I got up early to have some cereal for breakfast and was ready and waiting on the pavement at 7:00am as they said the bus was often early for its 7:20 pick-up. The minutes ticked by with several other groups of people gathering outside their hostels on the same road. Then a bus came round the corner stopping down the road, then it drove past me and stopped up the road and then disappeared round the corner. I thought it obviously wasn’t my bus and besides it had dolphin cruise printed on the side. Another 10 minutes passed and I started to worry that I had missed the bus. How could I have though I had been waiting since 7:00 on the road. Then just as I was about to call the tour company the same bus came roaring around the corner again and screeched to a halt in front of me. Apparently the tour agent had forgotten to indicate where I was staying. Slightly chagrined I climbed aboard and found a seat thankfully I wasn’t the last on the bus as there were a few more pick-ups one of which was in the nearby town of Kerikeri that has very rich soil and as a result lots of citrus plantations. With everyone on board our driver/guide Derek, from GreatSights, started his commentary which was fantastic. He was very enthusiastic, informative and humorous all in just the right amounts. He lives in the area, knows all the Maori legends and even speaks the language having studied it at college. He also predicted that he would have us back in Paihia at approximately five forty…. three that afternoon. First up was an ancient Kauri forest. Only 10% of these massive Kauri trees remain because of being cut down by the early settlers. They can grow up to 50m and some are over 1000 years old.
After that it was a quick breakfast stop at the Ancient Kauri Kingdom a place that specialises in extracting old Kauri trees buried in swamps and manufacturing any number of products using the versatile wood. We would have more time here on our way back but we had to move on to reach 90 Mile Beach which is actually part of the New Zealand road network. It was quite surreal as we approached a dip in the dunes and onto the beach in the 60 seater bus. Derek drove straight for the ocean before turning right and heading North along 90 Mile Beach (which is actually only 64 miles long thanks to some smart ass who decided to go and measure it).
NB: click images to enlarge
Then with little warning as we approached the northern end of the beach Derek turned right and sped up a stream that looked nothing like a road, cutting between patches of reeds with water spraying past the windows of the bus before stopping at the foot of these massive sand dunes where any one who was keen could do some dune surfing on body boards.
The walk up the dune was hard work. The best tactic is follow the steps of the person in front of you where the sand has already been compressed. Once at the top you got on your board and held on for dear life. I was surprised at how fast it was and the slope was quite tricky with a flatter section in the middle which you ramped over before continuing down an even steeper slope. It was great fun though and myself and a few others made the walk up a second time to go again. Meanwhile our driver Derek showed us all up by coming down on his knees and making all the way to the stream.
Once we had all dusted ourselves off it was back on the bus and over the peninsula to Taputaputa (Maori for “paddle quickly”) Bay because of the currents when the first Maori discovered this bay they had to paddle quickly to get ashore. It is a beautiful spot and where we stopped to have our picnic lunches that we had brought with us.
After lunch it was a short drive up to Cape Reinga, the northwesternmost point of New Zealand where the Tasman Sea meets the Pacific Ocean. They say that on certain days when the conditions are right you can see the line where the two bodies of water meet. Maybe it wasn’t the right conditions or maybe it’s a rumour but I didn’t see any line. It is quite a spectacular point though and it holds a lot of significance to the Maori people. They believe this is where the spirits of the dead leap into the sea on their journey to the afterlife.
Then it was time to head South, our only option, back to the Ancient Kauri Kingdom where Derek washed the salt and sand off the bus while the rest of us perused the wood products on offer. In the centre of the shop they have a staircase that has been carved out of the trunk of one of these mighty Kauri trees which was quite amazing.
Finally it was back to Paihia but on the way we stopped in the sleepy fishing village of Mangonui (Maori for “big shark”) for yet again what was reputed to be the best fish & chips in New Zealand. We had phoned through our order so just had to run in, pay and collect our meal wrapped in butcher’s paper which we then devoured on the bus. Perhaps it was the long day and all the activity but it was pretty darn good fish & chips.
Rather exhausted we arrived back in Paihia, believe it or not at 5:43pm where Derek dropped us back at our respective accommodations at the end of what had been an awesome day out.