Several of our stops along the North Island were short little day or half-day trips to scenic areas and cities. Though we are kind of lumping them together here, due to their brevity, it doesn’t mean we enjoyed them any less:
OKURA BUSH SCENIC RESERVE
Only 30 minutes north of Auckland sits the Okura Bush Scenic Reserve. Here, the Okura Bush Walkway runs along the estuary of the Okura River. The trail is densely-forested, with giant tree ferns and native kauri trees towering above the path. This was probably the most stunning forest we saw in New Zealand. We followed the trail to Karepiro Bay and, because it was low-tide, took a short stroll out to the edge of the shore. The beach was absolutely littered with flawless shells of all kinds, so I obviously had to snap a few pictures of the bay’s beautiful treasures.
About halfway between Auckland and the Bay of Islands is the picturesque town of Whangarei, New Zealand’s northernmost city. We enjoyed kicking around here for a day; the Town Basin is lined with cool little shops and cafes, including a handmade ice cream and fudge store and a charming studio selling glass-blown works from local artists. Running along the Hatea River, the adjacent marina is dotted with sailboats and small yachts.
New Zealand’s largest city, bustling Auckland sits on an isthmus in the northern region of the North Island. We spent a couple of days here, and found pleasure walking around the city center, save for two things: (1) the price of parking and (2) attempting to find parking for a tall campervan. I know these are obvious expectations with cities, as real estate comes at a premium, but even some of the uncovered lots had a seemingly-unnecessary 2-meter bar at the entrance… and parallel parking that beast was not always a possibility.
We definitely enjoyed the food and beer scene here, and squandered a bit of our budget on food other than peanut butter and jelly and whole-wheat pasta from our campervan kitchen. Stephan was able to try a handful of local brews, and was in his glory, while I found an amazing vegan café called The Bluebird. It was just a little hole in the wall, but I had a dal bowl, fresh smoothie, and a sugar-free apricot bar that were just out of this world! I attempted to return a second time, but was heartbroken to find they were closed for their February 1st ‘Anniversary Day’ (each district in NZ gets a unique holiday each year). We did, though, locate a pretty good vegetarian Indian restaurant where we had a couple curries and dosas that looked like they were hopped up on steroids. The dosas were no match for our prized Udupi favorites (I don’t think any dosa will ever compare), but the curries we had were quite delicious.
Finally, we had to find a location to photograph the iconic city skyline, with the prominent Sky Tower dwarfing many of the other skyscrapers. Interestingly, capturing the perfect photograph of Auckland’s skyline seems to be a hot debate online. While driving back from Northland, though, we stumbled upon what we considered to be a fabulous view of the city overlooking the harbor. We were just north of the Auckland Harbor Bridge when the skyline came into view; then suddenly, I noticed a pedestrian bridge over the highway. We quickly pulled off the highway, painstakingly navigated to the footbridge at Heath Reserve off Exmouth Road, and took in the view of Auckland. If I had to throw out my recommendation for a great city view, the Exmouth Road pedestrian bridge would be it.
As our time in New Zealand comes to a close, it’s mind-boggling to think we have been here for an entire month. Our cozy campervan has become like my home, and I feel like I could just keep wandering around the two islands indefinitely in our humble abode. New Zealand definitely has a special place in our hearts and, while I look forward to what adventures lie ahead in Australia, I will dearly miss the beauty of Kiwi Country and the warmth and friendliness of its residents. Cheers, New Zealand!