Hi guys! I’m Miriam, Shoned’s baby cousin (is it still ok to say that when I’m 27?) and Tanya Whitebits’ admin girl. I work behind the scenes to make sure that everything at Tanya HQ is ticking over, whilst trying to hide from Shoned’s Insta stories and TikToks…! For this month’s blog we thought I’d share a little bit about my journey to New Zealand over Christmas last year – just in case it’s on your bucket list once we’ve seen the back of this virus. Plus, I thought we could all do with some lovely pictures of white sanded beaches to cheer us up right now.
The thought of going away over Christmas, away from your home comforts, might not sound too appealing to most – but I for one couldn’t wait to get away!
On the 20th of December 2019 I set off from London for a 26-hour journey to Aotearoa New Zealand to spend Christmas and New Years with my bestie. She moved to NZ in 2018 and we hadn’t seen each other for 18 months until our tearful reunion at Auckland International Airport (the tearful farewell was even worse).
Aotearoa is a Māori name and it literally means the land of the long white cloud, but to be honest I didn’t really see much clouds. Christmas in the sun was certainly different to a normally dull and drizzly Christmas here in Wales. We spent the day in the sunshine; eating, drinking and laughing. Being in your shorts and flip flops in December is an experience I’d recommend to anyone – it’s bizarre.
As we waved goodbye to 2019, I waved goodbye to my friends and set off on a Stray Travel tour of the north island. I was joined by a group of 15 other people from all corners from the world, even a fellow Welshman! We all lived and travelled together for two whole weeks and became really good friends. All different ages, all different cultures and we all got along like a house on fire. I’ve stayed in touch with many of them and know I’ll have friends for life.
If anyone is thinking of going solo travelling but not sure about the best way to see all the sights, then I’d definitely recommend this type of group travel – there were various companies offering this in New Zealand with Stray Travel and Kiwi Experience being the most popular choices. The only reason I chose Stray over Kiwi Experience was that it was aimed at a wider range of ages, whilst KE is often referred to as the ‘the party bus’ – I do like a party, but two weeks of heavy partying would leave me in a right state.
If you’re ever in New Zealand, here are some must-visit spots on the North Island:
- Hahei Beach
The most beautiful beach I’ve ever seen. I visited here twice, once with my friends and once with the Stray Travel gang. On the second visit we stayed the night and went kayaking from Hahei Beach along the bay over to famous Cathedral Cove to watch the sunrise. It was breath-taking. Plus, a bonus of visiting before the crack of dawn is that the beach is empty, and you can have great shots of the beautiful cove.
- Bay of Islands
The Bay of Islands is a popular spot, simply due to its majestic scenery. The bay has more than 140 subtropical islands ranging from small, inhabited islands to largely populated ones. One of those islands is the 19th-century whaling port of Russell, known initially as the hellhole of the pacific. At one time it was known for its bad reputation and prostitution, but now it’s known as a tranquil island community just off the coast of Paihia and a gateway to the Bay of Islands. These tiny islands often have luxurious yachts anchored in and around their bays as well as the passing cruise ships which stop to allow guests to visit the Waitangi Treaty Grounds on the mainland.
During our visit to the Bay of Islands (this picture taken from Russell) we experienced some of the overcast and fog from the bushfires in Australia. By late afternoon the sky was ablaze in an orange haze and there was a burning smell in the air.
- Coromandel Peninsula
One of the most beautiful parts of the north island for sure is the Coromandel Peninsula. We visited two spots here; Whitianga, a popular seaside town and Te Puru, a quiet little fishing village close to Thames. Both were completely different, but each had the breath-taking beauty of the Coromandel. We went fishing in Te Puru and caught some Snapper Fish which we smoked and had for tea. The drive from both locations along windy roads and hills were lovely – even for a travel-sick prone passenger like me. Tip: don’t take the short cuts via the main roads. The views are worth it.
As we made our way up to North Land and towards Cape Reinga, we stopped at a small little town called Hokianga where we stayed in a beautiful resort on the beach. At night, we visited a local Māori tribe in a nearby forest to see Tāne Mahuta, God of the Forest. Tāne Mahuta is a giant kauri tree and can be found at Waipoua Forest. It is the largest kauri tree known to stand today. Māori legends speak of Tāne Mahuta being the God that holds the sky away from the earth and is ever so important to their culture. Deforestation has had a lasting effect on kauri trees population in New Zealand. Before the heavy logging commenced in 1820 at least 12,000 square kilometres of New Zealand was habited by kauri forests. Now, less than 4% of uncut forests are left in the country which are further threatened by Kauri Dieback, a disease causing yellowing leaves, thinning canopy, dead branches, lesions that bleed resin and tree death. The department of conservation take Kauri Dieback very seriously and even upon entering and leaving the NZ borders strict measures are in place such as ensuring no mud or substances are on your walking boots etc. as people spread the disease from area to area.
Visiting Tane Mahuta is a must-do activity in Hokianga, as is sand boarding down the large dunes off the shore. A quick boat ride takes you over to the sand dunes and leaves you there to slide to your hearts content for half an hour before bringing you and your sand-coated body back to shore. Amazing fun!
- Putaruru Springs
A little bit off the beaten track, my friend took me to Putaruru Springs, also known as blue springs. We’d just stopped for lunch in a lovely little town called Tirau and just down the road was Putaruru Springs. A beautiful crystal blue river flowing through an amazing landscape with plants and algae growing in the water which made for dreamy photos. It was just a short walk from the side of the road and a beautiful way to spend an afternoon.
There were hundreds of breath-taking spots like this around New Zealand. I can’t tell you how many times we stopped to view waterfalls or rivers or geothermal lakes. Too many to count, but each well worth the visit. We even went swimming in one waterfall on our way back from Mount Manganui and made friends with a few locals who often came down to the naturally coved rockpools to cool down. Visit Putaruru if you’re in the area and stop by Tirau for some delicious Kumra fries and sour cream at one of the various cafes in town.
So that’s my whistle stop tour of New Zealand’s north island. I’ll definitely be going back. It’s such a beautiful country. Some say it’s similar to Wales and that’s true – it’s feels very much like home, just on a really sunny day. Next time, I hope to visit the South Island too – there just wasn’t enough time this time. Whenever I go, my handy travel size bottle of Tanya Whitebits is definitely coming along for the journey once again. I’m as white as a milk bottle so always have a bottle to hand!
See you soon, Aotearoa.