We have the hire car and we have the maps so let’s go North! There’s 117 miles to Bayly’s Beach, we’ve got a full tank of gas, no cigarettes, it’s daylight and we’re wearing sunglasses. I’ll be Elwood and you can be Jake. On our previous trip to New Zealand the Blues Brothers (aka Jonno and Jo) didn’t venture further north than Auckland so a road trip around Northland was top of the list for JWalking 3.
Auckland to Bayly’s Beach
Just for the shear hell of it and to avoid the motorway toll road we took the scenic route up the west coast to Dargaville. We had been tipped off by our Airbnb host to pick up groceries and petrol in Dargaville before heading out to his place on the coast. The only local shop he has is a “Dairy” selling essential items. Adequately grocered and tanked up we headed the last 15km or so to Bayly’s Beach. First stop for us was the aforementioned dairy, Sharkey’s. This is a bar, come cafe, come coffee shop. The friendly owners made for a great atmosphere. Two drinks and one game of pool later we headed towards our Airbnb.
The small settlement is mostly bach (pronounced “batch” meaning holiday home or beach house) homes. Some are brightly coloured and others are more modern rebuilds perched around the bay. Our host Gary had a large two storey home just in from the coast and we had the lower floor self contained apartment. Gary was a writer and intrigued us with his stories of following various bands around the world to write reviews on their concerts and music. Jonno’s eyes lit up with the view to blog material and he could hardly contain himself when he heard that Gary’s wife was called Yoko. How rock n roll can you get?
Bayly’s Beach is at the south end of the 100km long Ripiro Beach which is classed as a highway. It is quicker to reach some of the other settlements along the west coast by beach than by travelling inland on the unmade roads. A knowledge of the tides and a four wheel drive is recommended but we saw a few family hatchbacks braving it. Apart from that you can hire a quad bike from the nearby camp site. The only way for us was, of course, JWalking so we took both an afternoon and a sunset walk along the cliffs and onto the beach. It is a dramatic coast and crazy to see a car go by and the lights disappear when they get too far away to see anymore.
Kai Iwi Lakes
The research and planning was already paying off. Overnight stops in interesting places and possible stop-off locations along the way helps us make the most of every precious day here. Having said that there are, and should be, the random things that you come across. My problem is always saying the places we are heading for. The Maori place names just seem to have far too many vowels to even attempt saying them. So we will start gently by visiting Kai Iwi Lakes. These three stunning azure blue lakes are linked by footpaths and cycle tracks. We started at Lake Taharoe which is the largest and has a beautiful sandy beach at one end. We virtually had the place to ourselves but it did look like it was geared up to be busier in the summer months. A short drive brought us to Lake Waikere. This time we were totally on our own so broke out the picnic lunch and marvelled at the serenity of the place.
Kauri Tree Tour
Let me tell you a story….once upon a time North Island was covered in dense forests of Kauri trees. There were over a million hectares of forest but today there are barely 4,000, the rest felled for timber or cleared for farming. From the mid 1800s Kauri became the preferred timber for shipbuilding because it is long, straight, evenly grained and free from knots. It’s gum was also prized for use in paints and varnishes and the process of “bleeding” Kauri for their gum hastened the early death of many trees. Our drive up the west coast took us through the Waipoua Forest which is the largest remnant of the once-extensive forests. 18km of curving roads took us through dense sub tropical forests. A few kilometres into the forest I spotted a sign that said “Forest Lookout” and shouted “Turn left” to Jon. He reacted with lighting speed and threw little Yantze (the Toyota Yaris) onto the track. Track not being quite the right description. It was more like the tarmac had all been dug up and just left laying there with about 6 inches of gravel chucked on top. Yantze was game but Jonno had a look of pure fear on his face because of the angle of the incline and the drops on either side of the road. Has he never seen Top Gear? This was his chance to really off road. Thankfully he took it fairly steady because poor little Yantze is built for shopping in the suburbs not sliding sideways around hairpin bends. After about ten minutes we arrived at said lookout. My mistake – I thought it was going to be a terrace or something to view the canopy of the forest from on high. It was, however, a small lookout tower. Like something you would use to use as a fire watch location.
The drive back down was more sedate as the engine wasn’t almost exploding and we knew what we were in for on the return leg. The trees in this area that draw the tourists are the Four Sisters (which is four Kauri trees joined at the bottom), Te Matua Ngahere (Father of the Forest) a huge tree – not the tallest at 30 metres but the fattest trunk at 16.4 metres and finally Tane Mahuta (Lord of the Forest) which is the largest Kauri alive, standing at an impressive 51.5 metres. Estimates are that it is 2000 years old.
The trees themselves house a whole eco system because high up in the broad branches masses of other plants are growing, birds nesting and a few of these too…..
To protect the trees from disease at each walking track entrance there are stations to brush and disinfect your shoes. Also in a bid to protect the mass of root systems, a boardwalk takes you over the forests floor.
Despite these two protective measures I did still feel a bit like an intruder and felt somehow that these giants of the forest should be left to see out their years without onlookers. Talking of intruders, we nearly had a French couple jump in the back of our car. Just as we were turning into one of the parking areas to take the short walk to the trees two voices shouted, “Can we get a ride?“. Jonno’s bemused look must have put them off but I don’t think they realised it was only about 25 metres to the entrance from the road. Half an hour later, it felt a bit like groundhog day because we were driving out of the parking area and two voices said, “Can we get a ride?“. It turned out that they had some sign reading issues and had parked about half a mile away thinking it was the right place. Sacre blu!
Hokianga Harbour & Opononi
The last leg on this section of our trip was to drive to Opononi where we had overnight accommodation booked at The Lighthouse Motel. We had booked a few months ago via booking.com because the location, accommodation and price looked right. We knew it was on the edge of an inlet/bay but it wasn’t until we drove over a rise and down into the bay that we realised what a beautiful area it was. The colour of the sea was an amazing shade of blue that I am sure non of the photos will do justice to.
On the far side of the bay there were massive golden sand dunes running down to the shore which added to the colour and light combination. Our motel faced all of this and we were welcomed by a very friendly elderly couple who seemed very proud of their ten or so little units. It had a BBQ area, hot tub and even a replica lighthouse. It wasn’t until the next day that we discovered that the very friendly owners were relief managers. They had come over from Australia to give the owners a break and they were making a very good job of it. An evening stroll brought us to the Opononi Hotel. The bar was full of Friday night sports fans watching NZ play rugby. We bagged a table outside facing the bay and tucked into fush n chups and a couple of glasses of Speights Ale. When we have days like this I think we can’t have a better day here in NZ, or can we?
10/11 – 11/11/2017