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Dolphins and sand boarding: What to do in Paihia, northern New Zealand

New Zealand's North Island has long been shadowed by the adventurous South, with its fjords, mountains and dramatic settings, boasting every watersport known to man. But the North is well worth visiting, too – so much so that the Reporter decided to dedicate a series to the forgotten island. This is the first part of New Zealand's Lost Island.

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Many visitors to New Zealand invest their time and money on the South Island, which carries the mountains, the well-known fjords and the skiing. But if your flight schedule brings you to Auckland on the North Island, it would be a shame to miss out on the stunning scenes, the fun and the tranquility of the narrow peninsula north of Auckland. Much of the tourism industry here is centered at the town of Paihia, close the The Bay of Islands. The bay got its name from Captain James Cook who navigated these waters in 1769. To be honest, though, there isn’t much else to do in Paihia other than selecting out of the wide range of tours. A few restaurants, a grocery store and multiple nice surroundings suitable of walks make up most of what’s available.

 

Should you get bored with all the activities that the sea has to offer, there is always the sand boarding. This is one of the more bizarre activities around here: Climb a high sand dune, get on a small board, and glide down the hill in a sandy cloud.

Early one morning, I get on a bus that takes me on a round tour through a number of attractions around the peninsula. The cheerful driver does his best to weld the group together, inviting all members to play music from their Ipods on the bus’ speaker system.

“This is not really a bus,” he explains as it bounces violently down a dirt road towards a beach. “This is a terrain-going multi-purpose vehicle.”

We emerge on the Ninety Mile Beach, a long stretch of beach used by local New Zealanders as a road. Toyota Landcruisers are everywhere.

Having seen the beach, we then head for the sand boarding. The driver dives the bus down into a wet river bed, revving the engine to keep the vehicle moving. “You cannot stop here, if we stop we’re stuck,” yells the driver happily.

We finally stop on more solid ground at the sand dunes, dark and wet from the recent rain. Everyone is given a board, and the driver leads the group to a summit of sand. One by one, we lay on our belly and kick ourselves in motion.

The glide down om the sand is fast and hilariously fun. We get sand everywhere — underwear, cameras, eyes, mouths, wallets, hair.

Sand boarding in New Zealand. Photo: Traveling Reporter/Erik Bergin

Sand boarding in New Zealand. Photo: Traveling Reporter/Erik Bergin

 

The weather can often be rainy here in the north, so it’s a good idea to pack a light rain coat or plastic parka. As the bus tour arrives at one of its last stops, the lighthouse on New Zealand’s northernmost point, a place called Cape Rienga that is sacred to the natives, it starts to pour.

As if that weren’t enough, I make another disappointing discovery. My camera, it turns out, wasn’t ready to deal with the sand boarding. Now it refuses to focus. I make a mental note: Next time you decide it’s a good idea to glide down a sandy slope, leave the camera behind.

 

Fact box Paihia
Paihia is the main tourist town in the Bay of Islands in the far north of the North Island of New Zealand. It is located close to the historic towns of Russell, and Kerikeri, 60 kilometres north of Whangarei. Source: Wikipedia

 

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The editor of the Traveling Reporter works as a business news editor, and is a frequent traveler. When not doing any of that, he spends time on his boat and tries to figure out where to travel next. Two of his top destinations are the Philippines and San Francisco. Email Erik! Follow the Traveling Reporter at Stumbleupon, Tumblr, Chime In, Pinterest, Google+, Weibo, Storify, Facebook, Traveldudes, Myspace.