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The Hokianga is one of New Zealand’s hidden gems. It sits quietly south of its popular cousin Cape Reinga and west of the famous Bay of Islands which lures visitors, thrill-seekers and those wanting to fill their days with busyness.
The Hokianga is like the deep breath of Northland. It is tranquil and beautiful. It moves slowly. There is time to take in the views, to sit on a veranda overlooking the sand dunes. To stop at a little café along the way for a coffee and date scone.
The beaches are deserted, yet if they were anywhere else they’d be edged in advertising, takeaway bars and souvenir shops. It’s as if no one else knows about this part of New Zealand.
Taking a Fullers GreatSights tour from Paihia means you’ll discover off-the-beaten track surprises like the Wairere Boulders, which were discovered when Swiss couple Felix and Rita Schaad moved to New Zealand in the 1980s.
They bought this piece of farmland to retire. What they discovered has blown away geologists around the world. Strewn along the valley are hundreds of basalt boulders hurled from what is now Lake Omapere when it erupted around 2.8 million years ago.
But the thing that causes these geologists to need a lie down is that the rocks are fluted. To you and me that may mean nothing much, but to rock boffins it blows away all their theories “because basalt can’t be fluted”.
Pick up a gnarled walking stick from the visitor hut and take an hour to follow the tracks the Schaad’s have built around their remarkable find.
Back on the bus and the next stop is morning tea in the tiny town of Rawene. The Boatshed café stands on stilts over the harbour and ferries come and go just down the road.
A couple of shops are gathered here, but it’s the peace people love. If it’s the quiet life you’re after, you could pick up property here for a song and live happily ever after.
A few kilometres along and you’ll pass through Opononi.
In the 1950's Opo the Friendly Dolphin, as she became known, moved in to the Hokianga and made Opononi her home, playing with the children who would swim around her in the summer of 1955.
Today she is immortalised in stone in front of the Four Square supermarket.
The Opononi wharf is where you can take a water taxi across to the sand dunes, and if you have time, climb up with your boogie board and surf down the sand into the sea below.
But the main reason people take this tour is to stand in awe at the foot of the mighty kauri, Tane Mahuta (Lord of the Forest) who towers 50m over the Waipoua Forest on State Highway 12.
This enormous tree, discovered in 1928 by men building the road, is now 2000 years old. It’s hard to believe he was a seedling when Jesus was born!
Your local Maori guide will take you on a spiritual journey to the viewing platform and explain the history and cultural significance of the tree, as well as provide a fascinating insight into the lifespan of the kauri – pronounced ‘cody’ – as you will learn.
The kauri tree, as mighty as they are, have very sensitive roots that lie close to the surface.
Consequently they are easily damaged, so the Department of Conservation has built wooden tracks just above the ground for the hundreds of visitors who call here each month.
It’s yet another chance to sit in awe of the beauty of nature, listen to the sounds of forest, make out the bird calls – and try and fit the entire tree into one photo.
Driving back to Omapere, you’ll stop for lunch at the Copthorne Hotel where the restaurant stretches onto a veranda dressed with tables and sun umbrellas.
Across the sea, sun burnt sand dunes gently shape the skyline at the entrance to the harbour where the famous navigator Kupe, the first Maori explorer to land in New Zealand, came ashore 1000 years ago.
Peaceful Hokianga nui a Kupe (the returning place of Kupe) is considered the birthplace of New Zealand and as remote as it is, once you’ve been, you’ll recommend your friends to go and experience it too.
Fullers GreatSights operate daily tours from Paihia to the Hokianga
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Experience an unforgettable journey through the natural beauty of the Hokianga. Visit Tane Mahuta and learn local stories & legends. A unique and authentic insight into early Maori history.