Sunrise over Cathedral Cove: Coromandel New Zealand

When we told friends we were going to New Zealand, most people’s first reaction was, “Oh South Island? It’s super fun there!” We’d say no, just the North Island this time, and they’d invariably follow up with, “but we love the South Island!”

We do too, but since we’d already circumnavigated most of the South Island on a previous trip, we thought we’d explore the north eastern coastline of the North Island. So far, we had had a blast. Our kayak-camping trip in the Bay of Islands was a tease; we only wished we had more time to paddle around every little nook and cranny, and snorkel every cove.

Now, we’d made our way down and around Auckland to Coromandel. It was a surprisingly windy drive to the peninsula, through verdant forests of tall Kauri pine trees and bushes of silver ferns, before the road opened up to farm fields and paddocks of cows.

Sting Ray Beach - Cathedral Cove Coromandel New Zealand
Sunrise at Sting Ray Beach – Cathedral Cove Coastal Walk

It’s a gorgeous place. We spent a leisurely two days wandering along the coastline, catching the sunrise over the iconic Cathedral Cove, enjoying a refreshing dip in the clear cool waters at Hahei Beach, and snorkeling at Gemstone Bay where we spotted another large black sting ray half hidden behind some sea grass.

Cathedral Cove Coromandel New Zealand
The iconic Cathedral Cove

We also signed up for a kayaking tour where we had a different vantage point of Cathedral Cove, Stingray Beach, and Gemstone Bay (I couldn’t find freedom rentals unfortunately; bleah).

Another highlight: joining the crowds over at Hot Water Beach to dig our own shallow pool in the sand at low tide, where underground hot springs by the beach help fill our makeshift spa with ever warm water. That was a pretty neat experience, and when we got a little too hot, we cooled off in the brisk surf.

Kayaking and Camping: Bay of Islands New Zealand

We didn’t know if we could actually go ahead with kayaking and camping overnight on Urupukapuka Island in the Bay of Islands until a day and a half before – and after we had flown into Auckland, New Zealand. We packed our tent and sleeping bags anyway, and let customs run the tent under their microscope for biohazards before they let us out of the terminal. But as soon as we got confirmation that yes, the forecast looks decent, and that yes, the winds look under control, we shot to the supermarket to load up on groceries and the camping store to pick up a bottle of fuel.

So it was with much anticipation that we loaded up our kayaks – a single and double – on Long Beach at Russel, and pushed off towards Motuarohia Island, the first island on our Bay of Islands 2-day kayak/camping expedition. There was a slight breeze playing about, but the currents were light and we crossed the channel easily. This was a popular first stop for many guided kayak and sailing trips, for the cove had many good snorkeling spots and there was a trail people could hike up to for a good vantage view of the surrounding islands.

Motuarohia Island, Bay of Islands New Zealand
View atop Motuarohia Island, Bay of Islands New Zealand

We aimed for Moturua Island next, intending to pull up along a beach for a spot of swimming. But we made good time, and felt strong, and so decided to push on instead to Waewaetorea Island. Beautiful stretch of white sandy beach filled with sea shells. While Chris lay in the sun to try to soak up the heat, Jeff and I eagerly plunged into the waters for some snorkeling. Loved how clear the waters were, and how the sun rays filtered through the water like spot light on sections of sea grass and schools of fishes.

Paddling off Waewaetorea Island, Bay of Islands New Zealand
Paddling off Waewaetorea Island

When the clouds started to roll in, we jumped back into our kayaks again and pushed off towards Urupukapuka Island, the only island in the Bay of Islands with campsites. As it was the shoulder season though, the campsite was mostly empty, save a couple tents on far ends of the huge bay and a group of rowdy septuagenarians from a rowing club in the Sunshine Coast. They had arrived at the site a couple days before us, and were planning to stay a total of five nights, using the island as a base to explore. So cool. We want to be them when we grow up. 🙂

But anyway, we had the pick of the sites, so we pitched our tent right at the edge of the beach, by the water tap and an outdoor shower. 😀

Setting up camp on Urupukapuka Island
Setting up camp on Urupukapuka Island

Urupukapuka Island is one of the larger islands in the Bay of Islands, with many walking trails we could wander up on. So we did just that, after refueling ourselves with some hot vitamin C drink and soup. It was lovely to stroll through the sheep paddock in the golden evening light.

And even lovelier, when we’d filled up our tummies with more hot food and the stars popped out of the inky blue sky. We kicked back, relaxed, and luxuriously stretched out our sore muscles as we gazed up on the milky way, listening to the waves gently lapping onto the beach. Try as we might though, we couldn’t keep our eyes open for long, and so packed it in just before 10pm.

Milky Way off Urupukapuka Island

Milky Way off Urupukapuka Island

Milky Way off Urupukapuka Island
We couldn’t ask for much more – a beautiful day out paddling around the Bay of Islands, cooling off in the crystal clear waters snorkeling, and relaxing under the stars by the beach

In the morning, we all woke up early to try to catch the sunrise. I hiked up the hill again in search of the beautiful golden light; Jeff went for a long swim in the still chilly waters in the cove, while Chris parked herself at the edge of the cliff to watch the sun’s first rays hit the water.

Seeing how invigorated Jeff was from his swim, I wanted in on the action too, and so grabbed my mask and snorkel and dove in. The water felt brisk on my skin, but my head was clear as I swam, marveling at the fishes darting in between the waving sea grass. Imagine my shock then, when all of a sudden, I swim on top of the largest sting ray I’d ever laid eyes on. It was calmly resting on the sea grass – crushing it in fact. I didn’t dare get too close to it, but from where I hovered 10 feet above it, it looked bigger than my wingspan. It was the short tail sting ray that we’d tried to no avail to spot in Jervis Bay a couple weeks ago! I yelled across the cove to Jeff who was now dressed and by the tents. He looked like he was hesitating to go back into the water again though, so I just continued on my swim. But he changed his mind and swam out to meet me. Alas, we couldn’t find the ray again. We did spot a couple other smaller species though, chasing fishes. Perfect way to start the morning.

We’d perhaps luxuriated too long in our island campsite though. By the time we packed up and pushed off, it was already 1045am. The winds had picked up from the day before too, causing larger waves to form against the eastern back of Urupukapuka Island. We’d planned to circumnavigate our way clockwise around it, but turned back soon after we saw how much rougher it was.

Probably a good thing. We needed all the time we could get to make our way back to Long Beach on Russel for the kayaks pick-up. Especially all the more so when I mis-read the map and had us fight the currents to Parekura Bay instead of Moturua Island. Ugh. Lesson learnt. Bring a compass next time. 😦 Still, that little misadventure did not damp our high spirits for what turned out to be an incredible start to our North Island adventure.

Our kayak route around the Bay of Islands
Our kayak route around the Bay of Islands

Spelunking Fun: Waipu Caves New Zealand

Our destination was to the Bay of Islands, but I wanted to break up our drive en route from Auckland. A bit of searching on the interwebs led me to Waipu Caves. Undeveloped caves free for spelunkers to wander around. CHECK. Blackwater rivers to splash around in. CHECK. Thousands of turquoise colored glow worms overhead. CHECK.

We couldn’t wait. Should have seen the grins on our faces too, once we’d waded shin-deep into the clammy waters and adjusted our eyes to the darkness and started to make out the dreamy glow of the glow worms all around us. We were in heaven.

Spelunking in  Waipu Caves
Chris walking towards the Waipu Cave entrance


Spelunking in  Waipu Caves
Near the mouth of Waipu Caves


Spelunking in  Waipu Caves
Figuring out our route – so many passages to explore


Spelunking in  Waipu Caves


It was two hours of pure bliss. We picked our way in the pitch black cut only with the narrow beams of light from our headlamps, through streams and waterfalls, over rocks and stalagmites, stooped our way through tunnels slippery with mud, all the while gawking at the celestial glow of the worms around us. We’d arrived late in the afternoon, just as most of the crowd (maybe two dozen if that!) were making their way out of the caves, so for stretches in the passages, we felt like wanderers exploring the unknown.
Heh, organized caving tours – especially those with running show lights – seem just so blah now.


Exploring the Redwood Forest in Rotorua

Our caving guides back at Waitomo Caves suggested we check out Whakarewarewa Forest – more commonly known as Redwood Forest – if we were looking for cool hiking options in Rotorua.

Most excellent suggestion! We only wished we had more time to spend there – we had only three hours to tread about before the light completely faded. As woods go, this was one of my favorites. The tall and broad straight-backed red woods were a majestic sight to behold, and the rain-cleansed air was redolent with the scent of the pine needles strewn all across the forest floor.

I’d ditched my tripod at home and travelled light this trip, and so pumped up the ISO on my camera as far as I dared to get these series of shots.

North Island New Zealand April 2016-36

North Island New Zealand April 2016-32

North Island New Zealand April 2016-29

North Island New Zealand April 2016-25

Photos as travel momentos

I’ve long outgrown the urge to buy lots of memorabilia to remember my travels by. Whilst the little mementos can be great reminders of the lovely times spent in foreign land, they take up too much space and collect too much dust. Instead, I collect pictures I make. I find it more fulfilling to be involved in the creation of these keepsakes, to the extent that I sometimes struggle to choose between being in the moment or watching the moment from behind a lens.

That feeling came to the forefront again this past weekend, when we were caving in Waitomo, New Zealand. We’d signed up for an ‘extreme’ caving adventure – 3 hours of literally squeezing our way through tight crevices and inching along slick walls above underground rivers. For safety reasons, we weren’t allowed to carry along cameras; our guides did bring along a rugged compact camera which they used to take pictures for us. On the one hand, I was happy to not to abuse my camera in such conditions. I was torn too though, about not being able to make my own pictures – I found myself constantly thinking about the best angle or light to capture the scene before me as I slid my way forward in the near darkness.

Haha, I’ll be honest – I’m still regretting that I wasn’t able to capture a picture of the caves full of glow worms. But hey, there will be further opportunities, and different caves to explore (Lithgow Tunnel in the Blue Mountains!). And in the meantime, we had a blast worming our way around the Waitomo Caves!





* Pictures are not my own

DW_2_Abyss_Girl_Abseiling_Under glowworms


** These pictures are part of the promotional shots that came with our trip pics. One of our guides helped hold the softboxes for a few of those!