Kawhia is a tranquil, coastal town beside the 6000-hectare Kawhia Harbour at the end of State Highway 31, west of Waitomo and Otorohanga.
Kawhia is one of the few coastal villages in New Zealand which has retained a nostalgic, "good-old-days" charm. It's an hour's drive from Hamilton, two hours from Auckland, and 45 minutes from Te Awamutu or Otorohanga. For some travelers, the hill road is a beautiful but formidable drive; although it's sealed and well formed, it shouldn't be hurried. You'll have time to admire the view across Kawhia Moana, "the Sea of Kawhia", from the top of the hill. Another popular route is the scenic back road from Raglan - with intriguing coastal and bush views as you skirt Mount Karioi and Aotea Harbour. (Allow an hour between Raglan and Kawhia Harbour).
For Maori of Tainui descent, Kawhia is of special significance. Tradition has it that the Tainui waka arrived in Kawhia Harbour in the 14th century and was hauled ashore where Maketu Marae now stands. Kawhia was also one of the first places where Europeans settled in New Zealand.
The Kawhia area offers harbour trips, bush walks, kayaking, yachting and fishing . There is an excellent boat launching ramp, a fishing wharf with boat-boarding pontoon attached and sand flats which yield fat flounders.
On your Kawhia visit be sure to make time to dig your own hot pool on the beach at the Te Puia Natural Hot Springs. When the tide's low, you can sit in a hot pool dug in the black sand on Ocean Beach. Follow the signs to Ocean beach, drive to the end of Te Puia Road and walk over the sand dunes. The Hot Springs can also be reached by walking along the beach from the boat ramp on the south side of Kawhia township. You have two hours on either side of low tide to dig a pool. (Check websites for tide charts). Watch for warm water running gently out of the sand or bubbles and steam rising, sometimes accompanied by a sulphurous smell. Then dig a shallow pool and trap the warm water with walls of dug-out sand.
(Ask the locals for the best location and time and take a shovel or spade to make the digging easier! Take care in fine weather to wear shoes of some kind - the dry black sand becomes very hot on sunny days).
Phone 07 871 0161
SH31, approx 45 minutes from Otorohanga+ visit website
Ruakuri Scenic Reserve
The Ruakuri Bushwalk is a beautiful loop track (30 minutes return) through limestone outcrops, caves, tunnels and native forest. The track descends into the Ruakuri Natural Tunnel - for sheer beauty and stunning glowworm displays take a torch and do an evening walk.
Tumutumu Road (4km west of Waitomo Village)+ visit website
Drive west from Waitomo Caves Village to the spectacular Marokopa Falls. A short walk through native forest from a car park on the Te Anga Road leads through lush forest to the 35-metre high falls cascading over a magnificent greywacke bluff. The Marokopa Falls (often described as some of the most beautiful in NZ) can be viewed from a platform at the end of a short track through nikau and tawa forest.
Pureora Forest Park
Pureora has magnificent native forest walks including the Waihora Lagoon Track (30 minutes) Totara Track (30 minutes) Waihaha Track (3 hours) Arataki Track (3 hours) and Mt Titiraupenga Track (8 hr return to Link Rd car park). 10 tracks are available within the forest park.
Otorohanga 'Kiwiana Town'
Otorohanga has long been home to the Otorohanga Kiwi House & Native Bird Park, a wildlife sanctuary dedicated to the conservation and breeding of Kiwi and a host of other endangered NZ birds & reptiles. Not surprisingly, Otorohanga became known as the 'Kiwi Town' and it was a logical move to adopt the Kiwiana theme and claim the 'Kiwiana Town' title!
Today Otorohanga's main street (Maniapoto Street / State Highway 3) is full of Kiwiana memorabilia. (Even the Public Toilets are Kiwiana-themed inside and out!)
Pride of place, however, goes to the Ed Hillary Walkway in the middle of town. It's a gallery-style arcade connecting Otorohanga's main shopping street (Maniapoto Street/State Highway 3) and the heritage-listed Otorohanga Railway Station (now the home of Origin Coffee Roaster & Espresso Bar). It's a fitting tribute to that most iconic of Kiwi heroes, Sir Edmund Hillary.
The Walkway is lined with Kiwiana display cases depicting everything from Pavlova (a NZ invention commonly disputed by Australia!) the ANZAC Story, School Milk and Sir Ed Hillary to the All Blacks, Team NZ and Aunt Daisy.
"...In the main street adorned with colourful floral baskets, it was time to check out the Ed Hillary Walkway opened by Lady June Hillary in December 2008. In keeping with Otorohanga's Kiwiana theme, the walkway encases iconic New Zealand memorabilia behind glass panels to view as you stroll. There are buzzy bees, boot polish, All Blacks and the great man himself speaking via video. It was wonderful to hear that distinctive voice again and even though Sir Ed was not an Otorohanga boy, the town has paid him a fitting tribute. There is still much discussion about the best way to honour New Zealand’s treasure of a man and Otorohanga has gone and done it."
Bonnie Tucker – Eclipse magazine
Waikawau Beach Tunnel
Access to Waikawau Beach is through the Waikawau Beach Tunnel. The short tunnel was formed by 3 employees of the Works Department using picks and shovels and finished in 1911. It opened the beach route for stock to reach Nukuhakere Station and was built wide enough for the largest horned beast and high enough for a tall horseman.
Directions: From Waitomo drive west along Te Anga Road. Turn left at Te Anga towards Marokopa, Kiritehere and Waikawau. Turn right into Waikawau Road and drive 4.4 kilometres to the end.
The Timber Trail
The Timber Trail cycle way is a stunning 85 km cycling adventure from Pureora Forest Park Village (off State Highway 30 between Te Kuiti and Mangakino) to Ongarue near Taumarunui. The full trail is a 2–3 day ride on easy and intermediate gradients and surfaces - it varies from flat smooth track with some gentle climbs to steep slopes in places.
(At Pureora Forest Village there are Department of Conservation campsites and cabins available plus beautiful bush walks in the area).
Trail sections vary from 5–45 kms in length with:
- 35 bridges, including 8 impressive suspension bridges (the longest is 141 metres)
- Magnificent native forests of massive totara, rimu, kahikatea, miro & matai trees & wonderful birdlife
- Historic bush tramways including the Ongarue Spiral (an engineering marvel) & newly built tracks
- Panoramic views
- Historic timber-milling sites to explore
Pureora Forest, State Highway 30+ visit website
Drive west from Waitomo for breathtaking views of Marokopa Village on the dramatic West Coast. There's wonderful fishing and swimming, panoramic views of the Marokopa River mouth south of the village and an old Maori pa site, Puketoa.
West of Waitomo on Marokopa/Mangatoa Roads
"Running of the Sheep" - Te Kuiti
It's the largest Sheep Run in the world! In a quirky Kiwi version of the Pamplona Bull Run, Te Kuiti lets loose about 2000 sheep to run down the town's main street. The annual "Running of the Sheep" is usually held the weekend after Easter each year and is part of The Great New Zealand Muster, Te Kuiti's celebration of its status as "The Sheep Shearing Capital of the World". It's a traditional Kiwi Country Fair with shearing contests, sideshows, fairground rides, food stalls, live music, local arts and crafts and up to 100 stalls and exhibits - a free, fun event for the whole family!
Mangapohue Natural Bridge
The Mangapohue Natural Bridge walking trail on Te Anga Road west of Waitomo is a highlight on the scenic drive to Marokopa on the West Coast. A boardwalk through an impressive limestone gorge leads to the Natural Bridge, a spectacular 17 metre-high limestone arch spanning the Mangapohue Stream and all that remains of an ancient cave system.
A loop track (20 minutes return) passes under the bridge and continues over a farm trail. Look out for 25 million year old fossilised oysters exposed in the limestone outcrops. At night there are wonderful glowworm displays.
Te Anga Road (25 km west of Waitomo Caves Village)+ visit website
Stroll along the beach at Kiritehere south of the Kiritehere Stream to see sandstones containing fossilised clams, mussels and scallops. The rocks are unusually tilted in the same direction (evidence of seafloor movement following ancient earthquakes) and the surfing is a "best kept secret"!
Soundy Road, Marokopa