It’s grim up north, right?
In fact, this statement couldn’t actually be more wrong. For a start, north, as it is commonly known to us northern hemisphere-ers, is equated with cold. Not so much here. Go a couple of hundred kilometers north and you’re closer to the equator. Which means sun. WIN. Add to that mile upon mile of dramatic volcanic scenery; mountains which go right up to the sparkling Pacific Ocean and suddenly fall away to reveal golden sandy coves and hidden bays. You get my drift?
So after a fair bit of life admin (yes that still exists on the other side of the world) and catching up with old friends in Auckland, we put Rosie through her paces and drove the 200 odd (some very odd) km to the northern town of Whangerei (pronunced ‘Fan-gerr-aay). Thankfully, she was great, aside from a few ‘surface’ hiccups. (Such as the heating being stuck on full blast, so every time we make a journey, we emerge looking as though we had just hiked in gale force winds to the South Pole and back. Meh.)
The town itself is a little bit nondescript, it is described in the guide-book as ‘somewhere in the middle of the pretty to ugly spectrum’. Nice. However, the beauty of the area lies in what you find around it. We shacked up in a cute wee hostel a couple of km out of the town (**Little Earth Lodge – run by a guy from Birmingham with a NZ accent and his Japanese wife. Clean rooms, Balinese furniture, loads of hippy outdoors-y types. We definitely recommend it!**) and first things first, we CELEBRATED CELYN’S BIRTHDAY! Massive thank you to everyone who was super-duper organised and sent a card, there was quite a collection (and we BOTH got emotional. Oh you guys).
In not-so-typical birthday fashion, on the morning of his birthday, we went caving. The hostel is right next to the ‘Abbey Caves‘ which, despite their slightly uninspiring name, are incredible. We were advised to borrow sexy croc-esqe shoes and helmets, much to our amusement, but we soon found out that they were more than necessary. The 3 caves (Organ, Middle and Ivy) were PROPER DARK CAVES LIKE! The caverns didn’t look much from the outside but as soon as you climbed in, they opened up into enormous rooms. Not only did we have to clamber over rocks and scale enormous walls (no word of hyperbole), but also we had to wade through icy cave water up to our brea-/che-sts (and for the vertically challenged amongst us, necks). There were stalactites and stalagmites everywhere which had formed in crazy, almost sculpture-like poses. However, the most magical aspect was that if we turned our torches off, instead of plunging ourselves into ‘The Descent’-esque darkness, the ceilings and walls were lit up by hundreds of tiny glowworms. It was beautiful.
Emerging semi-scathed from the caves, we hopped back into Rosie and with a minor detour into town (Cel wanted a birthday perforation…or 2) we headed to the world-renowned Whangerei Falls. Word on the street is that they are photogenic but overhyped and there are many more in NZ that top this one. However, when you can hear them and feel the spray before you even see them, we thought that this was one sight that was well worth the trip, even on a dull day. Add to this the enchanting Kauri forest – made up of enormous Kauri trees, native to New Zealand, revered in Maori legend and some up to 500 years old – and you’ve got a winner.
As if this weren’t enough, on a whim we drove up the coast past Tutukaka and onto Matapouri and Whale Bay. If these are just names to you, google them.
No seriously, set on the coast, these are some of those ‘hidden bays’ that we were telling you about. As we arrived, the sun miraculously made an appearance, and we were treated to spectacular views over the ocean. Now I know we’ve been working hard on trying to get to grips with Celyn’s camera, but even with a smart SLR, the colour of the photos just doesn’t do it justice. So it’s up to you to imagine the turquoise-blue sea; a medley of greens and purples on the mountains; grey sand transforming into a bright, almost unnatural yellow sand; and the most ridiculous pink and orange sky, starting on the horizon and gradually spreading as far as you can see, so that even the roads seem to turn the most delightful shade of magenta. Red sky at night and all that, we decided this was a good omen for the weather!
So that was Cel’s birthday, fairly standard? For the time being we’re heading further north still, towards the seaside town of Russell (described by Dickens in the 19th-century as full of ‘the refuse of society’. We’ll fit right in!). And then on to visit the Bay of Islands and (fingers crossed) to catch a ride and camp on one.
Natty, Man Like I
Jack Johnson, In Between Dreams
(Surf music in the car to pretend that it was sunny. So far, it seems to have worked!)