From giant kauri, to endless expanses of ocean-facing beach, to the windswept tip of Te Rerenga Wairua itself, the natural wonders of the Far North are humbling in their scale and beauty.
Northland/Te Tai Tokerau is also known as Te Hiku-o-te-Ika, “the Tail of the Fish”, as legend says this land forms the tail of the huge fish, pulled from the ocean by Maui. New Zealanders may be familiar with these tales of origins - of Maui, Kupe, the signing of the Treaty of Waitangi, famed Maori chiefs and early colonists… There are a string of famous places on every Kiwi’s northern must-see list, but here are a few lesser known spots you might want to add to a journey north.
Photo credit: Wairere Boulders
Horeke sits at the top of the Hokianga Harbour, and nearby are the Wairere Boulders, great basalt rocks from an ancient volcanic flow. The boulders have been eroded into fluted forms by the acidic run-off from kauri, and form a chaotic, cascading flow down the valley. The owners of the land, Rita and Felix Schaad, have created trails with bridges and stairs, taking walkers over, under and around the boulders, up through the valley, with native forest, young kauri trees, and a platform at the top, with views down towards the Hokianga Harbour. The boulder loop is an hour’s walk, and the walk to the platform can take up to 2 hours (return).
While you’re in the area, stop in Horeke. It is the second oldest town in New Zealand, having sprung up when a shipyard was established here in 1826. The country’s oldest pub is in Horeke, handy if you’ve worked up a thirst or an appetite while hiking. You could mosey along the Hokianga Harbour and take in the historic and picturesque villages of Rawene and Kohukohu, with art galleries, and buildings on stilts over water. The Boatshed Cafe in Rawene is renowned for good food and coffee, with views of the ferry crossing from the deck.
Tanemahuta pool at Ngawha Springs, photo courtesy of http://www.ngawharetreat.co.nz
Waiariki Pools at Ngawha Springs near Kaikohe are a group of natural hot springs, bubbling up into rustic, wooden baths. The name Waiariki means “chiefly waters”, and these pools are a taonga for local Māori. It is said the springs were discovered by Kareariki, an ancestress, in the 1600s, and her descendants are still the kaitiaki, or guardians of this special place. The springs are part of the Ngawha geothermal field. The waters are rich in minerals, with healing and therapeutic qualities claimed. Each pool has its own name and character, with variations in colour, temperature and water composition. “Bulldog” is the hottest usually, over 45 degrees, with black water. “Baby” is a small pool, with deep green water, over 40 degrees. “Tanemahuta” is around 37 degrees. Don’t expect a fancy spa - this is a down-to-earth place, with a whiff of sulphur, murky waters and a real community feel. Bring cash - it’s $4 for adults, $1 for children, and there’s an honesty box if the office is unattended.
Puketi Forest, photo: Jesse Palmer via Flickr Creative Commons
Puketi Forest is one of the largest expanses of native forest in the north. Here you’ll find the fourth largest living kauri, Te Tangi o te Tui Puketi. Manginangina Kauri Walk is a 15 minute boardwalk loop round mature kauri. Or from the Puketi Recreation Area, with its huts and picnic tables, take the Puketi Nature Trail for a pleasant, hour long loop track through native forest. There are many longer hiking trails too, and the Forest Pools are a popular picnic spot. Puketi and Omahuta Forests are home to North Island brown kiwi, kōkako, kereru and many other native birds, along with Pacific gecko, Northland green gecko, Northland tusked weta, the carniverous Kauri snail, and native bats. You probably won’t see a giant kauri snail or a kiwi, but it’s nice to know they’re there…
Te Paki Recreation Reserve
Cape Maria Van Diemen, Bookabach/17580
Visiting the lighthouse at Cape Reinga/ Te Rerenga Wairua is a classic, must-do trip for visitors to the far north. This wind-swept promontory is a spiritual place for Māori, as the point where departing spirits leap off on their journey back to the ancestral homeland, Hawaiiki. It’s a unique spot, where a wind-blasted pohutukawa clings to the rock, and where the Tasman Sea and Pacific Ocean meet. If you’re coming this far north, make sure to explore some of Te Paki Recreation Reserve, with its beautiful beaches and walking tracks. Tapotupotu Bay is accessible by car, and has a stream which you can float in, down to the sometimes wild waves. You can walk part of the Te Paki Coastal Trail from here. Te Paki is also famous for its huge golden sand dunes, which you can whoosh down on body boards. Take your own, or there are tour operators who provide them.
Puwheke Beach, Karikari Peninsula
Puheke Beach, Photo credit: Bookabach.co.nz/1618
The Karikari Peninsula throws an arm around the top of Doubtless Bay, and this area is dotted with gorgeous beaches. “Doubtless, a bay” wrote Captain James Cook, as he sailed past in 1769. The Karikari Peninsula is fringed with lovely beaches, but without loads of coastal development. Matai Bay is famously beautiful, with its crescent shaped beach, popular for camping, swimming and fishing. Puwheke Bay is a beautiful stretch of white sand, often deserted, with Puwheke, the highest point in the area, shaped a bit like an octopus (puwheke): climb it for views over the coastline.