We flew out of Nelson on the South Island and began the North Island leg of our journey in Auckland. Amazingly, there was absolutely none, nada, zilch security screening on our flight to Auckland. That was a first for me in all of our travels. Even a tiny shit-ass airport in the back woods of Myanmar did some sort of screening of our bags prior to boarding the plane. It sure was nice to relive the innocent, good old days of ‘Trust’ that still exists in New Zealand.
Our 5 night stay in a condo downtown nearby the newly developed Britomart area enabled us to conveniently take in all the attractions in the city. One of our favorite activities was taking in a rugby match, eating stadium sausage dogs and hanging with the local rugby fans all decked out in their colors. Rugby players literally kick the shit out of each other and they play without pads or helmets. They are built like brick shit houses and are tough as nails. The last time I have seen legs as thick as these guys was during days of Earl Campbell. Amazingly, the players rarely go down with injuries. They play right through them….just like old time hockey. We bet $20 on the Blues at the TAB betting parlor prior to the game but unfortunately the local Blues came up a bit short.
If you are visiting New Zealand and are pressed for time, Auckland could be skipped. In my opinion, its best to preserve your days as there are many better places in NZ to spend your valuable time. However, if you do elect to experience Auckland’s city life and are an ice cream lover, then a visit (or multiple visits) to Giato is in order. Giato is hands down the best and most expensive ice cream I have ever had. Be prepared to cue unless you visit at an off hour. Yes, it’s worth the cue as the ice cream is on the money!
From Auckland, we opted to head north in the direction of The Bay of Islands. Our first stop was Whangarei as it looked like a good area to base prior to heading further north into The Bay of Islands. I was not impressed with the town itself but the treasures are outside of town. It is loaded with some great walks….rural, bush and coastal walks. In Whangarei, the walk alongside the river from AH Reed Park to Whangarei Falls, one of the most scenic waterfalls in all of New Zealand was nice. It was then onto checking out the beaches as we had been told the North Island was home to some of New Zealand’s best sandy white beaches. We headed outside of town to get our first taste as the coastline is loaded with more than 100 bays and beaches. The drive thru sweeping rolling green hills and valleys on one side and turquoise ocean on the opposite side was something out of a fairy tale. If someone asked me to describe New Zealand in just one word, I’d say “green”. It doesn’t matter where you go but you will surely see a lot of green. The drive up the eastern coast looks like one massive groomed golf course. Maybe, the North Island should just be renamed the Northland Golf & Country Club. I figure they can convert the entire countryside into an 18 hole course with lambs and cows as the obstacles instead of sand traps. I estimate each hole could be a par 1,000+ and take, let’s say, 6 months to complete the 18 holes. To get a better perspective of the scenery, it’s best to get off the main road and drive along the smaller side roads that run closer to the bays north of Auckland on the Northeast coast.
The best piece of advice I can dole out, is simply get in your car and drive and then drive some more and keep driving. Just when you think you’ve seen all the beauty it has to offer, there comes another mind blowing landscape around the corner. Flashpacking Barbie and I put on a continuous repeat loop of Terrapin Station (the 16 min. version was just not sufficient) and were good to go. While driving, a few deep thoughts and questions would continually cross my mind:
1) This has gotta be what the after-life looks like as everything looks just perfect.
2) The countryside is so beautiful and serene that not even a tool like Trump can possibly fuck up a place like this.
3) Whenever we pulled over to check out the cows, they looked at us in total bewilderment. I wondered if the cows grazing in the fields could possibly be tripping on the magic mushrooms growing right there in their own poo?
4) I kept thinking how great the sheep have it simply hanging in the fields grazing all day. They look so content and at peace. It may be a short life prior to getting turned into lamb chops but those first few years sure look good hanging in these green rolling fields with all of their buddies.
The first beach we hit up was the super impressive Whale Bay on the Tutukaka Coast, in the town of Matapouri. Whales Bay must go down as one of my favorite Kiwi beaches and I may have to include Whales Bay into my Top 10 beaches spanning the globe. It was really spectacular. There are a bunch of other beaches adjacent to Whales Bay skirting the Tutukaka Coast (i.e. Matapouri Bay, Wooleys Bay, Sandy Bay) but Whales Bay was king of the bay. Another area we set out to explore was the Whangarei Heads. We heard great things about Ocean Beach at the corner of Whangarei Heads and it did not disappoint. Ocean Beach was another ‘must-see’ beach with a great waves and an amazing unspoilt backdrop.
BAY OF ISLANDS (PAIHIA) –
Heading further north on the North Island is the touristy seaside town of Paihia. It is a popular place to base when visiting the Bay of Islands. A 5 minute ferry across the bay is the quaint town of Russell, a more upmarket area to base. Russell is also home to the famed restaurant, The Duke of Marlborough which in my opinion was just ‘aight’. The Bay itself is made up of 144 unique islands, with each town boasting its own distinctive vibe. The best thing to do is simply get on a boat, a MF Boat, to check out the sheer beauty of the Bay of Islands. We spent a relaxing day chillin’ at Otehei Bay on the island of Ukupukapuka. While on the bay, we saw tons of boats/yachts and dolphins sailing throughout the Bay of Islands. If you are into sailing and boating, the entire Northeastern region of NZ from would serve as your haven on the sea. There are just so many cool areas and bays to explore, just like Captain Cook.
We decided to break up our drive to our next stop, the surfing town of Raglan, with a 3 day stop in Matakana. The town of Matakana has become a trendy/artsy getaway for Auckland residents with its many wineries/cafes/art galleries and a super cool brewery called Sawmill Cafe & Microbrewery. The other big activities in the area were Omaha Beach and the snorkeling at Goat Island Marine Reserve. The absolute must-see if you want to know beforehand what it’s like to die and go to heaven, pay a little visit to Tawharanui Park and Anchor Bay. When you see it, you will understand.
While in Matakana we stayed at an amazing airbnb in a converted barn directly on a beautiful farm with cows right outside our door. We basically spent our time hanging with Elvis, the property dog, and simply staring at the rolling green fields watching the sheep and cows in our backyard. One important thing that I have learned from our extended travels is the ability to be content doing absolutely nothing. I don’t feel the need to cram in as much as possible into a day. In other countries life moves at a much slower pace. While traveling we have learned to live simply, take things slowly and not constantly feel the need to be in motion. It’s a different mindset that we have adapted to. We have learned to really appreciate the simple things and just observe life around us. It was quite nice having ‘nothing’ going on in this setting.
We spent a few days in this small, sleepy surf town located about two hours south of Auckland. You’ll know you’re in a surf town when you stroll down the main street seeing mostly barefoot people. Transport of choice in town is a beat-up campervan, which serves as home, daytime hangout, kitchen and ride to the nearest surf break. The sweeping Ngarunui Beach with the scenic farmland in the background is an amazing black sand surfing beach. It’s ideal for jumping the waves and is a perfect place to learn how to surf. The young surfers were out in force. Raglan is such a mellow place and it sort of reminded me of Byron Bay, Australia. Some say Raglan sunsets are the best in all of New Zealand and myself as well as Shep Proudfoot can vouch for that. For a unique lunch with an incredible view, go to Solscape Eco Retreat, a place that kinda looked like a hippy colony. It has a sweet location high on the hillside overlooking the ocean. We ordered an amazing salad where all the ingredients were grown on the property garden.
COROMANDEL PENINSULA –
The Coromandel Peninsula is another beautiful area filled with sandy beaches, green rolling hills and scenic bays. The drive along the narrow road that skirts the ocean from Thames to Coromandel is one of the top drives in New Zealand. Just before you hit Coromandel is a mandatory lunch stop at the Coromandel Oyster Company. Barbie swore by the oysters and I will swear by the Smoked Fish Chowder. Man, that was good. Puts Legal Seafood to shame. To get from Coromandel to Hahei, we took scenic Bypass road 309 and Barbie fed the gang of wild pigs on the way and after feeding da stinky pigs, a swim in the beautiful Waiau Falls is a nice touch.
We based ourselves in two (2) different beach towns. Whitianga and the more serene town of Hahei which I would recommend. The busier Whitianga and the more serene town of Hahei. A stay in both would be best but Hahei takes the prize. Hate to sound like a broken record again but the beaches in this neck of the woods were outstanding. I would have to add both Hahei Beach and Cathedral Cove to the growing list of amazing beaches in amazing New Zealand and in the world. Cooks Beach, Otama Beach and Opito beaches are solid and are must visits as well. What I find absolutely baffling is that all of these beaches are some of the prettiest in the world and at many times Barbie and I would be the only ones actually on the beach. I could not get a grasp of the reason why, but we will certainly take it.
A visit to Coromandel wouldn’t be complete without checking out the two most visited attractions: Cathedral Cove and Hot Water Beach (both need to be timed 2 hrs. prior to or after low tide). We went to Hot Water Beach with sand shovels in hand and it was so much fun. You can dig your own hot spring right in the sand and bath in your very own hot water tub (check out the video and pix below). Gotta be careful cause some water brewing under certain patches of sand is MF scalding. The 20 minute walk from the car park to Cathedral Cove is real scenic. Along this walk, you have the option to branch off and visit Stingray Bay and Gemstone Bay. Upon arrival at Cathedral Cove, both of our jaws just dropped in awe and can say we discovered paradise. The Coromandel Peninsula was a great place. However, a word of warning…… once you get here, you may not want to leave. Fortunately, we got to extend our 4 day stay to 6 days. So glad we included the Coromandel Peninsula on our itinerary as it was one of the highlights in all of New Zealand.
THRU THE BINOCS –
The big question when visiting New Zealand: Which island is better, the North Island or the South Island? The South Island has more mountains/adventure and the North Island is blessed with the beaches. In my opinion, if you only have 2-3 weeks to travel around New Zealand, you’re best off choosing one island. Trying to visit both will result in you constantly rushing from one place to the next without effectively soaking in all the goodness on tap at a relaxed pace. If you’re in a position that allows you 5+ weeks off or if you are able to temporarily drop out of society, you then are lucky enough to properly see a good chunk of both islands. So which island is it, if forced to choose only one? Both islands are stunning but my choice in a super tight, nostril hair photo finish, would be the South Island if you only have time for one. But, finding the time to see both islands will allow you to experience a trip of a lifetime as the entire country is so over the top spectacular. One of the first questions people ask me about our travels is, which country did you like best? Well, New Zealand will definitely be at the top of the list.
We now move onto our next destination, French Polynesia. It will be refreshing to settle down into a slow paced island lifestyle after being constantly on the move and partaking in an endless amount of activities here in New Zealand. We look forward to continuing on our journey, discovering new experiences and meeting interesting people as we travel the world.