Eager to entice more travellers to the Far North, local men Mike Simm and Steve Brodie have created a company that will see visitors spending more time (and yes, more money to benefit local communities) in their neck of the woods. Featuring three main itineraries, the focus is on history, culture, adventure with biking, hiking and jet skis all on the menu with a bit of relaxing thrown in for good measure.
I've always been a bit of a purist when it comes to cycling, so when I was offered an e-bike to ride the Twin Coast Cycle Trail, it was an emphatic, "no, thank you" from me. But I am so glad I let myself be talked around because the first 28km of the journey, from Okaihau to Mangungu, was an absolute buzz.
As we pedalled through farmland, alongside waterways and beneath groves of native trees, initially I was sparing with the electricity but, the moment I hit an incline or a headwind, I opened up the throttle. Curiously, I felt no guilt whatsoever.
Entering historic Mangungu — the signing of the Treaty of Waitangi had its largest turnout here, with 3000 in attendance — we rode to the rickety wharf where the Ranui was waiting. A darling addition to the Hokianga tourism scene, the Ranui is a classic 32ft vessel built in 1945.
Designed to lift the spirits of servicemen returned from the war, today she's available for scenic tours and cyclist transport. All aboard, bikes and all, we chugged across the harbour and filled our faces with scones while skipper Craig filled our heads with history.
Making landfall at Kohokohu — over the years the poor town has burnt down three times — we took a route we'd never have dreamed of on regular bikes. Tackling Rakautapu Rd, we boosted our way through the bucolic countryside; up relatively steep unsealed roads we climbed, the captivating contours of the north spread out beneath us, a collage of rural bush and blue bays.
A short ferry ride to Rawene, we were deposited in Opononi for the day's last leg, a ride to South Head for sunset. As we gazed on the headlands of the Hokianga, our tour leader Rob conjured up Kupe, the great navigator and, as we stood above that vast ocean our imaginations roamed and Rob shared karakia and waiata as day gave way to dusk.
The Copthorne Resort in Omapere sure knows how to turn on the morning charm, and a swim beneath a blushing sky, the moon still high, was the perfect way to start the day before joining Lenny Neara from Awesome Adventures for a two hour jet ski safari.
I'd happily have hooned around the Hokianga Harbour for longer, zooming along on those powerful machines, stopping to listen to tales of war heroes, buried waka and Opo the doomed dolphin but our e-bikes were calling, it was time to tackle another stretch of the Twin Coast Trail.
From Okaihau to Kaikohe and ultimately Opua, along the generously proportioned Lake Omapere we rode, the fragrance of warm bracken and fresh water hung in the air. Through Kaikohe, a quick pitstop at the lovingly restored Left Bank, then round the back of sleepy Moerewa where dead willows resembled something from a German impressionist painting.
To finish the day on a high note, dinner at Sage — the superb restaurant at Paroa Bay Vineyard — was an utter delight. Set high above the bay, a montage of islands adorned the horizon and, the sky turned on another spectacular sunset, as the melange of blues, pinks and orange resolved in the squid ink of night.
Giving the bikes (and our bottoms) a rest, day three was all about walking. The Mahinepua Peninsula Track (6km, 2-hour loop) begins on unspoilt Mahinepua Beach and, as magpies sang and seagulls swooped for kahawai, our effervescent tour leader Tracy reminisced about training here for the Great Wall of China Marathon.
Sections of steps have been constructed to protect pa sites and middens, but they also give the thighs a good workout, while the eyes are treated to spectacular views. Gazing across to Cape Brett and the Cavalli Islands, the water was so clear you could almost see fish.
Walk number two took us to Totara North, the heritage settlement that once boomed with industry — kauri logging and boat building — but today it's a sleepy little nook. Heading for The Duke's Nose via the Wairakau Stream Track (5.6km one way), puriri and nikau, pohutukawa and ponga all flourish.
As fantails fluttered and cicadas sung, we stopped halfway for a dip with dappled sunlight overhead; our toes felt for the subtle seams of hot springs. Post-picnic, we strode on to Lane Hut where the real work began. This is a steep climb and the final ascent involved a metal bar bolted into rugged rocks. Hand over hand, we hauled ourselves to the top, sweat cascading from every pore, the sense of achievement at the plateau worth every drop, the magnificent Whangaroa Harbour spread out below us.
But time, tide and water taxis wait for no man and, once back at sea level, we motored to Whangaroa. In spite of being sticky and weary, we had just enough puff for one last climb, the third course of our walking feast — a hike to the top of St Paul's, an ancient volcanic plug where we were served one last helping of delectable views. Acknowledging the gravitas of the moment, Rob shared some legends of the land, we remembered those who'd walked before us and, breathing in the mauri of the moment, we gave thanks for having been served such a smorgasbord of delights.
Northland Experiences offer fully supported 2-7 day itineraries as well as bespoke tours.