Massive sand dunes stand solid and unmoveable against the terrible onslaught of pounding seas. The dunes rise up from the harbour entrance like miniature mountain ranges, painted a brilliant golden hue by the sunlight.

From Hokianga Harbour’s South Head, the sweeping views are more of a spectacle than a landscape. Angry white-capped rollers exhaust themselves on the sandy shore and the wash they generate spills into a placid harbour that penetrates inland in snaking mangrove-fringed arms. High forested mountains enclose the harbour basin to complete a stunning panorama.

Hokianga, means ‘the circumstance of returning’ in Maori, and relates to the legend of the first explorer Kupe, returning to his homeland. The small community here enjoys a tranquillity and easy pace of life that contrasts markedly with the commercialism of Paihia, a short drive away. Hokianga is a place to relax, recuperate and enjoy the picturesque coastline and bush reserves. An excellent coastal tramp starts at North Head, leading south to Waipoua. Other local tramps include Mt Whiria, accessed from Cemetery Rd outside Opononi and the Waiotemarama Track, which climbs from Gorge Rd to Mt Hauturu.

From Auckland, the Twin Coast Discovery Route follows a clockwise circuit through Dargaville to the Kauri Forests and the Hokianga, returning via the east coast holiday resorts. En route, visits to Matakohe Kauri Museum and Dargaville Maritime Museum are suggested, but be sure to allow time for a walk through the ‘cathedrals’ of giant kauri trees at Waipoua Forest.

Waipoua is a sanctuary for the largest remnant of New Zealand’s original kauri forests. These are the world’s second largest tree species, after the Californian sequoias. Some of the 2,000-year-old giants can be seen just off S.H.12 near Waipoua, where the highway winds for 20 km through mature stands of Kauri. Tane Mahuta the ‘Lord of the Forest’ is well-signposted, and just 2 minutes from the road. A little further south, another carpark marks the entry to a short track to the Four Sisters, and another path leads to Te Matua Ngahere, the ‘Father of the Forest.’ A longer track runs to the Cathedral Grove and the Yakas tree. On the south entry to the Waipoua Forest, is the Katui Kauri Gum Store, which features Kauri woodcraft, souvenirs and kauri gum, along with local original art from the Moirai Studio/Gallery, situated 4kms north of Tane Mahuta.

After a visit to tranquil Hokianga and the mystical kauri groves, it is hard to comprehend why Kupe chose to leave this place. It is the alternative lifestyle haven that people often dream about.