Traveling isn’t just about seeing, it’s also about experiencing. One can visit the most scenic of locales and other than a few photos and souvenirs, leave with nothing of real value. Even the memories seem, less. While a random conversation at a grocery store, a shop owner inviting you for a coffee, and a barista explaining which fish & chip shop has the perfect fish batter in a small seaside town can make a trip an almost spiritual experience.
As I previously lived in New Zealand and made some lasting connections, I had no need for paid accommodation. I can however recommend some real and genuine New Zealand treasures in the North Island that made my visit memorable and have me planning my next trip.
I spent most of my time in this suburb of Auckland. I have to say I was extremely lucky and fortunate for the hospitality shown by my host. It is a suburb with a small town feel. People even still say hello to complete strangers! Not sure if Airbnb is available in this area but if there is, stay here. The average price of a home here is over 1 million NZD from what I was told. Yet, the place still feels quite homey and comfortable. I would wager a significant reason for the price tags on the houses here are the close proximity to a nice beach and park. I spent more than a few peaceful moments at the beach reflecting on my charmed life.
Now, there is one negative about Pt. Chevalier. The number of places that serve good food! I fully blame this area for the extra 3kg I brought back with me to Berlin. In general one can eat very well in Auckland, but the gems I found in this area were just too much to resist! My standouts where:
This place here?? Lord have mercy. The couple who own the place are all of 24, but produce creations that taste like they’ve been perfecting their craft for at least 100 years. My photos do not do this place justice. Everything was decadent! I have a small tear in the corner of my eye imagining the just out of the oven brioche. Workout. Workout like a madman for weeks before you visit Auckland then gain it all back eating at Mint. That way you won’t feel as guilty as I did eating here for breakfast and lunch. Multiple days. In a row.
I first was directed to Mars Salt and Sweet for their Hokey Pokey flavor ice cream. Hokey Pokey is the national flavor for New Zealand. Whoever invented it is a freakin flavor genius! The bad(good) thing about Mars Salt and Sweet is that they don’t only serve amazing ice cream, they also have local and organically sourced high quality products. My days were spent trying to stay as far away from this place as possible to limit myself to only a double scoop waffle cone a day. Problem is, walking in I’d end up also buying a yummy pastry or gourmet bread to go along with the ice cream. Just so many tasty options in this place!
And if you’re really lucky, Victoria, the owner, will be in and you can meet one of the most interesting people I’ve come across in all my travels. We had a FUNomenal conversation and she even invited me to one of her famous coffees made with fresh from the cow milk. This place became like my living room while I was in Pt. Chevalier. Go and maybe you will become one of the people she highlights on her Instagram feed. I know where I’m going the moment I return to Auckland!
When you first see Twisted Tomato you think it looks a little non descript from the outside. But seeing every single chair taken and people waiting for a table to open up you know you’re onto something. If this cafe were a bit closer to where I stayed, I’m sure I would now be trying to lose 5 kilos instead of 3. Can’t say enough about this place. The service, the offerings, the quality, the presentation, everything was top notch. Yet another New Zealand institution I would love to pick up and relocate to my neighborhood here in Berlin.
Even though it may seem like it, I didn’t spend all of my time eating in New Zealand. I was able to mix in some adventure and exploration between meal times.
I wrote about this beach on my Instagram feed, I think it says it all about the Karekare area.
Karekare isn’t the type of beach for lazy days of soaking up the sun. It’s stark, bleak and dare I say, harsh. It is raw, stripped down to the core and as minimalistic as you can get.
It’s not a beach for planning futures. It’s a difficult place to spark feelings of desire that are breathed upon and flamed into romance.
It is a quiet place; a place devoid of the insistent chatter of insecurity and self doubt.
Yet.. Karekare found its way into my essence. A place for deep reflection on your chosen path. The perfect vantage point to scan your past transgressions and to make amends. It is a beach one goes to bury guilt and shame to be born anew in your own forgiveness.
That is Karekare
When my very gracious New Zealand host told me I was going Black Water Rafting, I thought it was an attempt at a really bad racial joke. I honestly had no idea about black water rafting. I have white water rafted quite a few times, but black?? First question obviously was, once I tried this black water rafting, would I ever go back to white water rafting??
What exactly is black water rafting you ask? It’s rafting underground in pitch black caves deep under the earth. The rush isn’t from rapids as it is above ground, but in the climbing down in the bowels of the earth and floating in the unknown.
And it’s COLD down there! Even with all the gear the company provides it’s still numbingly cold. Thick overall wetsuit with diving socks and boots, a waterproof fleece over the wetsuit with a thick wetsuit jacket to top it all off and I still was shivering in the water. However, it was worth it. The cave is full of cascading waterfalls and there were stretches of caves with glowworms. It was so beautiful and peaceful, while being scary all at the same time. Probably due to my overactive imagination and Hollywood feeling the need to kill off black people at the start of horror movies. I of course was the only black person on this rafting expedition.
There are other equally amazing and terrifying trips with The Legendary Black Water Rafting Co. one can choose.
Northland and Far North
When I lived in New Zealand many years ago, Christchurch was my base. This trip I explored the Far North. I admit now, I wasn’t expecting anything to top the South Island. I’ve visited many countries since New Zealand, and very few have ever matched the raw natural beauty of the South Island. In saying that, the Far North does have an undeniable spiritual element to the nature. It’s both haunting and welcoming at the same time. It’s difficult to articulate the peculiar sensation one has standing at the tip of New Zealand gazing out on two massive bodies of water crashing into each other and understanding the significance and importance of the location to the Maori people.
Whangarei Falls, Northland
First time you pull into Whangarei Falls you’re first thought might be, “Trailer park??” It looks like a typical rest stop area with a lot of RV’s in the parking area. I had no idea what to expect, but I was open. I was highly rewarded after a short 2 minute walk. It certainly isn’t the most beautiful waterfall you may encounter, but the unexpectedness of it adds to the wow factor. There is a small trail that leads down from the parking area to the pool below. It’s the perfect break from the long drive from Auckland to the Far North. The only negative is, there is quite a bit of construction at the moment which leads me to believe houses or hotels are being built to the secluded vibe will end at some point. For now however, it’s a partially hidden gem.
Te Paki Giant Sand Dunes, Far North
I’ve never visited a desert, but the Te Paki Sand Dunes gave me an idea what it must be like. Minus of course the view of the ocean once you reach the peak of the highest dune. It’s otherworldly with the hard gritty color of the sand in contrast with the brilliant blue of the water. And it’s a great workout to boot climbing up the shifting sands of the dunes.
Some advice, if you visit after heavy rains, give in and pay the $15 for the body boards being sold at the entrance to the area. I thought I would save a few bucks and bring my own board. It was a $3 version with no shiny smooth surface. Let’s just say it’s more of a thrill if you follow my advice.
Matai Bay, Karikari Peninsula
Unfortunately the weather decided it was tired of cooperating once I reached Matai Bay, but I still was able to take some great photos. I’m not the camping type, but I was told it’s a local secret this is one of the best areas to camp at in the Far North. Even with the gray skies you can see it’s a place you should visit. There are a lot of great walking paths in the immediate area with bathroom facilities. I definitely would’ve explored more if the weather permitted. As a city boy, the area feels remote. It’s a drive to get here from the surrounding towns so come prepared with everything you need.
There are rangers who frequent the peninsula to ensure visitors are following the strict rules set in place to preserve the surroundings. This is a double positive as you run into any trouble there is a qualified professional on hand to assist you.
This region showcases why so many people hold New Zealand in such high regard. Such a beautiful area that is almost untouched by humans that is fiercely maintained for all to enjoy for generations.
Cape Reinga itself is a separate blog post. One of most spiritually powerful places I’ve ever visited. This location is so full of energy you can sense it in the very air you breath. The Maori call the cape, Te Rerenga Wairua. Loosely translated it means, ‘Place where the spirits wander’. According to mythology, the spirits of the dead travel to Cape Reinga on their journey to the afterlife to leap off the headland and climb the roots of the 800-year-old pohutukawa tree and descend to the underworld to return to their traditional homeland of Hawaiki, using the Te Ara Wairua, the ‘Spirits’ pathway’. At Cape Reinga they depart the mainland. They turn briefly at the Three Kings Islands for one last look back towards the land, then continue on their journey.
I arrived here so early in the morning there was only one other car in the parking lot. It was dark with a slight mist that obscured your path. When you walk through the entrance you trigger a speaker that plays a traditional Maori song with birds in the background. Beyond spooky at that ungodly hour and no one else around, but extremely powerful as it sets a mood even the most jaded can’t deny. Having had the history of the cape explained to my by an actual Maori only heightened the sensation. I’m not sure if there is a word in the English language that can describe the scene. Yes, it’s beautiful. The Pacific Ocean crashing into the Tasman Sea trying to impose its will is a powerful image. The lighthouse beckoning to sailors reminding them of the safety awaiting them is an iconic photograph. And of course the pohutukawa out on the last stretch of New Zealand as a stoic sentry guarding the gateway for traveling souls is breathtaking.. But all of it, together, coupled with the sense you have standing there.. One word that describes it all so you the reader can experience it as I did? No. No such word exists in English.
Taipa – Mangonui Far North
Taipa – Mangonui is more a collection of small towns centered around Doubtless Bay. Stereotypical small seaside towns that should be on your list. Super quaint with a healthy dose of Northern Island Kiwi hardiness and hospitality.
I can totally recommend two places to visit here.. of course they are food related.
These people take their fish seriously! I lived in New Zealand before, I know Fish & Chips. Or so I thought. Lord.. the batter alone is good enough to slap someone who tries to eat a piece without asking. Of course it’s the freshest of the fresh served. The amount of options justifies you eating as much as possible! Be warned, you will judge every other fish & chip shop with contempt after eating here.
Little Kitchen is the epitome of charm and comfort food. They serve breakfast. lunch and dinner with a healthy dose of smoothies and awesome expresso coffee thrown in. Every single worker was super nice, answered all of the silly tourist questions thrown their way and went above and beyond. Great vibe here and the perfect place to start or end your day of site seeing.
It’s safe to say I offered more than 10 spots for people to visit. This was my journey and I can’t speak for anyone else, but these places deeply touched me and made a lasting impression. None of the restaurants mentioned paid me or offered me any type of compensation for mentioning them and providing their links. The quality of their wares and the level of customer service prompted me to include them on this list. Also, all photos are mine, shot by my trusty Canon EOS M10, except for the Sand Dunes photo. It made more sense to keep my camera in the care and protect it from the elements. If you found other places in the Northlands and Far North I missed out on, please message me so I can add them to my list for my next visit to New Zealand.