Hokianga holds it's mystique                                  image library

At the base of the Brynderwyn we strike to the west onto SH12 passing through Maungaturoto, Paparoa to our first stop at Matakohe where the famous Kauri Museum is a most worthwhile stop. We had toured the museum extensively 2 or 3 years ago so this time we look into the 'free to visit' and beautifully maintained, 1909 post office. For us, time warps 50 years into the past - PABX telephone systems, hand written ledgers and pidgeonhole letter sorting. Matakohe was the home of our first New Zealand born Prime Minister, Rt Hon Gordon Coates and the 1950s, solid brick memorial church was erected in his honour. A brief coffee stop in the garden at the Gumdiggers and westward progress again, but not before the span of time brings 40 years of VW past and present together. The Westfalia has been well maintained and is in near perfect condition - lets hope we can keep our California in similar fettle. Down the hill, past Lockwood Smith's impressive 'Belgium Blue' property on both sides of the road and onto the Ruawai flats, home to Northlands Kumara (sweet potato) industry. The sandy soils seem to be made for this tuber which has reliably produced here for decades. The Ruawai flats are below sealevel, hence the wide stopbanks alongside the Wairoa river and deep drainage canals which criscross the landscape.

 

The sharp righthander down by the river puts us on the road for Dargaville, passing historic TokaToka, which gives it's name to 'TokaToka gold'; a kumara variety first appearing in these parts a couple or three decades ago.

Just past TokaToka we take a right turn onto Mititai road and a 20minute gravel drive takes us to the base of Maungaraho rock which looms over 200 metres above. It is a huge basalt volcanic core where the surrounding softer ground has eroded away leaving the hard basalt. It is impressive in itself but disappointing to discover that the tracks around the base giving access to the summit are now seriously overgrown and neglected. Even though steep, a well developed and maintained summit track would be a real tourist drawcard for the area. A short time later we are back on SH12 running alongside the brown Wairoa river which moves sluggishly down towards the Kaipara. The Wairoa, or Northern Wairoa, is 150 kms long. In the late 19th and early 20th century it was an important part of business with vessels as large as 4000 tonnes navigating as far up as Te Kopuru, delivering supplies and collecting trade cargo - logs, gum and flax. Today, there is no river traffic with local prosperity depending on agriculture, horticulture and tourism serviced by road.

 

The impressive bridge spanning the Wairoa leads us into Dargaville town which starts with a small industrial zone quickly giving way to the town centre which ranges alongside the riverbank.

Our favourite, and really the only Dargaville cafe with delicious homedone food and decent coffee - Blah, Blah, Blah, in Queen St, is our first stop. The staff are happy, the coffees are great, even the decaf, and the walnut and maple muffin - delicious. For this time of the day the cafe is quite busy - good to see and the general feel of Dargaville is a bit more upbeat than it was on an earlier visit when a permanent gloom seemed to have set in. We are spending 2 days in the area on this visit so no need to rush. When you take time to look more closely at Dargaville there is a lot of history here, older, early 1900s commercial and residential buildings still in mostly original clothes.

In brief, the town is named after 19th century politician Joseph Dargaville and was the centre of New Zealand's kauri gum and timber trade - also, it boasted New Zealand's largest town population. The Northern Wairoa river was an important transport route and is still a very noteable geographical feature today. The enormous stretch of the west coast Baylys beach, from the southern end Kaipara north head to the Maunganui Bluff in the north is impressive from any point of view and well worth the 11km drive from SH12 to the coast. Especially on a day of quiet weather when the wind driven seamist subsides allowing long north/south views along the beach. The best bonus of a beach visit is lunch at Funky Fish - a real treat. Either inside at wide tables or out the back amongst well tended, shady tropical plantings. The fish of the day is very good and generous. 

 

With another 30 or so kilometres to Wai Hou Oma Lodge, near the Kai Iwi lakes, we take our leave of Baylys driving north on 12 until we take a left turn onto the Kai Iwi lakes road. Summer drought has certainly struck this area hard and we notice how low the lakes are as we pass by. The collection of lakes that make up Kai Iwi are dune lakes, fed simply by runoff, so low rainfall = low lake levels.

At the largest lake, Taharoa, the Pine beach camp site pine trees have been removed leaving the landscape looking bare and scorched, however hundreds of natives have been planted and will eventually restore this attractive area. Apparently the pines were slowly poisoning the lake and killing off native fish which are now making a reappearance. Just down the road another 1.5km is Wai Hou Oma Lodge which comprises a group of independent, mainly 1 bedroom modern chalets, arranged around a pretty lake. Each chalet is completely selfcontained, featuring polished concrete floors, full kitchen including dishwasher and spacious tasteful bathroom. Ruby and Noel created Wai Hou Oma and the entire property, now matured, which is a tribute to their original vision. Their private residence is part of the property and the whole blends seamlessly. The extreme dryness is evident here too with the low lake level and the obviously stressed shrubbery. A very restful place and we are really pleased we are spending 2 nights. Little Tammy thinks 2 nights here is almost as good as a chicken dinner!

 

Following a chat with Ruby and a stroll through the gardens we settle down for a night in and are 'pleased' to discover that Sky TV penetrates even these remote parts so we can watch a UKTV program we have been following. Not so important but relaxing all the same. Silence surrounds at Wai Hou Oma, a welcome change from city living. Sleep is only briefly interrupted by gentle Tammy snores. Morning arrives a wee bit drizzly and I immediately think Ruby and Noel will be delighted, however within 30 minutes the drizzle dies away to increasing blue sky. Good for us but not for the dry gardens.

Fresh coffee soon brewing and over breakfast we decide how to structure the day. The main purpose of the full day is some period black and white photography in Dargaville, a visit to the Museum and lunch at Funky Fish Baylys beach. Also needed are shots of the lakes, capturing their mood at different times of the day, so the lake area is the first call, then onto town. My feeling is the later afternoon is the best timing for the lake work and our morning visit proves this correct with Lake Taharoa looking quite dull and lifeless. 30kms into Dargaville, passing the Baylys turnoff with another 4-5 kms to Harding Park where the Dargaville Museum stands. Not only does the Museum house a wonderful wide ranging gum-diggers exhibit, but also to our surprise, a most interesting maritime section tracing the maritime history of the district through the mid-late 19th century.  Even if you are not too much into accordion music, the Friedrich collection of 200 plus uniquely differing instruments is simply amazing. 1 and a half to 2 hours is enough time for a thorough visit.

From the elevated vantage point which Harding Park affords, the view follows the sweep of the Wairoa swirling slowly towards the Kaipara Harbour, with Dargaville township hugging its lefthand bank.

 

Down into the town, a quick and good coffee at Blah,Blah,Blah, an hour for architectural shots then back out to Baylys and lunch at Funky Fish. The choice of the day is fresh Dory and we enjoy our lunch sitting out back in the tropical garden. A very contented Tammy can join us here too. The afternoon is pleasant and mild without much wind - unusual for Baylys - which makes a beach walk with Tammy possible, as at her low level any wind swept sand is a very negative experience. The ever present wind generated sea mist is almost non-existent today, enabling great north/south perspectives. The citadel like, consolidated dune headlands loom over the beach and I notice a couple of neat beachfront bachs tucked low behind windswept vegetation. We trundle south for about half an hour then about turn, all the time carefully watching what flotsam Tammy is interested in on the way. There have been some worrying reports of dog poisonings, most likely from toxic algae, washed up jellyfish or sea slugs. We are back at the California without incident and after a paw and foot wipe to get rid of sticky sand we retrace our route to SH12 and so north to the lakes.

 

Approaching Shag lake I immediately detect camera friendly light settling in with the ambient slowly waning creating a softer effect. Not too many shags today but the drowned forest lake is a marvellous subject in itself. Tammy is not allowed out as Taharoa is a kiwi habitat - just what Tammy would do if she saw a kiwi with it's dangerous looking long beak...! Lake Kai Iwi and Taharoa offer some interesting photo opportunities so we are back at Wai Hou Oma soon after 6.

 

A drizzly morning breaks and this soon clears away to a dullish overcast. Taking our leave of Ruby and Noel we are on SH12 north just after 10am. Soon into the start of the forest where the abundance of juvenile kauri is remarkable. The towering trunks of older kauri are very obvious, but few in number. Two thirds of the way through is the real giant, Tane Mahuta, reputed to be up to 2500 years old. Imagine Tane Mahuta starting it's life in the time of Socrates and Alexander the Great! We had taken the 10 minute, well maintained boardwalk on several previous occaisons yet it is always worthwhile to pay our respects and spend time with this magnificent botanical specimen.

Leaving Waipoua behind, a coffee stop at Morrells of Waimamaku is slightly disappointing. The coffee is still good, however the cottage garden is now weed infested and the mood behind the counter - depressed. As we climb the hill towards Hokianga, broaching the summit to catch the afternoon sun on the huge golden northhead dune, spirits lift as this is truly a breathtaking view. The harbour bar is moderate today, however the shifting breaks out in the Tasman are plain to see. The early and major industry of the area - kauri logs, were shipped away from Hokianga across the harbour bar where many a fully laden vessel foundered, losing steerage and being blown ashore.

Our next stop of the afternoon is our home for the next 2 nights, past Opononi near the Koutu boulders. A pleasant enough, albeit basically equipped holiday house. The position is elevated and facing north west which opens up the view directly down  the harbour and out across the bar. Some colorful sunsets would be seen from here but not for us as the evening clouds in, low on the horizon. Some unusual wildlife night sounds keep us and Tammy on alert through the dark hours. We sleep through our normal city noises of traffic, the odd siren and so on but these noises of nature can be disquieting.

Our 2nd Hokianga day promises sun later with breakfast at the Schooner Cafe, Omapere No 1 on our agenda. Once on SH12 the journey is quite short and we are soon enjoying eggs and bacon on the Schooner verandah. The closeup view of the harbour entrance tempts us to another coffee.

Walking out to the lookout at Signal Station Point, where close up harbour entrance views and down into Martins Bay, is well worth the half hour return walk.

Today we plan to study the southern side of the harbour - Rawene, Mangungu and Horeke. The early colonial history of the Hokianga district delivers many fascinating stories and is a rewarding destination today, as some of the historic towns are well preserved giving the modern visitor a real glimpse of the past.

 

Rawene, established in the late 19th century, started life as Herds Point after Captain Herd, who started shipping kauri from the area. A visit to Clendon House, the home of James Clendon, a magistrate and the first US Consul to New Zealand, is an illuminating step back into early NZ history. The cottage hospital on the ridge overlooking the town was established in 1910, extended in 1928 and still provides health services today. There are some other noteable, authentic Rawene buildings which are architectural gems of their era. Lunch at the Boatshed Cafe, out over the water, is excellent with 'fresh today' Hokianga flounder the pick of the menu. The Rawene - KohuKohu ferry operates regularly from the point and will quickly transport you and your vehicle to KohuKohu on the northern shore. This was to be our intention tomorrow but unfortunately we are urgently called back to Auckland, cutting our Hokianga visit short. What remains of the afternoon is just enough for a thorough investigation of the southern Hokianga shore.

Mangungu, about 30kms east of Rawene, was a Wesleyan Mission Station established in 1828, the house being built in 1838. Very unusually the Mission house was moved to Onehunga, Auckland then returned to it's original site in the 1970s where it is now a restored museum overlooking the cemetery, church and harbour. Governor Hobson hosted a second gathering at this place, attended by 70 Chiefs and a large crowd of about 3000 to witness a further signing of the Treaty of Waitangi. The Mission house is a valuable architectural wooden structure and one of a very few pre-dating 1840 colony establishment. Honey bees were introduced to New Zealand by a Miss Mary Bumby who landed at Mangungu in 1839, bringing beehives from Sydney when she accompanied her brother John who had been appointed Superintendent by the Methodist church.

 

Mangungu is about two thirds inland from the harbour entrance with low tide exposing vast areas of mangrove mudflats. About 15kms further east lies Horeke, one of the earliest European settlements in New Zealand. Shipbuilding became briefly established in the 1820s, but in 2014 there is only history here - the first hotel in New Zealand still stands and several houses built on wooden piles over the mudflats.

Thus ends this visit to Hokianga - we retrace our route to Auckland tomorrow. Later in the year we hope to return, cross the harbour and time warp back 150 years.

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