Bay of Islands, New Zealand

I’ve never been one for the “do nothing” type of trips. A bit of time on a beach is great but I can’t see myself spending days on end at the beach and by the pool doing very little. It’s what puts me off a place like Dubai. I do get it – I see why people love going there for the guaranteed perfect weather – but that ‘total relaxation’ type of travel with days by the pool isn’t for me. The Bay of Islands is probably as close to that type of trip as I’d get.

The incredible scenery of the South Island was now well behind us. Even the mountains of the Tongariro National Park were far away now. We had travelled north through Taupo, had a short stopover in Auckland and continued up towards the tip of the North Island.

Taupo showed the side of New Zealand that I was far less interested in. It is a lovely area, a beautiful lake, and there looks to be a lot to do there. But it was so busy. The traffic, the people – it was utterly rammed, and I’m finding myself less and less interested in bothering with a place like this if it means having to deal with massive crowds.

It was the end of the Christmas and New Year holidays for New Zealanders which meant heavy traffic heading in the opposite direction from us when we continued north from Auckland. Around Warkworth and Whangarei there were tailbacks stretching for several miles at times, and, coupled with dealing with the heat of the day, it was certainly preferable to be heading in the other direction from all of that.

The Bay of Islands was intended as a few days of switching off. It would be waterfalls, forest walks, visiting some beaches, enjoying the weather. It was to relax for a bit before the 40-hour journey back home. It was to enjoy the last few days of an amazing trip to New Zealand with no pressure or expectations to rush around and see a lot.

Accommodation was a couple of miles outside of Kerikeri in what turned out to be a fantastic retreat-style lodge. It catered for people camping, glamping, and had some small apartments. It was a quiet area – often the only sound was a tui now and again, in what felt like a throwback to some parts of the South Island – and it was during the hottest weather we had to-date.

It was a great area for walking trails. Nothing strenuous (although the heat and humidity at times meant having to take it at a leisurely pace) and no high-up views, but they were trails teeming with wildlife – kingfishers, tuis, fantails – and with some secluded waterfalls at the end. I’d still opt for a hill climb first but this was a great way to take it easier and get out into nature in the area.

Evenings were spent either watching the sunset on a beach – again, a fantastic, quiet and secluded place – or at one of the harboursides around the coast. In particular, there was a lovely beach a few miles down to the dead end of the road we were staying on, which was awesome. There was a huge pohutukawa tree overhanging the rocks and a great view around the coast. This spot was relatively peaceful, but not far from an area of forest with cicadas like I’ve never heard before. A wall of sound.

The end-of-the-trip feel was definitely here by now. I guess this happens even on a fortnight away; often people say it’s one week unwinding from day-to-day life and the second week gearing up for the return. For the longer trips I’ve had, they were several weeks of utter bliss and then a few days on what I guess could be described as a bit of a downer, with the upcoming trip back to the norm on the horizon. While I wasn’t on a downer here, that feeling was lingering and it meant a place like the Bay of Islands was a good choice. It was more focused on taking it easy, relatively speaking, compared to most of the rest of the trip. It was a good choice.

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This is a beautiful part of the country. We had it at a quiet time as New Zealanders were returning to work after the Christmas break and that made it all the better. And it does seem to be an immensely popular place for people escaping Auckland and the surrounding area. But in saying that, and for all that I enjoyed the time here, it has absolutely nothing on the South Island. Tagging this on to the end of a long trip is one thing, but travelling all of the way to New Zealand to visit here as a priority wouldn’t seem worth it.

In our case, the Bay of Islands is so far from much else that we want to see in New Zealand which means it’s unlikely that we will end up back here. Any future trip to the country will likely be for the South Island. That’s fine, though; not everywhere has to be a place that I’d be itching to return to, even if it was a wonderful few days.

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