Kia Ora: Rawene

Traces of the important part this village played in history are clear, finds Elisabeth Easther.
Rawene is situated on the southern shore of the Hokianga Harbour. Photo /  Natalie Slade
Rawene is situated on the southern shore of the Hokianga Harbour. Photo / Natalie Slade

Origin of name: As his last request, a dying chief asked to be carried to the top of a ridge to watch the sun go down one last time when he is believed to have said: "Wene te ra"- the sun is dying.

Population: 444.

Old news: Rawene is New Zealand's third-oldest European settlement and history buffs love the old buildings including Clendon House (1860s), the Masonic Hotel (1875), the Methodist Church (1876), and the courthouse (1875). Rawene even had a post office by 1845.

Notable locals: James Reddy Clendon (US Consul in the Bay of Islands,1830s); George McCall Smith (early 20th-century doctor who developed Hokianga's health service, also a proponent of painless childbirth - woo hoo); Norm Maxwell (former All Black); Gordon Cochrane (bomber pilot, World War II) and Rene Mary Shadbolt (nurse in Spanish Civil War, later matron of Hokianga Hospital - respect).

Best website: rawene.nz

Big business: Back in the day Rawene was a timber town but today its quaint charm makes it a laid-back tourist magnet.

An opportunity: The majestic Masonic Tavern is for sale so, if you fancy moving to Rawene and restoring her to her former glory, this could be your dream come true.

Everything you need: Rawene has a garage, chemist, hospital, cafe, art galleries, a green grocer, pub, even underground power and it's fabulously unspoiled.

Town fiestas: Shop yourself silly at the Rawene Market, held the first Sunday of each month at the Town Hall. And the annual Christmas parade is also a winner.

So much to do: You can do yoga, learn karate, play twilight bowls or visit the dance club and it makes the perfect base to visit the rest of Northland.

Here for a short time: Visit historic Clendon House; curator Lindsay Charman gives the best tours and his stories bring the past to life. Browse the art galleries and visit the Boatshed Cafe or the Masonic Tavern.

Ferry nice: Ride the car ferry to Kohukohu, stroll around the town, then settle in at the little cafe overlooking the bay.

Kids love: The beach, jumping off the wharf and being allowed to run free.

Other things that rock: Wairere Boulders are super-epic eroded basalt rock formations, this attraction is run by a lively Swiss couple who, when they cleared the land to farm goats, discovered these basalt boulders. Koutu's concretion boulders are also astonishing, some up to 3m in diameter.

Best playground: The great outdoors. Leave the iPad at home. No one will notice.

Best walk: The wetlands walk is a short stroll from town featuring boardwalks over mangroves and a healthy bird population. Built on the site of a 100-year-old timber and box factory, it's accessible for strollers and wheelchairs. Or do some of the coastal paths, perhaps from Waimamaku or visit the harbour's southern head and hone your photography skills on the stunning views.

Best views: Jutting into the harbour, Rawene looks west and east, making dawn and dusk equally spectacular.

Stop a while: Get a feed from the Rawene Fish and Chip Shop and eat them on the jetty or beach. This is where you'll find your bliss.

Best swims: Opononi or Omapere are pleasant but, to have the world to yourself, head for Mitimiti, past Panguru, and dine on mussels fresh from the rocks.

Nice arts: The Boatshed Cafe exhibits and sells the works of local artisans. Loriz Felts is bursting with exquisite creations made of, you guessed it, felt. Tupo Art is great for souvenirs, art, jewellery and upcycled items made by imaginative locals. And No.1 Parnell is a socially conscious community space, celebrating the arts, and supporting sustainability in all creative fields. So there.

Top shop: Wardy's the grocery store is where discerning shoppers go for fresh fruit and veges, baking, and delectable homemade frozen dinners.

Cream of the coffee: The Boatshed is all-round amazing so it's no surprise their coffee hits the spot.

Baked goodies: Wardy's is famous for pies, twice as big as normal ones, there are some fantastic flavours. The Boatshed's cakes are worth travelling for too, from blueberry muffins to chocolate fudge cake, (aka hedgehog cake), chocolate Guinness cake, Spanish lemon cake and carrot cake.

Best food: The Boatshed Cafe is consistently impressive. Pizza flavours include cream cheese and salmon or feta, olive and spinach. Or how about a baked camembert? Or a panini?

Fish for dinner: The flounder in Rawene are said to be the best in the world. To find out for yourself, order flounder and chips at the takeaway bar. Or go see Nick the fisherman, a second-generation angler who sells fine things with fins from his shop on the waterfront.

Wet your whistle: The Masonic Tavern has a super outdoor area for drinks, overlooking the eastern side of the harbour - if only someone bought it and started doing meals and accommodation again, too. Hint hint.

Rest your head: The Postmaster's Lodgings is a beautifully eclectic character-filled historic home. Your eyes will pop out on stalks when you see the chandeliers, dark wood, huge wardrobes and miles of books. Delicious three-course meals are available for houseguests (bookings essential).

Best mountain biking: Bring your bike because the Twin Coast Cycleway is just 40km away at Horeke.

On the green: Rawene Golf Club is a nine-hole course with smashing views although please be careful not to hit the sheep or birds.

Best adventures: Sand duning at Omapere, fishing charters, or stop in at Labyrinth Woodwork and Maze in Waiotemarama.

Wildlife: Loads of birds including rarely seen kotuku (white herons). Killer whales visit twice a year to hoover up the starfish, and dolphins, and stingray pop in a fair bit to say hi.

To sum it up: Don't be in a hurry - Rawene is about slowing down and wallowing in peace.

Thanks to John Post and Dorothy Foot at The Postmaster's Lodgings.

Checklist

WHERE IS IT
In Northland, on the south side of the Hokianga Harbour, 273km north of Auckland, about a three-and-a-half-hour drive.

- NZ Herald

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