Waitomo to Auckland Road Trip

Marokopa Falls

South of Auckland, on the western coastline, the harbour townships of Kawhia and Raglan were once important ports prior to the advent of road and rail. Today traditional kiwi baches form the majority of dwellings but larger, architecturally designed houses verify that the west coast has become a popular lifestyle choice for many.

Our final day in the North Island dawns bright and clear. “Let’s take the back roads through Kawhia and Raglan,” says Bob, who has obviously done his research.

“What a shame,” I say, “we’ll miss Otorohanga’s wonderful kiwi house.” Bob looks suitably remorseful but clearly he’s keen to make the most of our last scenic drive in the North Island.

And so we leave Waitomo driving through a dramatic karst landscape – all rolling hills and rocky outcrops – to Haggas Lookout, where we have a clear view of Mt Tongariro, Ruapehu and Ngauruhoe. At Mangapohue Natural Bridge, we get out and hike for ten minutes to an impressive rock archway, and do the same again at the Marokopa Falls, which plunge some 30 metres down a cliff face to the valley below.

In Te Anga, we head north to Kawhia, skimming the harbour before arriving in the township itself, a thriving port in the 1850s. The sleepy village offers a couple of cafés, a general store, a takeaway, museum and it has a large wharf.

We cruise past the ancient pohutukawa tree, Tangi Te Korowhiti, where Hoturoa, captain of the Tainui waka, moored upon his arrival in New Zealand during the 14th century, and Ahurei, a small hill south of Maketu Marae, where the same vessel was later buried. Beside the carved meeting house at Maketu, we see the Kawhia home of the Maori Queen, and the site where Hoturoa established a school for 12- to 17-year-olds to teach them how to use traditional weapons.

The first European settlers arrived here in the mid-1820s setting up flour and flax mills until the land wars in 1863, which heralded an exodus of settlers from the King Country until 1881. The harbour was also once a busy port, but today it’s a peaceful backwater popular with fishermen, and wind and kite surfers, who we see gliding across the harbour.

Back in town, we eat fresh gurnard and chips from Kawhia Seafoods, then drive out to the wild ocean beach and Te Puia Springs, where we dig a hole in the sand and take a hot soak.

“I can’t believe it,” says Bob as we relax in our freshly dug pool, “there’s no-one else here!”

Sandy but rejuvenated we continue on to Raglan. We make a brief stop at Bridal Veil Falls and hike for ten minutes to see its cascading waters, then arrive in town with salty hair and sunburned faces, blending in well with local surfers who hang out on tables outside bustling cafes. We do likewise over lattés at Tongue and Groove before summoning up the energy to peruse Raglan’s wealth of studios and arty design stores including Jet, Kanuka, the Bow Street Gallery and Scintilla, and fine old buildings such as the Harbour View Hotel.

SH22 leads us north on back roads to Tuakau and we cut across to the Bombay Hills, where from the top we watch the sunset over Auckland. The golden glow of the incoming tide sweeps its way up the harbour and as day fades into night, millions of tiny lights turn on, one after the other, illuminating the shape of the isthmus below.

“Gee,” says Bob, “It’s beautiful. How can the South Island get any better than this?”