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Tropic Thunder

Cityscape explores the myriad adventures on offer in the Far North with the powerhouse that is the Jeep Wrangler Sport.

Cover image: Dive! Tutukaka

The simple act of getting behind the wheel of the handsome, grunty stylings of the Jeep Wrangler Sport and leaving the bustling breakneck speed of Auckland in the rear-view mirror en route to the tropical north is a catharsis in itself. There’s also the comfort in knowing that wherever the adventure takes us – from flawless highway to the wet sands of Hibiscus Coast Highway hotspot Orewa Beach (where we gape in wonder at the sprawling, pine-fringed coastline) and through to off-roading and beyond – the killer combo of the badge’s iconic aesthetic, peerless four-wheel drive system, primo suspension and strapping 2.8-litre 4-cylinder diesel engine ensures it’s super fun, comfortable and effortlessly cool.

Wrangler

A beachy, 70s vibe reigns supreme at Whangarei’s Comfort Hotel Flames. Surrounded by palms and boasting water views, it sets the tone to tropical and keeps things Waikiki chill. Affable manager Tom Whitaker, a returned local, gives us the insider’s rundown on what to see and do during our stay. Given there’s still a few hours before sundown, we immediately take his advice and jump back in the Jeep and make tracks to Mt Manaia, the region’s jagged crowning glory. The 3.5-kilometre hike up hill through native bush (including Kauri trees) rewards with epic vistas across Whangarei Harbour and the neighbouring Hen and Chicken Islands from the rocky spires. The next day, with a day on the water planned, we hit the hotel restaurant and enjoy a hearty breakfast of crispy bacon, golden hash browns, eggs, mushrooms, tomato and sausage, brilliant between sips of hot coffee and fresh juice. Framed candid shots of the stars of the 70s decorating the walls look on approvingly.

Entrance Restaurant4

Image: Comfort Hotel Flames

I can just make out the seal pup’s shiny wet head peering over the rocks. Eyeing me suspiciously, it bristles its whiskers. Responding to a wave of my flippered foot, the young seal clumsily bounds around the rocks before slipping into the cool water to join me. Its streamline silhouette weaves through the waving kelp forest below with a newfound grace before it darts past, a stream of bubbles trailing in its wake. Circling my cumbersome wetsuit-clad frame, it disappears into the pure blue depths.

We’re exploring one of the world’s top dive sites – according to legendary French ocean explorer Jacques Cousteau – with Dive! Tutukaka. The Poor Knights Islands’ weather-beaten remnants of a 10 million year-old volcano come into view as the super-chill, dreadlocked Welsh captain of the Calypso (snap!) Steve Bowen gives us a potted history of the revered marine and nature reserve. Fluttering shearwaters cruise the updrafts skimming across the ocean’s surface and eagle-eyed gannets dive-bomb for lunch. Dive! Tutukaka’s Perfect Day turns out to be exactly that, an adventurous discovery of underwater drop offs, endless walls, caves, arches and tunnels, where we swim alongside translucent jellyfish complete with disco lighting, schools of teeming fish, numerous ray varieties, and spot the master of disguise that is the Scorpion Fish, with many a tale to share on the ride back after an action-packed day on the water.

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Image: Dive! Tutukaka, Cameron Barton Photography

Back at the Comfort Hotel Flames, we stretch out on our balcony with frosty beers in hand, watching as beyond the pool and its surrounding nodding palms, the huge orange sun falls behind the glittering ocean, and make plans for dinner in the Town Basin.

Eager to get back behind the wheel of the Jeep the next day, but reluctant to leave, we set the Sat Nav to Waipu Caves for our final adventure. The sealed road ended 5-kilometres ago, but despite the dusty gravel road’s corrugations we’re still cruising in comfort. It’s a muddying trek across streams and a course of navigating stalagmites to reach the Cave’s third chamber, where we’re rewarded by the fitting send-off of a constellation of winking glow worms piercing the pitch black cathedral above.

Vehicle supplied by Armstrong Prestige (jeepchristchurch.co.nz)
Dive! Tutukaka (diving.co.nz)
Comfort Flames Hotel (flameshotel.co.nz)

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