Our guide to a Northland road trip
A road trip through Northland will treat you to adventure, art and scenery galore. Follow our lead and explore the Hokianga, before getting active in Ahipara, chilling out on the Karikari Peninsula and filling up on fish and culture in Mangonui.
Young Hokianga locals have two favourite summer pastimes – jumping off wharves and sandboarding. There are wharves at both Omapere and Opononi which are perfect for leaping off at high tide, but it’s the wharf at Opononi that also holds the passport to your sandboarding adventures.
Pete Clark operates the Hokianga Express, offering boat rides across the harbour to the majestic sand dunes on the other side. Departing hourly throughout the day, the ride takes minutes and includes free use of a slick-bottomed boogie board. Once you’re across, all you have to do is trudge up to the top of the dunes, leap onto your boogie board and go careening down the slope and into the water below.
If your legs still have strength in them after numerous climbs, carry on over the back of the dunes and take one of the various hikes (from one-and-a-half hours to three hours) across the strange, sandy landscape. Along the way you’ll see some magnificent sandstone formations carved out by years of wind and rain.
Search ‘Hokianga Express Charters’ at hokiangatourism.org.nz
Follow the arts
With a large population of creatives living in the area, Hokianga has a strong local arts scene and a number of great galleries that showcase fantastic talent.
A day spent exploring Rawene and then Kohukohu on the opposite side of the harbour – a ferry connects them – is a must for art lovers.
Rawene is full of charm with its eclectic mix of cafes and galleries, historic haunts and great water views.
There are plenty of beautiful old wooden buildings to admire, including the wildly colourful The Wedge at the bottom of town. Just across the road from it is community art space No.1 Parnell, which hosts work by emerging and established artists. Grab a coffee and a bite at the famous, picturesque Boatshed Cafe before jumping on the delightfully clunky car ferry to Kohukohu.
In Kohukohu you’ll find the esteemed Village Arts gallery, Geddes Gallery and Studio, and the Art of This World craft and gift store. Over summer, seasonal shop Outpost Hokianga also sells art, craft and handmade fashion.
Find the Hokianga ferry timetable at fndc.govt.nz
Get the know the locals
Rosa Rutherford, toymaker and illustrator
With a woodworking father, it seems that a skill with a lathe and chisel was in Rosa Rutherford’s blood and it was only a matter of time before she felt the pull of the workbench. What started out as a small project in her dad’s workshop, making a few wooden toys for her son, has swiftly developed into a fully fledged business, and the Hokianga-born mum is struggling to keep pace with demand.
“I decided to make toys for other parents who want wholesome toys for their kids and value imaginative play,” says Rosa, who also works as an illustrator. She sells her wares under the brand name Dean’s Workshop through the online craft store Felt and so far has made houses, stackable ‘gems’ (blocks) and a menagerie of animals. “I didn’t think I would, but I got hooked straight away and now I really love it. The machinery is scary but totally empowering. I still can’t believe how differently I feel about the whole thing as an adult. I’m so interested in learning my dad’s craft now.”
Rona Ngahuia Osborne, artist
In Maori, ‘Hokianga’ means ‘the returning place’ and there does appear to be a force at work, pulling people back to the region. Rona Ngahuia Osborne is one of those drawn home, having grown up in a remote valley
in the area.
The artist, who produces work under the banner Native Agent, spent many years living in Auckland where she ran her Native Agent retail store. Rona’s art ranges from textile works and prints to heirloom blankets and photography, telling stories from New Zealand’s colonial and tribal past. “My partner [artist Dan Mace] and I had been talking about returning home for years, but previously had work and kids’ schools to worry about in Auckland,” she says.
The move back to Hokianga meant shifting her store – which sells work by a number of New Zealand artists including her own and Dan’s – online. Rona has plans to build an open studio in the future, but in the meantime her work can be seen at Toibox Hokianga. This pop-up community arts space is housed in a container and will host a revolving exhibit of local artists throughout the summer months.
Toibox Hokianga, in front of The Landing Cafe, 29 State Highway 12, Opononi; nativeagent.co.nz
Where to next?
A few nights in Ahipara, just southwest of Kaitaia, will satisfy adventurous souls. This gateway to Ninety Mile Beach is the ideal base for surfing, sandboarding, dirt biking, fishing, hiking and horse riding. Take a four-wheel-drive, if you have one, as the beach is classed as a highway, or hop on a horse and explore the area.
A trip up Ninety Mile Beach – which is really only 55 miles (88km) – to Cape Reinga is worthwhile. You can book a
bus tour or drive on the beach (only recommended for confident four-wheel-drive users, and be sure to check the tides first). From Cape Reinga you can walk to sacred Spirits Bay, or watch the waves clash as the Pacific meets the Tasman.
Fill up in Mangonui
Mangonui is famous for its fish and chips, but it’s also a delightful place to wander around. The small fishing village is packed with art galleries, cafes, craft shops and heritage buildings. The award-winning Mangonui Fish Shop, which sits on a jetty over the water, has been open since the 1950s. The fish is line-caught in the area and delivered fresh to the shop from a wharf just 100 metres away. After exploring the village, visit nearby Coopers Beach, take a walk to Rangikapiti Pa, or head out on the water to enjoy Doubtless Bay.
Where to stay
- Rangiputa Moana Relax in a charming three-bedroom holiday house in Rangiputa on the Karikari Peninsula. This peaceful beachfront bach sleeps up to six guests and is ideally situated for fishing, kayaking and swimming. co.nz
- Kokohuia Lodge Treat yourself to a stay in this luxury, off-grid B&B near Omapere, which offers views over native bush to Hokianga Harbour. The private eco escape only accommodates one guest or couple at a time. co.nz
- The Old Oak Boutique Hotel Stay in a beautifully restored heritage building in charming Mangonui. This six-room hotel was built in 1861 and restored in 2009. It’s a great base from which to explore the former whaling port. co.nz
Nadia and Carlos’ favourite spots
“The Far North is one of my favourite places. It has something for everyone, with its awesome coastline, striking white silica beaches and picturesque turquoise waters. Nadia and I are particularly fond of Rarawa Beach and the Karikari Peninsula.
“There are a range of DoC (Department of Conservation) camps in a variety of amazing locations. And with the fishing as good as it is, there’s every chance you’ll have a fresh catch for lunch each day. Failing that, you can always grab some fish and chips at the Mangonui Fish Shop.
“If you’re looking for a beautiful Kiwi camping holiday, Northland is worth checking out. It’s truly a special place.”
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