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.

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.

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.

Te Anau and the sounds

Te Anau feels like a place I could come and spend considerably longer, as it seems like outdoor heaven. We were however blessed with very nice weather, which always helps.

There is a lovely track that was nice for short outings, which goes through Te Anau bird garden and along the head of the lake, good for walks, runs and gentle biking. It leads to the Kepler track with the cycle path continuing down the river bank for a while.

The Kepler Track

Starting from Te Anau, we only wandered down the Kepler Track for an hour. But within minutes you feel very deep into the Fjordland forest, enough to give you a feel of the forest. At this early stage there are pretty pebble beaches that you can drop down to, for a swim in the lake.

Lake Te Anau

Again we hit this place in the summer holidays in hot weather, but there were many people bringing their boats down to the jetty for some fun on the lake. The jetty at the head of the lake was deep enough to jump in from. So we big kids joined the local kids splashing around!

We boated across it on our glow worm cave trip and it is a place where you would definitely own a boat to go and explore all the little beaches and inlets.

Milford Sound

An early start for the drive to Milford, which takes about 1hr 45mins. We allowed good time incase of queues at the Homer Tunnel and so that we could feed and change Evie at Milford before getting on the boat. What we didn’t account for was the rain in Milford, the kind that doesn’t look that heavy but absolutely soaks you. Staying dry was not 100% achievable without waterproof trousers.

With rain we missed out on seeing the classic Milford view. However the rain did provide impressive waterfalls, and lots of them. And once we had resigned ourselves to being wet then getting more wet became part of the fun! Most importantly was that we had the right kit for Evie so she stayed warm and dry (on the inside!).

We had some food at the visitors centre, which I’d recommend the pizza! Then headed back, seeing Kea once again at the Homer Tunnel.

Out the other side and back to sunny Te Anau, where they had the sprinklers on to keep the grass green – what a contrast!! So down to the lake for a sunny evening stroll!

The glow worm caves

Wear insect repellent and cover up!!

A gorgeous boat trip from Te Anau over to the caves but the moment we stepped ashore we got bitten by sandflies and regretted our clothing choice!

You can’t take babies into the caves, but their trips work so that you can tag team and one sit or do the nature walk with the baby whilst the other goes into the caves and swap, so long as you do 1st and last groups between you.

Once in the caves, which are in themselves nicely done and impressive, the boat trip inside the cave and seeing the glow worms is like nothing else you will ever do. Imagine the best nights sky, the stars within your reach, but you can only enjoy looking…. it is amazing. Too amazing to explain really, best to experience.

Doubtful sound

Unlike Milford, this was a trip where you were taken care of from beginning to end.

We set off on the 8am trip, with a beautiful cruise across Lake Manapouri. It was nice as we got on board to be told where the nappy change facilities were without even asking. Evie and me had our breakfast on this first boat and we still had time to enjoy the view.

From the first boat to a coach, our driver was full of interesting information on our way over Wilmot Pass, which passed through gorgeous mossy ancient beech forest.

The pass peaked at 671m and cost and amazing $2/cm2 to build!!

Less planned was Evie’s ‘singing’ through his whole talk with it being very difficult to keep her voice down in an excited 9month old! And then the urgent nappy change required, which had to wait till we got onto the next boat.

We were very lucky with the weather and got stunning views down into Doubtful Sound.

On to the second boat and just as we set off there was a pod of dolphins that joined us and rode the bow of the boat for a while – magical.

Cruising the 40km we went along the length of the sound and had the good fortune of weather that allowed us to watch a fur seal colony just where the sound became the sea, and then venture out for a period into the Tasman Sea and look down the untouched coastline.

Time to turn around, via a bit of engine off quiet time in one of the arms of the sound. Another magical moment when no one on board spoke for a few minutes and a single dolphin played in the water nearby.

In all this time Evie had a good sleep and then a good romp around the boat. The nice thing is there is lots of safe crawling space!

Time to return back to Manapouri via the coach and boat return and then drive on to Dunedin for tonight in hope of seeing the penguins.