Hopepa's road to Opononi

By Cate Foster

A Northland tour destination brings back fond memories for one of the members of Fat Freddy's Drop.

The flounder-rich Hokianga harbour with its famous sandhills. Photo / Supplied
The flounder-rich Hokianga harbour with its famous sandhills. Photo / Supplied

An up-close and personal experience of soulless hotel rooms comes with the territory of touring for six months of every year, but Joe Lindsay, aka Hopepa, trombonist with Fat Freddy's Drop, keeps himself anchored with memories of the Hokianga.

"There's something about it. It still has a real feeling of isolation; perhaps it's the way the sand dunes somehow guard the entrance to the harbour or just that there's only one ATM and very little cellphone coverage. Life is definitely slower there, just a good relaxed atmosphere," says Joe.

"I grew up in Kaikohe and as a family we holidayed in several places in the area, often around Opononi. That's one of the reasons our summer tour is called The Road to Opononi. Seemed appropriate somehow."

Joe remembers travelling the gravel back-roads with his forestry worker father through what seemed at the time like never-ending tracts of bush.

As a local he knows that though there are actually three forests, to non-locals they tend to be lumped together as the Waipoua Forest.

Here, and in neighbouring Trounson Park, are the largest remaining stands of kauri in the country, among them Tane Mahuta, the largest kauri tree in existence.

"They can't be missed. They're part of the North."

Joe wasn't born when Opononi gained national fame in the summer of 1955-56 with the arrival of Opo "the friendly dolphin" but he has fond memories of the statue the town built to honour the summer of prosperity she brought with her.

"Kids still climb on it just as we did. It's the sort of place where the kids play outside on the statue while the grownups have a drink inside the Opononi Hotel. It's a real gigging venue in the summer and we're playing the final gig of the Road to Opononi tour there on January 8."

Joe also remembers the joys of flounder fishing by moonlight. "We'd go out with a light and a stick and come home with breakfast. Magic!" For this reason the Waterline Cafe in Kohukohu is a favourite today.

"You can get flounder there and you know it will have been swimming around not far from the door pretty recently."

Wandering the streets of the tiny historic towns and settlements of the area is another of the pleasures Joe remembers from his childhood.

"The whole of this area is very historic as a trading area for Maori and Pakeha. Kohukohu is just one of these early trading towns. Of course there's Rawene just across the harbour by ferry, and then there's Mitimiti out on the coast and Horeke on the Waihou River branch of the upper harbour. Hard to imagine Horeke was once a shipbuilding town but it was important enough for the Mangungu Mission House there to be the site of the second signing of the Treaty of Waitangi."

Last but not least is the ferry across the harbour from Kohukohu to Rawene. "Ferry rides are always a bit special and the scenery is just amazing. Look out for the Ratana church over on the headland towards the harbour mouth.

"We've got a full on summer ahead of us but I can't wait to be back there."

IF YOU GO

Where to stay: Opononi Hotel, ph (09) 405 8858, 19 SH12, Opononi.

Where to eat: Try the Waterline Cafe at 2 Beach Rd, Kohukohu (09 405 5552) or the Boatshed Cafe at 8 Clendon Esplanade, Rawene (09 405 7728).

Hokianga Ferry: Runs on "shuttle mode" over the summer holiday period. See fndc.govt.nz for the timetable.

- NZ Herald

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