Only a week since we collected the hire car in Auckland? Seriously? That just seems incredible to both of us as we’ve seen so many new places, met so many friendly people, and of course walked along so many amazing beaches. We weren’t totally sure how this road trip in Northland would go after our previous New Zealand visit but it’s been so much more than we ever hoped for.
Leaving Cable Bay
We really enjoyed our time in Cable Bay even though the weather was a little overcast. It felt like a day to sit back and take stock of where we were and how our trip was going. Time to leave however and we were driving 60 miles south east to the town of Paihia in the Bay of Islands and could easily achieve that and a few beach detours and still be there in time for tea (or coffee).
A brief diversion through the lovely little fishing village of Mangonui on Doubtless Bay and we left the state highway for a tour round the next peninsula. First stop, Whangaroa Harbour. Jo had read about a short walk there which sounded right up our street.
Do you know why it’s called Doubtless Bay? (we love this) Apparently the entry made by Captain Cook in his logbook in 1769 as he sailed past the entrance to the body of water was ‘it’s doubtless a bay‘. And the name stuck. Could have been far worse I guess.
Climbing the Rock of Saint Paul
The beautiful town of Whangaroa, which claims to be the ‘Marlin Capital of New Zealand‘, sits on the harbour of the same name and nestles in the shadow of the Rock of Saint Paul. This is a huge volcanic rock situated north of the town and apparently had a nice walk and great views of the surrounding bay. The Lonely Planet guide book said it was a leisurely gentle walk so we thought we’d give it a go.
Maybe it was the previous days rain or maybe we weren’t as fit as we thought or just maybe the people at Lonely Planet really hated us but it wasn’t gentle or leisurely! Right from the moment we parked on Old Hospital Road it was steep and slippy and virtually an upward mud slide. Every step was tricky and it wasn’t long before Jo hit a particularly muddy section and went flat on her back! She’s no wimp though and we battled on right up to the base of the rock where they were absolutely spot on about the views being great.
The descent was almost as difficult as the climb unfortunately as it really was a mud slide by then. No more falls as we very carefully made our way back down. An achievement? Not sure, but some muddy jeans and a few bruises made us feel as if we’d done something.
Avoiding fisherman in Tauranga Bay
From Whangaroa we dived back onto the peninsula road and continued north towards Wainui and our next destination, Tauranga Bay. We weren’t sure what the beach would be like but a brief look turned into a couple of hours, lunch, and some serious rockpool exploring.
It’s just a quiet little holiday village with a few houses and a few camper vans but we absolutely loved it. Soft sand and gentle surf lapped our feet as we strolled and paddled our way to either end of this beautiful beach. Scores of pools dotted the rocky coastline as we clambered and climbed out to the furthest points. We walked through dark sandy-floored tunnels, holes in the rocks, and through deep fast-flowing rivers. Even Captain Cook didn’t do that!
The trickiest part was negotiating our way past the invisible fisherman. Well they weren’t exactly invisible but they were sitting away from the beach and they had stuck their huge fishing rods in the sand with the hard to see fishing wire stretched right across the beach. And there were loads of them. We had to keep our eyes open and jink around them or it could have been curtains!
What happened to the Rainbow Warrior?
Next stop along the peninsula was the stunning Matauri Bay with its one kilometre long white sandy beach and an interesting monument on top of the hill. Matauri looked like the sort of place that would be really busy once summer actually arrived with a lot of camping spaces and a huge car park. Empty for now but you could see that they expected crowds. We had it all to ourselves though. This was the place that some of the very first Polynesian navigators arrived in New Zealand.
At the top of the headland to the north of the beach stands a monument to the Greenpeace ship, Rainbow Warrior. Yet another steepish climb but worth the effort as the views out across the Cavalli Islands and to the Pacific Ocean beyond was spectacular. At the very top overlooking the cliff edge was a simple monument to the Rainbow Warrior which overlooks the position where the wreck lays in the Cavalli Islands just a few miles away.
The Rainbow Warrior was a ship operated by the environmental organisation Greenpeace. In the late 1970s and 80s it was active in working against whaling, seal-hunting, and nuclear waste dumping and had sailed to New Zealand in 1985 to monitor French nuclear testing in Polynesia. On July 10th the Rainbow Warrior was sunk in Auckland Harbour after two huge explosions and a member of the crew killed.
It transpired that the French Secret Service were behind the bombing and after a worldwide political scandal the French government paid Greenpeace over $8million in reparation. The actual agents were quietly released though and never charged. The wreck of the ship is now used as a home for marine life and a dive wreck.
Paihia for Panic and a Once in a Lifetime trip
From Matuari it was just a short drive back to the state highway and then down to Paihia. We’d booked a motel as we just couldn’t get a reasonably priced Airbnb anywhere, sometimes certain places seem to be mega-expensive. So it was the Casa Bella Motel that got our business.
A quiet little motel just on the edge of town away from the hustle and bustle and it would be our home for the next 3 nights. A stress free check-in with the overly chatty lady on reception and we parked-up, got the bags in, had a coffee, and connected to the Wifi for the first time in 3 days. That’s when the panic started!!
Whilst we’d been offline the people at Booking.com had very kindly cancelled our motel booking for December claiming our credit card had been declined. They gave us a day to rebook but we’d been off-grid and when I checked if i could rebook the motel was full! Nightmare! So I emailed the motel direct throwing myself at their mercy and asking (begging) if there was anything they could do and after a brief exchange they very kindly honoured the booking. What a relief.
So what is this Once in a Lifetime thing? Well it was booked for the following day in Paihia and was something that we’d both wanted to do for years and we were SO excited. Actually, more than excited.