Heather Hapeta lives in Aotearoa-New Zealand: real travel, real adventures, real stories, real photos. Recent destinations Vietnam, Cambodia, Taiwan and Hong Kong – now NZ destinations due to COVID travel restrictions
One of the motivators for my 2012 road trip around Northland was to revisit the birthplace of New Zealand – the Waitangi Treaty Grounds – and in particular be there for our annual public holiday (Waitangi Day, 6th Feb.) that commemorates the 1840 event.
I’m thrilled to be going back again in about 6 weeks, not for a road trip, but for a few days staying in the hotel beside the Treaty Grounds and which I’ll visit again.
In the meantime, read some of my two weeks road trip blogs (and photos) written while travelling around New Zealands beautiful Northland – here’s one to start you off 🙂
After breakfast at the delightful and historic Commercial Hotel I head out of Dargaville on SH12 to Matakohe – it’s 45ks to the award-winning Kauri Museum.
It was many years ago that I first visited this area and in the fifty years since the community started the museum it has grown in status and size. I suspect it’s unprecedented that a museum with no government funding, is run by a small rural community trust, and whose governance structure are all volunteers, becomes an acclaimed museum with international university studies centred there. The Kauri Museum ticks all those features.
Its latest award, in “The New Zealand Museum Awards” was last month (April 2013) where they won the award for ‘an outstanding innovative project that contributes to the best practice in the Museum Sector in New Zealand’. The project was for Achieving CarboNZero Certification – Now there is no doubt – it’s a world-leading, sustainable, museum operation.
The goal of becoming the world’s first carboNZero certified museum was driven by a desire for integrity and their chief executive Bet Nelley said,
“It’s our answer to long distance travellers who find the story of the demise of the kauri tree sad. And, as environmental responsibility is one of our core values, it made sense for us to get a recognised measure of our carbon emissions that we could work to reduce and offset.”
The museum also provides a base for a scientific research project into dendrochronology – a huge word that means tree-ring dating based on the analysis of patterns of tree rings!
Dendrochronologist Dr Jonathan Palmer (supported by Exeter University (UK) and University of Auckland) is developing an archive of ancient kauri samples to help unlock secrets from the past, and museum displays to chronicle scientific research into kauri.
Over a coffee with the three scientists (Jonathon Palmer, Gerd Helle, Alan Hogg) they tell me their research with the rings, pollen and carbon dating is proving really useful as the age of the trees give a longer time period to look at the effects of climate change especially in the southern hemisphere and which has implications for the northern hemisphere research too.
They were at The Kauri Museum to discuss how best to glean the most informative climate data from buried kauri tree-rings. Dr Alan Hogg from Waikato University was helping to give a date of when the trees were growing by radiocarbon dating. The museum’s resident scientist, Dr Jonathan Palmer is looking at the ring-widths to consider past climate patterns (such as El Nino / La Nina frequency) while Dr Gerd Helle (Potsdam, Germany) is specialised at “using isotopes of oxygen and carbon to determine past temperature and moisture levels.”
The three are intending to work together on a particular time period of abrupt climate change so that the most climate information can be obtained from these amazing native New Zealand trees.
This social history museum tells the fascinating story of the kauri and local pioneering days via the use of kauri timber and kauri gum, starting when the settlers came to the area in 1862 – this museum was born 100 years later in 1962.
With exceptional displays and dedicated galleries this is a must do for your Northland bucket-list. These including a magnificent collection of antique kauri furniture, restored machinery (including NZ’s earliest tractor) a turning Steam Sawmill and fabulously, the world’s largest collection of kauri gum.
I wasn’t sure what the difference between amber and kauri gum was – but can now describe it for you: amber is older, so harder, than kauri gum with amber 25 – 200+ million years old, while the gum is a baby at only 43 million years old! I also learnt that kauri timber ranges from gold and golden brown through to green, yellow, browns and blacks. Kauri is one of New Zealand’s treasures – the other is pounamu – greenstone (jade).
Most Kauri were felled in the 1800 – 1900’s for timber for houses and today owners of those old homes treasure their polished kauri floors while tourists buy souvenirs or art works made from swamp kauri or recycled wood from old buildings. Unfortunately there are only about 4% of kauri forest left and they are at risk of kauri dieback disease. The Kauri Coast is the only place to see New Zealand’s ancient trees and is a must-do while traveling the Twin Coast Highway.
My souvenir from this exceptional museum is a beautiful gift – a piece of kauri gum which lives in on top of my very old walnut writing desk. Very special and, thank you Betty.
I recommend you allow at least 1 ½ hours to browse around this fascinating place – see what Trip Advisor members say about the museum. (A hint – it’s ‘excellent’)
My Northland road-trip was in a NZ Rent A Car vehicle and I can endorse both, and this unique museum – I shall return!
Before checking into The Commercial Hotel in Dargaville I grab lunch after spending time in The Woodturners Studio with NZ’s master woodturner Rick Taylor. Seems people here have a good sense of humour and I can’t resist eating at Blah Blah Blah in Victoria Street – the name alone called me in!
Dargaville sits on the banks of the Northern Wairoa River and is the largest town on the Kauri Coast and is the gateway to the Kauri Coast in Northland, New Zealand
The Kumara Box and Ernie are about 10 minutes’ drive (from Dargaville) heading south on Pouto Rd and once there, for about an hour I watch the live Kumara show! Ernie, the kumara, shares his stories and interesting facts about the history and people of the Kaipara area and this much-loved, tasty, sweet potato. (Seems there are ten varieties grown but supermarkets only want 3 of them!)
According to ‘Ernie’ the vegetable came to NZ via an American ship in 1850 where one of the crew gave three to a Māori – luckily he planted them and now they are a kiwi staple.
I enjoy a cuppa, (along with scones made with kumara) with this couple who almost fell into tourism and now thrive on their new job. They now leave it to others (family)to plant the 1½ million plants each year. The ‘train’ that takes guests around the farm was wisely not started up for just one person but I get a tour to see the farm and what I suspect is the smallest church in New Zealand on a quad bike. Note: bookings are essential to visit the Kumara Box and the vegetable has taken on a new life in my mind making shopping for them enjoyable.
Continuing south on Pouto Road I next visit Zizania Paper Products on Turkey Flat Rd where a weed (pest?) is being given a new life.
It seems the Manchurian ricegrass came into the area in either ballast water, or bricks from China which were then used to build stables – the rest as they say is history. Manchurian wild rice (Zizania latifolia) is a giant semi-aquatic grass that has smothered riverbanks, invaded pastures, and run rampant through drainage channels in parts of the North Island from Northland to the Kapiti Coast – now it’s being used for beautiful paper. “It’s the only good thing about it’ I’m told, and Zizania Paper now creates acid-free papers for artists and other lovers of fine products – using also material from red-hot pokers; flax, cabbage tree, and of course in keeping with this area, kumara. See more on their Facebook page.
Alongside Zizania is The Pavilion – a one-Queen-sized bedroom, kitchen, and lounge is a self-contained cottage that’s ideally placed for a relaxing stay in the area. A historic cricket club-house that was relocated here in 2006 and sits nicely in the gardens with its lake – home to frogs, black swans and herons and other birds. However, my accommodation is already booked so I head back to town to the John Logan Campbell kauri-built Commercial Hotel, on River Road.
This is completely refurbished heritage-listed waterfront pub was built during the 1880s, overlooking the mighty Northern Wairoa River. Peter & Pam Kelly spent some 35 years farming sheep and beef farming in the northwest of Dargaville before they took on the task of restoring this fabulous building. They’re people-people and with a love of travel they are the ideal hosts for this charming building – and the care with which it’s been restored is clear. I’m not surprised it’s being used for weddings and other gatherings!
My room was comfortable and with the room overlooking the river it was great watching the river traffic from there and on the veranda where I had a ‘cuppa’ with my hosts as the sun went down. This is an ideal starting point a road trip on the Twin Coast Discovery Highway – the 800km circular route from Auckland that takes you around Northland, and the big sky here makes for fabulous photos too!
The (5-hour) Historic River Walk has the 1867-built Commercial as #14 on the map and says “perhaps a notorious watering hole but a historical part of the pioneer days – gory stories and a fascinating past.”
This is my last night on my 2 week trip ‘up north’, so if you are planning to visit this fabulous part of New Zealand, I suggest you a search on ‘Northland’ in the categories to the right on this blog and find out about places that could be added to your must-see, must-do bucket-list.
Many thanks to Destination Northland for sorting out much of my trip and NZ Rent A Car for the car. I took my TomTom GPS and was often told, when I took a side turning “Mate! Turn around wherever possible and let’s find a mean steak and cheese pie.” Perhaps you can tell I have a kiwi voice guiding me wherever I go!
My last blog (of this Northland series) will be about the award-winning Kauri Museum so come back in a day or 2!
I stop again at Waipoua Forest to see Tane Mahutu in the daylight and it’s a popular site with a number of tour buses in the car park. The road winds its way through the forest of kauri and other natives making for pleasant driving. Heading north on the same road are many campervans and I know the travellers in them will have a great time here in the north of New Zealand.
This west coast is lined with spectacular beaches and petrified forests: 157 sailing ships were wrecked here which lets us know just how wild the Tasman Sea can be.
Checking in at Sunset View LodgeI have great rural views and can even hear the sound of the waves.
The Lodge has free Wi-Fi J and an honesty box in the bar – I’m sure some people would be happy with that but also suspect many travellers choose a B&B so they can spend time with their hosts – however with the honestly box I guess the choice is yours! With only 3 suites, this is a relaxed place to stay and the heated pool is an added bonus . . . especially after horse-riding as Pam, the owner, operates a horse trekking business but I’m not doing that but will be gazing skywards tonight. (Note – The Baylys Beach Horse Treks run from 25th October to 25th April.)
Rural areas in Northland, because of the lack of light and pollution, are good places to check out the night sky – and Astronomy Adventures is the place to start. (You can even stay here too)
The charity side of this observatory – the ‘Skydome Observers Group’ – is made up of locals and I get to join them at their Valentine’s Day meeting where the focus is on Venus – after the goddess of love. In the lounge of our host, I learn Venus is the hottest planet and so not surprisingly has the most volcanoes of any planets. Named after the Roman Goddess of beauty and love, Venus, and other planets or stars, were not visible to us because of the clouds. If you like the night sky, this would be a great place to visit – as is Tekapo just south of Christchurch, and the Carter Observatory in Wellington.
Next morning I head for Dargaville and stop at the Kauri Coast Info Centre and Woodturners Studio and Galleryon Murdoch Street – just north of Dargaville town-ship.
I meet award-winning carver Rick Taylor (and his wife, Sue, who runs the info centre) and I hear that Rick harvests ancient Kauri from swamp land on the Kauri Coast and creates it into the stunning pieces that surround me in the gallery – no wonder he wins awards!
They show me how the kauri is recovered from local swamplands and then the Kauri paper (and soap) is handmade from the kauri shavings. Along with beautiful kauri lidded treasure boxes and bowls rick also turns pens on his lathe. I watch as he goes through the many processes and at the end of the demonstration, when its’ been sanded and oiled many times, he gives me the pen! I was (am!) thrilled with it, and have had many, many comments on my fabulous reminder of his skill and the fabulous kauri coast. The kauri he uses has been taken from an area of swamp which has been carbon-dated as 3860 years at which means my pen is about that old too!
My father was a hobby wood-turner and I know he too would have loved visiting this gallery. Rick is appalled that NZ kauri is sent to China to be made into products for the New Zealand market. “Make sure your things are made in New Zealand’ he said. “Get something that’s good stuff, cheap, not cheap stuff cheap!”
He’s a perfectionist and his work reflects that and he suggests to travellers that NZ-made kauri products are the perfect gift for yourself or friends. Wood-turning for over 30 years Rick is arguably NZ’s leading artist and has travelled to many parts of the world to demonstrate his skills and offers individual tuition. (email him for details – kauri4u AT xtra.co.nz)
Tonight is the last of my two-week Northland road-trip and I cannot believe that so many spend so little time in the area – even with my 14 nights up here I have had to miss out on much the area has to offer.
But now, onto my last bed for this wonderful trip – at the heritage-listed The Commercial Hotel, Dargaville.
Lonely Planet raved about Footprints Waipoua and now, after last night’s adventure I will too. Our local Maori guide, Koro, really did guide us through the forest and introduced us to the biggest, and oldest of the kauri trees in the Waipoua Forest but now it’s not a lush forest I’m off to see but sand dunes.
After a cooked breakfast at the Copthorne, I check out, then catch the Hokianga Express boat over to the sand dunes for a Sandtrails Hokianga dune buggy trip around the sand hills I could see from my hotel room. The others on the water taxi are heading off to ride the dunes on body boards!
Once over the harbour, waiting at the bottom of the dunes for me is Andrew Kendall of Sandtrails Hokianga with his dune buggy, ready to take me around the sand hills and natural sculptures.
The Hokianga is not just blue skies, massive sand dunes and ancient trees – it’s also the cradle of not only Ngapuhi, but also of the European settlers in the early 1800s. Andrew Kendall’s tribal history, his whakapapa, like that of my deceased husband, includes their ancestor, Kupe, the Polynesian navigator who named this area when he left to return to the Islands north of New Zealand.
Andrew stands with me on top of the giant sand dunes, canyons, and sculptures on the north of the Hokianga Harbour – where Kupe first arrived – and regaled me with stories of the past with its intrigues, strife and wars, deception and fun. One of the great things about this trip, in a dune buggy, is that it’s pretty exclusive as only three people can do it at a time so I recommend you book in advance. (You can even stay at his Homestay B&B in Mitimiti.)
No matter where you are over the length of New Zealand, Maori culture, and a diversity of enterprises and activities are just around the next corner and Sandtrails is one of a kind!
Perched right on the edge of the Hokianga Harbour, The Copthorne Hotel & Resort Hokianga is a beautiful old style kauri villa has stunning views of the massive sand dunes across the bay. After checking in it’s not long before I’m in the warm water – I rarely get into cool or cold sea but this road trip in Northland has reintroduced me to salt water bathing. This 4-star hotel also has a fresh-water swimming pool.
Back in my room, in the newer building, I watch as a fishing group returns and excitedly weighs, and photographs, a large fish. Before long I’m back in the hotels foyer as I’m meeting my guide there for a trip called Footprints Waipoua – a guided evening walk into the Waipoua Forest. (Twitter @hokimustdos)
My guide, Koro, from the local Maori tribe, picks me up and I meet the other couples, from Canada and Australia, who are on the walk too. He tells us he will introduce us to the locals’ relationship with nature, spiritually and culturally as we meet the trees many of whom have names.
One of them, Tane Mahutu, Lord of the Forest, belongs to the ‘family of ancient trees’ along with a Japanese tree, Jōmon Sugi – a similar forest chief on Yakushima Island off the coast of Japan. Both are celebrities in their own country and have twin tales of cultural significance.
The natural environment of Waipoua Forest provides a natural stage for our walk to see some of the largest kauri trees in the world. Koro also gives us a mythological interpretation of life in the forest and it feels really spiritual and a privilege to be in the forest in the dark. It’s quite different during the day when I revisit the next afternoon with buses of tourists also there – no sounds of silence then!
We meet the Four Sisters, ‘working together in competition’ and the mighty Te Matua Ngahere, Father of the Forest, estimated to be 4,000 years old, “older than Jesus” Koro tells us, and Tane Mahutu who is, impressively, 51 metres tall. Unfortunately, kauri have a disease, kauri dieback that’s proving a relentless killer and scientists are desperately seeking a way to stop the spread so please, please, stay on the walkways and clean your footwear to help stop the spread.
I recommend that while in the Hokianga, make sure you take the Footprints guided tour and learn about these special trees through song, history, and the Maori creation story. As Koro reminds us, “we are only alive when we are conscious of our treasures.”
If you are looking for a peaceful weekend, a great surfing destination or perhaps even a long summer holiday, I can recommend the Endless Summer Lodge, Ahipara right at the start of 90 mile beach.
This beautiful 1880 wooden villa is at Shipwreck Bay, the end of 90-Mile Beach – a ten minute drive from Kaitaia. Owners Anna & Blaine Whelan have created a delightful place with solar-heated shower water, indoor and outdoor dining and everything spotless. ( Free use of body boards here and surfing lesson are available too)
Two things I particularly liked where – no TV; and the wonderful kauri floors: please take off your shoes to protect them. The restoration of this 130+ year-old homestead is wonderful and it’s great that such history has been bought alive.
Shipwreck Bay was, not surprisingly, the site of the sinking of many ships. Evidently the wrecks of some of them are visible at low tide but I never saw any. This area was once home to some 2000 people working the huge gum-fields.
All over Northland you are never more than 40ks from the sea, but here you just wander across the road with your body, or surf, board under your arm. I just had my towel and loved playing in the warm water.
I’d been told Ahipara boasts one of the world’s best left hand surf breaks – I had to ask what this means!
And, just to make it more confusing for us non-surfers – these breaks are from the view of the surfer, so left looks right from the beach! Shipwreck Bay is home to one of the best point-breaks in NZ – a world-class left-hander that offers rides of up to 3 minutes on a good day.
The water is usually warm, the breaks not crowded, the bottom sand, and there are different spots available for both beginners and advanced surfers – no wonder people would consider such a place be perfect for what seems in the ‘winterless north’ an endless summer just as this accommodation is called.
If you are taking a road trip, when you leave this little retreat, follow SH10 through the towns of Herekino, Broadwood, and the Victorian village of Kohukohu which has charming old villas and buildings and the Village Arts gallery on the main street.
The “Narrows” car ferry is on your left hand side about 5 minutes the other side of Kohukohu. (About an hour’s drive from Awanui). This ferry departs on the hour and takes about 15 minutes to cross. Drive off the ferry at Rawene, which has an art gallery, and an excellent café (The Boatshed), and historic Clendon House Drive through town to SH12 and turn right, follow road into Opononi on the Hokianga Harbour.
I took some back roads and visited my husband’s grave before finally checking in at The Copthorne Hotel & Resort Hokianga right on the edge of the Hokianga Harbour, yet another beautiful kauri villa that has stunning views of the massive sand dunes across the bay – dunes that I will explore tomorrow.
Sand Safaris take me for a full day trip to Cape Reinga – driving along 90 Mile Beach, sand-tobogganing and I plant a native tree at the cape.
Classified as a main highway, 90-mile beach is not really ninety miles long and this is just one of the interesting facts given by our engaging driver, Senny, as we race against the incoming tide. These tours go up or down the beach one way, and the usual road route on the other.
We hear stories of cattle rustling; peat-land,large forests on sand dunes, lots of freshwater lakes; and the ultra-marathon and fishing competitions held on the this well known beach. we also see numerous birds, a cow, wild horses, and shellfish beds which the bus carefully avoids.
With no big river emptying into the Tasman the beach is free of the debris usually seen on beaches and it’s not long before we stop for photos before we head up a stream to the sand dunes and tobogganing.
we are given tips for the descent
.. and put them into action.
Lunch stop at Tapotupotu Bay … time for a very quick dip too
The top of New Zealand is Cape Reinga, and Te Ara, New Zealand’s online history encyclopaedia says "according to ancient lore, this was final departure point for the spirit of the Maori. It was said that the spirit, after travelling up the west coast to a spot a few miles south of Cape Maria van Diemen, continued overland to the western end of Spirits Bay and eventually reached the pohutukawa tree. There it descended the roots and entered the sea. (This tree is reputed to have been in position for about 800 years and is said never to have blossomed.) "
I take the 1km walk down to the lighthouse and the views are spectacular as I watch the waves of the Tasman Sea meet the Pacific Ocean currents.
While here I’m given the opportunity to plant a native tree to help assuage my travel-writer frequent-flyer carbon guilt.
If you too are ecologically minded, see the Seed for the Future website for more information about this local tribe (Ngati Kuri) initiative as part of their role of guardians of the sacred places around the cape … $NZ20 well spent and a living legacy of your trip there.
Leaving here we head south again, via the sealed road this time, we head home with the bus dropping us off at our accommodation … I get off at Mainstreet, pick up my rental car and head a little further south to Shipwreck Bay and Endless Summer Lodge.