The irregular peninsula of the North Island juts upwards some 450 km (280 miles) north from Auckland to the rocky headlands of North Cape and Cape Reinga, the topmost tip of the land. It is also known as the ‘winterless north’ after its mild, damp winters and warm and humid summers. For a better tour of the Northland, start from a base at Paihia in the Bay of Islands. Air New Zealand and Ansett New Zealand offer daily flights to Whangarei, Kerikeri, and Kaitai. Alternatively, it’s a scenic 3˝ hour drive up Highway One from Auckland.
Bay of Islands
The resort of Paihia can be reached from the Auckland Harbour Bridge to the Hibiscus Coast, along small farming towns of Warkworth and Wellsford, around Whangarei city, the gateway to the north, and off Kawakawa. This is the Bay of Islands, the cradle of New Zealand. Since the 1950s, the small township of Paihia has been revamped to meet the challenge of tourism. Motels and shopping centers, a variety of eating places and modest nightlife make it a worthy hub of Northland. Paihia wharf also caters for island cruises and fishing trips.
Kelly Tarlton’s Shipwreck Museum
This museum at the beach houses an interesting array of relics salvaged from wrecks around the New Zealand coast. Decks, swinging lanterns, sailing ship sound effects, and the smell of ropes and tar create a seagoing illusion.
Waitangi Treaty House
A historic landmark, the Waitangi House saw the first signing of New Zealand’s Treaty of Waitangi in 1840 between Governor William Hobson and the Maori chiefs. The house sits about 2 km (1.4 miles) north of Paihia over a one-way bridge that also leads to the Waitangi Reserve and a golf course. Now a museum, the house attracts visitors with its impressive Maori meeting house and war canoe displays.
Formerly known as Kororareka, this small and quiet town was once a place filled with runaway sailors, escaped convicts, lusty whalers, promiscuous women, brawls and drunkenness. This former capital of New Zealand is linked by a regular launch service to Paihia and Waitangi. Also serving the small peninsula from the deep-sea port of Opua, south of the harbor, is a vehicular ferry.
Located 23 km (14 miles) north of Paihia is a peculiar yet unique township of Kerikeri, which has a rich backdrop of early Maori and European colonial history. Kerikeri has a population of more than 1,600 people and has become a budding center for handicrafts and cottage industries. Its climate and mellow lifestyle have attracted many creative residents, along with wealthy retirees from other regions of the country.
Below Kerikeri are two of New Zealand’s oldest buildings, Kemp House and Old Stone Store. The first was built in 1822 with pit-sawn kauri and totara and has since been fully restored. The latter, which is adjacent to the Kemp House, was built by missionaries in 1833 with thick stone to protect their wares from attack. It still functions as a store and has a mini museum upstairs.
Close to Kerikeri is Waimate North, the first inland settlement for white people. A two-story kauri mission house, constructed in 1831-32, was the home of Bishop George Augustus Selwyn, New Zealand’s first bishop in 1842.
According to Maori mythology, the cape is where the spirits of the dead depart on their homeward journey back to the ancestral land of Hawaiki. Coach tours now make their way up this legendary flight path, along the Aupori Peninsula to its northernmost point, and back down to the Ninety Mile Beach. Coaches depart Paihia daily at 7:30 to 8 a.m. and return about 6 p.m.
The deep-sea harbor is the resting-place of the Boyd, a ship called in for kauri spars in 1809. A party was sent ashore, but was murdered by the local Maori inhabitants, who donned the victims’ clothes and rowed back to the vessel to massacre the remaining crew and set fire to the ship. Due to this incident, Christian settlement in New Zealand was delayed for years.
Named so by James Cook, the bay has a string of sloping sandy beaches. Coopers Beach, lined with pohutukawa trees, is just as attractive, as is Cable Bay with its golden sand and colorful shells.
The long harbor with a score of ragged inlets, which keeps the place quiet, serene and rural, presents a seaside resort, Oponomi, at the harbor mouth. It became world famous in the southern summer of 1955-56 when a young dolphin (Opo) began frolicking with swimmers at the beach. When Opo died, the nation mourned. She is remembered in a song and monument.
Waipoua Kauri Forest
Waipoua is the largest kauri forest left in the land, with its 2,500 hectares (6,100 acres) of mature kauri trees. Two giants, close to the unsealed road, tower above them all. ‘Te Matua Ngahere’ (Father of the Forest) is about 2,000 years old while ‘Tanemahuta’ (Lord of the Forest) is 1,200 years old with a girth of 13.6 meters (44.6ft).
About 184 km (114miles) from Auckland is Dargaville, which was founded on the timber and kauri gum trade. Its museum has many fine gum samples and is built of clay bricks brought in from China as ship’s ballast.
Whangarei is a lightly industrialized city of 42,000 with a deep-sea port harbor, glassworks, a cement plant, and an oil refinery. Mount Parahaki gives panoramic views of both the city and harbor. Some of the major attractions include the Clapham Clock Collection (400 timepieces dating from the 17th Century), safe swimming beaches, and the deep-sea fishing base of Tutukaka. Accommodation is not a problem in Whangarei.
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