It’s been a while since we’ve had cause to write a travel diary: at present we’re holed up in Auckland, saving for a second South America adventure in August.

However, last weekend we managed to escape to one of our favourite New Zealand travel spots: the area north of Auckland.

Wednesday: On Wednesday I headed out to the Spaceships depot in Penrose to pick up Tane Mahuta, my ride for the next four days. Spaceships are converted people-movers, with a double bed, fridge, DVD player, built-in iPod-to-stereo cable — they’re a great way to get around New Zealand’s roads because, unlike a camper van, they drive smoothly around all our narrow, curvy roads!

Tane Mahuta, the clean spaceship camper van
Tane Mahuta, our Spaceship for a long weekend.

I knew I was heading North — Linda and I were celebrating our recent wedding anniversary on an overnight cruise in the Bay of Islands — but picking up the car gave me an idea. I’d take the vehicle to meet it’s namesake: Tane Mahuta is the name of New Zealand’s largest living tree, a Kauri in the Waipoua Forest.

Things to do on State Highway One

Thursday: After a quick stop to pick up supplies, I headed north. Less than an hour up State Highway One, there’s a new toll road — just NZ$2 each way for the Spaceship. You don’t have to stop: the machine reads your license plate, then the toll can be paid online or over the phone, but has to be paid within five days … I left it until Monday.

Just beyond there was my first planned stop: Puhoi Valley, famous for its cheese. Just my luck, the dairy’s café was shut, the local artisan spreads company was shut … everything except for the kayak hire and the general store was shut! With some Puhoi blue from the Store in the fridge, I headed off again.

Part of my goal for this trip was just to follow my nose, I wanted to turn down roads I don’t normally follow. When I saw “Parry Kauri Park” signposted in Warkworth, I drove down to see it. The rain was pouring, so the first stop was into Warkworth Museum for a while. The weather looked so bad and Northland is so important to New Zealand’s colonial history that I thought I’d do some more museum-hoping over the weekend.

The rain cleared a bit, to allow me into the Kauri park: two magnificent trees were obviously the centre-point, but there was lots of native secondary growth around too.

A few more kilometres up State Highway One, and I pulled over in Te Hana. I’d never stopped here before but for the last few years, I’d seen a reconstructed Maori Pa, or fortified village, being built on the side of the road. After buying some locally made feijoa and apple juice, I dropped into the information centre. It was almost two hours later that I left, having spoken with Sunny, Lou and Linda from Te Ao Marama Marae, and discovered the 17th century Maori village was being opened in June … We’ll be back for that.

In Kaiwaka I bought some bread and grabbed an espresso at Café Europia. You can’t miss this place: a white ship’s bow seems to be coasting into the highway, and the ferro-cement interior was built by the owner’s father, a local artist. The coffee is good too.

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