Saturday, 21 May 2011

Dolphins, giant trees, John Lennon, long soft golden beaches, and some more dolphins – welcome to Northland 1

After hanging out for a couple of days in feeling-at-home Auckland, we finally picked up our new best friend, John Lennon, and after a thorough check that there were no 'real' bumps (small indentations and scratches do not count for this company) on the car, a bit of paperwork and some screams from me about Lennon being way too big for me to drive – we set out for the most northern part of the northern island of New Zealand: Northland.

As we had just realised a day or so before that NZ in in fact quite a big country, even if the population is at a tiny 4 million, we had decided to spend maximum two days in Northland before heading south of Auckland and hit the rest.

That was the plan that is. A plan that crumbled to pieces meter by meter, or perhaps kilometre by kilometre,
as we let dear Lennon lead the way for what was to become a 5 days stunt in this incredibly beautiful part of the country.

Because how could we but not fall in love with this north of the north, as by our first stop to rest and stretch our legs after a couple of hours of driving, in a long stunning sand beach called Mangawhai Heads, we were met with a big family of dolphins surfing the waves!
'Surfing dolphins?', I here you ask. 'How many hours did you say that you drove that Lennon camper van before stopping?'.

We were taken aback ourselves. Nuno spotted them first, and as I came out of the rest-room to join him, he was jumping up and down with excitement telling me to look down at the beach and tell him what I saw. I looked down and spotting the usual group of human surfers, told him that. In fact, a good surfer on a good wave could be enough to put Nuno in this state of excitement, so I wasn't completely crazy.

'Yes. But what else do you see?'; he asked. I was going to reply, 'body boarders', but then suddenly spotted some other dark shadows in the waves, some shadows that looked unmistakeably like.... 'dolphins', I cried out and we started running down towards the beach.




What an incredible sight and what an amazing welcome committee that the north sent out, just for us :)

There must have been around 20 dolphins playing in the waves and moving up this 10 km long beach. We walked with them as long as we could, but they were of course a lot faster than us. They were just so amazingly beautiful and it was great seeing them having fun in the waves, surfing with more skill than the best surfers.

Suddenly we didn't feel in any hurry to visit the rest of the country. We were here. We had arrived and it was enough. No need to stress as whatever we would see would be great and in the two weeks lovely Lennon took care of us, we saw a lot.We left the beach we will always associate with dolphins, and drove on north with big stupid smiles on our faces and enough energy to make it all the way up to Tutukaka were we spent the night on a small parking next to a calm bay. It was our first night finding a spot to park the van and trying out the 'bed' (three thin mattresses that we spread out on top of the wooden planks that made up the floor of the van and were used for storage and for creating a table with seats inside the van, and of course to sleep on).
"Come together, right now, over me" - John Lennn

We drove around for a while as we did not really know where it was ok for us to park for the night and as it had already gotten dark it wasn't that easy to see the good spots. We finally settled on a small parking with toilet facilities next to the bay as there were already two other camper vans parked there and we figured that even if not completely lawful at least we were in good company.

The night was uneventful and in the morning we woke up to a team of sea kayaking fans getting ready to go for their morning tour. On the way to the bathroom, I started speaking with an old NZ man who lived very close by and liked to come down to watch the sea every morning. He told us that it was fine parking the camper vans at this parking overnight as it had toilet facilities, so from then on we always tried to find places with toilets if possible, for one because it made life a lot easier, but also as it felt more lawful.

As we were still all excited about the dolphin sighting the day before, we told the old man about it and he said that it is very normal to see dolphins all over the coast area and that sometimes they even came in to that same small bay to swim around.

From this moment on my eyes were even more strained to catch sight of dolphins as soon as we were near to water, but with no further luck.

The only other time that we saw dolphins very close, was the day after, as we went on a dolphin watching and swimming tour out from Pahia.




This day, however, after a slow morning wake up enjoying camping life with a healthy breakfast of yogurt and muesli, we continued our drive up the east coast, stopping at a couple of beaches on the way including one where we went on a nice little steep hike to the 'mermaid lagoon'. A cool little place of natural rock pools that gets filled up with water during high tide.

That night, after a 'almost out of gas and where is the next station' scare, we had quite big problems finding a place to park the van as it was forbidden everywhere in and close to Pahia, but we did not want to stay too far away as we had to be back in the town at 7 am the next day for the dolphin excursion. So, we drove around for about an hour and a half, looking for some place that felt ok.

As we were getting more and more tired and it had gotten quite late already, we finally settled for a spot next to a small country road and just in front of a field with very interested horses who came and checked us out as we came out of the car and also came to say hello in the morning. It was probably the least legal place that we parked at during these two weeks, but it worked out fine and it was a very calm place to sleep with only the noise of the horses moving around on the other side of the fence.
Our campervan 'John Lennon' and horses

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