Great choice of accommodation in Northland – NZ’s ‘winterless north’

Thought it was time to make some recommendations about accommodation in Northland:  I stayed on a boat, in backpackers, hotels, B&B, a farm stay, villas, cottage, and a camping ground. I’m sure there is bound to be one of these that will suit you perfectly – or maybe you would like to mix and match just like I did.

Thank you to Destination Northland (@northland_nz)for helping me arrange this trip and the diverse accommodation – and to Rental Cars NZ (@rentalcarnz) for the use of a car. Where I know them, I have included Facebook pages and Twitter names – these links are to mine.

Perched on the edge of the renowned Tutukaka Marina, the Oceans Resort Hotel is part of a European inspired resort destination, with a myriad of water-based activities on their doorstep, and with fabulous beaches and a lush subtropical climate you will feel as though you have escaped to paradise ( with its fabulous views and breakfast. (@oceansresort)

Copthorne Hotel & Resort Bay of Islands ( is located within the Waitangi Treaty Grounds, next to a scenic golf course and the historic Treaty House. Set in park-like grounds, this resort is situated beside the Bay of Isalnd harbour and enjoys views of the Bay of Islands. Service excellent. (@mchnz)

The Rock overnight cruise and bed! (  . . . plus target shooting, fishing, night kayaking, snorkeling, island walks and generally exploring the Bay of Islands.  BBQ dinner and breakfast included.  All the cabins are upstairs with windows to take in the incredible views and balcony access to two quiet observation sun-decks. Unbelievably downstairs has everything from a log fire, bar, piano, pool table, lounge, dining area and a large fishing and kayaking ramp.(@rocktheboatnz). Loved it!

Pickled Parrot Backpackers, Greys Lane (just beyond Scenic Hotel) at the southern end of Paihia. This small friendly hostel has a well-appointed kitchen and is set in quiet subtropical gardens – and with breakfast included. All the rooms have New Zealand bird names – I was in the Aussie over-stayer one – rosella.

Waitangi Holiday Park, a very basic campsite for tents and campervans, some cottages too. Close to the Waitangi Treaty Grounds – it’s really ideal for Waitangi Day celebrations and I loved being in the centre of the activity – celebrations that I believe all Kiwi’s should attend at least once in their lifetime!

In Kerikeri you’ll love the Wharepuke Subtropical Gardens and eco-cottages.

I stayed in one of the stylish self-catering, eco cottages which are nestled in 2 hectares of award-winning subtropical gardens. The accommodation also showcases original fine art prints and paintings by resident artist Mark Graver and has wonderful food at FOOD at Wharepuke.

On the recommendation of Bare Kiwi (see his video on this link)  I also stayed at Kahoe Farms Hostel ( a fabulous homestay with an Italian flavour – a must do if you want to see real kiwi-life and a great base for many local activities such as hiking, canoeing, sailing etc.  This is a beautiful Kauri farmhouse with charming rooms of polished wood and country furnishings. The hosts give a warm welcome here at one of New Zealand’s leading farm hostels and backpackers. Footballers (what we call soccer) are especially welcome to join a game with locals and other travellers.

Doubtless Bay Villas are beautiful as you can see by the photos and their website – and the views are fabulous too. These stylish, spacious and luxurious villa-style apartments are just a short walk down to the lovely sand beaches where I had a swim and joined locals in sampling some of the mussels clinging to the rocks.

Mainstreet Lodge in Kaitaia is a very clean and friendly backpacker’s lodge in the centre of town – a good jumping of place for tours “up to the cape” or beginning walking the length of New Zealand on the Te Araroa walkway.  With new ownership this old YHA is being refurbished to an even higher standard and has a variety of rooms to choose from.

The Copthorne Hotel & Resort Hokianga, (@MCHNZ) is right on the water’s edge of the Hokianga Harbour, this beautiful old style kauri villa (and newer wings) has stunning views of the massive sand dunes across the bay.

I also recommend you check into the Endless Summer Lodge, on Foreshore Rd, Ahipara. . This is a beautiful, clean, friendly 1880 wooden villa is at the end of 90-Mile Beach. Shipwreck Bay is sheltered from the prevailing wind and is home to one of the best surfing breaks in NZ – and one of the world’s best left-hand surf break – and is also a safe beach for swimming. A great country kitchen and herb garden for all to use too.

Sunset View Lodge, Baylys Beach.  is where you can hear the sound of the waves from the Lodge and is near Ripiro Beach – the longest driveable beach in New Zealand. Free Wi-Fi here and an honesty box in the bar!

The Commercial Hotel, Dargaville is a completely refurbished (2011) heritage-listed waterfront pub that was built in the 1880s and overlooks the mighty Northern Wairoa River. Sitting, with a coffee, on the balcony watching the sand barge returning home after its days’ work, birds, and watching the sun-set, was a treat. I can well recommend this place when you are exploring the Twin Highways of Northland.

youth hostel has great travel tips for us all


Responsible travel is a commonly used term nowadays, but sometimes all the talk of negative impacts of tourism can seem a bit overwhelming when all you want to do is enjoy your hard-earned travels! The good news is that responsible travel is not complicated and you can still have a great time, with a clear conscience, by following a few simple tips to ensure that future travelers will find a place as welcoming and magical as you did.

1. Keep an open mind. Embracing other cultures will transform your trip and help you earn the respect and welcome of the local people. Be tolerant and respectful, making sure to observe social and cultural traditions and practices. This will help to ensure that the door is kept open for other future travelers.

2. Help preserve natural environments. Leave things the way you found them – or better still, get involved in a project that will leave a place in better shape than you found it.  Protect wildlife and habitats and do not purchase products made from endangered plants or animals.

3. Respect cultural resources. Activities should be conducted in a way that respects the artistic, archaeological and cultural heritage of a place.

4. Support the local economy. Purchase local handicrafts and products, rather than mass produced souvenirs (and you’ll have something unique and authentic as a lasting momento of your trip). Bargaining for goods should be based on achieving a fair price, rather than a determination to get the lowest price possible. You don’t want to get ripped off, but it’s worth remembering that the merchant probably needs the difference more than you do.

5. Learn as much as possible about your destination and take time to understand the customs, norms and traditions in an effort to avoid accidentally offending anyone. Not only will this make your trip much more enjoyable, but it will also make a huge difference to how future travelers are viewed by the local population.

See more about Hosteling International New Zew Zealand ( I am  life time member – that  tells you what I think of  the organisation!)

Seals … cute but dangerous

The New Zealand fur seal

are …  fin-footed carnivorous marine mammals and are distinguished by visible external ears and hind flippers which rotate forward.

This pointy-nosed seal has long pale whiskers and a body covered with two layers of fur. Their coat is dark grey-brown on the back, and lighter below; when wet they look almost black.

Kaikoura, New Zealand is a good place to see seals easily: read here  to see what the  NZ Dept of Conservation says about not harassing these (and other) mammals in NZ.  Dont get between them and the sea, and keep your dogs on a lead.

As you can see I was travelling in a Backpacker campervan

Keep 10 metres between you and the seals
Watch for seals all along the Kaikoura coastline
I'm so cute!
Just pull over and see the seals!

asian drivers: changmai, thailand

Intimidated by the fast one-way traffic in Chang Mai, (Northern Thailand) I ask a Canadian “How on earth do you cross the road? These drivers are crazy.”

No they’re not. You live here a year like I have” he tells me “and by then you’ll learn to just step out into the traffic. They’ll move around you. Just don’t run and don’t stop or they don’t know what you are going to do. There is nothing worse than a farang (foreigner) on the road; they don’t know the rules. Locals hate seeing you front of them, they know you are unpredictable” . . .

What happens when the kiwi travel writer tests this theory read more here

tuk tuks and motor bikes in thailand
tuk tuks and motor bikes in Thailand

eco travel and carbon footprints

Eco travel and a recycled column: first published a couple of years ago (altho the photo is only a week old! Siam Safari on Phuket in Thailand)

Not everyone can travel. Living in New Zealand means we have a better chance than many. We have a far higher rate of passports-holders some 80% compared with the fewer than 20% of Americans.( the most recent figure I can find) I’m a travelophile; like Asians need rice, Italians need pasta, British their curry and we Kiwi crave our fish and chips – I need to travel.

When I travel I feel great, and as a traveller and freelance writer means I visit where I want to go to – looking for both stories and fun – I don’t want to go to the flavour-of-the-month, or be ticking off some list of must-go-to-places. However with global warming and our position here at the bottom of the world, means we use more carbon to get to our holiday destinations (and this is a burgeoning problem for our tourist industry with Europeans now being told to holiday at or near home – specifically saying Australia and NZ are too far to travel. So what can I do about the carbon footprint I leave whenever I travel?

Well to start I reduce my use of carbon at home. I haven’t owned a car since 1995 and use our big red buses, a bike, and my feet. Living in the city means I can walk to a supermarket and catch the eco-friendly free, yellow shuttle bus home with my backpack and the more eco-friendly reusable shopping bags. I also recycle all I can.

However this doesn’t clear our carbon emissions but we can help by using eco bulbs, energy efficient frigs and washing machines and when we travel take as little luggage as possible. The more we carry the more fuel the plane needs and of course the more emissions it produces … so leave that extra pair of shoes behind and take a paperback not a hardcover book.

Theoretically, we can also offset our personal carbon footprint by buying carbon credits – this has been in practice for a few years but you need to check them carefully to know it’s not just a dodgy company that wants to build a fortune. Air NZ is considering ways to collect carbon credits from their customers and I have no doubt that their scheme will be a good way of salving our conscience for the pollution we produce.

We can also support genuine eco-tourism companies and practise the principles of ecotourism. But what is ecotourism? Briefly, it’s an activity that has minimum impact while providing maximum benefits to the community it’s in. Independent travellers are more likely being eco travellers. They leave much of their travel money in the country – while those who travel on tours often have paid for their whole trip before they leave home- giving very little to the country they are travelling in but adding huge infrastructure costs – in water, sewerage, rubbish, roads.


Worldwide many places say they are providing an ecotourism experience but is that really so? It seems that as long as it has a nature component many claim it to be eco-friendly. That has not always been my experience. Life on a marine reserve sounds wonderful – a great eco experience. Yes the natural sights and walks are fantastic; money spent on food and accommodation does remain with the locals providing it. Unfortunately, the big money is creamed the off the islands in diving lessons given by Europeans who come in for the tourist season then leave – taking the money with them. Because of the lack of a robust infrastructure, the rubbish – that travellers complain about – is bought to the island by them: water bottles are not refilled, plastic bags and straws abound.

We think of New Zealand – and market our country – as a clean green destination but pollution is not just rubbish on the ground. And are we really conservation minded or is it just the low population that produces less rubbish? What about visual pollution? Have we have sold the visitor a too narrow view of places to visit; given them a list of sights they must see, activities they should participate in? This produces problems such as Milford Sound has with Buses arriving in droves, disgorging visitors and fumes so they can see wonderful pristine sights. It this an oxymoron? It’s not only a New Zealand problem. At Lake Louise in Canada, I too was a body disgorged from a bus to see great views. I have proof that I was there – a photo of me sitting with the lake and mountains as the backdrop – it looks idyllic. However I know that beside me, waiting for their turn to have the moment recorded, is another busload of chattering travellers.

More recently I was shocked at the air pollution at the fabulous Taj Mahal. The problems of being poured into the tourist funnel will continue if we rely on some unimaginative travel agents and the forceful marketing of those who have invested in specific areas. While it is more economical for planes and hotels to have us arrive together and stay in the same places it also creates problems for them – not the least is the strong chance of killing the goose that lays the golden egg. What can I do about global warning and travel? Both at home and abroad I shop at locally-owned places; support companies that practice high standards; (e.g.  in New Zealand support Kiwi Host, Green Globe, YHA,) and don’t change my towels daily in motels or hotels.

Combining the universal codes of ‘ pack it in pack it out’ and ‘take only photos, leave only footprints’ along with getting off the well worn tourist trails means I’ll be able to enjoy my travels with a clearer conscience.

traveller or tourist? what is a backpacker?

Am I a tourist or traveller? What are you? As a backpacker, I belong on one side of the great divide in the world of travel snobbery. The saying that prevails around this group is – tourists know where they are going, but don’t know where they have been, while travellers know where they have been but don’t know where they are going.

web james bond islandOf course, my friends who stay in hotels are horrified at the idea of sleeping on a rooftop in Jerusalem with 29 others, or any of the other shared places I’ve slept in.

I, on the other hand, cannot imagine spending any more than the occasional night in a sterile, albeit luxurious, hotel.

Many of my friends hate to leave home without knowing where they will sleep, what tours have been booked, what times their transport will leave and exactly where they are going. They think I am crazy to have no idea where I am going, where I am staying and what I will see. This is, for me, the difference between a traveller and a tourist, characterised by the freedom of time and attitude. As Hostelling International says in one of their adverts, backpacking is about attitude not age.

However if you have two, three or four weeks to enjoy an annual holiday, or this is your one chance to visit Europe, China, or Australia, and it is important you see all that you can join a tour. Being part of a tour is the only way to fit in the top sites.web beach at indigo pearl Just make sure you are not in a cultural quarantine – returning home untouched by any contact with locals.

As a nomadic wanderer, I often miss many of the ‘must see’ tourist places but leave a country having been to a wedding, had a long coffee and meal with a local school teacher, taught swimming to a group of young Thai boys and on another occasion, spent three weeks on an island cleaning up a marine-reserve after a monsoon. Am I the only person who went to New York and merely stood at the bottom of the Twin Towers?

Conversely, I don’t know any ‘tourist’ who volunteered their time in a soup kitchen in the middle of a New York blizzard. The snobbery evident on both sides of the fence: ‘I can afford to stay somewhere clean and civilised’ versus ‘I can afford the time to spend a long time travelling’. Different strokes for different folks.

web laos polly and iSo what do others have to say about the topic? Larry Krotz (Tourism. 1996) says travel, or going somewhere as a tourist, has become something we do in order to share our culture – like going to an annual sports or cultural event. He discusses the shift over 150 years, from travel for education and knowledge to the enjoyment factor of today, ‘something everyone does’.

WEB naked-front-cover

Mass ability to travel, as things became cheaper and faster, was captured originally by Thomas Cook mid 19th century, making a fascinating topic to read. So, if you want to know about the conveyer belt that tourism has become; how we are a product to be seduced, fed and watered, displayed and then returned home go to the library.

So, if you want to know about the selfishness of people like me who get off the beaten track and then don’t want you to discover it too; if you want to know about the affects of tourists or travellers on the country we travel in, I recommend the whole section on tourism in your local library.

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