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Highlights north of Auckland
- an interview with Roger Murdoch - Part 3

Dorothy - 18/10/07

The group starts its journey south.

What route did you take south from Cape Reinga?
We returned to our accommodation at Taipa and the next day drove to Kaitaia and south to the north side of the Hokianga Harbour, crossed by ferry to Rawene and went on to Omapere at the mouth of the harbour.

Sunday, 9 April
This was a leisurely day, travelling to Omapere.

In the morning we met members of the Kaitaia Probus Club at their surprisingly good little museum, the Far North Regional Museum. This features the area's kauri gum digging heritage.

Kauri Gum
Kauri Gum

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The French explorer, Francois de Surville, was exploring New Zealand at the same time as Captain Cook and their ships passed within a few kilometres of each other in bad weather near North Cape in December 1769. De Surville sheltered in Doubtless Bay and while there had to cut the anchors. Kelly Tarlton, the well known diver, later recovered them and one is in the Kaitaia Museum and the other is in Te Papa, Wellington.

What road did you take from Kaitaia to the Hokianga harbour?
We did not take the main road down from Kaitaia but drove through Broadwood to the northern side of the Hokianga. We went through a place called Kohukohu where they are working on an interesting restoration of an old village.

The Hokianga is a very special place. We crossed to Rawene by ferry, itself an experience in a large touring coach. We were a little nervous about whether a large coach would be too heavy but we got across without incident.

Bus on Rawene ferry
Bus on Rawene ferry

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The ferry crosses every half hour and is to be recommended for a private car or campervan, - and as our experience proved can accommodate a large tour bus!

Rawene is a lovely old place and it was a short drive from there to Opononi and Omapere near the head of the Hokianga harbour.

Opononi home of the friendly dolphin Opo
Of course we viewed the statue of Opo the dolphin which brought the small town national recognition.

Opo's story
A young female bottlenosed dolphin often appeared on the beach at Opononi in the Hokianga during the summer of 195556. It welcomed human contact and played with bathers and children in a way that had not been known for a wild dolphin since Roman times. Early in 1955 Hokianga fishermen saw Opo following their boats. It was found that Opo enjoyed being scratched with an oar. When the fishermen thought it was a male it was called Opononi Jack as it seemed to be like Pelorus Jack, a Risso's dolphin which in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries guided ships through the dangerous waters of French Pass, a channel between D'Urville Island and the mainland off the top of the South Island.

Later Opononi Jack's name was shortened to Opo.

Then in the summer of 1955-6 it began to play with children who were gentle, sometimes with a rubber beach ball, and would even give them rides.

Opo's presence brought crowds to the town and official protection was asked for, and this was promised early in March 1956. Opo was found dead, wedged between two rocks, killed by gelignite. Amid national mourning Opo was buried beside the R.S.A. hall and her grave was decked with flowers. Later, the sculptor Russell Clark carved and donated to Opononi the figure of a boy and dolphin, in Hinuera stone.

Statue of Opo the friendly dolphin
Statue of Opo the friendly dolphin

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Time in Omapere
We spent two full days based in Omapere.

There is a newly established company which in conjunction with the hotel offers guided tours. Koro Carman operates the new and highly successful Footprints Waipoua, offering a number of "local ecological and cultural tours interpreting a very significant environment". Contact with this company would be through the resort where we stayed The Copthorne Hotel and Resort, Omapere.

Monday, 10 April
The feature of this day was a visit to the Waipoua Forest (25 minutes away), to the giant kauri, Tane Mahuta and for an "ecological and cultural interpretation of this very significant area" with local guides.

Tane Mahuta - the giant kauri tree
Tane Mahuta - the giant kauri tree

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Guide Joe took us on this trip and also a walk along the shores of the Hokianga. the following day. Here we came across rock formations not unlike the Moeraki Boulders.

Boulders on the shore of the Hokianga Harbour
Boulders on the shore of the Hokianga Harbour

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That left the afternoon free for exploring local places of interest such as Mamaku Arts & Crafts and the Hokianga Bone Carving Studio.

The local kaumatua, Goff Rawiri, gave us an insightful talk on the significance of this area to his people, both Maori and Pakeha.

Tuesday, 11 April
After the guided coastal walk in the morning the afternoon was free for walking and generally enjoying this very special spot.

Wednesday, 12 April
We made an early start for our trip back to Auckland. We travelled through the Waipoua Forest to Dargaville where we had a short coffee break before driving on to visit the well-known Matakohe Kauri Museum. Our two hours in the famous Matakohe Kauri Museum, a working museum further south, was an absolute gem.

The Kauri Museum at Matakohe states in its mission statement that its role is to:

  • record aspects of the Kauri industry and local pioneers
  • operate an excellent museum with outstanding displays
  • entertain and inform the public.

The Matakohe museum has been described as "one of the country's most amazing theme museums", and is visited by some 95,000 people every year.

It portrays the whole history of the area very well. The first pioneers to come to the area in 1862 and settled in Matakohe and nearby Paparoa and Maungaturoto. This museum was established to mark the centennial of the settlement and honour those early pioneers.

It is called the Kauri Museum and is based on kauri but is not only about that. It highlights the life of the Dalmatian gum-diggers and has the largest collection of kauri gum in the world.

It honours other local pioneers with displays such as a pioneering cottage and antique kauri furniture, a replica boarding house, a school and a historic post office with a large collection of telephones.

Our party's visit on a Wednesday was fortunately timed as on Wednesdays they have volunteers working there and operating pieces of machinery used in timber milling and answering questions. Restored antique machinery includes NZ's earliest tractor, a 1929 Cat 60 and a turning Steam Sawmill.

Visiting the Matakohe Kauri Museum
Visiting the Matakohe Kauri Museum

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Last day of the tour
The visit to the Matakohe museum provided a high point on the trip from Omapere to Auckland airport which was the longest day's travel on the tour.

The members of the group were unanimous in their praise of the trip.

Advice for other groups considering a similar trip

What should tourists exploring Northland take with them?

Heavy rain is common in Northland - it is essential that you take a fully waterproof jacket/coat. A small backpack and lunchbox is needed for Tiritiri Matangi.

Make sure you have a sunhat, good walking shoes, something warm if needed, insect repellent, and any necessary medication.

What would you recommend as background reading before setting out on this trip?

Anne Rimmer's 2004 book Tiritiri Matangi: A Model of Conservation is strongly recommended pre-reading.

The many good websites include:

Why do you think few Probus groups undertake a tour of this kind?

It is surprising that an area of such benign climate, richness of landscape, cultural heritage and the very foundation place of our nation is seldom visited by Probus groups. Possibly too little is known of Northland, or maybe off-shore destinations are more glamorous. On the other hand, perhaps few clubs offer their members longer than one-day trips. After all, someone has to organise them! Whatever the reason, I make a case for including a tour of the Far North on any group's programme, no matter where you are in the country. It can be done at a reasonable cost and you'll experience something very special. But do take sufficient time to savour this lovely and fascinating region.

How long a tour would you recommend and what highlights would you think MUST be included in the itinerary?

This is little enough time with twelve days and we wondered why anyone of our senior years, would wittingly take the very inadequate three or four day tour of the North one hears about, some of which include the long 11-hour day trip to Cape Reinga from Paihia too exhausting for older people.

My list of highlights would include Puhoi, the Whangarei Town Basin, the Cream Trip and visits to key historical sites around Paihia and Russell, Kerikeri, Cape Reinga and definitely the west coast to see the kauri forests, the Hokianga, and the Matakohe Kauri Museum.

A suggested shorter itinerary could be:
Day 1 Auckland to Whangarei, calling at Warkworth, Puhoi, Matakana
Day 2 Whangarei to Paihia
Day 3 Treaty House (2-3 hours) and Russell by ferry
Day 4 The Cream Trip
Day 5 To Kerikeri
Day 6 The Kerikeri area
Day 7 Doubtless Bay as a starting point to Cape Reinga
Day 8 Cape Reinga
Day 9 South to Omapere and Opononi and the kauri forests
Day 10 To Auckland via Matakohe Kauri Museum

We wish you all good travelling in the fascinating area that lies north of Auckland city.

Photos for this article were supplied by three members of the tour party Ted Pryor, Roy Service and Frank Thomas.

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