Wilder­ness

Travel Digest - - EDITORIAL - Deb­bie Grif­fiths trav­elled with support from Britz camper­vans.

In our con­crete- jun­gle world, just how easy is it to find an un­spoiled place in our coun­try? DEB­BIE GRIF­FITHS takes her fam­ily out of Auck­land to find out how far north you have to drive, be­fore you find wilder­ness.

The trees clos­ing in on each side of our ve­hi­cle are mak­ing us ner­vous. My hus­band glances over at me from the driver’s seat and raises his eye­brows. The thought of rev­ers­ing our Britz camper­van back down the 2km of windy gravel road makes me shud­der. “If we carry on to the end, there might be some­where to turn around.” Hours ear­lier, the kids couldn’t quite be­lieve their luck when we picked up the camper­van in south Auck­land. “Wow! A house with wheels on!” As we’re given a tour and safety brief­ing by the Britz staffer, they’re wide- eyed and ea­ger to be given the nod to poke about. We’ve been ad­vised against suit­cases which are too bulky for the un­der- seat stor­age, so as we stow our back­packs of clothes and a box of food. Lit­tle fin­gers are press­ing the pop- open han­dles of ev­ery cup­board and drawer and mem­o­ris­ing their con­tents. We’re fas­ci­nated by the eco­nomic use of space. The shower is above the toi­let; the oven is cov­ered to dou­ble as bench space and the seats morph into a gen­er­ous dou­ble bed. Once we get used to where ev­ery­thing is stowed in the camper­van, it be­comes a very easy way of trav­el­ling. The close prox­im­ity of the pick- up point to the air­port makes it an easy op­tion for do­mes­tic and in­ter­na­tional trav­ellers, too. There are plenty of out- of- town­ers pick­ing up or drop­ping off camper­vans with their suit­cases or travel bags be­side them. The de­pot in south Auck­land even has show­ers, tow­els, a food- drop and a book ex­change. We start off slowly to get used to the feel of such a large ve­hi­cle. The sound of plates and cut­lery rat­tling is ini­tially alarm­ing, but after in­ves­ti­gat­ing I re­alise they’re tucked snugly in their own in­dents and are quite safe. We drive north out of Auck­land and turn off to hug the east coast as soon as we are able. We ar­rive at the tiny beach- side set­tle­ment of Waipu Cove be­fore lunch time. The word cove has cre­ated an im­age in my head of a tiny horse­shoe shaped bay, shel­tered by rocks. That’s why I’m shocked when I see the beach for the first time. It’s low tide, so the huge ex­panse of sand, stretch­ing kilo­me­tres into the dis­tance is very wide and very flat. We peer into the sea mist to see the Hen and Chicken Is­lands in Bream Bay and jut­ting out to the left the penin­sula of Whangarei heads ap­pears to be curl­ing pro­tec­tively back to­wards the main­land. We un­pack bread rolls, ham, cheese, fruit and crack­ers from the camper­van, un­furl a pic­nic blan­ket and sit on the grass over­look­ing the ocean. The seag­ulls know full well what this means. They form squawk­ing gag­gles as they wait for scraps and are fi­nally re­warded with bread crusts. The kids jig­gle im­pa­tiently as they scoff down enough food to be al­lowed to run off and play. They’re drawn like mag­nets down to the rocks that ring a hil­lock at the south­ern end of the beach. Be­neath one of the gnarled old Po­hutukawa trees, we find some­one has tied up a rough rope swing. Its simplicity and lo­ca­tion are de­light­ful and the kids push each other with rope trail­ing through the stream un­der­neath – yelp­ing when they get splashed with wa­ter. It keeps them oc­cu­pied for a good half hour be­fore they each peel off to follow their pref­er­ences. The older child heads into the waves and her younger brother hunts for crabs and shells. There are rock pools to ex­plore and drift­wood to ex­am­ine, waves to jump and a hill criss­crossed with paths to wan­der. We spend an idyl­lic few hours at the beach be­fore climb­ing back on board the camper­van. We make a brief stop at Whangarei Falls as we pass through the North­land city on the way to the Tutukaka Coast. It’s mostly windy coun­try roads and I need to switch places with Master Six to cure his travel sick­ness. He’s im­me­di­ately en­chanted by the camper­van’s mas­sive front wind­screen and is happy for the rest of the jour­ney. We pass through the es­tu­ary set­tle­ment of Ngun­guru and to­wards the Tutukaka light­house that I’ve cir­cled on my map. It’s here that the road nar­rows to one lane and we’re ner­vous for the first time. The camper­van that ini­tially seemed to be the per­fect way to es­cape the rat race, now feels lum­ber­ing and clumsy. But we’re in luck – not only is there a wide carpark at the start of the track, the camper­van proves very easy to ma­noeu­vre. The walk­way be­gins on a grassy hill­top field and then winds down dozens of steep steps to a rocky nar­row cause­way that leads to Kuku­tauwhao Is­land. I’ve been told it’s only ac­ces­si­ble at low tide, but it’s about two hours past that and there’s still plenty of room to move. From here it’s up, up, up a rough bush­walk through mostly na­tive manuka, flax and cab­bage trees un­til we reach the light­house at the top of the head­land. It turns out to be a very ba­sic white rec­tan­gu­lar con­crete struc­ture with a light on the top, but the re­ward is the amaz­ing view back over North­land. We can see all the way north to Cape Brett and south to Cape Rod­ney. The sun is set­ting in the west when we make our way back to our house on wheels and we con­tinue north to­wards our first night’s des­ti­na­tion. I’ve had a camp­site at Whananaki marked on my

map – but it’s a lo­cal we’re chat­ting to at Mat­apouri who puts us right. “You should go park at Sandy Bay for the night. It’s bee- you- tee- ful!” It’s the way he draws out the last word that con­vinces us. In my ea­ger­ness to find a re­mote, un­spoiled beach I’ve made rookie er­ror and un­der- es­ti­mated the dis­tance. I’ve been blithely point­ing the way to­wards a long and windy unsealed road as night ap­proaches. Lo­cal res­i­dent, Phil, is swig­ging from a beer bot­tle out­side the take­away store when he points us to an eas­ier, closer lo­ca­tion. Ten min­utes later we pull over into a rest stop at the stun­ning Sandy Bay with our bat­tered Hoki and chips feel­ing grate­ful for his good ad­vice. We’ve squeezed a lot into one day and hap­pily fall ex­hausted into our beds. The kids in the dou­ble bunk above the driver’s cabin with a safety net up to avoid any falls. When we wake, my city- slicker ten year- old has a com­plaint – the waves were too loud. Mo­ments later, she bounds out of the door with lit­tle brother in tow – off to ex­plore the beach. A stream run­ning down to the surf keeps them busy with jumping con­tests, dams to build and holes to poke sticks into. It’s enough time for hus­band and I to tidy the beds, clean and stow the ce­real bowls from break­fast and take some time to en­joy the early morn­ing quiet of Sandy Bay. The sky is a soft pink and the waves are gen­tle and we’re the only ones there. Bliss. The Tutukaka Coast lies around two hours north of Auck­land. Along the way, we’ve found pock­ets of gen­uine un­spoiled wilder­ness. The big­gest sign of suc­cess for me, though, is that the two bags full of toys that the kids brought along have re­mained un­opened and the LCD screen in the camper­van hasn’t been switched on once.

Deb­bie Grif­fiths stud­ies her map as she nav­i­gates the rugged North­land coast. The sun rises over Sandy Bay on the Tutukaka Coast.

The rocky cause­way that links Kuku­tauwhao Is­land with the main­land.

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