Exploring the North - Top Spots to Visit (Part 2)
Words and photos by Shellie Evans (#46960)
As featured in the recent issue of The Motor Caravanner during the last months of 2018 David and I enjoyed exploring much of the Northland region. While many of the places we visited were popular tourist attractions we also found our way to a number of ‘off the beaten track’ hidden gems. Here are some more of my favourite places from the winterless North.
Maitai Bay/Tokerau Beach/Puheke Beach, Karikari Peninsula
The Karikari Peninsula has a number of hidden gems including the NZMCA Tokerau Beach Park, the organisation’s most northern park. From the Park it’s just a short walk to the long sweeping white sands of Tokerau Beach which borders Doubtless Bay. Swimming, fishing, gathering shellfish, cycling or driving along the beach are all possible activities on this beautiful beach; dolphins and orca are frequent visitors to the bay and there was even a sperm whale which sadly stranded recently and washed ashore.
And not too far away, spectacular white silica sand dunes protect the remote Puheke Beach on the other side of the peninsula, where I’m told the fishing is also great. At the tip of the peninsula is one of the most beautiful bays of the Far North; the picture perfect horseshoe-shaped Maitai Bay and right next door the equally stunning Waikato Bay. A large two-tiered DOC camp borders Maitai Bay; the sandy beach provides the perfect place to rest and swim or you can launch a boat from the nearby boat ramp and head out of the bays exploring or fishing. Be aware that there is a rahui (a fishing and seafood collection ban) in place at both Maitai and Waikato bays until March 2020.
NZMCA Tokerau Beach Park (TD #94) Pet friendly
Maitai DOC Camp (TD #90) No domestic animals allowed
Ramp Road Freedom Camping CSC only (TD #100)
Mt Camel (aka Mt Houhora or Mt Tohoraha) is not a mountain at all but nevertheless is a prominent landmark in the surrounding landscape, standing tall on the north side of the Houhora harbour entrance.
On the south side across a deep blue channel is the popular Wagener Holiday Park and a boat ramp ideal for launching small boats or kayaks to go fishing or to explore the inner harbour. At low tide you can also walk past the entrance and around to the Rangaunu Bay and East Beach to fish or collect shellfish. Nearby, tucked away behind huge exotic trees and surrounded by equally big pohutukawa, is the historic Wagener/Subritzky homestead which was built in 1860. The famous Wagener Museum was once located in a nearby building which now has a café in the front section.
My one and only visit to the museum was with my holidaying family as a 12 year old and had a lasting impression on me; I recall opening drawers and drawers of shells, butterflies and insects, narrow walkways, dark corners and ducking to miss the huge number of artefacts and lamps hanging from the ceiling. It must have been a sad day for all when the museum closed in 2003 and the contents auctioned off. Hot Tip – If you’d like to get up close and personal with the biggest stingrays I have ever seen (and I’ve seen a few), stop at the small commercial wharf in Houhora village mid-tide – especially if the locals are fishing off the wharf.
Houhora Heads Holiday Park (TD #51) Pet friendly (winter rates available)
Willowbrook CAP (TD #53) Pet friendly
Henderson Bay/Rarawa Beach
Henderson Bay and Rarawa Beach are proof yet again that the best-kept secrets are often at the end of a gravel road, although these gems are at the end of relatively short roads at 6kms and 3kms respectively. These two stunningly beautiful ocean beaches are side by side and yet are so very different.
They are both long surf beaches backed by sand dunes covered in flaxes and dune grasses, both have crystal clear water ideal for swimming and surfing and both also have small rocky tidal pools and reefs at the end which can be explored. The difference is in the colour of the sand; Henderson Bay’s sweeping crescent is tinged pink while Rarawa Beach’s silica sand is snow white and squeaks underfoot. Henderson Bay’s pink colour is caused by heavier coral sand sitting on top of the lighter white silica sand. The Rarawa DOC Camp has joined my list of favourite DOC camp sites; I found it a very tranquil place.
The camp is set back from the beach, tucked in behind the sand dunes and bordered by the deep brown, tannin-stained Ngataki Stream. There are several secluded and private camping areas separated by native plantings and huge pohutukawa trees (aka the New Zealand Christmas tree) with many of them in full bloom during our visit just before Christmas.
If you do visit during the nesting season, check for the shag colony nests in the trees overhanging the stream and be careful along the sandspit at the mouth of the stream. There’s quite a large flock of endangered New Zealand dotterels (and oystercatchers) nesting inside and worryingly, outside the roped off area over the spit.
Rarawa DOC Camp (TD #42) No domestic animals allowed
Te Paki Sand Dunes/90 Mile Beach
A road trip to the Cape Reinga wouldn’t be complete without a visit to the giant Te Paki sand dunes which border Ninety Mile Beach, 20kms south of the Cape. The dunes are a top tourist attraction and are well worth a visit even if you’d rather not try your hand at surfing down them (sandboards can be hired from a couple of entrepreneurial lads in the carpark).
The 1km wide, 10km long dunes are a magnificent and unexpected sight at the end of a short gravel road. And at 150m high it’s a steep climb to the top of the dunes – take a scarf or similar to cover your mouth if you don’t want to fill it with sand on the way down. If you don’t have a go yourself, it’s just as much fun to watch a steady stream of people, looking like tiny ants all in a row, climbing up the ridges of the dunes to reach the top of the tallest one before speeding down the slopes in various poses and stages of wipe out.
If you’ve driven up Ninety Mile Beach, the Te Paki Stream bed beside the dunes provides the last exit onto State Highway 1 to the top. You can also drive down to the beach in the opposite direction from the dune carpark if you have a 4WD vehicle. The wide stream bed is fine to travel through if the weather is clear and the stream running shallow.
Te Rerenga Wairua/Cape Reinga
The landscape opens up as the traveller approaches the top of the North Island, the views and wild rugged beauty are spectacular; big skies, blue seas, white sand dunes, ocean beaches, dune lakes, swampy wetlands and wind contoured native bush as far as the eye can see.
A lot of thought and effort has gone into making the visitor’s experience of Cape Reinga one to remember; a wide path winds its way through flaxes, cabbage trees and native bush down to the iconic Cape Reinga lighthouse. This is also where the Tasman Sea and the mighty Pacific Ocean meet in a spectacular swirl of currents. There are a number of information panels to read and bench seats to sit on and take in the views or rest awhile along the way. It’s a very spiritual place that’s revered in Maori folklore; Maori believe the spirits of the dead travel to the Cape on their journey to the afterlife.
Being a sacred site, eating is not permitted at Cape Reinga, however if you’re looking for a good picnic spot, take the turn-off to beautiful Tapotupotu Bay, 5km before the Cape.
Te Paki Coastal Walk/Tapotupotu Bay
Several tramping and walking tracks of varying lengths leave from the Cape including the start of the 3000km Te Araroa Walkway (The Long Pathway) reaching from the top of the North Island to the bottom of the South (or the finish if you’ve walked it south to north).
The 48km scenic Te Paki Coastal Walk follows the rugged coastline around the top of the North Island. The track starts in Spirits Bay on the north eastern coast, passes through Tapotupotu Bay, past Cape Reinga and Cape Maria van Dieman, descends to Te Werahi and Twilight Beaches and finishes at the Te Paki Stream.
I’d highly recommend the 5km section from Tapotupotu Bay to the Cape especially if you are staying at the DOC Camp and can get dropped off at the Cape carpark and walk back to the camp, there’s two long downhill sections and one steep uphill section in this direction.
The views are spectacular with magnificent sea cliffs, crashing waves and tiny secluded Sandy Bay with beautiful green water and white sand, perfect for a snack stop or a refreshing dip if you’re walking the track on a hot day.
Two Hot Tips – If staying at Tapotupotu DOC Camp don’t be like sheep and park in the corralled ‘motorhome’ section, drive further around and the camp opens up with lots more available space.
Also check early morning for the secretive matata/fernbird and mioweka/ banded rail near the footbridge over the stream. Recommended campsite for 10, 11 & 12: Tapotupotu DOC Camp (TD #33) the northern-most camp in New Zealand. No domestic animals allowed.
To enjoy more of Shellie Evans’ great photos and informative write-ups on her and husband David’s travels throughout the country, check out her Two Go Tiki Touring blog – www.tikitouringnz.blogspot.co.nz