Day 55 - Hokianga, Kauri Coast & Kai Iwi Lakes

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January 12th 2014
Published: January 22nd 2014
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Sunday January 12th, 2014. Hokianga, Kauri Coast & Kai Iwi Lakes

We had an al-fresco breakfast at the holiday park and then threw our stuff in the car and checked out. The first thing we did was drive down to the Ahipara end of 90 mile beach as D had not gone with M when she went for a stroll last night. Then we set off through the Herekino forest, heading for Kohukohu. Here we joined the half dozen or so vehicles waiting for the car ferry which would cross the Hokianga Harbour to Rawene. We took some photos of the coastline while we waited, and then of the ferry as it approached. Once we were all loaded, the skipper closed the gates at the back of the boat. Then at the last minute two more vehicles arrived. He opened the gates and waved the
first of these on board. It just squeezed into one of the corners. We couldn't believe it but the other car squeezed into the other corner. The skipper was closing the gates again when a rather large 4 wheel drive arrived. We couldn't believe our eyes when the skipper opened the gates and waved it forward "it'll never get on said M". It drove its nose on and then the skipper left its rear end hanging over the edge with the gates open! He collected our dollars and off we went. We arrived at Rawene without incident - even though we half expected the last vehicle to fall off the back into the harbour.

Rawene is a pleasant little place right on the harbour with many home based studios and galleries to visit. We gave it a miss and headed towars Opononi and Omapere which are twin settlements on the harbour. They are famous for their golden sands and the dunes that monopolise the view from the shoreline. This harbour is important in Maroi history as it is the place where the legendary Polynesian explorer, Kupe, returned on his canoe, Matawhaorua, to Hawaiki from Hokianga - hence the original name Te Hokianga-a-Kupe (the returning place of Kupe). It is a place for visitors to appreciate the landscape of the founding ancestor Kupe, the sea that brought him and the landscape he named.

We arrived at Opononi, parked the car outside a cafe and crossed the road to take a look at the beach. Then we walked down to the I-Site which doubles up as a 4-Square supermarket. A nice lady told us about a really good walk and the must see Kauri trees in the Waipoua Forest. On the way back to the car we ordered a couple of toasted sandwiches for lunch. While D waited for lunch, M went to look at the statue of Opo the Dolphin (original name for a creature from Opononi thought M). In the summer of 1955/56 Opo the dolphin arrived at Opononi and befriended swimmers and boat owners. Her antics thrilled people of all ages as she swam amongst swimmers, tossed beach balls and escorted boats. All New Zealanders were saddened by her sudden death in March 1956. She is buried in front of the South Hokianga War Memorial 60m to the left of the statue. The bronze statue is a replica of the stone original. M speculated that dolphins have very low immune systems so it could have been human contact that killed the poor thing. We found a picnic table in Omapere where we sat with our toasties which we washed down with a cold glass of vino from our camper van fridge. We had a fantastic view over the harbour, the old wharf and the huge sand dunes.

We followed the instructions from the lady in the I-Site and when we hit the area known as the Kauri Coast we turned off left to the Waimamaku Coastal Track. We parked the car and walked along the track and took some photos of the magnificent sand dunes, the harbour and the deserted beaches. The harbour has many inlets and tributaries. It also has a remarkably narrow entrance and we could clearly see the calm waters harbourside and the rougher breakers the other side of the dunes. It was worth the walk despite the dodgy weather.

Once back in the car we continued our drive through Waipoua Forest which is home to the best preserved and largest of the remaining Kauri forests in NZ. We drove on until we saw the sign for the Te Mahuta Kauri Tree. We couldn't have missed it anyway because of the number of vehicles parked on the side of the road. This is the largest living Kauri tree, Te Mahuta 'Lord of the Forest'. We walked through the magnificent native bush until we came upon this amazing tree. It has a 13.77 metre girth, a trunk height of 17.68 metres an a total height of 51.5 metres. Waipoua and the
adjoining forests of Mataraua and Waima make up the largest remaining tract of native forest in Northland.

We walked back to the car and continued our drive the Waipoua Forest and drove the couple of kilometers to the next stop which is the place where you can walk to the second biggest Kauri tree. The car park was full but there was a DOC ranger collecting $3 security money to protect your vehicle. We paid up and started along the track which advertised a 50 minute walk to Te Matua Ngahere - the 2nd largest living Kauri Tree. The first stop on this track was the Four Sisters, which is an unusually closely grouped set of 4 Kauri trees. They are not particularly big by Kauri standards,
but their proximity to each other is unusual, hence their name the 'Four Sisters'. It may seem trivial to get excited about trees, but we honestly felt privileded to be walking in this ancient forest amongst these giant native trees. We would do it again without hesitation - it was a magical walk. We reached Te Matua Ngahere (Father of the Forest). This tree has a girth of 16.41 metres, a trunk volume of 208.1 metres cubed, a total height of 29.9 metres and a trunk height of 10.21 metres. This tree could be anything between 2000 and 4000 years old - nobody can tell for sure. Some publications claim this is the oldest tree in NZ, others that this is the oldest rainforest tree on earth. We don't care either way as it was a magnificent thing to see and we can only marvel at all the things that it must have seen.

We returned to the car and headed for another item on M's bucket list - the Kai Iwi Lakes. They were well signposted from the highway. These lakes are located in the DOC controlled Taharoa Domain. This domain is located 35 killometers north of Dargaville. These freshwater dune lakes are renowned for their beauty and clear waters. The 538 hectare domain offers camping and water sports facilities and supports a rich variety of native bird, animal and plant life.

Taharoa Domain and the surrounding Omamari district have important associations with early Maori an European history. There were early Maori and Gum Digger camps along the foreshore of the lakes (Gum-diggers were men and women who dug for Kauri gum, a fossilised resin, in the old Kauri fields of New Zealand at the end of the 19th and early 20th centuries. The gum was used mainly for varnish.). In the 1870's five Kauri gum digger huts were observed on the western shores of Lake Kai Iwi. By 1892 theere was a small camp and general store on the eastern shore of Lake Taharoa. In the early 1920's about 100 people, mostly gum diggers, lived around the shores of these 3 lakes. One of the ingenious methods employed by the diggers was the use of a diving bell to recover gum from Lake Waikare. They also investigated all the swamps with han augers in the hope of recovering gum chips, but this didn't work. Most diggers had left by the late 1920's and little remains of their operations today.

First we drove to Lake Waikare (Rippling Water) named because of its windswept surface. We found the Yacht Club here and there were many folk enjoying a dip or sail on the lake. We then drove back to Lake Taharoa (Long Calabash) named because of a perception that the 'straight' off Promenade Point looked like a long calabash ( opo squash, bottle gourd or long melon) with a narrow mouth. This is where it is at! You can swim, waterski, jetski - and there were plenty of people having a great time. The third lake, Kai Iwi (food for the people) named for its abundance of fish and eels,
is closed to all motorised craft. We followed some tyre tracks and found a good place to see this quiet lake.

We returned to the highway and continued on towards Dargaville which was our destination for tonight. On the way we stopped at Baylys Beach which is popular for kite fishing, surf casting and quad biking. We drove the camper onto the beach and took some pictures. Then we continued into Dargaville town which is named after timber merchant and politician Joseph McMullen Dargaville (1837-1896). It was founded during the 19th century Kauri gum and timber trade, and briefly had New Zealand's largest population. Our backpackers was an old school. It had fantastic parking and
we were allocated a great cabin. One of the best places we have stayed at yet. The hostess, Karen was amazing, kitchen good and overall (apart from one weird Scandanavian bloke) a lovely friendly atmosphere. D cooked a great meal, we watched a movie in the communal lounge and went to bed.

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