New Zealand - north island

New Zealand – Auckland and Twin Coast Discovery Highway

Have you ever been transported back in the 80’s? Having lived in Singapore for many years I have noticed how people sometime get spoiled by having access to spotless services, instant satisfaction of requests, a practically non existent bureaucracy, etc. I am sure some of my Singaporean friends would take back all the complaints about how Singapore is inefficient, bad public transport etc. once they get to experience how it works in other similarly developed realities that are just not the same as the hyper-technological, shiny and modern way of living in Singapore.

In some way Auckland felt like stepping back in time. I am not sure where I get this feeling, but I guess that small details have made my mind go in this direction.
Since we step out of the train on our walk to the hostel the street walls were covered by gigs advertisements. I am not talking about those electronic advertisements you see at the bus stops, I am talking about actual paper posters glued on the walIs. It was very fascinating to see this way of advertising for events and to be honest, something I like a lot and that I miss as in Italy we use a similar way to advertise for events. Sooner or later if you walk the streets, drive around, cycle, take the dog for a pee pee, whatever, you will see the advertisement. It is there for you to notice. You don’t have to look for it online. It’s there and you will remember it. I miss this aspects, but I also find it somehow outdated!?
A strange feeling, but this is what triggered my sentence above about being transported back in the 80s.

Posters in the streets - Auckland
Posters in the streets – Auckland

Singapore has huge, brand new shopping malls everywhere. You can toss a coin anywhere on the island and it would eventually fall on the steps of a shopping mall. In Auckland instead there are individual shops along the high streets. The signage as you walk the Main Street just looks and feel dated. Some of the shops are smack down on prime real estate in the city center, but they are old, smelly, messy and something I would never imagine to find in an equivalent prime real estate in Singapore or other modern capital cities. It was fascinating.

Yet though, the town is modern, their transport system is efficient, on time and connected well enough. I have also spent too little time in Auckland to have a proper and substantiated opinion, but this is just how I felt like during a one afternoon visit.

We decided to rent a car and explore the northern part of the north island of New Zealand. Many choose sleeper cars when in NZ as it is very convenient to make use of all the free camping areas and it gives huge freedom. Unfortunately these type of cars are only rented for periods of 10 days and above hence we had to make do with a standard car! Keep this in mind if you’re planning to rent a sleeper car in New Zealand.

With not many choices available, we settle for a normal rental and we take off for what became a memorable journey!

Soon after leaving Auckland you are faced with a decision, continue straight onto the toll road to Whangarei or take the free scenic route called Twin Coast Discovery Highway.
What did you think we picked??

New Zealand road trip begins
New Zealand road trip begins

The Twin Coast Discovery Highway is a very well signed coastal road that runs the east and the west side of the tip of the northern island in New Zealand. We didn’t have much time and we kind of had to rush it, but in one week or 5 days it is possible to have a very good feeling to enjoy all the good spots that can be “discovered” along this beautiful piece of NZ’s coast.

As we were based in Auckland and we have to come back to NZ to complete the round the world ticket (yes, our airplane round the world ticket started in NZ), we decided to explore the northern part of the northern island. There were other appealing places south of Auckland like Hobbiton (where the lord of the rings movie was shot) and pretty much everywhere in New Zealand is beautiful, but we can discover this part of the country later on.

We have read some comments online that scenic routes are better in the south or that there are much better places that you can find, instead of going through the Twin Coast Discovery Highway, but we found it simply mind-blowing.

The natural beauty of New Zealand is almost unparalleled and it was very hard not to stop every 5 minutes to take a shot of the beautiful landscapes that we encountered or soaking in all the fabulous beaches’ views, waterfalls or to take a look at the sykes.

Beautiful beach along the Twin Coast Discovery Highway
Beautiful beach along the Twin Coast Discovery Highway

Unfortunately the weather was not the best during our 4 days visit, but luckily it was mainly simply cloudy and we found little to no rain. The pictures in the Gallery (Here) are therefore not giving justice to the amazing sceneries we have witnessed, but it is still worth taking a look 🙂

The highlight of our journey was however reaching Cape Reinga and the Giant Sand Dunes. At some point you’ll need to leave the twin coast discovery highway to head some 90 miles further up north to the northernmost tip of the country I.e. Cape Reinga.

This piece of road is simply stunning, you’ll pass by quaint towns and farmlands, until the last few miles of the journey provide a view of the sand dunes, the sea and the best bush and hilly landscapes until the cape.

Having more time at hand this piece of coast offers excellent hiking that can take up to 3 to 4 days all along with excellent camping facilities, and we wanted to do them all! The treks offer spectacular views, access to historical points of interests and go through protected areas for flora and fauna. But unfortunately we had to be satisfied with the short walk from the carpark to the lighthouse. Having a sleeper car, or a tent and more time at hand is highly recommend to enjoy this part of New Zealand to its fullest.

Reaching the lighthouse was almost magical, as we were walking in the fog. According to the Maori this is also a sacred place as it represents where the spirits took their last journey to their ancient homeland (more research is required here, but this is what the signs said).

Once you reach the lighthouse it is impressive to see how two very strong currents in the ocean meet! The current from the Tasman sea meets the Pacific Ocean and there are very visible whirlpools at the surface. For the Maori this meant the creation of life whereby the two currents, one male and one female, generated life. It was truly spectacular!

It was also confusing how the fog tricked my brain in thinking it was cold out there, but really it was just humid and very hot as expected in the summer months!

Cape Reinga lighthouse
Cape Reinga lighthouse

Having left Cape Reinga behind us we shortly arrive at the Giant Sand Dunes access car park.
These sands are derived from million years old volcano eruptions from the center of the northern island. Vast amounts of sand were eroded down to the sea, which eventually washed up on beaches up north and blown ashore forming the dunes.
Walking on the dunes was a mystical experience. It felt like being in a sand desert and being completely surrounded by sand with nothing else in signs but more sand dunes! Really really an unforgettable experience. For the more adventurous, the nearby farms offer body boards to rent for $5 and all the steep slopes are at disposal! The only downside is having to climb up each time after a slide.

The full Gallery for New Zealand is here.