When you are travelling around to lots of different places sometimes you need somewhere to just relax for a couple of days, and what better place to relax than in a beautiful location with friends?! We spent a week in a remote spot located about 45 minutes from Whangarei staying in an old farmhouse with some of James’s very accommodating family friends.
They are very lucky to live in a gorgeous location. If you look out of one window then you see mountainous scenery which is part of an extinct volcano, and if you look out of another window you can see the beach and the Pacific Ocean. There was plenty to do in the area, particularly if you like the great outdoors, but like most places in New Zealand it is advantageous if you have access to a car.
On our first day we decided to take advantage of some of the local trails and walk the Bream Head trail to Ocean Beach. It involved a lot of uphill walking and as a result made me feel seriously unfit, but we enjoyed the walk and some of the views from the top were fantastic. The beaches in the area are beautiful and weren’t very busy at all. Great stretches of very pale and fine sand – what we were expecting but hadn’t experienced at the Bay of Islands. Apparently sometimes you can see dolphins from the shore but we weren’t that lucky whilst we were there.
Another walk that involved a lot of uphill was up Mount Manaia. The path through native bush was very well maintained and given how steep it was a lot of the time you were walking up steps. However the view from the top was certainly worth it, particularly as we went up on a beautifully clear day. In one direction you could see in towards Whangarei and the other direction you looked out towards the ocean. Definitely the perfect place for lunch, and there was a great ice cream place near the base as well.
Whilst in the area we went to Abbey Caves for a quick walk. Unfortunately there was water in the caves so we didn’t feel confident going into them but we spent quite a bit of time admiring the very eerie limestone rocks in the area. It felt just like a film setting but was all completely natural. We also went kayaking in Uruqharts Bay which was much more pleasant than our first sea kayaking experience. The sea was flat calm and the water was beautifully clear. It was also surprisingly warm – the first time I was tempted to go swimming in the sea!
We spent very little time in Whangarei itself but the basin was a nice place to walk around. There were lots of cafés and little shops, and it was a nice open space. You can imagine it being a good place to pass the time on a summer’s day. The basin walk itself is very simple but there are different sculptures on the way round which is nice to see, and it’s a good way of getting to see all of the boats.
Without a doubt the highlight of our week was going snorkelling at the Poor Knights Islands. The islands are one of the top ten dive spots in the world, but as neither of us have a diving qualification we opted to snorkel instead. I had no idea what to expect but I’m really glad we went, even though it was freezing cold and sea was pretty choppy. We went in twice and the first time I saw a Stingray which was pretty exciting! However it was the second time that I preferred. I think it made a huge difference actually being able to see the floor beneath us – it certainly made me feel a bit more comfortable in the water. There was a cave that we could go into which was fun but it was the moment coming out of the cave when you could see the light shining through the water that really sold it to me. It suddenly felt magical being with the fish and with the kelp waving around beneath you. It was almost like being in your own private aquarium and made me see why diving is attractive as an immersive experience.
Unfortunately I don’t have an underwater camera so you’ll have to use your imaginations for what it was like, or try it yourself. I’d love to try snorkelling in tropical waters as the worst part of the experience was how cold it was. During the lunch break we went on a boat tour of the islands, which is a protected reserve and had some great geological features. I can see why our guide was so sniffy about the Hole in the Rock in the Bay of Islands given that the Poor Knights had several.
It was great to spend a week in one location and try different activities, as well as some days just walking the dog on the beach. It was almost like a holiday within a holiday – thank you so much Penny and Derek for hosting us!