You come from the south along State Highway 12, you crest the hill and bam!
Out of the green comes a vista of sand dunes and sea, all pale yellow and blue, like some sort of oasis.
And the whole of the Hokianga is a kind of oasis, a timeslip, not warp, where visions of the Great Kiwi Summer can be glimpsed, viewed and often experienced – if you know where to look.
That first sight is the entrance to the harbour, the water flowing in and out between the remarkable headlands. It used to be a thriving, commercial waterway – that’s OK, times change. Now it’s mostly about pleasure, whether it’s water taxis ferrying people to the dunes for some sandhill surfing, or locals trying to find that elusive perfect fishing spot.
There are a lot of firsts associated with the area, too, Kupe being the first Maori explorer, legend (and Wikipedia) having him landing here a thousand years ago, through to (important business!) Horeke having New Zealand’s first pub.
Little old Horeke, hanging inconspicuously up the harbour, also housed New Zealand’s first Post Office, first commercial shipyard and infamously, was the site of the country’s first murder trial.
An area of firsts that will leave a lasting impression, this was and in some ways still is, real outback New Zealand, real pioneering stuff.
Kauri – in the form of timber and resin and gum – was an early, thriving industry in these parts, and there are plenty of tell-tale remnants that add a real flavour to the area. There are also heaps of bush walks, with quiet pools and streams to cool off in when that Northland summer hit its peak. And if you fancy bobbing about in a boat, or ’laxing with a line off the pier, the wharves at Omapere and Opononi are still primo spots for fishing.