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Bay of Islands. Photo by Andrea Lai https://flic.kr/p/aASWJb.

The Ultimate Northland, New Zealand Itinerary [+ HD Video]

While I’m back home in New Zealand for six weeks, I decided to jump on my beloved Kawasaki Versys and travel to the very tip of New Zealand and discover the best sights, food, and quirkiest accommodation on the Northland Twin Coast Discovery Highway.

Highlights of Northland include:

  • Adventure activities and the blue waters of the Bay of Islands
  • Seeing where the Maori and Europeans signed the Treaty of Waitangi
  • Hiking around the tip of NZ
  • Sandboarding
  • Walking among the mighty Kauri trees in the Waipoua forest
  • Swimming at some of New Zealand’s best beaches and lakes

It’s a rather tame ride along the Twin Coast Discovery Highway compared to my previous trip through the extreme beauty and danger of Ladakh and Kashmir. This ride is more about lush green beauty, adventure activities, beaches, and high-speed riding.

This isn’t my first time in Northland. It’s my third. The last time I ventured to the “subtropical” far north of New Zealand, the weather was terrible, and my iPhone died in a torrential downpour while braving the elements to visit the very tip of New Zealand, Cape Reinga, where the Tasman Sea and the Pacific Ocean meet. Not so fun.

The Twin Coast Discovery Highway + Cape Reinga Route

The Ultimate Northland, New Zealand Itinerary Map

Day 1: Auckland to Paihia (258 km, 4 hours)

 

Do: You need a full afternoon in far North’s tourism capital Paihia. Don’t miss the beautiful lush Waitangi Treaty Grounds where the treaty between Maori and Europeans was signed, the nearby Haruru Falls, and the stunning Hole in the Rock adventure cruise – out on the water is where Paihia, aka The Bay of Islands, shines!

If you have more time in Paihia go on a kayaking adventure, fishing, or swim with dolphins.

If you feel like a taking a dip in mineral-rich natural hot springs, head to the centre of the island and soak in the 14 different pools at Ngawha Springs.

Just before Paihia: If you have never experienced glow worms before, then the Kawiti Glow Worm Caves are worth stopping for an hour to check out!

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Eat: Head 3 km out of town to the renowned Haruru Falls Takeaways for amazing burgers and classic Northland Hoki & Chips.

Sleep: Take the car ferry over to Russell (15 km, 40 min). Russell is the picturesque first permanent European settlement just across the water from Paihia. Stay at the Orongo Bay Holiday Park in one of their unique American Indian Tipi accommodations or their glamping tents.

Tipi accommodation at Orongo Holiday Park.

Tipi accommodation at Orongo Holiday Park. Photo by Orongo Holiday Park.

If you want to stay in Paihia, The Mousetrap Backpackers or Haka Lodge Backpackers are both excellent places, Haka is right bang in the centre of town and Mousetrap is about 300m away down a sleepy street. The only downside to Haka is they have no on-site parking and you can’t park overnight on many of the surrounding streets. I found a free place to park about 150m away on Bayview Road.

Day 2: Paihia to Cape Reinga (213 km, 3 hours) to Kaitaia (111 km, 1.5 hours)

There are two ways from Kaitaia to Cape Reinga, by road or beach. If you’re riding an adventure bike, then you can take state highway 1 up and ride down Ninety Mile Beach (an official highway in NZ) back to Kaitaia.

Do: An hour out of Paihia is Coopers Beach which is an idyllic place to cool off in the water and devour what’s commonly known as the best fish & chips in NZ from the nearby Monganui Fish Shop.

A few kilometres before Cape Reinga is the Giant Te Paki Sand Dunes. Rent a board, climb up, and slide down!

Once you’ve checked out the view from the lighthouse at Cape Reinga, take the short 3 km return (1 hour) walking track to Sandy Bay from the car park to check out the rocky coastline. If you have more time and energy take the Te Werahi Beach track afterwards too (2.5 km return, 1 hour).

Cape Reinga 5. Photo © Karl Rock.

Cape Reinga. Photo © Karl Rock.

Eat: Fish of the day at the Monganui Fish Shop is something you can’t miss on your way to Cape Reinga. They’re situated on the water at the end of town, the view from the restaurant is a standout!

Blue Nose and Chips at the Mangonui Fish Shop. Photo © Karl Rock.

Blue Nose and Chips at the Mangonui Fish Shop. Photo © Karl Rock.

On the way back from Cape Reianga stop at Te Kao Store for one of their massive ice creams.

Sleep: Instead of going back to Kaitaia where there’s plenty of accommodation, I stopped at the remote and highly-recommended Wagner Holiday Park, 70 km from Cape Reinga. It didn’t disappoint! Another place I’ve stayed at is Northwind Lodge Backpacker at the nearby Henderson Bay, it’s secluded, picturesque, and his it’s own beach too.

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Day 3: Kaitaia to Dargaville (174 km, 3 hours)

During this ride, you’ll be taking the $5 Hokianga Ferry to cross to the historical township of Rawene where you can get a glimpse into early colonial life.

If you’ve ever heard the story of Opo the friendly dolphin who used to play with beachgoers and even let children ride on his back, then you should stop by sandy Opononi and swim where Opo used to. If you want to hear the story, stop at Opononi i-SITE to watch a short documentary about Opo.

Opo the dolphin playing

Opo the dolphin playing

Do: If you decide to take state highway 1 instead of the ferry, then stop for a walk among the boulders at Basalt Boulder Valley.

Also in Opononi is sandboarding. If you go at high tide you can slide over and into the clear waters of Hokianga Harbour!

Opononi. Photo © Karl Rock.

Opononi. Photo © Karl Rock.

Before you hit Dargaville stop once more to check out the lush Waipoua Forest. It’s an ancient forest of towering trees and rare birds. Just five minutes walk from the road you can spot the largest kauri tree in NZ, and that you’ll probably ever see – it’s around 2000 years old!

Over 2000 years old! Photo © Karl Rock.

Over 2000 years old! Photo © Karl Rock.

The significance of Kauri: Kauri trees are one of the world’s mightiest. They grow over 50 m tall and 16 m wide and live for thousands of years. Their wood was perfect for building boats, carving, and houses, and their gum great as a fire starter. The decimation of kauri began in the 1700s with the arrival of European settlers. The Wapoua forest was saved from destruction due to their remoteness, and in 1987 it became protected by the Department of Conservation as well as all kauri on private land throughout NZ.

The Kai Iwi Lakes are a perfect place to take a break and enjoy a dip in the crystal-blue waters surrounded by white sand. They’re two of the deepest and largest dune lakes in NZ. In summer they’re popular for swimming, fishing, and waterskiing.

Eat: Dargaville is known for its kumara (sweet potato) so stop at Blah Blah Blah Cafe for one of the many dishes featuring locally grown kumara.

Sleep: If you’re camping then stop before Dargaville at the tranquil Kai Iwi Lakes Campground.

Day 4: Dargaville to Auckland (176 km, 2.5 hours)

Do: On the way back to Auckland stop off at the quaint little village of Matakana. Every Saturday from 8 am – 1 pm they host the best local farmers market I’ve ever experienced. You can find all sorts of locally made produce and delicacies such as artisan baking, Italian sausages, organic chocolate, olive oil, coffee and more.

If you want to relax at a beautiful golden sand beach with mild surf then head to Omaha which is just 10 minutes away from Matakana.

Eat: Get an outdoor table at the Matakana Village Pub and enjoy a big juicy burger. The Tuck Shop is another good choice if you’re after a quick bite to eat.

After passing through Walkworth, a great place to stop to pick up great NZ made honey is the Honey Centre Walkworth. I always stop here to buy hard-to-find unprocessed honeycomb. It’s cut straight from the hive and packaged!

If you’re after great cheese, then your final stop before Auckland should be the Puhoi Valley Cheese Company’s factory. It’s just a few kilometres off state highway 1 past the tiny Puhoi township.

My bike outside Te Kao Store, New Zealand. Photo © Karl Rock.

Super Light Motorcycle Packing for a Short Trip

There’s nothing worse than your motorcycle being weighted down by heavy panniers. Overloading your bike makes the bike handle terribly when you’re meant to be enjoying the bike. When I went on a short 4-day trip around Northland, New Zealand here’s what I pack in a single rear pannier (or a backpack if you want).

All I need for a 4 day motorcycle trip. Photo © Karl Rock.

Clothing

This is excluding my riding gear, which I’ll be wearing while riding.

  • 1 x Jeans
  • 1 x Belt
  • 1 x Long sleeve shirt – I’ll wear this under my riding jacket but also with my jeans when I get out of my riding pants.
  • 1 x Light pants and top for sleeping
  • 1 x Swimming or gym shorts
  • 1 x Walking shoes
  • 2 x Socks
  • 2 x Underwear
  • Optional: I’ll carry a poncho if I think it’s going to rain. Even though my riding gear is waterproof, I like to avoid not having to dry it.

Miscellaneous

  • Small hand towel – a hand towel is sufficient to dry yourself
  • 10 x Muesli bars – for snacks
  • Toothbrush & toothpaste
  • Sunblock
  • GoPro
  • USB charger
  • Mobile phone
  • 3 x Plastic bags – for a wet towel, shoes, and clothing
  • Medication
My idea of a Nightmare. Photo by Chris Baird.

My idea of a Nightmare. Photo by Chris Baird.

Things you don’t need

  • Soap – hotels and hostels supply this
  • Laptop – my phone can do everything I need while away albeit a bit slower
  • Jumper or jacket – use your motorcycle jacket instead
  • A ton of clothing – if it’s a short trip you’ll survive wearing your clothes multiple times
Super light bike packing. Photo © Karl Rock.

My Kawasaki Versys 650 packed minimally with a single rear pannier (and locked to my bike with a terrible pink cable) for a recent trip around Northland, New Zealand.

If you want to travel light in a mild climate, check out my super light packing list.

Me in Royal Enfield Motorcycle Gear. Photo © Karl Rock.

Royal Enfield Motorcycle Gear Review (Helmet, Gloves, Jacket)

When my friend Gaurav asked me if I wanted to go on an off-road motorcycle trip with his Royal Enfield Himalayan Group, my answer was obvious. I’d be craving to get back on a bike since arriving in India, and this was my chance to begin riding on Indian roads. So, I did what any sane biker would do. I went and got kitted up!

I needed the basics: helmet, gloves, jacket, and boots (I already had my excellent and long lasting Dririder riding pants). I only knew one motorcycle store in India at that time, Royal Enfield. So I headed to the upmarket Khan Market store in Delhi to do some shopping. The Khan Market store is one of their flagships. The company’s Head of Apparel, Samrat Som, also happened to be there when I visited. Bonus! Samrat was a great guy. He didn’t mention who he was but explained to me a lot about their gear – hence why I looked up who I had been speaking too as he went above and beyond the typical employee at the store.

So far so good.

What I bought

Where locals buy their gear in India

The next day when Gaurav saw what I’d brought, he laughed. The look of slight disbelief on his face told me I’d done something wrong. Turns out, a Royal Enfield showroom is the last place a local would buy their gear. Typical foreigner mistake. Then he enlightened me. Major cities have entire markets dedicated to motorcycles and gear. In Delhi, it’s Gaffar Market in Karol Bhag. Doh!

Before our next trip to Ladakh and Kashmir, Gaurav took me to Gaffar Market to buy extra gear for the tough ride. To be fair, Gaffar Market is not for the uninitiated foreigner. You need to know the right shops to visit, and not all shop keepers speak English. Some good shops are hidden inside little alley ways inside buildings. You’ll be walking past people manufacturing motorcycle seats and accessories on your way to certain stores. It’s a bit like walking around a motorcycle repair shop, manufacturing plant, and dingy retail show room in one.

Back to the ride

The very next day, I took the new helmet, gloves, and jacket out of Delhi as we rode into the seldom visited state of Haryana. Eventually, we turned down a shady dirt road and ended up. It was like in a horror movie where the cast turns off the main road and ride into the unknown, but instead, we ended up in a traditional Haryanvi village. What struck me was that every single person was carrying a large, thick wooden stick. It’s called a “lath” and it’s used for scaring away monkeys, walking, and security and protection. Sounds handy huh?

Where we ended up. Photo © Karl Rock.

Where we ended up. Photo © Karl Rock.

Then guess who got a puncture? Yup. Lucky someone at the village had a puncture repair kit and generously took us back to his place and fixed it. Not to mention another village we stopped at taking us in and giving us tea and biscuits. That’s village hospitality for you!

The villagers house in Haryana. Photo © Karl Rock.

A villager’s house in Haryana. Photo © Karl Rock.

Review – The good and the bad

Since that ride, I’ve taken the above gear everywhere with me. Including the City Riding Gloves to New Zealand where I wore them daily for 5 months. They were the only item to fail. After 5 months use, they had had it. My finger eventually ripped through the weak seam. Besides poor durability, they also leaked a ton of dye onto my hands! When I first wore them, my hand was slightly dyed black! A light shower would make the dye run all over my hand even worse, discolouring it for a while. To try to remove some dye I soaked them in water and began pushing the dye out. That helped a bit. They lost at lot colour but the dye on my hand became manageable. Obviously, avoid these gloves!

Street Nimbus Helmet on the back of my dirty RE Himalayan. Photo © Karl Rock.

Street Nimbus Helmet on the back of my dirty RE Himalayan. Photo © Karl Rock.

The Street Nimbus Helmet and Safari Touring Jacket faired better. I even got to test them in an accident where I ran into black ice and landed on my shoulder and head then slid down the ice covered road on a frozen mountain pass in Ladakh. I received a torn left shoulder muscle from the fall. Without the gear, no doubt it would have been worse. The helmet and jacket are still in great condition too. That may have had something to do with landing on smooth ice rather than rough gravel road which grates your gear.

One annoyance I had with the helmet was that Royal Enfield does not sell spare or tinted visors for them! Once it’s scratched, you’re screwed. Their helmets are made by Shiro in Italy and no spare parts are available in India. Whereas the helmets sold at Gaffar market are fully supported with accessories.

Why did my friend laugh at me? Pricing.

Gaurav knew I’d paid too much for my gear. Royal Enfield gear is overpriced compared to what you’ll get for your money at a motorcycle market. When I went with him to buy a helmet, he got a superior model for half the price of mine. Everything is 25 – 40% cheaper at the markets. For the price I paid for my gear at the showroom, I could have bought better gear there.

That being said, if you’re a foreigner the price you’re paying at an RE showroom is cheap. Goods from the market are cheaper but they have the risk of being notoriously bad quality. A pair of boots generic riding boots I bought at the market for Rs. 5000 ($78 USD) lasted me only 2 weeks in Ladakh & Kashmir before the stitching, zips, and soles began to fail. Not so great. If you’re shopping at the market, you have to know what you’re buying and give it a thorough quality check before buying.

So neither the Royal Enfield showroom or motorcycle market is perfect. If you don’t mind paying extra, then the Royal Enfield showroom is a good place to buy decent gear (except Helmets). If you have time to explore the market and know enough to quality check the goods then you’ll get more bang for your bucket at the market.

KTM RC 390 on the track. Photo by KTM.

The 10 Best & Worst Things About the KTM RC 390

I recently took a 2016 KTM RC 390 from Delhi to Rohtak, Haryana to eat the largest paratha in the world. I’d wanted to get some more experience on a sports bike for a while now since I predominately ride upright adventure tourers like the Kawasaki Versys 650 or the Royal Enfield Himalayan.

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Homemade Aloo Paratha. Photo by Abigail Becker.

Eating the Largest Paratha in the World

I’ve always had a love affair with Parathas. How can you resist them? Imagine naan bread but thinner, made instead with whole wheat flour, stuffed with potato, chillies and spices, then simmered and covered in butter. It’s heaven in the morning. The only thing better than an Aloo (potato) Paratha is an Amritsari Kulcha, but that’s another article altogether.

My paratha consumption had begun to fall drastically when I discovered the joys of Chole Bhature. I got addicted to Chole Bhature and for the last few months had been trying to make up for the last 32 years of my life having avoided chole (chickpeas). I was neglecting Parathas. It was time to fix this injustice.

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