Danielle Wright spends the night in a little red caboose, before climbing Northland's iconic Tokatoka Peak.

In Maori, Toka means "rocks", so Tokatoka is literally "rocks upon rocks". It's no surprise then that the walk to the summit of Tokatoka, the rare plug of an ancient volcano, is very rocky, especially near the top.

On arrival at the eastern side of the peak, we walk over stiles and through pretty weeds with their blue flowers showing us the right direction. Some stiles have markings from locals, who seem to love lions and Cory Jane. The path up the mountain is still untouched and reminds me how the walk up The Mount used to be 30 years ago before the "proper" walkways were created.

Our guide is local Joseph Douglas, who was a scout leader for 10 years.

His vision is to put a flying fox at the top of Tokatoka and let everyone fly down the mountain to end at the jetty, behind the pub.


We walk over twisted tree roots, knocking away spider webs and holding tight to tree branches in steep sections. There are steps made from years of wear on the track by muddy boots, making it easier to manage.

We talk about the Pakeha legend of Tokatoka, which involves couples heading to the summit, where there's a small, flat grassy area. From there, they can spot cars arriving below, knowing it will take trampers 20 minutes to reach them. So, let's just say that if you're nearing the top, it's a good idea to cough loudly before taking the final few steps.

As you reach the top, it becomes a natural adrenaline rush and even though I'm usually pretty good with heights, my legs feel a bit wobbly for the final 5m: it's that high and steep. By the end, I'm crawling, rather than walking, up the mountain.

"Three points of contact at all times," says Joe in true scout leader tones, and we're thankful he's here to take us up the mountain, going up first.

The view at the top is worth mimicking mountain goats for and Joe tells us this was the region's main navigational point — it really puts the Northern Wairoa River into perspective to see it from this angle, so wide and meandering, not to mention brown.

"It's known as 'the big muddy'," says Joe, "Although, I often wonder if it was blue a hundred years ago. It's also meant to be an 'upside down' river so it's clearer at the bottom than it is at the top."

Joe points towards a tiny town, which he says was the biggest city around these parts 100 years ago, much bigger than Dargaville. That was a time when lots of ships travelled through the river and Tokatoka provided the perfect vantage point.

On the horizon is another peak, Maungaraho - it's another exciting walk to the summit, if you don't mind struggling with the ropes and ladders, or walk around its base.

After learning of the Maori legend of Tokatoka (involving five "brothers", of which Tokatoka is one, who arrived in the area from Hawaiiki looking for a new home), we then begin our descent, sliding straight down on the seat of our pants, thankful we didn't interrupt anyone continuing the more modern Pakeha legend of this mighty mountain.

Getting there: At Tokatoka Tavern, north of Ruawai, turn right into Tokatoka Rd until you reach the "scenic reserve" sign. It's 40 minutes' return and medium grade. For ideas on more walks in the area, read Exploring Aotearoa, Short Walks to Reveal the Maori Landscape by Peter Janssen, published by New Holland.

Accommodation: Dargaville Campervan Park & Cabins at 170 Victoria St, Dargaville. Phone: (09) 974 7524.

If you must stay in budget accommodation, making it a novelty, such as staying in a converted railway carriage, somehow makes it more fun. The little red carriage, whose previous life was to carry goods, is set up with fridge, television, bathroom and bunk beds. The location in the centre of town makes it easy to walk to the river with its impressive gardens and playground with sailing ship to climb on for the kids. Choose from single rooms or joining carriages for family accommodation.

Where to eat: Jo's Home Cookery at 138 Victoria St, Dargaville. Phone: (09) 439 5435.

For a slice of small-town life, as well as old-fashioned cakes and meals, visit Jo's Home Cookery next to the campervan park. It's more than a country cafe, it's a nostalgic casual dining experience with friendly staff and a homely atmosphere. Meals such as roasts, prawn cocktail and baked camembert are served to tunes such as John Denver's Sunshine on my Shoulders.

Danielle Wright travelled with assistance from Tourism Northland.