New Zealand Day 1: Kaipara North Head & Dargaville

Auckland to Poutu to Dargaville, NZ (Map) - 312km, 4 hours 12 mins.

Winter 2012/13.


I found myself strangely on the right side of the car, about to put my rental into drive and move towards the Auckland airport rotaries I had moved through in Google Earth prior to coming.

It started back in Hawaii as the hour approached midnight and I boarded my Air New Zealand flight of 9 hours and 9 rows of seats in this giant plane. After those mai tais I actually talked to the passenger next to me for once, showing my inexperience by asking asinine questions about border customs in countries other than Canada or America.

With a great in-flight system including Bear Grylls doing the safety announcement and about 160 movies to choose from, I don't remember sleeping all that much. I do remember watching part of Detropia, laughing at that local tripe as I found myself flying over Kiribati or Wallis & Futina, or wherever I was in the South Pacific.

Eventually a delicious breakfast was served as the sun starting to shine brightly and the rugged destination still somewhere off in the distance.

Landing and approaching customs, it wasn't bad at all, as the woman accepted my explanation of being here for a wedding, only questioning to make sure it wasn't my own. All of the sleep would catch up to me though, as I approached the rental desk and didn't ask for any type of interesting car; instead signing for the assigned, exotic Toyota Corolla.

Slowly putting all of my belongings in the car and setting my GPS to my destination, I realized that you need to download separate maps if you're on another continent. Great.

I pulled forward confused with how to drive out of the lot, but stopped and let a circling car go ahead of me. Following them, life was much easier as I mocked their opposite side driving into & out of the rotaries and onto the expressway north towards Auckland.

I would have to go right through the heart of the Auckland near rush hour this morning, so I did my best to stay in my lane and imitate everything that was backwards to me. I can't remember the number of times I turned on the windshield wipers when I wanted to indicate a turn, or the number of times I tuned the radio station when I simply wanted to turn up the volume.

I can't remember why the heck I got off the highway in Auckland, but for some reason I did & it was suddenly a trial by fire. After a good 1/2 hour of trying to get back on the highway, I finally shot through the Auckland Harbour Bridge and left the city behind.

Stopping in Warkworth for lunch & coffee, I would encounter the problem where my credit card didn't work for the first of many times. Here I thought you could use them anywhere, but it wasn't working at this restaurant and I had to go use an ATM? I would also return to the car and discover that it didn't have a cup holder? What is this, the British influence where we can't drink in cars and they're simply for sharp turns?!? Nothing like driving on the left side with only one hand as you try to drink your coffee.

Who cares about all of that though. The scenery was growing so beautiful that I strained to find any place to pull over on the winding roads, in order to take pictures and take my time as dozens of cars raced by.

After about an hour on the State Highway 1, I left it for the more rural State Highway 12, cutting across the North Island to the western side. The land changed into rolling farmland with sparse trees.

The settlements were spread out up here, so I took a break by pulling down the farm lane to check out this Anglican church.

I briefly went inside, but it wasn't anything special, looking more like the local beer consumption spot of late. These fabulous arched doorways were much more appealing.

Continuing along until I stopped in the arid and dry hamlet of Ruawai, I quite enjoyed the fact that they had public washrooms down by the harbour (and apparently, most New Zealand towns do). They also had $4 bottles of water, which I wasn't so excited about.

I had to drive 25km to the north if I wanted to get to the other side of the Wairoa River as the only bridge was in Dargaville. From Dargaville, I would go back south along a rural peninsula of narrow and curvy roads, in addition to 20km of unpaved roads at the end.

This end is marked by the tiny village of Poutu, where a small parking lot is established for beach goers and those who've come here to hike out to the Kaipara North Head Lighthouse. Walking past the lighthouse b&b, through a small forest and onto the beach, it was time for a 6km hike and to do something besides drive my rental.

I only had that $4 water with me, so the agua needed to be rationed.

Another problem was the overheating because I had to wear more clothes than I would have liked, on account of the harsh sunrays down here. I didn't exactly want to show up to the wedding looking like a lobster.

A Masked Lapwing and chick along the way. These were the only birds I saw on the entire beach.

I had more than a litre of water, but that wasn't a comfortable amount. There were certainly a few times that I considered turning around...but with limited personal days here in New Zealand, I couldn't be failing left, right & centre already.

The problem was that I couldn't even see the lighthouse ahead and that made me start to question my facts. Was it 6km round trip? Was it 6km each way? Is this so hard because of the shifting sand beneath my feet? Should I walk closer to the water? No, it was easier near the dunes. No wait, I think it's easier back near the water...

After what seemed like forever, or at the very least a paltry 3km, I finally beheld the lighthouse's lantern room, poking out from behind the dune to my north.

Overheated and dehydrated, I plodded up the soft dune, which sank below me like fresh snow powder.

I knew how beautiful this lighthouse was in research and that gave me motivation this day, to not only drive so far out of my way, but to keep going when I could have used more water.

Really though, a minor amount of discomfort to attain the above view?

I sat here and took it all in, finally getting hit in the face of being in a foreign especially beautiful foreign country.

The above picture was the shot and viewpoint of the trip for me.

The Kaipara North Head Lighthouse was completed in 1884 and is one of the few wooden lighthouses left in New Zealand. It was integral for navigation of the Kaipara Bar, which was a hazard for ships trying to enter the Kaipara Harbour to harvest the kauri lumber of the area.

After eating a snack and finishing the last millilitres of my water, I walked atop the dunes back towards my car.

Slowly Kaipara Head would disappear beneath the sand line and all that was visible was the Tasman Sea beyond.

^The village of Poutu.

Of course the return hike and drive back didn't seem to take as long, as they never do.

In addition to the feeling of driving to an absolute corner of New Zealand, I loved the fact that I could actually stop with ease on the Poutu Road to take landscape pictures and gawk at various things. It wasn't even that there was much more space, it was that there were just very few people going to isolated hamlet of Poutu.

I would return to Dargaville in the evening hours, looking at the map ahead and not seeing any large towns on the horizon. I could have kept driving, but this place seemed interesting, so I decided to call it a day.

After visiting the supermarket and finding myself in a maze of foreign beers, I went into town for accommodations, skipping the sketchy looking $35/night place for the acceptable, much better $44/night Northern Wairoa Hotel.

So New Zealand also still has these old hotels like the one in Hawaii?


After asking the desk girl about a good place to eat and subsequently walking across the street for Indian food, I returned to the hotel & was pretty sure I was the only person there. Through a strange left hook of a staircase, I came to a hallway of dim, red lights and silent upper floors.

I went to take a shower and the shared room was tucked away, dark and oddly-shaped.

I truly loved the Northern Wairoa Hotel for how unique and amazing this all was. Hopefully people come to Dargaville annually for some reason, so places like this can continue to exist.

Sitting in my tv-less room, I texted Warriner to let him know that I was in New Zealand. He then asked where I found myself. His fiance was confused when he asked her where the heck 'Dargaville' was.

I guess I wasn't on the typical tourist trail.

I would read in my room as I didn't feel like sitting in the communal, television room.

Of course this hotel was the type of place that didn't have screens in the windows or screws holding them shut; so I lifted the heavy sliding window and propped it open. Directly outside was the fire escape which ran across the front of the building. I pulled the window sheers out of the way and leaned outside. Dargaville was awfully quiet as I sipped something strange and relaxed in the cool night air.

Waking up the next morning, I explored the riverside town for the better part of an hour.

You can see the $35/night place above. I'd love to stay there now that I'd tried the other Dargaville hotel and had such a memorable experience.

After buying a tiny coffee and visiting the local bank to try and figure out why my credit card only sometimes worked in New Zealand, I had dawdled about Dargaville long enough. It was time to head north on State Highway 12.

Continue to Day 2!


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NZ-HI Trip:

Hawaii, Day 1: North Hawai'i, Day 2: East Hawai'i, Day 3: Mauna Kea Hawai'i, Day 4: South Hawai'i, Day 5: Oahu - Pearl Harbor, Waikiki
New Zealand, Day 1: Kaipara North Head, Dargaville New Zealand, Day 2: Cape Reinga New Zealand, Day 3/4/5: Thru North Island & Back New Zealand, Day 5/6/7/8/9: The Wedding  
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1 - Kaipara North Lighthouse - New Zealand Historic Places Trust