It’s a sunny mid-winter morning, and Geoff and I find ourselves faced with a decision. We can do the mature thing and do our tax returns, or the irresponsible thing and go on a road trip for the day. Naturally, within half an hour we are on the road, heading north towards the Hokianga Harbour.
The Hokianga (pronounced “hoke-ee-ang-ar” – the “ang” as in hang) is on the wild and rugged west coast of New Zealand, near the top of the North Island. It is generally a pretty quiet and remote area, but has an influx of visitors in the Christmas/summer holidays.
The drive is quiet and uneventful. There is only one delay – a bunch of contractors felling trees at the side of the highway. As we inhale the sweet smell of freshly cut wood, Geoff says to me wistfully, “You know, we could get a job doing that, but they are looking for tree fellers, and there are only two of us”. New Zealand humour is very easy to miss sometimes. I roll my eyes!
Eventually we come to the Rawene turnoff (pronounced “rar-win-ee”), and a patch of rain comes through. People dump unwanted chickens and roosters at road-side rest-areas and other carparks for some reason, so suddenly there is a mottled flock of poultry from the carpark running across the road in front of us, racing to take cover in the bus stop shelter.
Rawene is a cute little community on the southern side of the Hokianga Harbour, with historic buildings, good fish and chips, a really cool puzzle shop, and other quaint shops and cafes.
Rawene is also where you board the passenger ferry to cross to the northern side of the harbour. The best thing about this ferry is that they give locals a cheap price, which I expect makes it the only place in the world where you can flash your library card and get a great discount!
Once on the northern side of the harbour, we head west toward the coast. It is a quiet road through forest, bush and farms, skirting the harbour edge and mangroves. We see bobby calves with little coats on and a myriad of native birds feeding on the vibrant red flame tree flowers. In the remote silence, the song of the Tui is striking and beautiful, and the heavy sound of Kereru flying overhead is rather haunting (also called NZ pigeon – see photo).
The road out to Mitimiti Beach (pronounced “mit-ee-mit-ee”) is long and winding. There are plenty of one-lane bridges, derelict buildings from a time when the area thrived, and small Maori cemeteries dotted across the landscape (Maori are the indigenous people of NZ).
The countryside is riddled with introduced weeds. One area has so much wild ginger growing that in summer the fragrant flowers almost obscure the sweet smell of someone’s massive, and blatantly obvious, illegal marijuana plantation.
The further we go, the less fences there are and the more roaming horses and cattle we come across on the road. The roads have moss edges where the low winter sun never shines. The accepted form of transport here seems to be a 4WD motorbike with a cattle-dog entourage. The exception being a bunch of guys we saw driving a small truck along a stream bed.
Nearing the coast, the sealed road comes to an end and the trees become more windswept. As we drive down through a large valley, we can see the blue ocean in the distance and smell the salty air.
Like most of New Zealand’s west coast beaches, Mitimiti does not disappoint. Fine sand, roaring surf that creates a characteristic haze in the air, and a wild wind that blows away all your cares and makes you wonder if the modern world still exists.
We drive out onto the sand and take a walk. The only soul we see is a lone fisherman fishing off the rocks in the pounding waves. There is a mixture of old and new bachs dotted around (North Island slang for small holiday houses and pronounced “batchs”; they are called cribs in the South Island). One has an outdoor long-drop toilet with no door, but the most spectacular view out to sea.
We leave our footprints and tyre-tracks behind, and start to make our way home. The sun is low in the sky and its heat is waning, so we put it behind us and head home to a warm fire.
All Photos © W.Megget