One of Rawene's newest attractions is also one of its oldest — and its most puzzling.
Louis Toorenburg is well known in South Hokianga for his giant stature, big white beard, fondness for novelty hats, and for being a long-time local voice on the Kaikohe-Hokianga Community Board.
But mostly people just know him as The Puzzleman.
Toorenburg's lifelong obsession with puzzles has found expression in various ventures, most recently with the opening of Northland's — and possibly New Zealand's — first puzzle museum.
The museum is squeezed into the downstairs corner of The Wedge, a sharply angled building at the corner of Parnell St and Clendon Esplanade, opposite the Rawene ferry landing. You could say it's at the thin end of The Wedge.
While the museum is new for Toorenburg, the location definitely isn't. For the past three years he has operated a puzzle shop next door called Simply Fun, which was also the site of his very first shop back in 1975 when he was a gangly 23-year-old.
In those days the thin end of The Wedge was rented out as a legal office to an obscure lawyer named David Lange. He later went on to become Prime Minister and the architect of New Zealand's nuclear ships ban.
In more recent times Lange's former office was rented out as a photography studio, but when it became vacant again Toorenburg jumped at the chance to establish a puzzle museum.
He had a wall knocked out — with the landlord's permission of course — so visitors to his shop, if they keep walking due north, soon find themselves surrounded by The Puzzleman's private collection.
Toorenburg owns more than 5000 puzzles, about half of which are on display. No one keeps an official record of these things but it's probably the biggest puzzle collection in New Zealand. (Not in the world, however: that title is thought to belong to James Dalgety who lives in England with his mum and some 120,000 puzzles.)
The Puzzleman's collection is an intensely personal one. It includes his first puzzles, given to him as a toddler in Holland, and the puzzle that first triggered his obsession when he saw it in a shop in Sydney.
That initial inspiration, long before a Hungarian professor invented Rubik's Cube, was called the Challenge Cube and made by an obscure toy company called Nintendo.
"That got me interested in puzzles. It's the challenge of doing them," he said.
Also crammed into the museum's display cases are "impossible object" puzzles, where the aim is not to solve the puzzle but to work out how it was made; puzzle boxes which take up to 72 correctly sequenced moves to open; shelf after shelf of novelty Rubik's Cubes; and Czech-made wooden puzzles of extraordinary workmanship.
There are also miniature puzzles, the smallest less than 1mm across, made by a former Nasa engineer whose former job was miniaturising everyday objects for space flight.
"I'm a hoarder. I keep things," Toorenburg says, unnecessarily.
In 1972, after the epiphany of the Challenge Cube, Toorenburg started making his own wooden jigsaw puzzles. At one point he was turning out 2500 a year for 80 outlets around New Zealand and overseas.
When he realised he still wasn't making any money he got into retail.
His first shop was at the new-old location on Clendon Esplanade in Rawene. That was followed by a shop in a youth hostel at Waiotemarama, a craft co-op at Waipoua, and for many years Labyrinth Woodworks on Waiotemarama Gorge Rd, the back way between Ōpononi and Waimamaku.
The Labyrinth comprised a puzzle-making workshop, puzzle store, corn maze and various oddities such as a lifesize fibreglass elephant rescued from Auckland Zoo.
Three years ago Toorenburg and his wife Sue, who is as petite as the Puzzleman is tall, moved to Rawene for the lesser demands of a house in town. That was also his chance to open Simply Fun and, most recently, his museum. He also still makes his own puzzles.
The appeal of puzzles is simple, Toorenburg says.
"Not everyone can run a mile in under four minutes or swim across Hokianga Harbour. This is something they can do, but it's still a challenge. People like a challenge."