Northland: Kupe’s Home at Hokianga

There is one knows not what sweet mystery about this sea, whose gently awful stirrings seem to speak of some hidden soul beneath. — Herman Melville

There is a certain sadness now to writing about New Zealand, this country we’ve come to know and love. But it’s surprisingly cathartic, too, a way of saying farewell, I suppose. Our trip to Northland was our final weekend getaway before we begin the process of packing for our return home-home.

It was perfect in every way. Beginning with stumbling onto Globe Trekkers Lodge, perched along the shores of Hokianga Harbor. For three nights, this cozy tuckaway in Omapere became a home away from home, while we explored Northland’s wonders.

The fiord-like harbor is an estuary of the Tasman Sea. Known to Maori as Te Kohanga o Te Tai Tokerau (the nest of the Northern People), it is sometimes called a river by the locals, fingering more than 100 miles across Northland.

One of NZ’s oldest Maori settlements, this is where oral tradition suggests legendary Polynesian explorer Kupe first landed and made his home, until ending his explorations to return to his ancestral home, Hawaiki. The words he spoke when leaving the harbor: “Hei konei ra i te puna i te ao marama, ka hoki nei ahau, e kore ano e hokianga-nui mai” (This the spring of the world of light, I shall not come back here again.)

Thus the harbor’s full name Te Hokianga-nui-a-Kupe, shortened over time to simply Hokianga. Maori believe their descendants followed Kupe’s navigational directions to sail back to Hokianga Harbor, where the Nga Puhi people settled.

This northwest harbor is a sleepy place, endearingly so, without the tourists and trendy things along the eastern seaboard. The parched sand dune entrance is unbelievably beautiful. Perilous, too. It’s clutched by a rip-roaring surf the Maori call kaiwaka, or canoe-eater. It’s gobbled up many a European vessel back in the days timber milling and shipbuilding flourished during the mid-19th century.

Weather shifted from sunny to smudgy gray as we tramped the harbor’s south head, tufted with native forest and parched sandstone. As with every other rugged west coast beach we’ve been, the artistic renderings of mother nature bedazzled us. Across the harbor, we could see the north head, lined with golden sand dunes, heaped by fierce westerlies to more than 600 feet high in some places.

I could so easily fall into a swoon and rhapsodize about its haunting spirit of place. Suffice to say, it dwells in the mystic territory of legend, chants and poetry.

continue – Northland: Wild Pigs and Kauri Gum

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