New Zealand: Up North, Bay of Islands

Wow, what a contrast between ‘Up North’ in the UK and NZ!  Beautiful beaches, word-class diving, volcanoes and hot, sunny summers!

After my week in Wellington I only had a week left so decided to skip the bulk of the  North Island in return for an extended stay in the Bay of Islands at the very north of the North Island, home to the best beaches and warmest temperatures in NZ.

I took a night-bus out of Welly halfway across the country to Auckland and then after a race across town to a different bus terminal caught my onward bus to Whangarei (pronounced Fan-ga-rye in Māori).  This sleepy town really didn’t have much going on but was a base for dive trips to the Poor Knights and other fun stuff.

The Poor Knights is one of Jack Cousteau’s top 10 global dive sites and a large reason for my trip to the area in the first place so I didn’t hesitate to book my spot on the boat for the next day.

An early start and some peanut butter on toast for brekky saw me on the way to Tutukaka where the boat departed from.  We were soon slicing through the waves on a beautifully clear hot summer’s day on the way to the Poor Knights islands some 20km off the east coast.  About halfway a pod of dolphins decided to join us to the delight of all aboard.

Out at the first dive site I was buddied up with a bloody idiot to put it bluntly!  After telling me he had done his weight check we swam the 100m over to the descent point only to find out he didn’t have enough weights.  After waiting around we finally descended and he raced off in the wrong direction and too deep and decided to hover in water staring at his gauge for about 5 minutes whilst I was trying to get him to turn round.  It’s hard to express anger underwater but I had learned from my divemaster instructor in Honduras, Diego, to shake your fists and body around whilst expelling lots of bubbles.  After a few of these underwater tantrums he finally followed me, not before giving me the signal that he had sucked up almost all of his air.  I looked at my watch – dive time was 15 minutes and we had about 5 minutes left at the rate he was inhaling (normally you’d expect 30-50 mins)! Returning to the boat I made it clear to the captain I was not happy and to my relief he arranged a new buddy.

On the surface interval we popped into the biggest sea cavern in the world, which has hosted floating concerts by Crowded House amongst others!  We were able to test out the acoustics by stamping our feet in unison, which gave out an impressive deep bassy echo around us:

The next dive was much better as we navigated through some caverns, surfacing in the middle of an island at a spot called the Lost World.  Towards the end of the dive I spotted not one but two huge bright yellow and blue Tambja Nudibranches (a holy grail for divers). I also spotted many Scorpion fish, Leather Jackets and smaller Nudibranches.

After navigating underwater through a cavern we surfaced in the middle of the island in a place called the Lost World:

Back on the boat we had a cruise around the spectacular islands through huge arches and awesome blue waters, before returning to port:

To my surprise the taxi back to Whangarei had an extra passenger: an injured blue penguin that was hitching a lift to the bird sanctuary in the town!

I befriended some Austrians (Andi, Nadja and Maria) and a German (Rick)back at the hostel and together we took a hike to Whangarei falls through temperate rainforest. After all the freezing water I’d been frolicking about in on the South Island it was a relief that the large pool beneath the waterfall was slightly warmer and we were able to swim right up to the 26m cascade and get battered by the falling water.

On our trek we made it to the top of a hill for a view over Whangarei and surrounding area:

Whangarei falls:

That’s me under the cascade.  It was coming down with quite a force!

Climbing up the rocks to get a view from behind the falls:

That evening when night had fallen we took a stroll to a nearby spooky forest where glow worms come out to feed. Walking along the pitch black forest the glow worms give off the effect of stars and look awesome.

The Austrians had hired a van for their trip around NZ and offered Rick and I a lift to the next destination. However as we were leaving we were given a stern warning by the hostel receptionist about getting stopped by the feds as the van only had 3 belted seats up front and we would be travelling in the back on an inflatable mattress. Chances of getting caught were low but the fine was a hefty one so we arranged an elaborate disguise which meant we would be buried beneath luggage and sleeping bags for the duration of the 4 hours of travelling, on a boiling hot summers day! Luckily the first stop, Matapouri, was only an hour and a half away.

Matapouri is a totally spectacular white bay with delicious looking turquoise waters, described by the Austrians as the most beautiful beach they had ever seen. The guidebook had told us of Mermaid Rock which is found by a short trek over the headland and consists of several clear pools formed by the tide. After larking about there for a bit we spent the afternoon playing catch with a tennis ball before getting back in the oven and travelling the 2.5 hours further north to Paihia.

Matapouri Bay:

Mermaid Pool:

Paihia is another lovely spot and from the white-sanded beach you look out onto loads of pretty green islands. The morning after arriving in Paihia we went for a trek through temperate rainforest to another waterfall. A local kayaking guide told us about a jumping spot from a tree so after checking the depth with my dive computer we scaled the branch out over the water and leapt off from about 12m up. I landed without hitting the bottom and thinking I was in the clear I kicked out to get back to the surface , but unfortunately introduced by foot to a sharp rock. It was only when I got out of the water and a small pool of blood formed next to my foot did I realise that I’d quite badly gashed my foot. Not the best thing to do when you’re adventuring around the world!

Bay of Islands from Paihia:

That evening and to celebrate my impending departure from NZ we had a couple of games of ring of fire before venturing out to a Paihia pub. The next day I was back to Auckland where I spent my last night before an early morning flight to Fiji.

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