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The Road To Ngunguru - Another Northland Secret
Zela Charlton - 14/01/00

Photo source Zela Charlton
There are different ways to think about a road; the straightest path between two points - from home to work for example. In that case you will not be bothered about what you are passing - you will probably not even notice the scenery or unusual features as you curse the slow-moving vehicle in front of you. Or you can think of a road as part of a voyage of discovery, especially if it is new to you. This second way is the best approach when you are on holiday.

So come with me on the Road to Ngunguru, one of the many delightful by-ways close to Whangarei in Northland.

It's not so much of a by-way now as it once was, since the delights of the area are becoming better known and our secrets are less well hidden. It is a road to be taken at a reasonable pace, not only because it is full of bends but because there is much to be appreciated on the way. It can be done in twenty minutes, easily, but it is much better to allow time to pause here and there. Forget time for once, as most of us who live here try to do.

Whangarei Falls
Start your drive from Whangarei - beginning with a call on Whangarei Falls, at Tikipunga. These falls are actually within the City boundary, and have been rather urbanised for my taste, with car-parking (free, though) and security cameras to protect your property while you wander down to the viewing platform, explore the pool and river at the base of the waterfall or use the picnic facilities close by. If there has been some rain in the recent days then it is well worth stopping to look . Sometimes you can watch intrepid adventurers abseiling down the wet rocks. Or take part if you are fit and brave!

Market gardens
The area you are going to drive through for the first ten kilometres or so is one of the best growing areas in the district. It was one of the first to have been established in market gardens over a hundred years ago when bullocks could easily carry the vegies down the hill into the small European settlement that had grown up in the basin of the Hatea River at Whangarei. Lots of things are still grown here although they are now destined for markets all round the world.

Local fruit, flowers and plants
Huanui Orchard Shop is a good place for local produce and you will see many notices telling you to buy direct at a lot of gates, in season, of course. The produce includes strawberries, beans, avocado, persimmon, kiwifruit, oranges and other citrus fruit as well as flowers and plants.

Traditional farms and new ventures
Not all the growers sell at the gate, and there are always new crops coming on-stream that you might be able to see from the road as you pass, such as olives, ostriches and emu -even alpaca. Look hard and you will even see some of the more traditional produce - apples, pears, cows and sheep!

Church and marae (Maori meeting place)
Like a bit of history? Soon after the Falls you pass a charming small old church and a new marae complex, Pehiaweri . The church was built on land which was an historic Maori site, where warriors injured in battle further North were taken to convalesce, long ago. Some few years ago now the Anglican Church returned the land to the local iwi. The place has a wonderful feeling of peace and the new Wharenui, Te Reo o Iwi, is a tribute to the kaumatua (elders) and people of the iwi (tribe) who have worked so hard to establish it as a thriving and progressive marae once more.

Glenbervie - a growing attraction for life-stylers
A little way on is Glenbervie School, established in 1893. This school was built when the area was way out of town and the pupils came from the farms and orchards around. It is thriving again today as more and more life-stylers move into the district and appreciate a more rural way of life.

However the local Hall, just up the road, is in decline, used mainly by the jujitsu club from town; locals drive the 10 minutes into town for their entertainment so the hall is not the community centre it was not so long ago - an example of the way rural life is changing rapidly.

Stone walls built by Dalmatian gum diggers

Stone wall built by Dalmatians with New Zealand flax growing on the right
Stone wall built by Dalmatians with New Zealand flax growing on the right
Photo source Zela Charlton
More history lines the sides of the road for another few kilometres, where the superb workmanship of the Dalmatian workers from the gum-fields is evident in the still strong stone walls . The stones came from the volcanic fall-out on the paddocks. They had to be moved for the ploughs and the men came from digging the Kauri gum fields a bit further north as the industrial demand for the varnish made from the gum dried up and the workers sought new jobs. We are left with picturesque - and practical - walls that are again valued and being well-maintained after a period of neglect. New walls are even being built in some places.

Country Tea Gardens
If you call in at the Country Tea Gardens for refreshment you can see a wall up close as well as looking at some of the interesting plants they are growing there.

Kiripaka - stop for a picnic
More history for you to think about comes just after the road has been running along the river flat for a while. On the right is a small picnic reserve. As you will be expecting by now, it is not well sign-posted and if you are not looking for it you will miss it - another of our secrets!

Kiripaka is a pleasant place to pause and look at a small sample of native plants and trees growing right on the river bank, but the interesting thing is that there is no sign of the once thriving and busy village that was there a few years ago.

This spot was the highest reach that a large enough boat could reach at high tide to load with the coal mined close by. In those days there was everything here. Three hotels, shops, school. jetty - and coal mines. It has all gone now. The bush has taken the land back.

Follow a tidal river to Ngunguru on the coast

The road runs beside a Tidal River
The road runs beside a Tidal River
Photo source Zela Charlton
Our road continues along the tidal river - often there is a little private steam boat moored as if to remind you of past activity, but soon the road rises again and you drive through bush-clad slopes that conceal many of the interesting people who have come to hide away among the trees.

Downhill again, through bush reserve, then you may be greeted by the unique smell of the mangroves that now grow along both sides of the road. You may need to get acclimatised to actually enjoy the smell - but remember, these trees are a very important part of the ecology, being a wonderful nursery for the fish that enjoy these coastal waters in abundance.

Anyway, you can now see the blue of the sea and then the sand of the estuary as you round the bends and slow for the one-way bridges...pass the Kiwi baches.. a general store, a craft shop, a great fish and chip place .. even motels.

The beach and the river mouth at Ngunguru
The beach and the river mouth at Ngunguru
Photo source Zela Charlton
A place to stop and have a swim, wander along the sand if the tide is right. Just relax watching the sea-birds on the dramatic beach on the far side of the sand-spit or look out to sea where the Manaia Mountain appears distant over the sparkling waves. There are more places to be explored - but you may be content to stay here a while.

This is Ngunguru, the place of whispering waters.

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