Journeys in New Zealand

By  Hostelling International

Land of the Long White Cloud and Two Journeys on New Zealand's North Island

Having worked in the New Zealand tourism industry in the South Island for several years, YHA New Zealand’s Customer Services Consultant Solero Qi was very excited to get away from it all in beautiful Northland, an area she had always wanted to visit.

She discovered that in Hokianga it’s not only the scenery that will blow you away, but also the stories and people that will amaze.

Hokianga is a beautiful place offering amazing views, bush walks and wildlife. It is more pristine and has far less tourism than the rest of the Bay of Islands. Due to high unemployment recently, this small community has opened up to welcome tourists into their quiet life, in order to make some positive changes.

Aside from the usual Northland attractions—Ninety Mile Beach, swimming with dolphins, “Hole in the Rock” boat tours and the Waitangi Treaty Grounds—there is another tour that has just started recently: Kings Crossing Hokianga. It’s a Maori-guided tour of the Waipoua Forest and historical Hokianga Harbour.

We met our local guide Tawhiri at Opononi. There are three things I remember about Tawhiri: his long hair, his smile and his absolute passion for this place. Tawhiri led us on an hour-long tour in the Waipoua forest. Waipoua means “rain in the forest at night.” I love these Maori names; everything has such a beautiful and meaningful story behind it. The highlight of the tour is the mighty Tane Mahuta, the lord of the forest and the largest kauri in existence at 13.7 metres in girth, more than 50 metres high and 1,250 years old!

Meeting Tane Mahuta was such a big moment, more like a ceremony, reminding me of how people would meet the emperor in the Forbidden City in old Chinese movies. Our guide Tawhiri made this moment so special—his prayer, his singing and his voice seemed to last forever in those ancient trees. Before you actually see Tane Mahuta, it does not matter how hard you try to imagine the size, you will still be amazed when you are in front of him. Trust me, you will stand in awe. Sadly, you are not allowed to hug him but you can admire him affectionately from a small distance away.

During the rest of our tour of Waipoua forest, Tawhiri entertained us with many of the local myths and legends that make Hokianga so special. However, something he told us that was neither myth nor legend was the possibility of kiwi sightings on the guided night tours of Waipoua forest.

After the bush walk and saying goodbye to Tawhiri, we continued our cultural tour and took a ferry to Kohukohu, a timber milling town that had originally been set up by early European settlers. There is a walking circuit guiding you to points of historic interest relating to the town and its people.

Unfortunately, I did not have time to explore the whole of Hokianga Harbour, but I am definitely keen to return. There’s just so much to do. You can lie back and enjoy the peace and stunning views, take a leisurely walk along the harbour’s edge, or go for a swim in the warm, clear water. If you are feeling more energetic you could go kayaking, try boarding on the sand dunes or go horseback riding in the bush or on the beach. You could never be bored in Hokianga.

Napier's Charms

Before arriving in Napier, Solero had heard some great reviews about the place and was really looking forward to finding out what this popular city was all about. Napier is a beautiful and often surprising city—young, energetic and charming.

Napier’s youth and “pleasing to the eye” status is actually the result of a tragic disaster. In 1931, an earthquake flattened the city, resulting in loss of life and devastation. But from tragedy came a city reborn, and the Art Deco buildings lining many of Napier’s streets have come to symbolize the city as a graceful survivor.

One of my missions for this trip to Napier was to do a wine trail. I had been to quite a few vineyards before, in Central Otago and in the Waipara Valley in Canterbury, so I knew that it would be a great chance to learn about the Hawkes Bay region and understand what makes it world-renowned. Tasting the wine from its source is a very special experience; there are many different vineyard tours available where you can learn all about the wines and, of course, have a taste! Hawkes Bay has more than 70 wineries. They are absolutely everywhere so it’s safe to say you’ll be spoiled for choice.

I joined a professional tour run by an experienced wine guide and visited some of the top vineyards around Hastings, a town not far from Napier. Doing a tour like this gives you the opportunity to meet the personalities behind the wine and understand their passion. Every wine is unique and whatever your wine preferences, you are bound to find a bottle that you absolutely love in Hawkes Bay. What’s more, you can take a few bottles (or crates!) home like I did.

Another more physical option is to cycle from one winery to the next on a rented mountain bike, but be careful not to “drink and pedal.” The scenery of the dramatic landscapes, the short distances between wineries and the year-round sunshine will make your cycle trip a breeze and makes Hawkes bay a fantastic place to pedal. I hope to come back and do some bike touring soon.

Napier and Hawkes Bay have a lot more to offer than just superb wines, however. There are plenty of other interesting activities to do: visit the traditional farmer’s market for the freshest local produce and organic foods, learn about the 1931 earthquake and resulting Art Deco architecture with a walking tour of Napier City. Follow the art trail and visit galleries, workshops and home studios to find something brilliantly original to take home. Visit Cape Kidnappers, home of the largest, most accessible mainland gannet colony in the world or climb the Te Mata Peak for panoramic views.

All in all I would say that Napier is one of New Zealand’s must-see towns.

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