The Blog : In search of Wanderlust - 7 Gems to visit in New Zealand February 07 2017
photo credit Ali Kaukas
Are you in search of wanderlust (of the travel kind)? Do you long for an untouched paradise? Perhaps one of the last places discovered on earth, and uniquely, the first country in the world to see the rising of the morning sun each day?
Well, I am from just that place… New Zealand or Aotearoa-being the Māori name for our little slice of heaven on earth. Interestingly, the word Aotearoa can be broken up:
ao = cloud, dawn, daytime
tea = white, clear or bright
roa = long
New Zealand is commonly known as this, "the land of the long white cloud”.
So, if you are this kind of wanderlust-er I hope you’ll enjoy the following 7 Kiwi-centric places to travel, all laced with an infusion of mindful wandering, extraordinary places to practice yoga and meditate and connect to fellow wanderers on this beautiful “land of the long white cloud”...
Auckland's Beaches and Gulf Islands
Auckland, our largest city, with most major international airlines flying in (other airports are Wellington and Christchurch) is just 30 minutes from the sparkling downtown harbour. Now, if you’re anything like me you’ll be ready to get out of the urban sprawl and into nature to tap into the heartbeat of the land, and begin to feel the local flow.
To do this, I think the best place to get started is to head out to any of Auckland’s West Coast beaches, Piha, Bethells, Muriwai, or Karekare... I recommend going barefoot on the black iron rich sand to soak up the natural power of New Zealand’s wild west coast but visitors must be warned, these are wild beaches so watch out for our talented Surf Life Saving Patrol and ask them about conditions or be mindful when swimming, and always swim in-between the flags.
Another nature filled option is to head out for a day trip to any of Aucklands many Hauraki Gulf Islands, ferries leave from downtown Auckland regularly and you have a choice of bird and wildlife sanctuaries - Tiritiri-Matangi Island and Motuihe, ancient extinct volcano - Rangitoto Island and /or an arty, beachy, wineries, relaxed casual feel - Waiheke Island, so simply choose the fit for your souls wandering desires.
Powerful Cape Reinga and Ancient Waipoua Forrest
Cape Reinga is at the very tip of the North Island, and is where the Tasman Sea on the west and Pacific Ocean to the east meet. From the lighthouse you can witness the whitewash and mist of these two seas powerfully colliding. According to Māori mythology, spirits travel to Cape Reinga on their journey to the afterlife. They leap off the headland and climb the roots of the 800-year-old pohutukawa tree on the last ridge of the headland before returning to their traditional homeland of Hawaiki, using the 'Spirits' pathway'.
If you settle yourself on a quiet patch of grass in front of the lighthouse focus on your breath to quiet the mind, perhaps you’ll begin to feel the subtle yet powerful masculine / feminine - yin / yang energy about this very sacred place.
Cape Reinga is a decent 7-8 hour drive from Auckland and I’d highly recommend spending a few days taking a circular route taking in the Bay of Islands on the way up from Auckland and stopping off to spend some time in the ancient Waipoua Forest (Kauri Coast) visiting our oldest Kauri tree, Tane Mahuta, the ‘Lord of the Forest’.
One absolute hidden gem on this route is the Waipoua Lodge, an original old New Zealand homestead that has been converted into a luxury lodge. I booked myself in for a personal retreat weekend at the end of winter to spend some to relax and unwind. I was so well taken care of by the hosts Fran and Ian, with gourmet meals and red wine by the fire. I took slow mindful walks throughout their property, long soaks in my gorgeous claw-foot tub, had a chance to practice yoga and meditate on my private deck overlooking the forest. It was a magic weekend of relaxation and reconnection amongst the ancient trees.
Soulful Coromandel Peninsula
A hop skip and a fairly short drive from Auckland is the Coromandel region and with a tagline of being ‘good for your soul’ you’ll find many hidden gems for soul filling wonder. One spot I come back to time and time again is the Kauaeranga Kauri Trail with a bustling 80 bunk hut for the perfect overnight under the bright southern hemisphere stars. Don’t miss the 40min side trip up the Pinnacles summit you’ll be able to take in specular 360 degrees views over the Coromandel Ranges, it’s truly breath taking. There is a large camping ground at the base of these walks.
Another gem I’ve recently found while slowly snaking my way along the coastal road north of Thames is the Mana Retreat Centre. This is one place, which I’ve finally felt I’ve ‘come home’ after many years of overseas travel. Mana Retreat Centre “holds group retreats, workshops, professional development training and is wanting people to experience body-mind education, creative expression, spiritual exploration & renewal.”
I attended a personal retreat this past spring and very quickly fell into the flow of the land, simple food, slow flow yoga, rustic bush baths, meditative hikes, quiet contemplation in the sanctuary and releasing things that no longer serve, one foot at a time pacing the labyrinth while gazing over rolling native bush out to the stillness of the Firth of Thames.
There are too many gems to mention on the Coromandel but two final spots which have both become fairly touristy over the past years but are still worth a visit are Cathedral Cove and Hot Water Beach. Make sure to bring your swimsuit and spade and be prepared to dig your very own sandy thermal pool at Hot Water Beach on the low tide!
Hang loose in Raglan
Over the other side of the North Island from the Coromandel is the sleepy little surfer town of Raglan, on the West Coast. With a resident population of around 2,600 it boasts a world famous surf break at Manu Bay. A long, peeling left-hand break that featured in the 1966 surf film Endless Summer, a break that has been said to be one of the longest rides in the world!
Whether you are a soul surfer or ocean surfer Raglan is a town with an eclectic mix of artists, entrepreneurs, surfers, musicians, shops, cafes, restaurants, everyone who is simply interested in a laidback way of life. One place I love to stay when in Raglan really fits this sentiment is Solscape Eco Retreat, with a philosophy that states… “Firstly, what we do makes a difference. Every decision and action has an effect… And secondly, each of us has the power to make a difference – but as a collective our ability to bring about positive change is beyond measure”.
I’ve found myself right at home practicing yoga with friends on the grass outside the main lodge as the sun sets over the Tasman Sea. With an intriguing array of accommodation options such as the earth domes, eco batch, cabooses, tipi forest, camping there is something for everyone even a conscious kitchen serving up fresh food from their rambling permaculture gardens.
Abel Tasman National Park
Abel Tasman National Park is an absolute hidden gem at the very top of the South Island, with golden sands and shimmering turquoise blue ocean. It is a haven for those wanting to escape into a true native New Zealand paradise! Very recently I walked the Abel Tasman Costal track, a track that is a part of New Zealand's Great Walks network. The multi-day walk is connected by a network of department of conservation (DOC) huts and campsites. While accommodations are simple, they are a welcome sight, often located beachfront after a long day out on the trails soaking up native forests and tropical beaches!
Thankfully you don’t need to commit to a multi day adventure to enjoy the national park. No matter how many days you have you can pick your own schedule with an impressive timetable of water taxis servicing most of the biggest beaches and DOC sites along the coastline. So be prepared for countless hidden bays, cliff top lookouts, native birds, fur seals, penguins, dolphins and plenty of extraordinary golden sand vistas you won’t be able to stop gasping ‘wow’ at every turn.
Another option is for a day on the water instead of the trails by taking in a guided kayaking trip. This was one of my highlights while in the park, paddling into hidden lagoons and around island wildlife sanctuaries to see baby fur seals sunning themselves on the rocks. There are so many gems to enjoy along this very special coastline like leading an impromptu morning yoga class on the porch of our Bark Bay DOC hut, stopping at the rustic luxury of Peppers lodge for an ice cold beer with friends at the end of a 4hr hike, wrapping up the day gazing up at the starry night sky...
One note is to look ahead for accommodation in the area, as there are a limited number of overnight options that tend to go quickly over the summer high season.
Full Moon in Milford Sound
Milford Sound in the South Island can captivate even the most experienced adventurer. In Fiordland National Park with its steep cliffs, dense rainforests, and dozens of waterfalls, it is the wettest inhabited place in New Zealand. Typically you will travel in by bus, car or campervan from Queenstown also known as New Zealand’s adventure capital! You’ll arrive near the Milford Sounds bus / ferry terminal for a long gaze out towards Mitre Peak, an impressive sight, standing a proud 1,692 metres (5,551ft) above sea level!
Milford Sound is a place that truly captured my young imagination as I read books by Kiwi authors who choose the Sounds as the backdrop to their meandering novels. I’d highly recommend staying in the Sounds if you can; one well-equipped riverside option is the Milford Sound Lodge. Make sure to be outside (with plenty of mosquito repellant) to see watch the moon make it’s ascent over the Fiord as the day turns into night.
Wairakei Thermal Valley Taupo
Wairakei Thermal Valley is just 9 km (6 miles) away from Lake Taupo in the Central North Island which is the second largest fresh water lake in Oceania, it is a special land rich in history and mana, that’s felt from its unique volcanic and geothermal landscape and this one last hidden gem is our very own Wanderlust Festival, 4-day ‘Celebration of Mindful Living’ held at Wairakei Thermal Resort.
This transformational Festival boasts an impressive lineup of internationally renowned yoga teachers, meditation teachers, performers, healers, speakers, artists, chefs and musicians. We are promised “an experience that will get you into your mind, body and soul. Regardless of what starts you on your path, Wanderlust is an experience that will leave you different from when you came — with new ideas, new friends, newly-discovered abilities and greater peace. Find your true north.”
I believe this sentiment rings true for all the hidden gems you’ll stumble upon as you explore this extraordinary land down under. So get out there, put your feet on the earth, feel the sand between your toes, soak in the natural thermal hot springs, and be witness to the dawn of a new day. I promise that you will experience a very special kind of kiwi magic and as you sit in a quiet place do consider…
He aha te mea nui o te ao
What is the most important thing in the world?
He tangata, he tangata, he tangata
It is the people, it is the people, it is the people
Rebecca Agent - Founder of Mala Earth, MBA, Sustainability Advocate, Entrepreneur, Dreamer, Yogini and Traveller