The Gentle Giants of Waipoua

November 19, 2016

As we continued our journey southward, the landscape began to change dramatically. New Zealand, as we’ve mentioned countless times already, is a true feast for the eyes. After the sand dune surfing we made an attempt to get to the west coast to see the infamous Ninety Mile Beach, but the stipulations of our camper van rental precluded us from driving along the grand west coast of New Zealand’s northern peninsula. That’s fine. It was rugged ATV-level terrain anyway.

You might be surprised to learn that the so-called Ninetly Mile Beach isn’t even Ninety Kilometre Beach! The length is an impressive 88 kilometres, or just shy of 55 miles, along the straight west coast in the photo from Wikipedia below:

NASA Satellite Imagery of Ninety Mile Beach (from Wikipedia)

NASA Satellite Imagery of Ninety Mile Beach (Wikipedia)

We made a stop for groceries and gas before continuing to our camping stop for the night outside of Raetea Forest. The campground used to be a freedom camping site until the Department of Conservation had to shut down access to the public washrooms due to repeated vandalism. We opted to park outside the area anyway to rest up before our forest trek through the kauri tree forest the next day.

Since we didn’t get a chance to really enjoy Ninety Mile Beach, we stopped at a gorgeous spot in Opononi and put our feet in the water. The ocean’s still pretty chilly and the sunny days have tricked us into thinking that we’ve arrived in the summertime. Bronwyn would later regret not getting changed and swimming since the water was so nice.

Bronwyn on Opononi Beach

Poor Bronwyn. Don’t worry. You’ll get to go in the ocean soon.

When we arrived at Waipoua Kauri forest to see Tāne Mahuta, the largest tree in New Zealand, we lucked out with timing. I was filming the short trek towards the great tree (its name translates into “Lord of the Forest” in Māori) just as a tour guide was delivering her excellent spiel about Kauri Dieback disease, a ground fungus that’s plaguing the ancient agathis australis trees of New Zealand. They estimate that the tree is around 2,000 years old

We had only planned on visiting Tāne Mahuta originally, but after listening to her presentation we learned of an even older tree a few kilometres south along the highway we were taking: Te Matua Ngahere (“Father of the Forest”), which is estimated at a staggering 3,000 years of age. There it stood, solemn and solitary, silent and surrounded by the song of tui birds in the enveloping forest.

Te Matua Ngahere Kauri Tree in New Zealand

The Great Elder Te Matua Ngahere – when 3000 years you reach, look as good you will not.

The road south from the Kauri Walks trail (which also included the Four Sisters kauri, not pictured above) was among the more insane winding roads we’ve encountered on this trip and the first time we were worried about the camper van’s mettle to climb hills and turn corners without rolling over in the process. Not a pretty picture. Once the land levelled out, we decided to stop at a riverside freedom camping grounds in Port Albert Domain – a diversion from the path we were taking towards Auckland but worth it for the sunset. It was Halloween at this point and I lived up to my promise of going out as as shaggy bearded vagabond.

The sunset from inside a van at Port Albert Domain in New Zealand for

The sunset rain in Port Albert Domain falls mainly on the roof of my watertight camper van shelter.

Author: Christian

Middle school teacher on hiatus/budding permaculturalist currently cycling the world. Sometimes he acts in plays and film. Mostly he travels and blogs about it. Christian is one of the founders of

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