At this point of my stay in New Zealand, I was teaching 45 hours of classes a week. Teaching is not like working in the business world. In order to teach that many hours in a week, I had to be at school around 60 hours a week. Even considering the fact that I lived seven minutes from my school, I still had about four hours that were spent not working, sleeping, or eating. Exhausting. So my only free time was on the weekends. I needed to get north. I wanted to head up to Cape Reinga, the northern most point of the north island. Taking a bus wasn’t an option because of my limited time frame. I decided my best option was to hire a car. I learned how to drive when I was 15. I drove for about ten years before I moved out of the States. Still, I had never driven on the opposite side of the road. “Oh well, gotta try sometime,” I thought to myself.
Driving up north from Auckland is a very interesting experience. From central Auckland, you take the bridge over to North Shore. About twenty minutes after you cross the bridge, the city really starts to thin out. The hills start to roll and the scenery is beautiful. I was with a beautiful companion and we had a long drive a head of us in order to get to our destination for the evening. Luckily, we were able to catch a beautiful sunset en route.
Although we didn’t have much time, I wanted to see one main tourist attraction on the way up: The Kemp House and the Stone Store. The Kemp House is the oldest building in New Zealand, built around 1820 and the Stone Store is the oldest stone building. Pretty cool stuff.
The drive proved somewhat challenging and much longer than I had anticipated. The guest house where I had made a reservation told me to make sure I stopped at the last petrol station before I hopped on to the Aupouri Peninsula. As you drive farther and farther north, civilization seems to fade away. Outside of a few cities, there is nothing. When we arrived at the entrance to the peninsula, the last petrol station had already closed. Shit. Being from a country where you can get petrol 24 hours a day via credit card payments, this was quite shocking to me. And it was only about 8p.m. on a Saturday night. Color me baffled. I had wanted to drive all the way up to Cape Reinga to see the sunrise the next morning, but I only had enough petrol to get to the guest house and get back to the petrol station the next day. Oh well, I guess I hadn’t really wanted to get up that early anyway.
I need to plug the hostel here. It was one of the best places I have ever stayed. Wonderfully secluded and beautiful, it was well worth the drive. The Northwind Backpackers. The owners were extremely nice and waited for us to arrive fashionably late. We cooked a simple dinner and drank wine under the stars. Bellissimo.
The next day it was off to take a tour of Ninety-Mile beach and Cape Reinga. I don’t generally like organized tours. Actually, I rather loathe them. However with the rough tides of Ninety-Mile beach, you run a high risk of getting your car stuck in the sand. Instead, it’s much safer to take a bus tour of the beach. Pretty crazy to zoom along a beach on a big ole bus.
Although named Ninety-Mile beach, it is actually about 60 miles long. The first explorers to name the beach were traveling via horse. They knew that their horses generally travelled about 30 miles in a day and it took them three days to gallop from one side to the other. Only they didn’t take into account the fact that the horses move slower on sand. Still, 60 miles is a hell of a long beach. The bus driver will generally let you out of the bus once or twice for a short period of time, but hanging out for extended periods of time increases the risk of getting stuck in the sand. It is a freaking cool thing though to drive along a beach for an hour just to get to the other side.
Bonus: there are sand dunes in New Zealand. Who knew? With the wind currents and geographic features of the peninsula, the sand from the beach blows up and collects in an area forming desert-like sand dunes. Extra bonus: the tour company gives you a sled so you can toboggan your way down. Final bonus: Quite a few people end up slamming their face into the sand on the way down. Wicked entertainment.
Back on the bus and off to have lunch. The lunch destination was sublime. Secluded beach in an area of which I can’t, for the life of me, remember the name.
Everything tastes better here
And finally, to Cape Reinga. Cape Reinga is the northern-most point of the north island (well, almost. There is another point adjacent that is slightly higher up the latitude scale). Here you get to see a sight I would imagine is quite rare: Two large bodies of water crashing into each other. The Pacific Ocean and the Tasman Sea come together here with such force that you can see the white water of crashing waves from the cape. Definitely one of the coolest things I have ever seen.
The north island is steeped in Maori history and legends. Cape Reinga is where the souls of the dead would travel to and leap off to return to their traditional home of Hawaiki using the ‘Spirits Pathway.’
We made one more stop on our tour: the unbelievably white sands of Rarawa beach. I wanted to stay here all day.
It was getting late in the day and I still had to drive all the way back to Auckland. The non-scenic route would have taken four hours. I had my heart set on seeing the sunset on the west coast though. So I drove off without much of a plan trying to catch the fading sun. We managed to catch just the last bit of sunlight, however we missed the full fireball defending past the horizon. Probably because we stopped of at Mangonui’s famous fish and chip shop. Definitely worth it though.
G’night West Coast
I finally arrived at home around 1 a.m. only to turn around and get up at 6 a.m. for another 9-hour teaching day. Oh well. Such is the life of a world wanderer.
Next time on This Is My Travel Blog – New Zealand: What’s the smell? The sulfur of Rotorua