New Zealand’s South Island may be more beautiful than the North Island (according to most travelers), but the North Island has some stunning scenery too.
Bay of Islands
A few hours drive north of Auckland, on the east coast, is the Bay of Islands. A bay with many islands, that simple. It’s a major tourist draw but to be honest, we couldn’t really see why. Sure, it’s beautiful. But New Zealand has much more to offer in terms of landscape. For those who want to do activities such as cruising around the islands or skydiving, it’s a good place to do that. Imagine flying over dozens of small green islands in a turquoise sea… If, however, you don’t plan on doing anything the like, you can just as well spare yourself the drive to Bay of Islands.
Much more rewarding is the long but gorgeous drive to Cape Reinga, the northern tip of the North Island. At the cape, two seas, the Tasman and the Pacific, meet and looking out at sea you realize you’re a long way from any other land. Somewhere north are Fiji and Vanuatu, so different and so distant, yet they’re some of the closest islands.
From the car park, a short walkway goes to the lighthouse. Various hiking trails lead along both coasts and down to the beaches around the cape. If only it wasn’t so windy…
A few kilometers south of Cape Reinga, a brown sign indicates the way to the “Giant Dunes”. Many people use the dune for sandboarding; various places nearby rent out boards.
From below, the dune doesn’t look that big and we thought, let’s climb the dune and go see the famous Ninety Mile Beach. Easier said than done: As you climb up, the dune gets bigger and bigger and suddenly you find yourself in a veritable desert. There’s sand and more dunes all around and the sea nowhere to be seen.
One of the most beautiful routes on the North Island is the drive along the Kauri Coast on the island’s west. Kauri are trees native to New Zealand and are, by volume, the largest trees in the country. The trees can live for more than 1000 years and measure up to 20 meters in girth. Extensive kauri forests once covered the northern part of the North Island but due to heavy logging, the number of kauri has shrunk considerably and today only few kauri forests remain. The largest of them is the Waipoua Forest where also the biggest and oldest kauri in New Zealand stand.
Unfortunately, kauri are threatened by a disease which infects the roots of the trees. There’s no curse, so all affected trees will eventually die. Therefore it’s essential that visitors disinfect their shoes before entering the forest, stick to the trails, and don’t stand on the tree’s roots. The oldest and biggest trees – really impressive sights – are protected by fences.
Apart from kauri, a huge variety of other plants and trees grow in the forest. Everything is green and golden and plants such as the huge tree ferns make you feel as though you’re walking through an enchanted forest.