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
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!
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!
Continuing my trip around Northland, along the Twin Coast Highway, which was taken in my favourite car rental company NZ Rent A Car I leave the Hokianga and head South on SH12 to check out the night sky and the wild west coast.
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.
I eventually turn off the main road towards Baylys Beach and the vast Ripiro Beach – the longest driveable beach in New Zealand – I don’t drive on it but take a walk instead!
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 Lodge I 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 Gallery on 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.
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.”
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.
Northland has it all – you are spoilt for choice and today it’s gum diggers history, fish, swimming, and great accommodation. I check out the fabulous, add-to-your-list Kahoe Farms Hostel and head off to the historic seaside village of Mangonui – home of the famous Mangonui Fish Shop. Browse the little craft shops and walk the Heritage Trail around the village. ( for a map see here, or buy one at the little visitors centre.)
The walkway is dedicated to the men and women, Maori and European, who sailed vast oceans to make a new life. The Polynesian navigator Kupe visited the area about 900 AD and later, another canoe, the Ruakaramea, was guided into a harbour by a shark. The canoes chief, Moehuri, named the harbour Mangonui, which means ‘large shark’.
This was known as a safe harbour for whaling vessels by the late 1700s and in 1831 the first European settlers arrived. By the mid-1800s, Mangonui was a centre for whalers and traders with sawmilling, flax and gum industries flourishing.
Now, it’s better known as the home of the ‘world-famous’ fish and chip shop’ but I’m sad to say, for me, the tagline did not live up to its food on the day I was there – but as it gets many rave reviews perhaps I was just there at the wrong time!
Travelling alone it’s not always easy to go swimming: where do you put your car and accommodation keys? Mostly, in NZ, I just leave them with my towel, but when the keys belong to someone else I find it easier to pin them inside my swimming gear, or on a chain around my neck – what do you do when alone and wanting to swim at the beach?
I spend the evening, night and morning relaxing, reading, just soaking up the view and great accommodation before heading off for Kaitaia and the Mainstreet Lodge, taking a side road and stopping for lunch at the fantastic Karikari Estate. For wine buffs make sure you have a sober driver when you tackle the samples of tasting wines.
I continue along SH10 on to Awanui then turn right and head north for Gumdiggers Park , an authentic Kauri Gum digging site that’s over 100 years old.
Amazingly, 40,000 to 150,000 year old Buried Kauri Forests have been exposed by the gum diggers and the Gumdiggers’ village, equipment & recreated shelters brings the stories to life.
Newly formed tracks show extensive ancient kauri deposits and the bus tour tourists who were also visiting told me they too enjoyed the walk around the very natural park.
With the scenery around Northland, as I said in a earlier blog with other photos – no wonder TV shows like The Bachelor and Top Model have used this area for some of their programmes.