Northland: Northern lights

By Cate Foster

Cate Foster and daughter circle the north in a weekend road trip that takes in food, history, craft and culture.

Eco-sensitive accommodation at Wharepuke near Kerikeri. Photo / Supplied
Eco-sensitive accommodation at Wharepuke near Kerikeri. Photo / Supplied

A circular road trip around Northland seemed like the perfect way to show my daughter the region that gave rise to her family tree. So we picked a sunny weekend, turned up the car stereo and hit the tarmac.

First stop was two hours' north for brunch at the rightfully famous Whangarei Growers Market, visited by more than 6000 people every Saturday. We join the queue at the French Crepe stand, find a coffee and wish we could stock up on the cornucopia of fresh fruit and veges we can see in all directions.

Another hour and a half north we check into our eco-chalet hidden in the glorious grounds of Wharepuke, just up the hill from the Kerikeri Inlet. Created over the past 17 years by renowned plantsman Robin Booth, this lush subtropical paradise has been named a "garden of significance" by the NZ Garden Trust - it's not to be missed.

Today Robin's daughter Tania gives us a tour. En route we stop to visit her husband, artist and print maker Mark Graver, in what we learn is one of the only non-toxic printmaking studios in the southern hemisphere.

The onsite restaurant, Food at Wharepuke, is gearing up for a busy night and once again we wish we could linger, but have to move on to where Deborah from the Historic Places Trust is waiting to show us through one of the most historically important sites in the country.

Long known as buildings of national significance, both for their age and for their place in the earliest forging of relations between Maori, missionaries and commerce, the Kerikeri Mission House (also known as Kemp House) and the Stone Store are as interesting inside as they are beautiful from the roadside. Across the inlet is the equally important Kororipo Pa, but that will have to wait for another weekend.

The next morning we set off early for the 75km drive to Kohukohu on our way to the Hokianga. Here we laze on the water's edge and browse in Village Arts. I lust after Theresa Reihana's pictures but manage to tear myself and my credit card away just in time to catch the 2pm ferry across the Hokianga Harbour to Rawene.

Lunch is spent lazing on the balcony of the Boatshed Cafe, shading our eyes from the dazzle of the water and wondering whether life could get any better. We spend a few minutes of creative retail therapy at The Glimpse mosaic studio, and then are back in the car.

Stopping only to grab a photo in Opononi we push on into the Waipoua Forest. No-one can pass this way without pausing to give homage to the majesty of Tane Mahuta, New Zealand's largest known kauri tree. At 51m high and with a girth of nearly 14m, it is easy to see why the tree was given the name of the mythological Maori son who separated the sky father and earth mother.

Tane Mahuta is a key tourist attraction now, and a roadside stall sells hokey-pokey ice-creams.

We grab one and head south for home. If only the weekend was three times as long we could have done all we saw more justice. But there's always tomorrow and next time.

TRAVELLERS' TIPS

This round trip covered about 600km.

Where to stay: Wharepuke Accommodation, 190 Kerikeri Rd, ph 09 407 8933, rates $150-$180 per cottage per night.

Where to eat:

Food at Wharepuke, 190 Kerikeri Rd, ph 09 407 8933.

Boatshed Cafe, 8 Clendon Esplanade, Rawene, ph 09 405 7728.

Things to do:

Whangarei Growers Market: Water St carpark, Saturdays 6am-10.30am, ph 09 409 5812. Check times and dates over holiday periods before setting off.

Wharepuke Subtropical Gardens Tour: 190 Kerikeri Rd, Kerikeri 09 407 8933, adults $25.

Kerikeri Mission House and Stone Store: 248 Kerikeri Rd, ph 09 407 9236, adults $10, children free.

Village Arts: 1376 Kohukohu Rd (opposite Post Office), ph 09 405 5827.

Kohukohu-Rawene ferry: Runs every hour, ph 09 405 2602, email wwrfs@transfieldservices.co.nz.

The Glimpse: A working mosaic studio and gallery, 3 Clendon Esplanade, Rawene, ph 09 405 7886, open Tuesday to Saturday 10am to 4 pm.

Tane Mahuta: The five-minute Tane Mahuta Track is sign posted from State Highway 12, which runs through the Waipoua Forest.

- NZ Herald

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