The last 10 kms of the road to Kawhia winds through the landscape like a ribbon. Green hills roll away towards the horizon and there is a promise of the ocean around every bend. I hadn’t realised that I’m holding my breath but when the road straightens I exhale slowly and I am there, cruising along beside a stretch of grey water, just one of the long inlets of this ancient harbour.
Kawhia is a sacred place, the ancestral home of the Tainui. History tell us that the Tainui waka arrived from Hawaiiki and found a harbour full of food to eat and forests to shelter in. There is a lot about the area that hasn’t changed in the last 600 years. People still gather pipi, oysters, mussels, cockles and mud snails at low tide and they travel from place to place on horseback. Nowadays, a few entrepreneurs make a living from horse treks, fishing charters and visitor accommodation but Kawhia, population 650, is quite literally the end of the road, the place that time (and tourists) forgot.
Kawhia is a leisurely 2 hour drive from Auckland and the sun is starting to drop as I check in for the weekend. My room is small but clean and the view from the deck stretches out across the harbour to the dunes and the Tasman Sea beyond. I'm happy and hungry and on the hunt for dinner.
The Blue Chook Inn is the first place I see and it’s open. Everyone seems to know each other and they all turns to look as I go in but it’s not an uncomfortable feeling.
The food is good and the kitchen is busy. It’s the kind of place where it’s OK to pour your own when the barman is busy. Classy Pinot Noirs and big bold Chardonnays seem to be the drinks of choice and it’s hard to see who’s keeping tabs on the bill. The conversation ranges from local gossip to economic predictions; the shiny 4 x4s outside suggest it’s been a good year for the local farmers.
It takes a full 5 minutes to walk the length of Kawhia’s main street but there are a few cafes, a general store, and some small shops selling crafts and knick knacks and there is a selection of accommodation for all budgets.
From Kawhia, Aotea beach is just 10 minutes away. There are 17 permanent homes at Aotea but many many more holiday homes. This is where you come to experience a summer holiday the way it used to be in New Zeland. This is the West coast so the sand is fine and black and the beach is very photogenic. The walk back to the car is longer and harder against the wind. This time I notice writing in the sand "WILL YOU MARRY ME?" The letters are being blown away by the wind and I hope the answer was yes.
The Local Tourist loves to find New Zealand's hidden gems. You can follow her blog here http://www.thelocaltouristnz.com