Trip Report - Bay of Islands (New Zealand)

Old May 7th, 2009, 11:04 PM
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Trip Report - Bay of Islands (New Zealand)

I'm determined to get this done, will put up a day at a time, I hope I don't bore anyone to death, but I wanted to record it anyway for my own enjoyment. Thanks for reading if you do, Lissa.


We arrived a little late at Auckland International Airport and after breezing through customs it was close to 11.30pm. We had booked at the Ventura Lodge through their website, and followed their instructions to ring on arrival for the free shuttle. This done we waited outside for about 15 minutes, the minibus to the hotel was packed solid, no spare seats.

A bit of a disappointment on arrival that the hotel had no record of our reservation, thankfully I had printed out the confirmation and we were given a ground floor room, which was a bit of a hike down two corridors. The room was spotlessly clean and relatively well appointed. $10NZ per day for wireless access if required. The hotel is situated in an industrial area adjoining the highway that leads to the airport. Brilliant location if you don’t need to go all the way into Auckland.


Continental Breakfast was included in the NZ$115 rate, so at about 8am the next morning we walked the distance back up to the front of the hotel. Breakfast was basic (toast/cereal & Fruit) but nourishing and it did the job. We then trekked back to our room to call the car hire company who had promised to pick us up from the hotel.

We called, and surprisingly they said they’d be out the front in 4 minutes. Needless to say we had to almost run back to the front of the hotel, and we were picked up and delivered to the ‘Your Way Car Rentals’ depot soon after where we picked up our lovely bright red Ford Mondeo $NSZ27/day.

On our way, and after only one wrong turn as we neared the harbour we made it over the bridge. I was quite stunned at how substantial the skytower was. I’d expected something long and thin (like Sydney’s centrepoint), however it is more stoutish in appearance.

The roads I have to say even by this stage we had remarked were wonderful, and we choose to go up the new toll road, but took our time, not really stopping but not rushing either.

We stuck with the main route to Paihia (Bay of Islands), and after missing the turn off at Pukehone and going on a side trip to a beautiful looking Mission House that was closed on Fridays, and a corresponding amble down some gorgeous country roads ringed by verdant green hills, we stopped at a café at the junction.

Here we learnt how to pronounce the name of our destination as the café had two signs up – ‘Paihia’ and ‘Pie Here’. I wish there had’ve been more signs like this as I found the trickiest thing about NZ the place names (and the $2 & $1 Coins – as an aussie they seemed logical but still – back to front).

We stopped at Haruru Falls on the way in, very accessible, and absolutely gorgeous, and not at all detracted from as they are small, houses and facilities ringing the lake below them created an idyllic picture, and we were also shocked (and very pleased) that there were no fences or anything up to stop you getting close if you wished.

Onwards we went taking the backroad, which we didn’t realise would take us on a dirt road (we thought we were lost) and then bring us up over a hill from which we had stunning views of what we assumed was Waitangi and Paihia, then down we descended, coming into Waitangi from what seemed a northerly direction and entering through the Golf Club which has a truly memorable location on the numerous headlands and inlets leading around to Paihia.

We paid our $20NZ per person each and entered the Treaty House. The inside of the house is just a museum with moderately interesting information relating to the Waitangi treaty, but what you are really there fore is the grounds. The Treaty house itself is a chamferboadish type single level residence (nothing overly ornate), and was originally only a three room dwelling for the Busby family. It has been added to etc etc, and a lot of the materials were shipped over from Sydney. The cottage garden at the front and side was stunning, but nothing compared to the view from the back (really the front) door, with sweeping views down past the flagstaff to the bay and over to Russell on the otherside.

To the left is the Maori Meeting House, with incredible carvings on the inside, however we couldn’t really enjoy it as it was full of about 60 people doing some kind of workshop. After a pit stop for camera batteries we walked down the path to see the Waka (Maori War Canoe). We were both really surprised to see the size of it, and could imagine how imposing these craft might have been in times gone past especially as they plundered across the smooth water full to the brim with Maori, ready for battle.

A walk on the beach (to collect rocks) and a slow walk back to our vehicle later, we discovered that our accommodation at the Copthorne Bay of Islands actually adjoined the treaty grounds… duh… so after a painless check in we were settled in our room by about 5.30pm.

After a not so special dinner at the La Scala Resturant ( I had the most awful oysters mornay and Kilpatrick that I have ever tasted – the mornay was just water with no taste, and there was so much worcstershire sauce on the Kilpatrick that you couldn’t taste a thing. The lamb shank was even worse – so hot (from the microwave) that it burnt my mouth and obviously reheated about 3 times it seemed. The wait staff were lovely, and really wanted to insist that we take the uneaten food with us (it was hard to refuse politiely). DH had the mussels and fish of the day, neither of which was great tasting and the fish of the day seemed as if it had been frozen.

Back to the hotel, and an early night. They’re not predicting good weather for Saturday though, and we were meant to be going sailing.
Lissa2905 is offline  
Old May 8th, 2009, 12:43 AM
Join Date: Jul 2003
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Great start Lissa, looking forward to the next installment.
Maudie is offline  
Old May 8th, 2009, 06:57 AM
Join Date: Jan 2003
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I'm enjoying your report Lissa. More please...
Melnq8 is offline  
Old May 10th, 2009, 07:48 PM
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Next Instalment - sorry for the delay, and deeply sorry that it waffles on so - Maybe i'll try to be more succint...
Thanks for reading, Lissa


Saturday dawned extremely overcast, and oh so windy, but we were still excited about our sailing trip, so we layered up and headed down for breakfast. We chose the scenic route across to the restaurant and nearly got blown away. It was pleasant to see that there were still quite a few people around at this time of year – the restaurant was almost half full.

The buffet was great, and eggs were cooked to order on demand, which I thought was wonderful, lots of lovely croissant, pastry and fruit. Geoffrey had kiwi fruit juice, which I thought was a bit strange (and an almost iridescent green colour), but he thought it was very tasty.

We took our time, and then headed over into Paihia to get on ‘Gungha’ for our sail – But it was not to be… We had corresponded by email with Mike the skipper, and called him yesterday on our way up from Auckland, and he had confirmed he was going today, but the bad weather had changed his mind, however he booked us onto a different boat – ‘Wild’ for a four hour trip tomorrow, as he had a group booking.

I was very very very disappointed, the weather was awful and it seemed it was turning into a miserable day. The only other thing we could really imagine doing today was a drive up to Cape Reinga (tip of the north island – but not the most northerly point). We asked the guy in the booking office about this, he didn’t recommend it, saying it would be awful weather up there and too long a drive (3.5 hours each way). Dejected we walked out of the office, headed back to the car, and promptly decided to do the drive anyway. By close on 10am we were on our way out of Paihia.

We decided that we would follow Highway 10 to Kaitaia on the way there and come back via highway 1, so we headed north. It was still raining quite heavily when we got to the Kerikeri turnoff. We’d heard a lot about the town and it seemed quite a bit larger than Paihia, so we thought that we’d do a quick drive through. Traffic was horrendous, it took us the best part of 10 minutes to get 2km down the road, but we persisted all the way down until we got to the famous ‘Stone Store’, the building was gorgeous old stone, and the wooden mission house next door just as striking with it’s waterfront location and seeming absolute serenity in the hectic 21st century world. The camera was getting wet so we headed off, and rejoined the highway on our quest northwards.

The road was well maintained, there was virtually no traffic, and we had an interrupted drive for the next hour or so. Then we started to crave coffee, and could see from the map that the road came out to the coast up ahead, and we hoped for a café across from the water (or any café really). It however was not to be – Cooper’s Beach was very beautiful, and the next town, Cable Bay even more so, but nowhere really to stop for coffee. We pulled over in Cable Bay and Geoffrey went to call the tour operators that went out to Cape Reinga from Kaitaia to see whether there was a later tour departing from there that we could get on. No luck there either as all tours left by about 9am in the morning. While he was on the phone I walked down onto the beach to take some photos. It was a beach with no sand so to speak, just crushed shells, but still incredibly soft. The water was very gently lapping it was just past high tide I’d say. I collected a handful of the crushed (but still distinguishable) shells, took what I hoped was some gorgeous and artistic shots of the tiny waves and shells, then with Geoffrey back we got back in the car and continued on. The next town ‘Taipa’ was wonderful viewed from the hill across the estuary. We were a bit sad that we didn’t have more time here, and could well have imagined spending a couple of days relaxing in the area, perhaps in a motorhome and in a bit better weather.

However, the weather had turned in our favour. By 11am we stopped seeing and driving through rain, and it was actually quite warm through our stop at Cable Bay. We were beginning to get very excited about the Cape, and the Giant Sandunes and 90 Mile Beach, and hoped that the good weather would hold out.

Another hour down the road (though lovely rural countryside and the most incredibly green rolling hills that I have ever seen – so so green) we reached highway 1 which leads out to the cape. Here at Awanui we found coffee and a snack – if we had’ve been a bit more sensible we would have got some food for lunch out at the Cape, but we were so keen to get there it just didn’t occur to us.

We continued and took the first left which led to ’90 Mile Beach’. We really didn’t imagine that we’d be able to get to the beach as everyone that we had spoken to had talked about how difficult access was. I’d liked the idea of driving on it in the tour, but as Geoffrey had said, it would get a bit much after 10 minutes or so, it would all be just the same.

We were surprised when we got to the end of the road that we could actually drive onto what looked a bit like a boatramp (rocks and cement raised off the beach) and from here we could see either way along the beach. It was striking, and to the right very very long, and quite wide really (I think the tide was low), there was a few four wheel drives that we could see, we went for a walk for a few minutes (the wind was incredible) and I managed to fall over getting to the sand (I could fall over anywhere). Geoffrey had trouble not laughing and when he appeared in front of me and I stumbled, half fell, hit some rocks and regained my balance (with my coffee in hand) he swallowed his laughter to say “Oh… Did you spill your coffee?” It was very funny.

Just then an old sedan came roaring down the beach towards us… Hang on… this is a four wheel drive beach only isn’t it??? Let see, so we hopped in the Mondeo, and we went driving on 90 Mile Beach and it was so much fun. We saw seagulls, and strangely ducks… When we got back to the ramp I got out to take a photo and Geoffrey roared away and did some ‘specialist driving’ shall we say… I got great video.

Back on the road now, which was mainly flat but meandering as we made our way up to Cape Reinga, About half way we passed through Houhora Heads, and from here the drive became very scenic in parts with striking coastal landscapes and still the most incredibly green pastures and hills. The out to the right the most spectacular view of what we were told was salt, stretching out pristine white on the horizon. This area was very isolated and there was few dwellings, eventually we did pass one which offered to rent out boards for riding the sand dunes, we stopped and for the exorbitant prices of $20 got what looked like a $30 bogey board for a day’s use.

At about 1pm we got to the Te Paki Sand Dunes (really really high sand dunes). We walked across the stream, which you can follow out to the ocean beacn (90 mile beach), but unfortunately we didn’t have time to do this this trip. The Dues were so steep. It was really hard going but one of the most spectacular things I have every seen in my life. All of a sudden it was like we were in the middle of the desert, and we were so high up. The wind was incredible, we could look up and see the sand visibly being moved in the direction of the wind, and you had no trouble then working out how the sand dunes had been formed.

We assume that the tours do the sand dune riding out on the beach, we’re not sure how far up they have to climb for their ride, but we decided to climb to the top. It looked a long way, and as I waited at the bottom as Geoffrey went first, I realised how far it was when he had to keep stopping and looked so small by the time he disappeared out of sight momentarily at the top. Then… Down he came, I took video, it looked so much fun, and he really built up speed. He was so exhausted from the climb up that he couldn’t stop laughing at the end and didn’t want to get up. He said the wind had been incredible up there, but he couldn’t quite see the coast but could see some water. He had sand he thought in every part of him.

Next… My turn. I don’t know how I made it to the top, I had lots of talks with myself along the way, but tenacity won out, and I think I almost crawled the last third of the way, using my left hand as a stock, as the board was under my right arm, and I was to scared to stand upright in case the board blew away and I had nothing to come down the hill on. It was so windy, and just as I reached the crest I could feel the temperature change (obviously the wind now coming off the water). It was exhilarating to have made it there, but It was a bit scarey to tell the truth. Geoffrey pointed me on a bit further, but I signalled that I was coming down. I lay down on the board and after a little push I was off. I was chicken at first and had my toes acting as brakes, but I realised I’d be okay, and slowly lifted them up and then I had the ride of my life. By the time I got to the bottom I too was laughing uncontrollably and had sand in every part of me (and will have for days I’d imagine). There was a point up the top when I wondered (as there were no signs or other people around) whether we were doing the right thing or were about to kill ourselves, but I’m so glad we did it. My only regret is that we didn’t have enough time to walk down the stream and out to the beach.

Back in the car for the last bit of the trip to the cape. It was about 3pm now, and we were going to run out of daylight in a few hours. It was remarkable to look back as we drove away and see the apparent line on the hill where trees stopped and the dunes started. I suppose they had to start somewhere, but to have it look that definitive was something to see.

Cape Reinga was not an anticlimax after everything that we’d seen on the way there. A great entrance to the top of the walk, and obviously a lot of work had gone into preservation of the area. A breathtaking walk around and down to the lighthouse (which was big and white and beautiful all by itself). Well documented Maori information along the way, and gorgeous views across and down and out over headlands and cliffs to the ocean. This is the point where the Tasman Sea and the Pacific ocean meet. We could actually see the difference in current at the meeting point, and what seemed from the distance like little peaks on waves meeting at an angle. It was one of the most serene places I can remember, and the views down to west coast were striking. There’s a camping area at ‘Pandora’s’ and we would so love to go back and spend three or four days walking around there, just absolutely beautiful. We walked back the long way, soaking up more and more of the great views, almost unable to believe we were seeing this.

We left the carpark at about 5.30pm and didn’t stop until we got back, overwhelmingly the roads were wonderful the whole trip. We drove the last 45minutes back to Paihia in the dark, but it was okay, especially since there were no kangaroos to watch out for (most aussies will know what I mean because in the country in Australia at night you are always on the lookout when you are driving).

We went straight to dinner at 35 Degrees in Paihia and had a gorgeously yummy meal. Big contrast to the night before. This restaurant (also called the aquarium I think) is right on / over the water at Paihia and the food was out of this world. I had the largest oysters I’ve ever seen and a steak which melted in my mouth it was so tender. Geoffrey had Salmon for his main and it too was well prepared. Self saucing min chocolate pudding for desert and I was done, such a huge day, we drove back to the hotel and looked forward to more adventures the next day.
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Old May 11th, 2009, 05:26 PM
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Sounds like a wonderful day Lissa, full of laughs. Weather wise it didn't start out great but you sure found plenty to do.
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