Saturday 30 April 2022

Boulders, Beaches & Big Trees- Northland's West Coast; Part 1

No, we've not returned to the North Island (yet). I thought I'd kill two birds with one stone. I wrote an article on Northland for the NZMCA magazine & thought I'd not waste my talent (haha, yeah right) & post it on here too.

I know some of you will have read it already but only the first part (and not with so many photos). The 2nd part won't be published for a few months so you'll get to see that before other members. I also know there are several followers who have been waiting (like forever) to read more about our Northland travels. Not looking anywhere in particular, aye Dad 😁

Koutu Boulders
Many people have heard of the Wairere Boulders Nature Park near Horeke at the head of the Hokianga Harbour in Northland but very few know of the Koutu Boulders, another collection of interesting rocks located on a remote Hokianga beach not too far from the harbour entrance. Both locations have unusual rock formations and both are well worth a visit.

The Koutu boulders are concretions and are similar to the more famous Moeraki Boulders in the South Island. Boulders are formed from a hard core within sedimentary rocks, a cementing mineral binds the rocks together and their round shape is formed over millions of years, probably by being rolled around on the ocean floor. 

Many of the boulders form interesting shapes and have been given sign boards with their name on them. 

Although many of the signs are now weathered & hard to read;  Dolphins (a group that do look like a pod of dolphins swimming by), Bertha, Plethora, Beached Whale, Turtle. You get the picture.  

Others might be described as giant cannonballs they are perfectly  spherical, one is huge and towers over me, another looks like a giant tomato complete with a stem dimple & creased top. Others have broken open and look like oranges with perfectly cut segments falling onto the sand. You could spend hours checking out the formations & letting your imagination run wild. 

Koutu Boulders are best accessed at low tide as they stretch for a kilometre or so along the beach and many are below the high tide mark. 

Beach access to Koutu Boulders
To get to the boulders, turn off SH12 onto Koutu Loop Road and then onto Waione Road. If coming from Kaikohe, the Koutu Loop Road is about 10kms past the Rawene turnoff or if you’re heading east the road is about 6km from Opononi. 

Nearby residents put their own sign up
There are two entry points to the beach, one is signposted off Waione Road, the other is at the far end of Cabbage Tree Bay Road which has limited parking & involves a short steep descent to the beach. 

The first entry point is level, with a good sized carpark, but involves quite a reasonable walk along the beach to get in amongst the best selection of boulders (though there are several groups along the walk), and you do need to keep an eye on the tide. 

Beach walk boulders
Whereas the Cabbage Tree Bay entry drops you right into the centre of the biggest & best boulders. The track down is relatively easy but it's a short steep haul back out.

I got distracted away taking macro shots of the wild flowers that grew alongside the track.

Not too far from the boulders, on a large grassy point overlooking the Hokianga Harbour is Koutu Mangeroa; a picnic & camping area owned & looked after by locals. 

Koutu Mangeroa Camping on the point, click to increase the size
The views are spectacular and there’s also easy access to the harbour to take a walk or throw out a fishing line. 

And as long as you’re fully self-contained (there are no services) campers are welcome to stay for a small fee ($10 per van per night, not on the app). 

The 'collection box' made me smile, they must expect hoards of campers, it's a shipping container!

If you head west along the beach below the camping area (at low tide), you'll come across these old piles. They make a great subject to draw your eye to the sun setting behind the giant Rangi Point sand dunes across the harbour from Opononi.

Wairere Boulders are further up the harbour, near the tiny settlement at Horeke. 

About 2km along the Taheke-Horeke Road turn onto McDonnell Road and you’ll find the entrance to the boulders 500m further on at the end of the road. 

It is best to visit these boulders from the Horeke direction as the road from Taheke to the boulders turnoff is long, narrow, winding & gravel.  A visit to the boulders can also be done if you’re cycling the Okaihau to Horeke section of the Twin Coast Cycle Trail.

The Wairere Boulders are not like the spherical concretions at Koutu, these boulders are generally larger and are a more  jumbled selection that at first glance seemed to have been tossed down a narrow valley by an incredible force. The Wairere Boulders are basalt rock, many of them are ridged and have deeply scored patterns on them. 

These rocks were formed by lava from an eruption at nearby Lake Omapere 2.5 million years ago. They once lay underneath a kauri forest but over time the acidic rain has eroded the rocks below the soil and they have cracked and broken apart The surrounding soil has then washed away exposing the stranded boulders, some nearly 10m high.

The Wairere Boulder Nature Park was formed in the early 2000s, the former owners built paths, bridges & boardwalks around, through, over and under (watch your head) the boulders and included quirky signs with information & directions. 

Also, hidden in amongst the boulders & rocks are painted fairy doors, houses and boulder ‘beasts’, seeking them out is a great activity for children on the walk.

The track weaves through lush tropical bush with the occasional glimpse & bridge crossing of the tumbling stream that dissects the valley on its way to the harbour. 

A side track leads to a beautiful swimming hole surrounded by Nikau Palms which  are reflected in the still dark water. 

The Boulder Loop walk takes about an hour and is relatively easy going although there are stairs to climb, bridges to cross and large boulders to duck under so you do need to be quite agile. The much longer Magic Rock Tramp & Lookout Track heads to the top of the valley leaving the loop track just as you turn to head for home. 

But it is a steep climb and on the day I visited it was slippery underfoot and scorching hot overhead so I only managed a few dozen metres before I decided I needed refreshments in the shade back at the café the latest owners have now added to the park...

... along with a large camping area (POP #383). Entry to the boulders is free if you stay overnight in the camp at Wairere Boulders.

Another place of interest near Horeke is the Mangungu Mission Station which overlooks the spectacular Hokianga Harbour (it’s also right at one end of Twin Coast Cycle Trail). 

The Wesleyan Mission station was established in 1828 and the Mission house built in 1838-1839. 

The largest signing of the Treaty of Waitangi in the country took place here on 12 February, 1840 with over 70 chiefs adding their approval while a crowd of up to 3,000 people watched on. Mangungu was also where honey bees were first introduced, providing a major contribution to the success of pastoral farming in New Zealand.

When Reverend John Hobbs and his family left Mangungu for Auckland in 1855, the house was moved to Onehunga where it was used as a Methodist parsonage and then sold to private owners.  The mission house was returned to the Mangungu site in the 1970s, restored on behalf of Heritage New Zealand, and opened to visitors in 1977.  

Historic Mangungu Mission Station Cemetery

To be continued... Part 2