How often do you ignore and drive through those small New Zealand towns, eager to get to those larger, well recognized locations? How many small towns have you never even heard off, and possibly never will because you get focused on places you have heard of.
Fortunately my itineraries are never a given – they are planned quite articulately on paper, but fortunately I am open minded to any changes along the way. Basically my itinerary gives a general direction and gathered information on places I think may be the best locations to stay. On this occasion, exploring the Far North & Hokianga Region of New Zealand I am thankful we didn’t stick precisely to my piece of paper. Somehow this place never even made it to my paper, this place we literally found. If it hadn’t been for a coffee stop before our planned crossing on the ferry to Rawena, on the other side of the Hokianga Harbour, we may not have even noticed it. All I can say is thank goodness for that coffee stop.
Kohukohu is a small, and extremely charming seaside village situated on the northern shore of the Hokianga harbour, where it splits into two rivers, the Mangamuka River and the Waihou River. It is steeped in Maori and European history and legend says, Kohukohu was named by Kupe, after he asked his people to prepare a feast before their return to Hawaiki. When they failed to cook the hangi properly, he swore at those responsible – Kohukohu is Maori for a swearword or expletive. The first recorded European to enter the Hokianga Harbour arrived in 1819 and by the 1830’s, Kohukohu was the heart of New Zealand’s timber industry. For more than 100 years Kohukohu was an important timber milling town and the largest commercial centre on the northern side of the harbour. In 1900 the township had a population of almost 2,000 people, whereas today Kohukohu has a community of 150 people and approximately 350 living in it’s surrounding areas.
So what made Kohukohu so special & what made us STOP, stay two days rather than drive through to catch our ferry to Rawena? Driving into Kohukohu we noticed an extremely rustic wooden building, however it had a big sign saying Café. Sometimes you’ve just got to take a punt when there aren’t many choices and we knew this could be our last chance to have a coffee before our ferry crossing. This café had no door!! The entirety of this cafe was outside on the street front - counter, fridge, table and chairs & a blackboard menu. As we sat on the main street of Kohukohu drinking ‘a great coffee’ I spied the cutest op shop called Secondhand Rose, a local library, a glimpse of the water and a small jetty framed by the Hokianga Arch of Remembrance, and then to my right a sophisticated art gallery. After a stroll up the street it was easy to see this was a very charming village, with the sea on one side and tropical vegetation and historical buildings on the other. I knew then this place warranted far more time than a coffee stop. A quick look on airbnb & a phone call and we were there to stay.
We were greeted by our host of an airbnb named the Galleria, situated a short distance from the café. We were shown to an extremely eclectic room with bath, toilet & bed all in the same space – all but a small divider to hide the toilet. One end of the room had a door into our host’s house – where she would serve us breakfast and another door allowed us to have a separate entrance and a small but very beautiful & lush outdoor area. After discussions with our rather eccentric host we discovered we had arrived in Kohukohu on a fortuitous day. Every year on 12 February the signing of the Treaty is commemorated by the Hokianga community and if we wished to attend we could so by catching a small boat from the jetty to the Mangungu Mission. The boat ride took us across to Mangungu on the shores of the Hokianga Harbour. Mangungu was established in 1828 as a Wesleyan Mission Station and a house situated on the hill overlooking the harbour was built in 1838-39 for the Reverend Nathaniel Turner. The house was barely a year old when it became the site of the countries largest signing of the Treaty of Waitangi on 12 February 1840, with over 70 local chiefs adding their signatures to the founding document. Arriving in the afternoon we had missed the majority of the celebrations but it was still an honor and enriching experience. Our day ended jumping & dive bombing of the wharf with an awesome group of young maori boys whilst waiting for our return boat trip to Kohukohu. That night we discovered the second café/restaurant next to the local fire station – there we ate delicious fish burgers.
Having booked a second night we spent the next day exploring near & far. We enjoyed a swim in the sea, a walk along the road & foreshore, past lovely old heritage homes and New Zealand’s oldest surviving bridge. The Kohukohu footbridge near the centre of the town is the first stone bridge built in New Zealand. Later in the day we headed further a field (a 40 minute drive) to Miti Miti. Miti Miti is a small settlement that lies close to the Warawara Forest, between the mouths of the Whangape Harbour and Hokianga Harbour. Here we enjoyed a walk along it’s wild but beautiful and remote beach, had a walk around the Matihetihe Marae Cemetery which has amazing views over the Tasman Sea and is where Ralph Hotere the famous artist was born and buried.
That evening back in Kohukohu we headed out to the local pub. The local pub is next door to the café and looks more like a hall attached to the café, sharing the same facilities and staff. Here we enjoyed meeting the locals, winning the pub raffle (bar tab prize) and playing a few rounds of pool. The next morning we arose early, had a breakfast made by our host of coddled eggs, fruit and toast with our host and said our goodbyes before driving a few km’s up the road to the Hokianga Vehicle ferry terminal and enjoyed a perfect crossing – mesmerizing reflections of the beautiful Rawena on one side and our much loved KohuKohu on the other.
A passion for photography and a love of travel - Liz now enjoys combing the two.
Mangonui to Cape Reinga