Ahipara, Ninety Mile Paradise
22 February 2023
With stretches of golden sand, rock pools and a world-renowned surf break, Ahipara is a seaside playground. Add in the sub-tropical weather, friendly locals and a dash of history, and you have an ideal holiday destination.
If Ahipara was in the UK it would surely be called Ahipara-by-the-Sea because the sea is its raison d'être. Stand inside the local shop and it's not visible; stand anywhere else and you can't miss it. In Ahipara all roads lead to the ocean. Bring your sunglasses because, in the foreground or the distance, there's always sunlight glinting on the water.
The beach is everything. Name a water sport, and you'll probably find it in Ahipara; name a beach sport, and you'll probably find it in Ahipara. William Puckey, a missionary, was land yachting here in the 1830s, and people have been doing it ever since. Surfers come from all over the world to ride the famous left-hand break. There are often horse treks on the beach, as well as fishing, swimming, beachcombing, volleyball, and cricket. It's a playground.
Sitting at the southern end of Ninety Mile Beach, the little township of 1300 permanent residents is a magnet for holidaymakers.
Known affectionately by the locals as Ninety Mile Paradise, Ahipara is sub-tropical, with hot summers and warm winters - the so-called Winterless North. Don't be surprised to see bananas growing over a hedge or big flowering cacti.
But it hasn't always been a seaside playground. There's plenty of history here. Maori history goes back centuries. Studies suggest there was human activity in the towering dunes as early as 1220. There are significant pa sites and dozens of recorded middens. Disputes eventually erupted between local iwi over land and fishing rights, notably Te Rarawa and Te Aupöuri.
Legend tells of Te Houtaewa, a famous warrior descended from Te Aupöuri chiefs and renowned for his sporting prowess. He is said to have run down the beach from Te Kao to steal kümara from Ahipara.
His speed and ability enabled him to outrun his pursuers and escape home again, but his bravado didn't help relations between the tribes.
An annual marathon down the beach, ending at Ahipara, commemorates Te Houtaewa's run. It's reputedly the only marathon in the world that is conducted entirely on a beach. So if you're looking for a nice flat easy marathon, sign up for the Te Houtaewa Challenge, but be warned, runners usually face a headwind.
European history tells of Tasman, Cook, and De Surville all in the vicinity. De Survilles anchor (lost on the other coast) is on display in the nearby Museum@TeAhu. It's the oldest European artifact in the collection. Te Ahu, in Kaitaia, is worth a visit. It has a beautiful atrium, a splendid little museum, free Wi-Fi, tourist information, and coffee. It also has a cinema which is open at weekends and during school holidays.
Ahipara plateau was significant during the years of the kauri industry. There was a productive gum field up there with a flourishing township supporting up to 2000 workers.
Today it is a bleak, scrubby landscape. The dance halls, shops, and accommodation have all vanished. Even the holes and other relics of the industry are disappearing under the gorse and manuka. It's hard to believe there was a bustling community here a century ago.
At that time, bullock teams were used to deliver sacks of gum to Ahipara Bay, where lighters took them out to cargo ships and returned with provisions and supplies. It was a handy place for pick up and drop off, but it wasn't always safe. Nearby is Shipwreck Bay, where The Favourite, a 59-ton paddle steamer, came aground and was wrecked in 1870. Parts of the steamer can still be seen at low tide, hence the name: Shipwreck Bay.
Today Ahipara is not a site of tribal warfare, bustling industry, or tragic shipwrecks. It sits quietly beneath a prominent hill, (Whangatauatia Maunga, part of the locals' pepeha), a curious mix of old baches and smart new housing.
The biggest excitement in recent years was when a local became suspicious of a group of Aucklanders who asked him to help launch their boat. His tip-off to police led to New Zealand's biggest methamphetamine haul.
To reach Ahipara you'll drive about 15km west from Kaitaia, passing two local vineyards on the way - Okahu Estate and Waitapu Estate. Check their websites for details if you'd like to call at the cellar door or look for their award-winning wines in local supermarkets.
You know you've reached Ahipara when you see the charming little school with its border of palm trees and a wave of colourful fish swimming over the fence.
Drive anywhere, and the chances are pretty high of meeting a dog snoozing on the verge or two cars stopped in the middle of the road so the drivers can chat. Wild horses have slowly migrated over the hill from Herekino and can be seen browsing the foreshore or nibbling at people's gardens.
Turn left at the school and you'll pass Ahi-para Horse Treks and Roma Road before you reach the foreshore. Ahipara Horse Treks cater for all abilities. Just two minute's ride from the beach, they offer sunset treks and swim treks as well as regular hour-long rides. Book ahead, as they get busy.
St Clements Anglican Church, just a few metres down Roma Road, is nearly 150 years old. Opened by local missionary Joseph Matthews in 1874 it was built from kauri and paid for by the local Māori. It's a little gem, but when I visited, it was undergoing a full restoration. Chairman of the restoration committee John Paitai said they aimed to "restore the church to its original appearance". He told me the roof is done, and the restoration is progressing on schedule. It should be completed in July. If you're in Ahipara after that it will be worth a visit.
If you're looking for classy souvenirs, stop at swamp kauri crafted by trish the Swamp Kauri Workshop on the foreshore. You'll see the sign on the side of the road. Drive in and talk to Irish. He makes exquisite bowls and platters from ancient kauri, which has been dredged from local farmland. Irish is a true craftsman and expert woodturner. His pieces highlight the beauty of the wood and make wonderful gifts. Ask him if he plays golf, and you might get some colourful stories.
The foreshore is superb for surfing (that famous left break). There are rock pools here at low tide, safe, easy fun for the littlies, and expanses of golden sand for cricket matches, picnics, or lazing in the sun.
You can hire a quad bike (if you don't mind the noise) and explore the beach on four wheels. Better still, sit back in comfort on one of the tour buses that drive all the way up Ninety Mile Beach to Cape Reinga and the lighthouse. The beach is officially recognised as a road but don't risk taking your car on the sand. The locals do this with impunity, but they know how to measure the tides and the sweep of water and the sand and the streams.
Tourists are regularly caught out and get stuck in the sand (at best) or lose their vehicles to the tide (at worst). Local Ivan Yuretich told me recently had been called on by a group of tourists whose vehicle was stuck. He went down to have a look and explained they could drive it out using speed and gears and a bit of a push, but it was beyond them. He drove it out for them as they cheered and applauded. They were lucky. Hire car contracts strictly forbid you from taking a car on the beach. Relax with an expert and take a coach tour instead.
Keep going to the end of the foreshore for public toilets and the Endless Summer Lodge backpackers' accommodation. Beyond that, you'll be driving up over the hill and down again to Shipwreck Bay or up and up to the gum field. It's a very rough road up to the gum field, and there's nothing to see when you get there. If you stop and get out, you'll be lost in no time. It's not worth the bother; stay on the shore.
Back at the school, follow the road to the right for the Ahipara Holiday Park. It has cabins, motorhome sites and plenty of room for tents. Much of the park is divided into private sections, and there's good shade. In less than five minutes, you can walk to the beach.
Nearby is the 18-hole golf club, a spectacular links course where visitors are welcome, and the views are superb. You'll likely meet trampers here or see them walking through the township because Te Araroa, New Zealand's 1000-mile path, comes down the beach from the northern tip of the country, and Ahipara is the first bit of civilisation after days of tramping on the sand. It’s an ideal place to stop for a while, take off your boots and drink coffee. North Drift café, at the junction by the school, is just the place for that. Next door is the dairy. Stock up here on picnic supplies and whatever else you need, including petrol, or splash out on a T-shirt emblazoned "Ahipara".
If you're looking for an old-fashioned beach holiday, it's worth considering this lovely little township. It has a warm sea, golden sands, and rock pools. The locals are friendly, the weather is reliable, and Kaitaia, a good service centre, is just a few kilometres down the road.
Please check the websites for full details. Some businesses may have been affected by lockdowns and covid constraints.
Article kindly supplied by NZ Today / RV Lifestyle Magazine
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