The Explore NZ Dune Rider experience to Cape Reinga is one of the biggest surprises I have come across in New Zealand. This is a gem of a trip and is what a full day trip should be. It has the obligatory early start complimented by the Kiwi Driver complete with cheesy jokes and up-beat banter. A shock for many at 7am but very welcome.
Leaving the small township of Paihia, an early morning drive along the coastline of the Bay of Islands is pleasant to say the very least and after a couple of hours it's coffee time.
As we drove in to our pit-stop, and incredible bacon and egg muffin stop, we were greeted by a full rainbow. Sadly this cannot be guaranteed on every trip but it certainly made you feel a little bit special. The locals chatted away and coffee by the pacific ocean put everyone into a good mood. It's times like these when you think 'yeah, pack up and let's move to the ocean'.
Back on the bus for more amazing scenery. Cape Reinga is around a four hour drive from Paihia but when you're admiring coast, rich farmland and to die for houses time flies by.
Our next stop was filled with Kauri trees, in Waiharara at Gumdiggers park. Kauri trees are famous in New Zealand not just for their impressive girth but also their age (some of these trees are almost pre-historic) and their produce, amber. The gum they produce is turned into amber which is then turned in to beautiful jewellry, amongst other things.
"...guys, make sure you have enough cash to get your girl a Copal (...) or amber (...) necklace."
Sometimes cultural learning stops can be a little frustrating for people but this ancient buried Kauri forest wasn't like that. It was informative without being overbearing and you get well looked after.
For any potential visitors, guys, make sure you have enough cash to get your girl a Copal (made from Kauri trees less than 45,000 years old) or amber (made from Kauri trees over 45,000 years old) necklace.
Now experts on Kauri Trees we made our way to the most Northern point of New Zealand, Cape Reinga. Cape Reinga is one of those places in the World that are few and far between. It is just special on many different levels.
Yes, it is the most Northern point of New Zealand - a cool thing to say you've done especially if you've headed down to Stewart Island (the most South). Cape Reinga on a cultural level is important within Maori culture.
It is the place where the spirit of the dead leaves the land. A little morbid for some but actually it makes a lot of sense when you stand at the Cape Reinga lighthouse and look over at the joining of two vast waters. This being the third reason Cape Reinga is so special, and also my personal favourite. It is here that you can see the joining of the dominating Pacific Ocean and the erratic Tasman Sea. They literally clash right in front of your eyes.
It is also at Cape Reinga that you can offset any flier miles or lack of recycling and plant yourself a tree. Do your little bit for the environment and you can even watch your tree develop as they give you the unique co-ordinates for your tree so you can check it out on google earth. As hard as it is to leave the special place that is Cape Reinga there is still more impressive sites to be seen.
"...you really do have to stretch your neck in order to see the top of the sand dunes."
The half truck/half bus Dune Rider starts a little off-roading along Te Paki Stream, also known as quick sand stream but best not to dwell too much on that one. Looking out to your right you really do have to stretch your neck in order to see the top of the sand dunes. Yes they are very high and yes you are about to climb one. The bacon and egg muffin from that morning is truly worked off around half way up the sand dune. It's a real case of feel the burn followed by feel the sand slap against your face followed by adrenaline filled screams as you body board back down the sand dune.
At this point you have at consider the hardest decision the day will bring you, "Can you be bothered to climb back the dune for another go?" A word of advice, it's easier the second time. It's worth watching other people sandboarding though because there is nothing more amusing than the person who falls off a few metres from the top and then loses their sand board to the wind and has to chase it down the dune.
Knackered and full of sand it's back on the bus to hit 90 mile beach. It's not 90 miles but there are a heck of a lot of miles and even some wild horses. This is rugged coastline at its best.
The Tasman Sea puts on a show for you as you drive past wild horses and abandoned cars. It's a little sad when you hit tarmac again and leave the beach but the coast soon appears again after a quick stop in Awanui (very good cookies here) and then on to Mangonui Fish Shop. It's reported as being world famous and I have to be honest the fish is top stuff.
Fish and chips by the water to round off an awesome day! Stuffed with chips you head back on the bus for the final leg and bloat out in your recliner seat. Arriving back in Paihia around twelve hours after you left the value for money of the Explore NZ Dune Rider is actually almost unbelievable.