From the Kauri Coast we drove further north to Hokianga Harbour, a natural harbour which stretches far inland from the west coast. This is a remote, undeveloped area with small settlements mainly inhabited by Maoris, far removed from the touristy areas in the nearby Bay of Islands. It took 15 minutes to cross the harbour by car ferry from Rawene to Kohukohu, cutting short a round trip that would have taken several hours by road.
We were keen to stop in Kohukohu to look at the historic kauri buildings which have survived there. Nowadays Kohukohu is a quiet backwater village in this peaceful part of the country, but during the heydays of the kauri timber industry it was a bustling town with sawmills, a shipyard and its own newspapers. We asked at the local art gallery for information on the historic buildings and were given a leaflet for a historic village walk. This was just what we were looking for, especially as the sun had finally made an appearance again. It is almost impossible to imagine that this was once the third largest town north of Auckland. Although many of the commercial buildings were lost in two large fires, a number of residential buildings remain intact. These beautiful Victorian villas were built for local businessmen such as the barber, the tailor, the pharmacist or the bookseller, an indication of the thriving business that was made here once upon a time.
Our aim was to reach the southern end of Ninety Mile Beach by the end of the day, so we moved on to Kaitaia, not a pretty town but one with conveniences like supermarkets and a fancy new community centre housing the local library. We stayed at a holiday park in nearby Ahipara which had good facilities to cook dinner and spend the evening indoors, free wifi access and was only a short walk away from the end of Ninety Mile Beach where we admired a beautiful sunset before it got too dark. This beach (actually ‘only’ 88km long) is officially a highway! However, it is really only safe for four-wheel drive vehicles which is why most car rental companies won’t allow their cars on the sand. We went for another beach walk in the early morning and saw several cars driving along the beach.
Most people coming this far set out to go to Cape Reinga, (almost) the most northern tip of New Zealand where the Tasman Sea meets the Pacific Ocean. There are day tours available and if the tide is right, the tour buses drive along the beach for part of the journey. However, it is a long trip and it would have taken us a whole day to drive there and back. As the weather forecast suggested that this might be the last sunny day for a while, we decided to give the cape, the lighthouse and the sand dunes of Ninety Mile Beach a miss and move on towards the Bay of Islands. If you want to see what we missed, check out this recent post by one of Antje’s colleagues who did the trip a few weeks earlier.
On our way to the east coast we stopped at a couple of sandy beaches along Doubtless Bay before having lunch in the small fishing town of Mangonui. As if the views weren’t scenic enough, we took a detour along a scenic loop road to Matauri Bay and were spoiled by beatiful vistas along the very windy road. The car park was surprisingly busy, but once we reached the long sandy beach it became clear that it is a very popular surfing spot. Sally was chased along the beach by some little flies while Antje took a hundred and one pictures of surfers and waves, just hoping that one or two would look great on the blog.
We arrived in Kerikeri in the late afternoon and made the most of the last sunshine on a walk around a traditional Maori village and the Stone Store, New Zealand’s oldest stone building dating from 1836. It was too late to go inside, but it looked beautiful from the outside. We meant to stay the night in Kerikeri but due to the beginning of the kiwifruit picking season the small farmstay hostel was full. Initially we thought we would have to drive on to Paihia, but luckily we came across a holiday park by the main road not far from Kerikeri. We were the only campers for the night and needed the car lights to put the tent up in the dark.
The local fishmonger in Rawene
Car ferry at Rawene
The former Kohukohu police station, later used as a working men’s club
The bottom floor of the Masonic Lodge in Kohukohu was built of kauri in 1891 and the top storey added in 1927.
A beautiful kauri villa in Kohukohu
Love the idea of the weekly laptop evening!
The remains of NZ’s oldest bridge in Kohukohu, built between 1843 and 1851. It once crossed a deep creek which filled up with sawdust over time.
Sunset over Ninety Mile Beach
Driving instructions for the beach
Endless Ninety Mile Beach in the morning
One of the beaches along Doubtless Bay
Watching surfers at Matauri Bay
The Stone Store in Kerikeri, dating from 1836