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Northland is often called The Winterless North and if you're visiting New Zealand during the cooler winter months, Northland's more mild climate is very easy to enjoy. It's easy to while away a few days in the region, but if time is limited, then a day trip from Auckland to Paihia in the Bay of Islands by coach is a really good option.
As well as the spectacular destination of Paihia itself, the scenic drive from Auckland north to the gorgeous Bay of Islands is itself a feature of the day.
The first highlight is crossing Auckland's iconic Harbour Bridge for spectacular views of the harbour and downtown city highrise buildings. Seeing the harbour at each end of the day, with the rising and setting sun, is definately worth the early start!
The seaside beach communities of Orewa and Waiwera are particularly picturesque, as is the village of Warkworth.
Native forests and sub-tropical bush, rolling farmland and ocean vistas really make the road trip visually interesting. I really enjoyed the coach driver's commentary, interesting facts (and maybe some fiction!), stories, history and cultural knowledge was amazing.
On arrival at Paihia, we transferred from the coach to the catamaran "Dolphin Seeker", skippered by another font of local knowledge. The primary destinations of the afternoon cruise are the Cape Brett Lighthouse and the Hole in the Rock, but if there are dolphins in the area at the time, you can expect some minor detours so everyone can enjoy seeing these amazing creatures frolicking in the bow waves. The "local" dolphins usually seen are the common and bottlenose and sometimes orca and whales cruise through. There are 144 very beautiful, natural islands in the Bay of Islands and the region is renowned for its marine life.
At the Hole in the Rock, which is literally a hole in a rock, well, a small island, the skipper carefully navigates Dolphin Seeker through to the other side. A little scarey (breathe in!) but he knows what he's doing and will only do it if the sea conditions allow it. There is time to take photos of the Grand Cathedral Cave before heading back to the inner islands of the Bay and Paihia.
There is a little time to have a wander around the village of Paihia, perhaps a beach walk, before reboarding the coach for the drive back to Auckland. Hard not to nod off in the comfortable recliner seats. This is quite a long day tour, departing at approx 7.30am, returning approx 8.10pm, but a wonderful excursion full of outstanding scenery, interesting history, cultural highlights and sealife encounters.
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