After an extended stop in Australia, we are finally hitting the road again, deciding our next destination should be New Zealand! As our carnet had reached its expiry date, we had shipped our vehicle out of Australia several months before leaving for NZ via a roll on roll off vessel operated by Höegh Autoliners.  We used Seaway Agencies as the agent for the shipping.

New Zealand, just like Australia, has very stringent quarantine rules whereby the car has to be free from any mud, seeds or insects. During the shipping process from East Timor to Australia we had the car stripped down and cleaned. Unfortunately the car was not properly put back together again.

This time round we had decided to fully clean the car ourselves.

Despite all our efforts, the vehicle still required a steam clean on arrival in NZ due to a rogue spider being found inside. Whilst in Australia we carried out a number of modifications to our vehicle.  Notably we have added the following:

Howling Moon Roof Tent

Removed second row of seats

Drifta Drawers

Roof Rack

Our planned trip over the next few months will take us from the top of the North Island all the way to the lowermost part of the South Island. From NZ we plan to ship our vehicle over to Los Angeles in the US and start the Americas leg of our trip.

Arrival in NZ

29th December

We arrive in Auckland late and head directly to our hotel, eagerly awaiting the pickup of our vehicle the next day. The following morning, we head out to the collect the car from long term storage. On checking the vehicle we find that all our belongings from the vehicle have been stolen!  Prior to shipping to NZ we had invested in some good quality clothing for colder weather including fleeces, windproof jackets, trousers and hiking boots etc. these were now all gone (valued around £2000). We contacted the shipper and agent about the situation and it seemed that the items may have gone “walkabout” during the steam cleaning process.

Both the Shipping agent and clearing agent were very unwilling to help, the clearing agent even threatening to cause us more problems if we pursued the issue!  In our minds if we paid for the vehicle to be shipped, cleared and transported to a storage facility, we had assumed as part of that contract, it included due care of our property.

We spoke to police about the situation, and unfortunately due to the length of time from the date of import, it was unlikely anything could be done. I guess at least Nicole gets the chance to go shopping again!

We next head over to VTNZ to obtain a Warrant of Fitness; this is the equivalent of a n MOT which is required every six months, and also pay the ACC levy and road user charges for a Diesel vehicle. More information on importing your vehicle temporarily can be found here:

We spend the next few days replacing the essential items which had been stolen before heading out from Auckland.  

3-5th January      WAIPOUA FOREST

From Auckland, we decide to travel to Northland 224kms to the Waipoua Forest on the west coast, home to the ancient giant kauri trees which once covered vast areas of northern New Zealand.  Much of the forest has now been lost to fire, logging of prized kauri timber used for furniture and in ship building and the clearing of land for farms.  The forest is now under the protection of the department of conservation and forms the largest area of native forest in Northland.  Control of the forest has been handed back to the local Maori tribe as a settlement for Crown breaches of the Waitingi treaty.

We stop for supplies in Dargaville before driving along the undeveloped Kauri coast and arrive at the forest sanctuary.  A steep and winding gravel road off the main road leads us to a lookout tower where we have great views over the canopy, the Kauri trees prominent above the tree line. Following a curving narrow road with sharp bends cut through the forest, we eventually come to Waipoua Forest campsite where we re-organise the car and set up our new Howling Moon roof tent for the first time.  The camp is peaceful as there are only a few other people around but by nightfall the park is full with campers.

The next morning, we venture into the park to see Tane Mahuta (Lord of the Forest), the largest living kauri tree.  Reaching 51m high and 1250 to 2500 years old, it’s one of the oldest and largest trees in the world.  Another 20 minute walk and we come to the Four Sisters, four graceful tall trees which have fused together at their base to Te Matua Ngahere (Father of the Forest).   Before and after each walk we are instructed to wipe our shoes on the brushes and wash down our shoes to prevent spread of a fungus which can attack and kill the Kauri trees.

We had planned to stay for a couple of days but are attacked by mosquitoes all night, despite using repellent so continue on our journey north 124km to Ahipara, a small beachside town, crossing the scenic Hokianga harbour via a small car ferry.

On route, our GPS decides to lead us in the wrong direction through isolated farmlands so we turn around and find our way to an alternative holiday park in town, where we have plenty of space to ourselves.  We take the opportunity to carry out some repairs, rewire the electrics and install a new solar panel.

6th January      NINETY MILE BEACH

The next day we wake early to drive Ninety Mile Beach on the Aupouri Peninsula, a 108km stretch to New Zealands most northerly point at Cape Reinga, famous for its snapper fishing.  Checking the tidal times before we leave, we aim to be on the beach at 8.30am and off by 11am.  The long straight stretch of sand looks out to the Tasman Sea and is also flanked by the Aupouri Forest with a 4km in width belt of sand dunes.

On entering the beach, the sand under the wheels feels soft but after this it quickly becomes harder and even driveable for a 2WD.  The drive in the sunshine is great and we seem to be the only ones driving on the beach today.   Suddenly a van with a couple of kids in the back with no seatbelts on speeds past us and then moments later, we spot a police helicopter hovering quite low just ahead.   It carries on down the beach and then disappears behind the towering sand dunes, before reappearing directly in front of us.

Just as we are enjoying the peaceful drive, a scary looking dog decides to run in front of the car just in front of the wheel, not allowing us to move forwards.  Trying to manoeuvre around it, it runs in front of the wheel again, its owner looking on and doing absolutely nothing!  It eventually decides to walk the opposite way.  Martin builds up speed whilst we watch it running at full speed in the wing mirror trying to catch up!

With the sun shining, the drive is fantastic watching the waves crashing as we drive north, passing fishermen standing in the water hoping to catch some snapper or shellfish and the odd person or two out for a walk.  About 40 miles down the beach we come to the Bluff, an island reserve which is actually a patch of submarine lava flow, connected to the mainland at low tide by a sand platform.  There seem to be hundreds of birds circling it overhead.

As we turn the corner, we come to Te Paki stream, a sand-based stream bed 3km in length running alongside the sand dunes. The leaflet we had picked up at the i-site centre had warned us that entering the stream is at our own risk, never to stop in it and to always engage a low gear.  Although we find it quite shallow and there isn’t really any need to.

At the end of the stream, we reach the gigantic sand dunes of the Te Paki Recreation Reserve and with body board at the ready make the steep hike up, which we have almost to ourselves (the picture below is the tourist bus dune!) It’s hard work in the heat of the midday sun! The golden sands of the dunes have been moulded by wild west-coast winds, some of them rising as high as 140m.    Finally at the top, the only way is down! It’s a great adrenaline rush and we even manage to stay on the board all the way to the end of the dune!

After all the sand boarding fun and games, we drive around the corner to the next set of dunes to be met by hundreds of tourists and tour buses which also came up the stream. Driving 17km to the northerly tip of NZ at Cape Reinga, we take the leisurely 1km walk downhill to the íconic Cape Reinga Lighthouse and are afforded with stunning views all the way along the walkway.  The Maori translation is ‘’place of the leaping’ which refers to their beliefs that the cape is the point where the spirits of the dead begin the voyage back to their final resting place in the ancestral homeland of Hawaiki.

According to legend, the spirits of the departed leap from an 800-year-old pohutukawa tree on the windswept cape. Cape Reinga is where the waters of the Tasman Sea and Pacific Ocean meet, creating massive waves in stormy conditions.  Today there is nothing but blue skies and sparkling waters as we look over the edge watching the currents swirl as the two oceans converge together off shore.

The walk back uphill in the heat of the midday sun is not as leisurely as the walk down! We stop for some lunch at picturesque Tapotupotu Bay and then follow the signs for Spirits Bay, one of New Zealand’s most beautiful beaches, according to the LP.  The route takes us up on a winding gravel road a for a long way off the beaten track and with no indicators as to how far away it is, we just hope it’s worth the drive!  We park up and take the short walk to the beach, walking down the long expanse of sand with a few people sunbathing on it.  It’s certainly pretty but possibly not worth the 30 minute drive to get there unless you plan on staying for a while!

We start the drive south along Great Exhibition Bay passing Doubtless Bay, deciding to drive all the way to the Bay of Islands 213 km away.  Arriving in the town of Paihia, the main gateway town to the Bay of Islands relatively late, we pull into a holiday park and set up camp for the night.

7th January    BAY OF ISLANDS

The next morning we go shopping for extra camping items we need and later visit the Waitangi Treaty Grounds.   In 1840 the Treaty of Waitangi was signed here, by representatives of the British Crown and Maori chiefs.  It is considered to be the founding document of New Zealand as a nation. On arrival, we watch a short video on the history of the grounds and then head to the carved meeting house, the fine carvings representing the major Maori tribes.

We then watch a cultural show, similar to those we had seen in Rotorua with traditional Maori song and dance, including the haka or war dance.  The house stands facing the Treaty House, the two buildings together symbolising the partnership agreed between Maori and the British Crown.  It was opened in 1940, 100 years after the signing of the treaty.  Meeting houses often embody a tribal ancestor, with the head at the roof apex and the ridgepole and rafters representing the backbone and ribs.

In the green spacious grounds overlooking a headland, there is a huge ceremonial war canoe or waka taua.  It requires a minimum of 76 paddlers to handle it safely and is launched on the 6th Feb every year for Waitangi Day celebrations. We take a walk around the exhibition and treaty house, home of James Busby, the British government’s representative when the treaty was signed.  Built in 1832 it has since undergone major restoration work after becoming nearly derelict.  Today you can see what the house would have looked like back in 1840. Driving back into Paihia, as we have an early morning start, we decide to have dinner at one of the restaurants along the busy waterfront.

9th January

We head out on a full day Bay Of Islands cruise cream trip with Fullers which follows the old mail route and which was also used to transport cream and other items to and from the islands.  The cruise takes us all the way around the bay with a possibility of swimming with the dolphins if the conditions are favourable.

It’s a beautifully sunny day as the boat heads out to some of the 150 plus islands which punctuate the clear blue waters of the South Pacific ocean. Our first stop is a view of historic Russell, New Zealand’s first permanent British settlement, once known as ‘the hellhole of the Pacific’.  Whalers, fleeing convicts and sailors all flocked here in the early 19th century after the local tribe permitted it to become NZ’s first European settlement. We make a stop at Moturoa Island to drop off supplies to residents then carry on to Black Rocks, an unusual chain of extensive volcanic rocks and bird rookeries. Stunning isolated houses tucked into their own bays are passed on route to Rangihoua Bay where we see the Marsden Cross.  This is where the Reverend Samuel Marsden held NZ’s first Christian sermon in 1814.   The boat goes past Assassination Cove, so called after a French explorer and his crew of 26 were killed in an act of revenge by a local tribe and then pass by Robertson Island, where Captain James Cook anchored the Endeavour.

As we are sailing towards Moturua Island, a pod of Bottlenose dolphins decides to join our boat! We stop at Otehei bay on Urupukapuka Island, the largest island in the bay for a lunch break and take a hike to the top for views over the whole bay.

We sail past Waewaetorea and Okahu Island before arriving at Piercy Island located at the eastern edge of the bay and at the tip of Cape Brett.  The natural arch cut into the steep-walled fortress of rock comes into view.  The boat goes right through the heart of the island, a 64metre high opening, some choosing to be soaked by water flowing off the rock and down past the arch.

We also see the Cape Brett lighthouse; lighthouse keepers lived and worked here from 1910 until 1978.  The boat makes the return journey back to Paihia for around 5pm.