In we ran, clothes left strewn on the sand* and the sun only just peeping up over the hill behind us, where we had left our campervan de-fogging in the early morning light with the rest of the snoozing campground. Underfoot was a multitude of crushed, colourful shells, and around us the sea mist was lifting to reveal that we were the only two living souls on the whole of this beautiful, atmospheric bay.
This was Spirit’s Bay at 6.30am, almost at the very tip of the North Island and a place of deep spirituality and tranquillity. If this was England, the entire place would be packed to bursting, yet here we were, alone. What a gift!
Our second wwoofing experience was a fortnight of learning, full of interesting conversations, philosophical queries, emotional challenges and great physical exertion as we experienced what it truly means to pursue an organic lifestyle (hint: it takes a LOT of effort). We gained great admiration for our hosts, who truly practised what they preached in terms of living in a sustainable way.
After ten days straight of weeding, log hauling and strimming, amongst other muscle-building work, my lower back was in need of a serious break, and we were itching to go exploring in our campervan (who, sadly, still remains nameless, but is loved nonetheless for his anonymity). So, we headed for the Northlands, the far reaches of the North Island, accessible along highways that weave through dense kauri forest, vast expanses of open agricultural land, and giant sand dunes that signal you towards the tip of the country.
I could spend hours describing every place we visited, every walk we went on, every memorable incident and every person we met, but that will just have to wait for my book (see bucket list!). For now, you will have to be content with some highlights. And they really were highlights, moments that I pray will be entrenched in our memories, always.
Bay of Islands: We approached this popular tourist destination for Kiwis as a heavy mist rose to reveal the clusters of islands that make this area so picturesque. We walked a beautiful 5-6 hour route from Paihia to Opua, took the ferry over to the original capital city, Okiato, through Russell, and back on a passenger ferry to Paihia. The route took us through lots of classic Kiwi sights, from beautiful beaches and cliff paths, to boardwalks amongst the mangroves, to dense bush with creepers hanging down from the canopy, to areas of historical importance relating to European settlement, and plenty more.
Puketi Forest: The DoC (Department of Conservation) have set up countless campsites across the country where you can access basic facilities (usually containing a combination of any of the following: drinking water, toilets and a cold shower) for around $8, and this was a very special one. After following a bumpy gravel track, you reach the edge of an ancient, thick forest, where you can park up under the shade of the trees.
Matauri Bay: One rainy evening, we decided to give up trying to get any further north and parked up at a campsite right next to what is supposedly one of New Zealand’s most beautiful beaches (and when I say right next to, I mean literally a couple of metres away). We enjoyed a sunset paddle once the rain had passed, and awoke to the sound of lapping waves (thankfully not against the side of the van, which was a concern).
Cape Rienga and Spirit’s Bay: As mentioned at the start, Spirit’s Bay (another DoC campsite) was one of the most magical places we have experienced, anywhere. Cape Rienga, (almost) the most northern point of New Zealand and shaped like a fish tail, holds special significance in Maori tradition, since it is the place where Maori people believe your spirit departs after death, on its route back to Hawaiki, their homeland. There is an ancient tree clinging on to the side of the rocks, miraculously still standing after years of being battered by wild wind and waves; the spirits are thought to slide down the roots as they leave the land. Apart from an 18 year old German tourist with a boom box blasting out from her backpack (only slight exaggeration used for dramatic effect), this was a movingly serene and atmospheric place.
Just to add to the effect, this is also the spot where the Tasman Sea and the Pacific Ocean meet. According to Maori tradition, the male sea (Te Mona Tapokopoko a Tawhaki) meets the female sea (Te Tai o Whitireia), representing the creation of life and creating its characteristic turbulent whirlpools and waves (ooh err).
Mangawhai Heads – This beautiful spot marks one of the most popular cliffside walks in NZ. We walked it in the blazing hot sun, watching the turquoise waters hit the rocks below us and enjoying majestic grey herons flying around us, and the famous NZ Christmas tree, pohutukawa, starting to bloom with its characteristic red flowers.
Ocean Beach/Urquhart’s Bay – Our first wwoof hosts recommended this eastern peninsula, which we would have otherwise completely bypassed. The result was one of the most panoramic, breathtaking views we have ever seen. After a super steep climb and a scramble up a rock stack, you are rewarded with this…
Campervan update: Now fully kitted out and officially self contained (a vital qualification for any nature-conscious campers who don’t want to irritate the locals http://www.nzmca.org.nz/self-containment and who want to freedom camp http://www.doc.govt.nz/freedomcamping), our little vehicle has quickly become home, bringing us much joy, freedom, and a new awareness of spacial organisation as we fit each item into the somewhat limited space (all those years of jigsaw puzzle training are finally paying off).
North Islands installment 2, coming soon!
*I have been informed that this makes it sound as though we were skinny dipping. Just to clarify, we were in our swimming gear: sorry to disappoint. It really was quite chilly.