The reason why rental companies do not allow you to drive on 90 Mile Beach (which is only 90km or 55 miles long) is simple: The cars are not insured. Often cars get stuck in the sand and have to be left behind. No emergency service is close enough to save the cars from the flood. Mobile phone coverage does not exist in most parts of the area. So the adventure often ends in an endless walk.
If you have your own car and want to risk the beach drive prepare yourself and the car well. Start two hours after high tide, either the way up or down, depending on the time of the tides. (The direction of the bus tours also changes for that reason.) Spray waterproofing spray on the ignition. Drive close to the water, so you do not get in the soft sand, slow down when crossing creeks. If you get stuck lower the air pressure of the tyres. There are many access roads. The buses use the Waipapakauri Ramp, 6km north of Awanui, and in the north they drive through Te Paki Stream - do not stop there!
If you still have the nerves to do it - do it. But do not expect quick help if something goes wrong.
As we wanted a relaxed trip we went on a bus tour with Cape Runners from Kaitaia.
The bus stopped at the Ancient Kauri Kingdom in Awanui which is a run-down town. In a sawmill they cut 30,000 to 50,000 year old kauri logs which they pull out from the swamps. Then at "The Bluff" which is a good fishing spot, with rough sea and volcanic outcrops. We also stopped after having driven through Te Paki Stream and climbed on the huge dunes. Most tours even include tobogganing on the dunes.
From Cape Reinga the tour leads to Tapotupotu Bay which is a wonderful beach next to the cape.
On the way back south on SH1 we stopped at Parengarenga Beach. The snow-white silica sands are used for producing glass. At Houhora Heads is the Wagener Museum which displays lots of Maori artefacts, kauri gum, early settlers' tools, firearms, and gives insight into whaling and the Victorian times.
See transportation tip
I do not have a great recollection of Kaitaia as this is not a very charming place. It is a poor town in a poor region and has New Zealand's highest unemployment rate. And somehow we did not find interesting enough to stay longer than necessary as it is inland, and we found it much appealing to stay right above the beach in Ahipara.
But Kaitaia is the place where the bus tours to Cape Reinga start, and I recommend that because those special buses drive up right on 90 Mile Beach whereas car rental companies do not allow to drive their cars there, and apart from that it can be dangerous.
In Kaitaia is a rather interesting museum, the Far North Regional Museum (6 South Road), which gives great insight into the local history, including gumdigging. It holds one of three copies of the Kaitaia Carving from the 12th or 13th century which was found about 1920. The original is displayed in the Auckland Museum. Another great feature is a huge anchor which was left in NZ in 1769 - it is NZ's oldest European artifact.
If you want to get real insight into Maori life you can visit the Te Rarawa Marae. Bookings with Tall Tale Travel'n'Tours (ph. 09 408 0870) in Commerce Street (behind KFC and Main Street Lodge). They also offer bone carving and flax weaving workshops.
In March Kaitaia hosts the Maori Arts and Food Festival. Also at this time of the year a marathon takes place on 90 Mile Beach.
A real gem 25 km north of Kaitaia is the Kauri Buried Forest Park where you can touch 100,000 year old kauri tree trunks that were buried in swamps until Maori and Dalmatian gumdiggers brought them back to the surface while digging for kauri gum clumps (NZ amber).
Click here for Part 1.
Part 2 of the Northland roundtrip:
Dargaville is the gateway to the Waipoua Forest which is world-famous for its giant kauri trees. First Trounson Kauri Park (great boardwalk, home to kiwi and weta) and Kai-Iwi Lakes, then Four Sisters and Tane Mahuta. - Omapere, Opononi - along Hokianga Harbour to Rawene, ferry to Kohukohu, through the hinterland back to SH 1 to Kaitaia, we stayed further west in Ahipara.
We booked a tour to Cape Reinga, New Zealand's northernmost point, on 90 Mile Beach. On the way we visited Wagener Museum (Maori artifacts, natural history, kauri gum etc.) in Houhara, the snow white quartz beach Parengarenga Beach, crossed Te Paki Stream and walked up the dunes. At Cape Reinga you do not only have to check out the lighthouse but also walkways and beaches.
From Kaitaia we started our trip back south on SH 10 along Rangaunu Harbour (fantastic detour to Karikari Peninsula), Coopers Beach, Mangonui (famous fish shop), side trips to fantastic bays. - Incredible views on detour along Whangaroa Harbour/Tauranga Bay - Mahinapua - Matauri Bay (out there near the Cavalli Islands lies the wreck of the Rainbow Warrior. - Back to SH 10.
Next place is Kerikeri (Stone Store, orchards) - Puketona - Haruru Falls - Waitangi (Treaty Grounds) - Paihia - Opua - ferry to Russell - Kawakawa - Whangarei (optional trips to the coast and Whangarei Heads). - Leave SH1 near Waipu and drive along the coast to Waipu Cove, Langs Beach, Mangawhai - back to SH 1. - In Wellsford west on SH16 along the southern part of Kaipara Harbour. - If you have not been to South Head and Shelly Beach yet, take a turn in Helensville.
Back on SH 16 turn right in Waimauku to Muriwai Beach to the gannet colony. - Further south are the Waitakere Ranges. If there is any time left before returning to Auckland... ;-) Probably not... ;-)
Update 11 December 2010
This week there was a news piece on TV, showing horrible footage of the Kai-Iwi Lakes - meaning: the footage was good but it showed horrible things. The District Council has chopped ALL trees around the lakes, particularly because pines had become potential hazards. New native trees and shrubs have been planted next to the stumps of the chopped trees but it will take years until the area will look nice and scenic again. At the moment it looks like a warzone or, as one local said, a battlefield, really like after the bomb. They have shown tourists leaving in disgust and looking for another place to camp. The lakes are only good for watersports at the moment, not for nature lovers.
There are not many place left in the world these days where you can board a steam train AND go down the main street of the town. Not only that, this town's main street is also State Highway 1!
The Kawakawa trains run every day of school holidays and public holidays and the weekends for the rest of the year.
These trains are also the fore runner of the Cream Trip in the Bay of Islands. Originally cream was collected from the islands and taken to the port of Opua where is was loaded onto the trains and taken to be processed.
In the 1970's the trains would meet the cruise trips at the Opua wharf and take them to Kawakawa.
Ultimately the Bay of Islands Vintage Railway is working at getting the line restored all the way back to the Port of Opua in the Bay of Islands.
They have a steam train called Gabriel and a Diesel train called Fredrick. Check out the website for the schedule to see what train will be running on what day.
So what are you waiting for!?! All Aboard!
View a video of the train going down main street
When visiting the Bay of Islands area we had to make at least one cruise to see at least a couple of the 144 islands. We decided to make the "Cape Brett Hole-in-the-Rock Cruise" with Fullers, leaving in the morning from Paihia for a halfday cruise.
Fullers vessel is a nice catamaran, but if you want to sit outside on the deck be sure to board early. We made a stop in Russell before leaving to the Bay. The journey continues along beautiful bays and islands, surrounded by crystal clear sea. Some of them are inhabited; must be like a fairy tale to live here. But it is also exiting to see the 'fight' between sun and clouds in the middle of these amazing scenery.
We didn't see the 'promised' dolphins, just a Gannet colony on Bird Rock.
Motukokako Island is the island with the hole in the rock. Although the waves were pretty high the skipper succeeded to manoeuvre his 'huge' boat through the 'small' hole. Further on we met schools of fishes, among them blue coloured ones (maomao fish ??). On the other side of the island we also entered a sea cave.
On the way back there is a long stop on an island called Urupukapuka. Here you can make a (extra) trip with a kind of submarine. We decide to have a lunch in the café on the island and to walk around and to enjoy the lovely scenery.
To be honest: we found this stop a kind of a tourist trap. It takes too much time, the coffee was bad and expensive.
Tip written by my guest writer Margarete
While New Zealand's most stunning views are what Mother Nature has created - beaches, valleys or mountain ranges -, when it comes to nature's call, some built features are also truly remarkable.
So let's talk about toilets for a change.
Friedensreich (Frederick) Hundertwasser's toilets in Kawakawa are already a well-known tourist must-see stop on the way up north. However, should you feel the urge to relieve yourself just out of Auckland, you may consider holding on until your reach Matakana, a quaint little township about one hour north of the Auckland Harbour Bridge.
Matakana is known for its Saturday morning Farmers' Market, which is worth visiting, especially if you like tasty food like chutneys, home-made jams or really good bread. It's also a great place to sample fresh, decently sized oysters, topped with a dab of lemon mustard and sprinkled with freshly ground pepper (6 dollars for half a dozen, as at mid-December 2010).
Strangely enough, Matakana is not (yet) known for its architecturally designed toilets at the roundabout, just as you enter the township. The loo block looks like a dog's ears propped up on a platform from which you have a magnificent view down to a stream, or like two gothic church windows if you are more into architectural terminology, with two stylised faces in profile view serving as a gate at the entrance.
Once inside, you can marvel at the Tiffany-style bull's-eye window, also somewhat reminiscent of stained-glass church windows, while you get on with your business. Mosaic walls are another unusual internal feature of these loos, albeit they are less fancy than the colourful Hundertwasser tiles you may have seen in Kawakawa.
In any case these toilets are worth a stop if you are in the area, whether nature calls or you just want to have a look and stretch your legs.
Photos 2 to 5 show the toilet block in the context of the surrounding landscape and some interior shots.
All photos by Margarete.
You can see nearly everything and miss a lot when you travel in Northland, depending on how much time you can spend at this narrow stretch of rugged land north of Auckland.
The best way to see as much as possible is to travel on the Twin Coast Discovery Highway which in fact is three highways, with many possible detours to no-exit locations which cost time but are always worth the trip because you get to places of extraordinary beauty.
It does not matter which way round you travel. You are individual enough to work out your own way. I have once done a whole Northland trip without, of course, seeing everything. On another trip we drove to the gannet colony at Muriwai Beach and to South Head, on the Kaipara Harbour, which is north-west of Auckland. And on a third trip we were based in the Bay of Islands, went into detail along the coast north of Paihia and back to Waipoua Forest - and found out that you do not miss a thing if you do not travel on the inland road from Whangarei to Kaikohe. We had thought the name Twin Bridges sounded promising and drove for hours on gravel roads through the Marlborough Forest - but it was just nothing.
A suggested route:
North on SH1 along Whangaparaoa Bay and Mahurangi Harbour - Waiwera (Hot Springs) - Warkworth - a day or two to explore this area with lots of bays and capes. We had a fabulous stay at the end of a road in Algies Bay, made a trip on the mail boat to Kawau Island, drove to the wine country around Matakana and Cape Rodney. (Also check out the separate tip about Matakana and its spectacular public toilets.) From Leigh you can walk around the rocks and in low tide to Goat Island. - Further up to Wellsford.
We then chose to travel west on SH 12 because there are some Kauri Museums, so we would learn about the north before visiting all those interesting places: Matakohe Kauri Museum, then along the Wairoa Habour to Dargaville (Northern Wairoa Maori, Maritime and Pioneer Museum, Kauri in all its facets, Rainbow Warrior propeller etc.). - Detour to Baylys Beach.
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(Sorry for splitting this tip up - this is from the times when the maximum for a VT tip was 2000 characters.)
As you head north from Dargaville you will drive through this magnificent Kauri Forest full of Ferns, rare New Zealand flora and fauna, colossal Kauri Trees, nocturnal kiwi [don't expect to spot one!], all set amongst beautiful rainforest.
As you enter the park, take the turn to the Forest Lookout which was once a fire lookout and offers a spectacular view of the area.
There are many stops to be made, and you really should stop and have a look. We were amazed at how big these trees were!
Te Matua Ngahere the 'Father of the Forest', is only a 10minute walk to witness a Tree that has a trunk over five metres in diameter, believed to be the widest girth of any kauri tree in New Zealand. Close by are the Four Sisters, a collection of four tall trees in close proximity. Also near Te Matua Ngahere is the Phantom Tree, believed to be the second largest in the forest.
Further up the road is Tane Mahuta, "Lord of the Forest", the largest kauri tree in New Zealand. It stands close to the road and is estimated to be 1,200 years old. At 52 metres it is much higher than Te Matua Ngahere - but doesn’t have the same impressive bulk - although its cubic volume is said to be even greater.
A fully grown kauri can reach 60 metres and have a trunk five metres or more in diameter. They are slow growing and some kauris are 2,000 years old.
This area is beautiful, the walks are easy, so do go and have a look!
RAWENE they say is Hokianga's Picturesque Port Town. We followed Highway 1 from the Bay of Islands reached Kohu Kohu where a ferry leaves to cross the Hokianga Narrows to Rawene. This will make your journey a lot shorter than taking the long drive around to Horeke.
Rawene is a quiet small town, with many old buildings having been restored and some are open or in use. The town was built in the early settler period.
The ferry departs every hour on the half-hour from Rawene and on the hour from Narrows. The first sailing leaves Rawene at 7.30 am, with the last sailing leaving the Narrows at 8 pm.
Mount Parihaka is a Volcanic dome which is about 20 million yrs old. This is the highest point in Whangarei and you get wonderful views of the city and harbour from here. You can drive or walk up to the top.
The Town Basin is a nice area in Whangarei for shopping or browsing, and just sitting with a coffee enjoying the harbourside views of fishing boats, yachts, launches etc. The view alters daily as the tide moves through its cycle.
We had a look at some Galleries, there are a few to choose from!
The charming town of Warkworth was once linked to Auckland by steamship service. Today it has become a centre of steamship revival, and some guys passionate about this kind of transportation operate restored and replica vessels out of the Mahurangi River.
Some kilometres south of Warkworth (sign-posted to the right, if travelling north) is the Pioneer Museum and Kauri Park. Outside the museum is a Kauri that is estimated to be about 800 years old.
4km north of Warkworth is Sheep World (sign-posted to the right, if travelling north). Visitors can feed pet lambs, see a farmer and his dogs working with sheep, watch shearers in action. Also the processing of wool is demonstrated. Just a very small version of Rotorua's Agrodome.
Sorry, guys! If you have sexual needs Coopers Beach is no more the place for you to go. The doctor has closed down his brothel-turned surgery in November 2006 because you did not visit frequently, and the locals did not dare to enjoy the pleasures of Northland's northernmost temple of joys. As you can surely imagine you think twice to go to a brothel if everybody knows everybody, as is the case in such small places like Coopers Beach, just some kilometres north of Mangonui.
Coopers Beach itself has - as you can well deduct from the name - a beautiful beach. White sand, and around Christmas time it is bordered by huge flowering pohutukawa, wrapping a red ribbon of flowers along the shoreline. You can make long beach walks in both directions, to Mangonui in the south, and further up north.
But back to the doctor. He is a Canadian, and after arguments with the district health board about the reimbursement of after-hours he closed down his surgery. He became NZ-famous when he announced he would turn his surgery into a brothel, TV crews and newspaper reporters were regulars, he even struck a deal with two Canadian TV producers for the case his story would be told in a movie (which to this day is not the case, good grief!). Officially he found his idea great. Inofficially I think he just tried to get a cheap revenge on the unsupportive district council. But - officially again ;-) - I must say that I admire with how much passion he made his idea reality.
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Click here for Part 1 of the story ----- Sorry for splitting the story up - but when I wrote it the limit for a VT tip was 2000 characters and not 10,000 like now.
Part 2 of the story: Do not get sick - the doctor has left LOL
Unfortunately he did not succeed in hiring a manager, so his wife had to hire the staff. But either those ladies fled the scene shortly after arrival, or they did not show up at all. And sure, local ladies did not dare to get involved in such an adventure, for the same reason as the discouraged wannabe clients. So the doctor's wife even had to fly to Australia in her hiring quest. But finally she thought a brothel would not be the ideal place to raise three teenage daughters. And I want to add that probably you would not expect to end up as a brothel keeper if you once have married a general practitioner...
Anyway, as the business did not flourish as everybody had expected but the doctor, the brothel was closed down half a year after the TV transmitted glamourous opening. Shortly afterwards the place was up for sale - "at your pleasure", as the real estate agent advertised. He suggested the house would serve a lot of purposes, like a guesthouse - he just did not mention the possible use as a brothel. And sure, he did not mention the mirrors on the ceilings...
The doctor in the meantime put four properties on the market to start a new life, so at least we know that he did not get empoverished from his self-prescribed brothel challenge. He moved to Kerikeri where he considered to invest in an orchard. From my observations I can say that this would be a very sensible move as people are not afraid to get in touch with such kind of fruit. Not even in such remote regions.
Ahipara is one of the best places in NZ where you get the feeling of perfect peace and quietness - without the need to hide in a tent.
It is situated at the southern end of 90 Mile Beach and feels like a settlement at the end of the world. The houses are dotted along the beach, and from an elevated house you have magnificent views over those endless sands. There is no through-traffic, no noise, no nothing. Just magic.
Although nowadays they use quadbikes and mountainbikes on the beaches and do tobogganing on the huge dunes there are never a lot of people as it is a little bit away from the main road to Cape Reinga, 14km west of Kaitaia. As there are only two eating places in Ahipara you might well be forced to drive to Kaitaia for dinner, or just think of checking into a motel with cooking facilities.
Ahipara was more or less born when the gumdiggers came to the region at the start of the 20th century. About 2000 people systematically dug and sieved the sand, searching for the precious sap clumps of the kauri trees, called New Zealand amber. The gumfields are south of the town. They are on a vast plateau, made of sand, overgrown by low shrubs, very few ferns and toe toe grass, and it is nearly totally deserted. We spent there quite some time and saw a house in the middle of nowhere, and a horse. It was pure loneliness, and the wind was blowing. Just the lonesome cowboy on the horse, crossing the desert half-starved, was missing.
It was hard to imagine that this area was once covered in huge kauri trees. And due to the gumdigging the landscape has changed forever, from once lush green forests to arid desert-like near-naked plains. I bet from this house we spotted they can see today which visitors will arrive tomorrow.
If you are lucky you can still find gum clumps, especially in a creek that flows down to Shipwreck Bay. The sand dunes fall down like plies to this beach which is a good surf and swimming beach right west of Ahipara.
It is named after the wreck of the Favourite which stranded here in 1870. At low tide you can walk or ride on a quad- or mountainbike around several volcanic rocks and bays to the dunes. From Ahipara it is about 5km.
My husband and I stayed here for four nights, and were really looking forward to our trip....more
We were let down by the managers of Russell Cottages after booking a cottage for New Year. 3 weeks...more
100 Kamo Road, Whangarei, North Island, 0101, New Zealand
Good for: Couples