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.
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.
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.
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.