Wednesday, September 4, 2013

Rollercoaster ride in the Silver Bullet

After we bought our car, Dave and I immediately left Auckland. We left on a Saturday morning, bright and early, quite apprehensive about driving on the 'wrong' side of the road. Our mantra was "wide rights and tight lefts".  They also LOVE roundabouts here...something we have rarely seen in Canada.  Dave and I get so unbelievably confused in them. Good thing they have lots of arrows and lines painted on the ground for us confused tourists.

The Silver Bullet hanging out on 90 Mile Beach

Driving North, the motorway quickly ended, and turned into a windy, twisty road with random animals (turkeys, possums, dogs etc.) thrown in that you had to dodge. It was like driving in a video game.  If you've ever driven to Tofino, New Zealand roads are very similar.  Dave and I were going around tight corners at 25 km/h and making ourselves car sick...

NOT a typical road up North. But pretty nonetheless. This is in Tongariro National Park.

The South African man who sold us our car said to budge about one hour for every 50 kilometres you need to drive and he was right.

We decided to take the more scenic way to Whangeri, which took you along the coast... Just when we thought it couldn't get any windier... It did.  Our first stop was at Surfer's Beach.  It was beautiful, and windy. The sand was partially black from all the volcanic rock.

Surfer's Beach

Afterwards, we arrived in Whangeri and had a quick lunch before we set off for Abbey Caves.  These caves were a few kilometers outside the city and are self-guided, meaning you go at your own risk.  It felt quite adventurous even though they were quite easy to navigate. There was no way you would get lost... But it was definitely difficult terrain to navigate and they were full of water.

The first cave we went in, we ran into two Taiwanese people who only brought a key chain flashlight with them, so we invited them to come explore with us.  The four of us probably went in about 50 meters. It was super creepy not being able to see any daylight when we looked back at where we came from.  It also had the most glow worms in it, which was so interesting!

We explored two more caves after that, which were bigger, but didn't have as many glow worms.  The landscape in the area was quite alien looking too. We were walking through farm land to get to the caves. There were tons of boulders, small and big, scattered around the area.

Rock formations on the way to the caves

Paihia was our next stop. It is a small resort town right on the Bay of Islands. It was absolutely beautiful.

We stayed at a hostel called the Pickled Parrot. 'Pickled' is another word for being drunk. We were the only people staying in the hostel so we had the whole place to ourselves! We were visited occasionally by the owner's dogs named Noodle and Truffle. There was also unlimited wifi at this place so we hunkered down and continued to look for jobs online. 

Dave and I bought some kumara at the local grocery store and baked them up. At the Auckland Museum we were told they are a New Zealand specialty. They look like sweet potatoes, but taste nothing like them. 

This was also the day I decided to do laundry. Of course, the machine ate some of my money, so it cost me $10 NZD to do a miniature load. 

The next day we set off for New Zealand's most northerly point, Cape Reinga. Our first stop was 90 Mile Beach. It's actually only about 60 miles long... But who's counting? The beach is used as a highway so we drove our car a couple hundred meters in and had some lunch.

The weather and the scenery was stunning. A local man also came over and gave us some shellfish to try. You can dig for them in the beach during low tide, so we followed him into the surf and helped ourselves!

Learning how to find the shellfish.

Tuatua shellfish fresh from the ocean!

Mixing with the locals and digging for my dinner!  

He and his friends invited us to have a beer with them and we watched them pull in their fishing line. They launched it with a torpedo into the ocean with some bait attached. The torpedo stopped about one kilometer out in the ocean and is slowly pulled back into the beach by a motorized reel. We headed back to their house for some snacks and for some advice on driving on 90 Mile Beach. Apparently many tourists die on it after hydroplaning and many people get stuck. 

Reeling in the Torpedo

We headed out after about an hour and drove on the beach for about a kilometre before getting completely sketched out and turned around. No cell service and an incoming tide made it seem like a bad idea.

Beach driving!!

We made it to Cape Reinga about an hour later. It is a sacred spot where souls go to jump off the cliffs to return 'home'.  It was another beautiful spot and quite a spiritual place.  

Looking back at 90 Mile Beach

The lighthouse at Cape Reinga.

We are closer to the South Pole than we are to home right now!!

Where the Tasman Sea and the Pacific Ocean meet. You can actually see the line!!

We turned around and on our way back south we saw a sign that said 'Te Paki Giant Sand Dunes'. Obviously, we had to go check it out. I'm not sure how we missed it in the first place!  Man were they giant!! Picture Nosehill Park... and then turn the grass into sand.  It was insanity. We couldn't even see the ocean...we could hear it in the distance, and you could tell it was quite far away. Dave and I hiked up a super steep one after checking out some neat rock formations that also had tons of broken sea shells layered on it. Again, it was odd because we were quite far from the actual beach.  Apparently the dunes are slowly creeping inland and overtaking farmland though. Insanity!!

Sand dunes and seashells

Are we on Mars?

On top of the first sand dune closest to the parking lot. This is also an exit off 90 Mile Beach. We were told it's quite tricky and treacherous because you are driving on a creek the whole way to the parking lot.

A bit of scale for you. 

This one was steep! It was super fun running back down it though!!

Contemplating how steep this sand dune is. You can see the parking lot off in the distance!

Dave being awesome.

That was our last stop for the day, and we drove all the way back to Kaitaia to stay the night.  Overall, a jam packed day!

The next day was when we decided to head back to Paihia to find jobs. We made it as far as Kerikeri when we got a phone call for Dave to be interviewed for a job in Wellington.  It took us two days, and ten hours to get there. It was also the first night we slept in our car!! Very cozy and warm.  

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