When you plan school holiday adventures, you may well aim for a warm-island resort set-up for your family (and in a world where I’m flush with cash this would also be high on my list), but realistically I’m dreaming of a dirty old road-trip because to me, that is the stuff Kiwi childhood memories are made of.
Last holidays we took off down south for a Coromandel getaway and this school holidays we journeyed up to Northland to explore an area very unfamiliar.
The thing I love most about a trip like the one we just returned from are the people you meet along the way and the hidden gems that are discovered in both location and character. We visited places I would never have known about, nor thought to look for, had they not been suggested as they were on our itinerary planned by Northland Inc. We were lucky enough to be treated to a little tiki-tour around the Kauri Coast, the Hokianga Harbour and Whangarei over four days.
We started out at 8am on possibly the most miserable day of the year, through driving rain and horribly bitter winds. Our first stop was one we were really looking forward to, but alas the elements meant we had to forgo the experience as it was a ride on an open-sided train which the tour operator suggested we miss given the kids ages and the unrelenting conditions. The Dargaville Rail & River Cruises offer a unique experience in their Rail Carting cruise which involves self-driving converted golf carts along an unused railway line between Dargaville and Tangowahine, through the historic Northern Wairoa River and farmland with beautiful views and the intoxicating scent of wild honeysuckle. Sorry to miss out due to the weather I would love to bring the kids back and do this again sometime.
Instead we drove straight to The Kauri Museum just a 90 minute drive from Auckland. I wasn’t sure what to expect and to be honest wasn’t expecting much from a Kauri Museum. I know the tree itself is impressive but really, what could a whole museum of the things look like? The kids thoroughly enjoyed our visit and Shane and I were so impressed by both the content on display and the sheer expanse of the museum. There was so much history contained in the 4500sq metres of undercover exhibits. Started by the founder of MOTAT Mervyn Sterling, the Kauri Museum is entirely funded by admission fees and shop revenue and all staff are passionate about their place of employment. It’s well worth a visit, especially for children 4+. Beau liked it too, but more for running around and watching the giant saws cutting through humongous Kauri logs and trying to climb into the enclosures to be closer to them.
After a good couple of hours exploring, we drove to Dargaville for lunch to the Blah Blah Blah Cafe in the towns’ main street. A quirky interior and buzzing with a large group of young mums inside, we made our way to the otherwise empty courtyard area that was perfect for my rowdy bunch. We coloured together while we waited for our food to be served. We ordered pasta for the kids and Shane got pizza but I just could not go past the Kumara & Mussel Chowder as it was listed on the menu as “world famous”. Everyone’s food was delicious and my chowder did not disappoint! I can’t tell you how delicious it was – grated kumara and a thick creamy soup base with perfectly dispersed mussel pieces and a good smattering of fresh herbs. I might try to recreate it, but I fear I will fall short, such was it’s deliciousness. The waitress told me that it is an item that’s remained on the menu for the past 12 years because of it’s popularity and I can absolutely attest to why! If you are ever in this neck of the woods, it’s well worth stopping off for a bowl of this incredible chowder.
From here we headed to our first night’s stop at Kauri Coast Top 10 Holiday Park, a 25 minute drive from Dargaville. What greeted us after driving through rolling hills and lush green landscapes was nothing short of idyllic. A quaint holiday park with very well appointed facilities was the perfect place for my family and I to lay our heads that night. We stayed in the 2-bedroom Riverside Motel which was everything we needed. A bedroom with bunks and a queen sized bed and a second room with another queen bed was more than adequate for us. A full kitchen and a cosy couch with french doors leading out to a courtyard area with BBQ, it would be a special spot in Summer. We played all afternoon on the kids playgrounds, the sandpit and the phenomenal Flying Fox. After an iceblock from the camp shop, we wandered back to our little cabin where I cooked an early dinner before we headed off in search of Kiwi for a DIY guided walk through Trounson Park. We were kitted out with a red-light-lantern and walked the 1.7km board walk track through dense Kauri forest in search of the famed flightless bird. We heard one call at the beginning of our adventure, but unfortunately we did not spot a Kiwi. We were rewarded for our efforts with sightings of some Glow worms, Eels and Weta so all was not lost.
After a wonderfully exhausting and enjoyable day, finished perfectly under a glittering star-filled sky, we returned to our motel unit where collapsed into bed, sleeping soundly in anticipation of another exciting day exploring Northland for Day 2 of adventures.
Day one of our Northland exploration was ticked off with happy faces and full bellies.
* Thanks to Northland Inc. for providing our accommodation and activities for this trip.