A kayak trip upstream reveals a special side of the upper Waitemata and the waterways beyond, discovers Helen van Berkel.

Before motorways and the Auckland Harbour Bridge opened up the north, the Auckland isthmus was mostly navigated using the narrow fingers of muddy creeks that trickle into surprising little places.

One of these was the Rangitopuni Stream, a series of S-bends that snake about 5km inland, north of the Riverhead Tavern.

At first the banks are lined with pine trees, as we skirt the Riverhead forest on our left. The decaying limbs of victims of long-ago storms stretch gnarled knuckles out of the russet-brown water. Pines are soon, if briefly, replaced with stands of mature natives, but sadly lacking is birdsong: we hear only a lonely - possibly imaginary - fantail.

Someone's apparently long-forgotten fighter-plane restoration project mystifies us as we glide past the grey wreck sitting in its cradle. Some of us break the first rule of kayak club to explore another meandering rivulet, disturbing a family of ducks who were not shy in quacking their fury.


We feel like interlopers in a foreign, quiet land.

The Riverhead, built in 1857, is still the perfect place to stop off on an adventure up the Rangitopuni stream.
The Riverhead, built in 1857, is still the perfect place to stop off on an adventure up the Rangitopuni stream.

Most of our group haul out their craft at the Newton Rd boat ramp but others decide you can't come this far without calling in at the tavern, so we paddle on past the ruins of an old mill - once a timber mill, then a flour mill, then a paper mill - just south of the highway bridge. The channel for the water wheel is still evident as are some walls.

Old photos show it was quite the enterprise in its day and indeed, until the paper mill closed in 1923, it was the largest flour mill and second-largest paper producer in New Zealand.

The tavern, built in 1857, was a major stopping-off point for adventurers and pioneers eyeing the economic spoils of the north.

Once, the tavern more-or-less marked the end of the truly navigable river from the Waitemata Harbour. From here, portage paths led further into the hinterland. These days, Sunday-afternoon cruisers moor at the jetty and the clink of cutlery and glassware speaks of conviviality.

To travel beyond the tavern, you need a kayak or, as we saw, this glorious Sunday morning, a stand-up paddleboard.

As one of my companions pondered: It's so easy, why don't we do this every week?

The Riverhead

Nestled on the banks of the Rangitopuni Stream, which flows into the upper Waitemata, The Riverhead is steeped in local history and was a vital part of the development of early New Zealand.

Prior to The Riverhead being built on this site, Thomas Deacon the original owner, owned Deacon's Inn on the point just below where The Riverhead now stands.

The early Maori used this landing point as the place to disembark and portage their waka to the Kumeu River to get easier access to the Kaipara Harbour and the lands in the Far North. Early immigrants used this same route to develop these fertile lands, some continuing north by steamer via the Kaipara and using the reverse route south. theriverhead.co.nz