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A Breath of Fresh Air


Because my birthday is close to the winter solstice I like to take a break away, a breather from the ordinary everyday routine. This year I decided to go to Northland. The warmer climes, added minutes of daylight and the increase in oxygen levels being major attractions.  

Flying into Whangarei on Friday morning meant we had all day to check out the tourist attractions between Whangarei and Kerikeri, where our accommodation was booked. First stop “the Basin”. It’s a bit like the lungs of the city where all the boats are constantly coming in and going out being unloaded and replenished. The café’s, supermarket, fudge shop and souvenir shops are conveniently within walking distance of the wharf. We made our way to Serenity café for an early lunch in the company of some friends who live just out of Whangarei. Whilst sitting talking over lunch we noticed Claphams Clock museum opposite. Much as I thought it would a waste of time I conceded to go and look around. How wrong can a girl be? The engineer in me was fascinated by all the clever techniques for displaying, measuring and keeping time. The blending of science and art. I found all that rhythmic tick tocking quite soothing.

Next we headed out of town to Kiwi North, a bird sanctuary that promised Kiwis, Tuataras, geckos and a talking Tui. It delivered on everything except the Tuatara who were hiding. Seeing as Tuatara are known not to be hasty animals we picked they probably weren’t appearing anytime soon and moved on.

It was about now, 2pm I made a rash decision. I decide to visit Tane Mahuta. I’d fallen into the classic tourist trap of distance vs type of road. This wasn’t like home Dorothy! Canterbury roads are straight, Northland roads are twisty. Needing to be in Kerikeri by 6pm we bypassed Kai iwi lakes, Waipoua Visitors centre and Te Matua Ngahere. We did stop to catch our breath at Tane Mahuta. It was like an arrester hook landing. Go go go then a sudden stop, with an awareness of the enormity of the situation/place. We looked up, mouths open, taking in all that fresh oxygen. We slowed down. We listened to the birds. We soaked up the atmosphere.

Back in the car, in rally mode again our next skipped breath was on the crest of the Omapere hill. The view of the Hokianga harbor with it’s huge sand dunes in the distance, open harbor mouth and surrounding baches is just breath-taking. Racing on we past the charming villages of Omapere, Opononi, Rawene, and the town of Kaikohe like we were on the Isle of Man circuit. Sinful I know but I was on a mission and I hadn’t met our host yet, the mistress of de-stress.

Wendy and Tony Waldegrave are the prefect B and B hosts. The bed was divine, the breakfast perfect, and the ambience tranquil, (once Wendy unwinds you). She has the ability to calmly take care of you without you realizing your being managed for your own good.                       

The Great Sights bus picked us up good and early Saturday morning for the trip up to Cape Reinga via ninety mile beach. A pit stop at Taipa for a coffee, a muffin, some sea air and the obligatory round of deserted beach photos was a good chance to meet our co travelers. I always find it refreshing to see New Zealand through overseas tourists eyes. In the words of John Clark “We don’t know how lucky we are mate”. The young Italian next to me couldn’t believe we were allowed to take a bus up the beach and that the total beach population for that day was three fisherman and two dogs. The best was yet to come for the backpackers. Boogie boarding down the sand dunes. Only two people oversped and ended up in the creek. One being the bus driver. I wasn’t sure if it was for show or for real. Either way it was funny.

The transition from Bulters beach to farmland is dramatic. Sand dunes palm trees like a desert oasis then suddenly green paddocks. Again our guests were taken back with the constantly changing vistas out the now sea sprayed windows.


For Māori, Cape Reinga is the most spiritually significant place in New Zealand. It is here that after death, all Māori spirits travel up the coast and over the wind-swept vista to the pohutukawa tree on the headland of Te Rerenga Wairua. They descend into the underworld (reinga) by sliding down a root into the sea below.     

It is a thought provoking place for anybody who takes the time to look, listen and feel the power of the place. The meeting of the Tasman and the Pacific oceans is the most obvious physical feature but the vibe of the surroundings seemed to me to have a restfulness. Like a bird released.

It was helped, I am sure to be visiting the cape on a quiet day when there weren’t too many living spirits around.

Mangonui is renowned for it’s ultra fresh fish and chips. Our bus did a drive-by pickup of the kiwi classic dish much to the delight of our foreign visitors. I had to do a double take when we arrived to assert that our bus driver wasn’t moonlighting behind the fish and chip counter. Apparently it was his brother. New Zealand is like that.

Last stop the Puketi Kauri forest. Some lovely, huge, oxygen producing specimens. I heard a theory recently that if we covered Northland with Kauri trees again we’d be in carbon credit for life. Pity it takes several of our lifetimes to grow a good one.

The Black Olive and The Italians, were the two restaurants in Kerikeri that were recommended to us and we weren’t disappointed. The food was wickedly good. Diets always begin on Mondays.            

Back at Treghan B and B, Wendy had reorganized our itinerary so we got a sleep in, a leisurely breakfast, a look around Kerikeri farmers market, a trip to the stone store, time for a coffee at the Pear tree café across the road, a photo shot at Rainbow falls and time in Russell before our afternoon cruise out to the hole in rock. I told you she was good. The last piece of advice I can remember before we sadly departed was take time to breath. Very sage advice especially with so much ocean around the Bay of Islands and so few people.

Our timing was perfect for parking the car in Paihia and jumping straight onto the ferry for Russell. We wandered around the sleepy village (winter remember) and soaked up the flavor of the place. We found a café called Sally’s and as I was travelling with Sally we decided to stop for lunch there. As an extra bonus Sally’s soup had her name written across the top of it, now that’s classy.

Written on the wall of Sally’s café. “Life is not measured by the number of breaths we take, but by the moments that take our breath away”.

The cruise out to Cape Brett, (the hole in the rock) was on board a boat called the Dolphin Seeker. I thought it was a bit of market driven hype. Nope they produced the goods. Dolphins, holes in rocks, seals and the excitement of threading the needle (driving the boat through the hole). I did hold my breath as we entered the narrowest part at the entrance. I also learnt something about dolphins I didn’t know.  

Apparently when dolphins sleep, they lie on their side with their blowhole above the water surface. They sleep with only half of their brain at a time, and they take turns sleeping with different sides of its brain. The other half stays awake so the dolphin remembers to breathe. This also means that dolphins cannot receive anesthetics because they will stop breathing.
Take my advice next time your feeling stressed out and short of breath take a break to Northland. It’s full of oxygen, breath-taking views and not many people to have to share all that fresh air with. 

Breathe, breathe in the air
Don't be afraid to care
Leave but don't leave me
Look around and chose your own ground
For long you live and high you fly
And smiles you'll give and tears you'll cry
And all you touch and all you see
Is all your life will ever be

Run, run rabbit run
Dig that hole, forget the sun,
And when at last the work is done
Don't sit down, it's time to dig another one
For long you live and high you fly
But only if you ride the tide
And balanced on the biggest wave
You race toward an early grave.

- Breathe, Pink Floyd

I’d like to thank, Nicole @ Grab a seat, AirNZ, Budget rent a cars, Wendy and Tony Waldegrave @  Treghan B and B, and Fullers Great sights for putting together a wonderful weekend package.
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