Covid-19 has taught us many things – how to bake sourdough bread, what PPE means and just how valuable a Netflix subscription actually is. It’s also taught us just how bloody brilliant our own backyard truly is.
It’s a thought that’s popped into my head as I’m sitting outside at a stunning Northland restaurant. It’s just after sunset with just a few shoots of orange still streaking across the sky above the beautiful Bay of Islands, I’m sipping a glorious glass of red wine and I’m listening to the unmistakable sounds of Kiwi in the neighbouring bush.
I mean, why would you want to be anywhere else?
I’ve made it a bit of a personal goal to start ticking off some local bucket list things this year as we continue to manage the pandemic. So I roped in my mate Whitney and we set off for a girl’s weekend in the Winterless North – here’s the highlights.
There’s been one thing at the top of my bucket list for years – to boogie board down Northland’s famed Te Paki Sand Dunes. I don’t know why but it’s always been something that I’ve been desperate to do, and to say I was jazzed to finally be doing it is an understatement! Jump in a Fullers GreatSights bus from the Bay of Islands for an easy trip where you don’t have to drive yourself, grab a boogie board and prepare to look ridiculous – there’s literally no way to whizz down a sand mountain with any shred of dignity.
The only thing they don’t tell you is that you, of course, have to walk up the giant and mountains every time you want to fly back down, so if you’re anything like me and you hate hills, go for a quality over quantity approach because it is NOT easy.
The Fullers day trip also includes a hoon down 90 Mile Beach, and of course a visit to Cape Reinga, the most northern point of New Zealand’s mainland. It’s an experience you can’t really describe as you make the 15 minute walk from the carpark to the iconic lighthouse, past Spirits Bay, the place Māori believe their souls depart this life for the next. It’s a must-do for any New Zealander – and my advice would be to jump on the bus, sit back and relax and hear all of the good stories and legends of Northland from the drivers who are so knowledgeable, they could write a book.
Northland is the birthplace of our nation, so if you want to connect with your Māori roots, or learn more about Aotearoa’s rich past, it’s the place for you – the Waitangi Treaty Grounds feature a new museum that’ll blow your mind, and if you’re heading up in the next few weeks, the Bay of Islands Matariki Festival is running from July 2 – July 11.
A girl’s weekend in the gorgeous Bay of Islands wouldn’t be complete without a stay at the iconic Duke of Marlborough hotel. Standing strong on Russell’s waterfront since 1827 (well to be fair it’s burnt down a few times, but rebuilt every time).
The hotel, which was massively refurbished last decade, still has an unmistakable air of specialness to it and is a perfect base for a weekend of wining and dining. Book a table at the restaurant over sunset, order a tipple of something special and settle in for a night of relaxed luxury.
Speaking of food, you’re spoilt for choice if you’re like Whitney and I and plan our entire itineraries around what we’re eating and drinking. If you’re in the Bay of Islands for a special occasion, or if you’re just fancy, you simply must visit Paroa Bay Winery’s stunning restaurant, Sage.
Overlooking the sprawling Bay, Sage boasts one of those views you’d post on Instagram to the envy of the rest of your followers, but wait until you’ve tried the food. With an innovative chef who has come to Sage via the Duke, the menu boasts local twists on classics – think Ruakaka Paua Pot Pie, Vensison Loin with Horopito jus and Pan-Roasted Cambridge Duck Breast.
If you’re on the other side of the Bay, stop in at Kerikeri’s Old Packhouse Café. They boast some ‘famous in Kerikeri’ cheese scone which is an absolute vibe, as well as potentially the best pies in Northland – @ me if you think different! Staff at the café couldn’t talk highly enough of the Steak and Oyster but as the basic hun I am, I went with a classic Mince and Cheese and there were absolutely no regrets, despite the fact it was 9am in the morning. The Old Packhouse Markets are also held on Saturdays and Sundays that are the highlight of the weekend.
Charlotte’s Kitchen is an absolute vibe as the sun sets, even during the week with live music playing and happy locals and tourists alike. There’s a great local wine list including one of NZ’s best dry rosé’s (in my opinion) The Landing, but go for a cocktail and a snack – it’s particularly handy to the ferries (literally – the restaurant is on Paihia wharf) so if you’re waiting to head back to Russell, grab a stool and enjoy!
Phat House Brewing is your go-to place for some casual bevvies in the sun – grab a tasting paddle and a homemade wood-fired pizza and experience some great locally-brewed beers and ciders.
The writer visited the Bay of Islands with the assistance of Bay of Islands Tourism.