The long road from Russell to Whangarei

It was a much longer journey than taking the ferry to Opua and travelling south on SH1 but it’s by far the more interesting. Along the way are two beachside campgrounds that were so impossible to pass that the drive took us not just a day as we’d intended, but a whole week. The first discovery was 33-kilometres south of Russell. Rawhiti Road twists over the hills to Elliot Bay, where the hospitable surf licks at lashings of creamy-coloured sand and the beach curves gently away from the land. Because it was the off-season, we were the only ones there and we bathed our souls in the solitude and drowsed to the sound of the waves. But on the third night our peace was shattered by a moaning chorus of cows mourning the loss of their calves that had been weaned that day. This is also a working farm and although self-contained, RVs are allowed to stay in certain areas. Even if you are just stopping for lunch at Elliot Bay (there is a small charge for beach access), give your legs a good stretch by walking along the main beach over a headland to another and another and eventually up over a hill to look down on the spectacular Whangamumu Harbour where there was once significant whaling station. If you want to see the remnants of that time up-close, it is best to walk the Whangamumu Track that begins on Rawhiti Road a little before Elliot Bay. From Elliot the road winds past bays, beaches and rocky promontories that are good to gaze upon but unreachable because there is nowhere off the road to park. Further south we took a side road this time down the length of the Whangaruru Peninsula – a fat digit of hilly terrain with the open ocean on one side and a sheltered harbour on the other. Past Bland Bay, within the Whangaruru North Head Scenic Reserve, at the tip of the peninsula a grassy DOC camp is set in Puriri Bay. There is only a ribbon of sand between the pitches and the calm waters of the harbour but once again the serenity here is blissful in the off season. Lest I succumb to the life of a lay-about, I made myself tackle the taxing circular walk over the hills through farmland and regenerating native forest. The view of land and sea was worth the effort. Jill Malcolm is a former editor of Motorhomes Caravans & Destinations and author of the Great Kiwi Motorhome Guide.
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