Kia ora: Ahipara

No matter what the weather, Elisabeth Easther finds plenty to do at the beach.

Driving down Ninety Mile Beach.
Driving down Ninety Mile Beach.

Where is it? In Northland, at the southern end of Ninety Mile Beach, 323km north of Auckland, or 90km drive from Cape Reinga, depends where you're coming from.

Origin of name: Ahipara loosely translates as either "the fire where the fern was cooked" or "sacred fire", referring to a fire that the Te Rarawa people kept alight.

Population: 1137 (2013 census), swelling in the holiday season to more than double that.

Town slogan: Ahipara - the gateway to Ninety Mile Beach.

Town mascot: There isn't an official one, but seagulls will make a nice stand-in until an official one is found. How about the tuatua?

Dig this: Back in the day, the gumdiggers made this sleepy little hollow bustle. More than 400 men created a need for billiard parlours, pubs, barbershops and dance halls.

Famous locals: Ex-All Black Victor Yates.

Best websites: ahipara.co.nz and ahiparaadventure.co.nz.

Main employer: Commercial fishing nets a fair bit of income.

Source of pride: The natural beauty of the coastline.

Town fiestas: There are heaps of fishing competitions, with big prize purses, such as The Snapper Classic. There's also thundercat racing, surfing champs, the Ahipara School gala. And if you like ultra marathons, Te Houtaewa Challenge is one of the most intense races in New Zealand, drawing a huge international crowd.

Best reason to stop: The coast. You can surf, fish, dive, windsurf, kitesurf, sail, collect tuatua, build sandcastles. Sunny or stormy, it's amazing.

Best place to take the kids: The rock pools at Shipwreck Bay. Or where the Wairoa River meets the beach: on big tides it's fab for paddling, swimming and sand-boarding.

Here for a short time? Go for a walk or a drive along Tauroa Point.

Coasting: East to west, you can be at over a hundred different beaches within an hour round these parts.

Hook your own: WildCat and Karizma fishing charters are just the ticket for anglers who don't have their own boat.

Best free thrill: Do the tuatua twist, grab a bucket or a kete and grab your fill of this delicious shellfish. Fritters anyone?

Best place for a drink: Bayview Restaurant & Bar, attached to The Ahipara Bay Motel. They do the best panoramic views, sunsets to sigh over and the food's fab, too.

Best food: Bay View Restaurant again, its stone grill is amazing. Gumdiggers Cafe does delicious food and is famous for its massive portions. Bidz Takeaways' seafood burger could sink a ship.

Tops for coffee: Gumdiggers Cafe. They also make mean cakes.

Best shop: The Ninety Mile Wood Gallery. The three artists here create beautiful arts and crafts from locally sourced timber.

Best gallery: Roma Rd Gallery features weaving, carving and painting by local artists. And if you're after something else, there's a fellow called Irish who makes outstanding kauri bowls, all individually created, and sold locally and internationally. He's there from 7am until late at night, working in his garage.

Happy hunting: Pig and goat hunting is popular round these parts, with the Herekino and Ahipara hunting blocks both excellent areas for game.

Best walks: Stroll around Tauroa Point, where there are lots of lovely bays to choose from and you can still see some of the wreck of the Favourite at Shipwreck Bay. Wander along Ninety Mile Beach for as long as your legs will carry you. Or, for something a little tougher, the nine-hour Herekino Forest Track is just the ticket for serious trampers.

Best view: If you want expansive vistas that seemingly go forever, there's a bluff behind Ahipara that's reached by a rough unsealed track on Gumfields Rd, (turn off at the western end of Foreshore Drive). Jaw-dropping.

Best swim: The beach, if you hadn't already figured that out, with Shipwreck Bay considered by many to be the sweetest little cove.

Best mountain biking: If you want a challenge, go to the gumfields, or ride along the beach.

Best adventure: Go on a horse trek at sunset. Sand-duning is very popular, as is blokarting which has taken off in the last few years. Stand-up paddleboarding is fun, ditto kayaking, surfing, boogie boarding and riding long boards. Ahiparaadventure.co.nz is a good place to start.

Best place to pull over: Foreshore Reserve, park up with your takeaways and have a picnic right on the beach.

Best playground: Kotare Park has swings, slides and a climbing structure while Ahipara School has an awesome play area which can be used with respect.

Best-kept secret: The 18-hole golf course runs along the beachfront and blows people's minds. Non-golfers take one look and set off to buy clubs.

Wildlife: Aside from fish and birds, of which there are plenty, dolphins and whales can regularly be seen from shore. If you're lucky you might catch a glimpse of the local wild horses roaming the beach, which is just magical.

Safety first: Don't get stuck in the sand - if you have a two-wheel-drive, probably best you don't drive it on the beach.

Visitors say: Where are all the people?

Locals say: Shoot, but it's crowded today.

- NZ Herald

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