Meet in central Auckland at 8:30am and follow the east coast northwards out of Auckland with a quick cafe stop for anyone who missed breakfast. A short deviation to a limestone cave gives you a chance to see one of the best glowworm spectacles in the country (expect wet feet!). After a picnic lunch here we continue on to the historic township of Russell, a charming little harbour settlement and New Zealand's original capital. We arrive early afternoon. Check into your accommodation before enjoying a swim, an amble on the beach or just a glass of wine and a chat with your fellow travellers. Later on we drive a few minutes to the peninsula's end before returning to enjoy a barbeque dinner in the hotel garden-nook. If it's not barbeque weather we'll pop into a local caf or pizzeria. Today is an easy day, but get us to where the fun starts.
After a 30 minute drive east you reach the beginning of today's first hike. Traverse up through regenerating native bush to a ridge top and look down on hidden sandy coves and rocky headlands. Catching your breath, gaze out across the bright blue Pacific Ocean. Descend to a wonderful swim spot and then walk through bush, passing huge steel pots amid the ruins of the old whaling station. These stations are a sad reminder of the many humpback and southern right whales which were once hunted here. Many of New Zealand's first European settlers came for the sealing and whaling rather than our beautiful natural environment! We hike back to the vehicle before a short drive takes us to our second hike. Pukehuia at 345m is the highest hill and best viewpoint in the entire Bay of Islands area. The track climbs steadily up with plenty of view points on the way. On return we stop at a perfect bush-fringed bay of lapping water and moored yachts This cute cove of turquoise water is the ideal place to wash away your exertion. It is a short drive back to Russell and your accommodation. Tonight you eat at one of the many lovely cafes and restaurants (own cost) on Russell's waterfront.
This morning you travel by vehicle ferry across to Opua and drive through Paihia, the main tourist centre of the Bay of Islands, before driving north to Whangaroa. You have the option of a fantastic half-day guided kayaking trip along the coast (optional extra) or a hike into a beautiful forested-fringed inlet. This hike sidles up and over a small saddle passing through sub-tropical forest before meeting the stream and mangroves at the head of the inlet. On a warm day plop into the pools to cool off. The trail follows this coastline of red volcanic headlands and island outcrops a short distance a historic hut. You can swan around on the hut deck enjoying the peace and quiet, or stomp your way up the spectacular old volcanic plug (Duke's Nose) for views. Later catch the water taxi back to the jetty where the vehicle waits. A short drive takes you to Mangonui where the group enjoys a simple meal of fish and chips at the famous Fish Shop bar on the old wharf. An early evening drive north gets you to a remote old homestead lodge in the middle of the dunes on the edge of 90 Mile Beach. A little more rustic than your previous accommodation this eco lodge more than makes up for it with its amazing location and wonderful atmosphere.
A one hour drive brings you to the tip of the North Island where there is the chance to explore some of the trails of the Cape Reinga walkway. Hike a less visited part of the cape's coastline. Cross Te Paki Station to the surreal iron-stained sand dunes of Cape Maria Van Diemen. Climbing high, get grand views of this incredible piece of New Zealand landscape. Wander along an expansive stretch of empty beach before ending up on the edge of the world at the Cape Reinga lighthouse where the Pacific Ocean meets the Tasman Sea. In the afternoon explore Te Paki's massive sand dunes with the option to sandboard down these fine faces. If time allows you may choose to do a cliff top walk to the stunning white sands and blue waters of Tapotupotu. In the mid afternoon return to your lodge and relax in this beautiful spot. After a good meal, sit on the veranda and enjoy life as you watch the sun set over the Tasman Sea. Being so far from any light pollution the starry nights up north are quite remarkable.
You leave the far north early today and begin the journey southwards, passing through Kaitaia and across the sleepy Hokianga Harbour on a car ferry. In Maori mythology Hokianga is the returning place of the great Maori navigator Kupe. At Waipoua Forest you get to see New Zealand's biggest kauri tree Tane Mahuta; it's easy to feel humble beneath him. The last walk before heading south to Auckland is through the Trounson Kauri Reserve, an intensively managed mainland conservation 'island' surrounded by a sea of farmland. Trounson is one of the best kauri forests in the country and also provides refuge for many threatened species including the brown kiwi. Arrive in Auckland at approximately 5:00pm.