Exploring the North - Top Spots To Visit (Part 1)
Words and photos by Shellie Evans #46960
During the last months of 2018 we had the pleasure of exploring much of the Northland region. Many of the places we have visited are popular tourist attractions but there have also been a number of ‘off the beaten track’ hidden gems. Here are some of my favourite places from the winterless North.
Otamure Bay, Whananaki North
Whananaki is home to the longest pedestrian bridge in the Southern Hemisphere. The bridge, at 395 metres joins north and south Whananaki and was built so the teacher at the local school didn’t have to row a dinghy across the estuary twice a day to collect and deliver school children from the south side. The bridge also saves a 13km road trip via a narrow gravel road. Just over the hill at the north end of the estuary is beautiful Otamure Bay, a perfectly small, white sand crescent beach fringed by huge pohutukawa and bordered by a large DOC campground. At the north end of Otamure Bay is a gorgeous hidden gem; a short, sharp 200m walk over a bluff on the Watkin Powell Track delivers the walker into the beautiful and secluded Tauwhara Bay with its golden sand, emerald green waters and magnificent gnarly old pohutukawa trees. Take a picnic, have a swim, out of season you’ll most likely be the only visitor all day.
Recommended campsites: Otamure Bay DOC Camp (TD #539) No domestic animals allowed; Whananaki Holiday Park (TD#542) Pet friendly.
Puriri Bay, Whangaruru North
Like a tiny oasis, picture-perfect Puriri Bay appears below the weary traveller as they crest the last brow after travelling many kilometres of a dusty gravel road. Puriri Bay faces west on the north side of the huge Whangaruru Harbour and is the perfect place to set up camp and stay awhile. A DOC camp borders the bay and with a small boat ramp and sandy beach, it provides the perfect opportunity to launch a dinghy or kayak to explore the harbour or to go fishing. If it’s rough seas inside the harbour then it’s just a short trip back over the hill to Bland Bay on the east side of the Whangaruru Peninsula. There are numerous walks of varying lengths over the Whangaruru headland – a number of them quite strenuous and with many flights of steps but worth the effort for the magnificent coastal scenery.
Check out the pied shag/kawau colony in the large pohutukawa trees at the west end of the bay. Especially if it’s the nesting season, it’s fascinating to look into the nests from the walking track between Picnic and Puriri bays and watch the harassed parents feeding the chicks.
Recommended campsites: Puriri Bay DOC Camp (TD #322) No domestic animals allowed; Bland Bay Motor Camp Pet friendly.
Kerikeri/Waitangi/Russell, Bay of Islands
NZMCA members are very fortunate to have their own Park right next door to the beautiful Rainbow Falls in Kerikeri, it’s such a pleasure to be able to walk just a few steps through the bush to the top of the falls or down a short path to view them from the bottom. A 5km river walk (no dogs allowed) through bush from the park, ends at the historic Stone Store in the Kerikeri Basin. Kerikeri is also a great base to explore the wider area from; a trip to Waitangi and a stroll around the Treaty Grounds is very poignant and a must view is the new museum within the grounds. It’s absolutely fantastic and well worth the entry fee alone; allow extra time if you’re a history buff. And don’t forget to mention you are a New Zealand citizen to get the resident discount.
There’s also plenty of history on the other side of the bay in the historic town of Russell, catch the pedestrian ferry across, have a wander around town. Then perhaps have lunch or a cool drink at the famous Duke of Marlborough Hotel or one of the many cafes on the waterfront. Then relax under the trees on the water’s edge and watch the world come and go from the Russell wharf.
Rangihoua Heritage Park/ Marsden Cross
Not too far north of Kerikeri along a winding gravel road through rolling hills there’s another slightly surreal slice of New Zealand history. A mass of beautiful flowering pink roses welcomes the visitor to the carpark of the Rangihoua Heritage Park and the historic Marsden Cross Walkway at Rangihoua Bay in the outer Bay of Islands. It was here on Christmas Day, just over 200 years ago, that Maori joined European missionary settlers including the Rev. Samuel Marsden, to celebrate the first Christian service in New Zealand.
It was also here that the first European school was built and the first Pakeha child was born. Today, a kilometre long track winds downhill, passes a small wetland and then follows a short stream to the bay; along the way there are numerous information panels which tell the life, times and loves of the local Maori and early settlers. Once in the bay there are more interpretation panels, a memorial to the settlers and the large Marsden Cross which sits high on a terrace above the shoreline.
Recommended campsites for 3 & 4: Rainbow Falls NZMCA Park (TD #228) Pet friendly Kerikeri Holiday Park (TD #234) Pet friendly (an excellent park with very friendly owners and good rates, we left our rig here for a few days when we had an unexpected trip out of town).
Matauri Bay/Rainbow Warrior Memorial
Matauri Bay is another jewel in Northland’s crown of many beautiful, crescent-shaped white sand beaches. The beach is over a kilometre long and is popular with swimmers and surfers while the Cavalli Islands that lay just offshore are popular with kayakers, boaters, fishers and divers.
The Matauri Bay Holiday Park, at the north end of the bay, is sheltered from the sea by a double row of prominent Norfolk Pines with many of the camp sites looking out over the bay to the islands. A short walk to the top of the headland beside the camp gives spectacular views out over the islands and also reveals the memorial to the Greenpeace ship, the Rainbow Warrior which was sunk beside the islands and now provides an artificial reef for divers. Be careful if you have children with you, as the cliffs drop away to the ocean below just in front of the memorial.
Recommended campsite: Matauri Bay Holiday Park (TD #195) Pet friendly (subject to season).
Mahinepua Bay & Peninsula
Beautiful, tiny, sheltered Mahinepua Bay is just north of Matauri Bay and not too far south of popular Tauranga Bay. It is reached by taking a short gravel road off Wainui Road, the scenic coastal route off SH10 on the south side of the Whangaroa Harbour. A public reserve is at the centre of the bay where the beach and clear waters are safe for swimming. At the southern end of the beach, on a narrow sand spit bordered by emerald green, is another small reserve which is under the protection of the local kaitiaki (guardians). Camping is sometimes available here but permission must be sought first from the caretaker, a sign board at the entrance has the contact information and a koha (donation) is acceptable payment.
For this you will be well rewarded with a magnificent site just a few steps from the sea on one side and the calm waters of Waipareira Stream on the other. At the northern end of the beach the 3km (one way) DOC walking track through the Mahinepua Peninsula Scenic Reserve to a trig point at the end is well worth doing. The track travels along the spine of the peninsula but also gives access to a number of small sandy coves along the way.
The walk provides outstanding views north along a rugged and dramatic coastline and south over sheltered bays and islands, there’s a short loop option towards the end and even though it’s mostly a ‘there and back along the same track’ walk, the views are very different in both directions. The track is in good condition with several flights of stairs on the steeper sections for safety and to protect some archaeological sites on the peninsula. But there are also many steep drop-offs and cliffs, so children need to be supervised at all times and care taken around the trig area especially in wet weather.
Recommended campsites: Tauranga Bay Holiday Park (TD #192) Pet friendly, subject to season; Mahinepua Maori Reserve – permission required BEFORE you set up camp.
Part two of Shellie Evans’ Exploring the North article will feature in the next issue of The Motor Caravanner. To enjoy more of Shellie Evans’ great photos and informative write-ups on her travels throughout the country, check out her Two Go Tiki Touring blog – www.tikitouringnz.blogspot.co.nz