New Zealand – Northlands and Coromandel

Well, it’s been some time since I updated you all with my travels – and I have driven so many miles since then. My time in New Zealand is drawing a close as I write this, so expect a flurry of updates in the next few days, as I’ll need to record my memories before they fade too far.

Anyway, where was I? Oh yes – arriving in New Zealand from Fiji. I started my NZ trip in Auckland, with a couple of days in a nice hostel in Ponsonby (with spectaular imagination, called Ponsonby Backpackers) – a large converted house with a couple of outbuildings for additional rooms. My single room was in one of these outside blocks, which seemed like a lovely idea – except that my ground-floor window faced the outdoor common area, where a group of Germans would laugh, drink and generally carouse until late… Ah, digressing already – a separate post will follow on my time in hostels…

To be totally frank, I wasn’t all that impressed with Auckland. Admittedly I didn’t explore the place to any great degree, but it just felt like any other big city. The harbour/marina area was nice though – super yachts moored next to little 22 footers – the rest was just a bit ‘meh’. I picked up my car (a fairly clapped out Nissan Sunny with 236k on the clock) after a few days, and headed off northwards. Unsurprisingly I didn’t really have a plan beyond ‘Go North!’, so at my first rest stop on the road I checked some of the suggested itineraries in the Lonely Planet – it suggested heading seawards to a small village called Tutukaka, where some excellent diving could be had at the nearby Poor Knights Islands. Freshly qualified, I thought it would be a good idea, so went there, via Whangerei Falls. On that drive, I got my first taste of real NZ roads and they’re an absolute joy to drive. They’ll get a post to themselves, but suffice it to say – windy, spectacular scenery even from the driver’s seat, and an almost complete absence of other cars. I camped out for the night – a poor choice as the temperature dipped down to about 2c, and my ten quid Tesco sleeping bag wasn’t up to the task.

The day diving with Dive! Tutukaka was excellent, despite a pretty choppy return trip. Two dives in really clear water, lots of underwater life, and I even saw a rare fish! The 16c water was fairly chilly, but it was easy to cope in a double-layered 7mm wetsuit. The islands themselves were pretty gorgeous, with the largest sea arch in the southern hemisphere, and a huge cave that they could drive the dive boat right into. Poor Knights Islands are a totally protected nature reserve, and apparently are now in the state that they were in before the arrival of mankind – a little bit eerie, actually. After the previous night’s near hypothermia, I asked about dorms at the campsite – I got a dorm to myself for $5 more than the camping pitch. Doh!. I have a video, courtesy of one of the other divers, which I’ll attempt to post when I have sufficient bandwidth.

The following day, I headed up to Cape Reinga, which is the northernmost point of NZ. The lighthouse was surprisingly stubby, but was suitably remote and picturesque – as were the surrounding beaches and cliffs. I attempted another night in a campsite – the only facilities being a long-drop toilet and a cold shower. Fortunately it was much warmer (helped along by a healthy chug of Southern Comfort), and I survived the night without frostbite.


I decided to head back to Auckland on the next day, but down the western coast rather than the east side. On the way I found a couple of German hitchhikers (Lewis and Daniel), and did my good deed for the week by giving them a lift – about four hours down the road. We stopped off to see the biggest Kauri tree in the world (it was maaaaassive), and at a viewpoint high on a hill. From the top, you couldn’t really see the road, and felt totally isolated in the middle of a forest. Nice. After dropping the guys off, I found a different hostel to go to – Uenuku Lodge – a perfect example of a hostel being ruined by its occupants. This experience gave me the impetus to head off again – this time to the Coromandel Peninsula. More fantastic driving round the coast of the peninsula, some freshly caught fish courtesy of my neighbour in the campsite, and a gorgeous beach made that side-trip quite memorable. After visiting a couple of the tourist hotspots in the Coromandel area the following day (Cathedral Cove and the Hot Water Beach, where at low tide you can dig a hole and bathe in toasty hot water), I popped back to Auckland to meet up with Ben and Fiona (where I may have had a little too much to drink), then hit the road again, heading southwards towards Wellington.


Ponsonby backpackers

Dive! Tutukaka

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