With its countless nooks and crannies tucked between sheer cliffs, Whangaroa Harbour in Northland makes for a truly enchanting day on the water.
Creation of a Masterpiece
Around 6000 years ago, Mother Nature gave us a little gift. We didn’t know it then of course, as most of us weren’t around, but as the sea levels rose, the rising waters flooded the river system that flowed through the valleys, creating the stunning Whangaroa Harbour, with its towering rock formations and myriad of hidden bays.
The imposing rocky outcrops that surround the harbour are the remnants of ancient volcanic activity and the volcanism in this area is some of the earliest in New Zealand. Just off shore at the Arrow rocks, near Tauranga Bay, are several of the oldest fossils in the country, dating back around 270 million years.
A Turbulent Beginning
According to legend, a Maori warrior, Kaimohi, had been away a long time, and his wife, Rauruiti, who was missing him deeply, said, “Ka roa au i whainga”, I have longed for this return, which is where the name ‘Whangaroa’ comes from.
The first Europeans to arrive in the area were whalers around 1790, with British trading ships arriving a few years later. In 1809, probably the most infamous incident in Whangaroa’s long history occurred, when the sailing ship ‘Boyd’ anchored in the harbour to collect a cargo of timber. It was boarded by a group of local Maori who massacred the crew and passengers of around 66 people, in retaliation for whipping a Maori crew member, named Te Ara (George).
The Present Day
These days the harbour is a much more peaceful place. With most people driving past on their way north to Doubtless Bay and beyond, the lack of tourists means it has retained a sleepy backwater feel, which just adds to the laid back ambience.
One set of people who are in on this secret spot though are the boaties. The harbour is a mecca for people who want to get out on the water and explore this extraordinary place, or head out into the deeper waters beyond the harbour entrance in search of the large game fish that the region is well known for.
On a calm January morning we finally got the chance to explore the magical waters for ourselves. Our boat is made up of two kayaks, connected by an alloy deck, with a transom at the rear for a small outboard. This set up is perfect for us as it’s lightweight and we can carry it on our motorhome.
We launched from a beach near the boat ramp and it wasn’t long before we were skimming across the aqua-marine water towards the distant, looming rocks. We reached the far side of the harbour and followed the shoreline out towards the harbour entrance.
The rock formations that rise steeply from the sparkling waters are nothing short of jaw-dropping. They towered above us as we meandered in and out of the innumerable nooks and crannies, dwarfing our small boat with their sheer size, and making us feel quite insignificant.
These monoliths are more reminiscent of rock formations that you’d find in Thailand or the Philippines rather than New Zealand, and we felt like we’d been transported to a distant, mystical, land.
Rounding yet another headland, we were greeted with the sight of Kaiaraara Rock (better known as ‘The Duke’s Nose’) thrusting skyward as it rises from the native bush clad hills. There is a walking track to the top, which goes from the Totara North side of the harbour, and although we are yet to walk it, I can imagine that the views would be nothing short of breathtaking.
An Unexpected Surprise
After a spot of lunch on a lovely secluded beach in Pekapeka Bay, it was time to slowly make our way back. Spotting a few buildings and a wharf nestled into a lovely looking bay, we figured we’d cruise in to check it out. It turned out to be the Kingfish Lodge, an exclusive little resort accessible only by boat. We thought it looked like the perfect spot to grab a drink before heading back, but it was only when we moored up at the wharf that we realised we actually didn’t have any money with us, so that was the end of that little plan.
The Call of Ohakiri
It would be very easy to get lost once out on the water, as there are so many hidden tendril-like bays reaching as far as the eye can see. It’s as if a giant octopus has erupted from the ocean, carving out the rock with his enormous tentacles, and forever leaving his mark on this remarkable land.
Luckily for us, any giant octopus were long gone, and the ever present St. Paul’s Rock (Ohakiri), which stands tall and proud as it watches over the village, acts as a great homing beacon.
Ohakiri – St. Paul’s Rock
Named by early European settlers after its similarity to the dome of St. Paul’s cathedral, Ohakiri is an eroded volcanic plug, which dominates the skyline above Whangaroa as it gazes across the harbour to it’s twin, St. Peter, on the opposite shoreline. The rock and surrounding area were a significant Pa site for the local Maori and would have made an imposing sight to anyone approaching from land or sea.
These days Ohakiri is no less imposing to visitors, even without the Pa fortifications surrounding the hillside. There’s a great walk that leads to the summit, although the parking at the top of the road is very limited. There’s no room to turn around either, so we left our motorhome at the bottom of the road and walked up. No mean feat in itself as the road is pretty steep.
We headed up the track to the summit, winding our way through some native bush before the path opened up onto grassland, with up close views of Ohakiri rising majestically before us. The path continued to rise steeply as we approached the rock face, and the last section has chains to assist climbers to make the sharp, final ascent to the summit.
The spectacular panorama that awaits those who make it to the top make all the huffing and puffing on the way up more than worth it, as they literally take any breath you may have left, away. It’s not often that you get to have true 360 degree views, but standing on top of this ancient rock, you can see for miles in every direction and you really do feel like you are on top of the world.
If you’ve enjoyed reading about our travels, then please check out our blog at: www.lifeontheroadnz.com. We live permanently in our motorhome and travel around New Zealand, blogging about our adventures and how we make a living on the road.