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Northern exposure

I wanted to post this much sooner but better late than never. It had been somewhere around 30 years since I was last in Northland and even then it was only a quick trip up from Auckland to Whangarei and Kerikeri and return on the same day in a mid-1980’s Mitsubishi V3000, which was a bit of a flash set of wheels in its day. Being bought up in Christchurch is no excuse as I have lived in Tauranga for 20 years. It was therefore with eager anticipation I looked forward to returning for a more relaxed few days in ‘the winterless north’.

I have travelled south out of Auckland numerous times feeling smug as I’ve seen the stop/start congestion in the north bound lanes from as far south as the Bombay Hills. On this trip I paid the price for that and soon felt sympathetic to the congestion frustration that is a common occurrence for Aucklanders. The heavy slow traffic continued from the Bombay Hills to Wellsford far north of Auckland. Before that though I thought I’d take a recommended alternative route across the Waikato from Matamata to Morrinsville to Huntly and on to SH 1 to Auckland. Well SH 1 was banked up with stop-start traffic from Huntly to Auckland with road works seemingly stretching forever. At a guess it added another 90 minutes to the trip. I will NEVER take that route again.

In the appropriately named Bay of Islands (there’s 140 of them) we based ourselves at beautiful Paihia. The very first excursion was to the Waitangi Treaty Grounds, arguably the most important site in the history of European settlement of New Zealand and seemingly a place associated every Waitangi Day with protest. These historic spectacularly scenic grounds were a tranquil haven on our visit. The whole complex including the Mission House and modern museum are maintained in a beautiful state. It really is a must visit with a guided tour.

Waitangi Treaty House and grounds. Waitangi, Bay of Islands, NZ.

Waitangi Treaty House and grounds. Waitangi, Bay of Islands, NZ.

Friendly locals. Waitangi Treaty House, Bay of Islands.

Friendly locals. Waitangi Treaty House, Bay of Islands.

This is the Ngapuhi Tribe’s ceremonial war waka (canoe) Ngatokimatawhaorua. It is the largest canoe in the world at 35 metres long with a dry weight of 6 tonnes and when wet a weight of 12 tonnes. It requires a minimum of 76 paddlers to handle it safely on the water. It was first launched in 1940 and then laid up for 34 years. In 1974 the waka was renovated for Queen Elizabeth’s visit. After the Queen’s voyage she designated Ngatokimatawhaorua ‘Her Majesty’s Ship’ which makes the waka part of her Royal Navy. The waka is launched on 6th February each year as part of Waitangi Day celebrations.  

Ngatokimatawhaorua, the largest canoe in the world.

Ngatokimatawhaorua, the largest canoe in the world.

As far a stunning locations go, the site of the Mission House (1822) in the Kerikeri Inlet, is right up there. We were so taken by this location that having spent time there in the morning we returned in the balmy warmth of the evening and sat with a glass of wine and watched as dusk fell over this beautifully tranquil location.

Kerikeri Mission House in autumn evening sunlight.

Kerikeri Mission House in autumn evening sunlight.

The most perfect end to a glorious autumn evening on the Kerikeri inlet, Northland.

The most perfect end to a glorious autumn evening on the Kerikeri inlet, Northland.

This was a photography dream. The light was so beautiful. I so recommend a visit here. There is a fantastic cafe and quite stunning restaurant just behind where the photo above was taken.

Last light in the Kerikeri Inlet. 

Last light in the Kerikeri Inlet. 

Adjacent to the Mission House is picture perfect St James Church, birthplace of Christianity in New Zealand. It was rattled and moved by a tornado in 1968 but that aside it has existed to give a quiet picturesque witness to the faith it was built to accommodate.

St James Church, Kerikeri Inlet, Northland

St James Church, Kerikeri Inlet, Northland

Northland is rich in history.  This memorial sits in the grounds of Christ Church in Russell. It is New Zealand’s oldest existing church built in 1835. Its beginnings go back to the earliest years of Maori and European contact. The inscription reads in memory of Tamati Waka Nene, Chief of Ngapuhi, the first to welcome the Queen's sovereignty in New Zealand.

Christ Church, Russell. 

Christ Church, Russell. 

A highlight of this trip was undoubtedly a day out on the water on a sightseeing trip which extended out to the Cape Brett lighthouse and encompassed the thrilling experience of being shadowed by playful Bottlenose dolphins.

Bottlenose Dolphins in the Bay of Islands, NZ

Bottlenose Dolphins in the Bay of Islands, NZ

The stopover for a mid-autumn BBQ lunch on Urupukapuka Island was another standout experience

Lunch stop on stunning Urupukapuka Island, Bay of Islands, NZ. 

Lunch stop on stunning Urupukapuka Island, Bay of Islands, NZ. 

You can’t go to the far north and not be tempted by the legendary Mangonui Fish & Chip shop sitting right on the wharf at Mangonui in Doubtless Bay. With a dining view like this and ever so tasty seafood, it’s worth it! 

Mangonui Fish & Chips. What a taste! What a view!

Mangonui Fish & Chips. What a taste! What a view!

We barely scratched the surface of ‘the winterless north’. To do it justice would take some weeks. Wish it hadn’t been left for so long to make this visit but hopefully will return again and again to take in much more of both the east and west of the far north and hopefully get right up to Cape Reinga.. 

Duke of Marlborough Hotel, Russell, Bay of Islands.

Duke of Marlborough Hotel, Russell, Bay of Islands.