Towns on the Trail
For those who arrive in the Bay of Islands by sea, Opua is the easiest and primary port of entry into New Zealand. An attractive port settlement with a marina, marine service industries, yachts for charter, chandlery, cafe and a store. It’s where the boats live – yachts, launches, ferries and runabouts of every description. On the wharf, a number of charter companies offer yachts you can sail yourself. A new 240 berth marina is now complete so with the friendly yacht club, the boat haul-out yards and extensive marine services, Opua is a delightful safe-haven for any sailor. It is also where you catch the car ferry if you want to drive to Russell. It is good sailing from the entrance of the Bay of Islands right to the Customs and MPI (Ministry) quarantine dock.
Kawakawa is home to the famous Hundertwasser-designed public toilets – a definite must on your itinerary. This is the only building in the Southern Hemisphere designed by the Austrian born artist and is the last building he designed before he died in 1999. The toilets were awarded the prestigious ‘Golden Plunger’ award in a world-wide search for the best public toilets as voted by the travelling public! Gabriel, the renowned steam train which runs through the centre of town presently takes passengers on a Friday, Saturday and Sunday for a 30 min ride through the beautiful surrounding countryside, and the station is open and welcomes visitors. Kawakawa is the only town in New Zealand to boast a railway track through the centre of the commercial area. Visit the Museum in the old Memorial Library (open Thursdays & Fridays) for a glimpse of Kawakawa’s coal mining history. Visit also the Kawiti glow-worm caves at Waiomio which boast a galaxy of glow-worm lights, white limestone formations and 12 generations of history.
Kawakawa is a unique small town Northland experience – come and see why Hundertwasser fell in love with his adopted home.
Kaikohe is the central service town for general Bay of Islands area. Supermarkets, banks, hardware, petrol and automotive services, cafes, bars, RSA, motels, cinema, cycle hire, national retailers and a variety of specialty stores make it a great base to stock up for your visit up North. There is a recycling centre and an effluent station for motor homes. The main visitor attraction in town is The Pioneer Village which includes several restored historic buildings and an extensive collection of items from Kaikohe and Northland’s past. There’s an expansive 360 degree view of the countryside, from the top of Memorial Hill if you are looking for somewhere to picnic.
- The halfway point of the Twin Coast Cycle Trail. Walk or hire a bike and get out in to the real countryside.
- Have a soak in Ngawha Springs when you have finished to sooth away any tiredness.
- If you are in town on Wednesday visit the sale yards for the biggest stock auction in Northland.
- Kaikohe is the heart of Ngapuhi and hosts the bi annual Ngapuhi Festival, highlighting and celebrating the culture and pride of NZ’s largest Iwi. A weekend full of entertainment, art, competitions, Kapa haka, stalls, shopping & plenty of kai (food).
- World Famous Kaikohe Speedway has events throughout the summer culminating with Kaikohe Demolition as part of their Easter Stampede weekend.
- We don’t have parking meters, traffic lights or congestion, suits and ties are rare. Our biggest attraction is the warm and friendly people who welcome you to experience Kaikohe…
Twin Coast Cycle Trail can be accessed from Okaihau. There’s petrol, groceries and a cafe for you to stock up for your walk or ride. It is pick up and drop off point for Cycle Trail shuttles.
Cannibal Jack describbed in the Dictionary of New Zealand Biography as “sailor, convict, Pakeha-Maori, interpreter, shopkeeper, sawyer, carpenter [he helped build Horeke Tavern which still stands], soldier” – survives, 130 years after his death. The nearby Wairere Boulders is the only valley worldwide of its kind! The boulder valley, thought to be 2.8 million years old, was formed by a lava flow which turned into a basalt layer. Erosion, and a couple of huge cracks, has led to a pile-up of thousands of the boulders on the valley floor, some of which are 30m high. The track through the 1.5km valley goes over, around and under the boulders, and takes you through rainforest and past many native trees, palms and ferns.
Russell: The first capital of New Zealand is a world-renowned game fishing port which was once regarded as the ‘Hell Hole of the Pacific’. What used to be a port where crews on Whaling ships were let loose on shore to frequent grogshops and brothels, is now a game fishing paradise where tuna, snapper, broad bill, kingfish and shark are known to travel. There are many experienced skippers that cater for any type of fishing and for all skill levels. Today Russell is still a favoured spot for boaties who seek safe anchorage in New Zealand’s historic township, that provides a wide range accommodation, eateries for all visitors. The Russell Booking and Information Centre from the Waterfront is a great place for information and can assist with your accommodation, sightseeing, adventure or fishing activities.
The waterfront restaurants and cafes are the perfect place to catch the evening sun. Visit one of the oldest licensed pub and Christ Church, New Zealand’s oldest church, which is still scarred with musket ball holes. Visit the Russell’s Museum and soak yourself in history of the local and Northland region and the craft galleries have interesting pieces of art, jewellery and clothing for you to purchase. From the wharf there is a foot ferry that journeys direct to Paihia from Russell which is convenient for exploring day trips to Paihia and Haruru walkways, cafes and tours. Russell is the entrance to the Cape Brett Tramping Track (about 8 hrs), and the Okiato to Russell Walkway; a full circle walk with many start and end points.
If adventure is what you seek, you can skydive, parasail, scuba dive or go exploring on a sea kayak. For a true Northland cultural experience, you can paddle a waka up the tidal estuaries of the Waitangi River. The boat trips that depart from Paihia will allow you to fully experience some of the 144 islands just off the coastline of the aptly named Bay of Islands. The knowledgeable crews will regale you with stories of the rich and vibrant history of the area. Scenic cruises out to the ‘hole in the rock’ at the tip of Cape Brett, are one of the most popular maritime excursions, along with dinner or overnight cruises. Paihia is the place of friendly locals, cafés & people enjoying life. Whether it’s swimming with dolphins, taking in a spot of retail therapy or just lazing under a tree, Paihia’s the place for it.
In the 1800s, more than 100 Maori villages lined the banks of the Haruru River which flows down to the sea at Waitangi. Maori legend says that a taniwha (water monster) lives in the lagoon below Haruru Falls. Sightseers should visit Haruru Falls, Haruru means ‘big noise’: a good indication that these unusual, horseshoe-shaped falls are worth seeing. You can drive there but there’s an excellent walking track between the Falls and the Waitangi Treaty Grounds, part of it a raised boardwalk over mangroves
Kerikeri was home ground for the fearsome Hongi Hika, a Maori chief who terrorised many tribes throughout the North Island in the early 1800s. Yet he was kind to missionaries – allowing Samuel Marsden to establish New Zealand’s second mission station here. Today the area is known for its orchards, wineries and art galleries. Lunch in one of the many outdoor cafés, indulge in delicious handmade chocolates or limoncello. Kerikeri also has its own natural skincare range, which is ‘made of New Zealand’. Kerikeri has excellent sporting facilities including golf, all-weather tennis and yachting. For the nature enthusiasts, the Rainbow Falls and the Puketi Forest are definitely worth a visit. Within minutes by car or an hour’s walk from the Kerikeri Basin car park is the 27 metre Rainbow Falls. Further afield lies the Puketi Forest, an ideal place to tramp and view kauri trees from a boardwalk which also has wheelchair access.
The road follows an old Maori trail from coast to coast. Meet the locals at The Taheke Hotel, the second oldest pub in New Zealand. Ye Olde Taheke Store is definitely worth a visit. This emporium is supplied by over 100 local gardeners, crafts people, writers, and artists and has everything from soaps, souvenirs to seedlings.
Mangamuka to Okaihau
Tune to 99.5 fm for your visit to Mangamuka. Tautoko FM broadcasts from here. There’s a dairy/takeaway as well as a cafe/art gallery. Nearby is the Omahuta Kauri Sanctuary Walk. The giant kauri were protected from logging in 1951. A 30 minute loop track leads you through a stand of mature kauri, where you can admire their size and majesty. Please respect the Sanctuary, no camping. If it’s a hot day call into Puketi Forest for a cool river swim or visit the Fire House Museum, big and little boys heaven.
On July 1st 1845 in a major battle Maori defeated the British in the defence of the Pa at Ohaeawai. It was the first use of modern trench warfare. Call into the Ohaeawai Hotel a real country hotel.
Rawene and Kohukohu
Captain Clendon was in the thick of the earliest Maori and Pakeha interaction. He was a witness to New Zealand’s Declaration of Independence in 1835, the first United States Consul in 1838, a witness to the Treaty of Waitangi in 1840 and a member of the first Legislative Council. Most of the historic buildings remain and the historic walking trail gives a taste of this bygone era. From Rawene hop on the ferry and travel through time to the Victorian village of Kohukohu, Koh’k (‘Coke’) as the locals call it. Kohukohu developed a prosperous trade and at one time was the largest social and cultural centre in the North and now has a thriving arts scene. The first Roman Catholic mass in New Zealand was celebrated in Kohukohu in 1838 – another chapter in the Hokianga, a land of firsts for both Maori and European history. Signs of its past glory can still be seen, with plenty of history to see around the streets – heritage villas, the Masonic Lodge, the Anglican Church, a police station and an old school.
Opononi and Omapere
Opononi became famous in 1955-56 because of Opo the dolphin. This name was given to a young female bottlenosed dolphin (genus Tursiops) which throughout the summer of 1955–56 frequented the beach at Opononi, Hokianga, inviting repeated human contact and playing with bathers and children in a manner not previously recorded for a wild dolphin since Roman times. Opo could be relied on to appear almost every day, and could be summoned by the sound of an outboard motor, audible to her from a great distance. Certain children, especially, established friendly contact. She permitted stroking and scratching, and even short rides by smaller children. Opononi and its neighbouring sister Omapere offer a full range of accommodation and dining options – from top rate hotels to good old fashioned motels and motor camps – making it a great base to discover the Waipoua Forest, New Zealand’s largest kauri rainforest.
A walking track leads to an old signal station on Arai te uru, the south head. Take a boat trip across the harbour to the giant dunes where you can try dune surfing, or if you feel a game of bowls with balls up to 3 metres in diameter, take a walk on the beach between Koutu and Kauwhare points on the south shore of the Hokianga Harbour where you will find the Koutu Boulders, one of the Hokianga’s better kept secrets.