People are often pressed to decide where they will concentrate their few days in New Zealand. If you only have a week, then many people barely touch down in Auckland and then proceed to the South Island to see the many national parks or for the adrenaline adventures. If you have two weeks you might add Auckland or Wellington. It seems only when people have 3 weeks or more that people make it to the Northland (the long peninsula of land North of Auckland).
I have visited New Zealand over a half dozen times and lived in St Heliers for 5 months and yet I never made it north of Matakana. I was going to borrow a car and go for a few days on my own, and then my friend UK Sarah asked if she could come along. And bonus! she did all the driving. This allowed me to really enjoy the landscape as we drove along.
The Northland region is subtropical and as you drive north on Highway 1 you can feel a shift in vibe. There is a strong Maori influence and definitely more relaxed.
There are a number of places to stay along the way. We stayed over three nights along the way–one night each in Omapere, Pahia and Whangarei. The last place we stayed was a low key but exquisitely restored Lupton Lodge. We reserved a table for dinner and selected our entrees ahead by email. Everything was delicious. I relaxed and Sarah took advantage of the pool to go for a swim.
The whole experience was too brief! I was texting back and forth with my son and I realized that I would really like to spend 2-4 weeks every winter in New Zealand. I can imagine staying in Kerikeri or some other bach in the Northlands.
The Bay of Islands stretch between Pahia and Russell. Tis truly beautiful.
Russell is most easily reached by ferry. The ferry ride is not long and feels like an outing. Like a hay ride or a sleigh ride. Anticipation rises as you draw near to Russell.
Once we got to Russell we were not hungry or thirsty. My friend UK Sarah had explored the Anglican church on a previous visit so we set off to find it. You cannot get lost in such a small village. The church and yard are lovely. We spent about a half hour looking about and then returned to the village proper.
Back in the day Russell was the Las Vegas of New Zealand. Whalers and sailors and bad boys looking for sex, alcohol and other good times or mischief stopped in Russell (or Hell Hole). Now Russell is a quiet retirement community and fun place to visit for a day.
I was craving fish and chips and we found a great place in the Gables Restaurant. We sat outdoors and enjoyed a hearty lunch in the garden.
There is definitely a certain laid back vibe in Pahia and Russell. It is probably the light and the water. Make sure you have set aside some time to just hangout.
It was pouring rain by the time we drove to the Kauri tree grove just south of Omapere in the Northland of New Zealand. It did not dampen our enthusiasm for these gorgeous big trees one bit. UK Sarah and I made this the main destination of Day One of our Northland road trip.
We left St Heliers in Auckland in the morning and arrived in Matakohe in time to see the Kauri Museum and eat lunch at a nearby cafe. The museum was a great way to understand the special attributes of this giant tree and its history. Unfortunately, it has a similar fate as California’s redwoods and there is only a remnant left.
We continued on Highway 12 getting lost only once. We stopped at the first grove and slipped into our raincoats. Sarah had an umbrella but I decided to rely on my slicker so I would have my hands free to take photos. Please pause to use the equipment provided to spray off your shoes so you do not introduce disease among the roots of these important legacy trees.
We stopped one more time at a second grove of trees. Then sopping wet and starting to get cold, we scooted to our hotel at the end of the highway in Omapere. We were staying at the Copthorne resort and it was terrific. The hotel room was very large and comfy with great views of the bay. The bar and restaurant was very good and we slept soundly. I could have stayed longer but there was more of the Northlands to see.