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far_north_beach.jpgEmma Smith takes a break from her desk, packs up her car and explores Northland over the summer holidays.

When I discovered a dear friend was coming to New Zealand from England I could hardly contain my excitement. Thea was arriving to spend a night with me in Auckland before heading to Wellington and on to the south Island.
 
Her solo trip to those beautiful parts of New Zealand lasted three weeks then it was my turn to show off fabulous Northland.
 
After many months trying to plan but failing to achieve anything significant I decided we’d just jump in the car and see where the wind blew us.
 
I had her for just over a week so decided our first port of call would be the picturesque Bay of Islands and chose Russell as the perfect place to rest our heads on arrival.
 
In the past I’d always stayed at The Duke of Marlbourgh Hotel (below) but was quiet hesitant to stay there again due to a disappointing visit a couple of years ago.
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However, on hearing the old boy had new owners who had started to refurbish the once grand hotel, I was absolutely delighted and decided the Duke was for us.
 
Once there we discovered the current owners’ vision is to bring the hotel back to its former glory and they are certainly heading in the right direction.
 
The former dreary interior is slowly being replaced with elegant furnishings. Clever design work means the update has been managed without the Duke loosing the character and grandeur that makes it so special.
 
And when we visited the menu was special too, in fact, out of this world. The standard of cuisine certainly went beyond my expectations as did the wine we washed it down with.
 
Day two of our trip saw us head up the east coast towards Kaitaia stopping and both Taupo Bay and the lovely little settlement of Mangonui (below).

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Like any tourist we had to visit the famous Mangonui Fish and Chip shop to experience it first hand. We ordered our “Fush ‘n’ Chups” and managed to clear quite a substantial space in their cabinet with a few delicious purchases for dinner that night.
 
We were heading to Ahipara at the most southern point of Ninety Mile Beach. On studying. Thea’s Lonely Planet book the night before, we had discovered a wonderful sounding backpackers called, Endless Summer Lodge at Shipwreck Bay (below). A quick phone call in the morning secured us accommodation for the night with the option to stay on if we wanted to.
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On arrival we were speechless. And for anyone who knows me this is a rare occurrence. The restored 1880 villa we were calling home that night was just beautiful.
 
A very friendly old Border collie quickly announced to the owners and everyone one in the bay that we’d arrived. Our hosts Anna and Blaine were extremely welcoming making us realise we’d stumbled across a real gem. We immediately booked for a second night.
 
I have stayed in a few backpackers in my lifetime but this place was something else. Our room was spotless and the furnishings made us feel we were staying at a friend’s home certainly not in budget accommodation.
 
The house rule of no television was spot on. Guests were encouraged to mingle and the undercover outdoor area just off the kitchen was where it all happened. Importantly, the kitchen facilities were fantastic – not a chipped plate or old, battered fry pan in sight.
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Shipwreck Bay 

After our two wonderful nights at Shipwreck Bay we headed towards the Karikari Peninsula for a spot of camping as recommended by some of our new-found friends.
 
Maitai Bay (below) was to be home for the next couple of nights. We managed to find a spot close to the shore and after pitching the tent headed to one of the two beaches to cool off. I have to say at this point I was again speechless – twice in three days is a record. The location was idyllic – two perfect bays and water so clear it was unbelievable.
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The following morning we woke to the sound of rain. On checking the weather forecast we saw it wasn’t going anywhere in a hurry so we packed up camp and headed towards Paihia. The rain failed to dampen our spirits and it was off to Waitangi to visit the Treaty House and surrounds.
 
After a very comfortable night at the Kingsgate Hotel in Paihia we repacked the car and began making our way back to the big smoke.
 
On the way home I realised something quite special. I had, on this trip, seen New Zealand as a tourist and not as a local. It made me appreciate what we have right on our doorstep and not take it for granted.
 
As a result, my New Year’s resolution is not to lose weight or join the gym it’s to take more time out to explore every little piece of our Pacific paradise. I’m not sure where the wind will blow me next but, hey, that’s the best part. Thanks for having us Northland we had a blast.

Emma Smith
22 February 2011


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