A Travellerspoint blog

New Zealand - Omapere, Kauri, Tawharanui to Auckland

Paihia, Opononi, Omapere Arai te Uru Reserve, beaches, Tasman Sea, Kauri trees (Waipoua), Waikaki inlet, Te Kopuru hill, Snells Warkworth, Tawharanui beach

Wednesday 27th January Arai-te-Uru, Waipoua Forest and Tawharanui Beach

We had a good sleep before receiving our breakfast, then checked out to drive west across Northlands, from the Pacific Ocean to the Tasman Sea. We headed out of Paihia towards the low central hills. Past yet more of the beautiful white and purple flowers (Agapanthus) until we joined SH10, which we promptly turned away from and up into the larger hills, all studded with volcanic rocks and people-free. The cut through put us back on SH1 to Ohaeawai, a small town from, apparently, the 1960s. We turned off here for a brief detour to see the large Lake Omapere along the main road, but it was not a great view. Luckily, the cut through to get back to the SH12 further on took us along the shoreline so we could see it properly. We joined the SH12 back at Kaikohe, in the centre of the old (extinct) volcano country. The pretty Aperahama church passed on our left, named after Aperahama Te Awa who is buried there (1885) and about whom nothing is known!
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As the road moved east the area became less barren looking (Hokianga District), with more bushes and trees as we headed past Taheke towards the Tasman inlet (Hokianga Harbour) at Omanaia. The villages, widely spaced, looked poorer with a lot of run down mobile home type houses, or even shacks, with few facilities. We started to see lots more water- streams, estuaries etc as we headed to the bay. It remained surprisingly hilly, quite respectable heights, but became more prosperous looking as we approached the sea. This did mean we had a lovely view of the Tasman from on high! The road then followed the coast to Opononi (where we stopped on the wharf for a quick photo opp and leg stretch) and its twin settlement Omapere. Leaving Omapere we noticed a sign for a Scenic Lookout and drove up to Arai-Te-Uru Reserve and parked. There were few people here and it looked like a nice walk so we hopped out to walk along the headland. The nursery web spiders were everywhere in the gorse and far below we could see the few surfers brave enough to chance the wild Tasman rollers. The point was nice as we could contrast the Tasman Sea (left
below) with the water of Hokianga Harbour (centre and right below).
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Arai Te Uru is the name given to the south head of the Hokianga Harbour. This headland offers spectacular views of the Tasman Sea and the giant sand dunes on the opposite side of the harbour entrance. In 1838 John Martin bought the headland and constructed a signalling mast on the point to guide ships over the treacherous Hokianga sandbar. His white painted house on a nearby hill acted as a navigation marker. According to Maori mythology, Arai Te Uru and Niua (the north head of the harbour) were two taniwha (sea monsters) who had the job of guarding the harbour entrance. They would use their powerful tails to stir the waters into such frenzy that invading waka would be swamped and rendered helpless in the sea. From the wharf at Opononi, you can catch a water taxi to the huge sand dunes of the north head and surf down the dunes on body boards.
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Most New Zealand spiders are araneomorphs. Their fangs move sideways rather than up and down like the mygalomorphs. Therefore, araneomorphs do not need to have their prey on a solid surface to strike, and can exploit a wide range of habitats. Araneomorphs can both directly catch flying insects, and use webs. Nursery Web spiders are large fast-moving spiders of 6 cm, pale brown with yellow borders around the cephalothorax (the front portion of the spider that bears the legs, fangs and eyes). D. minor has a yellow stripe running lengthwise from the front to the middle of the abdomen. The stripe is absent in D. aquaticus (Water spider). Both species are found throughout New Zealand. Nursery web spiders are known for their webs, yet they do not use them to catch prey. The webs of these spiders are a common sight on gorse and other shrubs and are nurseries for young spiderlings. During summer, the female nursery web spider can be seen roaming about carrying a large white ball underneath her. This is her egg sac and she carries it everywhere in her fangs until her young are ready to emerge. When this time comes, she takes the egg sac to the top of a tree or shrub and constructs the nurseryweb. The mother stays close, and during the day can be found near the base of the plant where she has deposited her young. Secure inside the nurseryweb, the young spiderlings emerge from the eggsac and remain here for about a week or so before dispersing by ballooning. New Zealand’s sole poisonous native spider, the rare katipō, has almost mythical status. Since the late 19th century there have been accidental introductions of the poisonous redback and white-tailed spiders from Australia. Māori knew of a poisonous spider that lived on/ near the warmer North Island beaches. They called it the katipō, which means ‘night-stinger’. The scientific name is Latrodectus katipo. Only the adult female katipō bites. A fully- grown female is about the size of a garden pea. It is black, with a bright red stripe on its back. Katipō are shy, and only bite if threatened. Few New Zealanders have even seen one. Despite their reputation, there is no evidence that anyone has died from a katipō bite. Katipō spiders are classified as threatened. It is illegal to collect or deliberately kill them. Their decline is due to changes in the beach habitat, especially the replacement of native pīngao with marram grass. Experts agree that there are now fewer katipō than the kiwi.

Common skinks live in coastal locations where they are often a dark or black colour. In other places they are brown with irregular stripes. They can be distinguished from the similar brown skink by their straw coloured iris (brown skinks have a brown iris). Common skinks are not threatened. Females are slightly larger than males. The most common food of common skinks is invertebrates, namely beetles, spiders, and the caterpillars of moths and butterflies. They also eat a small amount of seeds and fruit. All lizards are cold blooded animals. Many bask in the sun to get warm, and if they aren’t warm enough have difficulty moving. The body temperature that a lizard can achieve has a profound effect on important life-traits: low temperatures can lengthen pregnancy, and even result in the unborn baby’s (neonate’s) death. Common skinks are avid baskers. They seek sun and prefer sunny habitats. They minimise the risk of predation by exposing only small parts of their body at one time, still remaining well hidden. Common skinks love sunny rock piles and tumbles that have plenty of crevices. Not only are they great for basking in safe spots, but rock retains heat to keep them warm during cold spells. Common skinks prefer grasslands (especially tall grass) and scrub rather than forests. They love dry, open areas with lots of places to bask and lots of cover to hide under.
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Everywhere we saw the Harakeke (flax) plants, prized by both Maori and pakeha for their use in rope manufacture. There are two species of flax in New Zealand - common flax (harakeke) and mountain flax (wharariki). Their tall, green, sword-like leaves can be found growing throughout New Zealand. Common flax is found throughout the country, especially in wet areas, while mountain flax is at altitude and exposed coastlines. Flax is unique to New Zealand and is one of its more ancient plants. The bushes support a large community of animals, providing shelter and abundant food. Tui, bellbirds/ korimako, saddlebacks/tīeke, short tailed bats/pekapeka, geckos and insects enjoy flax flower nectar. Flax snails, a rare land snail living only in the Far North, shelter under flax bushes. The snails don’t eat the flax, but munch on fallen leaves from native broadleaved trees. The first Europeans called it ‘flax’ because its fibres were similar to true flax, but it is in fact a lily. Common flax grows up to 3m high and its flower stalks can reach 4m. Its seedpods stand upright from the stem. Mountain flax only grows 1.5m and its seedpods hang down. Within the two species, there are numerous varieties. Some have drooping, floppy leaves while others grow as stiff and upright as spears. Flax flowers vary from yellow to red to orange. Flax was a valuable resource as rope to Europeans during the 19th century, when it was New Zealand’s biggest export until wool and mutton took over. Today, flax is used in soap, hand cream, shampoo, cosmetics and even flaxseed oil. There have even been experiments to make flax into wine! Flax was the most important plant to Māori. Each pā or marae typically had a pā harakeke (flax plantation). Different varieties were grown for their strength, softness, colour and fibre content. The uses of the flax fibre were numerous; clothes, mats, plates, baskets, ropes, bird snares, fishing lines and nets from the leaves; floats or rafts from bundles of dried flower stalks and the nectar to sweeten food. Flax also had medicinal uses. The sticky sap or gum was applied to boils and wounds and used for toothache. Flax leaves were used to bind broken bones and matted leaves as dressings. Flax root juice was applied to wounds as a disinfectant. Traditionally when harakeke leaves were removed from the plant, only the older leaves on the outside were taken. It was believed the three inner layers of the plant represented a family. The outer layer was the grandparents, whereas the inner layer of new shoots (child) remained and was protected by the next inner layer of leaves, the parents.

Pohutukawa and Rata
Although the fortunes of pohutukawa and rata have improved, they are still threatened by pests. The blazing red flowers of pohutukawa at Christmas have earned this tree the title of New Zealand's Christmas tree. Pohutukawa and rata belong to the genus Metrosideros (myrtle). In New Zealand, this is represented by 2 pohutukawa, 6 species of rata vine, a related shrub, and 3 tree rata. Mainland pohutukawa occurs in the upper half of North Island. It is easily distinguished from rata by the hairs on the underside of the leaves. Pohutukawa and rata hold a prominent place in Maori mythology. Legends tell of the young Maori warrior, Tawhaki and his attempt to find help in heaven to avenge his father's death. He subsequently fell to earth and the crimson flowers are said to represent his blood. Possibly the most famous pohutukawa in Maori legend is a small, wind- beaten tree clinging to the cliff face near Cape Reinga. The 800-year-old tree is reputed to guard the entrance to a sacred cave through which spirits pass on their way to the next world. Rata was respected for its immense size, which provided, among other things, shelter for travellers.
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On several flax plants we saw weta lying up the stem, virtually immobile. Weta are incredible creatures. Giant wētā / wētāpunga have been around since before the dinosaurs. They range in size, but with their big bodies, spiny legs, and curved tusks, they are one of New Zealand's most recognisable creepy crawlies. Wētā have become icons for invertebrate conservation in New Zealand because many species are endangered. There are more than 70 species of wētā in New Zealand, 16 of which are at risk. There are five groups of wētā:
● Tree wētā
● Ground wētā
● Cave wētā
● Giant wētā
● Tusked wētā
Wētā are mainly herbivorous, but are known to eat insects. They are mainly nocturnal and live in grassland, shrub, forests, and caves. They excavate holes under stones, rotting logs, or in trees, or occupy pre-formed burrows. Many of the giant species only survive on protected land. The Mahoenui giant wētā, considered extinct, was rediscovered in a patch of King Country gorse in 1962. A problem with wētā conservation is the lack of information on their distribution and ecology. There can be a great deal of variation within species, despite the fact there is little genetic difference between them.
However their potential for recovery is good because they have a high rate of procreation, adapt well to modified habitats, require smaller areas and can survive in tiny fragments of habitat and thrive in captive breeding programmes.

Flitting in and out of the flax we saw a Bellbird. This bird is famous for its melodious song, which Captain Cook described as ‘like small bells’. Well camouflaged, the bellbird is heard before it is seen. Females are dull olive-brown, with a blue sheen on the head and pale yellow cheek stripe. Males are olive green, with a purplish head and black outer wing and tail feathers. Bellbirds are unique to New Zealand. When Europeans arrived, bellbirds were common throughout North and South Islands. Their numbers declined during the 1860s, as ship rats and stoats arrived. For a time it was thought they might vanish from the mainland altogether, but they began to recover from 1940 onward. Bellbirds live in native forest (mixed podocarp-hardwood and beech forest) and regenerating forest with dense vegetation. They can be found close to the coast or in vegetation up to about 1200 metres. Typically they prefer forest/ scrub, cover and good local food sources during the breeding season, since they do not travel far from the nest.
However, outside the breeding season they may travel many kilometres to feed, especially males. Bellbird song comprises three distinct sounds resembling the chiming of bells. They sing through the day, especially the early morning and late evening. The alarm call is a series of loud, rapidly repeated, harsh staccato notes. Just as people have regional accents, bellbirds sing with regional dialects. Bellbird songs vary enormously from one place to another, even over short distances.
Everywhere in North Island we saw Fantails, easily recognised by their long tail that opens to a fan. It has a small head and bill and has two colour forms, pied and melanistic (black). The pied birds are grey- brown with white and black bands. The fantail is widespread and common in most of the country, except the dry, open country of Central Otago, where frosts are too harsh. The fantail is one of the few native bird species that has adapted to an environment altered by humans. Fantails range from sea level to the snow line. There are 10 sub-species, three of which live in New Zealand: North Island fantail, South Island fantail and Chatham Islands fantail. Fantails use their broad tails to change direction quickly while hunting for insects. They sometimes hop around upside-down amongst tree ferns and foliage to pick insects from the underside of leaves. Their main prey is moths, flies, spiders, wasps, and beetles. They seldom feed on the ground. The success of the species is due to the fantail’s prolific and early breeding, females lay as many as 5 clutches in one season. In Māori mythology the fantail was responsible for death in the world. Maui, thinking he could end death by successfully passing through the goddess of death, Hine-nui-te-po, tried to enter her sleeping body through the pathway of birth. The fantail, warned by Maui to be quiet, began laughing and woke Hine-nuite-po, who was so angry that she killed Maui.
Fantails use three methods to catch insects. The first, hawking, is used where vegetation is open and they can see long distances. Fantails perch to spot swarms of insects and then fly at the prey, snapping several insects at a time. The second method in denser vegetation is flushing. The fantail flies around to disturb insects, flushing them out to eat them. Feeding associations are the third way. The fantail follows another bird or animal to capture insects disturbed by their movements.
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Waipoua Forest. After our walk we continued our drive on SH12 down the Kauri coast to reach Waipoua Forest. The drive wound through magnificent stands of tall kauri, rimu and northern rata, and gave extensive views in a few places. The road down became very wooded with no settlements at all until we were officially in the forest. It was not long before we found a parking bay with a short trail to Tane Mahuta opposite, so we had a coffee (whilst Steve earwigged a government meeting between a Maori representative and officials regarding forest rights). The track to the tree was easy, just 5 mins walk, and when we found the tree a really helpful lady park ranger talked to us and took our photo. She told us about the other trails and suggested which ones were best as well as a little about the forest and kauri trees. Tane Mahuta is the largest known living kauri tree.
Kauri (Agathis) or dammar, is a relatively small genus of 21 species of evergreen tree. The genus is part of the ancient Araucariaceae family of conifers, a group widespread during the Jurassic, but now restricted to the Southern Hemisphere. Mature kauri trees have characteristically large trunks, forming a bole with little or no branching below the crown. In contrast, young trees are conical in shape, forming a more rounded or irregularly shaped crown as they achieve maturity. The bark is smooth and light grey-brown, peeling into irregular flakes that become thicker on more mature trees. The branch structure is often horizontal or, when larger, ascending. The lowest branches often leave circular branch scars when they detach from the lower trunk. The juvenile leaves in all species are larger than the adult. Adult leaves are very leathery and quite thick. Young leaves are coppery-red, contrasting with the green foliage of the previous season. The male pollen cones appear only on larger trees after seed cones have appeared. The female seed cones develop on short lateral branchlets, maturing after two years. Seeds of some species are attacked by the caterpillars of Agathiphaga, the most primitive of all living moths. Kauri dieback is a deadly disease caused by Phytophthora agathidicida. This fungus-like disease was formally identified in 2008 as a distinct and previously undescribed species of Phytophthora. Kauri dieback is specific to New Zealand kauri and can kill trees of all ages. Microscopic spores in the soil infect kauri roots and damage the tissues that carry nutrients within the tree. Infected trees show yellowing of foliage, loss of leaves, canopy thinning, dead branches, root rot and lesions that bleed gum at the base of the trunk. Nearly all infected kauri die. In the past 10 years, kauri dieback has killed thousands of kauri in New Zealand. Scientists are currently working to find a treatment for this disease.
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It was a brief drive (though poorly signposted) to the main car park, which led to most of the forest walks. The local government had had a lot of issues with thefts from cars, so employed a car watcher (voluntary donation $2). We washed our boots (to help prevent Kauri dieback disease, which is a major issue) and set off. The walk led up a fern filled area (Toatoa Walk) to the start of the forest, where the path split. We went to see the Four Sisters branch first, which terminated in the Four Sisters- 4 huge trees so close they almost looked like one.
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Then we retraced our steps and headed on down the forest for a good 15+ minutes to the second tallest (though wider in girth) Te Matua Ngahere kauri tree. Then it was all uphill back to the original track. We decided we didn’t have time to do the full Yakas track, so we just looked down it for a few minutes to see the podocarps. Then back to the car park. The weird thing was at least 2 cars were “following” our path, but 20 mins behind us at each place!
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I knew there was a visitor centre with a cafe, so we drove a bit further, over a stream and then I spotted the sign to the right. We turned down a long, dusty track which opened out after a few km to a lovely visitors centre. No one else had arrived so we had a super sandwich and muffin (these were glorious) in the shade outdoors. At the end the same people arrived, but we were heading off by then.
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Rimu (Dacrydium cupressinum) is a podocarp, able to reach up to 50 metres in height. Most trees live 800-900 years. The rimu is well known for its strong, durable timber, which was used in furniture.
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Bats are the only native NZ mammal. There are two types; the long-tailed bat and the lesser short-tailed bat. The greater short-tailed bat is extinct. Maori folklore refers to bats as pekapeka and associates them with a mythical night- flying bird, the hokioi, which foretells death or disaster. The endangered lesser short-tailed bat is an ancient species unique to New Zealand and found only in a few locations. It is the only remaining member of its family, Mystacinidae. Short-tailed bats weigh 12-15 g, have large pointed ears and a tail. They are a mousy-grey colour. Unlike most bats, which catch their prey in the air, the short-tailed bat has adapted to ground hunting. It spends large amounts of time on the forest floor, using its folded wings as 'front limbs' for scrambling around for insects, fruit, nectar and pollen. Short-tailed bats are found in indigenous
forests where they roost in hollow trees. Thought to be a lek breeder, male bats compete for traditional posts and sing to attract a female. The short-tailed bats are an important pollinator of the Dactylanthus or woodrose, a threatened parasitic plant, which grows on the roots of trees on the forest floor.

The nīkau palm is the southernmost member of the palm family. There are over 1,100 palm species around the world. The nīkau palm is the only native palm to NZ. It grows 10-15 m tall and is easy to spot in the bush with a circular trunk ringed with evenly spaced scars from fallen leaves. The fronds are up to 3 m in length. The nīkau palm is unique to New Zealand and occurs in coastal to lowland forest in warm regions, mainly North Island and northern South Island (Marlborough Sounds to Banks Peninsula near Christchurch). The nīkau sprouts large clusters of mauve flowers that burst from the base of the lowest branch. The flowers are sticky and sweet with nectar, which attracts insects, especially bees. While insects are the main pollinators, birds such as tui, bellbirds and silvereyes also enjoy the nectar. The bright red nīkau fruits take one year to ripen and are an important food source for native birds, particularly the wood pigeon/kererū and kākā. Nīkau palms are important to Māori. The leaves were used to thatch houses, wrap food for cooking, and weave into hats, mats, baskets, and leggings for travelling through rough undergrowth. The growing spikes can be taken from the tree every 8 months without killing it. From the outer portion of the trunk, Māori made storage containers and pots. The hard berries were made into necklaces or eaten when green. The immature flower is edible and can be cooked and eaten like cauliflower. The heart of the developing leaves (rito) can be eaten raw, but taking the shoots kills the whole tree. The nīkau takes 40– 50 years to begin to form a trunk and 200 years to reach 10 m. Two fronds are shed per year leaving a leaf scar on the trunk, which can be used to give an indication of age since the trunk began. The nīkau is closely related to the betel nut, the seeds of which are a laxative. The centre shoots of nīkau can be used in the same way. When Māori came to New Zealand, they looked for a familiar tree and seeing the nīkau, compared it to the coconut tree. One translation of ‘nīkau’ is ‘without nuts'.
The forest was particularly covered with native ferns, of which New Zealand is home to nearly 200 species. These are some of the most common.
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from left: button fern tarawera. Small ground fern, dark green fronds, sori on the margins; Cunningham’s maidenhair Smallish ground fern, oblong hairless blue-green frond segments; drooping filmy fern piripiri, irirangi, Hymenophyllum demissum. Small fern with dull, translucent fronds, creeping on the ground or on tree trunks. One of the most common filmy ferns in New Zealand; fork fern Tmesipteris elongata. Usually epiphytic on the trunks of tree ferns, with pendulous stems and spirally arranged leaves; hen & chickens fern manamana. Medium ground fern, with narrow, dull fronds, numerous bulbils, or ‘chickens’, borne on the fronds’ upperside; hound’s tongue kowaowao, paraharaha Smallish fern that creeps extensively, along the ground or up tree trunks, glossy lime-green fronds, and orange sori; kiokio Blechnum novae- zelandiae, large ground fern, with once-divided fronds, and markedly different sterile and fertile fronds;
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prickly shield fern püniu, ground fern, dark green, narrow, tough, scaly fronds; silver fern ponga, Cyathea dealbata. Tree fern whose fronds have white undersides, scales rather than hairs; crape fern, medium with translucent fronds; sweet fern ground fern, pale green thin fronds, netted veins, and distinctively fractal; whekï rough tree fern, tirawa, Dicksonia squarrosa, dark-brown and hairy frond-stalks, and coarse- textured fronds. The orange dead fronds give a scruffy appearance.

The leaves of ferns are called fronds and when young are coiled into a tight spiral. This shape, called a ‘koru’ in Māori, is a popular motif in many New Zealand designs. Ferns are categorised based on their growth form such as tufted, creeping, climbing, perching and tree ferns. One notable New Zealand fern is bracken (rārahu), which grows in open, disturbed areas and was a staple of the early Māori diet in places too cold for the kümara to grow. The roots were gathered in spring or early summer and left to dry before they were cooked and eaten. The silver fern or ponga is a national symbol and named for the silver underside of its fronds. The mamaku is New Zealand’s tallest tree fern, growing up to 20 m high. Wheki is another type of tree fern that can be distinguished by its hairy koru and ‘skirt’ of dead, brown fronds hanging from under the crown. It often forms groves by means of spreading underground rhizomes, which give rise to several stems. Most ferns reproduce sexually, but some ferns also have efficient means of vegetative reproduction, such as the underground stems of bracken and the tiny bulblets that grow on the surface of fronds of the hen-and-chicken fern.

Waipoua Forest is home to a number of important native birds, which we heard and glimpsed. The kōkako belongs to the endemic New Zealand wattlebirds, an ancient family of birds that includes the North and South Island saddleback and the extinct huia. The kōkako is the only member of its family still surviving on the mainland. There are two sub-species; North Island kōkako (Callaeas wilsoni) and South Island kōkako (Callaeas cinerea). It is a dark bluish-grey bird with a long tail and short wings. There is a pair of brightly coloured, fleshy "wattles". The North Island kōkako has blue wattles, the South Island kōkako has orange or yellow wattles. The bird is not very good at flying, and prefers to use its powerful legs to leap and run through the forest. The North Island kōkako is found in tall native forest, with a canopy of tawa or taraire and emergent podocarps or kauri. The birds are restricted to areas where rats and possum are controlled. There are about 400 pairs in several isolated populations, mainly in central and northern North Island. Kōkako are known for the clarity and volume of their song, which carries far across the forest. In the early morning, a pair may duet for up to half an hour with other kōkako joining in to form a bush choir. Male and female are similar in colour and size (230 grams). They protect large territories by singing and chasing away invaders. They eat leaves, fern-fronds, flowers, fruit and invertebrates. In Māori myth, it was the kōkako that gave Maui water as he fought the sun. The kōkako filled its wattles with water and brought it to Maui. His thirst quenched, Maui rewarded the kōkako by making its legs long and slender, enabling the bird to bound through the forest with ease in search of food.

We decided to continue down the coast, then cut across the island towards Whangarei as we wanted to go towards the Pacific beaches in the Tawharanui reserve. We followed the west coast road (with only brief glimpses of the Tasman behind the trees) along the long beaches we had seen flying in, until we reached Dargaville when the road began to follow the Wairoa River (a long wide river that became an estuary, nearly splitting the land) along its length back to the Tasman. As we passed Tokatoka a strange hill presented itself- Tokatoka Hill. This outlandish mountain, like some-thing from a fantasy landscape, is actually a rare phenomenon, the plug of an ancient volcano whose material around the plug has eroded, leaving only the hardened lava core. It is located on in flat farmland on Tokatoka Road, off State Highway 12, 17 km south of Dargaville. In pioneering days, the river pilot who lived at the base of Tokatoka would climb the peak to watch for sailing ships in Kaipara Harbour. He would have been very fit, because the walking track to the peak is a short, sharp climb of 20 minutes. Tokatoka peak is significant to local Maori and features in their mythology and history.
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At Ruawai the road turned quite sharply west to head directly across the Island back to the other side. It began to drizzle (common in this area) as we climbed over the hills towards to east coast. Passing on SH12 through small townships like Matakohe and Paparoa, we met back up with SH1 at Brynderwyn again. A short drive brought us to Wellsford where we spotted a swimwear shop- hooray. It looked a bit 70s but had a costume only 1 size too large for me and some jellies for Steve. A friendly owner said the peninsula would be lovely now in 30 degrees sun! From here it was a short drive to Warkworth, where we turned off the highway and into the town.
Warkworth is a pretty town on the Kowhai (after the tree) coast/ Mahurangi River and gateway to the stunning beach areas to the east. It had charming heritage buildings and boutique shops, but we did not stop as we were heading to the regional park of Tawharanui and Mahurangi harbour.
At Warkworth we turned off SH1 towards the signs for Snells Beach and the Tawharanui peninsula. En route we filled up with diesel at Matakana townlet (quite pretty and wealthier looking) before turning off right at Omaha onto Takutu road towards the park. Matakana is a small town in Rodney District. Matakana River flows through the town into Kawau Bay. The area contains vineyards, market, cinema, cafes, restaurants and boutique food shops. The road, as stated, became a dusty (presumably muddy in winter) track steeply going up and down with spectacular views, dipping down to Jones Bay, then back up to Anchor Bay. At the final end it became paved again and after passing through the automatic pest- proofing gates (to protect the many native birds we saw) we parked right next to a beautiful beach. There were a few surfers on quite impressive waves, but we could see they were locals enjoying after work surfing as they knew where the underwater rocks were. We spent some time here before reluctantly setting off towards Auckland.

Tawharanui
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Set on a remote peninsula, Tawharanui Regional Park has beautiful beaches, rolling pastures, shingled bays, native coastal forest and wetlands. There are 4 white sandy beaches on Tawharanui’s north coast totalling 3 kms. The main beach is Anchor Bay, 360 m of white sand in close proximity to picnic areas and an easy 70 m walk from the car park. Bird watching of rare native species- saddleback, North Island robin, bellbird, fantail, pateke (Brown Teal) and occasional kaka in the day, kiwi and morepork in the evening. Tawharanui offers spectacular views. From picturesque Anchor Bay to stunning ocean views via lookout points the islands of Hauraki Gulf are clearly visible. Summer gate opening 6:00am - 9:00pm.
The endangered New Zealand dotterel/ tūturiwhatu is found only in this country. The dotterel was once widespread and common, but now there are only 1,700 birds left, making dotterels more at risk than some species of kiwi. NZ dotterels are shorebirds, found on sandy beaches and sandspits or feeding on tidal estuaries. They are pale-grey on the back, with off-white underparts, which become flushed with rusty-orange in winter and spring. They have a prominent head, large dark-brown eyes and a strong black bill. Their colour make them difficult to see when standing still, but their habit of running quickly and pausing to feed makes them easy to identify. Their 'chip-chip' call is often heard before they are seen. The Northern NZ dotterel is found in Northland, Auckland, Coromandel and the Bay of Plenty. Nesting beaches include Mangawhai, Waipu, Te Arai, Tawharanui, and Papakanui Spit. Two or three eggs are laid in a scrape in the sand, among shells and driftwood just above high tide mark. Because they are hard to see, nests are sometimes crushed by people, vehicles, horses or stock. NZ dotterels will try to distract intruders near their nest by pretending to be injured, even faking a broken wing and leading the intruder away from the nest. Newly-hatched chicks, looking rather like bumble bees with long legs, are quickly active.
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Brown Teal/ pāteke. The pāteke’s omnivorous diet, restricted annual range and terrestrial lifestyle give it a unique ecological niche among waterfowl, somewhat akin to a wetland rodent, and it serves as a classic example of the influence of selective forces that operated on birds in pre- human New Zealand. There are currently estimated to be between 2,000 and 2,500 pāteke living in a wild state in New Zealand, making it New Zealand’s rarest waterfowl species on the mainland. They are a small dabbling duck, brown in colour with a distinctive white eye ring that makes them easily distinguishable from other ducks. When breeding, males have a green head that can vary from subtle to very strong iridescent green, sometimes with a white collar on the neck. The pāteke were once widespread throughout New Zealand, but they are now rare and restricted to coastal valleys of eastern Northland, including Tawharanui.
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It took about an hour to return to Auckland, along SH1 and North Shore. We arrived back at their idea of rush hour, but it didn’t take long to find our hotel again. They had upgraded us to a suite- sweet! 5 rooms! Steve paid our tolls and we did our washing. We had already decided on where to eat, so we walked back to the Viaduct Harbour area and straight to Oysters and Chop restaurant where we could sit outside on the waterfront. I think this was probably our best meal in NZ. Oysters to start (I had wasabi, Steve had vodka), then duck breast with Cloudy Bay and Hawkes Bay wine and sticky date pudding to finish. http://oysterandchop.co.nz

Some Maori legends
Maui - Maui is the gifted, clever, tricky demigod of Polynesian mythology responsible for fishing up North Island of Aotearoa, New Zealand. After a miraculous birth and upbringing Maui won the affection of his supernatural parents, taught useful arts to mankind, snared the sun and tamed fire. But one of his most famous feats was fishing up the North Island.
Fishing up an island Despising him, Maui’s four brothers conspired to leave him behind when they went fishing. Overhearing their plans, Maui secretly made a fishhook from a magical ancestral jawbone. Then one night he crept into his brothers' canoe and hid under the floorboards. It wasn't until the brothers were far out of sight of land and had filled the bottom of their canoe with fish that Maui revealed himself. He took out his magic fishhook and threw it over the side of the canoe, chanting powerful incantations. The hook went deeper and deeper into the sea until Maui felt it had touched something. He tugged gently and far below the hook caught fast. It was a huge fish! Together with his brothers, Maui brought the fish to the surface. Maui cautioned his brothers to wait until he had appeased Tangaroa the god of the sea before they cut the fish. They grew tired of waiting and began to carve out pieces for themselves. These are now the valleys, mountains, lakes and rocky coastlines of the North Island.
Te Ika a Maui - Maui's fish To this day North Island is known as Te Ika a Maui or Maui’s fish. Take a look at a map of New Zealand to see the fish head in the south and its tail in the north. South Island is known as Te Waka a Maui or Maui’s canoe, and Stewart Island/ Rakiura as Te Punga a Maui or Mau’s anchor stone.
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Posted by PetersF 22:15 Archived in New Zealand Tagged beach island north tasman te paihia kauri snells warkworth waipoua opononi omapere arai uru waikaki kopuru tawharanui

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