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13 Best Places to Stop on the Drive from Auckland to Paihia (Bay of Islands)

13 Best Places to Stop on the Drive from Auckland to Paihia (Bay of Islands)

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The scenic drive from Auckland to Paihia (or Auckland to the Bay of Islands) is one of my favorite summer road trips on the North Island. This cute seaside town really is a huge change of scenery from the bustling city, with loads of stunning beaches to relax on and casual restaurants to try tasty local dishes.

I’ve written an entire blog about all the amazing things to do in Paihia (I love it there!), but in this blog I wanted to shine a little more light on the drive there, which is full of fun spots to stop off, take photos, and even try out some new activities!

After you rent a car in Auckland and hit the road, the drive from Auckland to Paihia is 230 kilometers (124 miles). It takes approximately 3 hours and 15 minutes without stops, but I recommend allowing at least 6 hours to stop off at the best spots along the way.

It’s worth noting that it’s a relatively easy, straightforward drive that follows along SH1. However, the section of the road called the Brynderwyns can be a little challenging in bad weather. This route is also fairly straightforward to drive in the winter – Paihia is actually quite nice to visit at this time of year!

In this blog, I’ve listed the 13 best places to stop between Auckland and Paihia. This blog also works in reverse, if you’re driving from Paihia to Auckland (or the Bay of Islands to Auckland).

Hot Tip: Consider getting a home on wheels for your road trip! Here are the best Auckland motorhome rental companies.

Need wheels? For rental cars, I always book with Discover Cars since the website is so easy to use with great prices. For motorhomes and campervans, I really like JUCY/Star RV because of their huge selection and multiple depot locations that make pick-up and drop-off a breeze. Plus, if you use my exclusive discount code DTRAVEL24, you’ll save 5%! You can browse JUCY and Star RV’s availability here and apply the discount code at check-out.

Best Places to Stop between Auckland and Paihia

1. Auckland

View from the Auckland Skytower
The view from the Skytower!
Bailey walks the cute streets of Ponsonby, Auckland on a beautiful summers day
The cute streets of Ponsonby, Auckland on a beautiful summer day

Home to over 1.6 million people, Auckland is the largest city in New Zealand and is where most international tourists start their New Zealand trip.

As you can imagine, for a city of this size, there are loads of fun things to do in Auckland! So much so that you could easily spend two weeks in Auckland and still not see/do everything on offer! But if you only have one or two days in Auckland, that’s still enough time to hit some of the highlights.

One of the most popular tours and things to do in the ‘city of sails’ (the city’s nickname) is to get out on the water on a boat trip to Waiheke Island, which is just a 40-minute ferry ride away from the CBD. On Waiheke Ilsand, you can book a wine tour, relax at one of the picturesque beaches, or simply indulge in some great food at one of the many restaurants dotted throughout the island. 

In the city itself, a visit to the famed Sky Tower, standing tall at 300 meters (984 ft), can’t be missed. For a great view of the city, grab a ticket here to head to the Observation Deck, where you can walk across a glass walkway and watch the city below (not for those afraid of heights!).

If you’re feeling even more adventurous, why not consider a SkyJump – similar to a bungee jump and a gravity-defying 192-meter (629 ft) jump over the city!

Bailey and her friends hang out at Mt Eden in Auckland, NZ
Mount Eden with friends!

To stretch your legs, head out to Mount Eden and climb to the top of this dormant volcano, which offers the best views of Auckland, especially at sunset – it’s only 30 minutes to the top, and this walk is suitable for the whole family.

Some other awesome things to do in Auckland include the Auckland Art Gallery, Auckland Zoo, and exploring the Botanic Gardens.

Some of the best cafés and restaurants in the country are located right here in Auckland, and my personal favorite food spots include Ghost Street, which serves next-level Chinese food, and Culprit, home to gorgeous New Zealand classics!

There are also plenty of amazing hotels in Auckland to stay in before you set off on your road trip!

2. Northern Beaches

Bailey on the beach in New Zealand
Trying to work on my tan but the weather was not playing ball!

From Auckland CBD, it’s an easy 20-minute drive to some of the nicest beaches on the North Island. Mairangi Bay Beach is the first one you’ll come across and has epic views of the offshore islands like Rangitoto and Rakini. There’s also a lovely 5 km (3.1 mile) walking path that takes you to Campbells Bay. It’s best to do this walk at low tide so that you can walk along the beaches on the way.

Just a few minutes’ drive away is Browns Bay Beach Reserve (pictured above). It’s a nice, wide beach that also has a large playground for the kids and a lovely picnic area. There are also several cafés and restaurants a short walk from the beach. It’s a popular local swimming spot and again has excellent views across to Rangitoto Island.

Further along, be sure to stop at the kilometer-long Long Bay Beach. Here, you’ll find a large green area that runs the length of the beach, which is ideal for a picnic or for a game of Frisbee or soccer. There’s also a scenic walking track from here that takes you up along the cliffs and has excellent views across the Hauraki Gulf, as well as the opportunity to see WWII gun emplacements.

3. Snowplanet

person on a snowboard at Snowplanet
You can snowboard all year round at Snowplanet! Photo Credit: Snowplanet

Less than a 30-minute drive from Auckland CBD is a great family-friendly stop on your drive to Paihia – Snowplanet. This is the only indoor snow park in the country and has over 8,000 sq m (86,111 sq ft) of snow. You can try skiing, snowboarding, and snow tubing here! 

If you need a refresher in skiing or simply want to learn how to ski, you can book an instructor. For the more experienced on the snow, there’s a terrain park where you can try out jumps and other fun features. There’s also a restaurant on-site for those who don’t fancy the snow!

I mentioned that this place is great for the family – there’s a fantastic ‘Winter Wonderland’ section for the kids, which comes complete with snow-capped trees and is built to replicate a traditional Alpine Village. You’ll also find a tobogganing area here as well as a large open snow space to throw snowballs, build snowmen, and have some all-round fun in the snow!

Worth noting is that Snowplanet is a cold -5 °C (23 °F) at all times, so wrap up warm in snow clothing! Tickets for Winter Wonderland, including snow tubing, costs $38 NZD per adult. If skiing or snowboarding is more your thing, you can get a snow pass for $100 NZD for two hours with rental equipment included.

4. Sheepworld

view from above of the farm at Sheepworld
Come here to see tons of sheep! Photo Credit: Sheepworld

I’m not pulling the wool over your eyes, Sheepworld really exists – I promise!

About a 45-minute drive from Auckland you’ll find the family-friendly Sheepworld, the best place in the country to see hundreds of sheep and learn all about how wool is produced!

They hold daily live sheep shows where you can watch the sheep get rounded up by the sheepdogs and then shorn – it’s a great insight into typical Kiwi farm life. You’ll also learn all about the different types of sheep on the farm at the show and how the wool is sorted and then sold.

After the show, take a walk around the working farm and see the many other animals here, like miniature horses, pigs, emu, rabbits, alpacas, cows, and deer. You may even get the chance to feed a baby lamb! There’s a short walk on-site too, which takes you through native bush and offers the opportunity to see some birdlife like the tui.

They have an on-site café and a gift store selling lots of wool products like knitwear, sheepskin footwear, and rugs – a great, unique souvenir to take home with you!

I recommend allowing between 3 and 4 hours here to experience everything, but you can also stop by for an hour or so if you don’t have quite as much time. Tickets cost $20 NZD per adult for basic entry, although you can upgrade to include show entry for an extra $22 NZD.

Related Read: You can also see a sheep shearing demonstration at Mt Nicholas Station, one of the best things to do in Queenstown, NZ!

5. Brynderwyns Scenic Lookout

view of the new zealand countryside and rolling green hills
So pretty!

Locals know the Brynderwyns as one of the steepest and windiest stretches of road on the North Island, so take care when driving on this scenic route. 

After the small town of Wellsford, the State Highway One (SH1) starts to climb steeply (up to 450 meters/1,476 ft above sea level), and you will notice the scenery change to bright-green rolling hills, reminiscent of the Welsh countryside, which is where the area got its unique name.

Brynderwyns means ‘windy hill’ in the Welsh language, and it was given its name by a Welshman, William Wright, in the 1800s!

Several small viewpoints are dotted along this 4.9-km (3-mile) long stretch of road, so pull in safely and take some photos of the lush countryside. Worth noting is this is just a quick stop, and I spent about 15 minutes here last time before carrying on.

6. Uretiti Beach

Bailey at Uretiti Beach, New Zealand
Uretiti Beach is one of my favorites near Auckland!
Uretiti Beach at sunset
Oh, the sunsets!

I love Uretiti Beach – in fact, it’s one of my favorite beaches in New Zealand! This long, sandy bay is just perfect for swimming, as well as surfing too. On top of that, the sunsets here are always spectacular!

While you can just stop here to enjoy the beach for a couple of hours, there is also a large DOC campsite nearby, or you can head to the nearby city of Whangarei. The last time I drove this route, we stayed the night here and loved it! Although the facilities are basic, the campsite is only a short walk from the beach, making it a super convenient place to stay.

To camp here, you should book your spot online in advance. It costs $15 NZD per adult per night. Hot showers are an additional $2 NZD.

7. Waipu Gorge Scenic Reserve / Piroa Falls

view of Piroa Falls on a sunny day surround by lush green bush
The stunning Piroa Falls is well worth a stop on your drive from Auckland to Paihia.

The very picturesque Piroa Falls is located within the Waipu Scenic Reserve, a short drive from the Brynderwyns. These falls are 20 meters (65 ft) in height and I love taking photos of them when it has recently rained! This is definitely one of my personal favorite places to stop when driving from Auckland to Paihia.

The short 200-meter (656 ft) walking track to the falls starts from the small car park at Waipu Gorge Road. It should take just 5 minutes (one-way) to reach the falls, and it’s a nice, easy walking track that follows along the Ahuroa River.

Piroa Falls is a very popular spot for people to go swimming during the summer months, and there are several swimming holes along the walking track. As well as that, you will likely see many people jumping from the rocks surrounding the falls into the pool below it. But you should be careful if you choose to brave this, as the rocks can be slippery.

8. Waipu caves

Glow worms in the Waipu Caves in New Zealand
Glow-worms look like a starry night sky!

If you’ve ever wanted to see glow worms, then you simply must stop at Waipu Caves on the drive from Auckland to the Bay of Islands/Paihia. These caves are completely free to visit and super easy to access, starting only a few minutes from the car park.

Getting to Waipu Caves is a bit of a detour from the highway. From SH1, turn left onto Waipu Caves Road and drive for about 15 minutes. But believe me, this is a stop that’s well worth the slight detour! Once you’re inside the caves, you’ll see thousands of glow worms!

From the car park, you’ll then head through the field towards the large cave entrance – about a 5-minute walk. Enter the cave and continue further into it, in some cases wading through knee-high water. Bring a flashlight as well as shoes that you don’t mind getting wet. You need to go far enough into the caves so that it’s dark enough to see the glow worms.

You can also walk a track in this area, but it really isn’t anything special in my opinion. I suggest just visiting the caves and then continuing on your road trip.

Note: During really rainy weather, the caves might fill with too much water to enter. Be careful and enter at your own risk.

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9. Whangārei

Bailey walks along Quality Street in Whangarei, NZ
Quality Street is such a cute street!
Bailey drinks a coffee at Fat Camel Cafe
The Fat Camel Cafe!

Whangarei is the capital of Northland and is a tourist destination in its own right! There are lots of hotels, restaurants, and fun activities on offer in Whangarei. If you are just passing through, this coastal city could be the perfect place to grab a bite to eat.

For the best selection of restaurants and cute shops, be sure to go for a wander down Quality Street – it’s a cute pedestrian-only road. Here, you can stop in at my favorite restaurant and café, The Fat Camel Cafe, and treat yourself to delicious Israeli food.

It’s a popular boating destination, thanks to the huge marina here that’s also home to several restaurants. You can go on a boat tour from here to popular nearby destinations like Tutukaka and Paihia.

Kiwi North is a popular attraction within the city and is set on 25 hectares. It’s home to Northland’s only kiwi sanctuary as well as Whangarei Museum, which holds more than 80,000 artifacts detailing the city’s unique history. Whangarei Art Museum on Dent Street is another popular attraction in the city.

Bailey takes a selfie at the top of Bream Head Scenic Reserve near Whangarei, New Zealand
Bream Head!

If you’d love to learn more about the local Maori culture, then this 3.5-hour cultural connection tour is a must! On this small-group experience, you’ll learn all about the culture, food, and way of life of the Maori people. My favorite part about this tour is that it doesn’t feel ‘touristy’ – you actually get to connect with a local Maori family, ask questions, and genuinely get a deeper appreciation for this amazing culture.

One of the best things to do outside of Whangarei is to visit the popular Whangarei Falls, which stands tall at 26 meters (85 ft) and are just a 10-minute drive from the center of town. There are viewing platforms at the top and bottom of the falls, which are the best spots to photograph the falls from.

On top of this, there’s a lovely walking track at the base of Whangarei Falls, which is a great spot to watch the sunset from.

Also, don’t forget to stop by Whangarei Heads, where there are plenty of gorgeous beaches and walking tracks. My favorite hike is the Bream Heads Scenic Lookout that starts from Ocean Beach (another excellent surfing beach!). Although the trail is steep and a bit of a workout, the view from the top is most definitely worth it.

10. Twin Coast Discovery Highway (Tutukaka Coast, Whale Bay, Sandy Bay, etc)

woman walks on the beach at Whale Bay, New Zealand
Whale Bay is beautiful!

It’s now time for one of my favorite and unbelievably gorgeous parts of this road trip, the Twin Coast Discovery Highway. To get there, though, you’ll need to take a slight detour from the most direct highway!

The Twin Coast Discovery Highway travels along the Tutukaka Coast, where you can see some of the most pristine beaches imaginable. I’m talking about white sandy beaches that will have you thinking you’ve landed in the Bahamas!

About 30 minutes from Whangarei, you’ll reach the tiny town of Tutukaka. Here, you can check out a couple of the remote beaches or wander the Tutukaka Marina, this is a great place to enjoy lunch with a view. If you want, you can also opt to stay a night here at one of the hotels or campgrounds nearby.

An easy 10-minute drive further will have you reaching the beachside town of Matapouri. Here, you can fuel up, grab a bite to eat, or even book a hotel or campsite for a couple of nights. Trust me when I say you’ll want more time in this area – it’s so beautiful!

A few minutes further down the road from Matapouri will bring you to the car park to access Whale Bay. This beach is nothing short of breathtaking. It is a short walk to get there from the start of the track (about 15 minutes each way), so only bring what you need, as walking back up the hill with a ton of gear will be tiring.

It’s also important to note that the car park for Whale Bay is often full, so visit early in the morning or late in the afternoon for your best chance at getting a parking space.

Tents camped at the freedom camping spot at Sandy Bay Beach, Northland 
Enjoying one of the best free campsites in New Zealand

Just a couple of minutes further down the Twin Coast Discovery Drive and you will reach two of the best beaches on the North Island, Woolleys Bay and Sandy Bay. Woolleys Bay is a lovely white sand beach that is popular for swimming and bodyboarding, thanks to the calm waves here. The beach is especially pretty in December, when the pohutukawa trees that line the beach are in full bloom!

The beach next door is Sandy Bay, one of the most popular surf beaches in Northland. The consistent waves here attract surfers from across the country, and the waves tend to be best at high tide. However, the rips can be pretty dangerous, so I only recommend experienced surfers try out the waves here. You can also book a horse riding tour along the beach with Sandy Bay Horses!

Note: Twin Coast Discovery Drive will add about an extra hour (without stops) to your drive from Auckland to Paihia. For this reason, I recommend booking a night or two in Matapouri and turning this road trip into a multi-day adventure! If you’re short on time, skip this stop completely and head directly to Waiomio Glow-worm Caves (next on this blog.)

Where to Stay on the Tutukaka Coast:

Let’s face it, if you’re looking to explore the Tutkaka Coast to the fullest, you’re going to want to spend a couple of nights here. I mean, it would be a shame not to get a beach day in such a gorgeous place!

I’d recommend the Tutukaka Holiday Park for a nice, budget-friendly stay. They offer tent sites starting at $20 NZD per night, all the way up to cabins from $75 NZD. The best part is that you’re only a couple of minutes’ walk from the best beaches, cafés, and restaurants!

If you fancy something a little more midrange, check out Quality Hotels Oceans Tutukaka for a comfortable stay right next to the beach in Tutukaka. They offer free Wi-Fi, plus they have an on-site pool and restaurant!

For pure luxury, you can’t pass up the opportunity to stay at Pacific Rendezvous Resort. Here, you can enjoy a fully-contained apartment with a stunning ocean view – just imagine the sunsets! And if the weather’s good, you can also make use of their on-site BBQ facilities, or soak in their hot tub.

Hot Tip: If you want to freedom camp, consider renting a campervan in Auckland for this road trip that is self-contained certified!

11. Waiomio Glow worm Caves

glowworms string in Waiomio Caves, New Zealand
These are the glow worms!

Would you believe there’s a second glow worm cave on the drive from Auckland to Paihia? The Waiomio Glow Worm Caves (also known as the Kawiti Caves) are located in the Waiomio Valley. In my opinion, they are slightly more impressive than the Waipu Caves, thanks to being a little easier to access while still having tons of glow worms!

There’s also a section called the ‘milky way’ within the cave, where the glow worms are so close that you can feel as though you can touch them. So as you can imagine, visiting here is a very popular activity in Northland!

You can also explore the narrow chambers of the cave and see stalactites and stalagmites up close. Worth noting the 656-foot (200-m) long caves can only be explored on a guided 45-minute tour, that’s because the Kawiti family privately owns the caves.

The Waiomio Caves are located just outside the town of Kawakawa. Entrance to the caves includes a guided tour and costs from $40 NZD per adult and $20 per child. These caves are easily the most popular of all the glow-worm caves in New Zealand!

Fun fact: One of the most famous visitors to the Waiomio Caves is Bill Gates, who visited back in 2007.

Related Read: If you’re not ready for the road trip to end, check out my two week North Island itineraries!

12. Opua

the Opua Marina in the Bay of Islands
The Opua Marina. Photo Credit: Lucidwaters on Deposit Photos

Just a few minutes from Paihia is the tiny town of Opua, also known as the gateway to the Bay of Islands. From here, hundreds of tourists and locals catch the ferry across to Russell every day. It’s just a short 10-minute ferry crossing and is much more appealing than driving the long and winding road to Russell.

As you can imagine, it’s a busy port as a result and attracts close to 500 international yachts every year (some of which are very luxurious!). At the marina, there are a few small restaurants, cafés as well as the historic Opua Store. The Marina Cafe is a great pick if you fancy a coffee or a meal – I had their Thai beef salad when I was here last, and it was amazing!

13. Paihia

The Hole in Rock attraction in the Bay of Islands
We sailed through that hole!

So there we have it, we’ve now reached our destination, but I think I’ve saved the best for last!

Paihia is, of course, a popular summer vacation spot thanks to the many awesome beaches within a short drive from the town, but there are also lots of other fun things to do in the Bay of Islands from Paihia.

Like joining this dolphin-watching cruise, where you’ll spot lots of bottlenose and common dolphins – there are thousands of dolphins living in the warm waters here, so you’re pretty much guaranteed to see some on your tour! I also love that this is a family-run experience, and you can really tell that they genuinely care about protecting the wildlife while ensuring everyone has a good time.

Another one of my favorite things to do in Paihia is to get out on a boat tour like this cruise to the famed ‘Hole in the Rock’. As you might have guessed, this stop is an island in the middle of the ocean with a large hole through it, and your boat can squeeze through the hole, which is pretty cool! Along the way, you can also learn about the local wildlife, history of the area, and much more.

One of the most important historic sites in New Zealand is located right here in Paihia – the Waitangi Treaty Grounds. The country’s founding document between Maori and Europeans was signed here back in 1840. There’s a fascinating museum here that gives an insight into Maori customs and traditions, and you will even be treated to a traditional tribal dance (most famously known as the haka) on your tour.

If you’re feeling adventurous, you can go skydiving over the Bay of Islands. The highest jump you can do here is a whopping 20,000 feet (6,100 m), which equals over 85 seconds of free-fall!

Where to Stay in Paihia

the pool at night at Paihia Beach Resort & spa
This place is so luxurious! Photo Credit: Paihia Beach Resort and Spa

There are many beautiful hotels to choose from in Paihia. In fact, there are so many that making a decision can be difficult. Some of my favorite hotels that all come highly rated in Paihia include:

Bounty Motel – $

Bounty Motel is the best hotel for those who are looking for a place to stay in Paihia on a tighter budget. The location is ideal, only 100 meters (328 ft) from the beach and also very close to town. They offer king studio rooms which include a kitchenette as well as a balcony, as well as one-bedroom apartments and family rooms!

A one-night stay here at Bounty Motel starts from around $126 NZD, and for the very best prices, I recommend checking your dates and booking in advance. Paihia is especially busy in the summer season, so it’s good to get in early!

Kingsgate Hotel Autolodge Paihia – $$

Kingsgate Hotel Autolodge Paihia is the perfect stay for those who want a beautiful stay without spending a fortune. This hotel is located only 100 meters (328 ft) from the beach and features ocean views. In fact, from the outdoor pool or onsite restaurant, you can enjoy the ocean views and beautiful sunsets!

The rooms all feature air conditioning as well as small refrigerators, and start from $171 NZD per night. You can book your stay here on Booking.com

Paihia Beach Resort & Spa Hotel – $$$

Looking for luxury? Look no further than Paihia Beach Resort & Spa Hotel. All rooms here feature ocean views and the hotel is only steps from Te Tii Beach. On the property, you’ll find an outdoor saltwater swimming pool as well as warm plunge pools. Oh, and did I mention they have a highly-rated day spa on-site?

With all rooms coming complete with air conditioning and access to the on-site restaurant and bar, you can book your stay here at Paihia Beach Resort & Spa Hotel from $366 NZD, but again, it’s best to check in advance if you can!

You can browse all of the accommodation in Paihia online in advance here!

Renting a Car, Campervan, or Motorhome in New Zealand

Bailey stands in front of a right green JUCY campervan
JUCY is one of my favorite campervan rental companies (read below for a discount code!)
Bailey stands behind her Mad Campers campervan cooking in the kitchen at Piha Beach
I also really like Mad Campers!

Let’s face it, you’re going to need wheels to get around New Zealand. Although a small country, buses between destinations are infrequent and expensive. Plus, some of the best experiences you can have in NZ are on road trips!

You have three options when it comes to getting wheels in New Zealand; a car, a campervan, or a motorhome. Here’s what you need to know about each and where to get them:

  • Car – A normal car is the cheapest rental vehicle you can get in New Zealand. It’ll get you around to all of the best destinations with ease. The only downside to a car is that you will need to stay in hotels or Airbnbs during your travels (no camping.) The easiest place to rent a car in New Zealand is on Discover Cars where you can compare cars, companies, prices, features, and more very easily.
  • Campervan – A Campervan is a large van that has a bed and a small kitchen in the back. It’s what most budget travelers use for traveling around New Zealand since it allows you to camp comfortably and for free (most) nights. Campervans are best for couples or solo travelers who are happy to live in a small space. You should also love the outdoors and camping…and be prepared for an adventure of a lifetime! My favorite campervan rental company is JUCY because they have a huge selection of campervans to choose from, plus multiple pick-up/drop-off locations. You can browse JUCY’s campervan selection online here. Alternatively, you can easily compare all campervans available in NZ on Motorhome Republic here.

EXCLUSIVE DISCOUNT CODE: I’ve managed to snag a discount code for 5% off for my readers if you book your campervan or motorhome through JUCY or Star RV! Simply click here to select your JUCY campervan, or click here to select your Star RV motorhome, and then use the code DTRAVEL24 at checkout to get 5% off – it’s that easy!

Thanks for reading!

A lady walks out of the water in New Zealand
Thanks for reading!

And there you have it. 12 of the best stops on the relatively short drive from Auckland to Paihia! As you can see, there’s so much to do, and I hope this blog post has helped you plan your road trip through this stunning part of New Zealand.

The North Island is full of so many amazing places to visit, so if you’ve got time to extend your road trip, I really recommend it! Be sure to check out some of my related blogs, including:

13 BEST Stops on the Drive from Auckland to Rotorua

27 BEST Hikes on the North Island of New Zealand (for all levels!)

55 Most EPIC Things to do in New Zealand

Trudi.

Sunday 28th of May 2023

Thanks for this blog. We’re heading to paihia & this has been helpful & awesome to read.

Susan

Saturday 11th of February 2023

We followed your drive from Auckland and it was fantastic. Stopped at almost all your stops. Thank you!

Bailey

Sunday 12th of February 2023

Hey Susan,

So glad you liked the blog!

Thanks Bailey