Bay of Islands & Cape Reinga - New Zealand

So this day trip is completely jam packed, and you will come back with your mind blown by how much you’ve seen in a such short space of time. It’s an early start, so for me that meant a trip straight to the nearest place that could offer coffee to go at a moments notice before hopping onto the ‘magic’ bus for our sojourn to the most northerly point! Now I say magic bus, because it’s a full on coach but has been modified to zoom along the sandy beach without sinking, and we even drove up a shallow river (and I mean super shallow but there were reeds so it counts right?) You will reach the most northerly point of New Zealand, and if you’ve read about Paihia you’ll know that the North is highly sacred to the Maori culture. Be prepared to really feel the spiritual aspects at certain places you visit during the day, it really is so peaceful and this includes Puketi Kauri Forest.

Some of the trees in the Puketi Kauri Forest are over 1000 years old, so that’s a good long life for them. To put that in perspective, they started growing 492 BEFORE America was ‘discovered’ by Europeans. We were able to walk around via a forest walk which was, apparently, built for the Queen who visited years prior! True or not, it helped to get us up close to these massive trees which was an experience in itself, as well as getting to see the fern used on the New Zealand flag in the flesh - pretty cool hey? These trees were built into war canoes by the Maori people to get them from place to place or battle to battle. It’s said that early european settlers saw over 50 canoes full of warriors rowing through the bay in Paihia - pretty incredible!

After giving us some time to hug a few trees (who doesn’t love doing that?), it’s was back on the bus towards our next stop, the bakery. You will find that the Kiwis absolutely love their bakeries and there will always be one nearby to grab a snack in. Another coffee down for me and a pie to go for lunch later on before zooming towards the main event, Cape Reinga.

The Cape consists of a short walk from the carpark and along the top of the coast so make sure you have some comfortable shoes on. The view will really take your breath away and there is so much to see from the top of the cliffs. Make sure you check out the lighthouse, it is absolutely charming and next to you’ll also find a rather long distance signpost telling you how far to some of the major cities of the world. For some people it tells them how far away they are from home, but to me it just shows me how far I am from my next adventure! From the viewpoint you’ll also get to see a pretty awesome phenomenon - the Tasman Sea and the Pacific Ocean meeting so there really is a lot to take in here.

As I’ve mentioned previously, the very north of New Zealand is a highly spiritual place for the Maori people and Cape Reinga is no except. It is believed that the spirit of the fallen Maori passes from the land to the other world here. This happens as the spirit travels through a tapu Pohutukawa tree that is growing from the cliff as they return to Hawaiki, their traditional homeland and the underworld. You may not believe in the afterlife, but I promise that you will feel something as you walk around this sacred area. Treat it with respect is my only plea, the Maori are a wise and highly respected people throughout both islands and it would be wise to do the same.

I hate to break it to you also, but also I mentioned above that this is the most northerly point of New Zealand I’m afraid I was telling you a little white lie. While many people consider it to be, if we get technical about it you can find out that there are two other spots ever so slightly closer to the equator that are still connected to the mainland. Cape Maria van Diemen is slightly to the west of Reinga, and North Cape's Surville Cliffs which are 30km east are both ever so slightly more northerly! But I’m pretty sure you can still tell people you have hit the top of New Zealand guilt free as it’s reallllllly not much in it distance wise!

Following on from our stop, it was once again back on the bus (we did this a lot if you haven’t already gathered) and went full steam ahead to our next destination and lunch stop Tapotupotu Bay. This was a great place for a munch and a chance to take in some more fresh seaside air while snacking away on our lunchables from the bakery. We also had a chance for a dunk in the ocean with some bodyboards and tag rugby on the beach before it was time to go. You might like to take some bug spray for this as the sandflies are big fans of bare feet and will give you a few nasty bites if given have the chance!

After a short drive, we arrived at Te Paki Stream (the ‘river’ mentioned earlier on) and our coach drove us along until we arrived at the mammoth sand dunes here. In fact, these are actually some of the largest in the country which you would think is the best thing ever, but just try climbing them with you board! No dune buggy available it was follow the man in front of you, if you stand in someone else’s foot falls it makes it marginally easier. I would recommend ditching your shoes on the bus at this point as flipflops hold you down and trainers become sand boxes. Once we made it to the top it was two at a time to zoom down the slopes and, if you were lucky and gained enough speed, under the bus and into the stream behind!

My number one tip for sandboarding? Make sure you get out the way pretty fast. As I was leaving the slope I didn’t move fast enough and was hit by another fellow speed demon causing me to wipe out quite spectacularly and end in a friction burn which still haunts my ankle as a scar. You also might want to try building yourselves a tiny jump at the end of the slope to aim for, and when I say tiny I mean it. You do not need something big to fling you into the air going at the speeds you end up at sandboarding from XXXX high!

Once we had all had our fill of adrenaline to wake us up it was time to drive along the 90 mile beach! This was a real highlight for me also as it was just hilarious to think we were driving along a beach and through the ocean surf, at some speed, in a massive bus. We had a few stops along the way for some cracking photo opportunities, and it was a great way to get an everlasting snap of me and some of my new best friends. It’s really isolated up here, and there were only a few other tourists up here so if you’re an aspiring photographer you may enjoy getting a few snaps.

Officially a state highway, the beach’s name is actually a lie. Only 55 miles long in reality it still is long enough to enough the scenery, and to see why someone actually thought it was 90 miles long when walking it on foot. Its past has also included being one of the first runway for airmail delivery between Australia and New Zealand which is pretty cool as now only 3 places remain where you can take off from a beach (one being Fraser Island in Australia).

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An ancient art of the north is being able to carve the Kauri tree (the one I hugged earlier in the day and mentioned that the Maori used to build massive canoes), and this skill has been passed down for years. As the tree is fairly rare now, you have to obtain special licenses to be able to use carve the wood. Many Kauri forests were replaced with pine as it grew much faster for the use of the wood, but the Kiwis are working tirelessly to ensure that the Kauri forests fill the north once more. On this trip, you are able to swing by the Ancient Kauri Kingdom, a centre that specialises in carving the trees into incredible feature pieces. While everyone else was grabbing tea and cake in the cafe, myself and a couple new friends just spent the whole time playing in a hollowed out tree. Someone had literally build a staircase inside a tree like something from a dream treehouse of something - when I win my millions that is going to be my first purchase to install into my house I can tell you. Unfortunately, this is the kinda cash required to buy an item of substance here, however it’s worth looking around and seeing just how skilled some people are and realising how skilled you will never be…

The final point on our adventure was to stop off for fish and chips, because what kind of day by the seaside would it be without it?! As a Brit, I am very particular about my fish and chips and 99% of countries around the world see unable to do it justice. However, the Kiwi’s? They get a 10 out of 10. I do feel that they need to stop with all this rugby world cup thing though and try a fish & chips world championships for something because it would make for much better television for the English considering the rankings this year…

On our return to Paihia I can safely say I was slightly more cultured and definitely exhausted after our day. It really is a must do activity while staying up north and if hopping on a tour isn’t your cup of tea it’s just as easy in a hire car to hit all the main spots, just don’t drive down that stream unless you have a no excess insurance policy...