08.03.06  By Shandelle Battersby
A 1.5km track takes you over and around the impressive Wairere Boulders.
 
Hold out for some Hokianga time
  
The command, when it came, was low and urgent. "Listen!" hissed our guide Koro, stopping us in our tracks immediately. Our silence was rewarded with a haunting sound I'd never heard before - the piercing cry of the kiwi.

We weren't lucky enough to see this elusive nocturnal dweller in its native environment - even the guides rarely see them - but the call is enough to fill you with a sense of patriotism.

The kiwi's cry was just one of the sights and sounds we experienced during our twilight walk through the Waipoua Forest, home to the two largest kauri trees in the world, Tane Mahuta and Te Matua Ngahere (Father of the Forest).

Footprints Waipoua is an interactive experience, beginning with a bird call quiz on CD in the van on the way (hence why we instantly recognised the kiwi's warble), and a karakia (prayer) as we set off.

Along the way, guides Koro and Tawhiti sporadically serenade us with Maori songs and instruments, treat us to a bunch of factual and fictional yarns, and reward us once we reach the 2000-year-old Father of the Forest with a hot chocolate and a couple of bikkies, just as the sun is setting behind its imposing bulk.

We are shown native plants Maori have used for centuries to heal all sorts of aches and pains, kiwi probe holes, and the places the birds have foraged for insects. We are taught about the life cycle of the kauri, and spot an eel patrolling the river.

And we come away feeling moved, connected to the landscape like never before, and clutching a small piece of gizzard stone each, a legacy from the days of the moa.

Our weekend in the Hokianga began with a warm welcome from Waima Lodge hosts Julie and Harmen.

Arriving at their beautifully renovated 1920s homestead on the road between Kaikohe and Rawene, we get the feeling that during our stay we can either do it all or do nothing, and either way we'll be satisfied.

Every local we speak to talks of moving at "Hokianga time" - life here just ticks along at a more relaxed pace.

One of the best aspects of our visit is the homegrown fresh food. The produce is organic and either originates from within the property (plum preserves, honey, yoghurt, homemade bread) or comes from local suppliers, like the Bavarian organic butchers along the road.

For our day out, Julie made a delicious picnic hamper, something they do for all their guests if requested.

If you've never been to a bed & breakfast, Waima Lodge is a great place to start. It has a choice of two elegant and comfortable rooms within the main house, each with an ensuite and private deck. A self-contained cottage is also on the property.

Saturday dawns warm and clear and we set off to look at one of the area's impressive and unique attractions - the Wairere Boulders, located near the small settlement of Horeke.

The boulder valley, thought to be 2.8 million years old, was formed by a lava flow which turned into a basalt layer. Erosion, and a couple of huge cracks, has led to a pile-up of thousands of the boulders on the valley floor, some of which are 30m high.

The surfaces of the giant rocks are uniquely fluted from chemical leaching caused by soil acidity and tannin accumulated from rain dripping through the kauri tree canopy.

The track through the 1.5km valley goes over, around and under the boulders, and takes you through rainforest and past many native trees, palms and ferns which are identified with signs or by host Felix.

The boulder loop takes about an hour and is reasonably accessible for any age or fitness level. A couple of additional tracks veer off the path and take you to extra sites, including the Bush Pool, the perfect place for a picnic. The impressive viewing platform can be reached by winding through the valley for about another hour.

The Hokianga is steeped in history. A short distance from the boulder valley is Horeke, a tiny village which was New Zealand's second-oldest European settlement, home to our first commercial shipyard, and which still houses our oldest tavern, the Hokianga Lodge.

Homes and shops are built on poles over the water, as land was once at a premium.

The Mangungu Wesleyan Mission House, built in 1838-39 which now houses a small museum, was the scene of one of the largest meetings to discuss and sign the Treaty of Waitangi.

Horeke was also home to the area's first European settler in 1825 - Jack Marmon, who has gone down in history as Cannibal Jack because he was thought to have joined Maori in cannibal feasts.

Continuing around the coast, we stopped off next at Kohukohu, my favourite of these small settlements. A huge stack of empty beer crates visible behind the pub shows it's a town that enjoys a bevvie or two.

Next to the tavern is Village Arts, a gallery space which sells work from local artists at reasonable prices.

Kohukohu is also home to the Waterline Cafe, an eatery perched over the water with fantastic coffee and even better views.

After a quick trip on the car ferry to Rawene, the next sight that greets us is the mountainous sand dunes you see across the water as you drive into Opononi. It's worth stopping for some fish and chips on the beach and spending some time absorbing the stunning views. Five minutes along the road is Omapere, home to the Copthorne Hotel, where we must wait for our departure to view the giant kauri.

Sunday is another gorgeous day, and we have some time to explore the surrounds of the Waima Lodge. Harmen takes us for a rambling walk through their wild property, past a 1930s kumara storehouse to a crystal clear swimming hole in the Waima River, pausing on the way to pick wild blackberries.

Whitebait, native trout (kokopu) and freshwater crayfish (koura) flow through these waters, and if you're quick you can catch glimpses of them as they swim past. The original owners of Waima Lodge planted an impressive array of plants and trees and you can see bamboo, kauri, totara, kowhai, many different types of magnolia and camellia trees, native ferns and palms, as well as all varieties of fruit and some nut trees.

We packed a lot into our weekend, and felt satisfied and definitely more relaxed. Moving at "Hokianga time" is highly recommended.

Checklist

HOKIANGA

* Getting there
Waima Lodge Bed & Breakfast is on State Highway 12, 20 minutes from Kaikohe when heading towards Rawene. $120 to $190 a night a couple, including breakfast. Contact Julie and Harmen, ph (09) 405 3808, email kaurispring@xtra.co.nz, or visit www.waima.co.nz (see link below).

*Activities
Footprints Waipoua leaves from the Omapere Copthorne Hotel at 6pm during daylight-saving hours, $65 adults, $48 children (5-12 years). Contact Copthorne Hotel, ph (09) 405 8207, or visit www.omapere.co.nz (see link below).

Wairere Boulders is open all year although some parts are not accessible in bad weather; $10 adults, $5 children and students, under 6 free. Contact: Felix and Rita, ph (09) 401 9935, email admin@wairereboulders.co.nz or www.wairereboulders.co.nz (see link below).
 
Links
    Waima Lodge Bed and Breakfast
    Footprints Waipoua
    Wairere boulders