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Haere Mai! Welcome to subtropical Northland, the birthplace of New Zealand and where ancient pohutukawa trees (more on these later) and giant Kauri trees merge with white sandy beaches and gorgeous hidden coves.

Northland is the place where Maori and Europeans first decided to settle, and their shared history is evident throughout the region.

Heading north of Auckland, we stopped on the North Shore with Rich and Ange, our Airbnb hosts for a couple of days, who have recently built an incredible light-filled house in Orewa.

Using their wonderful luxurious house as our base and their brilliant local tips, we explored the surrounding area and uncovered some little gems:

Shakespear Regional Park – We took a scenic walk to a lookout, with 360 degrees views across the Auckland cityscape and out to the Hauraki Gulf and its outlying islands.

Wenderholm Regional Park – located between Puhoi and Waiwera Rivers. We stumbled across historic Couldrey House and Gardens at the base of the walking tracks, by a gorgeous beach; this Victorian-Edwardian family home has an interesting history. We loved reading about its Victorian heritage, whilst looking at the furniture, old maps and historic documents.

Orewa – the seaside suburb is around a 30-minute drive north of Auckland, but a world away from the bustle! We loved its extensive beach, especially at sunset.

Goat Island Marine Reserve – by the lovely little coastal village of Leigh, NZ’s first marine reserve has an abundance of marine life which lure snorkellers, divers and glass-bottomed kayaks. We spent hours in the Discovery Centre, learning about conservation and marine science.

Mangawhai Heads – magical Mangawhai is what it’s known as, and this is so true! It’s a special place with a number of beaches and coves to explore, including huge white sand dunes that are looked after by the Department of Conservation (DOC) because they are home to dotterel, oystercatchers and the rare Caspian tern. Whilst walking along the beach one day, Albie was dive-bombed and screamed at by an oyster catcher, which we later discovered was defending its hidden chick! They’re fascinating birds to watch, as they skate around on their tangerine legs, stopping to dig holes every so often with their long orange beaks.

Oh yes, a bit of sandboarding!

We stayed in an original Kiwi bach (thank you Nicole for your Airbnb listing!), including original 50s furnishings, so we could imagine how it was to holiday in those times!

Russell, Bay of Islands – the legend goes that a Maori chief, wounded in battle, asked for penguin broth. After drinking it, he said, “Ka reka te korora.” (How sweet is the penguin). Thus, the name of the town, Kororareka – korora (blue penguin) and reka (sweet) was born. In 1844, it was renamed Russell. Today, it’s a cute seaside village with the original street plan, historic building and names from 1843.

It was in the Bay of Islands that the Maori voyager Kupe first set foot, followed by Captain Cook. In 1840 the Treaty of Waitangi was signed here by Maori and Pakeha (Europeans) and the nation’s journey began.

There are 144 islands, with abundant  rich marine life. Marine mammals such as bottlenose dolphins, common dolphins, orcas, brydes whales and other migrating whales are seen here at various points during the year. With this in mind, we took a sailing boat, on Easter Sunday, with a skipper focused on conservation, hoping to swim with dolphins. If you’ve read our previous blog posts, you’ll remember we had an aborted attempt at swimming with Hectors dolphins in Akoroa due to the cyclone at the time.

Pulling the sails up!

As we sailed out from Paihia, into the glistening Bay, a pod of bottlenose dolphins joined us! This is the fourth dolphin species we’ve seen in NZ, and by far the biggest at around 2m long. The graceful creatures leapt, dived, frolicked, played, teased and argued with each other, whilst the juveniles remained close to their mums. Sadly, we couldn’t get in the water with them, because of the babies, but they swam so close to our boat, and under the ‘net’ that we sat on, that we felt almost as though we were with them!

We also got snippets of video footage; have a look at our Instagram page (travellingtamlyns), if you’re interested!

Albie loved lying on and looking through the netting to the sea below, with his new onboard friend!

We sailed on to one of the islands, where we walked up to a viewpoint and snorkelled in the clear waters of the cove.

Here, we found Paua shells, the iridescent special gems of NZ coastal waters. Pāua is the Māori name given to three species of large edible sea snails.

On the day of our sailing trip, they’d practised the tsunami warning siren in Russell. We kind of wanted to hear it, just to know what to expect should we ever be faced with such an experience. Nevertheless, we checked out where our nearest evacuation zone was!

From our campsite, we walked to Long Beach. As you can see from the photos, the beaches up North are so unspoilt, with no or relatively little development spoiling the pristine native bush hugging the coastline.

Back at camp, we met the lovely Duncan and Elina, who have recently returned to NZ after spending 11 years in England. Bizarrely, Duncan has worked with some people that Tash knew from her old BBC Technology days – small world! Why we didn’t take a photo of you gorgeous pair?!

We also didn’t manage to photograph a kiwi, NZ’s iconic flightless bird…a) because we never saw one in the wild  (although we definitely heard them calling at night when we were camping), and b) because when we visited a sanctuary to see them, it was in a darkened room, as if night (they’re nocturnal for those of you unsure!), and flash photography is obviously prohibited. We did see signs for them though!

(Have to admit to being a bit jealous of the bell tent behind us!)

A totally different, but exceptionally beautiful, Easter weekend for us!

We left Russel by car ferry, to Opua…we love these quirky experiences!

Tauranga Bay – just wow! Driving into  the little campsite, perched on the beachfront, took our breath away! Were we really going to pitch our tent up and have these million dollar views? Oh yes we were!

Salvaging some might driftwood from the beach, we made ourselves picnic benches to sit on! We are all learning to be more self-sufficient, less materialistic, more focused on the environment, and happy in the moment!

The boys learnt how to surf cast from some locals, and Jake was even offered a more appropriate rod from the super kind and generous David, parked up in his caravan by us.

Sadly, they didn’t catch anything here, but luckily New Zealanders are so kind…we were given a couple of fish (kahawai) from another guy fishing off the beach that Albie befriended, super super grateful! After filleting and bbqing, look what a yummy dinner they made:

Despite being on the east coast, the sunsets were incredible, and we could never get bored of watching the New Zealand huge night skies awaken with their myriad of silver fairy dust and glittering lights. Totally magical!

Walking around the bay, we investigated what rocks had been eroded (love our daily geographical conversations!).

Isn’t cloud formation incredible? Check out these lingering wisps draping themselves over the far headland like cobwebs (thank you Jake for the apt description!)…

The vegetation is soooo green, it looks fake!!

Taking the coastal road, we stopped at a few places en route to our next stopover:

Whangaroa – a scenic fishing harbour, known as the Marlin Capital of NZ.

Taupo Bay – beautiful clear turquoise water and white sand beach.

Coopers Beach, Doubtless Bay – this is the furthest point in the Far North that we’ll stay, but with the intention of driving all the way to tip of Cape Reinga before we head back down to Auckland. Doubtless Bay sweeps in a gigantic arc and is so named because as Cook sailed by it in 1769, he said it was doubtless a bay.

In order to get ourselves more organised for the next leg in our adventure (flying to South America), we’ve based ourselves in another cute Kiwi bach, with WiFi and washing facilities!

Thanks Jane, for the games you left out for us here. It has to be said that we’re travelling-tamlyns, who love a game or two! This was is pretty apt!

Just over the road from the magnificent Coopers Beach, which is unlike any other beach we’ve come across in NZ due to the mass of NZ pohutukawa trees tumbling their tangled roots onto the sand as they scramble for pole position along the beach’s edge. Love it!

Cape Reinga – this is the infamous place where the Tasman Sea and Pacific Ocean dramatically merge; there are absolutely stunning views from the walking tracks to the lighthouse, and we felt as though we were at the end of the world!

Cape Reinga (Te Reinga or Te Rerenga Wairua in Māori) is the northwesternmost tip of the Aupouri Peninsula, at the northern end of the North Island of New Zealand. The name of the cape comes from the Māori word ‘Reinga’, meaning the ‘Underworld’. Another Māori name is ‘Te Rerenga Wairua’, meaning the leaping-off place of spirits. Both refer to the Māori belief that the cape is the point where the spirits of the dead enter the underworld.

Another headland, just to the west of Cape Reinga, is Cape Maria van Diemen, which was discovered and named by the Dutch explorer Abel Tasman during his journey in 1642 and thought of by him to be the northernmost point of the newly-discovered country he named ‘Staten Landt’.

Driving back down SH1, we stopped at Rarawa beach, at the bottom of Great Exhibition Bay.

90 Mile Beach – more accurately, it’s actually 55 miles long and runs from Agipara to almost the top of the North Island. It’s huge in any event, you can’t see the end it’s so vast! We entered onto it at Waipapakauri Beach, at the southern end. It is also a road, so you can take 4×4 cars onto it…we had to give it a go! It reminded us of driving (well, the 4×4 truck we were passengers on) on the beach highway on Fraser Island.

Whoah, what a day!

Karikari Peninsula – this is one exquisite bundle of beauty at the top end of Doubtless Bay. We stopped for a dip on 3 different beaches:

Matai Bay…

Rangiputa..

Puheke

Ice creams…oh sorry, they’re not a beach, but still a rather delicious sight!

Kawiti glow worm caves – FINALLY!!!! After glimpsing the ‘webs’ spun by gloworms in hollows of trees, on our trip to Milford Sound, we desperately wanted to visit a glow worm cave to see them en masse! We’ve attempted to see them at various campsites, where they’ve glow-worm walks, but a dark cave is a different experience altogether! Thankful we avoided the touristy Waitomo Caves, we found a small family run operation called Kawiti. Our knowledgeable guide was a descendent of the Maori woman who hid in the caves hundreds of years ago, to escape her unkind husband. This is how the caves were discovered! We entered tiny passages, where millions of years old stalactites (the ones growing down, holding on tightly), and stalagmites (trying to grow upwards with all their might!), guarded us as we made our path through. In the depths of the cavern, we entered a magical wonderland, as tiny pin-pricks of luminosity glittered above us like a huge curtain of fairy lights. Wow! Or worms are only found in NZ and some parts of Australia. Their rarity is down to the fact that there are no cave-dwelling bats here, so no predators for the matchstick-sized worm. These little creatures spin tiny ‘hammocks’ from the ceiling, to chill out in. Then, they produce a string of necklace-like drops that dangle from their hammocks. Once ready and hungry, they glow to attract their prey (flies and other flying insects). If they’re not hungry, they don’t glow, simple!  We couldn’t take any photos because the flash would diminish the worm’s glow, but if you google them you’ll find loads of photos and video footage about them, it’s fascinating!

Oh my gosh, we have only one day left in New Zealand (boo hoo) before we fly to the next leg of our adventure: South America! What better place to finish our trip than a short stay back at the little bach we fell in love with earlier, in Mangawhai Heads, ready to catch a plane tomorrow. We’ll leave you with these stunning views over the sand dunes and beaches of MH, from our clifftop walk today…