Hokianga – Guide for Backpackers


Sand Dunes, Boulders and Kauri… So Much Kauri!

Some of the largest trees you are likely to ever see are found in Hokianga. So much so, that this west side of Northland, New Zealand is more commonly known as the Kauri Coast. Sure, there is a huge emphasis on these magnificent forests, but even within Hokianga, the landscape varies dramatically. A backpacker day trip here could mean seeking out unusual boulders, navigating between trees and basalt formations, and boarding down sand dunes.

Hokianga is the area surrounding the Hokianga Harbour. The area itself is considered historically significant, as one of the first places where social history in New Zealand began. “Hokianga nui a Kupe” means “the returning place of Kupe” in the Maori language. It was named after the Polynesian navigator who was one of the founding fathers of the Maori.

What is So Special About the Kauri Trees Around Hokianga?

As soon as you pass the border into the Northland region, it’s pretty obvious that Northland loves the kauri. But why?

Kauri is one of the worlds largest trees and it is native to the north of New Zealand. Once discovered that it produces excellent quality timber and gum, kauri logging started in the 1860s. Today, there are kauri museums and shops scattered around Northland with displays of the prized furniture and logging equipment.

What used to cover the majority of Northland can now only be seen in a few forests including Hokianga. Learn more about the kauri in Why is New Zealand so Fascinated with Kauri?©

Sandboarding at North Head

Cross the Hokianga Harbour to a land of sand! We are not sure when sandboarding in New Zealand originated but we like to believe it dates back to the time of Kupe and the first Maori.

From Opononi, take an hourly boat service (in summer) over to the sand dunes at North Head and use them as your playground. The bodyboard and return transport is included for a reasonable fee. Climb and board down until your legs can’t take anymore and believe us, climbing sand dunes is a mission then take the boat back to Opononi.

The cool thing about these sand dunes is that you can board all the way into the sea! It’s something to cool you down after all that climbing.

(WT-en) Tramp at English Wikivoyage© (WT-en) Tramp at English Wikivoyage

Wairere Boulders

Towering rocks, boulders and caves form this mysterious valley at the Wairere Boulders Nature Park, just inland from Horeke. The network of walking tracks takes you passed impressive basalt boulders, native forest and the Wairere River.

There is a 1-hour loop walk through the valley with quick sidetracks to the “Dragon’s Cave” and the “Bush Pool“. You can extend your trip for an extra hour by going to the viewing platform. From here you can see across the boulder valley and all the way out to the Hokianga Harbour.©

Koutu Boulders

More boulders! This time, these are perfectly spherical boulders, or at least some of them still remain spherical. The Koutu Boulders lie on the beach between Koutu and Kauwhare.

The ancient boulders have formed on the seabed. Over time, they have risen with a softer host-rock. That host rock has eroded and released the Koutu Boulders onto the beach for us to see and have some fun photo opportunities with!©

Waipoua Forest

Just before reaching the Hokianga Harbour, State Highway 12 goes through the Waipoua Forest, home to two of New Zealand’s largest trees, Tane Mahuta and Te Matua Ngahere. Yes, that’s right, they are so impressive they have names. Seeing the two kauri trees, which are said to be more than 2000 years old, is an easy walk from the highway. There are car parks to accommodate visitors along the highway, so just keep an eye out for signs to the walks that you want to do.

  • Tane Mahuta Walk (5 minutes oneway)
  • Te Matua Ngahere (20 minutes oneway)
  • Four Sisters Walk (10 minutes oneway) – This walk is to a boardwalk surrounding four kauri tree.
  • Lookout Track (1 hour oneway) – For a longer hike, start from the Waipoua Visitor Centre and make your way to the lookout building with views over the forest and out to the coast.
  • Yakas Walk (40 minutes oneway) – The first stretch of this walk is to Cathedral Grove with a whole group of kauri, then make your way to the seventh-largest kauri in the Waipua Forest, the Yakas tree.

There is also the option to do a Waipoua night tour with a local guide who shares the natural history of these forests, as well as the cultural history of the Maori people in Hokianga. Find out more about the night tour with Footprints Waipoua on Viator and Tripadvisor.©

Waiotemarama Waterfall

The highlight of the Waiotemarama Loop Track is the 20-metre (66-foot) waterfall, seen only 15 minutes into the walk. The less-visited waterfall is by no means less spectacular! In fact, the peace and serenity make the visit more worthwhile.

For some stream crossings and zigzag climbs to views over the river gorge and kauri try extending the waterfall visit by doing the 2h30min loop walk. You can extend this walk further by doing the Hauturu Highpoint Track, which is signposted off the Waiotemarama Loop Track. However, it is a steep and demanding climb so you need to be physically fit! The whole Hauturu Track and the Waiotemarama Track combined is about 5 hours return.

To access these walks, drive along Waiotemarama Gorge Road, just off State Highway 12 near Opononi.

For more waterfall walks in New Zealand, see 12 Most Wonderful Waterfalls in New Zealand.

More Kauri Forests

If you are looking for more walks in New Zealand’s ancient forests, then there are a few more options in Hokianga.

  • Warawara Forest – The reason this forest has remained intact is because it was pretty much inaccessible to loggers. Walk through the forest via the Golden Stairs trail from Pawarenga or take a 20km (12-mile) track from Mitimiti, which goes through Warawara and Pawarenga. There is also the option to do a horse trek through the forest
  • Omahuta Kauri Sanctuary – Signposted just south of Mangamuka Bridge on State Highway 1, the Omahuta Kauri Sanctuary walk is a loop track over boardwalks to showcase the glory of the kauri
  • Puketi Forest – The locals know it as Pukati Pools. There are places to camp, hike and swim

For more things to do, take a look at the 10 Reasons to Stop in Hokianga.


Laura S.

This article was reviewed and published by Laura, editor in chief and co-founder of NZ Pocket Guide. Since arriving solo in New Zealand over 10 years ago and with a background in journalism, her mission has been to show the world how easy (and awesome) it is to travel New Zealand. She knows Aotearoa inside-out and loves sharing tips on how best to experience New Zealand’s must-dos and hidden gems. Laura is also editor of several other South Pacific travel guides and is the co-host of NZ Pocket Guide’s live New Zealand travel Q&As on YouTube.

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