Escape the City

Trading the hustle and bustle of the city for a backpack

Bay of Islands – Ringing in 2019

I just wanted to set the record straight as I have been asked this question soo many times over the past few weeks ……. How are Rich and I dealing being around each other 24/7? We are grand – doing a number of group tours and meeting friends along the way I am sure has helped. At times the tiredness has kicked in but usually it’s down to needing some food… definitely being a few very hangry moments (mainly Rich ?).

After a very delayed flight (16hrs) from Rarotonga to Auckland, we were utterly relieved to finally get off the plane and hit the road for a 3hr drive up to Paihia in the Bay of Islands. It’s a great drive through some very windy roads up into the mountains with great views of pristine beaches and rainforests. The ferns are just so beautiful and for me really differentiate the New Zealand landscape from any place I have ever travelled to before. Back in 2015, we had visited for 3 weeks but never made it up to the Bay of Islands which we felt was a must for us this time round.


Paihia is a popular coastal town with lots of pubs, restaurants, shops and local art and craft markets. Little did we know, the town is a stop for cruise ships so at times there was a massive influx of tourists.  From recommendations online, it seemed to be a bit of a hit with the Kiwis for New Years so we decided to base ourselves here for over the New Year celebrations.  It’s also a short ferry ride across to Russell which was the first European settlement and seaport in New Zealand. It’s a little bit touristy but is really pretty by the seafront, a great stop for a few beers and food.

Outdoor activities

One of the reasons we love New Zealand soo much is the abundance of outdoor activities available. There are just so many pretty open spaces for walking, running, cycling and swimming with the majority of them being free.

We stopped at a number of waterfalls on our trip to the most northerly point of New Zealand including the Haruru falls and Rainbow falls. A common occurrence was Rich forgetting his swim shorts and having to come back the following day to get his very icy swim fix. Although both are incredibly beautiful, we have been spoilt by the Iguassu falls in Argentina and Brazil so nothing really compares now.

At the falls, there are also some great walking trails, the Waitangi (6km track each way) and Kerikeri track (4km walk each way). We didn’t walk either of these tracks fully but what we saw we really enjoyed. There is some great hikes and walks up in Cape Reinga too.

We wanted to do some cycling when we were in Paihia and heard about the Twin Coast Cycle Trail that stretches from the Bay of Islands to Hokianga harbour. Its an 87km cycle and takes 2 days to complete. We had one afternoon so we cycled 30 km. We would have loved to have completed the entire trail as we were told by locals the scenery at the other end of the track is completely different to the start but we just didn’t have the time – who knows, maybe next time?

We stopped at Kawakawa for lunch on the cycle and had heard about some famous toilets called the Hundertwasser toilets which we, of course, had to stop at. They really are a work of art – it feels very weird to say that about a toilet! There’s some quirky graffiti around the town as well and an old vintage railway station where we stopped for a quick coffee and to eat our cheese sandwiches.

The final activity we did on this stretch of our New Zealand adventure was sand surfing in Te Paki sand dunes and my god it was so much fun. It costs a couple of dollars to rent the board and glasses. The rental company is run by a local Maori tribe so it’s really nice to be able to support them and they gave us some information on their culture. Driving down this very bumpy avenue, all you can see is rolling green hills until you get to the end of the track where you have these massive sand dunes. I was slightly put off by the steepness of the slopes initially and the warning signs highlighting how dangerous this sport is but was delighted I gave it ago. We went early in the morning and we were up the sand dunes by about 10am. Climbing the sand dunes is definitely a cardio work out so we ticked off our exercise for the day. When we left at about twelve , the sand was burning our feet so do make sure to bring flip flops with you for walking on the dunes. We had also foolishly checked out of our hotel that morning and so after playing on the dunes were covered in sand.  With no shower available at the beach, we had a very sandy, five hour drive down to Auckland.

North island really was beautiful!

New Year’s

Our original plan for New Years, was to celebrate in Sydney or Auckland and fly to the Cook Islands where we would cross the date line and be able to celebrate NY all over again. Unfortunately to do this we would have had to spend a small fortune on tickets so we quickly scrapped those plans. Unlike Christmas Day where we were one of the last people in the world to celebrate Christmas in the Cook Islands, we were one of the first to bring in the New Year in New Zealand. The town of Paihia was really busy on NY Eve but when it got to the evening it was pretty quiet. All geared up and ready to have a great time, we headed out at 9pm to our first pub to be told that the pub was closing…. WTF it was 9pm??? This became a common theme throughout the evening until we found a bit of a dingy bar with a karaoke singer (who may not have actually been a karaoke singer!) to get a beer while we waited until 12pm for the fireworks to go off. It was a lovely evening but probably our most sober NY (not necessarily a bad thing) and we were in bed by one o’clock. Guess this is what happens now we are in our 30s ? We usually bring in the celebrations in Dingle in Ireland (which we love – Carol, please let us back into Dingle!).

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