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Hokianga - Easter 2011

Just recently we've been watching a travel program, presented by Marcus Lush, about the North of New Zealand. It reminded us of some of the great places we've visited in the Far North, and told us about some of the things and places we haven't seen. We decided that we'd head back to Rawene, one of our favourite Northland towns, for Easter. And we'd take the Pajero, Art's 'Tonka toy', so we could go and explore the gravel roads on the northern side of the Hokianga Harbour.

At this point we discovered an issue - obviously everyone else had been watching Marcus Lush too. There was no room at the Inn for Easter……

So we hit http://www.bookabach.co.nz and found a one-bedroomed unit, near a place called Koutu, near Opononi. It was down a gravel road, and - best of all - came with breakfast! We booked it. Sharon and Ian's at Hawksview.

The view from the breakfast deck at Sharon & Ians

Day 1 - The Journey Up

Someone has brought all the toys

With the whole day ahead of us, and taking into account the possibility of heavier than usual traffic due to Easter, we avoided SH1 and headed nort-west out of Auckland on SH16. Then along the Old North Road, cutting off the corner past Helensville, until joining the main road again and heading towards Wellsford. This is a route that was told to us by a local - it's not an obvious route if you look at a map, but is a lovely drive as well as being reasonably quick.

Unfortunately all roads lead to Wellsford - but generally the junction in at SH16 has fewer queues than SH1. We were through in a very short time, and heading north on SH1 towards Brynderwyn, and the turning west towards Dargaville and the West Coast. This really is where we consider the holiday to start. The west coast road is lovely - there are things to do en route, but just the drive itself is entertainment in itself. We've now done this coast in our Honda Jazz, on our BMW motorbikes (now sadly sold on Trademe), in our MGF open-topped sports car, and now in our 4wd Pajero. Each experience is different.

On the drive between Brynderwyn and Dargaville, you're in Kumara country. This is a type of sweet potato, much loved by the Maori, and most pakeha I know (including Hubby). Lunch was spicy Kumara soup at a local cafe. There is also a Kauri museum - this is the start of Kauri Country too. We didn't stop this time, as we had plans of what to do with our 4WD.

At this point it's also worth warning the intrepid traveller about a couple of things.

There are two days in New Zealand when everything is closed - Christmas Day and Good Friday. Also be aware that on Anzac Day (23rd May) shops are closed until around 1 pm. This includes bars, and although eateries are allowed to open, many don't. So take at the very minimum an emergency meal and a bottle of wine with you.

Northland has a bit of a reputation for thefts from tourists cars. Don't leave anything on display, and lock up!

Just through Dargaville we headed west towards the coast and Baylys Beach. The coast here is very straight, and the beach is actually longer than Ninety Mile Beach. It runs from North Head, at the mouth of Kaipara Harbour, to Aranga Beach in the north. And at low tide, it is possible to drive the full length of it along the sand. When we arrived, though, it was high tide. I think I was relieved!

But we did decice to try the Tonka out on the gravel coast road. The car lapped up the kilometers - it's definitely made for off-road. And we saw some beautiful scenery. Oh - and two cars. You don't get much traffic off-tarmac!

After a short photographic stop at Kai-Iwi Lakes, we made our way back onto tarmac, and SH12, the main west coast road. Then 6 km down the road we turned off to the Trouson Kauri Park. It's tarmac most of the way, and the walk at the other end is worth it. There's a 40 minute circular walk from the car park, on easy flat paths. There are more kauri than i've seen for a long time. Just the size of the 'juveniles' is awe inspiring (they're a mere couple of hundred years old), but when you see some of the older ones they're amazing. You can understand why the loggers wanted them though - the trunks are thick, dead straight, and very tall. And of course they're hard wood. We also were priviledged to see a fantail having a bath in a puddle - he didn't seem to worry about us at all.

Hokianga Harbour Entrance

All our stops and detours had stretched the journey out to late afternoon. We arrived at Omapere, at the mouth of the Hokianga Harbour, as the sun was beginning to get low in the sky. And over the other side of the harbour mouth were the sand-dunes that Marcus Lush had featured on North. We headed for the scenic viewpoint. Now, here's an interesting money-making idea…. Remember me saying about being careful about thefts from cars? Well, at the car park there were a group of local Maori youths playing football. And there was a guy in a van, from the Omapere Lions Club, taking donations for 'car park safety'. I think they were genuinely trying to keep the place safe - but it did make us wonder what would happen if you didn't make a donation ('OK guys, this one's fair game') or when the guy in the van went home (we were there just before five - if he worked 'normal' hours, did that mean anything still in the car park after 5 was also fair game?). We gave our donation.

Omapere more or less runs into Opononi. As expected, there was nothing open, so the emergency meal was going to come into its own.

We arrived at the bach just after 5. And that's where I'm writing this. It's actually a studio unit attached to the garage. It's obviously fairly newly decorated, with a double bed, en-suite shower & loo, and a small kitchenette with sink, fridge, microwave, toaster and kettle. Unfortunately there is no hot-plate, and no cooking implements that I could put in the microwave. So preparing tonights meal will be interesing. I'll ask our host if I can borrow a pyrex casserole dish and lid tomorrow…..

So that's day 1. Tonight's entertainment will be watching Forrest Gump.

Day 2 - Mitimiti and the Sand Dunes

Rawene Ferry

One of the main reasons that Art wanted to visit Hokianga was to see the sand dunes at North Head. Even though we'd brought our 4WD car, we knew that in order to negotiate the tides on the beach, and to get onto the dunes (and return) safely we'd be better with a local. Fortunately the local Northland tourist guide listed www.sandtrails.co.nz . We phoned them to see if there were spaces for the day. There were - and we had a choice of either taking the Opononi passenger ferry for an hours trip, or driving to Mitimiti, for a two hour trip along the beach then onto the sanddunes. No choice! Have 4WD, will travel! We arranged to meet our host, Andrew, at his house at 2:00 pm.

The best way of getting to Mitimiti is to take the Rawene vehicle ferry to the north, then take a hard left and follow the West Coast Road to the very end. We arrived at the ferry at 10:25 - and it was sitting waiting to go. But we needed to fill up with fuel! There was no way we were driving along New Zealand back roads with no likelihood of filling up, so we reluctantly let it go and filled up at Rawene garage. Then with an hour to the next ferry, we walked round Rawene (a lovely little town - it reminds me of Russell without the tourists). There are a few historic buildings, a 'four square' supermarket/dairy, some art shops, and the Boatshed Cafe. This is the ideal place to retire for refreshment, and to watch the ferry returning.

With an hour lost because of the missed ferry, we didn't have quite as much time as we would have liked to get to Mitimiti. The GPS said we wouldn't get there 'til 2:30. Fortunately we knew the GPS tends to be ultra-cautious on gravelled roads, so we'd end up picking up quite a lot of time. The Topo50 (aka 'Ordnance Survey') map showed a gravel road for most of the way - but in fact, the road is now tarmacked as far as Panguru and Lower Wairou. Art was feeling quite hard done by. But it's gravel all the way from that point onwards. And it's a lovely drive. There are a few photographic opportunities along the way, including some old 'picturesque' shacks, and swathes of pampas grass (a weed in New Zealand, but still beautiful). In fact, in the end, we arrived over an hour early - so headed for a view of the sea and a lunch of banana and ginger biscuits.

Local Bareback Rider

The sea was spectacular! There were times where there were up to five breakers coming in, one after the other. And there were people fishing, by standing on rocks, out there. The weather was glorious. We sat just watching the sea for the whole hour.

Just before our scheduled start time, we made our way to 'Sandtrails Hokianga'. Andrew, our host, welcomed us, and offered us a cup of tea. Andrew is a local Maori, who can trace his iwi back to the beginning of Maori history in New Zealand. We needed to take the buggy along the beach once the tide had dropped a bit, so he took us on a tour of the immediate area first, and told us some local Maori history, including the story of two chiefs who fought over a whale, and where the defeated warrior was eaten by the victors! Then, a drive to the south, dodging the shallow waves that were still sweeping up the beach. There were lots of vehicles and fishermen along the way; apparently there was a fishing competition going on. About 10 km along the beach, the sand dunes rise off to the left. 'Hold on', cried Andrew, 'We're going up!' We swung off the beach, and up the dune. And kept on going. It was definitely a case of keeping your speed up, and knowing where to go in order to make a peak and then heading downhill for a short while before using the momentum to make it up to another peak. It was exhilarating! At last, we made it to the top of the dunes, and the view over the other side and into the Hokianga Harbour and Opononi.

Andrew, his buggy and The Hokianga http://www.sandtrailshokianga.co.nz/

This really is an amazing place for views - there is such a contrast betgween the green of the hills above Opononi, the blue of the Hokianga Harbour water, and the gloden yellow of the sand dunes. Add to that the amazingly blue sky with wispy clouds - we were going to be running the risk of running out of space on the camera's memory card! But this was just the beginning. Andrew headed off across the dunes towards the sand sculptures. These are areas where the sand has been compacted down until it is a cross between sand and a very soft sandstone. It crumbles very easily - but is hard enough that when the wind blows, it whips round the surfaces leaving ridges and creases where the slightly different hardnesses of the sand give different resistance. There is also a thin layer of iron-rich stone, harder than the soft sand, but only about a millimeter thick. Obviously some geological event happened - but I don't know what. There is also a layer of burned organic material. Local legend says that this was caused when one of the local chiefs burned down the forest in the area. Andrew didn't know why - but we'd heard a similar story in South Island, where the Maori used to catch Moa in this way. This also fitted with another local find - small white stones, which Andrew had been told were the stomach stones from the gizzards of Moa. The sand sculptures are beautiful, and very majestic. This day was lining up to be one of the best we've had since we've been in New Zealand. At last, we headed back along the beach to Mitimiti. We arrived back too late to make the 5:00 ferry back to Rawene, so Andrew and his wife invited us to stay for tea and home-made scones! We continue to be amazed by the friendliness and generosity of the New Zealanders that we meet along our travels.

Hokianga Sea

More Photos below

We arrived back in Rawene at 6:15 pm, in the dark, and as we'd visited the Masonic Hotel a couple of years before and the food was OK, we decided to try it again. Unfortunately, it is now up for sale, and the bar food is not the best My pork chop was mainly fat, and the jacket potatoes were small, wrinkled and overcooked. Arts fish and chips were better - I should have gone for them. Never mind - tomorrow we stay in and I attempt to cook chilli in the microwave in our room….

Day 3 - Horse Trekking

Today, it was supposed tgo be raining. And it was indeed cloudy first thing - but the sun was coming out. Our hosts Sharon and Ian made us breakfast - bacon and poached eggs (no vinegar - much better!), and a pot of tea. Yum! We decided to try out the horse trekking at www.hokiangahorsetreks.co.nz in the next valley along. I phoned up, and made an appointment for 1:00 with Annora, the owner. So we had a couple of hours to kill. Sharon and Ian volunteered to take us to see the fantastic view from their neighbours airfield, then on to see Sharon's sister, Jill Reilly, who is a local artist who makes beautiful stained glass. As we're considering putting stained glass in a coupled of our new windows. this was quite apt. (As we said before, we continue to be amazed at the friendliness of the local New Zealanders). Then back to the house for a cup of tea before heading for the horse-riding.

We arrived to find Annora feeding her horses after their morning ride, then went in for a cup of tea (another friendly local!). Art was given a large dark brown horse to ride, Bailey, and I was given a dark golden brown horse called Lordy. Annora rode a grey called Sarah. From minute number 1, Art's horse knew who was in control - and it wan't Art! The first thing he did was walk straight into next doors garden ('he's never done that before', says 'Annora). Eventually he was extracted, and we were on our way. Up the gravel road, then off down a track. Now the great thing about horse riding in NZ is that there are very few roads to ride on or cross - but lots of farm tracks and grass paddocks. We took a loop around the peninsula, with another lovely view at the far side. Guess what - a photographic opportunity! We took a few photos for Annora's website too. Then had a talk about websites and Search Engine Marketing. Then the promised rain started. Fortunately we were nearly back. We arrived back, and Art and I gave Annora an impromptu Search Engine Marketing course for her horse trekking website in exchanged for another cup of tea and a Jammie Dodger.

We're now sitting in our unit, after a huge plate of Chilli Con Carne and rice. As I've done all the cooking this break, it's Art's turn to do the washing up. This is currently piled up in the sink - I wonder if it will be done before bed-time!

More Hokianga Photos

tonka_trips/e_hokianga.txt · Last modified: 2011/04/27 09:39 by art
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