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Pohutukawa tree in bloomNorthland is a place where twin coasts become one, where two seas meet and where nature's versatility almost begs for discovery.

 

Not that you'll be the first there - many others have visited and stayed in this ancient place, Birthplace of a Nation. 

 

For a Twin Coast Discovery is more than a journey along two shorelines of vastly different perfection - more an exploration of the spirit of a region and its people.

 

Auckland CityscapeThis recently devised touring route leaves from and returns to Auckland, crossing only briefly at Wellsford. Along the way, virtually every experience or challenge that a traveller desires may be found. Visit producers of great wines, purveyors of fine food, sleep in a stretcher in a tent, or luxuriate in a seaside lodge, the choice is yours.

Like the range of accommodation, the outdoor pursuits are many and various. 

 

Kauri trees in the Puketi ForestDelve deep into limestone caves where glow-worms cast the only light or drift in a serene tree-sheltered bay. 

 

Perhaps a forest walk amongst trees which force the imagination to expand or a cruise amongst emerald islands in a sapphire sea.

 

And then there's the moments in history right at your fingertips or the fascination of museums of antiquities, absurdities and the diversities of life.

All are there to find, deciding which and when the only issue. 

 

Northwards then over the Harbour Bridge, following State Highway 1 past the picturesque but increasingly populated Whangaparaoa Peninsular and on to the seaside resort of Orewa. Here the choice of journey breaks begins in earnest. After a beach picnic or swim at Waiwera's thermal spa stop in at one of the wonderful regional parks, or divert briefly to Puhoi for refreshments at the historic hostelry.

 

Goat Island Marine ReserveBack on the highway and another diversion at Warkworth where a loop via Matakana's potteries, seaside Leigh, Pakiri Beach (for a spot of horse riding) and the Goat Island Marine Reserve will return you to the route at Wellsford.

 

Not far to the north, take the turnoff to the Mangawhai Heads and the first classical stretch of Northland coastal touring. The curving, sealed road dips down into picture-postcard bays. Langs Beach, Waipu Cove and the art, craft and fishing village of Waipu all have a distinct Caledonian feel and hospitality, courtesy of six generations of Scottish heritage.

 

Gulf Harbour golf coursePeople for whom separation from clubs and small white balls is a cause of anxiety can breath easy. Superb golf courses are plentiful in the north and the Waipu Club's scenic aspect over Bream Bay is just the beginning of a golfer's dream.

 

A short dash up Highway 1 and another diversion to the coast at Ruakaka. The area's main claim to fame is the New Zealand Refining Company's Marsden Point refinery at the southern entrance to Whangarei Harbour. In the visitor centre, a 130-square metre scale model (accurate to the last pipe and pump) and audio visual presentation explain the operations of the country's only refinery.

 

Whangarei Town BasinAcross the channel, Mount Manaia's jagged silhouette dominates the scene, the deep waterway below flanked by mangrove shallows as it leads inland to the port city of Whangarei. Restaurants, cafes, galleries, superior shopping and the charming riverside Town Basin development have made Whangarei cosmopolitan, explaining its rising popularity as a Pacific yachting stopover.

 

Sunset at NgunguruAfter sampling Whangarei's day and nightlife, the lovely seaside communities to the east make an ideal base. From the sheltered harbours at Ngunguru and Tutukaka, launch forth onto the ocean for fishing or diving voyages, or drive a little further up the coast for idyllic bays buttressed by the tangled roots of ancient pohutukawa. Surfboard, snorkel and flippers or kayak and paddle are advisable in case the delights of beach and book begin to pall.

Again, the loop road delivers travellers briefly back to Highway 1, but don't accelerate too hard or you'll miss the the amazing, water-carved Hikurangi limestone formations. Just a few kilometres further north it's time for another scenic coastal deviation and the alternative route via Oakura Bay and the Whangaruru Harbour to the Bay of Islands.

 

Islands in the bayWhichever base you choose, a full sample of the Bay of Islands' riches is advised. Cruise the sparkling blue waters and idle away an afternoon on one of the Bay's 144 islands, or take an ultra-fast boat ride to distant Cape Brett and the famed "Hole in the Rock". Sail a tall ship or introduce yourself to one of the local dolphin pods. In your spare time, wineries, orchards and glass, ceramic and wood craft galleries add further zest to a full itinerary.

 

An immersion in the story of the nation's creation is equally compulsive. The Bay of Islands' sheltered waters and fertile hinterland were among the first to be settled by Polynesian voyagers and in the early 19th century, Maori were joined by European whalers and sealers in increasing numbers in a shanty settlement at Kororareka (Russell).

 

Romantic RussellThe drunken recreational pursuits of those seafaring adventurers and sporadic battles with their by now reluctant hosts gained Russell, now a peaceful seaside village, a reputation as the "Hellhole of the Pacific".

 

The need to protect Maori and pakeha residents and Britain's commercial interests prompted the appointment of British Resident James Busby in 1832 and eight years later, the Treaty of Waitangi was signed.

 

The flagstaff, Treaty House and superb Whare Runanga (meeting house) are incorporated in the Waitangi National Reserve, a "must-see" experience. So too are the Stone Store and Kemp House, the country's oldest stone and wooden buildings respectively at Kerikeri basin and the mission buildings inland at Waimate North, a lasting reminder of the skills and determination of the pioneering evangelists who built them.

 

Matauri BayNorthwards again, this time on State Highway 10, and yet another loop to seaside delights at Matauri Bay and the nearby Tauranga Bay and Whangaroa Harbour. The Rainbow Warrior lies off this pristine coast which is a summer mecca for fishing, diving and camping enthusiasts.

 

Still further north and sea contact is resumed at Doubtless Bay, home to the peaceful fishing settlement of Mangonui and New Zealand's best fish and chips. Neighbouring Coopers Beach and Cable Bay have seen major residential development, the summer adding substantially to the increasing permanent population. 

 

Cape Reinga lighthouseAt Taipa, where the voyager Kupe is believed to have made his first Aotearoa landfall, the highway curves away to the west before rejoining Highway 1 for one last foray north to the Cape - the end of the road.

 

The lighthouse at Cape Reinga is an icon of isolated grandeur, the constant wind a lament to departing Maori spirits returning whence they came 30 or more generations ago.

 

 

Ninety Mile BeachThe return journey south now begins, the fortunate taking the bus and 4-wheel drive diversion down through the Te Paki stream to Ninety Mile Beach. 

 

Itself a designated highway, the beach disappears into a mirage of salt spray and reflected light, stopped finally by distant cliffs at Tauroa Point. 

 

Leaving this ageless, untamable beach at the former gumdigging township Ahipara, we rejoin the coastal route south of Kaitaia, largest of the Far North towns.

 

Tane MahutaFrom Ahipara, the road leads through forested hills and farmland to Kohukohu, where a ferry trip across the Hokianga Harbour reasserts a nautical flavour. All too soon, it's back to dry land at Rawene and on to Highway 12 and the resort towns of Opononi and Omapere near the harbour mouth. 

 

These popular spots make ideal staging points for exploring the Hokianga area or expeditions to the Waipoua and Trounson Park kauri reserves, home of forest giants.

 

 

Kai Iwi LakesWhole days could be spent exploring the superb forest and coast tracks here, but soon the road south will beckon Twin Coast tourers on to Dargaville. Don't ignore the coast to the west though where Ripiro Beach, the longest in the country at 100 kilometres, can be accessed at several points. The lovely Kai Iwi Lakes, another popular summer retreat, are also passed along the way.

 

Relics of the many shipwrecks upon the exposed coastline and the treacherous entrance to the Kaipara Harbour highlight an excellent collection of colonial and pre-colonial memorabilia at the Dargaville Maritime Museum. Lovely views over the Northern Wairoa River are an added bonus.

 

Tourers whose thirst for knowledge has been whetted by the wonder of Tane Mahuta now have a treat in store an hour's drive away at Matakohe. Just off State Highway 12, The Kauri Museum is a treasure trove of images, displays and information on the kauri and the industries it supported. Allow at least two hours to enjoy it fully.

 

WaitakeresThe Twin Coast Discovery now enters its final leg as we rejoin Highway 1 and turn south for Wellsford where the right fork down Highway 16 follows some of the Kaipara's 3000-kilometre shoreline to Kaukapakapa and Helensville. Just time to sample the wines at Matua Valley, Coopers Creek and Kumeu River and one last choice - the scenic route back to Auckland via the Waitakere Ranges and Titirangi or the fast option down the motorway.

 

As with any travelogue, the difficulty is often not what to include but what to leave out. There is far more to the North than any one Twin Coast traveller can discover, so feel free to discover your own version.

 

More information can be found at the Northland website +click here
and the Twin Coast Discovery website  +click here