The Far North
Scenic 4x4 tour
Every Christmas break we like to head away and take a few weeks to explore an area of New Zealand - this year we picked the Far North as neither of us has been up there before.
Having had a few mechanical issues with the truck in the lead up to Christmas holidays, I was getting a tad concerned our trip might be slightly different... But as luck would have it, everything got sorted the week before the break and our plan was set in motion - get to Auckland and then spend the next week taking the long way to the top of the island!
Setting off very early on Boxing Day, we did the big drive from Wellington to Auckland to cover some ground before our adventures actually began.
Whilst camping at a motor camp on the North Shore isn't exactly exploring the wilderness, it's nice that there's still a place this close to Auckland City where you can stop off and spend the evening getting some sleep.
Leaving Auckland we set off towards the east with the goal being to drive up the eastern side of the country and back down the western - which almost worked!
After having a quick look at Goat Island (go check it out - it was way too busy when we were there, apparently it has the best snorkeling around) and the Leigh Wharf we left the Auckland region and headed into Northland!
Following Google and Topo maps we wound our way through some awesome gravel roads that the North is famous for and headed out to Mangawhai Beach.
Finding a campsite over the Christmas break can be a tad tricky anywhere near Auckland - there are people everywhere... The first site we got to was completely full, and knowing that we'd have to backtrack if the next one was full we continued on hesitantly. It was worth it though - I've never managed to camp on the beach before sadly - this campsite backed right onto the beach, it was a pretty amazing spot to eat dinner and watch the sun go down.
The walk to Mermaid Pools starts at Matapouri Beach - with its amazing golden sand and super clear water. As we later learnt, most of the beaches on the eastern side of the island are almost tropical in their appearance. Matapouri was our first experience.
Closed as of mid-2019
From Matapouri Beach we set off on foot to find the Mermaid Pools we'd both spotted on Google Maps. The information board in the carpark didn't actually explain how to access the pools, but there was a stream of people heading out there so we followed them.
The pools are amazing! Much deeper than I was anticipating and, like most of the water up this way, super clear and warm. They are well worth the walk/mountain climb...
Which brings me onto the access track. Let's just say that it's not for the faint of heart. Access to the Mermaid Pools involves climbing up a slippery cliff face. The trees help with grip and someone has kindly installed ropes in the tricky bits - but it's definitely not an easy place to access. I'd also highly recommend checking the tides before going, the tide was on its way in when we were heading back and the narrow part of the beach had shallow waves washing up already.
Winding our way through gravel tracks
Leaving Matapouri, we headed up the island and into Russell to check out where the first New Zealand government was formed and to checkout the beaches. Sadly the weather wasn't playing ball that day and we didn't end up going for a swim.
Being from Wellington we're not used to car ferries as a way of getting around - I've only ever been on one to get down to the South Island before. Russell to Opua via the road is a decent drive over some twisty roads - or, for $13, you can take a 5 minute ride on a car ferry to the other side!
Boarding the car ferry
90 Mile Beach
I have fallen completely in love with 90 Mile Beach and the surrounding area. Something about that beach captivated me... The apparent endlessness of it. The fact that you can drive along it for a long time. And the views just blew me away, especially at sunset where the sun sets on the horizon with nothing blocking it.
Once on the packed sand I honestly think that driving up the beach is quicker than the highway - you can maintain a reasonably consistent speed the whole way. The few entries/exits we used were very soft though, a 4WD is highly recommended!
If you have time and don't mind being lost, it's well worth taking some of the less obvious exits off the beach and up onto the forest tracks where you'll find a massive pine forest filled with wild horses and very pretty views. Remember to stay out of the private areas though.
I could have spent days exploring the southern part of 90 Mile Beach alone but we had a date with Cape Reinga - in 2017 we set out with a goal to get all four points of the North Island before the year was out and the top was the last one we needed, so we hit the highway to make a good chunk of ground.
Mid afternoon on the 30th of December we ran out of road to drive on - we'd reached the most (well, almost) northerly point of New Zealand!
Travelling over the Christmas break means people... And Cape Reinga wasn't short of people. It was probably the least peaceful place we have visited in 2017. We had the other three lighthouses to ourselves when we visited them, no way that was happening here.
Seeing the Tasman Sea and the Pacific Ocean mix was something I hadn't really considered before. The water was super turbulent in a very specific area which was pretty cool to see as apparently it doesn't do it all the time.
Looking down from the lighthouse out onto the golden beaches and clear water was a sight to behold - from the lookout you could see fish in the water below, it's that clear.
Sunset over the tip of New Zealand
Camping at Spirits Bay that evening, we were treated to an awesome sunset over the very northern tip of New Zealand. The beach is worth checking out if you're up that way, the sand has a section of very smooth shells that reflected the sunset amazingly.
Te Paki dunes and stream
One of the items on my 'Far North Bucket List' was the Te Paki Sand Dunes (otherwise known as the Giant Sand Dunes) - the idea of sliding down huge hills of sand on my boogie board really appealed to the, cough, 10 year old in me.
As you head north on SH1 or up the beach, the dunes stand out very clearly and you can't really miss the turn off onto Te Paki Stream Road given the amount of traffic heading into the area.
Take your boogie board and nothing else if possible - I decided taking my phone was a good idea... Right up until the moment I got to the bottom of a dune and realised it was no longer in my pocket.
Turning out of the dunes car park I noticed a sign pointing towards the beach, and more excitingly, a stream which was also a road. Left we turned!
Given that it was the middle of summer and New Zealand had been having a bit of a rain shortage, there wasn't a huge amount of water in the stream but what a cool drive nonetheless. There's something special about being able to drive through a shallow creek to get places instead of using the road.
Driving up the stream
Once out on the beach again we headed right up to the most northern point of 90 Mile Beach and stopped to take it all in for a while.
Normally I'm excited to go explore the next place, but leaving the very Far North was quite a sad moment - that place had a hold on me - I could've spent another few weeks exploring the side streets and beach but we had to get back to Wellington at some point and we still had plenty more miles to cover.
Heading south from Kaitaia on New Years Day we headed down towards the Hokianga Harbour and Opononi. This is another route that has an optional car ferry which I'd highly recommend using - it's over an hour on the road.
Kai Iwi Lakes Campground
We've stayed at some pretty cool campgrounds over the years but I think Kai Iwi takes the award for my favourite spot thus far. There's nothing quite like camping right on a freshwater lake with the softest white sand I've ever felt between my toes.
The water is super shallow for a good 50m before it drops away suddenly, so it's toasty warm and an amazing place to sit and watch the sun go down over the hills.
From Kai Iwi we headed back into Auckland as the storm was due to hit and we didn't fancy being in the middle of nowhere when it did.
While in the Auckland area we checked out Muriwai Beach (where I promptly beached the truck in the soft sand...) and watched the giant waves crashing into the rocks. We also popped in to meet the Feldon Shelter people who blew me away with their awesomeness - one of their rooftop tents will hopefully be going on my roof in the near future.
The Far North... What a trip, what a place, I thought it'd be hard to top our South Island trip last year but I think this trip may have just squeezed in above.
Time to start planning the next roadie before summer is done! Until then, chur.