First stop was Whangarei (read: Fan-ga-rei). Whangarei is a typical small big town. Too small to be considered a city, but too big to be considered a small town. There’s a lot to do here but all of the activities are for the summer. In the winter there isn’t really much to do here. So after grabbing a quick bite to eat we continued north to Paihia (read: Pie-a). Paihi is a very small town but it’s the hub for the Bay of Islands and sits right at the edge of the water so the views are stunning. There is also a lot of things to do here, except just like in Whangarei, they’re all for the summer. Unless you’re a hardy outdoor enthusiast and you like to go kayaking and swimming in the cold. But the view was nice and we didn’t want to drive late into the night so we found a nice hostel and decided to spend the night there. We made dinner and hung out around the fireplace and the TV for the night. The entertainment of the evening came when a guy in his early 20’s went on to the porch of the house and started making phone calls, one after the other. We learned by his screaming at the top of the lungs, that he had obtained his 2 year working visa for NZ. He was really excited because every call he made he started if off with “Mom? (Or Bob, or Jane or whoever he was talking to) I GOT MY VISA!!!!!!!!! Yeah! FOR 2 YEARS!!!! I CAN’T BELIEVE IT!” This went on for a good 10 minutes before he would make the next call. 6 or 7 calls later we were sick of hearing about his 2 year visa. We walked into the TV room and said to one of the girls, sarcastically, “I think that guy got his visa” and the girl took it very seriously and started telling us how he just obtained his 2 year visa. Our dry humour was lost on them.
We checked out the next day and drove even further north. The plan was to get to Cape Reinga, the top of NZ. The weather was gorgeous as the sun was shining, and even though it was cool, it’s wasn’t cold. The views were stunning. Gentle rolling hills covered with grass the colour of neon green. It was so beautiful if I wasn’t there myself I wouldn’t have believed it could have a colour like that. Scattered around the hills were cows and sheep. Although NZ is known for their sheep, we were seeing more cows than sheep. We later learned it’s because the government stopped subsidizing the sheep farmers and where there used to be 20 sheep to each resident of NZ, the numbers had dropped to just 8 sheep per resident. It’s still a high number since they count all the citizens of NZ, even the ones who live abroad. We had a pleasant drive up to Cape Reinga and when we reached it we had a gorgeous view of where the Tasman Sea and the South Pacific Ocean meet. We spent some time walking around the area and then started heading back south. On the way back to Auckland we stopped at a local woodworking shop and we were able to see a HUGE staircase carved into the inside of a massive tree. Unfortunately this was the only time we didn’t have a camera so we didn’t take a picture. We reached Auckland that evening and Tara was stunned that we could make it so quickly from the Cape to Auckland and we had a small debate about whether Andrew is a fast driver or if Tara is a very slow one. I think Ben sided with us. We had seen a spot where we could take some photos of the Auckland skyline so the 4 of us spent the night taking photos.
The next day, before we left Auckland we went to have lunch at Villa Maria, where Tara works. It’s a stunning winery right next to the airport. You drive through an industrial area thinking how could there possibly be a winery here, only to see how nice it really is once you drive in. You feel completely secluded from the city. Unfortunately the drive there is not that peaceful. We knew the winery is next to the airport, and we could see it on the map so we just figured we would follow the signs for the airport and from there it would be easy to find the winery. It turns out it wasn’t the winery that was hard to find but the airport itself. The first signs we followed to the airport, took us to a small regional airport. So we had to find the highway again and now followed the correct signs this time. We got off the highway according to the signs and got stuck in traffic in a tiny suburb with all the main traffic going through there. After driving for 10 minutes there were no more signs to the airport and we thought we must have missed something so we turned around. I called Tara to tell her we were running late and she could tell I was not impressed. This was an international airport and we couldn’t find it! Finally we got back on the highway, followed our map rather than the signs and finally found the airport! It took us an hour and a half to get there and we were an hour late! We were not impressed with how hard it was to find the airport. The way the signs lead you make absolutely no sense. Tara agreed it was not properly labeled and shared my frustration. When we finally arrived at Villa Maria we had a delicious lunch paired with wine. We had a great time during lunch but we needed to get going. We wanted to Tongirero National Park that evening.