The car is packed up, we’ve waved goodbye to Coromandel and Santa’s ‘big day’ is right around the corner. The next stop on our North Island road trip brings us to The Bay of Islands. Or as I prefer to call it: Paradise ☀. Keep reading for your daily dose of vitamin sea…
We stayed in Paihia, right on the beach front in a modern apartment with an infinity pool – it really was as lush as it sounds. The weather was glorious and I have never felt so relaxed in my life. I actually managed to forget about my essays and exams for a week, whereas I usually have minor heart palpitations when I think about the fact that I’m 11,000 miles away from the library. I guess running wild and free with salty hair, bare feet and being able to see life in the bigger picture is the best remedy for stress. I’d love to spend my entire existence like this but I know it’ll take hard work and determination… watch this space!
Let’s get straight to the good stuff… shall we? Here’s what we got up to:
- CHASING WATERFALLS
The first day we arrived was a little bit rainy, so we thought it might be a good time to visit the forests. Not too far from Paihia you’ll find Haruru falls and Rainbow falls – both beautiful and pretty easy to get to (only a little bit of hiking required). My parents are fanatics about all-things-nature and, I mean, I like it too but they enjoy naming types of trees/flowers and start tapping each other excitedly if something as small as a rabbit comes into sight. It’s safe to say that they enjoyed these trips.
We took some silly pictures and I tried to teach my parents some yoga sequences seeing as the setting was pretty perfect for the ‘zen mindset’ – sadly they weren’t quite on my wavelength and ended up mocking my signature photo instead: “Hey Tara, can you take a picture of us doing peace signs? Is this good for the blog? Do we look cool and hipster? Is this instagrammable?”. When your parents start making fun of you, that’s when you start reassessing your life…
- CAPE REINGA
This is the northern most tip of New Zealand and also happens to be the exact place where the Pacific Ocean meets the Tasman sea. I love how the colour changes right in front of your eyes because you can see the exact moment that the two water bodies meet (my camera didn’t capture it too well, sorry!). There’s a little lighthouse and a few hiking trails to see and although that doesn’t sound like much, it was quite a spectacular sight. It’s also very sacred to the Maoris, as it’s believed to be the place where people come when they die before they embark on their journey to the afterlife. Kinda creepy to think you could be surrounded by a ton of Maori spirits but, hey, I believe in mermaids and dragons so I’m all for this kind of stuff!
- 90 MILE BEACH
Let’s clear things up first, this beach isn’t actually 90 miles long. I think it’s about 60 but apparently New Zealand lied a little bit and said it was bigger purely because they wanted to compete with Australia. In fact, this isn’t the only size-exaggeration I’ve stumbled across since I’ve been here. There’s been tons of rivers, lakes and roads, which, in Maori language, translate to synonyms for ‘large’ when they are just average-sized at best. What have I learnt from this? When a Maori says something is big, it’s probably not… Take from that what you will!
Back to the beach…. It’s actually a road so cars, buses and vans can drive on it and normal road rules apply. That said, tons of vehicles get stuck in the sand because they’re just not used to driving in those conditions and so I’d recommend you do what we did and go with an experienced guide.
It’s a surf beach so it’s not 100% safe to swim in due to huge waves and rip currents but it’s still amazing if you’re not equipped with a board ‘cause of the epic views.
The Te Paki sand dunes are a must-do when you’re in the Bay of Islands. I’ve only ever been sandboarding once before in the Peruvian desert but I couldn’t wait to give it another go. Unfortunately, safety restrictions in New Zealand are a lot stricter than in Peru so I went from being handed a snowboard with no safety briefing whatsoever to a boogie board and a full run-down of things that we weren’t allowed to do. So, I guess not being able to stand up and surf the dunes as you please is a bit of a bummer but that’s not to say that going down on your stomach isn’t as fun. I like that it’s more accessible – everyone in the family can have a go, regardless of ability. Also, there’s no need for a dune buggy – the dunes are right next to the car park so if you’re prepared to hike up then it’s easy to get started. An adrenaline rush for all the family!
Just a ferry ride away from Paihia is another beautiful town called Russell. It’s a little quainter and less commercialized, which was nice to experience and I would quite happily have stayed there forever. There’s a beach with the clearest water in North Island called Long Beach, a few cute little shops, fun piers to dive off by the harbour and a ridiculously popular restaurant called the Duke of Marlborough, which we were very lucky to get a reservation for. The service was speedy, the food was some of the tastiest we’d eaten all year and there was a really old-English vibe in there. Safe to say we all felt pretty posh for the evening. The bill wasn’t exactly ideal though (backpackers, you’ve got no chance of eating here) but we all said it was worth it for the experience. If you’re ever over that way then you absolutely must go and check it out for yourselves.
- SWIMMING WITH DOLPHINS
There’s nothing more peaceful than being in the middle of the Pacific ocean on a boat when the sun is glistening and the sea looks super silky. The temperatures may have been colder than comfortable but I was still itching to dive in. We were on safari for marine life but weren’t feeling very hopeful that we’d find much, so were just trying to make the most of the landscape scenery and sea breeze.
Believe it or not, we soon spotted two gorgeous dolphins swimming next to our boat so I grabbed my snorkel gear and jumped right in. Luckily they were feeling friendly and swimming in my direction – it was amazing to see them so close in their natural habitat. Unfortunately after a while, I realized I’d gone so far away from the boat that I’d need to call it a day before I was totally lost in the middle nowhere. I always think of the ocean as a friend but sometimes when you’re alone with lungs that don’t function as well as they should do then it can be your worst enemy.
I’ve always wanted to swim with dolphins and I feel so lucky to have had this opportunity! I’ve never been very keen on the in-captivity options, you know where you get 10 minutes in shallow water and a photographer takes a picture of your ‘dolphin kiss’ before charging you a small fortune for the printed copy? Don’t get me wrong, I was so desperate to swim with dolphins at one point that I really considered this option, but I would urge anyone to choose seeing them wild over the other options. It probably costs about the same to get on a boat as it does to pay a Dolphin Encounter centre. Plus, this way the dolphins actually have a choice if they want to swim with you – they aren’t confined and if they’re not in the mood then they can just swim away. I’ll admit you’re never guaranteed to find them in the wild but when you do it’s so much more spontaneous and adventurous. Aparently in the Bay of Islands it’s common to see huge pods of them and even orcas too… Imagine!
- BEACH LIFE
Living by the beach is something that I’ll never complain about. I could pass an entire lifetime tanning, water-sporting, eating ice cream, playing games on the sand, eating some more ice cream and skating/running along the beachside tracks. Unfortunately, it only lasted for a week but seeing as I could be stuck in the English winter revising I am not going to complain.
- CHRISTMAS DAY
Christmas in the sun is something that I could definitely get used to. I mean, I prefer Christmas in the winter but 21 years later I’ve finally learnt that there’s more to it than all this commercial stuff. New Zealand doesn’t do decorations, the traditional roast dinner isn’t something you fancy in 30 degree heat and as a family we decided against presents due to limited space in the car/our bags. We didn’t even have any WiFi for the day, so there was no social media posting or stalking for us (although we did make a small stop off in town to FaceTime our family and friends). For once, I felt truly present. My family and I had nothing to do all day but to talk to each other – we dressed up and took pictures, ate some delicious food, talked deeply about life and caught the late ferry to Russell to watch the sunset on the beach. I was feeling very grateful, indeed.
Paihia, I love your vibes! Stay chill and I’ll be back as soon as I can.
Next stop: Auckland. Let’s kick off the New Year in style.