[Whangarei] An Escape to the Beginning of Summer

It feels like summer here!!! Although it is only the beginning of spring.

But all these beaches! All these coasts and bays and pools and cold beer!! Whangarei has me believing that summer is just around the corner!

Finally, after weeks of working in Auckland and random exploration of places outside of the city, I have finally left the place behind, and have spent the last few days in the beautiful Whangarei district in Northland. Here I will try to catch up filling you in of everything that has been happening ever since I arrived in New Zealand! Starting with what's been happening this week in Whangarei!

As I am writing this, my wonderful host Stu is enjoying the rest of the ski season in Ohakune. Stu's friend and his beautiful two kids are enjoying the rest of their birthday cake from their pretend birthday, which I had the pleasure of attending and watching them blow out their candles! Today is actually the national holiday of Taiwan, so I'm secretly assigning one of the candles for Taiwan's birthday too! 

親愛的台灣,生日快樂! :D

Leaving for Whangarei

Basically, it's about leaving the Bamber House, my home ever since I've arrived in New Zealand, but I will not get too emotional about that here ... So I will talk about the drive up here, which was surprisingly peaceful and thankfully uneventful for me! We lost the radio not long after I left the city, and so it was super quiet the rest of the way. I was so nervous about my first time driving so far away, I didn't know what to expect. 

Ever since I got my car, I've probably driven it less than 10 times, it has already encountered two car crashes (really really stressful events), and most of the time I'm still wondering why on earth did I get it! But now I'm feeling much much more confident! (proud)

[DAY 1] Tutukaka Head Walkway

Less than half an hour upon arrival, my wonderfully kind host Stu immediately took me for a walk at Tutukaka. 

Tutukaka. Such a cute name! It's more minion-ish than ever!

This walk was much more challenging than I thought, just because of the speed we were going at! Constantly I was rushing to catch up with him all the way going up and down the hills and steps and hills and steps towards the lighthouse at the very end. 

At one point I saw a beautiful bench which I thought was perfect for enjoying the view, I later learnt that it was set there especially for people like me to catch my breath after scrambling up the million flights of stairs! (Actually, I really encourage everyone to experience this walk, there really isn't that many stairs, I was just trying to keep up with the power-walker in front of me!)

This walk passes through a tidal area that can only be crossed when the tide is low. Stu taught me how to tell if the tide is coming in or out by looking at the ships in the harbor! 

[Note] When the head of the ships are heading inland, it means the tide is going out. And vice versa!

[Day 2] Whangarei Heads - Bream Head Walkway / Ocean Beach / Abbey Caves

A super intense day of climbing up mountains, going down into dark and wet caves, strolling on the beach, as well as a lot of driving! Francois and Margot were super great company! I'm so glad that we created so many great memories together on this day!

A three hour walk along the Peach Cove track, leading us up to the summit of one of the Whangarei Heads, then finally strolling down a beautiful green fields towards Ocean Beach, enjoying the stunning view of the ocean and the beach (hence, Ocean Beach) as we go! (It was definitely the best decision to start from Peach Cove trail head instead of Ocean Beach!)

One single sheep was bah-bah-bahing, standing alone on his claimed hill as we arrived. When we finally got to the top of one of the heads, we wondered if he was still standing guard on his hill! 

The view from each of the head was all super-panorama-worthy! (Except that my camera can't do that ...) We learnt that what it meant by a "heads", they are the bulging hills that stick out of the land just before it disappears into the ocean. Almost like Mount Maunganui in Tauranga I think! One would expect that the land just slowly flattens out into the ocean ... it's like the land making its final last exclamation before the water devours it.

This was probably my first proper time being out at a beach since I've been in New Zealand. Finally being able to step into the water, although it is still freezing cold, which is surprising because the weather was so so so warm that day. Ocean beach stretches way out into the distance, the water left on the sand by the receding waves makes a natural mirror, reflecting nothing but the clear blue skies of the day. I'm guessing that it will be even more beautiful on a partly cloudy day!

The day could have ended after a cold beer and delicious pizza at Parua Bay, but instead we went on an adventure to the Abbey Caves! Margot mentioned: 

>> Do one thing everyday that scares you <<

This is it!!! 

I've NEVER done this before. Entering voluntarily into a dark cave. With no guides. With no one else but us. With one head light that isn't working. With freezing cold water that comes up to my waist.

But most of all, with AMAZING GLOWWORMS!!! This was so much more worth it than Waitomo!(although admittedly I didn't see the main grotto of glowworms.) But this was an adventure that we accomplished ourselves! 

>> It's not always necessary to be strong, but to feel strong << 

We were so brave, guys! We only did Organ cave this time, but next time, I want to explore the other two caves too! 

[Day 3] Matapouri Bay / Mermaid Pools

"Internationally acknowledged best beach in the world." 

I agree. This is truly paradise!

And it gets better. As we trail towards the direction of the hill with the Mermaid Pools just beyond!

I remember reading on the Lost Girls, that they tracked somewhere in New Zealand and were stranded by the tide when coming back. In the end, they had to carry their clothes and backpack on top of their heads as they cross the tidal area back to dry land. 

That is basically what we were ready to risk! We met a lady as we crossed the first bay, already getting our pants wet. She told us that Yes, the tide was coming in. Yes, the Mermaid Pools is just over the hill. And without second thought, we decided to cross the hill anyways! (So what that we'd get wet?) Thankfully, the water was just about the same depth when we came back! And we enjoyed a quick dip in the water afterwards!

The waves crashing onto the rocks at Mermaid Pools were mesmerizing to watch. I can totally picture Ariel singing Part of Your World on one of those rocks! I almost forgot to be careful not to get swept away by one of these mighty waves!

[Day 4] Do nothing.  

Sometimes you just need days like these. Nothing but music, books, good food! (not to mention, all the talk about the importance of our existence ... lol)

[Day 5] Sunrise at Ocean Beach / Pataua Bay / Mount Manaia

What a day!!! What a day!!! We accomplished so much, including:

 Getting up early for a spectacular sunrise at Ocean Beach!

As we drove towards the beach, we could see the silhouettes of the Whangarei Heads along with the moon and Venus shining bright next to it. It's such a gratifying feeling to wake up earlier than any other country. Taiwan must have just gone to sleep and England was just getting off from work. Australia was probably still in deep deep sleep. 

No one else but us on this beautiful beach. Watching the waves and the sun breaking the horizon is even more fulfilling than meditation!

★ We explored Pataua Bay, where the river meets the ocean and Ollie goes in for a swim.

★ We climbed (I mean literally CLIMBED) to the top of Mount Manaia, the most dramatic looking cliff out of all the Heads. 

This was probably the MOST dangerous thing I've ever done on any hike. It would have been even more dangerous if it was wet and windy, but then again, I would never do it if it was wet and windy. :P 

Stu kept telling us the previous day, "climbing up this cliff, you'll die." UP, I've never felt more alive!

>> If "laziness" is the thing that is holding you back, then you should get your ass up and do it anyways!" 
grin emoticon

[Day 6] Town Basin

Finally making it down to the Town Basin, where I've been warned that "there is nothing". 

Well, there was the fabulous weekly Growers Market! Where I basically bought the same things I'd buy at Countdown, except for a cheaper price.

I must have explored every second-hand book shop and craft shop there is (I could have stayed forever in Piggery).

I enjoyed superb grunge music at the aptly named cafe, Caffeine. 

And I took a quick glimpse at the harbor, but I'm sure it will be much better during sunset or at night!

--------- to be updated until I actually leave this place! ---------

So far this week here, not only has it been of magnificent landscapes, but also full of extraordinary people, each with their unique stories to tell and fun to share!  People living here, people here for one month, for a year, before school, after school, middle of school ... Different people, all here for different purposes. There is more than just one reality!

It is almost like a mini-hostel here! I never expected to meet so many people here to share my journeys in Whangarei with me! We explore the area together, we cook, we drink, we eat, we watch rugby, we lie in the sun, and so much more! 

Just so that I will remember when I read this myself years from now, your names: Margot, Francois, Viviane, Nic, Ollie, Hans, Maya, Noah, and most of all, Stu, who I cannot express enough gratitude for! 

Honestly, it feels great to be on the road. But once again, it is even better when I've found a place that feels like home! 

Starting next week, I'll be going further up to Paihia! I'll be highly grateful if you have any great tips for the rest of the Northland!!! :D

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