Whangarei, NZ to Tutukaka, NZ

17.3 mi / 10.8 mph / 1078 ft. climbing
Home: Tutukaka Holiday Park

Overnight drizzle and plenty of condensation made for a soaking wet tent in the morning, but I was able to hang up the rainfly in the sun while we ate breakfast to get it mostly dried out. The eating area at this holiday park is semi-outdoors, and with the sun it was comfortable enough, but our jump to Northland didn’t suddenly create tropical temperatures.

On the way out of town we made a stop at Whangarei Falls, and did a short loop hike that took us to the tumbling top and batheable bottom of the 86-foot waterfall. It’s definitely the most-impressive waterfall I’ve seen that cuts right through the middle of a suburban residential area. It’s the suburban version of  New Zealand’s “city park with enormous trees and sheep”, just another way that awe-inspiring nature seems to be woven into “normal life” in this country rather than being segregated.

Just upstream from this waterfall is a nice creek running through a manicured suburban park, and then, WHEEE!!!
Us and Whangarei Falls.
Whangarei Falls and a big tree competing to see who is taller.

As we completed the loop trail we saw one last viewpoint we hadn’t stopped at, and a woman already there started chatting with us. She said that they had just come from Tutukaka, and it was amazing and we should go there. Well, no, we’re going north to that coast at Whangaruru today, and it looks like we’d be already leaving this Tutukaka behind, so unfortunately that won’t work. But she was oddly insistent, and her mention of snorkeling at The Poor Knights Islands triggered a memory in Rett of a coffee-wagon vendor at the south end of the South Island mentioning the same place. Suddenly Rett (who I’d told several days ago to look up stuff she wanted to do in Northland) had something she wanted to do in Northland.

But, we can’t just change our destination in the middle of a ride! Well, we can, but it’s a huge pain in the ass, which is why we’ve literally never done it before (even stopping shorter or farther along a route than initially planned is rare, and this would literally be “turn right at the next intersection for Tutukaka, or left for Whangaruru”). But thanks to the low-season availability, I hadn’t booked anything at tonight’s holiday park, so I guess we can at least talk through it. Which we did on the leeward side of the park’s toilet building to shelter us from the cold wind and passing rain showers.

While I checked the route, Rett checked if snorkeling trips were available. With our experience at Donut Island revealing how pre-published schedules are meaningless in the face of weather and waves, I made her call and speak to a human to ensure a snorkeling boat would actually go out. Eventually I couldn’t come up with any objections to deny the change (beyond the loss of planning work I’d done for the other route), and with the clock ticking if we wanted to complete the much-longer ride to our original destination, we decided to go crazy and head for Tutukaka!

One benefit is that we would no longer need to ride on SH1 for a section, but this rural road to the lightly-populated coast was much busier than I expected. Of course having done 10% of the research I would normally do, my expectations were not particularly accurate! Through Glenbervie the road was lined with dry stone walls that we haven’t seen to this extent anywhere else in New Zealand, so Northland is already producing some new sights.

The small settlement of Ngunguru is one big hill over a headland from Tutukaka, so we stopped here for lunch on the rocks.
The Ngunguru River widens into an estuary here, which gave plenty of room for this guy to kiteboard(?) back and forth.
There was a viewpoint at the top of the 300-foot hill leading to Tutukaka, and it unusually had this little observation tower to help you see over the foliage!
The view down towards our destination from the tower. Yeah, probably worth it. Both building the tower, and changing our plans to come this way.

In tiny Tutukaka we first headed to the dive company’s office, to make sure we understood what we had actually signed up for tomorrow (since we had booked through a 3rd-party agent). It all sounded good and conditions were favorable, so then it was just a stop at the small grocery before heading to the holiday park a block away.

Some 600 people live in Tutukaka, so this big residential-over-retail development (with “Quality Inn” branded hotel!) felt extremely out-of-place, but perhaps it was an indication of how unusually quiet the town is right now vs. the crowds it draws in the summer.

The holiday park unusually had no WiFi, but was cheap, we could take any site we wanted, and it had a big kitchen (again way oversized for the current population) and decent lounge area with a fire in the wood-burning stove. One guy was cooking up quite a midday-meal, and another had a serious remote-office situation going on, but those were about the only other people sharing the space with us this May evening.

Rett in the kitchen seen from our close-but-not-too-close campsite at Tutukaka Holiday Park.


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