Two Wheels and Shank’s Pony

NZ Walking Magazine September 2020

Northland Experiences delivers a range of tours. Choose from their iconic weekly Cook to Kupe Tour, to tailor-made trips of every kind – whether it be a hike to the famous sailor’s marker, Cape Brett lighthouse, or exploring the art trails and luscious vineyards of the North.

The signature Cook to Kupe walking and cycling tour provides incredible e-bike cycling that even the most inexperienced cyclists can easily manage. Call it cheating, but when there are distances to go, electric bikes make even the most daunting hills look enticing. The real joy of the Cook to Kupe tour is the number of great walks you can fit in, and the hikes into exquisite little-known areas you would otherwise miss.

On your first or second day of the Cook to Kupe, you’ll see the Wairere Boulders, an astonishing and unique geological phenomenon. Looking as though a giant has loosed a massive handful of rocks down the valley, Wairere Boulders is a few kilometres from the tiny Hokianga Harbour settlement of historic Horeke.

This natural wonderland of outsized boulders lay beneath Kauri forest for millennia. Rain falling through the forest became mildly acidic, and over millions of years gentle erosion caused by this rain resulted in the unique rock formations you see today, some as high as thirty feet. Nowhere else on earth have Basalt rocks been carved by nature in this way. Get off your bike and breathe ancient nature as you take advantage of the opportunity to explore a number of walks.

Leg it over bridges, boardwalks, stairs, under and over the boulders, and along the valley floor through Nikau forest to a pristine swimming hole, or go up high instead to the Magic Lookout which is a two-to-three hour round trip. Do yourself a very special favour and get hungry while you’re at Wairere Boulders, because the Boulder Café with all its homemade extra-scrumptious food is an outstanding feature. Between the café and the boulders, this area is a rare experience.

The lovely 75-year old launch, Ranui, connects with the tour near Wairere Boulders and takes you and your bike to the charmingly quirky villages of Kohukohu and Rawene. Enjoy these quintessential Northland villages on foot or by bicycle.

A little-known fact is that Northland has its own set of spherical boulders similar to the South Island Moeraki Boulders, and a detour just out of Rawene takes you to Koutu Boulders. These are just another of the Hokianga’s better kept secrets, lying on a harbour beach in walking reach at low tide. We head to South Head or Arai Te Uru Reserve at Omapere and put the bikes away at this culturally significant place where it is said the first Maori explorer, Kupe, landed.

Several walks can be enjoyed in the area but tonight we take a short one along the Signal Station Track to a scenic viewpoint. Our locally born tour guide, Ropata, performs a karakia and waiata, making this experience truly memorable. In Omapere we have a free day. Some guests cycle the area. Others flock to Awesome Adventures Hokianga for a jet-ski tour out into the harbour’s nooks and crannies. Others do some of the many walks in the area.

Try the popular four-hour Waimamaku Coastal Track which follows the dynamic rugged coastline from Arai Te Uru Recreation Reserve, south to the Waimamaku River. Historically significant, this course was the main traffic route until inland roads were built. The walk takes you down towards the sea, then climbs high up onto bluffs extending south down the coastline. From there the track leads down to wide open sandy beaches, over small headlands, and skirts along the clifftops, eventually dropping down onto Waimamaku Beach and the mouth of the Waimamaku River. Views of the Hokianga Harbour and coastline are exceptional, and there are plenty of opportunities to fish.

In the evening we travel to the Waipoua Forest where some of the most breath-taking trees in New Zealand stand. Tane Mahuta, Lord of the Forest, and Tane Matua Ngahere, Father of the Forest, are the largest and oldest living kauri trees in New Zealand. These are magical in their own right, but then we take the Footprints Waipoua Twilight Forest Tour, which lets you experience the affinity Māori have with the forest, and the deep spiritual respect they have for these sentinels who have silently stood as witness to the passage of time. Your guide shares thought-provoking information, humorous banter, and stories and legends, before respectfully greeting the eldest, largest known kauri trees in the world with spine-tingling chants and song. 

The next day we head back via the Pou Herenga Twin Coast Cycleway to the Bay of Islands. A 9.4 km well-worn track into Russell from the bike-stop in Opua is worth the time if you wish, but keep an eye on daylight. The true luxury associated with the Cook to Kupe Tour is that the Northland Experiences van can always collect you! Walking opportunities from twenty minutes to a few hours abound in the Bay of Islands around Russell, Paihia, and Kerikeri.

Take in islands, awe-inspiring lookouts, native bush, rivers, waterfalls, and a plethora of historically important and picturesque sights. Your camera will constantly challenge your capacity to capture the beauty of all you see, and your memory will need new filing cabinets to take in the dizzying array of sounds and fragrances of ancient Northland still intact over much of the region.

Northland Experiences is run by locals who want visitors to fall in love with the region as much as they have. The Cook to Kupe tour is a journey across country from the East to the West Coast. It operates weekly and covers three to five nights depending on your time availability. The climate encourages cycling all year round. Northland is ancient. It combines rugged and majestic coasts and country, with utterly beguiling soft blue bays, mystic forests, and a kind of magic.

Get on an electric bike with Northland Experiences, but get off it too, and discover the secret places many locals never unearth.

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