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Growing up in the South Island of New Zealand, I’m no stranger to lush rainforests and golden beaches. In fact, my home town of Nelson has the world famous Abel Tasman Coast Track right on its doorstep, the entire coastline is littered with crystal clear waters, golden sand beaches and stunning native forest.
But this summer I was humbled by a trip to Opononi. All my life I had heard about this little seaside village in the far north of New Zealand’s North Island, and I knew I had to see it for myself one day. My journey began at the start of March, and I was joined by nine other keen adventurers. It was the perfect time to venture into the wilderness – the crowds of summer were leaving, but the temperatures were still stunning – we swam in the ocean every day!
#1. Choose your road carefully, you’ll be rewarded with goose bumps.
Driving north from Auckland, we made our way through the Waipoua Forest – home to some of the lushest and most dense native forest I’ve ever seen. The forest floor was thick with ferns and low laying native shrubs, and road was kept moody and dark under the shadow of our giant Kauri trees, some of which were more than 3,500 years old! Just to put these trees into perspective, just the trunk from one tree holds enough timber to build 30 three-bedroom homes! I’d heard legendary stories about this forest, but to be in the company of these giants was a spiritual experience.
There’s a rich cultural history here, once this forest was the home to hundreds of Maori warriors and their families and I’m sure you can still feel their presence in the air. We continued our way out of the Waipoua Forest, dropping down into a long valley road full of lush dairy farmland. At the end of the valley the road lead us up a hill to a lookout point that I’ll remember for the rest of my life – we were surrounded by stunning panoramic views of the Hokianga Harbour. The lush farmland rolled down the hillside into the village of Opononi. Across the harbour sat the most impressive network of sand dunes I’d ever seen, and I knew I had to explore them.
#2. Enjoy nice accommodation, it makes the difference.
That night we stayed at the Copthorne Hotel, enjoying a nice meal of fresh fish and chips right beside the ocean. We sipped a cold drink and we watched a spectacular light display as the sun set over the harbour.
#3. Book your ticket, and get going early!
The next morning we had an early breakfast and took the short drive down to the wharf, where we boarded the Hokianga Express Charters boat, and made way for the dunes. The driver was great, he safely nudged the boat right up to the beach and put the ladder down, where we grabbed ourselves a boogie board from the front of the boat and disembarked onto the dunes. The first part of today’s trip involved a bit of an adrenaline rush – sand boarding on the dunes!
#4. Embrace the beauty of laughter and play.
We all took the short hike up the dune (it only takes about 2-3mins to get to the top of the shoreline dune) and all lined up at the top. Laying chest-down on the board, we pushed off the top and accelerated toward the shoreline. For those who wanted to stay dry, they just popped their feet down into the sand and they came to a steady stop well before the shoreline. But for those of us who didn’t mind getting a little bit wet, we’d keep our feet and head high, lean back and skim right out onto the harbour! We’d compete to see who can skim out the farthest, then run back up the hill to do it all over again.
In that moment, I saw men and women aged between 30 and 65 all laughing and giggling like they were children… it was more fun than I ever imagined it being.
#5. Journey a little further, you never know what you might find.
Once we’d all had our fun on the sand boards, we buried them into the sand and started a hike up the dune. Spanning about 250 meters (a little over 800 feet) at its highest point, we hiked north over the top of the dune before sidling to the West toward the coastline. The hike was incredible, we saw lizards, all sorts of birdlife and fossilized sandstone… but our guide (Andy) didn’t let on to where we were heading – nobody was even thinking about it, we were all in awe of this mystical mountain of sand we were exploring.
But as we laid eyes on the ocean we were silenced at what stood in front of us. It’s like we were looking into the Bryce Canyon a couple of million years ago. Standing high on the hillside, ancient sandstone structures and mini-canyons made their way down to the ocean, and we went exploring.
After exploring the sandstone structures, we made our way back to retrieve the sand boards, right as the charter boat arrived and took us back to Opononi. Eating our picnic lunch in a seaside park we looked back across the harbour and shared laughs and stories of the days adventures.
My visit to the Hokianga Harbour had blown my expectations out of the park, there really is nowhere else in the world like it.
Active Adventures visits the Hokianga Harbour on the 5 or 11 day ‘Kauri’ trip, so get in touch if you're keen to see this spectacular part of the world first hand!
Our only North Island adventure, where you'll explore active volcanoes, pristine forests, hot pools and underground caves. We will hike, bike, soak and enjoy a traditional Maori feast! Combine this with a South Island trip for a total NZ experience!