65. Past Hokianga Harbour and Through Waipoua Forest

We moved on to Dargaville, via Kaikohe and the Hokianga Harbour – another one of our long days of driving and packing in as much learning as we could along the way, reaching our destination with the sinking sun.

Another failed attempt to see a mission house and talk with people who know the history – too early by two hours! Too long to wait although we did take the time to walk around the house and church and grounds.
The mission house.
The church.
Before we left, I spotted this on the ground – it seemed like some kind of pretty clover-like plant with pink flowers but, having googled it, is more likely fumaria (of the poppy family) growing in amongst the surrounding clover.
Driving on, still near Ohaeawai, in the distance lay Kuratopepa Pā site and reserve, more geographical evidence of how populated the Far North was with Māori, before the arrival of Europeans.

The museum in Kaitaia told us that the Far North started being populated before any other part of New Zealand, around 1000 years ago, and was a good step between the warm home islands of the Pacific and the cooler climate of NZ. Apparently not only kumara grew this far north, but also yams, taro and pacific cabbage tree, all of which Māori brought from their home islands.
In the months prior to the battle at Ruapekapeka Pā (early 1846) were two other battles (both in 1845) which also contributed to the end of the fighting in the Far North (remembering that the New Zealand Wars would go on for another 26 years further south). These battles were situated at Te Kahika Pā and Ohaeawai Pā, both sites are close to the present town of Ohaeawai.

So guess what, here we were on the Kaikohe side of Ohaeawai, looking at the Ohaeawai Pā site, which includes both the hill and the foreground where St Michael’s Church sits.
St Michael’s Church was built by local Ngapuhi Māori in 1870, led by chief Heta Te Haara, in commemoration of the English soldiers who died in the battle of Ohaeawai. Heta Te Haara gained permission to reinter the bodies of the soldiers, so the 47 soldiers are buried right here, in the grounds of St Michael’s Church – Marunui Cemetery. There’s a headstone dedicated to their memory.

We read somewhere else – can’t remember where now – on an information board that this action left some of the English back then bemused, so I guess it’s down to different cultural beliefs and practices.
St Michael’s surprised me with it’s mildly derelict look, simply because all the other little white churches with red roofs we’ve seen – and we’ve seen quite a few as they’re periodically placed all over the Far North – are so well cared for that they gleam and shine and stand clearly superior to the houses and buildings in sight around them.

We usually woosh past, but I’ll try and get a photograph of one before we go too far south and they disappear.
There are bottles of water at the gate so you can whakanoa on leaving – sprinkle over yourself to cleanse. Just like at Waitangi! Since I’m in someone else’s place I was happy to follow this custom – even in my own culture I never mind a bit of water thrown around.
Here we are again, passing gorgeous farming country.
Stands of totara trees on the farmland.
Showers came and went, the same weather we’ve usually had since crossing to the North Island. It doesn’t bother us in the least bit, and I for one am enjoying the mild winter – not too hot, not too cold.
Mangroves! We can’t be far from the Hokianga Harbour.
Nearing the Hokianga Harbour we saw one of the shining, gleaming white-with-a-red-roof churches – prominently placed on a hill.
The Hokianga Harbour with a hint of a massive sandhill on the other side.
Opononi, where we stopped to buy lunch and look around. Of course, being winter, there wasn’t much on offer and we ended up throwing our pies out they were that bad. Then we walked around the corner and saw there were other food choices – jingers!
We usually make our own food, using plenty of vegetables, but once in a while, especially on long days of travel, it’s nice to just relax, look around and buy something.
We walked onto this jetty in a fierce breeze – great view of the sandhills and the Harbour mouth.
Quite a few seaside towns in NZ have their friendly dolphin stories and Opononi is no exception – story of Opo below…
Looking back towards our caravan, we could see that the building behind it is where Opo lies. Let’s go and visit…
Rest in peace, little dolphin.
A few short kilometres on and we reached Omapere, where there’s a walk to look over the Harbour mouth.
Nice to get out and stretch our legs – they get cramped up bouncing along in a car all day. I much prefer shorter days of driving and more looking around.
A sign tells us that the bar to be seen out at sea is very dangerous at times for fishing boats – and any boats – to cross. NZ is riddled with these dangerous bars created by their rivers and harbours. There are some that aren’t bad though – Kevin and I have walked the bar of the Big River in Kahurangi National Park for instance, at low tide, keeping ourselves aware of the environment we were in. While it’s named Big River, it’s a fairly small one – you wouldn’t want to walk the bar of a river bigger than that one.
We followed a track down to the beach...
…and back up to the headland where we continued to the end of the track, the wind growing stronger with every step.
You can see which way the foliage grows around here!
We were directly opposite the big sandhills by now – they would be a great place to return to one day, depending on ease of access.
Ancient volcanic rocks caught up in a younger 20 million-odd year old Miocene matrix.
This was the end of the track.
Starting back along the track…
…back at the car and caravan, moving on.
We drove a long way, slowly uphill through the Waipoua Forest (where all the best kauri are someone back in Kaitaia told us), stopping twice due to our old problem with the car gearbox overheating. It just needed to cool down, then was fine again. Nice to look around at the forest while we waited, plus briefly talk with a man biking from Cape Reinga to his home in Blenheim.
We arrived at the site of Tane Mahuta, the biggest kauri tree in NZ (apparently not quite the tallest, but the biggest in girth).
And there it is! Amazing to be in such a grand presence.

We had a great talk with a woman from local iwi Te Rorora, there as a guardian/monitor, who told us that boardwalks are a major player to the health of kauri as they keep people from damaging the feeder roots which grow very shallow. She’d had contact with scientists and told us about the spores that are attacking the root systems of the trees – oospores that travel on shoes (and pigs’ feet as they travel through the forest) then drop off and turn into zoospores that swim through moisture in the ground to reach the roots; that’s why it’s also key that people wash their shoes.


There’s a lot of ongoing discussion about the best way to protect the trees, the Waitakere Ranges have been closed off to the public like the Herekino Forest; some say the Waipoua Forest should also be closed but others say no, just manage it. Te Rorora are doing their bit by trying to have people present in the Forest who can monitor and educate – the woman told us that some people find the temptation to take photos with themselves actually on the tree irresistible – and this is a problem they watch out for, and give education about.
It was really hard to get a good photo that showed the size of Tane Mahuta – you have to note in this shot that Kevin was at standing on this viewing platform a good 25 metres distant from the tree itself.
By the cleaning station is this cafe, run by Te Rorora, where we drank tea and ate a piece of cake each – totally yum, especially after the gross pies we tried to eat earlier.
As we drove on I tried to catch a few photos of kauri suffering from dieback – it’s pretty alarming when you see it in the flesh.
Out of the Waipoua Forest we passed rainbows and more beautiful farm land with other forests in the distance until reaching the low ground near Dargaville, flooded in places. I love seeing rainbows every day.

As we drove past signs for Trounson Kauri Park and Ka Iwi Lakes we decided we would return to some of these places over the next few days, leaving the caravan safely parked up in Dargaville.

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