Bay of Islands – adrenaline, dolphins and sunburn

So there we were, bright eyed and bushy tailed aboard the Kiwi Bus ready to depart for the Bay of Islands & Cape Reinga, New Zealand’s North Western peninsula and a place considered to be the birthplace of modern day New Zealand as it was the place where the historic Waitangi treaty was signed between the British and Maori people in 1840. Look at me listening to the bus driver.

A nice spot for fresh fish & chips

We’d had enough of Auckland so we were ready for some exploring. We hadn’t planned anything, as the whole point of the Kiwi Experience is that you book all activities, accommodation and later buses as you go. Anyone who knows me will know how uncomfortable that made me to not have everything organised before we’d even set a toe on New Zealand soil. Blakey, however, was fine with it. I’m learning from him.

Anyway, the driver, Jared, was great. He got on his microphone and let us know how it’ll all work – clipboards would be passed down one side of the bus and back up the other; one for putting your names down for nights in the hostel, another for activities to book on to with a Kiwi Bus discount, and the final one for buses for future journeys to guarantee our seats. The highlight was definitely when he stopped his explanation to tell off two obnoxious girls who were talking through his speech. He made them hang up their phones. The teenage sulky faces made me happy. 

We booked two nights in Paihia so that we could fit in plenty of activities. Blakey decided to sign himself up for a casual 20,000 feet sky dive that very afternoon. I decided I had an unavoidable appointment with the beach and couldn’t possibly join him. So off he went on his merry way up in the clouds. He says he really enjoyed it except for a nose bleed half way down, which is captured on video for our future enjoyment. It was an 82 second free fall before the parachute was pulled, and the views were incredible over the islands. Much better than our previous dive in Bridlington, which we had a groupon for.

Blakey’s Sky Dive, Bay of Islands

Meanwhile, I had a wonderfully relaxing afternoon on the Paihia beach, which was beautiful. Looking out over the islands and watching the boats sailing in the bay was very relaxing, and a nice dip in the sea cooled off my sunburn. Turns out our sunscreen isn’t really up to scratch. As driver Jared said “Using northern hemisphere sunscreen here is like bringing a knife to a gun fight”. Wise man.

After a night getting to know our roomies (more bus friends, yay), we got up for another early start to join a bus tour up to Cape Reinga, which involved a stop at an ancient Kauri Forest and a drive up 90 Mile Beach. It was a definite novelty to be trundling along the sand in a big old bus, knowing the ‘road’ would disappear at high tide.

90 Mile Beach, which isn’t actually 90 miles

We finally arrived at Cape Reinga, where we were let out for a 60 minute walk about. It’s a beautiful place, and one sacred to the Maori people as the place their souls go to rest after death. There’s an ancient tree right out on the headland, and the souls descend down the roots of the tree into the water waiting below to carry them away. It seems to me that the whole Bay of Islands and Cape area is full of history and spiritual importance for the Maori people, and it’s something I think we’ll get to know more about when we stay at a Maori village later on our trip.

Admiring the views from Cape Reinga

The driver took us to some big sand dunes after the Cape to do some sandboarding. After driving through rolling hills and forests, the landscape changed in a blink of an eye to sand dunes, rising up incongruously from what had a minute ago been sheep fields. We all grabbed a bodyboard from the back of the bus and climbed up the nearest mega-steep dune. I say climbed, but it was nothing so graceful. More like a sweaty struggle with our bodyboards under one arm, taking two steps up before sliding back down another step in the burning hot sand while the wind tried to blow our bodyboards away. It was a delight.

However, we all finally got to the top (I was pretty much last) and then it was time to whizz back down, face first. You just lay down on the board belly-down pointing downhill and go, digging your feet in the sand to brake. It was really fun, although not fun enough to struggle back up the dune for another go… So I just stayed at the bottom at watched Blakey come zooming down again!

Cape Reinga and sandboarding trip was a full day, so in the evening we just did the pub quiz at the Pipi Patch hostel where we were staying then got an early night, ready for an early morning dolphin spotting!

The dolphin trip was really fun – we hopped aboard a boat out in the bay and went in search of wild dolphins. We quickly found a pod of bottlenose dolphins and stayed with them for a little while as the guide told us all about their behaviour and habits. We weren’t allowed to get in the water with the dolphins as they had some babies with them, and the babies need to feed every 20 minutes to maintain their body fat and stay warm. Although we were gutted not to be able to swim with the dolphins, it was brilliant to see a company who actually respected the wildlife rather than just used them as a money maker.

Common Dolphin, Bay of Islands

We went out past the islands into the open sea to search for other pods, and soon found a large pod of common dolphins, which are a lot smaller than the bottlenose (check me out with my dolphin knowledge!). We watched them jumping around and swimming under the boat for a while before heading back to shore in time to catch the Kiwi Bus back down to Auckland to begin our trip southwards and properly explore the North Island.

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