Hokianga – New Zealand

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Emmy in Utthita Hasta Pandagustasana and Ush in Virabhadrasana B.

The Hokianga (Hokianga-nui-a-Kupe) is a very special place on the Western coast of New Zealand’s North Island. I return time and time again to absorb the unique beauty of the landscape, the feel of the warm, soft sand on my feet when up on the dunes some of which reach 170 metres high, the big expanse of cloud, sand and sea and the strong current leading out to the Tasman sea. The current here is so strong that back in 2005 it took the engagement ring off my finger. The landscape knew something before I did; a year later I found myself alone.

Sand boarding on the Hokianga dunes is among my favourite activities in New Zealand and only 3.5 hours from Leigh. In the summer months, a boat departs Opononi on the hour from 10am to 3pm. Boards are provided and unlike surfing on the 90-mile beach further up the coast, body surfing on Hokianga’s dunes secures a splash in the cool, turqoise sea.

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Emmy practicing Sirsasana.

A couple of years ago when me and my friend Toby were in a desperate need for a shower to remove all the sand before heading down to Auckland we came across the Globetrekkers lodge in Ōmāpere. Two years later, Emmy, Ush, Wyatt and I revisited and stayed for 2 nights in the only room available which happened to have 4 beds. It’s a charming BBH hostel with a communal kitchen, lounge and wonderful deck at the back surrounded by a secluded garden of trees and grapevines. Sue and Mike, mother and son team, are originally from Yorkshire and are the sweetest and friendliest hosts I have come across in NZ.

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Emmy, Ush and me in the middle

20 minutes drive from Opononi is the small town of Rāwene. Quirky and creative I always check out the galleries and the Boat Shed cafe where in 2005 I had coffee with mum and dad after visiting the Bay of Islands with Jo, my then husband. I stumbled across a new photographic gallery set up by NZ landscape photographer Tony Bridge. I liked all his images but one in particular took my breath away. I ended up buying it.

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The original title for this image was ‘Ngapuke’ refering to the 3rd (missing angel) of the Hokianga Harbour. After a discussion Tony had with a Maori healer they both decided to call it “Kaitiaki” which is a more open-ended interpretation of the concept of a guardian angel as opposed to being tied to a specific story.

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One of the other incredible reasons for visiting the Hokianga is the Waipoua forest where you can see the two oldest living Kauri trees in New Zealand:  Tāne Mahuta and Te Matua Ngahere. Tane Mahuta is estimated to be between 1,250 and 2,500 years old. The forest was declared a sanctuary in 1952. We arrived to Hokianga via SH12 from Dargaville and briefly stopped to salute the big trees on the way in and the way out. The most common route and one I’ve done for years is to visit the Bay of Islands first which are on the East Coast and then cross over to the West coast and do Hokianga and Waipoua forest on the way back down to Auckland. It’s known as the twin coast discovery highway.

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Goat Island coastal walk

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Goat Island is only 10 minutes drive from home and the first marine reserve in New Zealand established in 1975. Even though overcast and a little drizzly that day, it was a rewarding, short (45-minute return) walk with a wonderful look out and bench to marvel and ponder at the choppy sea. Little Barrier island is faintly seen in the distance.

The University of Auckland’s Leigh Marine Laboratory is based next to the reserve.