Campervans, tandem bikes, bocce & beaches: An epic East Cape expedition with Matt & Amy

A long-awaited Neilson-Cairns reunion has finally become reality!

It has been so special to reconnect with our dear friends, Matt and Amy Cairns, and share some grand times and exploits together in this glorious land flowing with milk, honey, and fish & chips.

We just got back from a epic, week-long camping adventure to NZ’s East Cape.  With our little Peugeot packed nearly to the rafters, the four of us ventured Eastward with thirst in our souls for escapades to tell the grandkids about someday.

Prior to our trip, we had spoken to many people who raved of the beauty of NZ’s Eastern regions, but had never been.  Being a bit off the beaten track of the usual North Island traffic flow, it is truly only those who intentionally make the journey East that get to experience its glorious splendor.

Full of its own unique quirks and beauty, and rich in Maori history, the East Cape certainly didn’t disappoint.

A large part of the drive along the East Cape is directly along the coastline, making for countless beaching possibilities and endless photo ops.  Not wanting to rush our journey, we took the opportunity to stop in most towns and villages along the way to explore various landmarks and uncover hidden gems.

Some stunning historic wharves, beautiful churches, and intricate Maori carvings were just a few of the treasures we stumbled upon.

We celebrated the two year anniversary of our arrival in NZ by being the first in the world to greet the sun on the morning of January 19, 2012.  Not sure what time the sun would rise, we thought we’d ask a local.  The cashier at the grocery store told us it rose around 4:30 or 4:45am, but that we also needed to consider that the lighthouse was a good 800 stair climb.  Determined not to miss the sunrise, we departed our campsite at 3:30am, and had arrived at the lighthouse and climbed to the top by 4:10am.  We were greeted with a black sky full of stars, as the rotating light of the lighthouse swirled above us.  It was magical.  And magical it was for about another hour and a half… until the blackness was invaded by pastel colors on the horizon.

We were fairly chilled and drowsy by the time the sun finally made its appearance around 6:15am, but it was sure worth it.  Had the woman at the grocery store not given us an extra early estimate of when the sun would rise, we may have missed out on experiencing the wonder of the East Cape lighthouse and night sky at 4am… so I suppose it all worked out for the best in the end.

To be continued…

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High School Reunions.

Hooray for high school reunions on the other side of the world!  This past week held a reunion for myself and a girl I graduated from Paul Kane High School with.  Karley and I hadn’t spent much time together in our high school days, but we sure had a great time catching up, reminiscing, and hanging out the past few days.

Karley and her husband, Landon, were in NZ for a week, to kick off a few months of worldwide travel and adventure.  Through several mutual friends (*thanks Natasha, Dan, and Mark & Laurel), we got reconnected, and were so thrilled for the chance to hang out with this fantastic duo.

We began our first date with a picnic (as most first dates do), then caught the sunset from the top of One Tree Hill.  The sights were magical, and the company spectacular.

After returning from a few rainy days outside of Auckland, we boarded a Fullers ferry with Karley and Landon, and were off on an excursion to Waiheke Island.

We were greeted with sunshine, and visited a number of beautiful vineyards where we tasted some superb wines.

The boys went took a dip in the rolling waves at Onetangi Beach, while the girls beached and soaked in some rare moments of sunshine.  (Have I mentioned this has been one rainy and dreary summer in Auckland?  I try not to complain too much, but I think maybe we have had 3 days of sunshine so far.  So you’ve really got to take advantage of the sun when it makes an appearance!)  We had visited Waiheke once before with Mark and Laurel, but it was winter and raining that day.  I have to say that it’s slightly more pleasant to visit the island when it’s not pouring rain.

We had such a great time getting to know these two, and had lot of fun together.  We are really grateful for the chances we have had to meet and cross paths with individuals we may not have gotten to know otherwise.

Karley and Landon are now off to the land of kangaroos and Vegemite, to visit friends in Australia, and then will venture off to Southeast Asia.  We have a feeling this certainly won’t be the last we see of these two!

The Northern Cape

Following our Christmas Day camping on the Karikari Peninsula, we continued our journey upward to explore the northernmost parts of New Zealand for the first time.  In just a few hours, we had reached Cape Reinga, the northwesternmost most tip of NZ’s North Island.

Cape Reinga is significant not only because of its geographical location, but it is an important and special place within in the Maori culture, as it is regarded as the departing place of spirits.

We arrived to darkened skies, just as I had imagined.  Cape Reinga was stunning.  Though there were a lot of people there, the crowds parted at one point and I miraculously snapped this shot of the signpost and lighthouse, absent of other human beings.

Although Cape Reinga is commonly thought of as being the northernmost point of the North Island, North Cape’s Surville Cliffs, located 30 km east of Cape Reinga, are actually slightly further north. Another headland just to the west of Cape Reinga, Cape Maria van Diemen (pictured above), was discovered and named by the Dutch explorer Abel Tasman during his 1642 journey and thought of by him to be the northernmost point.

Something that’s pretty neat about visiting Cape Reinga is that you can see the two oceans come together: The Tasman Sea to the left, and the Pacific Ocean to the right.  You can literally see the opposing forces of oceans collide, as in the photo above.

There was excellent signage along the way to explain various aspects of and historical facts about the area.

Cape Reinga is a destination of great beauty and significance to the Maori culture.  It was very special to visit this place.  And neat to look out and know that our family and friends in Canada were just on the other side of this little body of water called the Pacific Ocean.