To experience more of the New Zealand North Island, I booked a full day tour through the top peninsula of the North Island. I had to get up even earlier for this one, and catch the very first ferry of the day to Paihia. I was up so early, I heard a rooster crow as I walked to town. I made it to the wharf in time to watch the sun rise over Russell, which was beautiful.
From Paihia, I hopped on a bus and began the tour. Our first stop was a Kauri forest – basically just a bunch of big trees. The kauri forest is a kiwi’s natural habitat, but they only come out at night so there wasn’t much to see.
The next stop was Taipa Beach, where the first human, a Polynesian explorer named Kupe, landed in Aotearoa (Maori name for New Zealand). We had “morning tea” here, which is just a snack.
From there we traveled to the beautiful Houhora Bay, where we stopped for fish & chips. Yum!
We then traveled up the east coast of the peninsula to Cape Rēinga. The lighthouse is famous because it’s the very tip top of the North Island and where the Tasman Sea meets the Pacific Ocean.
It is also the most sacred Maori grounds in New Zealand. They believe this is where spirits of the dead leap off to begin their journey to the afterworld.
From here we traveled south on the west coast, and drove IN the Te Paki quick sand stream! We stopped here for my favorite part – sand boarding on the giant dunes!
I’ll admit I was a bit nervous. But there was no question as to whether or not I was going to do it! I grabbed the board and headed up the dune. The girls in front of me were really struggling to get up the hill, huffing and puffing and taking breaks every few steps. I ended up going around them and firing up the hill – I guess all the walking in Russell has paid off, and I couldn’t help but thinking about the dune by Aunt Judy’s house!
Standing at the top, I thought, “Well this isn’t that high; this will be a breeze.” A few others went first, and our guide instructed us to dig our toes in the sand to slow us down.
“What if we want to go fast…?” the girl next to me whispered to me.
“Exactly!” I replied. “I want to go into the water!”
Most people were stopping just before the stream, but this girl and I wanted to make a splash! And that’s what we did. I strutted up to the edge and hopped on, and as I picked up speed, I realized it might have been a little higher than I thought. I went right into the water and everyone cheered, loving that I wasn’t scared to get dirty. I got up and did a fist pump and hurried out of the way. I didn’t realize just how dirty I was until I got home and had to wash sand out of all my crevices!
Once everyone took a turn, we hopped back on the bus and drove on 90 Mile Beach (which is not actually 90 miles). The weather had turned cloudy and wet but it was still pretty cool that the beach itself was an actual highway, with a 100 kph speed limit.
We stopped for a snack after reaching the end of the beach, then headed back to Paihia. The girl next to me on the bus slept almost the whole trip except when we were at the stops. I just don’t understand why you would pay to see the country and then sleep through the whole thing! There was so much beautiful countryside she missed, but I tried to take it all in and remember the goofy little facts the guide told us along the way. For some reason this one stuck out to me: I learned that a little town called Kaeo only has cows and no sheep because they’re prone to flooding. Apparently cows float! Now you know…
Once back in Paihia, I grabbed a burger and some Tim Tams for dessert and jumped on the ferry back to Russell. I had left the house at 6 a.m. and got home at 7:30 p.m. What a day – so much checked off the NZ bucket list!
For more information on this tour, click here!