Hokianga: The Untouched Part of New Zealand You Must See

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A small corner of Northland is home to one of New Zealand’s last frontiers of tourism. It’s a place few Kiwis or international visitors fully explore. It’s ruggedly beautiful, rustically charming and steeped in fascinating history.

I’m talking about beautiful Hokianga – home to one of New Zealand’s largest ports, yet still off the beaten track for many.

The journey to this magical place begins in spectacular style. If you’re from the south, like most visitors, you must first travel through the ancient world of Waipoua Forest, home to the mighty Tāne Mahuta.

After a stunning drive through kauri forest, you reach the golden sands of Hokianga – here’s what to do once there.

READ MORE:
* New Zealand’s most underrated small towns and what to do there
* Where to find secret places in Northland
*World famous in New Zealand: Manea Footprints of Kupe Experience by Ōpononi

Manea Footprints of Kupe uses a theatrical experience to tell Kupe's story, with performers like Andee Bristow.

Manea Footprints of Kupe / Provided

Manea Footprints of Kupe uses a theatrical experience to tell Kupe’s story, with performers like Andee Bristow.

A journey through time

Hokianga and the surrounding region are hugely important to Ngāpuhi – New Zealand’s largest iwi.

The Hokianga is said to be where the great navigator Kupe first landed his canoe, and a new $9.6 million cultural center called Manea Footprints of Kupe brings the story to life.

The experience begins with a pōwhiri before visitors are introduced to a 4D theater – which includes live music and dancing.

You will leave with a new appreciation for Hokianga’s place in Aotearoa’s history and be armed with knowledge to explore the area.

The lava valley

Wairere Boulders is a geological gem.

Brook Sabin / Stuff

Wairere Boulders is a geological gem.

One of Hokianga’s best kept secrets is an ancient, little-known lava valley that is millions of years old.

Wairere Boulders is a forest walkway with 22 bridges weaving through a maze of huge cracks and boulders.

The Jurassic Valley began forming 2.8 million years ago after a lava flow created a layer of basalt 15 to 30 meters thick. Over millions of years, the rock eroded and slowly rolled into a valley, where thousands of huge, multi-storey boulders now lie. You can explore it all in a series of walks.

A beautiful little town

Rāwene is one of the prettiest small towns in New Zealand.

Brook Sabin / Stuff

Rāwene is one of the prettiest small towns in New Zealand.

No visit to Hokianga is complete without a stop at Rāwene; this charming little seaside town is brimming with rustic charm — colorful buildings even line the waterfront depicting its own unique revival style.

Don’t miss lunch at the Boatshed Cafe, which sits over the water and serves great food and coffee.

The charm of rural life

The historic Kohukohu Villa is over 160 years old.

Brook Sabin / Stuff

The historic Kohukohu Villa is over 160 years old.

While in Rawene, take the vehicle ferry across the harbor and explore the quaint village of Kohukohu.

The village describes itself as teeming with “musicians, artists, writers, avant-gardes, ecologists, conservationists, artisans and gardeners”. It’s the kind of place where you relax immediately upon arrival; it is a village of yesteryear and no one is in a hurry. I liked it.

Make a night of it by staying at the Historic Kohukohu Villa, one of the oldest houses in the country.

The house was built between 1840 and 1860 and began life as an office for a vast kauri mill which was once the center of town.

The house has been meticulously restored by hosts Dee and Sean Morrissey, who will even cook a delicious meal in the evening – possibly the best food you’ll find in all of Hokianga.

This is one of the best bed and breakfast experiences we have had.

A journey to another planet

The far side of the Rangi Point sand dunes reveals a remarkable landscape.

Brook Sabin / Stuff

The far side of the Rangi Point sand dunes reveals a remarkable landscape.

One of the most spectacular sites of Hokianga stands on the other side of the port: its magnificent sand dunes. These are most famous for sandboarding, where you can slide straight off the sand and into the water. But few people realize you can also take one of New Zealand’s best short walks and explore what feels like another planet.

Hokianga Express Charters will take you across the harbor to the dunes, before showing you where to walk. It’s then a 40 minute journey to the top, with incredible views of the harbor along the way.

The effort is worth it; what is revealed at the top is spectacular. You will see a series of spectacular formations whipped by the wind for thousands of years, as well as sand canyons. You can explore them in a few hours, but be sure to leave only footprints: much of the area is considered sacred.

Explore the harbor

Awesome Adventures organizes a jet ski tour.

Brook Sabin / Stuff

Awesome Adventures organizes a jet ski tour.

Hokianga’s port is vast – it’s the fourth largest in the country – and the best way to appreciate it is on a jet ski safari with Awesome Adventures Hokianga.

Under the watchful eye of Lenny Naera, you’ll learn how to use a jet ski before beginning your adventure. The journey begins with a trip to the harbor entrance to point to where legend says Kupe first landed. You can then sandboard the dunes or continue a longer journey to Rāwene, where you hop off the jet ski for a coffee break.

Back on the water, you then explore the lesser-known parts of Hokianga, such as the winding waterways lined with mangroves. Along the way, Lenny will point out pieces of history that date back hundreds of years.

Stay in a tree house

Wild Forest Estate has an off-grid treehouse.

Brook Sabin / Stuff

Wild Forest Estate has an off-grid treehouse.

On the way to Hokianga, spend the night in the trees at the Wild Forest Estate. This new glamping retreat offers a series of hidden escapes among 35 acres of bird-filled native bush, criss-crossed by three rivers. It is at Donnellys Crossing, just before entering Waipoua Forest.

The retreats include a tree house, a Lotus Belle tent and a “tin box” eco-escape made from a converted shipping container.

Our favorite was the treehouse, which despite being off the grid has flush toilets and a hot shower. There is also an outdoor forest bath and a large hammock on the deck for relaxing. If you need a place to forget the cares of the world for a night, this is it.

More information:

Getting There :

Ōpononi, the heart of Hokianga, is a four-hour drive from Auckland. You can also fly to Whāngarei or Kerikeri with Air New Zealand and drive across. See: airnz.co.nz

Play it:

Hokianga Express Charters offers excursions to the sand dunes for walks and sandboarding. Call: 021 405872 or email [email protected]

Wairere Boulders is $15 for adults, $5 for children or $35 for family. See: wairereboulders.co.nz

Manea footprints from the Kupe experiment is $65 for adults and $12 for children. See: maneafootprints.co.nz

Awesome Hokianga Adventures jet ski trips from $299. See: aah.nz

Stay there:

Historic Kokukohu Villa from $250 a night including breakfast. See: kohukohuvilla.com

wild forest estate from $192 per night. See: wildforestestate.com

Carbon footprint: Flying generates carbon emissions. To reduce your impact, consider alternative ways to travel, bundle your trips and, when you have to fly, consider offsetting emissions. To offset your carbon emissions, go to airnewzealand.co.nz/sustainability-customer-carbon-offset.

The author’s journey was supported by NorthlandNZ. This story was produced through an editorial partnership with Tourism New Zealand. Learn more about our partnership content here.

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