A serendipitous trip to New Zealand provides soothing reprieve from the west coast winter.
Escape. Run away. Get lost. Get free.
Last winter, when the long stretch of darkness was at its most oppressive, a perfect storm of opportunity provided the light I needed. Cheap flights, an available travel companion, and a soft place to land put me on the path to summer sun on the north island of New Zealand.
We landed bleary-eyed from the long flight and complimentary champagne supplied by generous flight attendants. It was just before 6am local time, and the sun was rising rosy and glorious over the Pohutukawa trees and their bursting scarlet flowers.
We spent the day exploring Auckland on tired feet, walking through lush, sprawling parks. We cruised the harbour on one of many passenger ferries connecting neighbourhoods, and window-shopping high-end retailers like Prada and Gucci in the bustling downtown core. The city feels simultaneously quaint and extravagant. We were thankful for beautiful open-air cafés with great coffee on every other corner.
Our home for the next ten days was on the east coast, an hour drive north of the city, in the magical Mangawhai Heads, where my sister and her husband live for part of the year. Sunlight spills through the many windows of their simple but stunning home, which has an expansive view over a tidal lagoon and huge, rolling dunes, with deserted surf breaks in the distance.
On our first morning I woke early to drink coffee on the deck and listen to the summertime hum and buzz in the trees and snack on a bowl of fat, ripe cherries from the farmer’s market. It was strange and incredible to peek at messages from home and hear that snow was blanketing the Valley.
We took a short barefoot walk to the beach to swim, and a salty dip became a habit each morning and afternoon. Along the beach to the North, a trail meanders past luxe summer homes before tucking into secluded coves. Years of weather alongside the open ocean have created a jungle gym of rock formations littered with pieces of sea-green urchin shells. After an hour of beach walking, the trail cuts inland and either turns back along verdant cliffs the way it came, or connects to Te Araroa, which runs from Cape Reinga in the north, 3,000 kilometres south to Bluff.
We managed to tear ourselves away from the beach long enough to take an overnight road trip to drive on the sand at 90 Mike Beach to see Cape Reinga, where the Pacific Ocean appears to be bumping into the Tasman Sea. Along the way we snacked on avocados from roadside vendors, chatted with locals, surprised a heard of wild horses, and explored the waterfall at Whangrei.
New Zealand was a whirlwind of fresh produce, salt water, and glorious sun, not to mention some of the finest rosé I have ever tasted. It was just what I needed, and all I’d dreamed of.