Traveling half-way around the world takes some time, but 30 hours and 8 time zones later, the plane finally arrived in Auckland, New Zealand right in the middle of summer. I should probably mention that I brought my fiancé Andrew along for the trip, and what a trip we have had so far. I’ll start at the start.
We want to see as much of the country as possible before school starts in February near the southern tip of New Zealand. Auckland is the biggest city in NZ, so what better place to start! The harbour sparkles, and the parks are the brightest shade of green you can imagine. I thought it might just be the novelty of it all that made the city seem so sunny- it turns out there is a huge ozone hole above New Zealand. That also explains the sunburns. The Auckland Domain park had these amazing trees with long branches that are so heavy that they touch the ground, and then bend and start growing back up. The strange part about NZ parks is that every time you hear rustling and look up expecting to find a squirrel there is a bird instead. The only mammals native to NZ are a couple species of bats. This makes for a very unique faunal assemblage, with many birds filling typical “mammal niches.” In other words, they have birds to do what our squirrels and mice and rabbits do.
As soon as we were packed up and ready, we headed north. North is not the direction most tourists head for when leaving Auckland, but since we had almost a month to tour, Northland was our first stop. The first thing you notice when travelling around New Zealand is how quickly the landscape changes. You quickly go from grassy pastures to native forest (with palm trees and tree-sized ferns), back to logging forest (pine trees row on row), and on to golden beaches. And that’s just the Northland peninsula.
New Zealand highways and roads are grouped into three types: scenic highways, alternate highways, and roads that Canadians would really probably call paths or perhaps rural driveways. Many of these alternate highways even aren’t paved and are only one lane wide through switchbacks and endless blind corners. I suppose you get used to them eventually, but I’m glad I’m not driving. New Zealand is absolutely breathtaking; the scenic highways are certainly called that for a reason.
The trip to the northern tip of the north island took several days with stops along the way. Eventually we made it to the most unexpected place: the Te Paki sand dunes. It turns out that most of the rolling hilly landscape of Northland is just overgrown sand dunes, but right on the northern tip of New Zealand, the sand dunes are bare and enormous. They are absolutely spectacular.
Once you climb to the top, all you can see is sand; there are no trees within view and no water around. You can easily imagine that you are stranded in the middle of a desert…but you shouldn’t; it makes you terribly thirsty. While we were up there, we took advantage of the strong wind and lack of trees to fly a kite! I even found an area at the top with fossilized sea shells; it must have been at the bottom of the ocean at one time!
The last stop on our northward trek was Cape Reinga. This is the farthest north you can go by road in New Zealand (the northernmost point is inside a scientific reserve). In the waters north of the cape the Tasman Sea meets the Pacific Ocean. The two meet in wild, turbulent waters that are impassible by boats. Each body of water has its own colour and direction of waves, and the meeting point is spectacular.
That concludes the northbound part of our journey, with more to come for the trip south.