61. South Along the Far North Spit

From Tapotupotu DoC camp, we left the caravan and drove to visit Parengarenga Harbour.

This is the small township of Te Hapua, a very peaceful looking place surrounded by water. There’s a sign back on the main road that tells us this town holds New Zealand’s northern-most school. Before we left on our trip a friend gave us a map of Northland and the Far North with this lovely spot marked. She told us the locals here don’t like visitors and I believed it as we saw a grand total of one person who looked like a local. We did pass two or three vehicles driving in, though, and every one of them waved. The only other people we saw were a couple who pulled up at the wharf when we were watching the birds there. They started pulling fishing rods and related paraphernalia from their vehicle, but could hardly speak any English so we simply exchanged a few smiles and carried on.
Te Hapua is where, in 1975, the 80 year old Dame Whina Cooper started out on her 1000 kilometre walk to parliament in Wellington as a way of demanding fair Māori rights under the Treaty of Waitangi.
In the distance there was a great flock of royal spoonbills and a horse with a short rope plodding towards us.
Several herons and of course a lot of seagulls pecked at the sea shore.
We drove back to the main road then again to Parengarenga Harbour, this time via Paua that lies on a spit jutting into the middle of the Harbour. From a view point we could see a mangrove swamp stretching out of sight and far in the distance pure white sand shining in a long line against the horizon. Some of the world’s most pure silica is mined from sand near here.
I must say, the white of the royal spoonbills and the white of the sand showed up better in real life than they do in my photos…
This grandad with his two grandchildren were fishing for a snapper swimming right beneath the jetty; they had their little cat and dog with them which I got to pat.
This is a colossal camping area – that’s the office and toilet block in the background. It’s only open over the summer months.
It’s great the way we are finding out more and more all the time about places to stay; we figure we’ll probably be back sometime!
We checked out the rocks lining the edge of the huge camping area and found plenty of middens – people have been visiting/living here for a long time.
After our day visiting Parengarenga Harbour we drove south to Rarenga DoC Camp where we played on the beach for a while. The grassed area for parking or camping is large but there were just three or four motor homes parked up in the whole space.
We followed the river for the short walk to the beach.
The sand on the beach was almost as white as the silica sands we saw from a distance at Parengarenga Harbour.
After Rarewa, we hitched the caravan back on and drove to Houhora where we parked up in someone’s extensive back yard for a few days. These people had a small citrus orchard so we raided the mandarins a couple of times. This fruit is plentiful all through the winter months.
On one of our days we drove in to see 90 Mile Beach at Hukatere. On the road in, yet more horses were roaming freely around their territory.

While staying at Houhora we tried to visit the Gumdiggers Park but it was closed for winter. We found it funny as the weather was quite warm and even the squalls of rain passing over didn’t seem to be stopping plenty of other travellers besides us. Still, they obviously don’t get enough of us to make it economically viable to remain open, and other tourist attractions were also closed, as well as some food places – it seems about half the eating places shut and half remain open. I was disappointed about the Gumdiggers Park as I would have loved to see it.

I went for a walk along the beach from the Māori settlement at the end of Kaimaumau Road to Houhora Heads. It was easy walking on mostly hard sand and there were plenty of interesting shells along the way, including thousands of small wheel shells and also a few large geoducks. These shells with their large openings that hold siphons that can grow to a full metre in length have fascinated me ever since I observed them years ago at the sea farming scientific unit Cawthron Institute in Nelson on one of their annual open days.

I could hear what sounded like a gun firing in the distance as I approached the approximate halfway point. It stopped well before I reached it, and didn’t continue again until well after I’d passed. I could see someone watching me so I waved out and they waved back. Soon after a young guy stopped to ask if I wanted a lift; I said thanks but I want to walk for the experience. Kind of him though – while we hear stories about ‘feral’ Northlanders this incident just served to reinforce my belief of friendly Far Northlanders. Kevin has created a new acronym – JAFN: Just Another Friendly Northerner. Much nicer than the ubiquitous JAFA that we hear even up here – I thought this was southern terminology but no, people who live as close to greater Auckland as the very edges also freely use it! Perhaps they invented it…of course, all the real Aucklanders we meet and talk with seem like thoroughly nice people.

I timed the walk so that I would reach the inlet, where my walk would end, at low tide, not wanting to cross over in water over my head. I turned inland off the beach a little before reaching the Heads and followed a road through low lying shrubbery to the inlet where I was treated to a small flock of royal spoonbills settled on the sand of the outgoing tide – I’ve never seen any bird such a pure white. When I started walking again they flew up and away. There were lots of holes in the sand and I listened out for popping shrimp but didn’t hear any. The holes must have been crab ones. I made my way along the banks, searching for a good place to cross until I spotted two tyres jutting out. The sand hardened with millions of shells embedded into it and I felt a lot safer crossing here than I might have further back where it seemed there might be patches of sinking sand. Once across, Kevin was waiting and we stood by the motorcamp to watch a tug boat pull a fishing boat along the river. The sun was already down and everything was violet and grey and calm and peaceful. I took some photos on my phone, but a recent software update meant they weren’t converted to jpgs when I emailed them to myself so I can’t include any here – I’ve tried to describe it better instead!

Everywhere throughout the lower part of the 90 Mile Beach Spit are citrus orchards, either well established or being developed.
Also throughout the same region, which is all old kauri gum swamp, you see ditch after ditch, draining away the water to keep the land viable for farming or growing crops. The photo above is not a great example – in reality we often saw ditches as common as fences cutting across blocks of land.
There were ducks with ducklings where we stayed in Houhora – cute as!
At the wharf in Houhora.
Some locals were catching garfish for bait and perhaps a few to eat – if they caught enough, they said. There was a huge shoal of garfish swimming beneath the wharf, fascinating to watch as they turned and darted back and forth. I went as far as to buy a line and hook to fish for some ourselves, but the weather the next day deteriorated and the fish swam away somewhere else.
Jonquils – we have been seeing these in flower since arriving in Northland.
In the distance is Mt Houhora or Mt Camel – this is the mountain that sits at Houhora Heads; I could see it the whole way on my beach walk, slowly growing from tiny to huge.
More flowers – we thought these were clover at first.
Moa sculptures in a private garden near Houhora; I climbed up on our car to try and see them a bit better.
This was cause for conversation between Kevin and me – a liquor shop with notices out front saying liquor ban area! I may have mentioned it before, but we’ve noticed here in Northland and the Far North, time and time again, that alcohol is hidden away, or at the very least covered over. The first time we noticed it was in Kawakawa when we were looking for milk and butter in the local four square. We found it right at the back, through a separate doorway, and the alcohol sat just beyond it in a corner. At Waitangi, in the Whare Waka cafe I noticed the alcohol in the glass cabinet was covered in a tea towel. Our friend Jan told us it’s a local custom as open alcohol is offensive to many people up here. So we were pretty intrigued by this shop with alcohol on full display. This shop is obviously part of a chain, perhaps not locally owned? Don’t know, but we see the same sign in several towns, the only difference being the name of the town.

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