The Hokianga Harbour, on the west coast of New Zealand’s Northland region, is one of those places people miss out on simply because they don’t know it’s there. It’s very easy to stick to the main highways when heading up north to Cape Reinga (New Zealand’s most northerly accessible point) and bypass this bucolic little slice of New Zealand altogether.
One fine day while Shaun was camping with the boys and tasting beers, I headed up to the Bay of Islands by bus ($15 from Auckland to Paihia, what a bargain!). My parents picked me up and we went on a little tiki tour of the Hokianga Harbour and Waimate North for the day before returning to our holiday home.
Hokianga Harbour, New Zealand
The Hokianga Harbour is a thin harbour that extends about 30 km inland from its mouth on the west coast. Not many people live in the area so there are lots of skinny roads, farms, and tracts of bush. We got predictably lost (the signage isn’t the best when you aren’t taking main roads!) but eventually found our way to Rawene, a little town on the southern shore of the harbour.
Rawene is such a cute little place, and pretty much its only reason for being there is that it’s one end of the vehicle ferry that crosses the harbour. Oh, and the other reason is the fabulous Boatshed Cafe that sits in an old boat shed right over the calm waters of the harbour. The food is so, so good – I had a delicious avocado and pine nut salad for lunch, and Dad really enjoyed his pan fried trevally (a type of fish found in New Zealand). Sitting over the water on the balcony of the boat shed was a great way to spend an hour on a lovely summer’s day!
After lunch we perused the art gallery in Rawene and then hopped on the ferry across to Kohukohu, an even smaller town on the northern shore of the harbour. The ferry cost a whopping $20 for the car (it’s about a 10 minute journey), but the only alternative is a 1.5 hour drive! No thanks!
Kohukohu is an artist’s enclave, and we had a peek around the local gallery there too. The town is full of cute old villas that have loads of character. You can drive up the narrow lanes and have a sneaky peek if you’d like to! This gorgeous Masonic Lodge is actually for sale at the moment – it is made of kauri wood (one of New Zealand’s most revered trees, the giants of the forest that were logged to oblivion back in the 1800s) and looks like it has an awesome space inside. Dreams are free!
Fun fact: New Zealand’s oldest remaining bridge can be found in Kohukohu, if you look hard (it’s quite small and hidden, and you have to walk up a stream bed to find it, but it’s there!).
From Kohukohu we drove around the head of the harbour back to the southern edge, to an even smaller town called Horeke. We tried to have a beer but the pub was closed (it was a Tuesday, I guess!) so we continued on to the Mangungu Mission House.
Missionaries came to New Zealand from England in the 1800s to ‘spread the word’ to the indigenous Maori. Mangungu was a Wesleyan mission and the largest signing of the Treaty of Waitangi was held here in 1840, with over 70 Maori chiefs signing the document there (the Treaty of Waitangi is New Zealand’s founding document between Maori and the British Crown).
The Mission House offers a stunning view over the Hokianga Harbour. It wouldn’t have been a bad place to live back in the 1800s!
Next, to continue our New Zealand history lesson, we headed back to Paihia via the Te Waimate Mission House. The Waimate North area was one of the earliest centres of European settlement in New Zealand, and the site of another mission house. Coincidentally, my great-great-great-great-grandparents (that’s a lot of greats!) were the missionaries that built and occupied this house for a number of years back in the 1800s. My 4x great-grandfather George Clarke actually signed the Treaty of Waitangi!
Fun fact: Charles Darwin spent Christmas at the Te Waimate Mission House while on his worldwide expedition on the HMS Beagle!
The Te Waimate Mission was the first inland mission (the others before it, like Mangungu, were by the coast or on harbours). This mission was New Zealand’s first model farm, aimed at showing Maori how to use European techniques of farming and agriculture. New Zealand’s first oak tree was planted here, and New Zealand’s first road was built from Te Waimate to Kerikeri. It’s a very historically significant place in terms of Europeans in New Zealand, and it’s even more special for me considering the family connection.
Our day concluded with the drive back to our holiday home in the eastern Bay of Islands. What a day! We drove over 250 km and saw some interesting places that we’d never been to before, despite having our place in the area for my whole lifetime. It was fun to trip around with my parents for the day, something that I don’t do often!