Last January, Miss Kaladkarin and I drove up to see New Zealand’s Far North Region (Northland). I was asked by my friend to be her official wedding photographer and I figured I had to “case the joint” prior to the big day – that way I can plan my movements based on the distance of one venue from the other. We left Auckland on the morning of – I think it was Monday, and drove back on Wednesday … I’m not sure, but we were away for 3 days.
Anyway, our main destination was Kaitaia, and this town is located at the base of the Aupouri Peninsula. It is the last major settlement on the main road north and the main industries are forestry and tourism. Kaitaia, which translates to plenty of food, has a population of about 5,200 (as of the 2006 census).
We stayed at the Mainstreet Backpackers, which was where my mum, sis, brother-in-law, and I stayed at when we went back a month later for my friend’s wedding. It was a nice, clean and central backpackers, situated right next to KFC (yeah). The rooms were well appointed, the kitchen was HUGE and the owners were very friendly and helpful. We really didn’t stay long at the backpackers, because after we checked in, we decided to head off to Rangiputa Beach, which was where the wedding would be held.
Rangiputa is one of several beaches on the Karikari Peninsula, which is a right-angled land mass. The northern part of the peninsula is about 17km long and was originally an island that was connected to the rest of the Northland Region by a sandy strip of about 11km long.
We really were pleasantly surprised when we saw Rangiputa. We did not expect to see a quiet beach with a foreshore that reminded us of Boracay. The waters were amazingly blue and a few boats dotted the horizon. Of course Ms K and I took heaps of photos and were really quite reluctant to head back to the backpackers for the evening. But we were tired, and Rangiputa is a good half an hour’s drive to (and from) Kaitaia so after we absorbed all that we could, we headed back. We knew we had a long day the next day because we signed up for a tour of Cape Reinga – so we figured it would be best if we turned in early.
The next day, we had the surprise of our life. We found out that, for some unexplained reason, we were bumped off from the tour guide’s list! They couldn’t fit us in in any of the tour buses so, they gave us a refund and we had to take the tour by ourselves. It sucked BIG TIME, but what can we do? So we got a map of where these tours were headed and we just went there.
The first stop was the Kauri Museum. Ms K and I really didn’t have much time to go around the Museum because we were still hoping that one of the tour buses could accommodate us (no such luck). So we just headed off to Gumdigers Park, which is a Kauri Gum digging site that’s over 100 years old.
As much as we would have wanted to explore the park, due to time constraints (Cape Reinga was about a two-hour drive north of Kaitaia), we opted to pass up on the tour. Instead we headed to Rarawa Beach.
Rarawa Beach is located near the Ngataki Town, and just like Rangiputa, it had wide expanses of white sandy beaches. I guess the reason Ms. K and I were really awe-struck by the beaches in the North is because the beaches from Auckland further down have dark-coloured, volcanic sand while the beaches up north have sands of silica! Apparently, you can camp out at this beach, and I can see why people would want to stay here. It’s not crowded, it’s quite peaceful – it’s just beautiful. Of course we took photos. That’s our only joy – to take photos of the places we visit.
After Rarawa Beach, Ms K and I drove further north until we reached the Te Paki Sand Dunes.
It’s just never-ending sand! I thought we were transported to Tatooine! I kinda half expected to see Droids walking across the horizon. But no – we’re in New Zealand. If anything, hobbits would walk past – such as that little girl in the photo. Ms K and I tried to walk up to one of the dunes but got tired halfway (yes, we’re old like that), so instead, we asked a group of German tourists who were on their way down what we’d see if we went further up. They said we’d see sand and more sand. So we stayed where we were and tried to slide down the sandy slopes using our jandals and not a toboggan. It won’t work. We tried to slide down on our bumbums – nah! Didn’t work either. Frustrated by our inability to slide down the sandy slopes, we just drove off towards Cape Reinga – the top of New Zealand.
After oohing and aahing at the beauty of The Meeting Point, and taking heaps of photos at the Lighthouse (which still works, and is now powered by the sun) we headed back to the Backpackers. We were told that, as a way of apologising for bumping us off the tour, the tour operator would take us on a jeep ride on 90-Mile Beach.
Contrary to popular belief, the Ninety Mile Beach is not really Ninety Miles long. It’s actually just 88 km long (roughly 55 miles). It was once used as a runway for the earliest airmail services between Australia and New Zealand (with it being the closest point to our Aussie neighbours). We (Ms K and I) were enjoying our trip up to this point but something happened which made us decide to cut the special trip short and just head back home. Let’s leave that for another day. The event was actually quite freaky – something that’s best forgotten.
The following day, Ms, K and I headed back to Auckland. We drove past Taipa Bay, which was where the reception (remember we went up there to view wedding venues?) would be held.
We had a pit stop at Kerikeri (not Karikari – those are two different locations) for breakfast, then headed off towards Paihia because we wanted to see Russell before heading home. Everyone who knew we would be going up North insisted we visited Russell. We simply had to find out why this place was highly recommended.
So we hopped on a ferry from Opua and headed off to Russell – and this side trip was worth it. Russell’s a lovely little town and was the first permanent European settlement and sea port in the country. It was formerly known as Kororareka and is now a “bastion of cafes, gift shops and Bed and Breakfasts”. Ms K and I visited the Pompalier Mission, an old printery / tannery / storehouse of early missionaries, and basically just walked around the town and along the beach front. The image above was taken from the wharf. Charming isn’t it? Oh! Interesting tidbit: As of the 2006 census, Russell had a resident population of 816, which was an increase of 12 from 2001. WOW!
After exploring Russell, we headed back on to the State Highway and continued our long(er) drive back to Auckland. We had to make one more pit-stop and that was to see the Hundertwasser Toilet at Kawakawa.
Kawakawa’s toilet was designed by Friedensreich Regentag Dunkelbunt Hundertwasser, an Austrian artist (born in Vienna) who later took on New Zealand citizenship. The toilet came about when, in 1998, the Kawakawa Community Board decided to upgrade the 40-year-old toilet in the central township. Hundertwasser offered his services and suggested that a toilet is special because that is where you mediate. His concept was adopted and soon thereafter, construction of this toilet began. After that, well, I guess the rest is history!
We really didn’t stay long at Kawakawa because we wanted to head back. Ms K had to work later that evening, and I had to clean my house. So after we took photos of the toilet and washed our hands in the wash basin area, we continued on our journey. I think we got to Auckland at about 3:00 pm – which was not bad considering we had several detours along the way. We had a great 3-day jaunt and personally, I think this trip was a great way to start the year.