Mention Mangonui and 9 out of 10 people will say, “Did you go to the Mangonui Fish Shop”? Yes we did go to the famous Mangonui fish shop or world famous, as the sign says, but there is far more to Mangonui than its fish shop. On our road trip of the Far North after leaving our stay in Kerkeri, we headed towards Mangonui, having decided this would be a good base to explore this region, all the way up to Cape Reinga. Driving into Mangonui I was excited by this unique and charming location. Mangonui is an historic fishing village situated on the waterfront on Doubtless Bay. Immediately its lovely heritage buildings took my eye, along with it’s cafes and art shops, and off course the view of the iconic fish shop.
The motel we chose was not of character – rather plain looking but with perfect waterfront views. However 'The Esquire Motel' turned out to be a great choice – never judge a book by its cover. The owner (Santa) could not have been more helpful and the rooms were spacious, comfortable and extremely well equipped.
Mangonui is full of history and Maori legends. Mangonui means ‘big shark’ a reference to the mythological taniwha who in the form of the shark accompanied the canoe Riukaramea into the harbour. It is claimed that Doubtless Bay was where Kupe first landed, leading to Maori migration and settlement years later. A monument at Mangonui’s nearby Taipa marks the spot of that landing. Mangonui was later founded as a whaling settlement and is one of the oldest European settlements in New Zealand.
Nowadays it enjoys a reputation for big game fishing – however we had not come here for that, but rather to base ourselves for exploring and enjoying the other things Mangonui has to offer. We enjoyed walks on the heritage trail and along the waterfront with views across the harbour to its fleet of fishing boats and pleasure crafts. We enjoyed swims at the beautiful nearby Coopers Beach, dinner at the very popular ‘The Thai’, restaurant, drinks and chats with locals and the resident parrot at the historic Mangonui Hotel.
Day 1 a 30-minute drive to the east coast took us to the stunning Karikari Peninsula with its spectacular crystal clear beaches. A lunch stop at Carrington Estate gave us the opportunity to sit, enjoy a pizza whilst taking in breathtaking views over this Peninsula.
Day 2 we enjoyed a whole day excursion – the drive up to Cape Reinga. Our first stop was at Lake Waiparera – here we had a quick stop and walk around the lakeshore before heading to ninety-mile beach on the western coast of the far north. This very long sandy beach is actually 55 miles (88km) long and not 90 miles. There are several entrances to the beach and if the tides are right and you have a sturdy vehicle you can drive almost the length of the beach. Unfortunately we weren’t brave enough to try this even though (Santa) had assured us if we were to get in trouble he would drive all that way to rescue us. Instead we enjoyed a walk along a small portion of the beach and a paddle in the wild sea. I loved the view of the beach but it was the wild horses roaming free along the road down to the beach that really excited me.
Next stop took us to Cape Reinga/Te Rerenga Wairua – the northwestern most tip of the Aupouri Peninsula at the northern end of the North Island of New Zealand. There is something special about being able to say you’ve been to the furthest point in a country and at Cape Reinga you also get to see two oceans collide, as this is where the Tasman Sea and the Pacific Ocean meet. The iconic Cape Reinga lighthouse is a popular spot for photos, along with the signpost. The walk down to the lighthouse and the views across the sea are spectacular and not only is it the furthest point of the North Island, it is also the most spiritually significant place in New Zealand. An ancient pohutukawa tree marks this place as it is here according to legend that after death, all Maori spirits travel, up the coast and over the wind swept vista to the pohutukawa tree on this headland.
Leaving Cape Reinga, having taken in amazing views of the ocean it certainly felt time for a swim, fortunately a nearby road took us down to Tapotupotu Bay where we were rewarded with the most beautiful beach to swim and cool off.
When you think your day has been full with beautiful sights you don’t expect to be blown away with more. If there was saving the best till last then I am sure this is what we did. Our last destination that day was to the Te Paki sand dunes, also known as the giant sand dunes. Arriving perfectly timed for light reflecting on these massive sand dunes I could swear we had arrived in the Sahara – if I had seen camels walking past I would not have been surprised. I was literally fizzing with excitement – these have to be New Zealand’s best-kept secret - although many may know about them there are many more that don’t!! They were truly spectacular on the day we visited, sadly we didn’t go sand boarding (a popular activity on these dunes) but we still had the best time. According to history, Te Paki was once its own island disconnected from the mainland. Over millions of years, sand built up from volcanic activity elsewhere in New Zealand, and the dunes were created – 150 metres high and an area of 10 square kilometres. All I can say was WOW.
After a full day we headed back, and enjoyed our last evening in Mangonui eating fish & chips on the waterfront, but no, not from the world famous fish shop but in fact from the fish & chip shop next door to the Mangonui Hotel, recommended by the locals.
A passion for photography and a love of travel - Liz now enjoys combing the two.
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