By Trevor Ammundsen.
My good lady and I have been on a wee holiday, travelling up north about a week ago. The purpose of the holiday was not unusual, visiting friends and just getting away for a bit of a change. Passing through the rains of Auckland, we made it to the first stop on our tour which was Mangawhai. We were to stay with friends for a few nights. Mangawhai is largely populated by disillusioned Aucklanders who have grown to realise that they went in the wrong direction when they retired. We couldn’t help but compare the two towns and the comparison was one way traffic, Whitianga just has so much compared to that little northern village. They have only two pubs worthy of the name and one is really a Pizza Parlour. The flashiest meal going was mince at the local Mexican and you cannot get a decent view of the ocean from a restaurant.
Mangawhai residents were cheered up by having rare visitors, especially so when our traditional Coromandel Good Luck ensured the election result, they were pleading for and the rugby result we were all praying for. We left our friends after the rugby, heading north to Mangonui to visit another friend who had moved north to open a Whiskey and Wine Bar with a mate. The further north we got the more alert the driver had to be; the roads were shocking. We noticed a whole lot of houses along the way had what looked like pebble gardens in front of the porch, or a new pebble driveway. It was easy to work out why, most of the new sealing on the highway had been ripped off leaving the road with multiple layers of surfacing and exposing some quite large potholes.
We had a good time in Mangonui however, most of it spent at the previously mentioned establishment. Our mate also acts as the chef and the bar staff had to drag him out of the pub next door to come and meet his visitors. Obviously, it was a quiet day, and this was noticeable, the further north you went the less the tourist numbers. Mangawhai had some visitor numbers from Auckland kids coming up to see if they could talk their parents into moving somewhere more exciting, like the Coromandel, but by the time we got to Mangonui we were virtually it.
Our intention was to loop around through Kaitaia to Rawene to take the car ferry across and head to the Hokianga Harbour. Those plans were ruined when we found that State Highway 1 south of Kaitaia had been closed for two years due to slips and damage. So, we had to back track over the rough track that now serves as the main highway before we were able to turn west to Opononi. It has been about seven years since we were last in Opononi, and we were keen to see how they had benefited from the tourist boom pre Covid and how the place had moved forward.
As our timing was just about perfect, we went into the local pub upon arrival to commence our survey. There is only one, named the Boar and Marlin. Picking up the drinks I ordered, we sat down outside, and I remarked to my lady that I thought the bar man had changed his shirt. Small changes, but still change has been recorded - lovely spot but nothing had moved on, nothing was happening. The roads were getting worse, and the place looked like a time warp which is sad for such a beautiful part of the country.
I won’t bore you with a description of the rest of the journey north as I am sure you are getting the idea. Eventually we wound up the car windows and drove through the Auckland rain to surface closer to home, heading on the well-known route across the Hauraki Plains. The rain had gone by this time, the sun was shining, and the Moehau Ranges looked beautiful and inviting. The state highway across the Hauraki Plains allowed us to drive on one surface, not a multi-layered mess.
When we arrived home, having driven around New Zealand’s Greatest Coastal Journey to New Zealand’s Greatest Coastal Village we found the place was building up nicely towards a great Labour Weekend. We had emails from Waka Kotahi informing us on the progress of roading in the area and the submissions we had made. Our state highway repair looked like it would be completed within twelve months. Hospitality venues were open, people were moving about, and the place looked as though it wasn’t in bad shape compared with other areas. We had to stop by Grace O’Malley’s for a welcome home ale and ending up having a discussion with an American tourist and overhearing a French speaking group. International tourists are creeping back and by the view of the playground, local tourists also.
Life isn’t yet perfect here in Mercury Bay, we still have a Department of Conservation we need to train, to teach commonsense and humanity too. Not perfect, but I will summarise based on the words of Fred Dagg.
So, when things are looking really bad
And you’re thinking of giving it away,
Remember Whitianga’s a cracker.
We don’t know how lucky we are mate,
We don’t know how lucky we are.
Caption: Hokianga Harbour