Saturday, 25 May 2019

NZL Travelogue: Whangarei & Bay of Islands

With a cruise ride set to leave at 130pm that's a good 2 hours' drive away, we started our day quite early and left the holiday park right after topping up our fresh water & dumping our grey water at around 730am and set off for our first destination of the day, the Whangarei Falls. 

Situated to the North of Whangarei city, the spectacular Whangarei Falls is a 26m high waterfall surrounded by a park with native New Zealand bush and walkways. The GPS's route was a little confusing and we actually missed the turn to the car park. Just remember to follow the brown road signs to the Whangarei Falls – off Ngunguru Road at the NE end of Whangarei. There is plenty of parking, a picnic area and free entry. We can view the waterfall from a choice of 3 platforms above the falls or by walking down a well-maintained gravel track to the bottom. From the Whangarei Falls, we can also embark on longer walks to AH Reed Memorial Kauri Walkway (1 hour return), Mair Park and Mt Parihaka (2 hrs return) or the Town Basin (4 hrs return).


The viewing platform was just a 5 minutes walk from the car park (with public toilet nearby), which seems to be a good place for a free overnight's stay in our Jucy Chaser if we didn't need to top up fresh water/dump grey water. We chose to stay at the top of the falls and didn't venture down the walkway to view it from the bottom (although now on hindsight I felt we should have). So after hanging around for just 30 minutes, we headed back to our CV and set the GPS to Kiwi North, only to find out we needed barely 20 minutes to reach, which means we're going to arrive way before their opening hours at 10am. HAH!



So with a slight switch in my itinerary, we headed to Mokaba Cafe located at the Quayside for breakfast instead.




Stunning location, delicious food & coffee, gorgeous cakes & pastries including gluten free, friendly service, licenced, free wifi, plenty of parking. Delightful all day cafe overlooking the bustling Whangarei Town Basin where boats from all over the world are moored. Fabulous food (including gluten free options) and delicious Chiasso coffee are served all day by friendly, welcoming staff. After an exciting Mokaba experience there is a wide range of excellent boutique shops, artisans and craftsmen, museums, parks and a boardwalk along the side of the Hatea River.


And here's our scrumptious breakfast for the day! Prices are pretty decent, similar to an average cafe pricing in Singapore and the food portions are pretty manageable as well. 

I was a little torn between french toast or pancakes and in the end decided on the latter, while the BF settled on some boring toast with scrambled eggs. HAHA!

And here's my "birthday cake" only after demanding one from the BF. If you still didn't know, I planned the NZ road trip as my birthday trip. Yeah, self-planned and paid birthday trip, and still need to demand for a birthday cake. SIGH...

Anyway, after a hearty breakfast with an awesome riverside view, we hopped back onto our Jucy Chaser and headed back to Kiwi North!


Visit the nocturnal Kiwi House & see the resident kiwi foraging for food as they would in the wild. Learn about Kiwi conservation, spot our native Gecko and Tuatara. 

The Whangarei Museum is home to nationally significant Taonga (Maori treasure), early settler displays and changing exhibitions.

The Clarke Homestead, built in 1886 & lived in by the Clarke family until the 1980’s, is a museum in itself, displaying the family’s treasures through the generations. Other heritage buildings on site include the first Women’s Jail, Jane Mander’s Study, Oruaiti Chapel (made from a single Kauri log & believed to be New Zealand’s smallest church) & Riponui Pah School House.


So at just NZD $20 per adult entry, you get to enjoy THREE different attractions and I'm going to call this a pretty decent deal. While we're there, they were also having a special Anne Frank's exhibition up at the museum, which was also included in their $20 entrance ticket.

As the kiwi feeding time was at 11am, we first headed up to level 2 and took a look at the museum, which didn't have much interesting things unless you're a big fan of the Maori culture and history.

Unless you managed to bump into their feeding time, if not the kiwi enclosure may end up being a disappointment because it's so hard to catch sight of the kiwi birds. As they're nocturnal, to better mimic their natural habitat, the enclosure area was kept dim and filled with bushes and small trees for them to hide in. So do double check on their feeding times and make sure to plan your visit wisely.

The little gecko was pretty active while we're there, seemingly planning its great escape. 

And because the kiwi bird enclosure was way too dim to take any decent photographs, here's a shot of the kiwi bird model. HAHA!

As for the Heritage Park, I quite enjoyed walking through the Victorian heritage buildings and taking random shots here and there.





And after bidding the kiwi birds goodbye, we hopped back onto our Jucy Chaser for an almost 2 hours' drive down to Paihia for our Hole in the Rock Dolphin Cruise with Fullers GreatSights (NZD $192.60 for 2 adults with 10% discount for online booking). They do have a combination of other cruises and with some combo deals (add-ons for lunch on board etc) and alternative set-off location from Russell, so do check out their website for more details.



But before that, we actually stop by randomly by the beach along the way and had the takeouts we got from Mokaba Cafe for lunch! 

The cruise ride was actually pretty fun, but super COLD as the wind was just insane! There's time I really felt my glasses are going to be blown off my face and into the sea.
But here's a shot of the "hole in the rock".


We're pretty lucky to be able to pass through the hole in the rock, as the morning session cruise wasn't able to do so due to the weather/tide.
And here's a video of it! :)

And guess what, we saw a pod of dolphins too! LUCKY!




Some others on board also managed to catch a glimpse of a whale and a seal, but I wasn't quick enough.

And after the freezing experience, it was about 5pm and I was craving some fish & chips and a quick google search pointed us in the direction of Mangonui Fish Shop, which was about an hour's drive away (according to GoogleMap, which we've learnt is always too optimistic) and closes by 7pm

Their menu is pretty decent with not just fish & chips, but also burgers and other hot snacks available. But it's all in an ala-carte style where per slice of fish (of approximately 100g) ranges from NZD $5.60 to $11.70, depending on the type of fish and per scoop of chips at $4 (approximately 350g uncooked), which means it does get pretty pricey if you're an average to big eater.
But for the overall food quality, and ambience of the place ("glasshouse" setting that overlooks the sea and with tons of seagulls flying around, albeit with a handful of rowdy kids too), I'll still deem this a well-paid meal!

And I have to say, a single 100g fish fillet on its own can barely fill your tummy up. 

But they are yummy, and comes with a great view too. So I shan't complain much about the price/small portion. 

The initial plan was to take another hour's drive up to Pukenui Holiday Park (NZD $16 per pax), which is another 1 hour's drive away from Cape Reinga Lighthouse, as it was already getting pretty dark by the time we're done with dinner at around 7 plus, almost 8pm. But the BF was pretty confident of managing a 2 hours + drive (133km away) further up to Tapotupotu Campsite (NZD $13 per pax) instead, which is just 15 minutes drive away from the lighthouse. And so, we reached the paid campsite pretty late, past 10pm, and it was pitch black with no source of light at all (except for very faint source of illumination from some of the CVs), and was pretty crowded with many other CVs. Although it's not a free campground, there was nobody manning the campsite to receive payment. Instead, there's a box in the middle of the site, near the signboard and you are supposed to fill in the registration form and drop your money into the box upon entry. Then, tear off a piece of the form and display on your CV for random spot-checks from the DOC staff (some reviews state they will drop by once every 3 days).

It was stated on CamperMate app that the campground has fresh water tap and cold showers, but we didn't see any and it was way too dark to find them either. There's drop toilets (with no lights) at a corner of the site though, that's pretty clean, in terms of smell, as I can hardly see anything inside with just a small torchlight.
At $13 per pax, I felt that this campsite is not worthy the money at all. Perhaps the view here is amazeballs, just that we arrived way too late (after sun's down) and left way too early (before sun's up) to see anything. But still, $13 per pax for just a spot to park your CV with the chance to use drop toilets with NO lights is still a rip-off, so unless you're like us and want to save on sleep and chase the sunrise at Cape Reinga Lighthouse, you're better off paying an additional $3 per pax and make use of the facilities at Pukenui Holiday Park. A small brownie point for this campground is that due to the extreme darkness, you can see ALOT of stars on a cloudless night. The sky was like a starry poster when we first arrived and walked to the toilet. But after we've all washed up and wanna chill, the clouds came out and covered all the stars... MEH.

Till then,
Mia Foo

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