Travelling North from Auckland

March 18, 2022
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IT'S great to hit the road again, travelling up the ever-improving State Highway One north from Auckland! First stop on the journey to Whangārei, for a lot of people, will be the village of Pūhoi, founded in the 1860s by German-speaking immigrants from Pilsen, nowadays known as Plzeň, in the modern-day Czech Republic. There is still a touch of the Old Country about the place, here and there.

Roadside Shrine, Pūhoi

The giant, ever improving State Highway One sweeps past the village; you have come off onto a side road.

New State Highway One overbridge at Pūhoi

Perhaps the number one attraction for a lot of visitors will be the Pūhoi Pub. This is also rather European in its layout, even if the pub itself is in the generic colonial style, and, yes, they do brew their own Pilsener.

Historical Information Panel, Pūhoi

Here's a map of the general route north, starting from Pūhoi in the south and travelling northward to Te Ārai Beach, the end of this post's journey.

Map data ©2022 Google. Name of Leigh added for this post. North at top.

The next destination is Warkworth, a pleasant little river town and cafe stop.

I like the blokes-in-sheds barber shop on the way out of town, heading north!

It's not much a road for cycle touring, mind you.

But apart from that, this whole stretch of highway is famous for its odd boutiques and cafes.

Old School Vintage Store

Matakana Smokehouse Cafe

The public toilets at Matakana township, north of the rurally-located Matakana Smokehouse and its cheap and cheerful cafe, are quite classic!

After Matakana, you get to the beautiful Tī Point Walkway, which is like a Japanese garden along a stretch of coast covered in boulders and gnarly tree roots and branches over clear, green water. Things start to get seriously scenic from this point on!

Self-contained camping, i.e., with a toilet on board the van, is permitted in a lay-by at Tī Point, for two nights at a time; a useful fact to bear in mind if you have a self-contained camper van. There are public toilets nearby in any case.

On the road down to Tī Point, you come across the Tī Point Reptile Park, where they have alligators and tortoises and turtles and huge lizards from other countries, though no snakes, as the importation of snakes is banned in New Zealand for fear that they would escape and exterminate the local birdlife. The only snake known in New Zealand is the yellow-bellied sea snake, an occasional visitor to our beaches. To make up for the lack of snakes the reptile park also keeps tarantula spiders, you know, the ones the size of dinner plates . . .

The next stop is the town of Leigh and its biggest and most famous roadside cafe, the Leigh Sawmill Cafe:

OK, I promised that things were going to start getting scenic, and so they are.

The jewel of this section of the coast has to be the Goat Island Marine Reserve. The first thing you see on the way down the hill to Goat Island is the campground.

And then the island, which is also known as Te Hāwere-a-Maki, the abundance or low-hanging-fruit of Maki, an ancestral hero of the seventeenth century by the Western calendar. The name may come from the fact that the island is surrounded by shallow waters teeming with comparatively tame fish, nowadays a marine reserve, where you can go diving or cruise in a glass-bottomed boat. The island is also significant to the local Māori iwi or tribe, Ngāti Manuhiri, for another reason: namely, that the ancestral canoe by which their forebears arrived from tropical Polynesia (Hawaiki), Moe Karaka, is said to have made landfall nearby. Another iwi with a strong interest in the area is Ngāti Wai, to whom the Ngāti Manuhiri are related.

Behind the sign, there are pou (ceremonial poles) and a tūpuna kōhatu, a stylised figure of Tāhuhu-nui-a-Rangi, whom the oral history of the Ngāti Manuhiri records as the captain of the ancestral voyaging-canoe Moe Karaka.

Te Hāwere-a-Maki / Goat Island

Looking across the shallow reef-lagoon to the island, near low tide. A diver is standing at a point where the water is waist-deep, probably upon an outcrop from the bottom.

A man snoozing on the horizontal limb of an ancient Pohutukawa, with the island in the background

At high tide the fish come into crevices in the rocks.

There is also a sandy beach, good for lying about on, just west of the rocks. You can see the beginning of it in the photograph just above. Sometimes the crevices fill up with sand as well.

A detailed information panel above the beach, describing several islands that can be seen out to sea

A closer view of the pou (ceremonial poles) and tūpuna kōhatu of Tāhuhu-nui-a-Rangi, at Goat Island Marine Reserve

Here is a video of the surging sea at Te Hāwere-a-Maki / Goat Island:

Next, you might want to take some of the back country roads northward, instead of State Highway One. On second thoughts, that is probably a bad idea, as they are mostly made of gravel. In case you'd rather stick to the sealed road north, here are some photos of all kinds of lonesome spots on the gravel roads, saving you the trouble! In any case, it's all very much New Zealand as it used to be in those parts . . .

The Pakiri Scenic Reserve

Another view of the Pakiri Scenic Reserve

Wild Nīkau Palms beside the gravel road

The Tomarata Lakes, a popular if sedate getaway spot where nothing ever happens

Chalets by the Tomarata Lakes

Not Hawai‘i: The Aotearoa Surf Shop (with holiday cabins), between the Tomarata Lakes and Te Ārai Beach

Aotearoa Surf Shop Accommodation, with the sea in the background

After following the main road, or alternatively driving around the meandering network of gravel roads in this area, you may finally make it to Te Ārai Beach, which along with Glenfern Sanctuary on Aotea/Great Barrier Island is the northernmost of the Auckland Council's 27 Regional Parks and is, as such, basically the end of Auckland. Though the actual city limits are a long way back down south, well before Pūhoi in fact.

Like Goat Island Marine Reserve, Te Arai is just a hidden gem.

A surfer at Te Ārai, in front of the Hen and Chicken Islands. Most of these islands have Māori names but there is no Māori name for the group as such; the largest island, six kilometres long and 417 metres high at the peak of its highest pinnacle, is called Hen Island in English and Taranga in Māori. The Hen and Chickens absolutely dominate this whole coast, and look bigger than they seem to be in any photograph.

Details for Campers: SCC means self-contained camping, that is, with toilets onboard

And then you can take a short walk to the tidal pool.

Here's a video of the tidal pool:

The pool is at the southern end of Te Ārai Beach. Apparently, it is possible to walk (or scramble) around Te Ārai Point, which lies a little bit further south still, to the northern end of Pakiri Beach, and discover all kinds of other interesting rocky coastal features and scenic spots along the way. So that's something for next time!

This account of all the attractions between Auckland and Te Ārai is by no means exhaustive. There are many other regional parks and places such as Moirs Hill that might be explored, as well.

In the posts that follow, we will look at the points north of Te Ārai, starting with Mangawhai Heads and carrying on up to Whangārei, and then back.

This post was contributed by Chris Harris, editor, A Maverick Traveller Ltd.

For more, see Mary Jane Walker's book The Neglected North Island: New Zealand’s Other Half, available on this website


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