Kia ora: Houhora

Elisabeth Easther is tempted to stay in Northland's big-game fishing golden spot.

Houhora Heads is an easy-to-spot landmark, as it was for Kupe long, long ago. Photo / Creative Commons image by Flickr user Phillip Capper
Houhora Heads is an easy-to-spot landmark, as it was for Kupe long, long ago. Photo / Creative Commons image by Flickr user Phillip Capper

Where is it?: In Northland, 41km north of Kaitaia. It's on the eastern side of the Aupouri Peninsula, 70km south of Cape Reinga.

A lot of people don't realise: The town is officially called Pukenui Village, yet everyone calls it Houhora.

Origin of name: Houhora loosely translates as "feathers spread out". No one's too sure how it eventuated. As for Pukenui, it means 'big hill' - no prizes for figuring out the origin of that one.

Population: 1008 (census 2013).

Town slogan: Houhora's not a very slogany place.

Town mascot: It's not very mascoty, either, but if there was one, it might be a marlin.

First to see: Mt Houhora (aka Mt Camel) was Kupe's first glimpse of Aotearoa, although legend has it he thought he saw a whale.

Spectacles hadn't been invented yet.

Way back: Humans have lived in Houhora since the 14th century.

Outstanding local: Lloyd Allan Trig, a fighter pilot in World War II, won the Victoria Cross and the Distinguished Flying Cross. In 1998, the medals were auctioned at Christie's in London for $421,000, a record price for military medals.

Famous locals: Actors Bruce Hopkins and Andy Anderson have family connections to the area, and can be spotted cruising around occasionally.

Infamous local: The Butt-Crack Bandit of Christmas 2013. A cheeky burglar was snapped stealing booze on a liquor store's security camera, the images most remarkable on account of the robber's prominent builder's crack, displayed as he pilfered the goods.

Best website: topofnz.co.nz.

Biggest industry: It's a three-way tie between avocados, forestry and fishing.

Source of pride: The area's natural beauty. Locals are so proud of their town, you'll rarely see rubbish anywhere.

Town fiestas: There are numerous fishing competitions, the golf club has a decent calendar of tournaments and there are two market days that galvanise the community, with St John and the Raeo Hall holding monthly events.

Here for a short time? Have lunch at Pukenui Pacific Cafe overlooking the harbour. Spectacular views, yummy food.

Best place to take the kids: Houhora Heads for swimming, or try Wagener Holiday Park, where there's lots to do. They have a flash swimming pool that the public may use for a modest sum.

Best playground: There's a new playground just south of town, with a gas barbecue, benches, swings and slides and a super-modern climbing frame.

Best facilities: Houhora Big Game and Sport Fishing Club has modern showers and toilets, plus a wharf and boat ramp. This area is so big on fishing, nearly everyone owns a boat.

Best walk: Arethusa Reserve, just 10 minutes out of town, is looked after by Forest and Bird and is famous for its ancient dunescapes and beech forest. The impressive wetland reserve is teeming with birds, including grey ducks, pied cormorants, paradise shelducks, kingfishers and spotless crake.

Best view: From top of Mt Camel (aka Mt Houhora, aka Mt Tohoraha). You'll need to catch a boat and then climb it, but it's pretty easy to hitch a lift with a local.

Best place to pull over: Houhora Big Game and Sports Fishing Club car park, south of the main village. From there you can look up and down the harbour and say, "Wow".

Best swim: Jump off the commercial fishing wharf; kids dive off it all year because the coldest day in winter here is about 16C.

Best museum: Subritzky Homestead, built in the 1860s at Houhora Heads, has been restored to its original glory and is open to the public by appointment.

Best shop: Houhora Wharf Four Square - you'll be surprised by what you'll find there. If you're after old leather-cut washers for a Davies pump, rowlocks for a dinghy, or very fine scotch fillet, this is where to go. The gift shop at Houhora Game Fishing Club is also cool, with fishing memorabilia and the works of local artists for sale.

Tops for coffee: Pukenui Pacific has one of the only coffee machines in town, plus that view, while The Hub Restaurant and Bar is also good.

Best bakery: Pukenui Pacific makes cakes and sandwiches, and its chicken and mushroom pie is famous.

Best food: Pukenui and The Hub serve good grub, and every Friday and Saturday the Sports Fishing Club opens for dinner, with a buffet on the first Friday of each month.

Wet your whistle: Historic Houhora Tavern is the country's northern-most pub. Moved many years ago from near 90 Mile Beach, it's utterly charming.

Best mountain biking: Aupouri Forest has 100km of trails - you could lose yourself in there for days. Bring your own bike, though, as there's no hire place.

Best land adventure: Travel 50 or so kilometres north and wig out over the giant Te Paki Sand Dunes. Everyone must try sand boarding once in their life.

Best sea adventure: Charter fishing is always fun, and Rob Parker takes anglers on awesome trips. Rob is a legend and a real character, plus he's the only person ever to win the 90 Mile Snapper Classic twice.

Best kept secret: The beaches of Henderson Bay and Rarawa Bay are as close to each other as Takapuna Beach is to Milford, yet one has totally pink sand and the other totally white silica sand, making them geographical freaks of nature.

The neat thing is: When the wind's blowing easterly, go to the west coast, and when it's westerly go east.

Wildlife: Houhora Harbour is a popular breeding ground for stingrays. You can stand by the shopping trolleys at the front of the Four Square and watch orca chasing them. You'll probably also see dolphins, colonies of spotted dotterel and albatross, while the forest is home to wild horses that have been doing their own thing for years, until someone catches one and breaks it in.

Locals take visitors to: 90 Mile Beach. It's an outstanding piece of public highway that blows people's minds. And superb surfcasting.

Safety warning: Don't become addicted to the life up here because you'll never leave.

Visitors say: We don't want to leave.

Locals say: We don't have to leave.

Thanks to Mark and Kylie Cramond of the Houhora Four Square - living the dream.

- NZ Herald

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