Boulders, Sea Monsters and Fairies – Discovering The West Coast Of the North Island Of New Zealand
Heather Markel, Writer, Speaker, Photographer, Traveler, Business Strategist
More to see in New Zealand’s Northland.
This was not my first trip to the West Coast of the North Island. My wonderful hosts, who I now consider friends, took me and my former American neighbors, Jess and Aaron, for a day a few months ago. However, we didn’t get to explore the koutu boulders, something I have been eager to do ever since hearing about their perfectly round shape.
I was gifted with new wonderful neighbors; Peter and Angela, a couple from the UK. They kindly did all the driving and wouldn’t even let me chip in for gas. The drive out to the west coast, from Kerikeri, is only about an hour and a half. Along the way, you’ll see rolling hills, and, more importantly, tons of cows! (Quite frankly, it’s hard not to see cows when traveling through New Zealand, which, I think, is one of its best features.)
We started our day with a brief visit of the Arei-Te-Uru Recreation Reserve. (A, on the map above). According to legend, there used to be two sea monsters here. Many ships have gone down, and there’s a beautiful story about a ship with the bodies of 400 dead Chinese citizens, on their way back to China to be buried, that was shipwrecked. Maori people found their bones ashore, and held a burial ceremony for them. The reserve is beautiful to walk around with stunning views and lots of manuka trees as you walk.
Finding The Boulders
Of course, the most exciting part of the day, for me, was our next stop, the Koutu boulders. (B, on the map above). Located in Opanoni, we were given the following instructions to park, which might be helpful if you one day go: “Drive around Koutu Loop Road, through the settlement of Koutu, and from where the seal (paved road) ends another kilometer will bring you to Waione Road on your left. Drive about 100 metres along Waione Road past the Macrocarpa trees on the corner, and park on the left near the old cattle yards. From there walk along the beach. The further you walk the bigger the boulders get.”
Know Before You Go
It must be low tide. The reason I couldn’t visit the boulders on my first trip is because of the tide. They’re only visitable during low tide, so you have to time your visit within 2 hours before or after low tide. Click here for a great website to consult to arrange your timing.
Be prepared to walk. (But, the walk is easy.) This is a great activity for people of all ages and fitness levels. You just walk along a beach. However, be prepared to spend at least an hour, or more. When we first arrived, using the instructions above, we didn’t see any boulders and thought we were wasting our time. We chose to walk to our right, good choice! Within about 10 – 15 minutes we found the boulders. We took some photos, and were highly impressed that they were almost as big as us – all two of them. Thank goodness, we didn’t stop there. The further we walked, the bigger, and more impressive the boulders became. But, you can’t see them until you get to them. So, carry onwards! You’ll appreciate the low tide because it’s the fact that you can walk along the beach, rather than scramble across rocks, that makes them an easy walk.
It’s relaxing. I was stunned to find that we were the only people on the beach. When we left, two other people were starting their walk. Even outside Covid, it’s not a hugely touristy site, so it’s perfect if you want some peace and quiet. Be warned, if it’s sunny, you will want to sit on that beach forever. But, you can’t because the tide will come in!
“A blend of stunning geology and landscape.”
Where To Eat
After that walk on the beach, you’ll be hungry! The town of Opononi (point C on the map) has a small town with several food options. There’s a proper restaurant, in the local hotel, but their fish and chips are ridiculously expensive. There are a few shops, but I went with locals and they took me to Opo (named after the famed dolphin that graced Opononi many years ago). Their fish and chips are inexpensive and the portions huge. (Warning – don’t eat like this every day or you won’t be able to find your waistline.) I’ve tried the plain fish and chips, and the fish sandwich. The latter comes with tartar sauce but no chips, and the former comes with chips but no ketchup or tartar sauce. (You can pay extra for both.) They also offer fried fish, inluding the puau and mussels. On Saturday morning, there’s a small market, so the town is much more crowded than during the week.
Enjoy the fish and chips…just not every day.
Photo by Heather Markel, Copyright 2020, All Rights Reserved.
A Word On Opononi
What put this town on the map is a beloved dolphin named Opo. She arrived at the town the summer of 1955 and was a delight to everyone because she swam among swimmers, tossed beach balls and traveled along with boats. New Zealand mourned her passing in March, 1956. She’s buried in front of the South Hokianga War Memorial Hall. There’s a statue commemorating Opo which was made in 1960, and, in 2012, replaced with a bronze replica. The original sculpture is at the local museum. Note – if you’re short, or vertically challenged, you won’t be able to get a great photo of the statue. The one below was taken standing on the bench next to it. If you go to the restaurant walkway, you might get more of the statue in your photo, though from farther away.
Our final stop of the day was the Wairere boulders. These are not round, but they’re huge. The only issue was time. There’s an honesty box at the entrance and as soon as we walked down the path and saw the suggested hiking times, we realized we’d have to leave this for another day. I plan to return to find all the fairy houses, AND it appears they have Highland cows, so yep, that’ll be on my “must return” list! In just the few minutes we were there, however, it was clear that this is a beautiful place worth a few hour’s visit.
This is a fabulous set of activities that can be done in one day, if you only spend loads of time in one place, or in two days, if you want to enjoy each location more fully.
Highlights of Northland’s West Coast
Opononi – fish and chips and dolphin sculpture
Arai te Uru Nature Reserve
Where To Eat
Opo Fish and Chips – Opononi