Northland in winter

Last year I booked a flight to Wellington for an appointment, which unfortunately was cancelled at last minute. At least it was a flexi ticket that I could change. But to what date? What the heck would I do in Wellington in winter when it’s just cold and windy there? So I changed my ticket to Auckland and picked a random date in early June. Just a week before that flight, however, family spontaneously decided to go on a Fiji holiday trip. So, I changed my spare flight again to end of June. Each time it got a bit more expensive, with a few dollars upgrade to pay, so I didn’t want to have to change it again. Why not just rent a car and explore the North Island a bit on my own?

It’s winter as winter can be, just a few days after solstice. How would the Northland show itself from its ugliest side? I’ll see. First, I need to get a rental car at the Auckland Airport. Hmm, $60 a day for a tiny Suzuki Swift or $90 for a Tesla Model Y? That was an easy choice. Y, off we go. Destination of the day: Whangarei.

But first, let’s get a Leberkässemmel mit Gurkerl at the Blackforest Butcher in Auckland.
Short stop at Parry Kauri Walk in Warkworth
The track was being improved, I was the only visitor.
Goast Island Marine Reserve
Or as the Maori call it: Te Hawere-a-Maki
I had 10 minutes before the rain hit me

It feels weird doing a road trip by myself. Now I not only have to navigate (Y is my bestie for that) but also have to drive all of it by myself, too. No drifting-off in thoughts while the scenery passes by. Quite contrary, these roads need my full attention. Road surface quality has dramatically decreased in recent years. It’s bumpy as hell and littered with potholes everywhere.

Whangarei Falls, early morning. I’m the only person there.
Amazing tree along the track down to the bottom of the falls

After doing a quick run to the Whangarei Falls in the early morning I’m heading out to the coast, doing some loops to lonely beach-bach settlements. There’s nobody there, again. OK, this region is very different in winter. All the places that I only know very crowed are now empty like ghost towns. Almost spooky, if it wasn’t for the beautiful landscape.

Whale Bay
Another amazing tree along the path
It’s just a short walk to a lookout
Crooked trees
Almost at the lookout
Ōakura Bay – Is anyone here?

I had a stopover at Elliot Bay beach where friends of us often camp in the summertime. It’s far away from civilization, but interestingly there were at least 3 more people there: Surfers who enjoyed the enormous winter waves.

Elliot Bay
This one ranks in the top 5 beaches in NZ for me
An unexpectedly large wave almost hit me
The pier in Russell
The same pier, looking back
The promenade, empty
Waiting for the Russell to Paihia ferry
It goes every 10 minutes and takes just as long

Having a stop in Kerikeri. The ‘cradle of the nation’ as they like to call it. NZ’s oldest still standing stone house is there.

There is a beautiful garden around that house, with arts and stuff. And no people.
But I guess it’s just a … house?
Lunch charging stop in Coopers Beach, with a smoked Trevally and not much else.
The obligatory ‘I was here’ photo at Maitai Beach. Which is also in my top 5 beaches of NZ list.
I don’t even know what it is with this beach.
Maybe because it’s so nicely round and sheltered, with perfectly clean water.
Or maybe it’s that outstanding specimen of a beach tree that acts like a huge shade tent in summer.
That’s from the ‘inside’ of that tree btw.
The beach doesn’t look that big, but the walk to that tree is almost 1km

After spending a night with a crazy thunderstorm in Kaimaumau, near the lower end of the Ninety Mile Beach, I’m heading to Cape Reinga in the morning, just after sunrise. It’s a long ride but the road up here is surprisingly good. I haven’t seen another car for the last 30 minutes. Food options are scarce, with the only Four Square not yet opened, so I stick to a banana and a Twix for breakfast.

It’s just me and my car at Cape Reinga

Oh, wow! I’m the only person at the lighthouse car park. This place is crowded as hell in summer. What a privilege to get the entire walkway and all the photo-spots all for myself, haha.

The rain has just cleared a few minutes ago
There it is, in the distance
Looking South, along the coastline
No Photoshop needed to remove any people
Where the seas meet
It’s mesmerizing to watch the currents joining up
I was here, too
The next rain won’t be long
Spirits Bay with the 600 year old Spirits Tree

It’s a magical place. Cape Reinga, where the seas meet and the currents twirl, creating powerful crisscross wave patterns.

When my time has come, burn my body and let the wind and the waves of Cape Reinga carry me away.


Back in Kerikeri: Rainbow Falls in the evening sun
Same thing next day in the morning. Still not facing the sun, unfortunately. Well, winter.
Hundertwasser Museum in Whangarei, on the way back to Auckland.

A word about Northland weather

Those fluffy summer-clouds were one of the reasons why I fell in love with New Zealand when we came here for the first time, 18 years ago. Back then I wasn’t aware that they are limited mostly to the region North of Auckland/Hamilton. They’re a result of ongoing winds from the West that are passing over the rolling hills.

Unfortunately, we don’t have them in Motueka. The Kahurangi ranges are very high, causing most of the rain to come down on the West Coast. Which means we either have it dry (most of the year, especially in summer) or very wet for days, when the direction changes and a weather system approaches the Tasman Bay from the North.

What we don’t have is that North-Island typical constant change of sun and rain. It seems to happen all year round. 4 seasons each day. Rain never sticks around for more than 15 minutes, and sunshine follows right after, almost guaranteed. I just love it.

10 kilometers before I arrived at Cape Reinga I went through some serious rain shower, more horizontally than vertically. But by the time I was at the carpark it was sunny again and stayed like that for the hour that I spent there. I then counted 5 more rain/sun swaps on the way back that day. In Austria we call such weather ‘Aprilwetter’, when it struggles to decide what’s it gonna be.

The air is also significantly warmer up here compared to Motueka. On paper it’s just 3 degrees more, but that’s only half of the story. Peak temperatures are on average 3 degrees higher, but mean and lowest temperature averages are 6 degrees higher in winter. I never felt really cold in the last few days. We had colder holidays in peak summer on the West Coast of the South Island before.

By the way, being still close to winter solstice, the days in Kerikeri are about 42 minutes longer than in Motueka as it sits 6 degrees further North. I could live with that, just saying.


6 days road trip with just … me. That’s a weird experience. On the one hand I enjoyed not being bound to anyone’s wake up times or different plans for the day, but on the other hand it’s a bit lonely. I guess a shared experience is a doubled experience in this case?

I also wish I had brought the big camera and not just the phone. There were plenty of out-of-this-world light scenes that I would have stopped for to take a good picture. The phone can’t deliver that, so I just embraced the beautiful moments to the fullest as they passed by.

Overall, Northland is a much better winter holiday destination than I thought it would be. Will do that again, with family. :)