If you are based in Auckland when you first arrive to New Zealand, there are many places that you can go and visit as a day trip even if you only have a few days to explore. One of those places would be sub tropical Northland. Here you can visit the beautiful township of Paihia, the historic villages of Russel and Kerikeri, the magnificent Kauri tree forests and the most sacred place (to the Maori) in New Zealand, Cape Reinga.
Just recently the Mad Travel Shop in Auckland cut me loose on a little 3 day adventure with a group of people venturing up North with Great Sights to explore and gain a bit more knowledge of the surroundings in this amazing country. Our trip started at the Skycity Intercity bus terminal at 07:30h. Skycity is the main terminal for Great Sights buses departing Auckland. We headed Northbound passing the marina, going over the great Auckland harbour bridge. Over this bridge you can see views over the Waitemata Harbour and out to Rangitoto and Devonport. We also stopped briefly at the Parry Kauri Park. Here you have a chance to see one of the few majestic Kauri trees still standing, some of these trees age from 800 years old - 1000 years old, they are impressively HUGE and definitely worthy of a big hug.
Leaving the park after a short visit, we continue heading north to the township of Paihia, with a short stop in Kaiwaka for a quick morning snack. Once we had arrived in Paihia, we had time to explore Paihia. The weather was so nice that we decided to have fish and chips on the beach and just relax there until our ferry departed for Russel, New Zealand's first capital. Taking a ferry is the best way to access Russel if that's where the wind takes you.
Russel, originally being New Zealand's first capital city, still has many historic colonial buildings. On a nice day it's a great place to spend a few hours strolling amongst the old buildings or eat at one of the lovely restaurants and cafe's. We spent our day here before heading back to Paihia for the night time.
Some great activities you can do in both of these towns include fishing, bike riding, jet boating and kayaking. If none of that interests you, then there is a full circle day walk that you can do starting in Paihia that takes you to Russel (as an alternative to catching the ferry) this however will take a few hours to complete the walk. You can walk around beach fronts, over mangroves, board walks, wet land and old bush with spectacular views out to the popular oyster farms and over the glistening harbour. The ferry back into Paihia is $6 (unless you plan to walk back!).
On our second day we woke up nice and early and were picked up from our hotel at 06h30 heading up further north to the Cape Reinga lighthouse. With a quick stop at the Ancient Kauri Kingdom, a store specializing in Kauri wood products, we continued northbound through farmlands and native forests before we entered onto 90 mile beach. 90 mile beach is a very popular destination especially during summer. A favorite spot amongst locals who go there to collect seafood such as pipi's. A very popular activity to do here is sand boarding down one of the many sand dunes which line alone the coastline.
After about an hour of sand boarding we continued northward to the lighthouse of Cape Reinga. This is the most sacred place for the indigenous people of New Zealand, the Maori who believe that when one passes away, their spirit travels up the country to this location and is spirited back to the ancestral homeland, Hawaiki. Another great reason to visit this spot is for the amazing views and on a nice day you will also be able to see both the Pacific Ocean and Tasman Sea meet.
On our third and last day, we went on the Hole in the Rock Cruise, something I wasn't to keen to do as I really don't like boats. On a normal day it would have been a great trip to do, sailing past some of the 144 islands the the Bay has to offer and seeing a variety of sea life, namely dolphins jumping and swimming around the catamaran. Unfortunately this was not the case, the sea was rough and the sun was gone so for this part of the trip I was just lying down on the seats wishing I hadn't gone on the cruise (I often suffer from sea-sickness, however everyone else seemed to have a good time!). Once we arrived by the hole in the rock though, even the bad weather could not take away the breathtaking view of this natural wonder.
When we arrived back in Paihia, I was so glad I could walk on land again! From here we went onto the Waitangi Treaty Grounds which is where the treaty between the Maori and the early British settlers signed the treaty. A great location if you are interested in history but also if you are wanting to see a Maori cultural performance. At the end of this year they will also start offering a hangi meal which is a traditional Maori meal cooked by steam underground! A great way to experience a bit of the Maori culture.
After having a nice walk around the treaty grounds it was time to head back to the Maritime building where we boarded our Auckland-bound bus. What a great way to see a beautiful part of this country in just 3 days!