The (Very) Far North

This is the story of an epic weekend road trip.

I’m unreasonably obsessed with making the most out of our camping equipment that we dragged across the world with us. But the problem is that camping is actually hard work and the planning and food preparation low-key stresses me out.

But one Saturday morning in October, Brett and I woke up obscenely early to the sounds of annoyingly happy chirping birds and sun streaming through our blinds.

This inability to sleep in on weekends actually happens much more frequently than we’d like. On those mornings, sometimes we launch our Air NZ apps from bed and check for last minute flight deals. But that always ends in outrage that a 1-hour flight to Wellington could possibly cost that much!

Instead, we made a rash decision to drive up to the very tippy top of the North Island to Cape Reinga. Not knowing what kind of accommodation we’d find up that way, we loaded every single bit of camping gear (and our brand new portable BBQ!) into the car… and headed north!

90 Mile Beach

It was a long drive, but the fact that you can actually drive on a beach turns an otherwise arduous trek into an adventure. We consulted our NZ Frenzy book that lives in our glove box (best investment ever) for tips on how to not get stuck in the sand on 90 Mile Beach. Spoiler: we hit the tides just right and survived the on/off ramps just fine. Seeing the signs that read “The Beach is a Road” gave me that giddy “only in NZ” feeling. We’ve driven on beaches a few times before, but the vast 90 Mile Beach is another experience all together.

Tips for driving 90 Mile Beach:

  • Check the tides before you go! Make sure you go take the on ramp close to low tide – and even better, on a falling tide – to give yourself plenty of time to drive as much as you’d like
  • Know your entrances and exits. There are only a few on/off ramps. We were on the conservative side and only took the ones of “any one can do it” nature since trusty Lil Silv isn’t 4WD.
  • Most guidebooks will tell you not to risk the drive at all. But if you follow tips from a local guide, embrace the true kiwi attitude of “she’ll be right.”
  • Drive on packed, slightly wet sand, and watch out for oncoming traffic, parked cars, people, dogs, etc. There’s obviously no lane markers, so just be careful!

Cape Reinga

Warning – there’s NOTHING up here. Or for miles and miles on the approach. Besides the lighthouse, stunning views, walking tracks and beaches. We thought we’d stay at a DOC campsite but realised we didn’t have enough cash to pay the site fee. After scrounging through our bags and car compartments, we came up with $6.00 worth of gold coins. We debated writing an IOU, but weren’t feeling super inspired by the site – it was crammed with families and nothing special. So we turned around and drove south.

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Camping at Matai Bay & Bay of Islands

After resisting the temptation to stay at a 5-star winery resort, we settled at another DOC campsite, Matai Bay. It was a little cold but the beautiful beach and stargazing made up for it. We saw the Milky Way with our bare eyes…

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The next morning, we swung back through the Bay of Islands on our way home. Our NZ Frenzy book suggested the Mahinepua Peninsula Track hike – this book seriously never steers us wrong.

The peninsula was beautifully green – with the track passing secret beaches at the beginning and cliff top perches the rest of the way.

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And to top off the adventure, we stopped at our fav restaurant in Bay of Islands, Charlotte’s Kitchen, for the obviously delicious combo of pizza and tuna tartare.  

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Spontaneous low(-ish) stress weekend complete!

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Note that this isn’t completely accurate, as Google Maps doesn’t think 90 Mile Beach is a road… so it won’t let me map our drive there!

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