Dawn at Mahia Peninsula, New Zealand

Mahia - an indistinct sound                                    image library

Our journey to Mahia starts with a 2 night stay at our favourite Opotiki haven, Jan and Ewen Willis’s ‘Fruit Forest’, a delightful studio set amongst prolific organic avocado trees, 12 kms north of Opotiki on the Te Kaha road.  Long northerly views over forest and pasture take the eye to the distant Pacific. On our rest day we do the easy distance back to town just in time for an early lunch at Two Fish, a charming funky café occupying part of the historic Royal Hotel in Church Street. We have been before and it is as good as ever. Judging by the patronage plenty of others think the same.

The weather is perfect so our after lunch plans include a visit to the Hukutaia Domain which is a 5 hectare remnant of original native forest set aside by one of the early 20th century owners, EM Hutchinson.  Now a valuable native botanical collection, an internal network of tracks and boardwalks have been developed, taking about 1 1/2 hours to get around at leisurely pace. The tracks, although maintained in reasonable, usable condition are not perfect and a wet weather visit would be difficult. The main specimen of interest is ‘Taketakerau’, a giant 2000 year old Puriri tree. The bole of the tree is hollow and was used as resting place for the bones of Maori Distinguished Dead from the Upokorehe Tribe. It is very sacred to Maori, with local resident Marnie Anstis having written a delightful hard cover illustrated book about Taketakerau, entitled The Millennium Tree.

We take our leave of Jan and Ewen, turning  southeast onto SH2 just to the north of Opotiki town. We are soon into the Waioeka Gorge, enroute for our main destination, Mahia.  On a nice day, as today is, the Waioeka provides a remote 60km scenic native bush excursion, with the road winding through the narrow gorge alongside the river. Coming out of the Gorge at the Gisborne end, Matawai can provide quite an acceptable espresso at the Harddrive Café and the Matawai Hotel is of historic interest.

Onto Gisborne proper now driving through the extensive rolling vineyards of the Ormond District, the vines getting near to their winter leafless state.  We had singled out The Gisborne Wine Centre as our lunch stop as we had enjoyed a great visit during our Eastland journey earlier this year. As expected, a very enjoyable hour and much refreshed we are on the road south towards Mahia around 2.30pm.

You have probably noticed, I haven’t mentioned Tammy much – our 4 legged travelling companion – well we haven’t heard much from her either. She is just happy being away with us on another California journey and is quietly snoozing in her comfortable bed.

The road (SH2) follows the coast for about 25kms, then becomes slower through the inland hills until we descend down towards Nukaha. There is nothing at Nuhaka except The Store where I suppose one could purchase some vaguely essential supplies – the only thing we spot is a T towel with the Maori Haka printed on it. Good to send to Australia!   We turn almost due east now to Opoutama - about 10kms – from there turning north onto Mahanga Road. We’re nearly there and after a short gravel road drive we bump over Te Au Farm’s cattle stop turning down to the farmhouse where we are met by Malcolm, owner and keeper of Te Au Farm and The Quarters accommodation where we are for the next 3 days. Malcolm meets us near the barn and expresses some concern that we are driving a van as the track to The Quarters is a bit steep, also recently re-metalled. I tell him the California is equipped with 4 motion so it shouldn’t be a problem. On that optimistic note we turn right up the farm road with Malcolm leading on the farm bike. Yes, the road is steepish, a bit narrow and slidey with the new metal but with moderate power the California handles it easily, delivering us safely, a few minutes later to The Quarters backdoor.

To say the position is spectacular is completely understating the reality. The majesty of the rugged coast, the elevated easterly view over the Pacific and then south across Mahanga beach to the Mahia itself, take our breath away. In Maori, Mahia means ‘indistinct sound’, and there is an etherealness to the twilight scene.

The Quarters itself is a charming small cottage with a good clean functional kitchen, open living space with enclosed log fire, 2 bedrooms (1 a bunkroom), separate lavatory and a spacious bathroom including a washing machine. The good quality linen and towels in abundance are very welcome.

A verandah runs the whole length of the front, expanding to a deck with chairs and table off the living space. We are so blessed with the late autumn weather, we don’t need the fire and can have the doors open most of the time. In rough and windy weather, which must occur at times, the views of Nature’s fury from here would be something indeed, but the exposure could be scary. The light is fading and we are tired from the day so after a light dinner we drop into bed with a book. Tammy agrees with the dinner and bed idea!

A lovely dawn breaks, casting first light onto the Quarters around 6.30am. Amazingly there is no wind, with the ocean metres below, gently heaving. Our plan for today is to walk as far as we can on Malcolm’s Te Au Farm track leading away to the east, moderately rising as it goes.  We are not too sure how Tammy will view this plan but she sets off keenly enough. We are well armed with treats and water. The track is mostly easy, but there are some steepish runs. Thrilling coastal views back towards Mahia are possible through the whole walk. We watch carefully as Tammy is quite interested in the many cowpats. Just compost but all the same! About 2 thirds of the way Tammy slumps into the shade of a large strainer fence post, only lured on by a few treats and a drink. Up ahead, some hundreds of metres on yet, there is a blind left hand turn at a high point which should afford some of the best views. When we arrive, with Tammy pluckily trudging behind, the views are the best yet. A half hour stop, then it’s downhill all the way, except this time Tammy rebels. “I’ve walked all this way and you expect me to have to go back as well”! Ok, Ok, as she gratefully settles into my arms. Like a fast asleep baby she soon becomes a deadweight. We take our time, arriving back at The Quarters in time for a late leisurely lunch on the terrace. The wind is up a little but still very pleasant. With what is left of the day we check out the tiny settlements of Nuhaka and Opoutama, also taking a walk on lovely Mahanga beach. An open beach facing due east it has wonderful walkability and I can imagine some crowds during summer holiday periods. Today there is no-one – beautiful. Back to the Quarters and a quiet night in. Not much else to do really but a treat lies in wait. Even though we face east and the sun sets behind the large hill to our rear, the reflected sunset in front of us  is magic to behold. I am always camera ready so have some great shots.

The next morning dawns as good as the one before and after breakfast we set off the explore Mahia proper. There are the eastern and western sides to what was originally an island, which over centuries has had a natural sand bridge join it to the East Coast of the North Island. The Peninsula is just over 20kms long and 11 kms wide, rising to quite a high point at 397m. Mahia Beach township is the main settlement on the Peninsula, being a collection of bachs, some of substantial proportions, a camp ground and a tavern/bistro which looks to have fallen on hard times. Deciding to take the eastern side first, we almost get to Auroa Point, being stopped just before the Point by a gate and signage (legal?), obviously erected by local Maori, warning against proceeding.  This blockage also denies access to Table Cape. Of significant geological interest along this coastline are the rock platforms and reefs which extend well out beyond low tide. They are quite defined and geometrically horizontally layered.

Local Maori were first baptised by Bishop W Williams in 1842 near Whangawehi Creek with the natural baptismal font still evident in a rocky outcrop near the top edge of the Coronation Reserve where, further down the Reserve, the anchor from the SS Tasmania, wrecked in 1897, can be seen.

We continue on the eastern road, which turns inland at this point, for quite a few kilometres but soon decide that it is scenically uninteresting and will rob our ability to investigate the western Peninsula Coastline.  Retracing our path past the 'Carmargue' like Maungawhio Lagoon we comment, “all we need are the flamingos”, then take the steepish gravel road from the end of the Mahia Beach settlement. This road is passable and in reasonable condition for its type but it is narrow, very elevated with steep unprotected drops and has many hairpin blind bends. Could be a very dangerous road if not driven with due care. Don’t expect to cover the distance quickly. I silently thank VW for inventing 4 Motion – a great safety feature on a road like this. 

Our vague plan is to continue to Long Point which is near the end of the western road, maybe with a lunch stop at KiniKini Reserve. From the early 1800s whaling was a big industry at Mahia with one station located at Long Point. Pioneering life indeed at this very remote spot. Thinking of picnicking somewhere in The Reserve we cancel this plan immediately on arrival and are very concerned at the signage warning that there may be armed hunters in The Reserve. How is it possible to imagine armed hunters being compatible with strolling visiting families? This definitely needs a rethink. Its mid afternoon now so we tuck ourselves into the small reserve carpark to allow Tammy a walk, and all of us a bite of much needed lunch. The drive back to Mahia Beach doesn’t seem as long as the other way and we are soon back on the tarseal looking for Blacks Beach which we eventually decide  must be the black sand strip by Nuhaka which faces south west. There is no naming signage that we could find. The view from here takes in the whole Mahia western coast. This is our last night at The Quarters, tomorrow our drive taking us to Havelock North in Central Hawkes Bay. To say we have enjoyed our visit to the Mahia Peninsula would be an understatement – it has been outstanding. This is a remote and unspoiled part of New Zealand, lightly populated and largely tourist free, especially at this time of year. To be able to visit is a treat.

We take our leave of Malcolm, turning onto SH2 at Nuhaka enroute to Havelock North via Wairoa, Napier and Hastings. Wairoa, despite its rather ominous reputation is a very pretty little town ranged along the edge of the Wairoa River. Neat and tidy with quite a few heritage early 1900s buildings.  The East End Cafe is a must, excellent espresso and various home done food choices – all good and it's busy, which is always the tell-tale. A most unusual railway bridge crossing the Motuhora River catches our eye and just past the bridge, in nice time for lunch, is Lake Tutira on our left hand side. A delightfully scenic little lake about 30kms north of Napier, offering several private stopping spots offroad right alongside the gently rippling lake. Black swans glide serenely by. A pleasant hour and a half here with very few other cars intruding. We use the Napier bypass today which takes us just past Hastings then turning left back towards the coast to make Havelock North. Known as ‘The Village’ the compact town area is very prettily laid out and offers a range of quality shops and cafes. The wider area is famous for its private girls and boys colleges along with quality vineyards mostly with their own restaurants.

Our accommodation at Toms Cottages is beyond Havelock on the Waimarama Road before turning right up Matangi Road. We had stayed with Van and Linda before so are familiar with the small cottage and its charming layout. Tammy  feels very at home and we enjoy our 2 days enormously. We hadn’t factored in the huge influx of people to the area, either competing in or supporting the weekend’s Hawkes Bay marathon, making gaining a coffee in Havelock on Sunday morning somewhat difficult. Parking is at a premium and every café table taken, but, eventual success.  Planning  our vineyard lunch met with similar problems with one choice booked out and another only able to take us at 2pm. Our 2 o’clock table on the front lawn at Mission Estate Taradale is the most perfect spot, lightly shaded and slightly away from other diners and we could have our pal Tammy with us. The afternoon is outstanding  with The Mission Establishment flawless in every way. We thought we had been late at 2pm but people are still arriving an hour later. Reluctantly time to go around 4pm and back to Tom’s for our last night before heading back North to Auckland in the morning.

About 5 hours to home with a lunch stop in Taupo. It's uneventful except for heavy rain through the hills between Napier and Taupo and we are running up the Auckland southern motorway near 5pm.