Long weekends are the best! In my opinion, they are made for getting away from the city and escaping the day-to-day. Despite the forecast of grey clouds and rain, my friend Hem (check out her Instagram on @hemabel) and I packed up our things and headed north into the wilderness. While the clouds persisted for the majority of the trip, getting out of the city, clearing the head and being at one with nature was exactly what the doctor ordered.
Now, I have really only been up North once before to swim at the Matapouri Pools (and absolutely loved it) so a new goal of mine for the upcoming year is to play tourist and make the most of our beautiful backyard we have here in New Zealand. There are so many gems within a few hours drive of Auckland and I am excited to start making the most of these this summer.
The trip started with the drive up the West Coast of the North Island to Ka Iwi Lakes – about a 3-hour drive from Auckland. With some good tunes and missing all the traffic, the time flew by and we reached Ka Iwi lakes late afternoon. On arrival at the Ka Iwi Lakes campground, we were in for a treat. The views here were incredible and the lakes looked magical – if only it was a bit warmer and sunnier! We stayed at the Pine Beach campground for an absolute bargain for the view at only $15 a night. However, they don’t have any cooking facilities and it is $2 for a hot shower – so make sure you are prepared.
Unfortunately, we were not. Our knife was still in the plastic wrap so it was chippie sandwiches and cherry tomatoes for dinner. Given the weather, the grounds were practically empty so we had a primo spot and views. There’s also a bit of a hill you can climb behind the grounds with epic views – the view is always worth the climb in my opinion.
After an average night’s sleep in the tent and rain, we continued up North to Paihia via Opononi and Kerikeri. Opononi is known for its epic sand dunes which you can sandboarding at, and whilst the idea of this was tempting the weather wasn’t on our side so we decided to stay warm and give it a miss – next time I promise! We had a short stop at the largest tree which is said to have separated the sky and earth in Maori legends – it was huge!
Post-stretching the legs, we jumped back in the car and with the weather still overcast, took the time to stop at some natural hot springs which we came across on the way. The Ngawha Springs/Spa was exactly what we both needed and such a great way to relax and switch off. There are eight natural pools varying in temperatures of 30 degrees all the way up to 45+ degrees. Each pool is known for something a little different, including one of them promising to improve eyesight and another great for face masks due to the underlying mud in the pools. As two conscious kiwis, we chose the latter and lathered up our faces with mud to relax in complete bliss.
Feeling refreshed, we made to Kerikeri in time to catch the end of some Saturday morning markets for some lunch and snacks. The Old Packhouse markets are held every Saturday morning from 8am-1:30pm and are super cool. They have got you covered whether you are a local or an out-of-towner with their vast selection of fruits, food and plants – they even had avocado ice creams and freshly brewed kombucha which is sure to impress us Ponsonby Aucklanders – and they did!
Our next stop was a short wander to the Rainbow Falls just outside of the town where Hem went for a swim and I ventured into the unknown, behind the falls for an epic view. As the grey clouds started to clear and blue skies and sunshine shined through, we headed south to Paihia via Waitangi.
The Waitangi grounds are the sacred grounds where the Treaty of Waitangi was signed back in 1841 and the reason we celebrate and get a day off work on the 6th of February every year. It costs $20 for NZ residents and $40 for travellers to explore the grounds. We ended up passing on the grounds and instead continued on to one of Paihia’s campgrounds. Compared to last night’s accommodation the Top10 Campground was a luxury. Costing $22 per person a night with hot showers, cooking facilities and beachside views – it was bliss!
After setting up camp and reorganising our lives we became one with nature walking up to the Opua Forest Paihia Lookout where you can see views out towards Waitangi and Paihia and across the bay. This wee adventure is about 1 hour (return) and a fantastic way to get those legs pumping. After checking out the wharf and some of the shops in Paihia town, we were back at the campsite to cook dinner and unwind with some wines. We made friends with a group of fellow campers and I ended up a few wines deep and out in Paihia town that evening. It was a Saturday but didn’t seem to packed, possibly because of the weather. I imagine the bars really do come to life on a summers afternoon late January.
The next morning, we packed up camp and headed home to Auckland, stopping along the to admire the sights in Opua. The Bay of Islands is absolutely beautiful and if only the weather was on our side! But more reason to return again in summer and do it all over again.
Our plan was to break up the 3-hour drive with a stop in Mangawhai for a hike before returning to city life. It was all smooth sailing until we hit Whangarei where we got into a car crash, which was a first for me and scary as hell! Thankfully no one was hurt and that is why we get insurance – to cover the damage done to the cars involved. Given that the next two hours involved waiting for a ride back to Auckland and filling out paperwork with the police and insurance company, we were unable to go to Mangawhai.
Having never been in an accident before it wasn’t until this crash that it all became real for me. This accident really took the life out of me for a while and shook me up. It could have been worse, and thankfully no one was hurt and it only ruined a few long weekends!
Turns out life is constantly teaching us, making us better humans and today’s lesson is something like…Life is short. It is a constant learning curve and humans are fragile both mentally and physically. So while you can, do more of what makes you happy with the ones you love and live for the moment!
Despite the sub-par weather, grey clouds and freezing temperatures I am glad we ventured up north and got out of the city. A few days becoming one with nature, switching off and relaxing was just what we both needed, however, we could have done without the car accident, but life happens and what can you do?