An exclusive by Travel blogger Lydia Walker.
If you’re considering working and living in New Zealand then you are potentially only a step away from having access to a whole treasure trove of wonderments at your doorstep. New Zealand truly is a beautiful country with every type of landscape you could want, and if you know where to seek, there are adventures hiding in every corner. This is the beauty of living in New Zealand, being able to access these adventures on your holidays and on weekends. Here, I’m going to share 4 adventures I stumbled upon when visiting the North Island, ready for you to discover.
1. Fishing, Sandduning & Emus.
90 Mile Beach sounds like something so large, that you may wonder how I could possibly have ‘stumbled upon it’. When I considered visiting the beach I had intentions of behaving just like every other tourist really, driving to the car park (we were told that non 4×4 vehicles shouldn’t be taken on the beach due to the sinking sand), taking some photos and perhaps a walk along it. However on the way to the beach we saw a hand-made sign on the side of the road offering ‘Fishing, Sandboarding & Emus’. We couldn’t resist a sign that so casually mentioned Emus, so we took the winding road up through an Emu farm and on towards a small tin house, where as it turned out, two PHD’s lived (one was busy inventing a jet-lag reducing device, incredible). The men casually offered to take us up the beach to a secret fishing spot and show us the secrets of the beach, to which of course we agreed. We grabbed some gear and made our way, past the tourist buses and onwards along possibly the most beautiful beach in the world. When we finally came to the end (it’s not actually 90 miles long, FYI) we were taken up a hidden hike trail for about an hour, past disturbingly large insects, until we came to a rocky headland. Here we were guided down the cliffs, and shown how to sea fish. Within minutes I had caught such a large Travelli I could hardly reel it in, and a day of big fish catching began.
Taking home only what we planned to eat, we got ourselves together and began the hike home. We sped back down the beach when the man stopped and suggested we might want to take the body boards out to use on the sand dunes. Like kids we eagerly ran to the highest point of the dunes and flew head first down the sand, repeatedly. Eventually we drove home as the other tourists looked on, back to the farm where we sat around a camp fire with the two PHDs and 3 farmers from the south island on their holidays, sharing tales of exactly how big the fish was that got away. Nothing tastes more incredible than a freshly caught sea fish, barbequed with a bit of ketchup! We slept in the van that night and bid the men and their Emu’s farewell the following day. An unforgettable experience that we shared with real Kiwis enjoying their country on their vacation.
2. Finding Fairies
Near the Bay of Islands above Auckland there are a number of national forests full of incredible little secret hikes and pools. We were driving between landmarks when we accidentally got on the wrong route and found ourselves on small ‘B’ roads right in this area. Having a vehicle made all the difference as we were able to stop and jump out when we thought we found something interesting, and we most definitely did… There were a number of official signs for ‘fairy pools’ for which we regularly stopped at and hiked up small trails to see. On the journey though, one particular hand-written sign got our attention, and we decided to follow an overgrown trail for half an hour through tropical forest, full of huge and beautiful butterflies. If there was ever a place that fairies were likely to live, it was here. It genuinely felt magical, we were lost in another world. There were no other people there, the path was barely visible as we carefully made sure not to leave our own mark. We continued as the forest got denser and denser until suddenly, the canopy opened up and before us lay a waterfall, with a rocky river leading to a pool. We’d already seen a number of waterfalls at this point but nothing compared to this wonder. It was glistening in the sun, thousands of tiny sparkles that looked like fairies dancing in the waters. Complete peace fell and instead of jumping into the pool or putting our heads under the waterfall, we just sat by the pool and grinned at each other, taking in this small piece of paradise. As the sun fell in the sky it was time to creep back to the car, and leave the fairies to their night time festivities. Beauty is around every corner in New Zealand, and to think this was only 3 hours’ drive from Auckland, the biggest city in the country.
3. Coromandel hot sands
Often when people take a tour of New Zealand, say in about 3 weeks, they visit the major cities and attractions – Cape Reinga, Auckland, Taupo, Rotorua, Waitomo, Wellington in the North – but some parts of the islands just can’t be accessed unless more time is given to exploration. The Coromandel is one of those places.
The peninsular sticks out like a big toe, tempting but slightly too far off the main straight to visit if on a whistle-stop tour. On our travels we had the luxury of time (in fact, it was in New Zealand that we had decided to do away with watches all-together) so we ensured we made the Coromandel, and in particular Mercury Bay, part of the journey. And thank goodness we did. After taking a small train to the peak of the Coromandel forest so we could walk swing bridges, and take in the view of the whole bay, we followed the coastline along, staying in a different place every night. This area benefits from naturally heated springs under the ground, so that nearly all the camping grounds and parks we visited had a naturally heated hot tub. We couldn’t get enough of the warm water, and eventually made our way down to hot water beach. Casually wavering any health and safety concerns locals encouraged us to take a spade, make a hole in the sandy beach deep enough for boiling hot water to rise up, and then wait for the cold tidal water to fill the hole, giving us our very own natural hot pool. We amused ourselves with this for hours – along with many other holidayers from the area. Admittedly this was a few years ago now, and it has perhaps become a more commercial activity, but at the time I remember feeling delighted that this was how Aucklanders would spend their weekends, again – just enjoying the natural wonder of their active island.
4. The Bay of Sunsets
Back on the tourist trail, the Bay of Plenty is an easy detour from Rotorua, and so definitely attracts a few more visitors. It is beautiful, no doubt, and in particular the Rangitaiki River and its bridges will take your breath away. But it was here that we managed to find a little place off the beaten track – hidden away on the outskirts of Te Urewera national park we found a tiny piece of heaven. A short walk from our camp site (which in itself was incredible – wooden huts, communal BBQ grills, and a piano, strangely, surrounded by trees) was a small hill that we climbed up, and sat upon to watch a sunset. The burnt orange sun slowly sunk into the ground turning the sky purple, and we sat in awe. A Maori lady out for a walk came upon us and stopped to offer us some of her ham sandwiches and apples, it was such a perfect moment of friendship and communal spirit. Plus we were really hungry. She was really interested in us, as we were in her, and we talked through the evening munching on the best ham sandwich that I can remember, watching the most incredible sunset on the planet.
New Zealand is a land of opportunity, full of awe and adventures, if you have the time and inclination. Living and working in New Zealand would give you an opportunity to discover these secret escapes in your free time, and claim a little piece of heaven for your own.
Watch out for part 2 where I’ll talk about 4 adventures on the South Island!
By Lydia Walker