Tag Archives: Far-Northern New Zealand

The Great Far-North Roadtrip – Days 4 and 5


After spending a few days in Auckland with Couch Surfers, I was planning on finding a nice Hostel and bunkering down to explore the city for a few days before my flight took me to Honolulu. Plans changed, however, when my CS host offered to lend her van to myself and two other Couch Surfers. We had debated renting a car and exploring the far-Northern peninsula, but I wasn’t planning on spending the money to rent a car for that long… but when Anais offered to give us her van for free, my decision was made up in an instant – the chance to drive and explore for only the cost of diesel fuel? Yes please! The following is a quick account of our journeys:

The main actors – See Days 1 and 2

Day 4:

And the animals just won’t leave me alone. The fourth and last full day of my roadtrip dawned, or rather shattered, around six thirty or so when, as if by planning, the roosters and rain both arrived at the same time. The roosters were a trio who, it seems, had been abandoned on the side of the road by their farmers, and had grown up as a trio who worked to keep travelers awake in the early morning. The rain… well, it was pretty wet. Other than that it was exactly what one would expect rain to act like.

After trying to ignore the roosters for an hour, I finally gave up and succumed to the combined forces of my mattress deflating and the roosters crying. It took a bit of time for the Europeans to actually get themselves out of bed (something in the range of an hour, actually, spent mostly stretching and watching a movie on their computer), but once they were mobile we got breakfast going quite quickly – toasting up the bread and heating up the coffee and tea in record time. We actually got onto the road earlier than most other days, thanks to the animals and rain driving us away from relaxing in the forest, and so we pushed on towards the next town on our trip.

We took a quick stop in a seaside town, quite similar to Paihia, for a bathroom break, some information, and to search for some showers. The bathroom situation was first on my mind, but that in and of itself turned into a bit of an adventure, as the girls were quite occupied in the bathroom applying a few layers of road makeup. Seriously, mascara and everything. So I took a bit of time to explore the town and see what it had to offer, which fell cleanly into the category of “well, not much at all”. However, while I was gone the girls did find a small sign for a “Christian Workers” house a bit up the hill that offered Emergency housing to anyone in need… this they took to mean “open showers”, and so we headed up into the town after giving the house a quick call to make sure they were available. (Note: This again ties into the “Americans vs Europeans” post that will follow this one. Please read it, especially to understand why my roadtrip partners decided on this course of action).

The Claire House was the name of the Christian Workers house, and the woman living and working there was an amazing host to us, even though it was clearly non-standard for travelers to stop into the house just to use her showers. I ended up taking the first shower, since everyone else was having difficulty extricating their shower gear from the van, and so I was able to spend a good bit of time chatting with the people living there – we shared stories, I learned about the Christian Workers movement, and we generally had a most-excellent time there. I was honestly quite impressed at their hospitality; more than once I had to turn down an extra cup of coffee, a sandwich, or some other small gift or piece of food, and I honestly felt a bit bad about infringing on their time as much as we did, especially since their hot water was purely drawn from a wood fire that also heated the house and the kitchen stove.

But we had a great time, and I think that the folks there enjoyed the company for the short time we were there, in the end. They lived an amazingly simple and clean lifestyle, though I have to note that it was quite a “Western” style of life, instead of a native New Zealand style. They farmed, raised goats, and cooked food on a wood stove, clearing the land as they needed for the fields and grazing land. They honestly most reminded me of what I’ve heard of the old pioneers in the Mid West United States, back before electricity or cars, and I would have loved to spend a week there, tilling the fields and helping with the goats. But we did have to push on, and so we started eating through the rest of the main highway to a place called the Kauri Forest.

The Kauri Forest is, unsurprisingly, made up on Kauri Trees – also known as “Great Kauri Trees”, and some of the largest and oldest trees in the world, second only in height to the Sequoia and Redwood of California, as far as I could tell. Adrien had been talking about these trees since we started the road trip, and I was quite excited to see them myself as well – but when we finally got to see them nothing could have prepared me for how majestically giant they are. These trees, while not as tall as some others I’ve seen, are giants in girth with huge broad tops. Instead of tapering to a point like most trees you see in the Northern Hemisphere, the Great Kauri stay relatively cylindrical up to the very top of the tree, at which point they explode outwards like a clawed hand, making a large and flat top that would make an amazing tree-fort.

We spent a few hours just wandering around the forest itself, walking the paths and seeing some of the more famous trees – The “Lord of the Forest”, the “Father of the Forest”, and the “Four Sisters”. The Lord of the Forest is a named tree, which is to date the largest Kauri ever found, measuring nearly 17 Meters (about 54 feet) in diameter. The Father of the Forest is the second biggest, loosing to the Lord of the Forest by a mere meter or two, and the Four Sisters are four smaller, yet still giant, Kauri that are growing nearly from the same stump, with their roots only a few feet apart.

After breaking free from the small and winding roads of the Kauri Forest, our path headed almost straight towards a small town, and a place called Baylys Beach. The town was first of the agenda, so as to get ourselves some food, and so we found ourselves a good-looking Fish and Chips shop on the side of the road, and stepped on in. And it was exactly what I’ve gotten used to in Christchurch – a small shop with a cool Asian couple behind the counter, with a large chalk menu showing off $2 chips, $3 fish, and $4 burgers. Cheap, delicious, and horribly fattening I’m sure, but we all ordered up a great feast fit for poor travelers; I had a burger, chicken wings, and a milkshake, coming to a grand-total of $9. Yes. I am ok with that.

After gorging on fried food, thus proving my heritage as a citizen of the United States, we piled back into the van and backtracked to Baylys Beach – a place that even the guy at the fish and chips shop told us we had to explore. And his description… did not even come close to doing that beach justice. It was amazing in every sense of the word; only the attached pictures can truly describe it. The beach went on into the distance farther than my eyes could hope to see, and the sand trailed off into cloudy mist as the sand dunes reared up, seeming in challenge against the might of the ocean. The sand was hard-packed, indeed hard-packed enough for trucks and ATVs to drive around on, and so in the hour that we gave ourselves on the beach we were able to walk nearly a full mile down the shore – yet the beach just kept on going, farther and farther into the shrouding mists.

But we did have to leave, and so we finally tore ourselves back from the amazing beach at Baylys. It was a hard thing to do, but we finally got back into the van with full water bottles from a convenient station near the car park, and tore off onto the highway again. After a quick grocery and diesel stop we pushed almost flat out for the rest of the night, only stopping for a short while to watch the sunset and finalize our plans on where we were going to sleep, and who would be driving back to Auckland in the morning.

The total plan, as it stood, was that we’d camp out at a major intersection near a WWOOFing place, where Heloise and Adrien were planning on working, and then Alissa and I would drive on towards Auckland early in the morning, leaving camp around 4:30 to make sure that I could be in the city in time to make my flight at 10:30. It was a good plan, although it left me precious little time for sleep that night, and so we all agreed on pushing through until we finally arrived at a good spot to camp by that intersection.

And so… we did. It was a long drive though, but finally we did arrive around 10:30, setting up camp quickly before starting dinner and cleaning out the van for Anais. I didn’t bother setting up my tent that night, thanks to a small camping awning next to the van, and so I was able to help get dinner ready faster, getting us some more time to hang out and party for our last night as a road trip team. Everything was excellent – Dinner was an amazing pasta mix of fresh fruits and veggies with bowtie pasta, with a big Boston Cream Pie for dessert as a little “taste of home” for me (Ed Note: Ben won’t admit it, but this was actually the first time he had ever eaten Boston Cream Pie). We killed off the remainder of the beer, and I drifted off into content sleep just after the midnight bell rang out. (Another Note: There was no actual midnight bell. Ben just likes being poetic)

Day 5

I am a smart man, and thus I hadn’t fully inflated my sleeping pad the night before, thus setting a sort of “secondary alarm clock” for myself. I figured that, even after dealing with sleeping on concrete in Sao Paulo (See “My life in an Airport”) I would be forcibly awakened by the pad deflating enough to drop me onto the cold concrete. And it worked like a charm, although I did still try to keep sleeping for nearly 10minutes after my actual phone alarm went off.

Instead of an actual breakfast we all ate a quick bite of pastry or bread that we had saved from the grocery the day before, and Heloise and Adrien moved their gear into the small tent they had set up the night before. Alissa and I then said our goodbyes, exchanged contact information, and jumped into the van, driving through the mist towards Auckland. And by “mist”, I mean “crushingly dense fog”. And by “crushingly dense fog”, I mean “less than 10m (30f) visibility in the good parts”. It was rough, and made for slow driving… but I had expected that and so we arrived in Auckland only a few minutes late for my next airport adventure…

The Great Far-North Road Trip – Day 3


After spending a few days in Auckland with Couch Surfers, I was planning on finding a nice Hostel and bunkering down to explore the city for a few days before my flight took me to Honolulu. Plans changed, however, when my CS host offered to lend her van to myself and two other Couch Surfers. We had debated renting a car and exploring the far-Northern peninsula, but I wasn’t planning on spending the money to rent a car for that long… but when Anais offered to give us her van for free, my decision was made up in an instant – the chance to drive and explore for only the cost of diesel fuel? Yes please! The following is a quick account of our journeys:

The main actors – See Days 1 and 2

Day 3:

Keeping with the theme from the day before, my mattress was nicely deflated by eight in the morning, and by eight thirty I was forced out of my sleeping bag with the option of getting up, or somehow re-inflating my pad. I took the first approach, and soon enough the gas stove on the van was burning bright and toast with jam was being cooked up next to a pot of coffee. It was a nice morning – not a true English breakfast by far, but a nice introduction to a standard French breakfast; nice and light, with a small cup of coffee.

We started off the day by wandering around Paihia a bit, with the pipe dream of finding a nice and cheap Kayak rental place. You see, we were in whats known as the “Bay of Islands”, an aptly named bay that has seven or eight big islands in the middle of it, most of which are great for a bit of rock climbing or a nice picnic lunch. Unfortunately the Kayak places weren’t anywhere near our price range (or, I should say, the price range of Heloise and Adrien… I was tempted to go for it solo) and were anywhere from $15 to $20 per person per hour. Not that bad, but there Francs were on quite a tight budget I learned, and so we decided to skip out on Kayaking in favor of pushing on and finding ourselves some awesome beaches farther North along the coast.

And so, we drove. I took to the wheel again quietly singing “turn the page” to myself as I hauled the trucker-style wheel around, and we started making quite good time onwards. One of our longer stops was at a place called Haruru falls, a place that quite reminded me of a small version of Niagara Falls. It was the same iconic horseshoe shape of the North American falls, and it even had a neat little pool right by the edge where you could sit and look over the edge, but the real thing that drew my gaze was the pristine rock over the edge, away from the falls themselves. Perfect cracks ran vertically all over the rock, with small ledges standing out horizontally to make excellent footholds. I would have grabbed by climbing shoes then and there if I could, but unfortunately we still had more than a few miles to make up by the end of the day, and I didn’t really feel that the Europeans would be too interested in watching me climb for an hour or so, unfortunately.

Pushing on from Haruru we stopped in at a small chocolate shop, met a hitchhiker from France, and even stopped in at a beach town called Matauri Bay for some most excellent beach relaxation. The afternoon was full of relaxing, in my mind, but I started to really notice the difference in mindset between myself and my companions as we pushed off from Matauri Bay. Namely, I guess I’ve become quite good at driving long distances, or tightening my belt when there’s no lunch in the immediate future, whereas my compatriots are… less willing to cope with hardships, it seems. I think I have to attribute my acceptance of discomfort to hanging out with one too many Army guys (primarily my buddy Dave), but either way I found myself starting to get a bit annoyed at our inability to drive for more than an hour without having people asking to stop for food or a break.

But we pressed on – one advantage to being stuck in a small van together is that people can overlook certain annoyances for the good of the trip, and fitting four people into this one van was definitely something that counted as a small space. Thankfully after Matauri Bay we were able to find some rather excellent food stops and beach stops to clear peoples appetite for rest and stretching, and I was even able to play in the ocean with a whole family of Maori kids down at a place called Coopers Beach. In return for giving them rides on my back as I swam around the kids gave me a whole handful of clams that they had been gathering for dinner, a gift which I was most thankful for… especially when dinner rolled around and Heloise cooked them up for us all. A perfect four clams for four people – sometimes it seems the universe really does love us, doesn’t it?

The rest of the day went fairly quietly, with a few stops for pictures and a few relaxing miles passed in quiet contemplation. We ended the day in a small pullout on the side of the main highway, where we set up camp and cooked up another most excellent meal of Pasta and tuna, with the usual side of beers.

However, we soon started to notice that our chosen campsite may not have been the wisest place to camp for the evening – we were fairly far in the backwoods from what I could tell, and thus the wildlife in the area was quite curious about what was going on in its backyard. As we ate we could hear the squealing of pigs and the chattering of possums, and more than once I saw small pairs of eyes watching us from the trees. It was creepy, and more than a little worrying thinking back on the stories of wild pigs that I had heard. Capping the situation was the fact that there was a small light glimmering in the far distance across a river – a light that was self-powered and not a reflection, since it persisted even when my flashlight was doused.

And so I went to my tent tightly clutching my walking stick as a weapon, holding it as if it could somehow protect me as I fell asleep. And… it made me feel a lot better, I will admit – especially when the animals finally realized that my tent was something new and exciting for them to look at. First in line was the possum, a night-screamer who snuck up right next to the rainfly and started chittering at the top of its lungs. After like 30s of screeching it would move a bit closer to the tent, but every few minutes a car would come by and cause it to run back into the bush, starting the whole process over again… and it lasted nearly 20minutes before it finally got bored, or so I thought. Instead, I learned that it had been scared off by a wild boar, which proceeded to squeal and carry on in the brush for another 20min, before it too finally got bored and left me to sleep… alone, away from the safe metal walls of the van in my little orange tent.

The Great Far-Northern Road Trip: Days 1 and 2


The Far-North New Zealand Road trip


After spending a few days in Auckland with Couch Surfers, I was planning on finding a nice Hostel and bunkering down to explore the city for a few days before my flight took me to Honolulu. Plans changed, however, when my CS host offered to lend her van to myself and two other Couch Surfers. We had debated renting a car and exploring the far-Northern peninsula, but I wasn’t planning on spending the money to rent a car for that long… but when Anais offered to give us her van for free, my decision was made up in an instant – the chance to drive and explore for only the cost of diesel fuel? Yes please! The following is a quick account of our journeys:


The main actors –

Anais – (Pronounced “Ahh-nye-ees”) The woman who lent us her van. A professional photographer from France, who moved to New Zealand, met a guy, and has been living here ever since. Retained a very strong French Accent.

Heloise – (Pronounced “Ell-oh-ees”) The only other driver aside from myself, she’s a girl my age from France exploring the world with her Brother.

Adrien – (Pronounced “Add-Dree-on”) Heloise’s brother, he’s been exploring the world alongside his sister. A really cool guy, though he’s a bit understated and often gets overshadowed by Heloise.

Alissa – (Pronounced exactly as you would expect) A Couchsurfer from Germany; you’re stereotypical German going on her “Gap year” between secondary school an University. The youngest of the group, but possibly the most laid back.

Myself – (I’m not giving you a pronunciation) Me. The oldest of the group, and the primary driver of the Van.


Day 1:

The first day of our “Great Northern Roadtrip” started out later in the afternoon and without much fuss. Most of the day had been spent with Anais, going over plans and roads and such, and so it wasn’t until nearly sundown that we started out. Started out may actually be a bit too strong of a term, looking back on it, since we didn’t actually plan on leaving the city completely – instead, we were camping out a bit outside of the city and then driving back in the next morning to pick up a fourth member of our road trip crew; a girl named Alissa from Germany that Heloise had met Couchsurfing.

So, our first day just involved a quick stop for some fast food for dinner, a bit of random driving around Auckland, and then finding a small secluded beach to park by, as we rolled out the sleeping bags in the van and went to sleep.


Day 2:

This was the first real day of the adventure, and as such it started off correctly – nice and early, with amazing sky and sun. I’d been able to wake up without too much difficulty recently, thanks to a rather “nice, yet annoying” problem with my sleeping pad – it had a very small, slow leak. This meant that if I inflated it all the way at night, almost exactly seven hours later it would be deflated enough that my shoulders and hips would be painfully digging into the ground. It hurt, but it did help with the whole “waking up in the morning”.

After Heloise and Adrien had woken up and mobilized we headed back into town so that I could do a bit of training with a Capoeira group (Ed Note: See post “Auckland Capoeira”), after which we picked up Alissa at her Couchsurfers house. And this place was cool – the guy was named Craig, and him and his flatmates had rented out the entire space above an autobody shop and turned it into this amazing loft style apartment. Thankfully he was as cool as his flat, and I was able to quickly sneak in and use his shower before we headed out; one of the dangers of Capoeira is that no matter where you go, you’re almost definitely going to be nice and sweaty by the end of it… not a good way to start out a road trip.

After I was nice and clean I thanked the host, and we all headed back downstairs to load up the van with Alissa’s stuff. We made a quick run to a grocery as well, picking up lots of fruits and veggies and random ingredients for breakfast, and then finally jumped into the van and made for the open road.

Since we had gotten such a late start of it, our first day of driving wasn’t actually very long. Instead of pushing hard, we made for the scenic style of traveling, and stopped in at a few pretty amazing places. The first was a small beach called Sand Spit, a very aptly named fishing town that had this one spit of beach jutting out into the harbor that you could wander around on and explore. And explore we did – nearly an hour and a half of wandering, walking, photographing and wading into the ocean followed our arrival. We had the luck to have arrived at low tide, so much of the inner harbor was actually dry land, instead of underwater, and so we were able to walk a nice little loop from the van, out to the spit, and then back via a forest trail. It was amazing, and was the perfect appetizer to whet out appetite for the rest of the far-northern coast.

As we pushed further and further North we stopped in at a few more beaches, found ourselves a few more snacks, and finally arrived in our sleeping goal for the evening – a town called Paihia. It was small, and bore a strong resemblance to pretty much every small town on Cape Cod. It was full of touristy shops, lots of seafood, and had the smell of salt water and gutted fish in the air. Not altogether unpleasant, but I can’t imagine living there for very long before going insane.

Camp was quickly set up, and dinner cooked on the back of the van: We camped in a small packing lot out back – me in my tent outside and the other three in the van beside me. Dinner was amazing though, easily enough to offset my lonelyness at being the only one hanging out in the great wild – pasta with an amazing veggi sauce that Heloise made. We all ate, drank (I had bought a six pack of nice beer) and laughed until nearly 11:00, after which I headed back to the tent and read for an hour or so before falling asleep to the sounds of a small river rolling towards the ocean next to me.