63. Looping the Loops, From Kaitaia to Ohaeawai

From Kaitaia we took a day trip in a big loop through Herekino, Broadwood, Mangamuka and back to Kaitaia, leaving the caravan in a parkup belonging to one of the local garages. A couple of days after, we drove to Ohaeawai, a famous site of the New Zealand Wars, visiting the Wairere Boulders along the way.

Everywhere we go there are other tourists like us; at the Wairere Boulders we got talking with one family who did the entire loop walk in the teeming rain with two small girls which I thought was very cool. The little girls (3 and 5 years of age) were engaged, outgoing and chatty. They were on a short holiday from Singapore, and the father of the girls told us a new funny thing (for us) that in Singapore it’s a joke that you have to leave the country to get any kind of fresh air, as there people are always breathing each other’s air. That reminded me a of a funny thing told to me by someone from India, that where she comes from, if someone wants to let another person know they are going to walk, they say they’re taking bus no. 11 while action-walking two fingers.

In Kaitaia we talked to a few politically motivated people, trying to motivate the general public to register for the vote. It’s a problem here; often anyone nominated for council automatically gets in as there’s no competition. We also visited the informative museum in the Te Ahu meeting centre, a fantastic facility that has a series of huge pou in its entrance hall, dedicated to the different groups of people who have made their lives in the region.

On our big loop, we looked into the entrance of the trail through the Herekino Forest. There are stands of kauri trees within the forest, but due to current concerns about kauri dieback (the spreading of infected spores which attack the root systems of kauri) there’s a rahui on it at present, which means people can’t walk through it or enter any part of it.
Local and wider efforts are experimenting with different ways to try and counteract kauri dieback. Banning people altogether was the most extreme of the measures we came across and I will get back to this in a later blog when we visit Tane Mahuta, the largest kauri tree in New Zealand.
Farm land with its greenery – lush grass and trees dotted here and there, against a backdrop of Herekino Forest.
We drove past, and climbed to a view of, Herekino Harbour, which reaches in an arm several kilometres long out to the west coast.
More driving, more farm land, and we start seeing the distant Raetea Forest.
Such healthy looking cows that they’ve actually won an award for being out standing in their field (yip, another joke, this one heard locally).
Broadwood sits right at the southern most point of the Raetea Forest. This shop didn’t cater for lunch-on-the-run, so we ate an icecream and that was our lunch! The shop was being run by a man obviously originally from India; it’s quite funny as I felt we were in the middle of nowhere so was expecting to see mainly people of old settlers – Māori, Dalmatian and European – but here was a recent settler from India.
A wooden sculpture sat across the road from the shop, a commemoration to early European settlers.

We drove around the eastern side of Raetea Forest, where even further east of us lay Omahuta Forest. Apparently this one is also open for tramping in spite of kauri dieback. We drove past; I thought how nice it would be to walk properly in these northern forests – Herekino (if the rahui’s lifted), Raetea and Omahuta – next time we come.

We drove through the Raetea Forest heading back to Kaitaia, steeply uphill through the Mangamuka Gorge and onto the Mangamuka Summit at 395 metres high (the highest point in the Raetea Forest is 751 metres and has a tramping track that passes over it).
I nipped a short way into the entrance; looks like a rough track through dense, tangled bush.
At the Summit lay this commemoration to one of the engineers of the Mangamuka Gorge road that we’ve just been driving on.
The second of these signs we saw in the Far North – still disturbing.
More driving, downhill this time, through the flattest farmland we saw all day, back towards Kaitaia.
Driving into Kaitaia, we passed the mill that is the biggest employer for people in the Far North, processing plantation pine trees that cover much of Aupouri, or the 90 Mile Beach spit – pines that have been planted to replace the kauri forests that were stripped out by early Europeans. We kept passing pine forests while on the spit and wondering, so it was great to read about it in the Kaitaia Museum and find out a bit more.
Leaving Kaitaia with the caravan in tow, we noticed that the town’s welcome/farewell sign reflected both the Māori and Dalmatian languages.
We twisted and wound our way through the Mangamuka Gorge and turned off the main road to reach the Wairere Boulders on the fringes of the Hokianga Harbour.
Our glimpse of the Hokianga Harbour…
…and extensive mangrove swamps.
There was no proprietor present at the Wairere Boulders, but these signs and a great information room enabled us to self-direct our way around. There was a lot of information to read through about the local social and natural environments. For example, I never knew that the first NZ execution in European times happened at Hokianga. And many of the plants we were about to see on the walk had their medicinal uses listed. There were other great stories too, to read while waiting in vain for the rain to subside, too many to relate here. Oh! – there was a section on the geology of the boulders too.
Gumboots and poles to borrow if needed.
It hosed down with rain most of the way around the looped track, but it was still lovely and interesting. The track was well maintained and bridges and ramps lay everywhere that held the slightest bit of danger.
Many plants were signed with their names.
There was a stand of new kauri trees – apparently there are old ones (500 years) in this bit of bush too, but out of sight of the track. (There was the ubiquitous washing station by the information room for washing shoes before entering this track, and again on exiting).
Activities of interest for children…
…including a taniwha or dragon leading down beneath some stable huge boulders to the dragon’s cave!
Huge boulders everywhere – these are geologically known as Horeke Basalt and are special in that it’s rare for basalt to weather into flutes and pits as can be seen in these. The reason for the weathering is wrapped up in that fact that the boulders were large, and very slowly transported downhill by water (the relatively recent-named Wairere means ‘trickling waters’) through forest, probably including kauri, from the nearby site of a 2.7 million year old volcano.
The view from the final bridge crossing.
We thought about going on to a mission house nearby (Wesleyan according the the information at Wairere Boulders), but decided against hammering the caravan any more today on this shingled, winding road.
To be honest, and a little regretfully, we are somehow missing out on seeing a lot of historic mission houses even though they form an influential part of New Zealand’s history. We’ve read that the Protestants hit the east coast first, leaving the Catholics, arriving later, to cross the country to the Hokianga. However, Wesleyans are not Catholic, so the information is teasing and there’s obviously a lot of stories there! The stories of Suzanne Aubert (who lived and worked along the Whanganui River further south) are remarkable and I wonder if there are stories like hers from this region.
Back at the main road, literally the No. 1 highway, and on to Ohaeawai in the rain.
As always, I can never get enough of the beautiful winter farm land that seems typical for this whole region.

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