Carry on camping: 90 Mile Beach

It’s the morning after the night before and I’m playing my ‘permission to be hungover and do nothing’ card to update this much neglected blog.

Last night we bid farewell to two wonderful human beings who I’m so, so sad to see leave Auckland. New Zealand is such a transient place so we’re used to saying goodbyes, but this one was particularly poignant.

On the plus side, we did manage to squeeze in one last surfari camping trip to 90 Mile Beach over the Waitangi Weekend for some much needed hang time.

The campgrounds

It took us about four hours to drive to Ninety Mile Beach Holiday Park, with a stop off in Whangarei en route to stock up on food and beers – the half way point and last city before you turn inland towards the west coast. Once you get over to Kaitaia it’s slim pickings, so I recommend grabbing everything you need here.

We paid $17 each per day for a non-powered tent site, camping on sand and grass beneath cicada filled trees. Sadly, we didn’t have any spectacular beach front views. We mainly chose this campsite so Lola could come with us, plus it was only a five minute walk to the nearest surf beach.

Despite a few scathing reviews on TripAdvisor, I was pleasantly surprised to find the facilities were spacious and clean. The owners at reception were friendly, offering to lend us their body boards for the beach (Note: there are no surf board hire stores in Kaitaia).

90 Mile Beach

This was as far north as we have ever explored, and this stretch of coast supposedly has some of the best surf spots in New Zealand, from Shipwreck Bay to The Bluff. 90 Mile Beach is actually only 55 miles long and is also used as a highway for 4WD vehicles so we had to be careful when letting Lola run loose.

Once we had set up our tents – which is a much swifter process now that we’ve got inflatable lodgings – we headed down to the beach to catch the last of the afternoons rays. The beach was huge and mostly empty so we found a spot by the dunes away from the jeeps racing up the beach. We were greeted to golden sand, brilliant blue skies and an amazingly warm yet refreshing sea.

There was an onshore wind and mostly mushy white wash so I just took the body board out.

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We spent our evening having a feast of a BBQ before heading back to the beach to check out the famous 90 Mile Beach sunset. When we arrived the sun was dropping below the horizon and sinking into the sea, casting the perfect silhouette over us when we ran down the dunes to explore the beach at low tide.

We had a clear night sky and Venus was dazzling luminously above us, sitting just below Mars and Uranus (Star Chart is always a trusty travel companion).

Back at camp we got to know the local residents a little better over a beer, with bugs crawling up our legs in the dark (and some amusing screams from the boys) and a possum climbing the tree above our tent, very much aggravating Lola!

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Ahipara 

We set off to Ahipara in the morning, a small beach town further down the coast. We found a lodge that rented out beginner boards for $20 for the day, which worked out cheaper than NZ Surf Bros in town. 

Ahipara is a 30 minute journey from the campsite and has the only good coffee shop in the area (North Drift Cafe), with a chilled atmosphere, outside deck and very good brownie.

The beach was beautiful but the waves were few and far between, so I spent most of the morning getting a lesson from Matt on my technique. The guys that rented us the boards told us that the afternoon was supposed to be more promising.

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We headed over to Shipwreck Bay – about 5 minutes drive from Ahipara – to see if there was any swell but unfortunately the ocean was calm and collected, so we headed back into town for a spot of lunch. It wasn’t an entirely wasted journey though, as the road down to the bay offered panoramic views of the resplendent coastline out toward the Tasman Sea.

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There aren’t that many food options in the area so we just stopped in at Bidz Takeaway for some greasy fish and chips, which was at best, inexpensive. The lady serving us at the counter was a bit of a dragon and not someone you would want to get on the wrong side of. Nevertheless, we found a table outside and savoured some good ice cream and good company.

The boys, in full holiday mode, decided to push the boat out and order a deep fried Mars Bars. Which delighted them so much they followed it up with a chaser of deep fried Milky Bar.

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After lunch we found a spot on 90 Mile Beach where the conditions were much better and took to the waves for a couple of hours. Photo credits to Ben for the action shots of the boys…

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Me and Annalise obv caught loads of gnarly waves too…

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As did Lola…

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Weary and bruised we returned to camp for a feed and indulged in the best BBQ dessert ever…chocolate bars cooked inside bananas (don’t judge, we’re on holiday!). I went for a Mars Bar which is by far the winning formula, but I will gladly accept suggestions for other concoctions. Shortly after we all slipped into a dreamy sea and food induced coma.

Parting is such sweet sorrow

We packed up early and headed back to the beach for one last play in the surf. I took out our leash-less body board and got taken out by a breaking wave, only to watch my board speed back towards the shore leaving me to body surf the waves back.

After a brief moment of panic when I realised I was being sucked in the opposite direction out to sea, I swam horizontal until I was out of the rip and exhaustedly made it back to shore, glad that I had read up on ocean safety when we first arrived in New Zealand.

We hit the road at midday to set off back to Auckland. To toast our last trip together, we made a pit stop in Whangarei for some gelato at the Fudge Farm, overlooking the harbour. 

90 Mile Beach is a bit of a gem of a spot: uncrowded, long hot summers, and reliable surf somewhere along the coast. We’ll definitely be back.

As one adventure comes to an end, another one begins. A week today some of my nearest and very dearest friends will be in New Zealand for a North Island road trip and I can’t put into words how deliriously happy I am at the thought of us all being back together. This, of course, will be documented in my next blog.

Peace out!

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