Elisabeth Easther finds out about the delights of one of Earth's great beauty spots.

Where are they?

In Northland, on the southern shore of Hokianga Harbour, three-and-a-half hours from Auckland.

Origin of names: Opononi is thought to be for Po-nui, a Maori warrior and chief; Omapere is named for mapere, the tall plumed native grass. And Te Hokianga-nui-a-Kupe means "the place of Kupe's great return".

More names: The region is still referred to by local Maori as Te Kohanga o Te Tai Tokerau, or "the nest of the northern people", or sometimes Te Puna o Te Ao Marama, meaning "the wellspring of moonlight".


Population: 414 (2013 census), rising to 3500 during the holidays.

Tying knots: Almost every weekend over summer there's a wedding here. It's a very popular place for getting hitched.

Town mascot: Opo the friendly dolphin. A new bronze statue was recently unveiled after the original was vandalised.

Opo who? Opo was a bottlenose dolphin who found fame in the summer of 1955/56 for playing with children, doing tricks and generally being charming. She quickly became a celebrity until, tragically, she was found dead one sad day in March - a suspected victim of gelignite fishing.

Like sands through the hourglass: The golden sands around these parts are said to come from Taupo, following the eruption in AD186. Over hundreds of years, the grains have washed down the Waikato River with the currents carrying them as far as Ahipara.

Famous locals:

Adam Parore has a place here, Rawiri Paratene lives nearby and Wendyl Nissen is soon to move this way.

Best website: hokiangatourism.org.nz.

What do people do all day: Retirement and tourism.

Source of pride: The unspoiled natural beauty and the sunsets.

Fiestas: The Axeman's Carnival, the New Year fishing competition for kids and adults, Waimamaku Wild West Fest, the Marlin Fishing Competition and the annual harbour swim.

Best activities for kids: Swimming at the safe beaches or sand-boarding with Peter Clarke on the Hokianga Express.

Best place for a drink: The Copthorne Hotel in Omapere. From the decks you can enjoy an outstanding eyeful of the sand hills and out to the Tasman Sea. Well-travelled visitors say it's one of the finest locations in the world. Fish'n'chips, a pint and the sun sinking into the ocean - bliss.

Best food: Either Opononi Hotel, Omapere Hotel or the Schooner Cafe. If you fancy the freshest flounder, Rawene's the place.

Best flat white: Schooner Cafe on the hill overlooking the harbour. Million-dollar views free of charge.

Best bakery: Wardy's in Rawene is the nearest bakery. There you can get some of the best pies in New Zealand, twice as big as normal ones and in some spectacular flavours.

Best shop: There are two 4 Squares, one in Opononi, the other in Rawene. The Opononi one is operating out of the i-site since their shop burned down.

Best museum: Opononi Museum and Art Gallery, relocated in 2010 because of foreshore erosion. It features Rudall Hayward's famous movie about Opo and also houses the original Russell Clarke statue that was vandalised and restored. Lots of lovely photos, a German mine that was washed up, live, in 1949, and the original signal station light that once marked the harbour entrance. Fabulous local art is sold here.

Best walk: This place is a walkers' paradise. Choose from the Waipoua Forest Walk and the monumental kauri tree Tane Mahuta, or try a more challenging track up to Frampton's Hut - 7km through Waima Forest. Or visit the Koutu Boulders, which are two to three times bigger than those at Moeraki.

Best view: From Pakia Hill as you head north. You'll have harbour, sand hills and ocean, all the way out to the heads. Awe inspiring.

Best swim: There's a lovely safe spot opposite the Hokianga i-site and visitor centre.

Best adventure: Sand-boarding. There are also some excellent horse riding adventures round here, too.

Best place to pull over: Pakia Hill for those views.

Best skate park: There's a facility at the local high school between Omapere and Opononi that's open to the public.

Here for a short time: Visit the Koutu Boulders, the signal station at the heads and do some sand-boarding, which is great value at $24.

Best kept secret: Koutu Boulders, hands up who'd heard of them before?

Wildest wildlife: The area is frequented by dolphins and orca.

Safety warnings: Always read the signage at the boat ramp, and be sure to respect the outgoing tide as it runs up to 8 knots at the heads.

Locals say:

Nice, eh?

Visitors say: Like no place on Earth

Thanks to Tony and Sylvia Stockman, from Koutu Lodge B&B. Both are big fans of the area.