Hokianga - from dunes to forest, with classic food stops along the way

In the winterless north, on the west coast of New Zealand's Northland, there's a collection of classic kiwi food treasures to find, whatever the season....

The sun is shining….no surprise really, it is the winterless north. And, here in the north, there’s a journey south, along the Hokianga Harbour, that takes in dolphin tales, sand dunes, and an especially giant kauri tree. More good news, along the way you’ll spot some classic, and highly recommended, kiwi food moments.

But first, that harbour.

A place of history

The Hokianga is rich in both Māori and European significance, sometimes described as the first chapter of the New Zealand story. A clue, its full name - Hokianga-nui-a-Kupe, the final departure place of Kupe (for Hawaiki) - records its connection with the famous Polynesian explorer.

And the harbour was one of the first points of Māori–European contact. The occasional ship called from around 1800, despite a dangerous bar making the harbour entrance risky. It’s good to be in that place of history, soaking up the sunshine and the vibes of many years gone by.

Historic Rāwene

Start your tour in historic Rāwene, we’re told New Zealand’s third-oldest European settlement. Back in the day Rāwene was a timber town, this is kauri country. Today it’s a charming settlement and travel spot, with an admirable far-north pace. 

Rāwene’s the start of a New Zealand cycle trail, the kauri coast cycleway. It’s also home to the Hokianga car ferry linking it, across the harbour, to Kohukohu and the northern Hokianga. Stretch your legs for a walk around the village, then stop off at a cafe or perhaps try New Zealand’s classic takeaways - Hokianga flounder and mullet - on offer. There’s a perfect spot, down by the water, to eat and watch that ferry come and go.

Consider, too, history in Rāwene’s name. We’ve read that, by last request, a dying Māori chief asked to be carried to the top of a ridge to watch the sun go down one last time, saying: "Wene te ra"- the sun is dying. There’s plenty of sun on offer this time.

From Rāwene, head out to the harbour entrance and turn inland towards the Waipoua Kauri Forest. And then you won’t miss beautiful Opononi and Ōmāpere on your way. 

Beauty of Opononi and Ōmāpere

Next stop Opononi, impressive pōhutakawa trees line the shore. There’s a wharf to catch fish, or boat across to tremendous sand dunes that dominate the landscape around here. And there’s more classic New Zealand takeaways on offer, right by Opo’s statue. Delicious.

You can’t pass by without learning about Opo the dolphin…Opononi became famous in New Zealand, back in the 1950s, because of Opo - a wild dolphin following fishing boats, swimming in the harbour and playing with swimmers on the beach.

She became a local celebrity, then visitors from around the country came to watch. But near the end of that summer she was found dead in a rock crevice. She was buried with full honours, and you’ll find her statue and story here.…

With thoughts of Opo, and the harbour, and the dunes, carry on along the coast road to Ōmāpere.

See those stunning sand dunes which frame the north side of the entrance. Stop off at the wharf for a close-by view, so close it seems you can feel them. And, before heading inland, check out smoked fish offerings and stop in at the lookout point. Another terrific place for a picnic spot, and panoramic views that are truly magnificent. Tasman Sea, dunes and harbour….from where you’ve just travelled.

A visit to Tāne Mahuta

A final stop on this little tour of the south Hokianga, inland to giant kauri.  Find a forest with three-quarters of New Zealand’s remaining kauri trees.

There’s picnic tables, toilets and a coffee caravan.  And, best of all, there’s walking access to Tāne Mahuta - the lord (or king, or god….) of the forest - the largest kauri tree in the world (and one of the largest trees in the world). That’s 51 metres high, a girth of more than 13 metres, and about 2,000 years old - all only a few minutes walk from the road. Quite the sight, and quite a lot of food for thought. This part of the world sure does make you think.  And slow down. 

And for more

And for more on The FoodPath NZ’s handpicked eateries and artisans, for our collection of spot on New Zealand food moments, including in the Hokianga and more through Northland, download our “New Zealand Food Trail Guides” app for iPhone or Android.