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Even amongst New Zealanders, the Hokianga is a bit of a hidden treasure. This oasis of tranquility on Northland’s west coast is easy to miss. Most tourists who make it “up north” visit the Bay of Islands for a day or two and then rush back south again. If you have the time, spending a few days in the Hokianga is well worth the side-trip!
I spent a few days there on my most recent visit back to New Zealand, and can’t wait to go back. Driving up to the Hokianga along the west coast, we passed through the ancient Waipoua kauri forest, before rounding a bend and glimpsing the harbour itself. The vista of water and open sky, framed by flax groves, cabbage trees and rolling hills, was simply stunning. There is barely any sign of development or modern civilization, and we felt as if we had wandered into a corner of the country that time forgot.
The Hokianga was named after the legendary Polynesian navigator and explorer, Kupe, who arrived from Hawaiiki in this area of the country over 1000 years ago. Kupe was the founding father of Maori lore and legend, and the area itself has great spiritual significance for the Maori.
On our first evening we went on a fabulous tour with Footprints Waipoua. My children and I learned about the threats facing New Zealand’s remaining kauri forests and the native birds (such as the brown kiwi and the native wood pigeon) from possums, deer, goats and wild pigs, and of course from people bringing foreign pests and diseases into the forest. We then walked through the dusky evening into the forest, to stand in awe before Tane Mahuta, the Lord of the Forest. Photos cannot do justice to this immense noble tree. It is simply something you have to experience, and the memory of this spiritual visit has lingered long after our departure from the forest.
We stayed at the Copthorne Hotel & Resort, in one of the family suites looking directly out over the harbor. I could hardly bear to close the curtains in the evening, as I couldn’t stop admiring the view! The kids spent all of their spare time running up and down the beach, and building sandcastles. The staff were extremely friendly, and it was a really enjoyable stay.
There are also many other great activities in this area: you can visit the giant boulders on the beach at Koutu, catch a boat from Opononi to the sandhills and try sandboarding, go horse riding in the bush or on the beach, explore rock pools or walk along one of the many stunning beaches in the area, go fishing with a local guide or cruise the harbour. Hokianga has more than enough hidden gems to warrant a visit for at least a few days, if you can!