Dargaville and the southern Kauri Coast are often overlooked but as Cate Foster finds, the region has hidden charms.
Even though I'm a Northlander born and bred, somehow Dargaville and its environs have largely passed me by. Or rather should I say I have largely passed them by as I head blithely further north.
But the southern end of the Kauri Coast, which I explored one wild and windy three-day weekend, has charms of its own. As always you just need to know where to look.
Enroute I paused in Ruawai, as I'd heard nothing but good reports about regional award winning institution ElleCeé Cafe and I wasn't disappointed one bit.
Everything, just everything, Catherine Stewart, the proprietor and cook, tempted me with was worth the brief detour off SH1 it would take if you were heading further north.
Fully fuelled, I pressed on. I had visions of a wild and blustery walk on the west coast before dark and I had to reach Wai Hou Oma Lodge in the Kai Iwi Lakes district just north of Dargaville.
Here, however I was disappointed. Not by the Lodge, its beautiful surroundings and my wonderful hosts Ruby and Noel Martin but because I'd got there too late to walk the twenty five minutes out to the coast and back before dark.
I lay in my blissful bed after eating way too much of Ruby's delicious home cooking and listened to the booming of the waves across the hills and imagined what the breakers must be looking like.
Heading back south down SH12 I explored Dargaville and had fun in Trash and Treasure where I added to my collection of Deco coloured glass and chatted to my supremely well-informed local fixer Sue Taylor at the Info Centre next door. Her husband Rick is a master turner and his studio next door is well worth a visit for anything to do with kauri.
Back out west I lunched well in Funky Fish at Baylys Beach, had a brief run on the wild and windy beach before returning inland for a fleeting visit to the museum high on its headland above the valley.
This volunteer-run organisation is a standout of its kind, with collections of locally found Maori artefacts and nautical, gum digging and kauri memorabilia from colonial times.
Heading towards Pouto at the far end of the peninsula I dropped in on Warren Suckling aka Ernie at The Kumara Box. He showed me through huge storage facilities and I learnt more about kumara than I have ever known before. The highlight was to visit the smallest church in the country; all 2.2sqm of it on a corner of his land. Cute doesn't even begin to describe it.
Reaching Pouto Point itself I dropped my bags with Barbara and Roy Budgen at Lighthouse Lodge and headed off on my quad bike safari along the beach to the Pouto Lighthouse itself.
By now the wind was up again and the sand whipping my face gave me a free microdermabrasion session, but the spectacular and haunting surroundings where so many ships have wrecked made it worth every minute. I balanced against the wind on a sandhill and imagined the children of the lighthouse keepers living here. What a childhood that must have been.
Back at the Lodge I spent a lovely night enjoying Barbara's excellent home cooking before waking refreshed and heading off for my horse ride along the beach with Steve Nathan and his children.
Te Ara, my imperturbable gelding, didn't even flinch when we disturbed a seal on the rocks. I could have gone for hours, but as usual too much to do, too little time.
Reluctantly I headed home. Next time I'll be back for a whole week and I'll do it all again.
ElleCeé Cafe: 23 Freyberg Rd (main road) Ruawai, 027 356 5031.
Wai Hou Oma Lodge: 357 Kai Iwi Lake Rd, 09 439 7282.
Trash and Treasure:, 6 Murdoch St, Dargaville, 09 439 5226(hm) No website or eftpos, Open Saturday and Sunday 10am-2pm.
The Kumara Box:, 501 Pouto Rd, Dargaville, 09 439 7018.
Funky Fish: Sea View Rd, Baylys Beach 09 439 8883.
The Woodturners Studio: 4 Murdoch St, Dargaville, 09 439 8360.
Visitor Information Centre: 4 Murdoch St, Dargaville 09 439 8360.
Lighthouse Lodge: 6577 Pouto Rd, 0800 439 515.
Toka Toka Tavern and Cafe: Cnr Toka Toka Rd, SH12 between Ruawai and Dargaville 09 439 2107. Child-friendly local, under new ownership.
Kahuparere Pouto Horse Treks: 09 439 6633, email email@example.com.
Pouto Sand Safari: About two hours' return. Bookings essential via Sue at the information centre, ph 09 439 8360.