The far north of New Zealand's north island is known as Northland. The largest city here, in fact the only city, is Whangarei. This city is of particular interest to yachties, as it is one of NZ's three cities with significant yacht repair/renovation services (the others being Auckland and Nelson). The excellent marina is quite small, limited by the available river and estuary space, however the services are most impressive.

Whangarei has a number of great parks, for example at Whangarei Falls, but to my mind by far the most interesting, exciting and beautiful is the Abbey Caves Reserve, centred around three wild limestone caves, formed by a single underground stream. The first cave follows the stream upwards, through massive and varied cave formations, including waterfalls and large open chambers. Glow-worms on the roof of the tunnels seem like stars in the sky. In spite of its popularity and long history of open access, vandalism is minimal. The setting, where subtropical 'jungle' is regenerating following a history of the land used for grazing (owned by the Clotsworthy family) is spectacular. This wonderful reserve came very close to being mined for its limestone by a cement company. Wow! a lucky escape.

The first cave seems the longest. We followed it into the mountain for over an hour, and the passage just went on and on... The second cave (Middle Cave) is comparatively short, with an entrance and an exit both in breath-takingly beautiful forest. Photos just don't capture the peace and beauty of this magical place.

Have you ever seen a tree like this? A cypress of some kind, very old. It looks like something out of "Lord of the Rings". I'm convinced it is a magic place...

A karst landscape... amazing natural sculptures everywhere. Here in the background a vertical tower of limestone reaches straight up, like a fire suddenly turned to stone, as high as the forest trees themselves..

The third cave (Ivy Cave) also has an entry and exit in forest. Amazingly, eels negotiate the rushing steam, and somehow climb the waterfalls, or the wet rocks beside them. Melinda found one only a few centimetres long, while Alice found a much larger eel, perhaps 60cm, looking quite exhausted. She thought of taking it home for dinner... thank goodness she didn't!

Melinda at the entrance of Ivy Cave.