48 hours in Kohukohu
Kohukohu is nestled along the upper harbour of the Hokianga, in a world where time loses meaning, to-dos take a back seat and stress melts away. It’s approximately 4 and a half hours north of Auckland, the perfect place to head for a relaxing weekend getaway. Here’s how you might like to spend 48 hours in Kohukohu, so book your trip and get out of town, Northland Style.
If schedule permits, hit the road from Auckland around lunchtime, turning off the main highway just after Kaiwaka to head up the Ancient Kauri Trail. You’ll feel the pressures of city life slip away as the meandering road forces you to slow down and take in the spectacular scenery. You may like to stop in the Waipoua Forest to admire the giant kauri trees, including Tāne Mahuta, the world’s largest living kauri tree. Then, carry on to Rāwene, a historic town lined with heritage properties and art galleries. The vehicle ferry departs from Rāwene on the half-hour until 7.30 pm to take you “across the river” as the locals used to say back in the day. It’s here on the other side of the harbour, just up the road, the historic settlement of Kohukohu is located. It was once the third-largest town north of Auckland, bustling with life as the timber mill processed kauri trees, and in the years following the mill’s closure, home to a thriving dairy industry. Now it’s a quaint and quiet town with an interesting history and laid-back lifestyle.
There are no big hotels or fancy restaurants here, so embrace the manaakitanga offered by locals and stay in a hosted bed and breakfast, or go self-sufficient and book out a local cottage. Historic Kohukohu Villa will include a delicious three-course dinner on request and if you’re in luck, local fisherman Craig may have even dropped off some local fresh flounder, or host Dee may have prepared some homemade labneh and crostini. Most of the cottages like Floyd Cottage and Orowaru Cottage (formerly known as Beach Road Cottage) also have kitchens if you prefer to self-cater, just remember to pick up your groceries at the supermarket on your way through Dargaville.
The only alarm clocks around here are the lap of the tide on the mangroves and the morning song of the local tui. When you’re ready to get out of bed, head down to Kai To Go for a takeaway coffee (don’t forget your reusable mug), pick up a Kohukohu Historic Village Walk brochure and wander through town. The brochure details some of the fascinating past of the area and points out a number of (32, in fact) historic points of interest, including the country’s oldest surviving bridge, and the oldest building in the village which once was a millworkers cottage.
Now that you’ve worked up an appetite, fuel up with a hearty brunch before hitting the road to Mitimiti along the Wandering With Ancestors journey. This rural country road turns to gravel along the way, so be prepared to take it slow (and read the fine print of your rental agreement as most rental cars will not be covered by insurance on metal roads). There are several small communities along the way, so enjoy the exploration of this remote part of the world but respect local residents’ privacy at the same time. Mitimiti is a spectacular coastal settlement overlooking the wild west coast and the powerful Tasman Sea. It’s here in the Urupā (cemetery), on the hillside overlooking the marae that the Red Gateway stands, a memorial, and token of appreciation from the Chinese community to the local iwi, who collected and cared for the remains of the Chinese washed ashore after the sinking of the SS Ventnor offshore. Besides the Urupā, some local houses, and the marae, the only thing here is open air, endless ocean views and sandy shores, so be sure to bring snacks and water with you.
Meander back to town at your leisure then relax into another laid-back Kohukohu evening. This part of the world is lucky enough to enjoy a fairly dark night sky, so stargazers may like to step outside later in the evening and enjoy the light show, Northland Style.
Despite its small size, there are a few more things to check out in this part of the country. After breakfast and check out head on down to Village Arts, the local community art gallery. Kohukohu and Rāwene are home to a rather large and accomplished art community and with regularly changing exhibitions, you may end up spending longer here than expected.
Then, board the Ranui (you’ll need to book this in advance) and head up the harbour for a historic cruise. Craig, who is also the local flounder fisherman mentioned earlier, knows this area like the back of his hand and can tell a tale or two about the history of this place, including some stories of his youth spent growing up here. Ask him to stop off at the Māngungu Mission Station, which was established in the early 1800s and became the site of the largest signing of Te Tiriti o Waitangi (The Treaty of Waitangi). Its fascinating history is just as intriguing as its views are enchanting. As you cruise back to town, take a moment to imagine this area 100, 200, and 1000 years ago, as it moved through the peaks and troughs of discovery, settlement, industry development, and decline, to its present-day charm. It may make you want to stay a little longer and discover more of the hidden gems of Taitokerau Northland.