Location and Cultural History


“The Hokianga is a glimpse of something precious:

a living past, splendid in a wilderness of beauty”

Lindsay Charman, Clendon House Curator

Twelve thousand years ago, the Hokianga was a river valley. Then as the last ice-age regression rose sea levels, the Tasman Sea flooded the valley turning it into a tidal saltwater estuary that extends inland for 30km (19 miles).

Named after farewell words spoken by the extraordinary Polynesian navigator Kupe, the handsome sandy Hokianga Harbour is reputed to be the first landing point of human settlement in Aotearoa (NZ) nearly 1000 years ago. And ever since it has been a fiercely protected haven shared amongst local Māori tribes for generations – in fact most NZ Māori can trace their ancestry to the Hokianga Harbour.

Where this South Hokianga house is located on the border of Pakanae in east Opononi, with its rich alluvial flats of fine horticultural land, was the absolute heart of Kupe’s realm, which makes this is a highly distinguished location in NZ history … think of it as kind of the Mecca or Buckingham Palace of Māori lore.

Looking straight out the kitchen windows, you have perhaps the world’s best view of the steep conical hill named Whiria, which is where the Hokianga’s most famous Pa (fortified village) was located … a Pa that never lost a battle over centuries of tribal warfare. You can see on its crest a memorial to the chief Rahiri who united the local Ngapuhi tribe in the 16th century. Today at its beachfront base is the hallowed Pakanae Cemetery.

Opposite Whiria, where you would see the small Church, is our local Pakanae ‘marae’ (sacred community meeting-house) with its sacrosanct memorial to the explorer Kupe of the large anchor-stone from his massive waka (canoe) which sits with cannons at its base. So Dear Traveller, you truly would be in the absolute cradle of the origins of humankind in Aotearoa (NZ)! So do sip your cuppa looking out our kitchen window, and lose yourself imagining the history before you at this strategically perfect site – and drift back in time imagining the hundreds of people and dozens of wakas pulled onto the sand of the water’s edge. Enjoy the goosebumps!

Two hundred years ago, the first European timber merchants were welcomed into the Hokianga for barter and Kauri tree trade. But first their schooners needed to cross the treacherous harbour mouth’s shifting sand-bars, and after multiple shipwrecks, by 1830s NZ’s first pilot-service signal-station was erected on the South Head.

In the 1820s in North Hokianga’s town of Horeke (NZ’s 2nd oldest European colonization) became NZ’s leading ship-building town for a few years. Christian missionaries soon followed into the Hokianga with protestant Wesleyans (Methodists) dominating the South banks (including purchasing our adjoining Whiria hill to establish a base station) – at the same time Roman Catholicism dominated the North banks lead by NZ’s first bishop Pompallier.

For many decades the Hokianga’s principal industry was exporting timber (mostly Kauri) with individually owned mills dotted along the harbour. Then in the 1880s the giant Australian-based Kauri Timber Company swept in with money and technology, and within only thirty years the hills were mostly stripped, and the harbour trashed with sawdust – and so also began soil erosion – leaving an unemployed population in its wake.

By the mid 1870s the first local Government councilors were elected. After the 1880s there was then an epic-failure of the NZ Government when they attempted to support families settling in the Hokianga with the backbreaking task of breaking-in land, by providing them with fruit-trees to supply Aucklanders with fresh produce, which they soon realized wasn’t logistically feasible to transport fruit effectively. Consequently, by the early 1900s most small local farms were swapping to Dairy, establishing local co-op Dairy and Cheese factories.

Electricity arrived into the Hokianga by the early 1950s – before that it was all kerosene lamps, noisy diesel generators and petrol engines. Altogether it had been a century of prosperous decades. Also, in the summer of 1955-1956 Opononi was invaded by crowds of holiday-makers coming to see “Opo” a young local dolphin willing to swim and play with humans. The town mourned when she was later found dead stranded on rocks, suspected she was killed accidentally by fishermen using gelignite. Her death was reported nationwide, and she was buried with full Māori honours in a special plot next to the town hall. You can see an original statue created to honour her at the local Museum in Omapere (which due to its wear and tear was replaced with a replica statue that today lives in front of the Opononi Tavern).

In the late 1950s the local factories merged into the larger Bay of Islands Dairy Company, leading to local factory closures in the 1960s & 1970. This ended up a huge blow to the community leaving the Hokianga industry-less. During that period, with empty farms being sold for a song, Hokianga’s “Hippie Era” began with it becoming a haven for alternative lifestylers – many educated, creative and idealistic, which eventually re-enlivened the community.

Today long gone is looking out at the water to routinely see the impressive Māori wakas (massive canoes) and dozens of European sailing ships, but the Hokianga still shows off its iconic sand-dunes! These days this mix of Māori and Pakeha (Caucasian), young and old, academic & practical, conservative and way-out, born-&-bred locals and welcomed newbies, all generally respect each other’s different ways, and enjoy the low population, uncluttered beaches, sub-tropical climate, and welcome the ever-increasing Tourism.

A small piece of Paradise? We think so!

What People Say

“I love this place. Perfect in every way.”  -Ally Brown

“AMAZING!!! Totally love the views and the vibe.” -Tania Norrish

“Love the views & decor. Watching the moon rise was amazing. A very special piece of paradise!” -Warwick & Petra Hewitt

Spend your Holiday Retreat here at Onepu Moana

Visit Northland Hokianga and learn about its location and cultural history.