was out the window. We managed to find some signal to check the weather for the next few days; a storm warning was in place and was due to get much worse by early afternoon. We considered chancing a short walk, but with the camper struggling against the wind, we took the safer option and headed back down south to Kaitaia which was the closest town, 111 km away. On the way down from Cape Reinga we wanted to drive along ’90 mile beach’ which stretches along the west coast. It is officially classified as a highway (and actually 55 miles long), and is known for it’s beautiful sunsets. Truth be told we just wanted to have the craic and drive along a beach, however, because the weather was shocking, we skipped this and instead had a library day in Kaitaia to start our visa process for Australia.
We headed for the campsite once the library had shut as the wind and rain was relentless. We hoped weather would die down by the next morning, so we could potentially head back to 90 mile beach.
We travelled 15 minutes south of Kaitaia to Raetea North Side Campsite which we had stayed at a few days previously. We were greeted by the resident chicken which hops around from each camper looking to steal food. Luckily for the chicken, Roisin had her fed handsomely.
Day 9: Kaitaia-Ohaeawai
We were starting to get sick of the sound of rain and wind, which hadn’t stopped for 24 hours. As the bad weather continued, we had another library day, continuing our visa applications and downloading movies, TV series and music off the free WiFi. Whilst it was a bit annoying to be in the library instead of exploring New Zealand, it was a good excuse to get on with our application which we would have to complete at some point.
The weather was due to improve from the next day so we headed further down the road, planned the remainder of our week, and chilled out for the evening.
We stopped for the night at Te Corner, Ohaeawai which was a car park that could hold 6 campers. There were public toilets accross the road and we had company in a resident sheep. It is quite close to the main road, but the village is so quiet there was no noise overnight.
Day 10: Kaitaia-Kauri Coast-Whangarai
The weather picked up and for the first time in two days we could go out adventuring. We headed west along the Kauri coast, home to the world’s largest and oldest Kauri forests. We had great coastal scenery along the drive and stopped off at Waimamaku reserve, and went on a couple of short walks and took in the beautiful lake view to our right and sea view to our left.
Next, we headed towards Waipoua forest, with the aim of seeing one particular tree. ‘Tane Mahuta’ known in English as ‘God of the Forest’ is one of the oldest and largest trees in the world standing at 51 meters high and a girth of 13.8 meters. It is thought to be between 2000-2500 years old. The tree is sacred and famous in Mauri culture. Waipoua forest is huge and there and ample amounts of walking trails that can be navigated.
After lunch, we headed to Whangarai. We missed out on climbing Mount Manaia due to the weather last week, so hoped that we could fit it in this time round. It was early evening when we got to Whangarai so we headed straight for the campsite. We ate dinner overlooking the lake and hoped the weather would hold up so we could hike the following morning.
We decided to stay at Parua Bay campsite again as the facilities are great and it has a gorgeous view over the coast. Although the weather had improved well, we didn’t take into account the grass parking spots would be wet. When we pulled in the van started to sink so Bernard quickly hoped out to give it a push whilst Roisin hit the accelerator. End result was the van got out but to the detriment of Bernard’s clothes that got covered in muck..
Day 11: Parua Bay-Mount Manaia-Gulf Harbour
We were delighted to wake up to bright day with no rain so we headed 30 km southeast of Whangarai to Mount Manaia, in the centre of the Whangarai heads. Mt Manaia is the remnants of a volcano that erupted 20 million years ago and stands at 420 m. There is one main route to the top with other tracks lopping around the mountain. The summit track, which is the one we did, had a paved track the entire way. It is advised that the track takes 2 hours return, but even with our inferior fitness levels, we managed the loop in 1.5 hours including stopping for photos. Although the summit was windy, we had brilliant views overlooking the Hauraki Gulf, Bream bay, and Whangarai harbour.
We took the afternoon in Whangarai to grab showers, restock on food, and top-up the van before heading south along the east coast to Gulf Harbour for our campsite.
We stayed at Laurie Southwick Parade in Gulf Harbour, which was our very first campsite in New Zealand. We planned to go to Rangitoto island the next day and this was the closest freedom camping site.
Day 12: Gulf Harbour-Rangitoto Island
There are two main islands in the Hukari gulf, Rangitoto island and Waiheke island. Both are unique and offer different experiences. Rangitoto island is a dormant (likely extinct) volcano which homes no more than 60 people. There are only toilets and a few houses on the island, with nowhere to access food. Private transport can be pre-booked but this is very limited. The only activity on the island is walking/ hiking. The island is accessed via ferry ($36 return pp) from either Auckland or Devonport which takes 25 minutes, and has two sailings per day. The last ferry leaves at 15:30, so if you’re not off the island by then you are stranded. Waikeke island is the opposite of Rangitoto and its most popular activity is wine tasting, followed by adventure sports, art crawls, and beaches. Return tickets cost $42 return pp and there are many hotels on the island to stay over. Despite the appeal of wine tasting and surfing, we went for Rangitoto island.
We got to Devonport at 09:20am to catch the 09:25 am ferry. Rangitoto island has a number of tracks that can take you straight to the summit, around the coast, or connects you to Motutapu island. We started at Rangitoto Wharf taking the McKenzie bay track along the coast. This allowed us to see the lava caves, volcanic crater, and access the summit track later in the day when it would be less busy. The tracks were all surrounded by rocks covered in ash. There is very little shade, so water and sun cream are essentials.
The McKenzie track including the lava caves, summit loop, and lunch took us 3-4 hours. The tracks are fairly easy, with a gradual incline to the summit (259 m high). 100 m below the summit is a huge, perfectly oval, volcanic crater, now laced in greenery. The island was used by the army during WW2 as a lookout over the Pacific ocean. Scattered ac cross the island and on the summit, are remnants of shelters and equipment used by the forces that were left on the island. We got a panoramic view at the summit and luckily got a clear day. After lunch we headed down to two of the seven lava caves on the island. Lights and good footwear are essential as it is very uneven and the height of the roof can vary. It took about 15 minutes to navigate through the two caves and was a cool experience.
After four hours of walking we were content we had seen enough and caught the last boat off the island at 15:30. The day trip to Rangitoto was worthwhile and cool being on a volcano exploring. We headed back to the previous night’s campsite and chilled out for the evening before a trip to Auckland for the rugby the next day.
Laurie Southwick Parade in Gulf Harbour
Day 13: Gulf Harbour-Auckland
Today was the rugby match between Ireland and New Zealand, so we were keen to be in Auckland for the game. The rugby didn’t kick off until 23:15 so we used the day to catch up on laundry, cleaning the van, and beautifying ourselves until we headed out for the night. Freedom camping sites in Auckland are not existent and we had great difficulty finding somewhere reasonably priced to stay. We managed to find one paid camping spot near the Central Business District (CBD). It was a carpark overlooking the harbour and cost $20 for 24 hours which was decent considering the location. Showers were available on-site for $2.
We headed into town at 5 pm, stopping off at Domino’s for the $5 special, before heading to O’Hagan’s for the night. The place was wedged with Irish, drinks, music, and the craic reminiscent of home. Unfortunately, the rugby didn’t go our way but we had a great night in Auckland.
We stayed at Z-pier. This is for self-contained vehicles only. Toilets and showers are accessible 24/7 and it’s only a 20 minute walk from the central business district. It is $20 for 24 hours.
Day 14: Auckland-Eden park-Coromandel
After a disappointing result in the rugby against the all blacks, we decided to drown our sorrows by heading to Eden park, home of the all blacks. Eden park is an hour walk, or 20 minute bus ride from the CBD. We got our tickets ($40) on arrival and took a two hour trip around the stands, pitch, and executive boxes, and changing rooms, learning the history and philosophy of the All Blacks. Despite the slagging over the result, we had a great experience and would highly recommend anyone to go on the tour.
Late afternoon, we drove to Te Mata in Coromandel, a peninsula east of Auckland. We were 30 minutes up the west coast of Coromandel, but already had great costal views, and could see why everyone we spoke too raved about the place. We managed to freedom camp in Te Mata, overlooking the Firth of Thames bay. We had dinner, watched the sunset and planned our route for the next few days in Coromandel.
We stayed at Te Mata point reserve for the night. It had great toilet and park facilities, and was close to the town centre.
Thanks for reading,
Róisin & Bernard