Maungaturoto, Paparoa, Pahi, Tinopai, Matakohe, Ruawai and Tokatoka are a hop, skip and a jump from each other, and Elisabeth Easther found plenty in these tiny towns to delight.

Where are they?

In Northland, on the Kaipara Harbour's Kauri Coast, along the Twin Coast Discovery Highway on SH12. It's a 90-minute drive from Auckland ... if you don't hit bad traffic.

Origin of name: Kauri is derived from a descriptive combination originally meaning "black tree", born around the time Polynesian voyagers set out from Samoa to explore the Eastern Pacific. The Kauri Coast is home to the oldest and largest ancient kauri, including Tane Mahuta.

Seven towns: These seven towns combine to form the official gateway to the Kauri Coast, aka "Old Otamatea District", of the Kaipara. Their names mean ...


Maungaturoto: Mountain near water.

Paparoa: Long flat rock.

Pahi: Multiple meanings including large ocean-going ship, travelling party, temporary campground and purse - take your pick.

Matakohe: Mata is Maori for headland and the kohekohe was a tree so it's the headland where the kohekohe grew.

Tinopai: Very, very good. Even better than ka pai. So Maori for awesome.

Ruawai: The name literally translates as "two waters", referring to the nearby Northern Wairoa River and Kaipara Harbour.

Tokatoka: Tokatoka Peak is significant to local Maori history and mythology, and translates as "rock upon rock".

District slogan: Kauri Coast: Naturally New Zealand's ancient eco and cultural destination.

Local mascot: The kauri tree.

Famous locals: Joseph Gordon Coates (Prime Minister of New Zealand, 1925-1928) was brought up here. Lockwood Smith (former MP for Kaipara and the current High Commissioner of New Zealand to the United Kingdom) lives here when he's not gadding about.

Best website:

Big business: Aside from Fonterra and the dairy industry, it's all about tourism and kumara.

Source of pride: The Kauri Museum and associated facilities in Matakohe have to be seen to be believed.

Local fiestas: The Kauri Museum Settlers' Day Out in November is a massive event celebrating the community's history. A market showcases local wares alongside pioneering activities including gum polishing, woodturning, brickmaking and traditional arts and crafts.

Here for a short time? No visit to the Kauri Coast is complete without a trip to The Kauri Museum. It's great for getting your bearings historically as to what an important region this was in early colonial times.

The Kauri Museum in Matakohe. Photo / Elisabeth Easther
The Kauri Museum in Matakohe. Photo / Elisabeth Easther

Best place to take kids:

Piroa Falls

owe their origins to a band of hard volcanic rock that has resisted erosion to create a spectacular waterfall into a deep plunge pool. They are especially impressive after heavy rains, and the pool provides an excellent spot for swimming.

Best park: Kauri Bushman's Memorial Scenic Reserve. This small reserve is a living memorial to the bushmen of the past who lived, worked and sometimes even died in the region's kauri forests. There's a wonderful stand of kauri trees, some up to 600 years old.

Best playground: The playground in Maungaturoto is the pick of the bunch, opposite the popular Tulip Cafe.

Culture vultures: Otamatea Repertory Theatre is made up of talented performers who put on fabulous stage shows throughout the year.

Best view: Twenty-five minutes' drive from Matakohe is Tokatoka Peak; a hearty 20-minute walk, climb and scramble will take you to the top of this lone pinnacle where the views of the countryside and Dargaville River will blow your mind.

Best walk: The Paparoa Lions Walkway starts beside SH12 with an easy first stage across private land (20 minutes). From here, the track crosses a second bridge to enter the bush, then climbs moderately up to the pa site (another 20 minutes). There is a loop track, or venture further along to the boardwalk through the mangroves on to Pahi Rd (15 min) and return along Pahi Rd and Paparoa Valley Rd back to the car park (30 min).

Best place to pull over: Paparoa Landing is a great place to stretch the legs.

Best swim: Tinopai has a small, sandy beach popular with locals and visitors alike. Historic Pahi is also a safe area to take a swim on the west coast. It has campgrounds and one of New Zealand's largest Morton Bay figs.

Best museum: The Kauri Museum is 4500sqm of amazingness. It's famous for its hospitality and the legacy left behind by the ancient kauri trees that once covered northern New Zealand.

Nice arts: Local artists have banded together and opened The White Rock Gallery in Paparoa to present a wide variety of treasures, from painting, sculpture and jewellery, to quilting and other fabric-based crafts.

Top shop: Dreams in Maungaturoto is full of top-quality homeware and gifts for souvenir hunters looking for something outside of the ordinary.

Cream of the coffee: Tulip Espresso and Bakery in Maungaturoto is amazing - barista Mike McKenzie was Northland Barista Champion 2014.

Baked: The home-made pies and bread at BeeJays (142 Hurndall Street, Maungaturoto) are a favourite with locals.

Best food: Kaipara kai from the sea can't be beaten - oysters, mussels, kahawhai, and mullet are available from the Fresh Fish store in Paparoa and occasionally straight from the Pahi wharf.

Wet your whistle: Tokatoka Tavern (on the corner of Tokatoka Road and SH12) deserves a special mention and is the perfect place to reward yourself after scaling that peak.

Best-kept secret: Kaipara Harbour is the second largest harbour in the Southern Hemisphere, yet few people are acquainted with its nooks and crannies.

Wildlife: The marine mammals of the Kaipara include dolphins, orca and seals. Endangered Maui dolphins frolic here and locals have all agreed not to use set nets. Up in the forests you'll find North Island kokako, North Island brown kiwi and the native forest parrots, kakariki and kaka.

Locals say: Don't tell the readers everything, or else there'll be nothing left for them to discover.

Visitors say: Shh, we're on our way.

Thanks to the lovely staff at The Kauri Museum.