The journey to from Whangarei to Paihia was just over an hour, and before I knew it, I’d arrived in this tropical little town. It’s not as big as some places I’ve stayed but the weather stayed good (mostly) throughout my stay, everyone was friendly and it was a great place to base myself.
I also found one of the better hostels I’ve stayed in over the last few years. While it was a few minutes beyond the others, it was very chill and just what I liked.
Honestly, I could have stayed longer than I did and just relaxed, but everything comes at a cost and there’s still more to see. That said, I made great use of my time here!
Seeing the Hole in the Rock
The first thing I did was a Hole in the Rock tour. Now, this is literally what it says. You’ll hope on a boat, go around a part of the Bay of Islands and eventually reach a big rock with a hole in it. If the water is calm enough, you can even sail straight through, although that wasn’t an option for us.
If you’re lucky, you’ll see dolphins, whales, seals or other wildlife on the tour. We saw a single fur seal sleeping on the surface of the water – and that’s it! It didn’t worry me too much, as I’ve seen a lot during my travels, but it’s always disappointing when the dolphins don’t show up.
We also got about an hour on Urupukapuka Island, docking at Otehei Bay. With advance planning you can spend hours here, enjoying plenty of the walking routes and views offered from the island, but even this hour is enough to see a little taste of paradise.
There are plenty of tour options available, and this was a half day option. You’ll have to decide if that, or a different one is better for you, but there’s plenty of choice!
After my morning tour, I chose to stay in Russel, which is just across the bay from Paihia. By choosing to do this from my tour, I was given a complimentary ferry ticket to get back to Paihia later in the day.
This is a picturesque town that was once one of the busiest places in the country! There’s a fair bit of history here, and while it looks like an island, it’s actually still connected to the mainland. The ferry is a faster way of getting there than the winding country roads.
After a bite to eat and a little wandering, I walked along the beach and started the Flagstaff Hill Track, eventually reaching Flagstaff Hill Historic Reserve. There are some great views here, and the named flagpole can be seen from across the bay on most days.
From there, I continued on and headed towards Tapeka Point Beach before starting the Tapeka Point Track. This took me to the top of a hill on the coast, rewarding my effort on such a hot day with panoramic views in every direction, from Paihia and Russel behind and out further in the Bay of Islands. While steep at times, this is a track you should definitely do – just avoid strong winds and rain, as the track is narrow and on a cliff-edge at times.
The Waitangi Treaty Grounds
One of the biggest reasons for coming to Paihia was to visit the Waitangi Treaty Grounds, which is a short walk up the coast from Paihia.
The Waitangi Treaty is incredibly significant, and is the treaty between the UK and Māori of Aotearoa New Zealand. There’s a lot to unpack here, which I probably won’t do justice, and so that’s a topic for another time. As such, I implore you to research it yourself, the different versions and what it means to the people of this country.
Regardless of the positives or negatives of the treaty itself, visiting the site it was created and first signed was interesting. There are ceremonial war canoes, museums and cultural performances to offer a better insight into this rich culture.
I’d definitely recommended the latter, as it will open your eyes to how the Māori adapted and changed a little, and its impressive stuff. If you are chosen to participate, as I was, it can be a bit nerve-wracking but a fantastic experience. Combined with a guided tour, and you’ll get a much better understanding of why the area is significant, what led to the treaty and much more.
After spending time at the Waitangi Treaty Grounds, I found the start of the Haruru Falls Track, which took me over an hour and bordered the water through a tranquil forest setting. The shade definitely helped on another sweltering day and, compared to some tracks, it was mostly quite flat and easy to navigate.
While not the most impressive waterfall I’ve seen, it was still worth the walk. I mean, who doesn’t love the sight and sound of a good waterfall?
Rather than take the same route back, I opted to walk along the road. The journey time was similar, but it also let me pick up a few supplies on the way back without a big detour – and I’d need these for the next trip.
The Cape Reinga tour
My last excursion in Paihia was joining a tour to Cape Reinga, the most northern point of Aotearoa New Zealand, with Dune Rider.
While an early start is never fun (for me) I set my alarm and made it to the bus a few minutes early! This beast would be taking me, and the rest of the group, to the tip of the country, Cape Reinga, with a few stops on the way and also across 90-Mile Beach. It’s a 4×4, so there should be no problems.
After collecting the rest of our group on the way up, we made a few stops to break up the journey. These were photo ops and rest stops, but the driving wasn’t so bad thanks to the comfort of the coach and the commentary from our driver.
Cape Reinga itself is a sight to behold, never mind what you see on the way up. The point were the Tasman Sea and Pacific Ocean is quite a chaotic line, although you wouldn’t think that just by looking at it. The lighthouse at the end accompanies a marker with distances to other cities around the world.
There’s a strong cultural significance to Māori culture here, too. In its simplest terms, this is the point where the departed move on to the afterlife, and while that’s an overly basic explanation of it, there’s information around the area to fill you in. I’d also advise reading into it yourself, as it’s a fascinating belief.
We enjoyed a BBQ lunch at Tapotupotu Bay (although there were so many wasps!) and it was a good way to recharge for the next part of the day; 90-Mile Beach!
Just before we made it onto the beach, however, we stopped at Te Paki Stream’s Giant Sand Dunes for some sandboarding! It’s as simple as it sounds; lie on a board and slide down a sand dune. Easy, right?
Well, in theory.
Climbing up the dunes got harder each time, and no one did it more than four times (I was in this small group) and I successfully stayed on my board three out of those four attempts. Of course, the one we recorded was not one of those times – but where’s the fun in that?
I’ll warn you, though, the sand really does. Get. Everywhere.
Then we packed up again and made it to the 90-Mile Beach, which isn’t actually 90-miles long, but that name has stuck. It brought back memories of being on Fraser Island, back in Australia. It was mesmerising at times, watching the sand scroll back amidst the small, crashing waves from the Tasman Sea.
It felt like just minutes had passed before we returned to the road to begin our trip back – but not before a quick stop for ice cream along the way. What a day!
Covid bites again
After the outbreak of cases in Auckland earlier on this trip, things settled down. A few more cases popped up, all connected to those and travelling around felt fairly safe. Those cases have continued and another increase in alert levels happened just before I was due to leave Paihia, throwing my plans into question.
It meant an extra week here – and it wasn’t the worst place to be. Other than a tsunami evacuation, I spent the week relaxing and catching up on some writing projects before I could return to Auckland a week later than planned.