Before we left Whangarei, we went to look at the AH Reed Park and Whangarei Falls. AH Reed Park is an area of natural bushland with kauri trees, with a walkway which takes you through the forest at a reasonable height, so you can look down into the forest as well as looking up above. The falls are just outside town and feature a pleasant walk from the top level of the river down to the bottom, with plenty of opportunities for picturesqueness in between.
Driving north from Whangarei, we stopped along the way at Matapouri, to take a quick walk along the way to Whale Bay, one of New Zealand’s best beaches, and not accessible by car – you have to park and then walk quite a way to reach it. We planned to walk along the headland track but the tide was in, and you can only get round there when it’s out, so instead we went over the ridgeway track instead.
We arrived in Paihia in the middle of the afternoon, on a sunny day when the temperature hit 30°. Hot for New Zealand! We immediately found our accommodation, the Swiss Chalet lodge, and then headed in to town to get our bearings and also to stock up on breakfast supplies from the local Countdown. On our first evening out, we dined al fresco on the pier at Alongside Bar.
Unfortunately, the weather was on the turn and a system full of rain was headed for Northland for the next few days. The next day, Nicola did her best to hit the beach, but the sun soon disappeared and the day turned grey. We decided to go to Russell and try a couple of wineries over there. The first, Paroa Bay Winery, was fairly new. We spoke to the owner about winemaking (he’d formerly been a brewer at Kingfisher in India) and tried all his wines, finally taking a bottle of sauvignon blanc because it tastes nothing like a “normal” savvy b, but has a far fruitier flavour, driven by melon and pineapple. The setting there is really nice, and we were able to stroll amongst the vines.
We stopped in at Russell for some lunch, and then went to the other vineyard in the area – Omata Estate. Once again, a great location, but I was somewhat underwhelmed by the wines, and the winemaker himself seemed less than convinced by them – he told us he only makes sauvignon blanc because he has to, not because he wants to. I felt that the wines all tasted somewhat insipid and similar, and that his heart wasn’t really in it. His spiel seemed largely aimed at tourists and as there were several groups tasting at the same time, I didn’t really get an opportunity to talk about the wines. Probably just as well, and we left empty-handed.
The next day was a complete washout, with heavy rain most of the day.
Our final day the rain eased somewhat, and we drove out to try some more vineyards around Kerikeri. Two of these were closed – presumably because of the weather – although there seemed to be plenty of people around willing to give them a go anyway. We bumped into some people more than once at the various vineyards we did go to. The first we visited, Fat Pig, was the best, and we chatted to Tereza, the Czech Republican wife of the winemaker, who told us about their vineyards and the set-up around Kerikeri. Many of the wines they sold were from other vineyards which did not have a cellar door, and they all used the same winemaking equipment form Marsden Vineyard, which unfortunately was one of the vineyards not open today. The next two vineyards we visited were busier (one had a restaurant, and they seemed to be directing most of their attention in that direction), and again, with several other groups in at the same time I didn’t really get a chance to talk to the winemakers.
We stopped at a Palm Bistro on the way and listened to Luna Chix playing whilst we had our burgers for lunch. Then, as it was still raining, we headed back to Paihia.
Tonight is our last night before flying from Kerikeri back to Wellington, where the rain will have probably have caught us up.