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.

Rotorua

Another day stop off between Taupo and the Coromandel Peninsula, we visited TePuia to see the bubbling mud pools, geysers, vents and boiling pool.

Although the sights were impressive and the place itself was well laid out with good free tours on offer, we still left feeling it was a bit expensive for what we got.

However, as I said, it was impressive to see.

The mud pools that bubble

The Pohutu geyser was fun to watch, as first the implementer geyser went off and then the biggy, blasting water jets up to 30m high in the air.

Carrying on around seeing steaming vents all over the place

And then the boiling pot, which is still used for cooking in! Apparently a boiled egg takes 7 minutes.

There was also a traditional arts college on site where you could watch students learn ancient crafts.

They also displayed some of the bigger projects they had made at the college. an enormous traditional canoe, made from the single trunk of a 1000-2000 year old tree and a storage box on very decorative stilts.

Onwards from here we had planned a swim in Rotorua lake. However, when we got there no one else was in or on the water. Then upon googling it it said it would not be safe to swim in for another 20 years. When I dipped my hands in the water smelt of sulphur, and my hands tingled for a while after!! Still nice looking lake for the eye.

We instead had lunch in the Government Gardens. Don’t plan a trip to the museum anytime soon as it is shut due to risk of earthquake damage.

So instead after a picnic we took Evie to the park, where she played football with her Granda and had her first independent slide experience. Loved it giggling at the bottom

After a play time to get into the car and heading on to the Coromandel Peninsula.

Taupo

Driving past Mt Tongariro and Mt Ngaurahoe was a stunning entry to arriving in Taupo, and we hope to explore this a little more on our way back down the country in a few weeks.

We decided to have a couple of nights and a relaxed day in Taupo after a few long days of driving to get up to North Island. And what a good decision as is was a great place to chillax.

We did have time to enjoy the sunset

And it really was spectacular

Staying somewhere with stairs we are now needing to find ingenious ways of stopping Evie climb the stairs – her new favourite hobby!

The next day, after a trip to the doctors for me and my poorly ear, we headed to Taupo DeBretts Hot springs, as it said it had a good play area and it wasn’t very expensive.

Unfortunately Evie didn’t really appreciate the play area… too much splashing water for her!

But she did enjoy the coolest of the hot pools.

The rest of the pools were too hot – in truth as adults we couldn’t stay in long. More up our street were three fun fast water slides!

From the water park to the Huka Falls, a short drive away, this ferocious blue water is impressive – probably even more so from a jet boat.

Taupo is a beautiful lake to swim in as it is warm. We went in a few times, but without Evie, although we did think it may just have been warm enough.

Sadly it was then time to move on and leave Taupo. Maybe we will return.

A return to Taupo

We had wanted to go to climb Mt Taranaki, but reading about it we decided it would be too much to manage with Evie. So instead we headed back to Taupo on our way southwards, as we had liked it and fancied some lake to swim in, as opposed to sea, in the heatwave New Zealand is currently experiencing.

Waipahihi Botanical Reserve

Our accommodation was a bit out of town this time, but it was right next to the Waipahihi Botanical Reserve. This was a beautiful place to walk around and we made the most of it in the evenings. No formal gardens and few flowers, but lots of pretty walkways through a forest with some open spaces.

Craters of the moon

For $8 this was a nice area of thermal activity to walk around in about 1&1/2 hours. Steaming vents and bubbling mud pools, but no geysers here.

I love their warning sign – just incase you didn’t know

Biking the lakeside

Biking along the bike / walk track was much better than I anticipated. I didn’t realise how far it went around. And the lake just got more and more beautiful as you got towards Five Mike Bay.

It was so gorgeous that I text Tim to come and join us and we had a delightful swim in the same waters that seems so much bluer and clearer than they do on the shores of Taupo. Wished I had discovered these bays earlier!

Maori rock carvings

Nicely advertised, something you can only see by boat trip, these rock carvings were actually only carved 40 years ago. Despite them not being super old, they are still pretty cool and the boat trip was nice!

We did the shorter trip, which cost less. Probably I would rather have done the slightly longer trip which allowed you a swim, as well as a beer!!

Time to leave Taupo for the final time. Even after two visits there is still more you can do and see around here, definitely a place I’d recommend for a visit.

Kaikōura – a flying visit

Meeting up with Evie’s cousins for the last time on this trip we had a couple of hours in Kaikōura, as they were coming down the coast to fly home and we are headed northbound to Blenheim.

Kaikōura town itself very touristy based on whale, seal and dolphin watching, sits on a beautiful peninsula in a stunning location.

Grabbing a late picnic lunch we headed away from the town to Point Kean Viewpoint, with plenty of space for the boys to run around. With high tide we were unable to walk out to the point to see the Fur Seals, but it did means that there were great safe areas of the sea to jump into that felt like an enclosed pool even though it wasn’t. Refreshing on a hot day.

With the day coming to a close, we headed back to Kaikōura and had an amazingly fresh fish and chips together, would recommend the Blue Cod. It was then time to continue on our separate journeys and back in the car up to Blenheim, stopping briefly at the seal colony on route.

Whale watching

Another passing through, this time to enable me to go whale watching. Not something you are allowed to take babies on so it was just me.

One Sperm Whale

Pods of dusky dolphins

And a colony of fur seals later

I considered it a successful trip.

Then time to move on back to Christchurch.

Timaru botanical gardens

This was another good stopping point between Dunedin and Christchurch heading north up the coast. We had planned to go to the beach, but passed the gardens and stopped there instead.

Was a lovely place for a picnic, really pretty gardens, a nice place for a leg stretch from driving and for Evie to have a good crawl.

Sadly time to leave without time for the beach as well (it looked nice as we glimpsed it driving past) to get up to Christchurch in time for some dinner.

Moeraki boulders

Driving north from Dunedin, the Moeraki boulders make a good stopping point. And these are very unique large spherical boulders.

The beach is also very nice, with a good cafe and excellent chocolate ice-cream located above the beach!! We enjoyed a swim and paddle there before moving on.

The most important thing here is to time your visit with low tide – they do a disappearing act in high tide and loose their impressive impact. Also not a beach suited to buggies – we saw a couple of people struggling with them.