Roadtrips: North Kaipara

With 800 kilometres of convoluted coastline, and an area of some 970 square-kilometres, Kaipara’s harbour is the largest in the southern hemisphere. It has two great arms, one pointing north to Dargaville and the other south to Helensville.

Between these arms, hundreds of salty rivers curl their way north and east, sneaking up valleys and squeezing between crumpled hills.

Whakapirau, Pahi, Arapaoa and Tinopai are North Kaipara hamlets, on the Arapaoa River, whose many watery tendrils tightly finger-link to the land. These are quiet, close places, with houses spread around a wharf and beach.

Some hamlets have a church, most have a marae, some have a country school, and Tinopai even has a little store selling ice-cream and other essentials. What all these sweet little places share is the harbour and fishing.

Boats are anchored in the channels, launched off trailers at high tide, dinghies are pulled onto grassy banks and folk fish off wharves. Days are marked by the ebb and flow, the times when a boat can be launched, the best time to fish from the wharf, the high tide time for swimming and the low tide time for walking.

Motorhoming in the Kaipara

Sam and I have three days and a big shiny Apollo motorhome. We have time to explore and time to relax and, best of all, no set schedule. The motorhome gives us the flexibility to stop and stay where we wish and at leisure.

Leisure is the key to Whakapirau on a Sunday afternoon and a couple of other motorhomes have discovered this sleepy place and parked on the grass by the beach. We stroll to the wharf, where, due to the half tide, outgoing, there is nothing happening except for a gathering of pretty white-fronted terns, sitting on posts, busy preening themselves.

Near the wharf, a house has a fine rendering of Captain Pugwash emblazoned over the front door. The sunny north facing back deck is built on piles over high tide water. Now the dinghy loosely leased to the deck languishes in sandy mud. This is someone’s perfect piece of paradise.

Pahi, 200 metres across the river, takes 45 minutes to drive to, on roads that link to circle around another meandering finger of this great harbour. There are two heroines at Pahi. The queen of the bay is the 150-year-old Moreton Bay Fig tree, rumoured to be one of the biggest in the world at 30 metres-high (that was five years ago) and 54 metres-wide.

Kaipara _2

The other Pahi queen is not quite so old but stately none-the-less. Pahi Pub, built in 1905 as a boarding house and patronised by thirsty blokes from Paparoa and other inland ‘wowser’ towns whose God-fearing folk banned liquor, hotels and other signs of sin. Now it’s a much-loved private home.

Soon after sunrise the boat launching area almost has a traffic jam as trailers are backed into the water on the incoming-tide. Boats whizz off, down the harbour, to catch a few hours fishing.

It is, again, a long drive to Arapaoa, a dot on the other side of another Kaipara’ finger, but this dot is the place that this area of the harbour was named after. It’s a pretty drive where peninsulas, water, headlands and islands interplay in patterns of silver, blue and green.

The road ends at Arapaoa and Waihaua marae. It belongs to the iwi of Te Uri o Hau and we meet Trevor Panapa, his mother and his son, who are tidying and weeding around the church and cemetery.

The church is Ratana, a uniquely Maori version of Christianity. The symbols are a are a five pointed star (Father, Son, Holy Spirit, faithful angels and the kingdom of light) and a crescent moon that represents enlightenment.

Tinopai is on the edge of a bluff where the Otamatea River, and all its hundreds of water-filled children, including Arapaoa, rushes to join the main body of the Kaipara Harbour. Most of the action is at the wharf, where a strong ebb tide is running and two long kingfish hang in the current under the wharf, clear for everyone to see but determinedly resisting the plethora of fishing lines.

Tinopai is the end of the road but not the end of the holiday. There is a sweet but basic camping ground next to the community hall, with a stretch of sites along a waterfront beach. The Apollo is happy to rest her wheels and we are happy to spend what remains of the day watching the tide go out.

Kaipara camp grounds & accommodation

Whakapirau Beach waterfront, no amenities, CFC motorhomes and caravans only. Free.

Pahi Beach Holiday Park, water’s edge and next to the wharf and boat launching ramp, good amenities, wheelchair friendly, pets friendly and a dump station. $12 per person per night.

Tinopai Camping Ground, water’s edge and next to a boat launching ramp, average amenities but very sweet.

Read the full article in issue #131 of Motorhomes Caravans & Destinations magazine (on sale now!). Subscribe here.

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