After making the decision to do a working holiday in New Zealand, myself and my better half arrived in Auckland in January 2018. We did as much planning as we felt needed in the run up to us coming here and had a rough outline of routes to explore, and of course, places to photograph. I kept my camera kit light (see my previous blog about switching to Fuji). I chose to take just the Fuji XT-2 with the 16mm 1.4, and 55-200mm lenses. Along with a NiSi 6 stop ND+CPL, and 10 stop ND filters my Tenba DNA 8 is fully packed. I purchased a hiking backpack before leaving that can take my camera bag in it, along with my 2 tripods (one Joby Gorillapod, and one Vanguard Veo 235AP). And that's it.
We spent the first two weeks in Auckland staying in an AirBnB. This gave us a base to sort out the boring (but essential!) things and find a camper van. It also left us with plenty opportunities to explore the city and its green spaces.
We sorted our van within the first few days which made exploring further parts of the city a lot easier. Auckland is very spread out, and the public transport is not very reliable. We managed to visit many of the parks, the Botanic Gardens (despite the rain) and even a trip to Auckland Zoo.
Our plan when leaving Auckland was to head north first. We left Edinburgh in the dead of winter, so felt that we should head north and get some good sunshine in the subtropics of Northland, NZ. The Northland is littered with beaches, islands, scenic reserves (as all of NZ is...), and stunning landscapes to explore (again, all over NZ really). We have a years working holiday visa, so we have the luxury to take our time. We had planned a couple months (initially) for just north of Auckland... So, we headed north.
We drove north from Auckland along the east coast. Using our guide books, maps, and advice from locals we made slow progress north (as an example of how slow, our first night in vanlife was only in the North Shore of Auckland...). We visited the Waipu caves, and numerous beaches on our way north to Whangarei. We visited the town basin (great cafes and a nice walk), Abbey Caves (amazing caves to explore and see glow worms), and the Whangarei Falls (which have a free camp if you're happy to sleep at an angle...).
Just north of Whangarei is a stunning part of the Northland. Between Tutukaka and Matapouri there are numerous beaches (most with free camps for self contained campers), all lovely for swimming and photos.
After a few nights in that area, we headed up to the Bay of Islands. This is known as one of the most beautiful parts of the north island. The highlight for us here was a visit to the Omata Estate Winery near Russell - they have a great lunch menu and, of course, plenty of great wine. The vineyard also has great views out across the bay. The next day we took the boat over to Paihia. Despite it being quite a nice little town, we found it far too busy and touristy (there was a cruise liner in on the days we were here). Although, if you find yourself in this region, a visit to the Waitangi Treaty Grounds & Museum is a must do.
We carried on along the coast to Kerikeri, vising the Rainbow Falls and some local sites, and then further north (with more beaches and walks along the way).
Eventually, we came to the Karikari peninsula looking over Doubtless Bay, and found a great freedom camp right along the beach front. After a few days/nights here exploring the local area (flooded with more amazing beaches) we headed along to Ahipara. By now we had to sort out a new WOF (warrant of fitness, like a car MOT in the UK) for the van so we ended up spending a few days here. There was also a cyclone on the way, so we felt it was safest to stay put (kinda) for a few days.
Then began the journey south (for the first time...). We headed through the Waipoua Forest visiting Tāne Mahuta - the largest known, standing Kauri tree. Very impressive at a height of over 50m and an age expected to be between 1250 and 2500 years old.
That night we camped at the Kai-Iwi Lakes and were treated to a spectacular sunset in the stunning (sightly warm water) lakes.
We had planned to continue south, but we received an offer to help with the grape harvest at the Omata Estate back in Russell. After deciding that we were not in a hurry, we headed back north (again!) for this. This gave us a chance to visit a few spots that we had missed the first time around (mainly the Whangarei Heads - where we hiked Mount Mania) and visit some of our favourite spots again!
After this short loop back north, we finally started south (again!). After looking at a few routes and tips on places to go more off-the-beaten-track, we decided to take a detour out of Dargaville and head for Pouto Point. After a long drive along a gravel road we reached the small group of houses. We planned to stay at the camp that night and walk to the lighthouse at low tide the next morning. The walk takes around 2 hours each way along the beach, before heading up a steep sand dune to visit New Zealand's oldest wooden lighthouse. That night we met a great bunch of locals staying there too - they even took me out on one of their dune buggy's on a white-knuckle ride up the dunes, to the lighthouse, and beyond! Despite this, the next day we still were up for taking the long way to the lighthouse (the view at the end is worth the time and effort).
Continuing on the road south along the west coast (with plenty of small stops off the track) we eventually came to the spectacular Waitakere Ranges in west Auckland. Now, there is so much to explore here, and I took so many photos, that I feel this area deserves a blog of it's own, so I will just include the highlights here. We visited Piha, Bethells beach, Muriwai, Titirangi, Cornwallis beach, and the Arataki Visitor Centre.
After some time spent here (and some time in the north end of Auckland after meeting, and getting to stay with, a wonderful family, (even being invited to a wedding)) we headed to Dargaville for work.
Upon our second time in Dargaville, we stayed at a camp called the Kumara Box. This is part of a kumara farm, and the owner stated when we were leaving that it was a shame we weren't around for helping with the harvest. As we had no real schedule, and money is always welcome, we decided to head back to the area to help.
We spent 5 weeks there working around 6 days a week. This meant there was not as much time for photos, but it left us plenty of time to explore the area, and we made the most of our days off.
Now after the weeks of working, and months on the road, we are finally planning our journey onwards. We are planning on heading south via Taupo & Taranaki on our way to Wellington, before heading over to the south island for some snow!