The Hokianga is one of New Zealand’s best kept secrets. Colonial New Zealand, Maori Culture, scenery, ancient forests and surprises around every other corner, it isn’t always the destination but the journey. I have travelled this road numerous times and every time I discover new sights. It is a bonus to end up in the Bay of Islands.
We left Auckland early with our takeaway coffees in hand and headed north on State Highway 1. Our first stop was the Honey Centre just before Warkworth. Their slogan “that New Zealand has the best honey in the world” is for others to judge, not me. My guest purchased plenty of honey and loved seeing the swarming bees. They open 7 days: 8-30am until 5pm and serve meals and coffee or just pop in to buy some honey. There is a picturesque lake and you cannot miss the signs when driving north.
Above: Lake at Honey Centre
We turned off SH1 onto Highway 12 and drove through quaint old towns which had once been thriving communities, however now they are sleepy rural villages. First up Paparoa with its charming old bank building and general store and a fortnightly Farmers Market held beside the Village Green. One of the locals was quite rude to my American friend and obviously did not like the fact we photographed the Paparoa Store and told us so!!
We stopped for a history lesson at the Matakohe Kauri Museum Entry fee varies but there is an adult package for 3 at $60.00 and you can pre book or just turn up. I believe it is value for money. Opens 9-5pm daily. Discover how the mighty kauri tree, its timber and its gum, were used by the pioneering settlers in New Zealand and the hardships endured in felling these magnificent forest giants.
Below: A massive Kauri tree stump
Because we are mad photographers we stopped at an old deserted wooden church off the main road; this was the first small wooden church we saw however there are at least 15 more in the Hokianga and far north and we stopped at many of them.
The region was first discovered, according to legend, by Kupe, the legendary Polynesian navigator and explorer who settled in Hokianga in approximately 925 AD. The first European ship sailed into the Hokianga Harbour and left loaded with timber in 1822. History in brief! Bishop Jean Baptiste Pompallier, arrived, with the aim of establishing a Catholic mission around 1835 and found the region was firmly in the hands of Methodist and Anglican missionaries. In 1837 a French aristocrat with delusions of grandeur, Baron Charles de Thierry, sailed with 60 settlers into this hive of export activity to claim an immense tract of land that he believed he had purchased for 36 axes, 15 years earlier. Now days Maori and Europeans live mostly harmoniously throughout New Zealand and embrace the rich combined history of this region. From this area one arrives in Dargaville a rural town on the banks of the always brown Wairoa River. Dargaville grows the Kumara or sweet potatoe – do try Kumara chips sometime, low cholestrol I’m told!! Definitely delicious.
The Blah Blah Café is my destination where homemade soup, Quiche and coffee are as good as anywhere in the country. We headed to Te Kopuru and checked on the old hospital, built at the turn of the century, many of the buildings are still standing and are being used as private residences some have fallen into disrepair.
The main street has two homes whose owners have collected buoys and paraphernalia from the river to decorate their gardens, a must see site before finding a track down to the river. Along the river banks are old forgotten boats almost engulfed by reeds and one’s imagination can easily slip back in time to a life when the river bustled with boats!
Enough of the forgotten corners we are off in search of the famous giant Kauri trees. There are three great places to stop and see these trees, Trounson Park, the 4 Sisters and of course Tane Mahutu. Trounson Park has an easy 40 minute boardwalk amongst the giant trees and the bird song can be delightful. Four Sisters is about a 15 minute’s walk with a slight incline or a longer loop walk. The piece de resistance is Tane Mohutu on the roadside in the Waipoua Forest. Not as old or as big as the Californian redwoods but still impressive. Girth 13.77 m – Total Height 51.2 m –
Young Maori woman wearing her tribal Moku- Opononi.
We chatted to this couple who had been fishing at the harbour entrance.
View from the Omapere Copthorne early morning
Omapere was our chosen destination for the night; we stayed in waterfront rooms at the Copthorne Hotel where the beds are super soft and luxurious. We booked via wotif.co.nz and I advise pre booking for dinner as well as their restaurant is often full. Just before Omapere is a left turn to the lookout and a beautiful walk along the top of the hill overlooking the harbour and bar. In the morning we chose to drive to Rawene for breakfast at the Boatshed Café.
Below: ‘Opo’ sculpture in Opononi, it is small and easy to miss.
Do stop in Opononi and see the small but beautiful sculpture that made the town famous…a boy with a Dolphin called “Opo”. Walk out onto the jetty and soak up the views. We didn’t stop on this trip but before the Rawene turn off are the impressive Koutu Boulders and they too are worth a look; similar to the Moeraki Boulders. One could easily spend a week exploring the north however this was only 3 days!! Above: Koutu Boulders from a previous visit.
Below: Rawene morning
Above: Boatshed Cafe in Rawene
Rawene has some wonderful cafes and galleries and the Old Post Office is a good option to stay the night. Eccentric decor with 4 posters and fine dining. We caught the car ferry across the harbour and out first destination was another beautifully kept old church. The Church of Our Lady of the Assumption sits proudly on a hill overlooking the harbour; the interior is as rich as its history. Another coffee and more fun galleries at Kohukohu a very small town perched on the river bank. At Kohukohu is an old sports field and grandstand, the fields have lovely old Memorial gates and one lonely spotlight towers above the overgrown goal posts and rugby grounds. On top of the fridge are forgotten trophies. This is the far north. New Zealand the way it used to be…
Then we drove through lovely farm land via Ahipara on the Tasman Sea before returning to Kerikeri around three o’clock. A quick visit to Kemp House ( one of NZ’s oldest wooden buildings) and the charming english style garden; then a few more photos at The Old Stone Store. Don’t forget to try a delicious ice-cream while while doing a roadie.
Above: Stone Store at Kerikeri
Next stop Paihia for the night. We didn’t have time to do tours on this trip as we had spent a lot of time taking photographs along the way – one could spend all day in Kerikeri soaking up our history. Then in Paihia one could visit Russell and the old church at Waimate north if time allowed.The Paihia sunrise was spectacular.
Paihia has a lot of accommodation however we chose the Copthorne at Waitangi as the rooms overlooked the water. The hotel is tired but the location is excellent. We were booked in the morning on a Fullers Cruise to Cape Brett so we ate at the hotel. We should have gone to a café as the breakfast was huge and the coffee was lousy! Soon we were sitting on the boat admiring the islands in between the odd passing shower. I have close ties to this part of the world, my parents retired to Paihia and we sailed there every summer for 20 years.
Below: The swamp kauri memorial seat is in the clearing and the views are stunning.
My husbands’ ‘swamp kauri’ memorial seat is on the top of Roberton Island so it was special to cruise past. The dolphins came and said hello but were not particularly playful; we saw a couple of lazy seals and excitement spiralled at the prospect of going through the Hole in the Rock, however common sense prevailed and we watched the large swells crashing through the hole…better them than us!! I didn’t fancy being in a washing machine or swimming to safety!! Some entertainment was provided as numerous Indian tourists stood on the bow doing the Titanic pose!!
Below: Common Dolphins and Urapukapuka Island
Above: Cape Brett Lighthouse
Above: Hole in the Rock
After our boat trip we had a fabulous lunch on the wharf in Paihia before heading back to Auckland via the quaint town of Kawakawa. Kawakawa is world famous for the Hundertwasser toilets, designed especially by the town’s famous Austrian resident, Friedensreich Hundertwasser. See below.
Above: Kawakawa toilet block and street art.
My American photographer friend had a quick look at the far north; to be honest one should spend a week up there. I have visited much of the region over the years including staying at Poutu Point south of Dargaville, where you can check out the lighthouse and old ship wrecks amongst the sand hills.
I am constantly surprised by how many Aucklander’s have not ventured to the Hokianga. I hope this will inspire you to pack your bags and visit one of my favourite places for a weekend away. You might make some new discoveries. Please share the blog and comments are fabulous.