Kia ora: Ngunguru

Elisabeth Easther revels in an abundance of native wildlife.

Ngunguru spit on Northland's East Coast. Photo / Supplied
Ngunguru spit on Northland's East Coast. Photo / Supplied

Where is it? Three or four minutes to Tutukaka, 26km to Whangarei, two-and-a-half hours from Auckland.

Origin of name: Maori for "rumbling tides".

Population: Approximately 1500.

Interesting historical facts: The Melanesian Mission ship, Southern Cross, was wrecked in Ngunguru Bay in 1860. In 1892, coal was discovered at Kiripaka, at the headwaters of the Ngunguru River and, over 30 years, 630,000 tonnes of coal were extracted.

Main employer: The tourism industry. This area is a magnet for foreign and local visitors.

Sources of pride: Was voted second most beautiful coast on Earth by National Geographic magazine and is also on the AA's "Top 101 Must Do" list.

Where else in the world: Is there a dolphin bell? Ngunguru School has a big old school bell from the early 1930s and, whenever the dolphins come up into the estuary and are in front of the school, secretary Lenise rings the bell to call the students out to watch the dolphins.

Town competition: There are a lot of fish, so there are quite a few fishing competitions.
Best reason to stop: The coastline, pure and simple. Grab an icecream, have a paddle, fall in love.

Best place to take kids: Anywhere. The bush and the beach. The school has bush at the end of the playground, and the sea across the road, like a natural amphitheatre. Children from crowded city schools will likely beg to move here.

Best place to get a drink: There's a huge resort called Oceans in Tutukaka. The Game Club is also good for a cold one.

Best food: Snapper Rock, with its Pacific Island vibe, is very popular, or try the Marina Pizzeria where you can eat out over the water.

Most famous locals: Ingrid Visser, aka The Whale Lady, marine biologist and conservationist. Also Wade Doak, author and conservationalist.

Best flat white: Visitors are spoiled for choice. There are seven cafes and restaurants, all of them fabulous.

Best bakery: Salt Air, at the Ngunguru Cafe - amazing breads and sandwiches and across the road from estuary. They do icecream too.

Best local website:

Art gallery: The Tutukaka Gallery, under Oceans Hotel, is where a lot of local artisans show and sell their wares.

Best walk: Walk to Lighthouse Point. It's quite vigorous, but worth it. Go to Tutukaka Heads, over a couple of bays and off to Lighthouse Point: spectacular. There are loads of other walks and there's a pamphlet about them available in most of the shops.

Best view: See above. Also between Ngunguru and Tutukaka, on top of the Tutukaka Hill on the main road, there's a lookout with a map that points out what you can see.

Best facilities: Outside the school there are public toilets and a beach. There are trees to park under, taps to fill water bottles, and handily just off the main road too.

Best playground: There's only one, called Whale Tail Park.

Here for a short time: Have fish and chips from Ngunguru Takeaways on the beach.

Best kept secret: For many locals, the favourite spot is the Ngunguru Sandspit, which was saved from development with some effort. Cross the estuary and on the ocean side of the spit you'll have a whole stretch of beach to yourself. Watch the kahawai roll in and, if get the right tide, tuatua will appear at your feet, pipi too. Heaven.

Best shop: Ngunguru Food Mart. It has everything, and if they don't have something, they'll get it for you.

Best swim: Anywhere, but one bay that's particularly highly regarded is Whale Bay on the way to Matapouri. It's a little bit of a walk, unless you're a dolphin, in which case you'd swim there. This bay is very popular with dolphins.

Best wildlife: The dolphins and whales, and there are lots of kiwi due to the kiwi release programmes. The school kids are often present at release time, when they're not frolicking with dolphins outside their school.

Regional park: Poor Knights Marine Reserve. Scuba or snorkel; it will blow your mind.

When a local has visitors from abroad staying: They book them on a trip with Dive Tutukaka and show them the world beneath the ocean. Or take them to Tane Moana, the largest kauri tree on the east coast.

Safety warning: Locals would prefer visitors didn't stop in the middle of the road to take pictures. Please pull over before you pull out your camera.

Locals say: I wouldn't live anywhere else.

Visitors say: I wish I lived here.

Thank you to Lenise Ludlow, secretary at Ngunguru School, for sharing her enthusiasm for her delightful town.

- NZ Herald

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