Auckland and Northland

I had only two days in Aucklandbefore our  whirlwind coach tour started.  Day 1 was spent at Piha, a beach on the west coast that has black sand as a result of all the iron in the surrounding earth. Let me tell you, it burns to walk on! The waves are so strong that New Zealand has a beach rescue TV show entirely shot there. After a day basking in the sun, my friend and I hiked a short distance to a waterfall and paddled into the water (she was brave enough to submerge herself, I definitely was not).

The weather on day 2 was not kind, so myself and a fellow Brit went to the Museum of Auckland, which despite ruffling my feathers with a $25 entrance fee (I know, London is the only city in the world with free museums, I'm spoilt) had an excellent array of exhibits, including the world's largest collection of Maori artefacts (makes sense). And a reconstruction of a Moa, which is a horrifying 3m tall bird (thankfully extinct).

Day 3 was when things took off. My NZ travel buddy Kitty has arrived the night before, so we took off bright and early for Paihia and the Bay of Islands. We arrived around midday, and immediately purchased a ferry ticket for Russell, the town sitting across the water from Paihia. Russell was one of the earliest settlements in Northland NZ, originally called Koraroreka, and a bit of a rambunctious settlers town with sailors and hookers and all kinds of characters.  After that we went to meet our couch surfing host for the next two nights in nearby Kerikeri.

Day 4 was the most intense yet, a tightly scheduled coach tour up to the top point of the North Island. The coach drove along 90 Mile Beach from near the very bottom, splashing in the ocean as we went. The beach is actually more like 55 miles, but the colonists who named it took 3 days to traverse the length on horseback and (wrongly) estimated they must have been doing about 30 miles a day. We stopped briefly there, then turned the corner to find an excellent sand dune for a spot of sand boarding, which was exhilarating. From there we headed to Cape Reinga where you can see the respective currents of the Tasman Sea and Pacific Ocean fighting it out. We stopped three times more, for the famous fush n' chups at Monganui, to a craft shop, and finally Manginangina Forest where a boardwalk leads you through the famous kauri trees, and finally got dropped off home, exhausted.

First thing on Day 5 we had an exciting engagement was with a pod of dolphins out in the Bay of Islands. There were about 30 of us on the commercial boat, and it didn't take long to find the creatures frolicking in the water. They had a baby with them which meant we weren't allowed to swim with them, but I was so utterly thrilled to have got so close that this was not an issue at all! The coach brought us back to Auckland in the early afternoon via Whangerei Falls, a nice picnic spot, and we spent our last night in Auckland being driven to some interesting sights and getting a gorgeous view over the city twinkling in the dark. No rest for the wicked though, and day 6 would take us South for the first time...

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