Christmas in Northland - A Guide's Perspective
Kiwi Guide Sean spends Christmas with our travellers and shows them around his favourite part of New Zealand.
I have been with the Moa family now for the past five years and loved every minute of it. Having lived in Northland for the past 15 years I thought I had been everywhere. That was until I went on my first MoaTours trip and realised there were loads of places still left to be discovered. Ena has been in the business for over 50 years and has the perfect itinerary for us.
I hope you enjoy this travel blog taken from my last Christmas in Northland trip.
Day 1. Auckland - Matakohe - Waipoua Forest - Omapere, Hokianga
After picking up all our Christmas travellers and going over the safety procedures and handy travel information we headed up Highway 16 passing an array of vineyards, farms and rural supply towns. We also catch glimpses of the mighty Kaipara Harbour. The harbour is the largest by volume in the Southern Hemisphere and was an important transport route before the current road was constructed. This harbour just happens to be full of fish and is my favourite fishing spot in New Zealand.
We soon come to our lunch stop at the Matakohe Museum where we get to savour some delicious New Zealand kai at the cafe. Don't forget to order your flat white! The museum is second to none when it comes to Northland history. With over 4,500 square metres of exhibits, the Kauri Museum is the largest undercover attraction in Northland, with the focal point, of course, the mighty kauri.
From the museum we head north into the magical Waipoua Forest. Not only is this the largest Kauri forest in the world, it is also the home of Tane Mahuta, the largest known Kauri tree. He is truly magnificent and deserves the title of “God of the Forest”. The local guide told us some mesmerising stories and even sang us a lovely song. The air is so clean and fresh up here and it feels as though the city is a million miles away!
After the forest we turn into The Heads Hokianga Hotel which is right on the waterfront. What a perfect place to share a wonderful meal and spend our first night.
Day 2. Hokianga - Opononi - Butler Point - Taipa Beach
We are all up early and start the day with happy faces and full stomachs. We drive around the corner and are greeted by the incredible crew at Footprints of Kupe. I don't want to give too much away, all I will say is the live interactive show is truly remarkable. Hold onto your seats and brace for a wild ride!
Not only is Opononi known as the first place where Kupe is said to have landed, it is also the town where Opo the dolphin spent time playing with people. The event gained international news coverage in the 1950s as it was the first recorded incidence of this in the world.
From Opononi we drive north east to the quant, harbourside village of Rawene. While waiting for the ferry I recommend everyone has a look at a good friend of mine's art gallery and cafe. No 1 Parnell Gallery is in a converted historic building constructed primarily from Kauri timber. The beautiful floors are worth the visit alone! You can also visit Clendon House which is a short walk from the cafe and is steeped in history.
After boarding the ferry it is a lovely drive through picturesque countryside before arriving at Butler Point. If you haven't been to this old whaling outpost before you are in for a real treat. Jan is a wonderful host and shows us around her home and museum which has been in the family for many generations. We also have lunch here among the birds and pohutukawa. There is an original whaling boat on the property and we are enthralled with stories about the life of a whaler.
Next stop for is the Taipa Beach Resort in Taipa. We are so close to the beach you can hear the waves lapping on the shore. If you feel like going in for a dip (I usually do) this is the place. Or alternatively you can use the resort pool. We are spoiled on our tours! We all have dinner together and many of the group enjoy a cold wine or two.
Day 3. Taipa - Cape Reinga - Houhora Harbour - 90 Mile Beach - Taipa
This day is one of my tour highlights. Before we head north we made the short trip to visit Win Mathews at the “world famous in New Zealand” Mathew’s Vintage Collection. Win is passionate about cars. I lost count of all the automobiles in his collection. What a great start to the day.
Heading to Cape Reinga is always a great trip and today did not disappoint! If you have been to the top of the country you will know how much wild energy is here. Watching the Tasman Sea colliding with the Pacific Ocean is a site to behold. Te Rerenga Wairua is one of the most important sites for Maori, they believe spirits travel here and on to the afterlife.
On our drive back down from the Cape we stopped at a lovely wee spot right on the waters' edge near Houhora for a picnic. The sun was shining and the birds were chirping and the fish were jumping. Magical!
On the way back to Taipa we called into 90 Mile Beach and strolled the sands. It's not 90 Miles in length but there's certainly a lot of beach about!
This evening we are lucky enough to eat some excellent fish and chips at the Mangonui Fish Shop. The fish is so fresh sometimes it's still moving!
Day 4. Christmas Eve - Taipa - Kerikeri - Waitangi, the Bay of Islands
We leave the lovely Taipa Beach Resort in high spirits and drive the scenic route to the “cradle of the nation”. There is so much history and so many “firsts” in this lovely town. I never knew Charles Darwin visited the area in December 1835. We drove into Kerikeri and parked at the Basin.
We had another amazing lunch with all of the trimmings. After lunch we headed next door to the Stone Store, the oldest stone building in New Zealand. Built in 1835 it now serves as a small museum and a shop. Kemp House is right next door and was built in 1822. It is listed as a Category One protected building and is New Zealand's oldest. The Basin is very beautiful and relaxing, it's hard to imagine that not too long ago Hongi Hika and his warriors brought back his spoils of war here in hundreds of war canoes.
After leaving the lovely town of Kerikeri we arrived at the Waitangi Treaty Grounds in The Bay of Islands. Our guide met us and took us through the perfectly manicured lawns and well presented Treaty buildings, Museums and Marae. This is where the Treaty of Waitangi was signed on 6th February, 1840. It was fascinating to hear the history of The Treaty and also view the huge waka on display. We got to chat with a Maori carver who was creating toanga (treasures) near the gift shop.
We stay nearby for two nights in Seaview rooms at the Copthorne Hotel, Bay of Islands.
Day 5. Christmas Day - Bay of Islands cruise - Waitangi
Merry Christmas from MoaTours!
We are up bright and breezy and the sun was already lovely and warm. Don't forget your togs, towel and sunscreen today folks! It does feel quite Christmassy. I get to wear my Santa hat and hand out a present to each traveller.
Today we experience Christmas on a lunch cruise. We first head for the Hole in the Rock. On the way back we saw dolphins jumping out of the wate and cruised by some of the many islands, stopping off at Urupukapuka Island to enjoy a buffet Christmas lunch at the Otehei Bay Cafe. This feels like a real Kiwi Christmas experience. For anyone keen there was also time for a stroll or a swim.
On our return to Paihia we went sightseeing to Mt Bledisloe and Haururu Falls before arriving back at our hotel for a wee lie down before a second go at a Christmas dinner.
A quick run along the foreshore anyone?
Day 6. Boxing Day - Waitangi - Russell - Whangarei - Auckland
Welcome to Boxing Day and the final day of our tour.
Our first stop is Whangarei and the Town Basin. This is a lovely area enhanced by the astonishing Hundertwasser Art Centre. Friedensreich Hundertwasser is an internationally recognised artist, architect and environmentalist. He lived in Northland for over 30 years and absolutely loved New Zealand. We enjoyed a private, guided tour of the Art Centre.
Our last stop before heading back to Auckland is at the Native Bird Recovery Centre. We see first hand the amazing work being done by Rob and the volunteers. The Centre started in 1992 and has helped to successfully rehabilitate thousands of birds. Sparky, the one legged Kiwi, who doesn't know he is meant to be nocturnal, is always a great hit with our travellers.
Christmas in Northland with MoaTours
Thank you to all of the travellers who shared this wonderful experience with me. For anyone thinking about doing the Christmas in Northland tour, I highly recommend it.