Northland, the top of New Zealand's North Island is home to a great many important historical components of our countries history. Famous for the Treaty Grounds, the Land Wars, Cape Reinga at the very top and Tutukaka one of the best coast lines in the world....yep, Northland has a lot to see....so we stayed for ten weeks!
No trip past Auckland would be complete without a trip to the Waitangi Treaty Grounds. I'll be honest here and say that overly touristy locations and museums are among my least favourite activities but the Treaty Grounds was an excellent day out. The newly created museum is an fantastic place in which to absorb yourself in the history of New Zealand and how the country changed over a very short period of time when European explorers discovered this land which was home to the Maori. I will simply say that relations did not always run smoothly and are still being worked on. From the museum a guided tour brought that history to life as we walked around the grounds seeing the great Waka canoes and the location of the signing of the treaty. Being the chief for our tourist group had me facing the welcome ceremony......not something I am ever likely to forget!
Just across the water is Russell, formerly known as Kororāreka which was the first permanent European settlement of NZ and, being full of prostitution, gambling and all manner of unsavoury activities gained the dubious title of 'Hell Hole of the Pacific'. Thankfully today Russell is now a very quaint tourist destination and has a beautiful church which has been in place since those early days making it, probably, the oldest building in New Zealand still used for its original purpose.
A trip into Northland also must include a trip to the great Kauri trees. Some of these massive trees have been growing for thousands of years and, before man came along and cut them down the forests would have been incredible. No words can describe the feeling of standing next to one of these lords of the forests, most of which you can only view from a distance. There is one tree though in the Waipoua Forest called Yakas which you come to after a 30 minute walk through native forest. Yakas has a boardwalk right up to it and, yes you've guessed it, I did hug this mammoth.....trust me, if you saw it, you would to.
If I was forced to pick one jewel in the crown of Northland it must be Matapouri. We have had the pleasure of visiting quite a bit of New Zealand now and for a place to stop me in my tracks it has to be special. Coming into Matapouri you arrive at a small car park. When you get out of the car and walk up to look over the dunes you are greeted by a beautiful, stunning, gorgeous bay. People take in this amazing spot as day trips but we were fortunate enough to have met some wonderful people on our travels and stayed at Ringer Farm for seven weeks just a few minutes walk from the beach. There are occasions in life that fortune favours you and this was undoubtedly one of those times and we are very grateful to have had this opportunity and make new friends in the process :-)
From Matapouri we explored both coasts and made our way to the very top of the Island at Cape Reinga. This spot is where two oceans collide and has a deep reverence for the Maoris. When you stand looking out to the waves arriving from different directions you can feel why this place is so important, almost cathedral like.....that is until a coach load of tourists arrive ;-). Once they have gone the peace returns, beautiful spot.
Eventually we had to wrench ourselves away from Matapouri and made our way south of Whangarei to an amazing beach called Uretiti. This campground is huge and, during the winter season, virtually deserted. We did discover on a walk one day that the beach is in fact a naturist beach......not the same sights you'd get on a Mediterranean Island though ;-)
Whangarei itself is a nice place, if a little difficult to get around. They have done heaps to attract tourists with walks around the town centre located around an area known as the Town Basin. The walks take you around the harbour on a cool trail that includes art sculptures along the way from local artists. Time it around midday and you will also see the bridge being raised....even if there are no boats needing to get through.
So there we have it, ten weeks of blissful walks, stunning coastal areas and some very cool museums. No doubt at some point in the future we will be back, but until then I'll always have these photographic memories to remind us.