New Zealand North Island Part 3

5th - 15th April 2017

The day after our Hobbiton swamping, the deluge looked set to continue, so we headed to Hamilton to check out the impressive Waikato Museum housing the Te Winika War Canoe. Just along the street we admired the iconic statue of Richard O'Brien of Rocky Horror Show Fame, who spent his teens and early twenties in the town.

Northbound, we stopped at Morrisville to visit the Wallace Gallery, a former post-office-turned-art-centre hosted by very friendly staff. We were headed to the Coromandel peninsula to make a circuit, but our plans were again thwarted by the weather. The road on the western shore of the peninsula had been washed out during the most recent cyclone, forcing us to overnight in Thames before cutting across the peninsula to visit the famous Cathedral Cove Hot Springs.

Waikato Museum - Hamilton

Here running hot water from volcanic springs met the incoming sea water and, so long as you arrived when the tide was low, it was possible to bathe in the almost unbearably hot water while being cooled by the waves. It was a popular spot with tourists, many of whom were slowly being boiled to resemble lobsters.

Boiled tourist anyone?

Richard O'Brien statue

North of Auckland we opted for a slightly longer route northwards, which proved to be quite challenging to navigate and drive. There was no other option beyond our meandering detour but to rejoin Highway One until we made a turn west to the town of Matakohe to visit the Kauri museum.

A museum about trees may not sound too exciting but we found the two hours we had left before closing time just weren't enough to do the place justice. We opted to camp nearby at Tinopai and return the next morning.

The scale of the trees was hard to grasp, as was the size of the machinery needed to harvest them. Many of the cut trees were hundreds of years old and it was humbling to trace human history on their age rings. We looked forward to seeing the preserved Kauri forests further north.

Kauri Wood Sculpture

Ancient Kauri Tree

Tinopai Campground

A walk had been highlighted in our guide book at Tokatoka Peak. Formed from the plug of an extinct volcano, the peak offered wonderful views of the surrounding countryside. What the guide failed to mention was that the ten minute 'walk' to the top was an almost vertical ascent and the summit was scarily small but the views made the trip worthwhile.

In Dargaville we briefly visited the Maritime Museum, final resting place of the masts of the Greenpeace Boat, 'Rainbow Warrior', sunk in an attack by French Secret Service, before continuing north to Kai Iwi Lakes to camp. The next morning we took a gorgeous hike through rolling farmland to reach the unspoilt beach beyond.

Ascending Tokatoka Peak

And coming down again.

Resting place of Rainbow Warrior's masts.

Kai Iwi Lakes

Reaching the beach

Continuing north on scenic Highway 12, we reached the Kauri Forests and took a hike in gorgeous Trounson Kauri Park, before visiting the Waipoua Kauri Forest to view the 2500 year old Tane Mahuta or God of the Forest, among other glades of the impressive trees.

We decided against the drive alongside Ninety Mile Beach to the very north of the Island instead heading to the Karikari Peninsula to visit the Puheke Scenic Reserve and Maitai Bay, a haven for local birdlife.

Karikari Peninsula


Now we had reached the northernmost point of our visit to New Zealand and began to wend our way back southwards towards Auckland. We made a couple of stops near Kerikeri to visit the Old Stone Store, the country's oldest stone building and the underwhelming Rewa's Village museum, where the most exciting item on display was a Maori undergarment. Nearby Rainbow Falls offered a scenic distraction.

Rainbow Falls

Maori undergarments

In the town of Kawakawa, in more pouring rain, we made a stop at the local public toilets designed by Austrian-born architect Friedrich Hundertwasser. They were well worth lingering over, if you could find a reason.

The weather hadn't been the best for our visit to North Island and, as we headed towards Whangerei, it took a decided turn for the worse with torrential rain and dark, ominous skies. At least in the city there were amusements to be found for such weather, the Clapham's Clock Museum, Botanica - an indoor garden haven, and the local municipal swimming pool and hot pools to mention a few. Free camping was provided right on the river in the city.

Hundertwasser Toilets in Kawakawa


Clapham's Clock Museum

A passing camper happened to ask if we'd seen the weather forecast and knew about the impending tropical cyclone. This would be the second during our time in New Zealand. Apparently there was a risk that the harbour bridges in Auckland might have to be closed, and having a flight only a few days ahead, we decided to err on the side of caution and head back to Auckland early. We found a spot to camp at Ambury Regional Park near the city and settled in ready to face the storm. As it happened the weather in that area proved to be a non-event but now we'd have a day to explore the city before flying out.

We moved to a different 'campsite' nearer the city centre, which was more of a storage yard where the owner allowed people to camp. It was convenient for rail connections to the city and we eagerly walked the mile to the station. On arrival the whole place was closed and deserted. We hadn't realised it was Good Friday and apparently engineering works had closed the line. We began the return hike to our campground. With it being a holiday and the roads relatively quiet, we decided to drive into the city, after all, we couldn't spend the whole day in a storage yard.

As we approached the Maritime Museum we wanted to visit, parking was scarce for large vans. Spotting a nearby green area we tried that direction instead. At that very moment we had a blow-out, right in centre of Auckland. At least we found a parking spot and had somewhere cozy to eat our lunch while we waited for the AA man to show up. We weren't even going to attempt to change the wheel ourselves in the middle of a city street. He was prompt and efficient and we still had time to visit the Maritime Museum.

Among the exhibits was a section dedicated to the ships of the New Zealand Shipping Company, where Christine's Dad had completed his national service aboard the 'Rangitiki'.

After the excitement of the day we returned to our storage yard home to find we had company and spent a pleasant last evening on Charlie Camper enjoying drinks with our neighbours. All that was left to do was to pack up our stuff, return the camper, and spend the rest of the day enjoying the facilities of our fancy overnight hotel. Then it was off to Hong Kong.

Charlie got a flat.

Sister ship to the Rangitiki

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