Category: geology

Day 12: Waipū

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Caves and Beer

Waipū Cave

The last stop on our roadtrip. Why? That’s easy… beer! McLeods Brewery to be precise! We have driven past here on many occasions on our way to hockey tournaments with Gus, we even stopped briefly once to have a look around. And the refrain “Waipū? Because you have to…?” is one that is chorused whenever the name of the town its mentioned! (Long story involving a van load of young male teenage hockey players!)

Since we have been avid followers of the NZ craft beer scene though, we have looked for opportunities to cost Waipū as it is the home of McLeod’s Brewery. Last time we came through it was winter and it was closed. Since then we had met Geoff in Kirikiriroa at Craft Hamilton and he had said to contact him next time we were in the rohe and make sure we called in. The pizza barn is very popular… I guess it was the height of the summer season but we had to wait to be seated even just for a drink! We ended up eating there too. Good pub grub but not a huge variety for vegetarians. Could do better on that score but the beer makes up for it! Disappointingly, when we went back the next day to get our carry out bottles filled we found that although they now have an “off” licence, they still don’t have the right gear to dispense so we went away empty-handed!


While we were there we decided to explore Waipū Cave. It is just a few miles out of Waipū, along a gravel road that climbs up inland. We weren’t expecting how busy it was! It was great to see so many families there, kids barefoot and intrepid as they waded through the steam or picked a path over the stepping stones. Tourists of all nationalities venturing in with phone torches to light their way. Pockets of people switching off their lights and sitting quietly in awe at the glow worms.

glow worms

Being intrepid, (and knowing caves!) we carried on through the stream as the roof lowered when everyone else stopped. We waded through the water which at its deepest reached our mid-thighs and soon lost the shrieks and chatter of families and found peace and quiet. After climbing over some breakdown boulders we arrived at a pool. There was a small passage leading on but it seemed a bit squalid and we really weren’t equipped to push on further! There had already been a few avens that were full of glow worms.

glow worms

We carried on exploring, climbed up to a higher level passage above the boulders and circled back round through rift passage to the main . chamber. We met a guy who had brought a group in and was playing hide and seek with them. He said he came in regularly with groups.


On our way back out we noticed that to the right as you enter the cave there is another passage. Wide and lower than the passage to the left and full of water but with reasonable airspace. We thought we could see light coming in somewhere and had a quick explore to see if there was an aven that connected but couldn’t see anything, We went back to the van and saw a couple of groups coming back to the carpark who had clearly been swimming. Intriguing.

We headed off up the hill on a walk – just a wee walk but there was a good climb and great views from the top. We went past a heap of limestone outcrops which we explored on the way back down.


Once we got down we headed across past the main cave entrance and round to where we had seen people coming from. There was another entrance (or exit!) – looking back neither Nigel or I can work out if there was any flow and if there was, which way it was going! We could hear the voices of tourists at the other end and I decided that it was too tempting not to swim through. Since it was only a few metres to the car and dry clothes, I took my shoes and socks off and headed in. I waded the first few metres until I reached waist deep and then swam. Slowly, steadily into the sem-darkness. The ceiling was just a half metre above me at the lowest point but there was mud and flood debris so it clearly sumps in wet weather. For a few metres, there is peace and quiet. I float on my back looking up at the ceiling just contemplating and remembering times when I sat at the bottoms of cave pitches deep underground. That absolute sense of being. Connected with the whenua. At one with but also ephemerally disconnected to nature. Then I turned over and swam on out to the noise of tourists happily exploring this natural playground. Part of me wanted to stay there and relish the oneness, I also love that so many people are experiencing a space that for so long was my life. It makes me want to get back and explore underground again. Maybe.


Day 6: Boulders, swimming but no tourist stuff!

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Handstand at Magic Rock

We awoke late. So peaceful here. After a leisurely breakfast, we wandered up the hill for second breakfast of Raglan Roast coffee and freshly made scones and cinnamon koru. Luxury! (Graham and Paula lived in Raglan before they made the move north and bought Wairere Boulders. It was awesome to have a taste of our rohe up here!) We made the most of a good WIFI connection to checkout accommodation around Paihia and found that there was none until tomorrow so decided to stay here another night.  It was already 11.30 so we decided we’d finish off the bits of the walk we didn’t do last night, drive down to Horeke and check it out, go to the Mangungu Mission House then come back and decide whether to kayak through the mangroves to the harbour or not. The tide times meant that this couldn’t be done until 4.30pm. 


We rebelliously went the wrong way round the walk to get straight up to the Magic Rock rather than going all the way round the Loop Track. It is a steady climb from the stile and although it was overcast, it was very humid and hot. You can see the Magic Rock from the campsite and it seems a long way off, but it took us about 25 minutes to climb the 185m hill. It is a BIG rock! The view of the harbour and the rolling scenery is beautiful although there is no view of the boulders – the best place to see them from is the Lookout.  After a handstand at the top (not the top of the boulder although I reckon it could be scaled – just not by me on a windy day with no backup!)


We headed down to the swimming hole. When we had looked at this yesterday, I was a little unsure about it – the water is a peaty brown and you can’t see the bottom. We found out later that it is stained by the bush tannins and is perfectly clean. As I couldn’t see the bottom, I poked my feet down until I could feel a rock, and then a bit more to find the shingly bed before I launched in. It was deliciously refreshing.  I splashed around for a bit, swam out to the middle and found a rock to stand on before coming back and getting out. A quick dry while Nigel practised his weaving on the Nikau Palms and then we headed back. 

Swimming in brown water!

Next stop Horeke. Or maybe not. Horeke is a reasonable size settlement. It has the oldest pub in New Zealand and the oldest Post Office. There is a school, a church, a community centre, a sports centre and a medical centre. The pub is closed. The Post Office has been moved and is now a resource shed.  But it is busy with cyclists as it is the endpoint of the Twin Coast Cycle Way. The ice cream van in front of the Sports Centre is doing the roaring trade the pub could have been doing had it been open. There are well to do looking houses and along the Horeke Road there is also evidence of the poverty of the rohe. A place of haves and have nots. As I wrote this blog I came across this article from written earlier this year.


We had read that the Mangungu Mission House was open 10am to 3pm from December to February. It was now 1.45pm so we headed off to have a look.  Only a few kms down the road but we found it too was closed. We looked around the grounds, wandered through the cemetery, read the information boards and then decided that we might as well come back to the campsite and have lunch there. 


The afternoon has been spent writing this blog, generally relaxing. We decided not to kayak though it does sound interesting and I sort of had FOMO when another group were getting kitted up to go. 

Onwards: Day 5 Mangroves and Bushfire

Sunrise – looking a bit smoky – Australian Bushfires?

A crack of noon start to our onwards journey. Still not sure of our plan except that we are heading towards Wairere Boulders.  Shall we go on the ferry to Kohukohu and around or up to Kaikohe and along?  We decided to go to Rawene for coffee and some groceries, do the mangrove walk and then make a decision. Procrastination is strong but we are on holiday after all!

The coffee in ‘1 Parnell’ is good and we had another look around the artworks but didn’t buy anything. Tempted. A bit of WIFI access gave us chance to check the best route and we opted to go to Kaikohe thinking that it might be a good space to stop for lunch and get more supplies. 


But first the mangrove walk. The mangroves (Manawa) are an essential part of the marine and coastal eco-system. When the logging industry came to Rawene and the Hokianga, some of that ecosystem was compromised by the mills and trade.  Since the mills have closed down the mangroves have started to reclaim the land on which the mill was built.  Some of the hauling mechanisms remain but most of the wood has rotted and sunk into the mud. According to the information boards, sulphur dioxide still oozes from the treated wood that lies buried in the mud. But nature has an amazing propensity to regenerate and it is good to walk along the boardwalk through the forest and see the new growth. 

Curious fact: between 1914 to 1948 Dr George McCall Smith developed a unique health-system for the Hokianga – he developed ‘pain-free childbirth‘ and women from all over came to Rawene to have their children!


I am always amazed by the cleverness of plants to survive. The mangroves expel the salt from the seawater from the upper part of their leaves which have soft hairs underneath to trap the moisture so they don’t dry out. You can clearly see the salt crystals on the leaves and if you brush the leaves with your fingertips and then lick them you can taste the salt.


Onwards then to Kaikohe: “Hub of the North” is the proud proclamation on the sign as you enter the town. It really didn’t feel like a hub mid-afternoon midweek. Nothing much was open and the place seemed pretty quiet. This fish and chip shop’s advertising may be just holding onto past glory a little tenuously! We managed to get some homemade samosas and mango lassi from a wee dairy which we saved until we found a spot to enjoy them in Okaihau. They were delicious. 

Still award winners?

Okaihau, ( I love the meaning and the story behind the name of this place) provided us a place to eat our samosas and then have a wander. It is a wee place with a proud colonial and Māori history going by what we read on the information boards. There were a few shops and a couple of cafes though the cafe where we wanted to get takeaway coffee in our refill cups, refused to let us use them. Said they had a policy that only their takeaway cups could be used. We decided that was a policy we couldn’t support and left. Weird in this day and age where the majority of cafes now offer a discount if you have your own cup!


It was half an hour round to Wairere Boulders but just a few kms out from Horeke, we were stopped by a firetruck.  On the way round we had smelled smoke and the air seemed hazy. We had assumed that it was the haze and smoke from the Australian bushfires reaching Northland. We had already seen photos from Kirikiriroa and Taranaki of haze and discoloured sun.  But as we turned a bend in the road we could see the smoke on the hillside and helicopters buzzing backwards and forwards dumping water. 


No way on, road closed to Horeke for at least the next few hours so back the way we went to Ohaikau and the longer metalled road round. 

We arrived at Wairere Boulders – very well signposted and were welcomed by young Magnus who very politely and articulately explained the way the walks went, how much it all was and booked us into the campsite. 

All we can say about this place is just “WOW”! From the moment you walk into the valley, you see these huge house-sized boulders. Lying higgledy-piggledy where they came to rest. 

This is one boulder!

The erosion on them is like that on limestone; lapiaz, karst, solution pits, karren, fluting but these boulders are not limestone they are basalt.  I won’t start to try to explain here the process involved in their formation – read more here , and here and here

We did the main loop and then the spurs off to the swimming hole and the lookouts but decided to leave the ‘Magic Rock” until the next day.  From the lookout you can see right down the valley and the enormity of the mayhem of boulders. Like a massive boulder choke in a cave the boulders are balanced around, on and under each other.

Looking down the valley from the Lookout
You can see the fluting on the right-hand side of this boulder. When the erosion happened, the left hand side of this boulder would have been the top.

The walk takes you in, around and through the maze of boulders so that it is more than a walk, it is an adventure, an obstacle course. I loved the way that the signs showing us the way through are bold, artistic and brightly painted. There are also signs for all the different trees and shrubs with their names in the red Māori and in English. Information about the kauri and their connection with the boulders are in ‘lift up’ boards and if you look carefully there are some hidden beasties around the place as well as fairy houses. 

The campsite had filled up by the time we got back but it is a beautiful peaceful place and we soon settled in for the night! Usual routine – dinner, reading, cards. 

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