Tongariro Crossing – a big day out

So here’s what we did do, and what we may have done differently with the advantage of hindsight!

To do the crossing you have to book a shuttle, as you can only park at the car park at the start of the walk for 4 hours. And they only like you to book the day before, so that the current forecast can be taken into consideration.

Given the current heatwave in New Zealand, we decided that the earlier we could get going the better. So with our alarms set for 5am, Evie decided that she wasn’t going to go to sleep without a drive in the car, nor give us a good nights sleep when she did finally give in!

Still, we were booked on the 6.30am shuttle, so despite our lack of sleep (and Evie clearly wondering why she had been rudely awoken at 5.30am) off we set. And it was the right thing to do.

Given as it was 17degrees that early in the morning, it meant we walked the first 1&1/2 hrs in shade. There was still some frost on the plants though! and the views spectacular And then of course the sun popped out from behind the volcano and we were in the heat of the morning for the ascent.

Lots of steps to prevent erosion both going up and down equals seriously hard work when carrying a Bean!

It was worth it though. Walking through a crater past the lava from the volcano that most recently erupted in 1975. And although it appears barren, the more you looked, the more colours you saw within the landscape.

A big push to the Red Crater summit before a careful descent down very loose scree to the lakes.

The lakes were beautiful colours but no swimming allowed as they are sacred. They were also in a very sulphuric smelling area!

From there one last final climb and then a long descent, which became a bit tedious, through steaming hillsides and finally some lovely New Zealand forest to shade us from the relentless sun.

In hindsight we would have parked for free at the 4 hr car park at the start of the crossing and walked to the lakes and back again, which we think we could have managed in the 4 hours. It was this side of the walk that was interesting and different with regards landscape.

A totally beautiful walk and very doable with a baby so long as you have the right equipment for all mountain weathers.

Auckland- the big smoke!

I don’t normally mention our accommodation, but we landed super lucky with an Air B&B in the Wellington suburb of Auckland, which was very close to an easy train journey straight to the centre, whilst being an oasis out of the centre within a city. It even had a pool and hot tub, and hosts that made us cake!!

Mt Wellington

So this mound was literally opposite our house so I popped up it one morning with Evie and we had a cracking view over the whole of Auckland

Auckland Wharf

Straight off the train in the central Britomart station, and we headed towards a very modern part of this city around the marina. Apart from boat spotting, there were many many bars and cafes….

…. but also nice chill out areas and a big paddling pool

Devonport Ferry

From the main ferry terminal, for not much money (it is a commuter ferry), a trip over to the older town of Devonport gives a really good view back to the city

Devonport itself was a charming historical town,

with an amazing massive tree!

And a good playground

Buskers Festival

We happened to land in Auckland when the 4 day buskers festival was on. Which were high quality street performers. We spent a bit of time watching them and their impressive tricks

I don’t know if it was part of the weekend, but within what I imagine to be an exhibition hall, it was set up full of different sports, chess etc and lots of people enjoying dancing salsa in the middle of the day, which was lovely to see.

The moving marina bridge

Not exactly a highlight, but it was quite cool to watch the marina bridge go up

One Tree Hill

Finishing our time in Auckland, we walked the short distance up One Tree Hill.

Topped by a monument important to the Maori

One Tree Hill also has superb views over the whole region

Descending back to the car, moving on again. There was definitely more we could have explored around Auckland and another couple of days could have been well filled.

Bay of Islands

Basing ourselves in Opua, with the nearest town being Paihia, our first day was spent locally chilling out, doing a little organising and heading to Paihia beach.

And enjoying some scrumptious pizza!

Paihia

A popular beach fronting a touristy town that sees regular cruise ship visitors, although busy it definitely wasn’t our favourite of beaches. It had fun toilets though!

The next day was an early start to get me into Paihia to go diving whilst Evie and Tim had a daddy & daughter day breakfasting out and hanging out at the park. It allowed me to see a bit of the Bay of Islands by boat as well, something we didn’t plan on doing as a family.

Doing a Bean swap, we hung out in the evening and Evie had a fun outdoor bath and walked up the road from the house, whilst Tim played at the local golf club.

It was then Tims turn for a day of fun as he was excited to be able to go and play at the exclusive Kauri Cliffs golf club.

Biking – The Twin Coast Cycle Trail

Evie and me got the bike out and set off from Opua through mangroves and farmland, past a crazy toilet mobile!

cycling along a short section of the Twin Coast Cycle Trail (apparently a 4 day trail).

We however just followed the old railway track to Kawakawa, along which the Bay of Islands vintage train runs, had a picnic and played at the playground, before heading back and retreating to the ranch from the sweltering heat for another outdoor bath!

Oke Bay

We finally found a little bit of paradise in the Bay of Islands. Getting the car ferry across from Opua to Okiato we stopped for a drink at Russell.

A more up market cruise ship tourist town based around a marina, with a much more inviting beach than Paihia.

However we were moving on for our swim as the ferry guy recommended Oke Bay.

A half hour drive away, partly on gravel road, it was worth the drive! The view from the top of the steps were what we had been expecting from the Bay of Islands.

Some lovely swimming, even Evie had a proper dip. And she enjoyed lots of paddling and walking along the beach.

Sadly time to leave this beautiful bay and head back across the tiny stretch of water on the ferry.

Haruru Falls

Packing up to leave, we finished our time here with a walk from the Treaty Grounds at Waitangi to Haruru Falls. Took about 1&1/2 hours each way with a little picnic at the falls.

Through beautiful forest again, the only trouble being fitting through the bike prevention gates at each end of the walk with a child carrier!

Getting there was exciting as the high tide was so high that shoes off was required through the mangrove swamps

The falls were nice to see, shame no jumping in allowed!

Seeing some nice birds nesting and sunning themselves on the return

Back through the now emptier mangroves

Having had a good walk it really was time to leave. In truth a little underwhelmed with the Bay of Islands (would advise the Coromandel if you had to pick between them) we head off to Auckland.

Cape Reigna

Staying at our lovely yellow house in Waipapakauri, this was a great base to explore Cape Reigna from.

Arriving mid afternoon, we lucked out with a low tide (make sure you check the tide times before you drive on the beach) and were able to go for a safe drive along the 55 mile long aptly named ‘Ninety Mile Beach’. A strange haze was around so you couldn’t actually see for miles, but it was something a bit different to do for a while.

After that we went for a dip in the local Lake Rotokawau before heading home.

Setting out the next day the tide was in, so we had to go up Highway 1 to Cape Reinga. For some reason we expected a flat straight road….. rather than the very undulating and winding road that is.

Stopping of at the Te Paki sand dunes to have a go at sand boarding, we hired a board and had a go. Having Evie with us and it being another baking hot day, we didn’t feel like we could go into the big dune proper.

Instead we stayed close to the bottom so Evie could play in the stream.

A few goes later, wet, completely full of sand everywhere and with a bit of whiplash to add, we decided we had had our fill of sand boarding.

We made the presumption we would soon be jumping in the sea to clean off – wrong (which meant having sand in every crack and crevice until the evening!).

Cape Reigna itself was beautiful.

The colours and bizarre wave action where the Tasman Sea meets the Pacific are stunning to see.

But it is high up and it would be quite a trek down to the sea. So we had our picnic, enjoyed the view and left the most accessible northerly point.

But not before the Volvo helped another car out. Having lived to see another day, we jump-started another car back into action. The Cape is not somewhere you would want to wait for hours.

After stopping for a real fruit ice cream (why does that make it sound healthier??!)we turned off Highway 1 onto a gravel road and headed back to Ninety Mile Beach at the Hukatere Hill entry point. Now low tide, we finished our Cape Reigna trip by driving 20km south along the beach exiting again at the Waipapakauri Ramp. If the tide is right this is much quicker than the main road – and much more fun!

Wandering around Whangarei

After limping into Whangarei 6 days ago, we have explored it in depth due to the car being in intensive care!!

Mt Manaia

Asking the car of one final journey (garages shut on a Sunday), we made our way to Whangarei Heads and walked up Mt Manaia. And from the bottom to the top it was uphill all the way – carrying Evie was definitely my workout for the day!

What a LOT of steps!

After enjoying the view from the top we headed back down.

Was an absolutely beautiful forest.

To protect it you had to clean and disinfect your shoes on the way in & out of the forest .

For a refresh we headed to nearby Taurikura Bay was beach for a picnic and a swim.

A shallow bay, the water was so warm that Evie walked straight in and kept walking! So her first proper dip in the sea.

It then started to rain – heavy tropical rain! So we packed up and went back to the ranch having got the best from the day.

Hatea Loop

Being without a car, we probably did this 4.2 km loop 7 times or more! It seems that in 2006 onwards Whangarei decided to get its town fit! With outdoor fitness stations

toilets, water fountains, information boards, sculptures,

playgrounds,

a BMX pump track, small bouldering area, dog walkers dog fun areas, this loop has it all! And it was busy from early morning to late a night (we experienced most times of the day on this loop!). It also passes through the marina,

so you can look at all the expensive boats, and the Town Basin.

Evie asked for us to have a go on the pump track. Two loops around there and then 3 spokes broke on my back wheel. The bike had to go to bike hospital to.

The Town Basin

The tourist area of Whangarei, this a pretty collection of decorative shops, cafes, restaurants, an art gallery, theatre and the Clock Museum. It sits within the marina, is very pleasant, and nothing like the rest of Whangarei, which is an otherwise functional town.

Claphams National Clock Museum

Having some time to spare, Evie chimed up that she would like to go to the Clock Museum to see the cookoos sing!

Get a drink in the cafe opposite, keep the receipt and you then get into the Clock Museum for half price!

And this very modern building , with a huge sundial outside is full of very old clocks and two enthusiastic ladies who work there.

From novelty clocks to grandfather clocks and everything in between! With a bit of nice history to Mr Claphams Clock collection and clocks in general.

Hatea River Walk to Whangarei Falls

The information suggested that Whangarei Falls were 2&1/2 hours away by foot, we did it in about 1hr 45mins (you can drive to them). Once out of Whangarei you again find yourself in beautiful forest. So ancient that you never know what you may see…!!

You do have to keep your eyes peeled for the little posts, but it is a popular route with walkers and runners alike.

The falls themselves are beautiful and the pool was nice to swim in.

The walk itself is mildly undulating.

Hatea track bike ride

The Hatea track continues in the other direction (towards Whangarei Heads) which is great for bikes and feels very safe off the road. It then winds along a red hard sand track through some woods. And then it finishes. In fairness it finishes at a play park and some toilets.

So still with no car, and with my bike fixed (with fingers crossed), Tim hires a bike and the 3 of us set out for the day. We packed our swim stuff, for for Evie and off we went.

With a definite thirst and some hunger, we decided to keep going beyond the end of the track and search for a cafe. Given as we were biking through residential areas you would think this would be easy. However, as we kept moving and our water bottles got lower and lower, we eventually realised that there were no cafes to be had. So we found a caravan park to fill our water bottles and turned around.

The water here didn’t look too inviting so the swim stuff could have stayed back at the ranch.

25 miles round trip to our failed cafe stop, we got back to Whangarei for some well deserved refreshments!

Whangarei leisure centre pool

We went here twice in our stay at Whangarei. It is a fantastic pool – there is a baby area, a toddler splash area, a fun pool with a wave machine, slides, an outdoor diving pool, a spa, a hydrotherapy rehab pool and an indoor laned pool. So basically something for everyone. All accessible for a mere $6 per adult, which we thought was a bargain!

Evie loves the opportunity to play with other kids and we enjoyed the slides and the swimming pool!

It had a good cafe to with awesome shakes to!

Glow in the dark mini-golf

Mini golf with a difference, this small 18 hole course was hand made and unique! And if you wear the right clothes you to can glow in the dark as you are playing.

It did take Evie a minute to get used to – she screamed when she first entered the course. But was crawling around it within minutes.

The Volvo is fixed!

On day 6 the Volvo is finally fixed! So we feel we made the most of Whangarei, we did one last evening stroll of the Hatea Loop, packed our bags and time to move on.

The adventure continues – driving on to Whangarei

Sad to leave the Coromandel Peninsula, we drove out over the gravelled 309 road and along the western side of the peninsula.

We came to a joint conclusion that although still beautiful, around Whitianga had much better beaches and more interesting coastline. stopping for a hilltop coffee from a van, to take in the views.

And then an unplanned final meet up with Granny & Grandad in a cafe in Thames, where Evie was spoilt and bought some maracas!

Out of the beautiful Coromandel and on through Auckland…. except…..

….. the traffic slowed and the Volvo did not like it.

Taking an emergency break, we found ourselves close to Auckland Botanic Gardens, and so spent a couple of hours there. New for botanical gardens, they had a children’s garden (but not play area)

As well as nice rose gardens, the biggest rubber plant tree I have ever seen in my life, an impressive visitors centre and some funky sculptures.

Finally we decided to try the car again. It wasn’t a very happy car but it did start and drive.

It being quite late in the day by now, seeing a sign on the road for some food, we pulled off at Puhoi, an old hamlet of a town, and happened across Puhoi pub’s annual log cutting championship!! And what a festivity it was!

One of those randomly cool places that you don’t plan upon.

Onwards in the limping car, we did stop at a view point looking over Whangarei and the Whangarei Heads.

Stunning…… and yes, with careful teasing by Tim, the Volvo got us there…. just!

Coromandel Peninsula

What a beautiful place!!!

Although not far in miles, the roads to get her are hilly and wiggly (great for passengers who get car sick!). But it is worth it.

So we based ourselves in Whitianga for a few days, which is a great mix. It is big enough to have shops, cafes and restaurants, places to mend your car, and an excellent local butcher, whilst still having a beautiful unruined beach and a gorgeous beachside path, and of course a fantastic park!

Whitianga beach

If this was the only beach you saw you would still be happy as there is a lovely view as you swim around in the sea, the beach is golden and the waters clear and blue. Based here are banana boat rides and jet ski hire (not that we tried either).

Whitianga ferry

For $7 return per adult you can take this two minute ferry drive across to another bay. However it is only a passenger ferry.

The upside is that it saves a lot of driving. The downside is you either need bikes or be prepared to use your feet on the other side. The upside to that is that there are some beaches within a few minutes walk (but we went to one slightly further away).

Keep an eye in the water – we spotted a massive stingray just as we got off the ferry.

Lonely Bay

We were time limited due to our car breaking down in the morning, and getting back for Granny’s birthday meal in the evening, so I thought the 33minute walk stayed on the board to Lonely Bay would be perfect.

However I made the wrong presumption. I presumed that it would mean by footpath, not by walking along the road. So we turned right out of the ferry landing and walked through the forest.

Although poorly signed, steep (especially when carrying a small Bean) and mildly tricky underfoot, it was a beautiful natural forest walk and gave you a real sense of what the forests are like in this area. The lookout point from the top of this path was a great place to look back and see Whitianga from above.

Walking along the road for a bit, past another beach we then followed the path sign for Lonely Bay (turns out not the quickest route again!!). Up and up and up, hard work in the blistering heat. And you find yourself at the lookout. Although not where we wanted to be, it was a superb view of the beach – a long way down!

So turning down the track we finally found Lonely Bay. More isolated than most meant less people than most. Was a gorgeous beach, with the top part made up of broken shells, which turns into golden sands…. and after all that walking, refreshing blue waters!

Downhill all the way back. Past the sweetest library I’ve ever seen.

At a fast past going the shortest route we managed to get back to the ferry in the specified 33 minutes!

Cathedral Cove

A truly beautiful place but also very busy.

You cannot drive to this beach. Even if you get the park and ride bus it is still an unexpectedly long walk to get to the beach. Given the walk, it is surprisingly crowded there. It’s again quite a hilly walk and we would advise footwear better than flip flops!

If you want it quieter then I would also suggest v early in the morning, rather than the busy mid-afternoon that we managed.

Otama Beach

This was recommended to us as a residents favourite beach, on a slightly different side on the peninsula. About 25 minutes from Whangarei, there is a steep road that is part gravel road to get there.

It was very beautiful, white sands and more beautiful blue water.

Just after we got out a fisherman came over and told us that while we were swimming a 3m Bronzewhaler shark had been circling. Googling this shark later we were glad to read that ‘ it doesn’t often attack humans’. We did then delight in watching it safely from the shore.

Hot Water Beach

This is an absolute must! And you need to go two hours either side of low tide.

Never have we been anywhere like it or experienced the madness you observe when you arrive on the beach.

Our accommodation had a spade to borrow, but otherwise you can hire them at the beach. And you need a spade to dig your hole!

So we searched as the hot water spots are bizarrely localised, but we did find one – and then we dug!

Then eventually it was time to enjoy our own personalised hot pool!

Note (with small children) – after a while the water does get seriously warm…

Everyone was enjoying their own tiny piece of the beach over this tiny portion of a big beach

Eventually after a swim to cool down we headed towards home, but not before dipping in an exceptionally warm river to clean the sand off.

Granny’s birthday

It was Granny’s birthday whilst we were in the Coromandel Peninsula

We were blessed with such amazing weather that we BBQ-ed for breakfast!

Later in the day was cake time

And then we lit it again after dinner. Never have I seen birthday candles burn so low!

Evie’s first steps

What an amazing place for a very special moment – at 9 months and 6 days old, Evie took her first steps late as night and followed it with a massively excited slam and clapping (another brand new skill to go with the steps). I have never seen her so excited.

Sad to leave the coromandel, I could spend much longer here. But time to move on to another beautiful spot.