Beautiful bays and fabulous coastline, extensive sand dunes, and caves with glowworms, and the place where the waters of the Pacific Ocean and the Tasman Sea clash. It’s Far North of New Zealand. And here are 5 places that we think are really worth seeing there!
Although the northernmost point of New Zealand is the Surville Cliffs on the North Cape, they are not at the end of the road leading to the north of the country. It ends at Cape Reinga – the unique site of Maori legends.
According to these beliefs, it is a sacred place. Cape Reinga (also called Te Rerenga Wairua) stands in Maori for a place where souls go to the underworld after death.
Legend has it that after the death, Maori’s soul wanders north to Cape Reinga. Having reached here, climbs the 800-year-old, twisted tree of Pohutukawa, growing on a rock at the very end of the peninsula. From this tree the soul jumps directly to the ocean, thus returning to ancient homeland, Hawaiki.
There is another reason why Cape Reinga can be called a unique place. It is an officially recognized border between the Pacific Ocean and the Tasman Sea. It is certainly not just a boundary by convention. Standing at the lighthouse, you can easily see the place where the Pacific and Tasmanian waters clash. The waves flowing in opposite directions, the ocean from the east and the Tasman Sea from the west, strike on each other, creating a spectacular view.
The white, rough ridges of the waves penetrate each other, blurring calm water just off the shore. We sat in the grass on the hill near the lighthouse for a long time, staring at the mysterious phenomenon as if we were enchanted.
Giant Te Paki sand dunes
Near Cape Reinga, there are largest dunes in all of New Zealand – giant Te Paki dunes. And while on our journey around the world we had the opportunity to see much larger and more extensive sand dunes (read entry (Extra)ordinary oasis – Huacachina in Peru), yet we must admit that Te Paki also impressed us.
Nowhere else in New Zealand have we found such a vast amount of fantastically golden sand. Even on the cloudy day, you can feel like on a true desert. The sun-drenched sand pours into the shoes and warms to the feet, and the dust carried by the wind constantly changes the landscape.
Reaching up to 140 m.a.s.l., golden Te Paki hills, literally grow from the grass. On the one side, surrounded by 90-miles-beach, and the other three sides are surrounded by dense forest. So it is worth the effort and climbing up the highest of dunes. At the top a beautiful panorama of the area awaits!
And while on the top you can treat yourself! Just grab a board with on the way up and slide down instead of walking 🙂 Lots of laughter, fun, and sand in shorts guaranteed!
Bay of Islands
One of the most popular vacation destinations among New Zealanders is the Bay of Islands. This far north region of New Zealand is known for its unique scenic beauty and rich history. An additional incentive to visit this place may be the fact that in 2006 the Bay of Islands was declared the second (after Rio de Janeiro) place on earth where the sky is the most blue.
As its name suggests, the Bay of Islands is a bay of islands. The varied coastline forms innumerable peninsulas and bays with over 140 islands and islets. Numerous beaches encourage relaxation – both for lazy sunbathing and active in the water of incredible color. Sailors, surfers and even dive and snorkeling enthusiasts will find many places to pursue their passions.
The Bay of Islands is also very important to the history of New Zealand. It was here where boats with first migrants from Europe landed, and Russell, officially known as Kororāreka, was the first permanent settlement of Europeans in a new country. Another town, Okiato, was the first official capital of New Zealand. It is also commonly believed that the Bay of Islands is the place where modern New Zealand was born.
In Waitangi, in 1840 Waitangi Treaty between the representatives of the British Government and the leaders of several Maori tribes was signed. Under the treaty, the indigenous peoples’ rights to own and exploit their lands and forests, the use of fisheries and other natural resources were to be fully respected. Also, according to the law, every Maori was to be treated equally to the people of Europe. As can easily be imagined, these provisions were not always followed, resulting in more than 30 years of conflict, called the Maori wars. But we will not dive deeper into this part of New Zealand’s history.
One of the most interesting places – and the first one we visited in the Far North – was the Waipu Caves. Although it’s not usually in the TOP places to visit, it’s definitely worth your while!
Waipu Cave, like all surrounding area, is a result of karst erosion on limestone rocks. The cave itself is special because it’s the largest cave channel in the whole northern region of New Zealand.
Entrance to the cave and the first part of the cave are wide. There is a huge stalagnate on the left side of the entrance and larger and smaller stalactites hang from the ceiling. The land is quite muddy and a large part of the cave floor is covered with water. The seemingly dry stones often turn out to be very slippery, so that every precarious step can end in a fall and, at best, wet trousers.
It gets very dark inside quickly. Despite having strong flashlights it is better to wait for a moment before going further into the cave. But when your eyes get accustomed to the dark, they will begin to see what is most interesting in the Waipu Cave – glowing points on the walls and ceiling.
These are arachnocampa luminosa or simply glowworms. This is endemic and unique to New Zealand species of fungus gnat. Both their larval and adult specimens are luminescent. They can be found in places with high humidity – wet caves or sheltered and humid places in the woods.
At first, it was hard for us to notice them because we were too close to the entrance. A bit further we began to notice single worms and enjoyed their sight. But when we walked far into the cave where there was no natural light, and when we were completely alone for a few minutes without any other tourists…
We were all enchanted when gazing at thousands of blue lights. It was just like watching the stars on a cloudless night. Totally beautiful and surreal! But some of these “stars” were literally at your fingertips. Absolutely amazing experience and a view we will not forget!
Like the Bay of Islands, the Coromandel Peninsula is also one of New Zealand’s favorite holiday destinations. Although it is within easy reach from large cities (just over an hour’s drive from Auckland), it is truly captivating with wildlife and completely isolated and uninhabited places.
Coromandel is primarily a picturesque coastline surrounding high hills, which are overgrown with tropical forest. Narrow and winding roads – led by both the coast and the upper parts of the peninsula – impressed us with beautiful landscapes. It took us 3 days to get around the peninsula, during which we stopped the car more than once to enjoy the view.
Everyone will find entertainment ideal for themselves. History lovers and people with a treasure hunter’s urge may look into places where gold mines once were located. But there are far more activities than one would expect. There are many cycling and pedestrian trails of varying lengths and difficulty levels that run across both the mountain and coastal scenery.
Kayaking, diving, snorkeling and even windsurfing are some of the most popular activities on the water. There is nothing more pleasant than exploring the caves by the ocean and admiring the sunset, standing on high cliffs or simply sunbathing on the sandy beach.
We particularly liked the two places on the Coromandel Peninsula.
It is one of the nicest and most beautiful beaches we have visited in New Zealand. And this is due to the majestic rock formations – a natural arch connecting two beaches under a mighty rock. Cathedral Cove, which actually resembles arches like those found in cathedrals and churches.
Cathedral Cove is one of the most popular destinations on the Coromandel Peninsula. And it does not surprise us at all. We stayed here a little longer than planned – to be able to see the fabulous sunrise over the ocean and the beach, and rock arch in the morning sun.
Especially in the morning, the beach was quite crowded. Some, like us, chose to take a leisurely walk through the Te Whanganui-a-Hei Marine Reserve. Others decided to do some kayaking. We later hid in the lush forest reserve, they could take a look at some of the interesting cliffs along the coast. All of us were certainly satisfied!
Hot Water Beach
Although we didn’t really “use” the Hot Water Beach – what we very much regret – and yet we have to write about it! Because wouldn’t it be good to have the option to take a swim in the cold and refreshing ocean or rather to lie in the warm water on the beach? This choice is available only in one place in the world – on the Coromandel Peninsula in New Zealand.
The one-of-a-kind Hot Water Beach is about 15 minutes drive from Cathedral Cove. Long, wide and sandy beach encourages you to take out your towel and start sunbathing! Cold water in the ocean does not scare swimmers and surfers, but most tourists are always waiting for the low tide. They usually take a small shovel and dig their own spa in the ground.
How it’s possible? In places with increased volcanic activity (and the northern island of New Zealand is just such a place), huge reservoirs of overheated water often form underground. Over time, this water finds its way out to the surface of the earth in the form of hot springs. One such place is Hot Water Beach, with two slits, which supply water at a temperature of about 64ºC, at a rate of 15 liters per minute.
An hour or two before the low tide level in the ocean at low tide and an hour or two after it. In total it is 2 to 4 hours when you can enjoy your own small thermal water pool. Just like your own hot tub. After this time the tide smoothes the beach again, preparing it for the next tourists wave and their small pools.
Just like the water all around New Zealand literally was freezing to us, we really wanted to take a dip in this one. Sadly, we arrived just before the high tide and we would have to wait around 6 hours for our own spa. Unfortunately, we were running a tight schedule on the north island… But the next time in New Zealand, we will definitely wait for the low tide!
- Starting with general but useful info 😉 The best way to travel around New Zealand is by: hitchhiking (we haven’t tried but we’ve heard is really easy), buses (preferably Hop On-Hop Off) or a car/van/camper that we rent, buy or relocate from place to place. We have written about all these options quite a lot in Practical tips for the blog post about The cities of the north island – Auckland, Kawakawa and Wellington.
- Regardless of the means of transportation around New Zealand, one thing that your luggage absolutely should have – sunscreen with a high UV filter. It does not matter if the sun is shining, whether it is cloudy or even rainy – the sunscreen should always be with you and regularly applied on the skin!
- The best way to save some money in New Zealand is to sleep in a tent or rented car/van/camper on ice cream. These in New Zealand can be divided into private and governmental, so-called DOC. DOC campuses are spread all over the country, and many of them are located within short distances to the most interesting tourist destinations. For more information, visit the official www.doc.govt.nz/…/camping. Personally, we can also recommend a great app – CamperMate. It has a map with all existing campsites – private and DOC, paid and free, with access to kitchens, laundries, showers or BBQ areas – all the info is there.
- Cape Reinga is more than 100 km away from the nearest town – Kaitaia. There are the last grocery stores and gas stations in the north. It is worth to remember to refuel and buy some food supplies before continuing the road.
- The Te Paki Sand Dunes admittance is completely free. If you want to do sandboarding off the dunes, the rental is right next to the car park. Rental of the board costs about NZD 15 (10 USD).
- Waipu Cave is also available free of charge. You can also buy a guided tour that will provide you with helmets and waterproof clothing and guide you to the deeper parts of the cave. Do not enter the cave solo (i.e. as a single person), and make sure that your flashlight is working properly before entering. It is also good to check weather forecasts before the visit to the Waipu Caves, as in the case of heavy rain, the cave can fill quickly with water (flash-floods).
- Organized kayak tours to Cathedral Cove can cost from 75 to 150 NZD(51-100 USD) depending on the guide you choose and the length of the trip.
- When visiting Cathedral Cove by foot, be prepared to the situation that the free parking on the top will be completely crowded or full (it’s the closest to park entrance). Parking lots below the hills are mostly private and paid.
- While Hot Beach Beach is absolutely free, the car parks around it are unfortunately not. At the top of the beach season, it can be particularly busy, so it is better to get there a little earlier before the low tide. The most up-to-date information on the tides on Hot Water Beach can be found on www.thecoromandel.com or www.mercurybay.co.nz/…/hotwaterbeach.