Home, sweet home

We arrived back in London this afternoon. As with all our flights en route, everything went to plan, although we didn’t get much sleep during the flight. The last few days have been very sunny and yesterday San Francisco sent us off with 28C. We’re glad to see the sun is out over London, too. It is great to be back in our flat which has been looked after so well by Steve and Kim.

We have had a fabulous time and will cherish the memories for a long time. There are around 4000 pictures to digest. Over the next few days we will fill some of the gaps on the blog to complete our holiday diary. If you want to unsubscribe from the email notifications, you can do so via a link contained in the emails.

Thank you for following us on our adventure!
Antje & Sally

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Getting to grips with San Francisco

Our 12 hour flight from Auckland to San Francisco went well. We actually travelled 19 hours back in time, leaving Auckland at 7pm and arriving in the US at 12.15pm on the same day. Our first trip took us to the Castro for a drink and we managed to stay awake until the evening. By now it seems that we got over the time difference without too much trouble.

The first three days in San Francisco have been interesting and eventful. We are finding our way around the grid system, don’t expect cars to drive on the right hand side of the road and struggle with bank notes from $1 to $20 which all have the same colour. All our walking in New Zealand has been great training for conquering the steep hills of the city. Although it is sunny, it is a bit cooler than expected with low clouds and a very chilly wind coming off the Pacific Ocean. Wearing layers is vital for being out most of the day.

Yesterday we took the ferry across the bay to Sausalito. This morning we joined a walking tour organised by the hostel, followed by a lot more walking throughout the day. Tonight we went with a couple of girls from the hostel to the Ferry Building to watch the beautiful light installation at Bay Bridge. Busy days.

Goodbye Aotearoa

We are at Auckland Airport ready to board our flight. We really enjoyed the last 11 weeks and take home memories of the spectacular scenery, friendly people, beautiful sunshine, fabulous stargazing, relaxing thermal pools and delicious local fish, wine and beer.

Thank you New Zealand for a fantastic time.
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Winding down in Auckland

We have been back in Auckland since Sunday and have spent the last few days winding down. The weather has been very mixed recently. It is still mild and lovely when the sun is out, but it has been raining a lot and some of the downpours are very heavy.
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On Tuesday we took the ferry to Waiheke Island where we went for a couple of short walks, admired two of the island’s sandy beaches and enjoyed the arty remains of its hippy past. From the ferry we could see the volcanic cone of Rangitoto Island and had a great view of Auckland’s skyline.
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On Wednesday we went back into the city again. We got rather wet during the 15 minutes walk from Auckland Museum to Auckland Art Gallery. It’s the school holidays this week and the museum was buzzing with families making the most of a rainy day.

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Auckland Museum


At the Art Gallery we spent some time looking at early New Zealand art and particularly enjoyed the impressive Maori portraits by Gottfried Lindauer. On the bus journey back we got an idea of the city’s rush hour. It was so busy on the motorways that traffic almost came to a standstill.

We spent our last evening in New Zealand with Siiri, Andre, Sophia and Wulf. We had fish & chips, good wine and played a very energetic game of Taboo. It has been great to have a base here in Auckland and swap hostels and campsites for a family home. We are now getting ready for the flight to San Francisco and look forward to Californian sunshine and another exciting city.

The Far North

From the Kauri Coast we drove further north to Hokianga Harbour, a natural harbour which stretches far inland from the west coast. This is a remote, undeveloped area with small settlements mainly inhabited by Maoris, far removed from the touristy areas in the nearby Bay of Islands. It took 15 minutes to cross the harbour by car ferry from Rawene to Kohukohu, cutting short a round trip that would have taken several hours by road.

We were keen to stop in Kohukohu to look at the historic kauri buildings which have survived there. Nowadays Kohukohu is a quiet backwater village in this peaceful part of the country, but during the heydays of the kauri timber industry it was a bustling town with sawmills, a shipyard and its own newspapers. We asked at the local art gallery for information on the historic buildings and were given a leaflet for a historic village walk. This was just what we were looking for, especially as the sun had finally made an appearance again. It is almost impossible to imagine that this was once the third largest town north of Auckland. Although many of the commercial buildings were lost in two large fires, a number of residential buildings remain intact. These beautiful Victorian villas were built for local businessmen such as the barber, the tailor, the pharmacist or the bookseller, an indication of the thriving business that was made here once upon a time.

Our aim was to reach the southern end of Ninety Mile Beach by the end of the day, so we moved on to Kaitaia, not a pretty town but one with conveniences like supermarkets and a fancy new community centre housing the local library. We stayed at a holiday park in nearby Ahipara which had good facilities to cook dinner and spend the evening indoors, free wifi access and was only a short walk away from the end of Ninety Mile Beach where we admired a beautiful sunset before it got too dark. This beach (actually ‘only’ 88km long) is officially a highway! However, it is really only safe for four-wheel drive vehicles which is why most car rental companies won’t allow their cars on the sand. We went for another beach walk in the early morning and saw several cars driving along the beach.

Most people coming this far set out to go to Cape Reinga, (almost) the most northern tip of New Zealand where the Tasman Sea meets the Pacific Ocean. There are day tours available and if the tide is right, the tour buses drive along the beach for part of the journey. However, it is a long trip and it would have taken us a whole day to drive there and back. As the weather forecast suggested that this might be the last sunny day for a while, we decided to give the cape, the lighthouse and the sand dunes of Ninety Mile Beach a miss and move on towards the Bay of Islands. If you want to see what we missed, check out this recent post by one of Antje’s colleagues who did the trip a few weeks earlier.

On our way to the east coast we stopped at a couple of sandy beaches along Doubtless Bay before having lunch in the small fishing town of Mangonui. As if the views weren’t scenic enough, we took a detour along a scenic loop road to Matauri Bay and were spoiled by beatiful vistas along the very windy road. The car park was surprisingly busy, but once we reached the long sandy beach it became clear that it is a very popular surfing spot. Sally was chased along the beach by some little flies while Antje took a hundred and one pictures of surfers and waves, just hoping that one or two would look great on the blog.

We arrived in Kerikeri in the late afternoon and made the most of the last sunshine on a walk around a traditional Maori village and the Stone Store, New Zealand’s oldest stone building dating from 1836. It was too late to go inside, but it looked beautiful from the outside. We meant to stay the night in Kerikeri but due to the beginning of the kiwifruit picking season the small farmstay hostel was full. Initially we thought we would have to drive on to Paihia, but luckily we came across a holiday park by the main road not far from Kerikeri. We were the only campers for the night and needed the car lights to put the tent up in the dark.

Your Majesties, we salute you

From Coromandel we drove back to Auckland on State Highway 1 and then on to the North. We were going into a weather front with rain and heavy winds arriving from the north west, but the roads outside Auckland were quiet and we got to the beginning of the Kauri Coast by early afternoon.

When the early European settlers first arrived, they needed building materials. Kauri trees, New Zealand’s largest native trees, grow in the subtropical northern part of the North Island. The giant trees can get up to 60m high with trunks of more than 5m in diameter and provide long white planks of timber without knots ideal for house and ship building. The pioneers cleared huge areas of native forests and kauri wood became an important export industry for the young country.

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A giant kauri trunk at the Kauri Museum


We spent the rest of the afternoon at the fantastic Kauri Museum in Matakohe which brings to life all aspects of the kauri industry and life during the pioneering days.
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The settlers did not just use kauri timber. As they drained swamps for agricultural use, kauri gum [Harz] was dug out in huge lumps and exported around the world for use in varnishes, linoleum and as jewellery. In the late 19th century over 7,000 gumdiggers lived and worked in this area in very basic conditions.
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A typical house built with kauri timber


The last remaining forests were protected in the early 1950s and the kauri products available today are mainly sourced from trees dug out of swamps from forests which were buried by nature thousands of years ago. The moist conditions have preserved the wood with the oldest swamp kauri dated at 45,000 years old.

Whilst we were in the museum, the wind got up and rain was driving over the hills. It would have been a very uncomfortable night in the tent so we stayed in a cabin at the holiday park next door instead. Although it didn’t rain when we woke up in the morning, it was still grey and miserable out there. We went back to the museum to see the remaining sections and looked at the kauri-built historic church, school and post office buildings nearby.
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We drove through Dargaville, once a thriving river port, but today a quiet town at the centre of New Zealand’s sweet potato industry. It was still grey but mainly dry apart from tbe occasional shower so we decided to stay at a DOC campsite at Trounson Kauri Park. From there we went on a boardwalk through the forest which was even more atmospheric thanks to the misty conditions.
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The giant kauri trees are impossible to photograph in their entirety and look truly majestic amongst smaller trees and bushes. A large variety of species live in the forest, including brown kiwis and moreporks (a native owl). They are nocturnal so we didn’t see any, but we certainly heard some unusual bird cries throughout the night.
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The next morning we went to nearby Waipoua Forest, the largest of the remaining forests. The road stretches around 18km through the forest and we stopped twice for short walks to see the Four Sisters and the two largest remaining kauri trees in the world. Their Maori names translate as the Father and the Lord of the Forest. Seeing these majestic trees and hearing the sad story of their decline has certainly been one of the highlights of our trip.

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Sally with the Four Sisters, four tall trees that have fused together at the base


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Tane Mahuta, the oldest remaining kauri tree, is over 50m high


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Visitors are asked to clean their boots to stop kauri dieback disease from spreading to other areas

Sunny Coromandel

Day 1
We collected our car in the city centre and survived Auckland’s busy motorways. The roads were a lot quieter once we left the city behind and we had an enjoyable drive to the Coromandel peninsula, about 90 minutes from Auckland. 

Siiri and Andre had given us some local tips before we left. We meant to go to Kauaeranga Valley first for a bush walk and a DOC campsite, but we misread our map and ended up in Tairua on the East Coast instead. It was getting too late to find a campsite, so we opted for a hostel instead and found a real gem at Beach Villa Backpackers. Before it got dark we went for a quick walk along the sheltered bay with great views of Paaku Hill and the river estuary. The tide was coming in and we watched a grey heron catch his dinner in the shallow water.
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Day 2
The next morning we woke up to a beautiful sunrise over the estuary. We had breakfast on the sunny deck and set off to climb to the lookout on top of Paaku Hill. Although less than 200m high, the climb was very steep, but the views over the harbour and the sandy outer beaches were worth the effort.
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We went further south to Opoutere Beach, an undeveloped long stretch of golden sand accessible only via a 20min walk from the car park. Apart from us there were only a handful of people and some oystercatchers around – a perfect setting for a picnic in the sun.
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Our next stop was Hot Water Beach. At low tide you can dig your own hot pool in a section of the beach, although you are competing for spaces with a large number of tourists. We got there a bit too late when the tide had already started to come in. We started digging, but soon realised that the area where you can access water from the hot springs underneath is quite small. We eventually managed to sit in some warm water for a few moments before the cold sea water washed over us, but it was not the tranquil spa atmosphere our guidebook suggested.
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We stayed in another hostel (actually two comfortable rooms in a retired couple’s house) in nearby Hahei, where we had just enough time for a stroll along the beach before the sun went down.
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Day 3
We got up early for another beach walk, although our hosts got up even earlier for a round of golf at 8am! Our first destination for the day was Cathedral Cove, a couple of secluded beaches joined by a huge sandstone arch. This is one of the best known beaches in New Zealand and a tourist magnet but we got there early enough to get some good pictures before the crowds arrived.
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It still gets very warm when the sun is out so we went for a refreshing swim in the sea followed by ice cream back at the car park. We continued further north to Kuaotunu for another ‘end of the road’ adventure and more amazing beaches at Otama and Opito, only accessible via a windy gravel road.
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We continued our round the coast trip to a backpackers just outside Coromandel Town, where all the rooms were taken by a large fishing party from Auckland, but there were campsites available. We set up camp under the apple trees and stayed in our tent for the first time in over 3 weeks.
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