Karl Cushing ventures north on a fam trip to New Zealand’s Northland region, exploring marine reserves, ancient forests and coastal trails.
On a scale of one to ten I’d give this about an eight – or maybe a nine,” says the boat driver, answering my stomach’s unvoiced question about the choppiness of the ocean – legacy of an earlier storm – as we lurch onwards to the Poor Knights Islands. Thankfully when we eventually start to gain ground on the distant islands I immediately see why my guide Peter dubs them “the jewel in the area’s crown”.
A firm favourite of underwater explorer Jacques Cousteau, the pristine, subtropical marine reserve around the Poor Knights proves to be a true jaw dropper. As we edge nearer the calmer water proves disarmingly clear, the shoals of fish so abundant their writhing backs break the surface as I watch from the boat. Cue snorkelling gear and the scene transforms into a Technicolor paradise.
The underwater rocks are a riot of sponges in lurid pinks and oranges, and swirls of kelp sway with the constant current as my flippers propel me into what’s claimed to be the world’s largest sea cave. My afternoon with Dive!
Tutukaka proves worthy of the flight from the UK alone, let alone the bumpy boat ride, although ultimately it is just one of many unforgettable experiences on my trip to New Zealand’s Far North, following the Trenz event in Auckland.
Northland’s major tourist attraction is the Bay of Islands, which aside from being prime sailing territory and very easy on the eye is home to historic coastal towns such as Paihia. Here I join a sun-drenched boat tour with Fullers GreatSights, eyeballing many of the Bay’s 144 islands and getting the lowdown on the area’s chequered history before returning to harbour with a pod of playful dolphins as an obliging escort.
My base is a short ferry ride away in Russell. As I settle down in my room at the cosy Duke of Marlborough hotel, looking out over the water, it’s hard to reconcile the quaint little township of today with its historic role as the first capital of New Zealand or “hellhole of the Pacific”. Although a few pointers, such as the bullet holes in the local church, attest to a colourful past.
“This area really is the cradle of our civilisation; the birthplace of our nation,” asserts Peter as we join an organised tour to the Waitangi Treaty Grounds, near Paihia. The site of the pivotal, if highly contentious, treaty signed between the British Crown and local Maori in 1840 sports an excellent museum, backed by guided tours and Maori cultural demonstrations. It offers an interesting grounding into the area’s central role in forging the New Zealand we know today.
From Russell I continue north on a day trip with Explore, our Dune Rider bus hugging the scenic coast before speeding up Ninety Mile Beach en route to Cape Reinga at the top of the country. The short stroll to the lighthouse, looking out over the wave-lashed rocks below and vast ocean beyond, offers a contemplative moment – although that’s soon forgotten courtesy of some sand boarding shenanigans on the coastal dunes.
Later on driving down the west coast I pass by an even better sand boarding spot at Hokianga, where impressive dunes kiss the ocean, but my sights are set upon nearby Waipoua Forest and its famous stock of giant kauri trees, including the stately Tane Mahuta.
While clients can easily visit the area themselves, I take a guided tour with Footprints and emerge with a strong feel for the unique, spiritual place these grand ancient trees hold in the hearts of the Maori people. Later, the nearby Kauri Museum offers a glimpse into the kauri trees’ less spiritual past, highlighting the hard lives of the men who harvested their gum and timber for export.
Like many I follow the handy Twin Coast Discovery Highway, touring up one side of Northland and down the other, but options such as the Northland Wine Trail and new driving routes such as The Ancient Kauri Trail Byway promise further adventures. I regret not having time to tackle the new 56-mile Twin Coast Cycle Trail from Bay of Islands to Hokianga or hike the stunning Cape Brett Walkway and local sections of the countrywide Te Araroa tramping trail.
With its wide-ranging attractions, appealing subtropical climate and easy accessibility from Auckland, including a local airport at Kerikeri, Northland is a fascinating part of New Zealand with a growing choice of luxurious product such as the swanky Relais & Chateaux property Kauri Cliffs.
Urge clients to visit now before more discover its rich and varied charms.
Book it: Anzcro has a Northland Highlights package including Air New Zealand flights, five-nights’ accommodation, car hire and excursions including a dolphin cruise to Hole in the Rock, a Cape Reinga day tour and a Twilight Encounter in Hokianga from £1,799pp, departing March 1, 2018.
Chief executive, Air New Zealand
HOW’S THE COMPANY DOING?
Air New Zealand has grown by 40% in four years.
WHAT ARE YOUR THOUGHTS ON THE UK MARKET?
We’ve got the balance right now. We have a great product, really good frequency, quality service and awesome staff. There’s more growth to come out of the UK though; the UK market still holds huge opportunities for us.
ANY MESSAGES FOR UK AGENTS?
A lot of it is educating the UK trade about what our product actually is, such as the Skycouch product in economy; our premium economy, consistently rated best in the world; and our great, lie-flat business class-product. We’re also spending $600 million on new planes for our domestic network. Fly to Auckland and then it’s a simple add-on for any of our 21 domestic destinations.
ANY MAJOR PLANS FOR YOUR HEATHROW TO AUCKLAND SERVICE VIA LOS ANGELES?
The service is working well and it seems to be well-liked and supported. From our perspective, it’s about keeping Brits who want to travel to the US aware that we offer a transatlantic service, and making Brits who want to come to New Zealand aware there are several ways in which you can get there now, including via eight gateway cities across the world with our airline partners.
ANY NEWS ON IMPROVING THE EXPERIENCE OF UK PASSENGERS TRANSITING AT LA?
We fly the same aircraft from Auckland to Los Angeles to London and your luggage never changes aircraft. The [security] risk is low – that’s what we’re putting to the US officials. We want it to be a very seamless, easy transit experience.