The goal? De-stress, go Far North, enjoy a road trip on a budget! After all, my husband and I worked through the holiday. While we put our attention and energy to our usual work routines that serve as our daily bread and butter, we also painfully yearned for a little break. We deserve it, so I believe. So off we went spontaneously without proper itinerary, slept in our car as we went and delighted on the flexibility of the trip.
It’s amazing how in that short time, we summoned back fun in an instant. Surely, we are not hardcore travelers that patrol the far and wide (not yet) but that four short days gave us a sense of achievement of being able to try something new which was a little bit less comfortable but fueled with pleasurable experiences.
Nope, Putaruru in Waikato is not yet far North but we decided to swing by Blue Spring. The fact about Blue Spring is it is the source of New Zealand’s 70 percent of bottled water. It is so pure that you can always enjoy its turquoise colour. The water temperature remains at 11 degrees Celsius whether it’s winter or summer. It used to be open for swimming but such activity was discouraged since 2016 because the general environment of the area took a hammering from the vault up in the number of its visitors as it passed from Putaruru’s best kept secret into being internationally acclaimed.
As I mentioned, we decided to make our 15 year-old car our dwelling the whole time we were on the road to save for the accommodation cost. We actually got the idea from a few of our Airbnb guests who have done such so we shot the works. It wasn’t bad at all. For seasoned budget travelers, this could be like a child’s play. For the first timers like us, it was a bit of a challenge but it was absolutely incredible. Pre-booking for camping grounds especially those managed by the Department of Conservation was not generally necessary. Those that are controlled privately require an average of $20 per person to stay in the campsite. Not bad. Thanks to a colleague who gave us a low-down that to have a decent shower, we had to go to public swimming pools and pay for the the use of the shower facility. That we did so we did not smell that bad at all even under the scorching heat of the sun.
On our night in Hukatere Lodge, a camp site in Ninety Mile Beach, it was as if we were handed a golden parachute when we witnessed meteor showers flashed across the very clear night sky. It was good few seconds for the incandescent trails to disappear, the longest time we ever spectated such celestial event. It was impressive. The roadie became more inviting as we caught sight of herds of wild horses along the heavily graveled road to Ninety Mile Beach.
Befittingly a state highway, we leisurely drove to Ninety Mile Beach (just a part of it) which is in truth, only 88 kilometers long. It boasts its rich sand dunes widely distributed along its coasts so you can body board in the dunes or swim in the beach. This is a place in NZ where you can also watch a heart stirring, spine-tingling sunset, at least if you are romantic or you just simply love to watch the daily disappearance of the sun below the horizon. Be aware though that you can only drive through the beach if you have a 4wd car. Remember that most hired cars are not insured to drive onto the beach. Have a knowledge too of high tide and low tide times. It is best to drive within three hours of the low tide. It is fun to dive into adventure by yourself but make sure to keep safety in mind at all times. It pays to ask information from the locals as well.
A trip to the far North will not be complete without paying a visit to the northernmost end of the North Island, that is Cape Reinga where you can see the Tasman Sea and the Pacific Ocean collide. It is off the beaten path but there is an increasing number of international visitors whose interest was caught by this NZ’s landmark. You will travel for a couple of hours from its nearest town called Kaitaia which is 100 kilometers away. You can either continue to drive through State Highway 1 or take the stretch of the Ninety Mile Beach. Just make sure you have enough petrol in your tank as you don’t want to get stuck in the middle of nowhere because your car is starved of fuel. There is one gas station in Cape Reinga though but it is more expensive than most gas stations in the North Island.
Cape Reinga is not just a place for sightseeing. There are numerous walking and hiking trails and tracks in the area which you can do for a few hours or up to four days. However, make sure that you carry with you anti-mosquito repellent as there are lots of them in the cape! And if you do decide to take the hike yourself, let it be known by your friends or family as there is antediluvian cellphone coverage in the area. Yes, it is so remote you could hardly get a signal!
We left the lighthouse after sunset contemplating whether to park anywhere that seem reasonably safe to spend the night or not. However, about 10 minutes into driving, we saw a sign on our left saying Tapotupotu Campground so we made an off-the-cuff decision to follow the gravelled road to the site managed by the Department of Conservation. We paid $13 each to use the ground and camp by the edge of the beach over night. Luckily, we carried a few cash with us (which we usually do not do) as there was no form of electronic payment. There was a decent size DOC tent by the small gate of the camping ground where a couple of DOC people dealt with the payment and issued a paper receipt.
Tapotupotu Campsite is NZ’s northernmost campground situated in a conservation area. It is a perfect place to wrap up the day in the Far North. However, this is no glamorous campsite as there is no electricity. Some said that there is a cold shower somewhere but we did not have a look at it. There is a long drop toilet so we could still answer the call of nature and again, we battled with prolific mosquitoes! Nonetheless, we woke up in the breathtaking view of the white sand beach and the lush forests. We did not stay long though as we wanted to head to Te Paki Giant Sand Dune so we could sand board before the sun would rise up high in the sky and burn our skin big time!
Welcome to Sahara! Oopss we thought we were transported in a desert! Just less than half an hour ago, we just left the seashore and its surrounding dense vegetation, meandered by the pastures left and right of the highway, followed the sign to the dunes and we were greeted by this mountain of golden sands.
Sightseeing is not enough to get absorbed by the wild. Fire yourself up, get a sandboard, scale up to the top and surf through the dunes. Sandboards are available for rent on site and nearby places. If you’re thinking boogie board will do, nope it’s not gonna work! Getting to the peak rewards you with an awesome view and gliding down the steeps gives you one of the most exhilarating experiences of your life. Hey if granny can do it, you can definitely hit it too.
In this spontaneous road trip, we also toured around Paihia in the Bay of Islands which is a mini region on the east coast of the Far North consisting of numerous micro-islands. It was paradise. We planned to swim with the dolphins in the open sea and booked ourselves to Fuller Great Sights for said activity. On board a small ferry, we explored the water for four hours and encountered numerous pods of playful bottlenose dolphins in different areas. We learned some dolphin etiquette too. A maximum of three boats are only allowed to get near a pod to avoid stressing the animals. The boats should be at least 300 meters in distance from the pods. We are allowed to stay for only 20 minutes for the same reason. These animals need a break too from people. They need to relax and have “me time” from the watchers. Like humans, they do enjoy their private time as well.
These whimsical wild creatures did not grant our wish to have a dip with them. They were so sprightly at that time that they did not stay in one place even for a while. Nonetheless, watching them is already more than fascinating.
So we gratified ourselves to have a bit of respite from the daily grind of our work. We stuck to our spending plan. However, incidents we have not bargained for happened. Shortly after we commenced tracking our way back home, the right rear tyre of our car got punctured. There was not only one but six holes on it. We had to stop in a remote highway before Kaitaia under a sweltering heat of the midday sun to change the tyre. The upside of the experience is I’m getting better at changing tyre having to do it the second time with my husband (the first time is a different story). By late afternoon, when we were driving pass Orewa, a subarb of Auckland, we heard a tiny crack sound and lo and behold our wind shield was chipped. By the time we reached Wellington, the crack was 6cm long. The next day it was 20cm! We had the windshield replaced. Thank goodness, it was covered by our insurance! At least we got back in Welly safe and sound!
Anyway, we can’t complain. Some things happen without warning. Like meteor showers and wild horses, they were serendipitous. And with the dolphins and sand boarding and scenic cruising and the road trip and mini hikes, we’ve got more stories to share. That’s how travelling keeps our sanity.