December brought me to New Zealand, to explore the land Down Under. The 14 hour plane ride was not as bad as it sounds and my first time on Air New Zealand was a great experience (their entertainment system is A+). The plan was to make our way to the northern most tip of the North Island starting and ending in Auckland. Tripadvisor was great for initial research and really helped us out when we were looking for places to eat.
What I really enjoyed about this leg was that the drives weren’t excessively long and we arrived early enough at our stop for each night early enough to enjoy each town. The North reminded me of Hawaii’s North Shore, with the small towns, plethora of beaches and of course, the beautiful scenery. The highway was mostly winding (easily carsick folks beware!), with rolling hills, cows and sheep aplenty.
Orewa – cutest little town by the beach, it’s perfect for a lunch stop and a stroll.
Tawharanui Regional Park – a good place put stop to stretch your legs or spend an afternoon, it has a lot to offer from hikes to beaches.
Whangarei – the only city in the Northland, it’s the ideal pit stop for an evening, being only about three hours from Auckland, giving you plenty of time for stops along the way.
The Gallery and Cafe, Helena Bay Hill – we were glad this was suggested to us by one of the ladies at an information centre (called i-sites), it is such a pretty place to drop by for lunch (with a view!) and see some local art.
Russell – another really great town by the water, there is a walk on ferry that takes you across the bay to Paihia; for those who want to cross with a car, head down to Okiato (about a ten minute drive) for a vehicle ferry.
Paihia – the main tourist town in the area, it’s another ideal stop for the evening. It has a great selection of restaurants, an information centre and a great harbour and beach to visit.
Kerikeri – a big town worth stopping by to see some local sites like Rainbow Falls.
Kaitaia – we used Kaitaia as our base for our day up to Cape Reinga. Being a gateway to Cape Reinga, make sure to stop by the i-site for recommendations as they are very informative. It has a nice selection of restaurants and grocery stores to stock up for the drive up North. There won’t be much in terms of food and snack stops on the way to Cape Reinga so make sure to bring your own!
Omapere/Opononi – stop by the Arai-Te-Uru Recreation Reserve for a scenic view of the sand dunes and some hikes. The i-site is a good place to get information about this side of the coast and there’s a little cafe right beside for a lunch or snack stop (one of the only ones in town).
Waipoua Forest – stop by the Tane Mahuta Walk to see the large Kauri. It takes a moment to realize how large these trees actually get.
The Kauri Museum – A museum dedicated to the Kauri, it showcases New Zealand’s past through the Kauri, as it was a big commodity back in the day. It is a big exhibit and there is a cafe, a church and cemetery on the premises to visit.
Dargaville – our last “pit stop” before Auckland, I found it a serene, quiet town but with enough restaurants to take our pick from and a big grocery store.