» Travelogue New Zealand: Opononi, Waipoua Kauri Forest

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Oct 23

Opononi won't let us go & Visiting the God of the Forest

After it's been lashing down the whole night and morning it's brightening up again, the sea at Doubtless Bay starts shining turquoise. Light gives and takes the colours, the sea is rough today. Mindful of Pete's advice we drive back along SH10 towards the Bay of Islands – he told us it was more scenic and vastly better to drive and there would happen less accidents than on SH1. Passing Kerikeri we reach SH12 and have a stop in Kaikohe. The Hub of the North doesn't appeal much to us so we just buy some groceries and move on.

Opononi Opononi · more Opononi pictures more pictures

We continue driving until we arrive in Opononi at the West Coast and we love this place: A little village at Hokianga Harbour with a Four Square Store with a petrol station, a fish'n' chips shop and a wooden wharf. When we arrive the sky is foggy grey but in an instant sunlight turns the sand golden and the sea turqouise. We enjoy the breathtaking panorama with magnificient golden sand dunes, rocks and hills in every shade of green. The light is playing with the scenery. It's glistening. Shining. It's beautiful. Some cars park at the roadside, some local youths congregate there and travellers take a break to enjoy the view. We stroll around and enjoy ourselves. The servings of fish'n' chips are enormous. People are eating outside with their faces in the sun and in high spirits, while some seagulls are waiting for their share.

Opononi Memorial for the beloved dolphin Opo · more Opononi pictures more pictures

There's a memorial for Opo, the friendly dolphin, who played here so confidently with children and other bathers from 1955-56 in a way that hasn't yet been reported about any other wild living dolphin. Opo was first sighted by local fishermen in 1955, swimming behind their boats. They found that the female dolphin loved to be scratched with an oar. She jumped around the boats and followed them to the shore where she played with the children – the smaller ones could even take a ride on her back. She loved playing with a ball as well, and no one was ever hurt. In 1956 at midnight on the 8th of March a law for Opos protection was established. When the dolphin didn't appear as usual on that day a search was started and on the following day during low tide Opo was found dead in a rock crevice. Locals think the dolphin had been attacked with gelignite blast which was used for illegal fishing. The story caused sorrow all over the country and still causes controversy today. Opo's grave is in front of the R.S.A. hall.

We leave Opononi and hope to find a place near Waipoua Kauri Forest for our next overnight stay. Immediately behind the village we follow a street which leads to a lookout from where you have a gorgeous view to Hokianga Harbour. Continuing along SH12 we stop at the visitor centre and buy a map of Waipoua Forest – New Zealand's largest subtropical rain forest which is also home of the oldest, largest and mightiest remaining Kauri trees. Meantime, it's pouring down. Nevertheless, we want to see Tane Mahuta, the God of the Forest. We're wearing good rain clothes and the tree is just a 5 min. walk from the street. With a total height of 51.2 metres it is the tallest living Kauri tree in New Zealand. Its trunk girth is 13.77 m and its age is estimated to be between 1200-2000 years. It's a giant! We think it's a pity that the tree is so far away from the boardwalk, because we hoped we could touch the trunk. As if the tree knew, a tear out of rain drops from his crown onto my face :-) The boardwalks in the kauri forests give shelter to the sensitive roots of the trees. Sometimes the paths nearly lead through the tree-tops.

Waipoua Kauri Forest SH12: No passing with a campervan · more Waipoua Kauri Forest pictures more pictures

We move on, trying to find a place for the night. SH12 is very narrow here, straitened by the lush and dense native bush. Because of the weather, the humidity is very high and the air is misty – it's how I've always imagined a rain forest. Then a huge tree trunk across the road, a small vehicle worms it's way beneath it but there's no chance of passing with the campervan. We turn which is quite tricky with a vehicle length of 6.6 m – and drive back. There's hardly an opportunity to stop on the way and we arrive back in Opononi, where we stay at a car park by the sea overnight. Some other travellers seem to be in the same situation and park here as well, although there's a sign saying overnight staying isn't allowed. Apparently the locals don't mind.

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