I’ve failed at attempting to go to the beach and experience Kiwi summer while I still have time and money. That is, until last week, when I took some time to go up to the Bay of Islands region north of Auckland.
It was easy. And cheap. Really cheap, because I was willing to jump amongst bus lines to get a cheap fare. First, I took the Mana bus up from Auckland from Whangarei. Mana buses are probably the nicest buses I’ve been on, with double-decker buses and free, if spotty, wi-fi. Mana is also often the cheapest; it was $7 roundtrip between Whangarei and Auckland.
The drawback to Mana is that the bus line only covers the North Island, and Whangarei is the farthest north the bus goes. So I would need to connect to get to Paihia (one of the towns in the Bay of Islands), and space out my connections in Whangarei.
Whangarei is a cute town with a boat basin, some cute cafes and a good line of shops. I sat at a cafe where the owners consisted of a Kiwi-American couple. They just revamped the menu and the American asked if I would provide feedback on this veggie panini I ordered. It was good, just needed something crunchy among all the soft filling. The cafe also had a couple of issues of US and People, pre-Golden Globes, so there was some good American celebrity gossip to catch up on.
After lunch, I took InterCity to Paihia ($17 one way: $13 plus $3.99 web booking fee). If I booked with just one bus company, say InterCity, it would have been close to $40 just to get from Auckland to Paihia one way. I took Nakedbus on the way back, Paihia to Whangarei, and it cost $17 as well. So instead of a $40 one-way ticket north, I spent $20 one-way along with a few hours in Whangarei.
If traveling the North Island, it may save you a bit of money take Mana to whatever city center is close, then connect to the farther out destination via InterCity or Naked, depending on which one has the better price and or schedule. This method may not be something worth the savings or time spent connecting, but it’s worth considering.
Then once in Paihia, I stayed in a women’s room at the Base backpackers. It was fine, safe, clean, and close to the beach. I got stuck with a top bunk, boo. The woman on the bottom was a German solo backpacker. The next few days would have 18-year-old British girls doing the Kiwi Experience for their gap years. The last night, I shared the room with someone from Iowa, and we discussed how you never meet any Americans in New Zealand and how the 18-year-old Londoners called 20-somethings on their Kiwi Experience tour “old.” By that measure, Taylor Swift is old and I am eligible for AARP.
For my first first full day in the Bay of Islands, I decided to take the ferry to Russell, on the recommendation of Kiwi and my best friend back in DC. A long, long time ago, Russell was the capital of New Zealand and considered a town considered up to no good. Centuries later to present-day, the Russell strand has Victorian-style houses and hotels, a couple of cafes with tables near the waterside.
For a 15-minute walk, you can go over the hill from the Russell wharf and visit Oneroa, or Long Beach, which is a sand beach (versus the rocky beach along the Russell wharf). On the day I was visiting, there was some light rain, so I waited that out while screwing up my own coffee order.
Once I made the trip, well… take a look below this graf. I didn’t want to leave: Sand and or grass to lay out on, a coffee stand nearby and bright blue water whenever the sun was out.
Eventually, I had to catch by ferry back to Paihia. I went to the Duke of Marlborough first, got some lunch on the waterfront, then hightailed it for the ferry back.
I didn’t do much after the day in Russell, I fell asleep at 9. The next morning, I went to check out El Cafe, close to the hostel, which focuses on Latin food. I’m dubious about Latin food in New Zealand — the local supermarket doesn’t carry dry beans, and I’m sure as hell I can’t find Adobo here. But the food was good, the flat whites were strong, and the wi-fi was free. I went back the day I left for breakfast, coffee, and later for a smoothie before leaving for Auckland.
I left Paihia that afternoon, had my stopover in Whangarei, and happy to get on Mana, so I can charge my phone, read Refinery29, and maybe sleep. Because everyone got off at Whangarei and I was one of the first few on the bus, I got the front seat of the double-decker, which felt like being in the front of the monorail at Disney World.
Eventually I got back to Auckland and met up with Kiwi to share stories: mine from last week and his from visiting as a kid. Once we’re with car, I can’t wait to go back up there since it’s basically three hours away from everyday life.
Everything I mention in this post, I planned for and paid for, so no sponsored endorsements here.