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Head toward the beautiful western coast and the spectacular Hokianga Harbour. We should probably give thanks to a depressed rural economy for the unspoilt beauty of harbour. Instead of high-rise resorts and other such eye-sores, you eyes will appreciate the harbour-side sand dunes (300m) which are interspersed by small rural settlements and simplistic buildings.
The direct route on SH1 southward from Kaitaia will take you through Victoria Valley followed by the beautiful Mangamuka Forest, turn off at Mangamuka Bridge and head to Te Karae and finally on to Kohukohu. Alternatively, you can take the longer route off SH1 which will take you through Ahipara, a coastal town which is locally famous for its gumfield sand dunes. You can have a go on a sand toboggan or quad-bike or dig in the sand for treasures like kauri gum and moa crop stones. Next stop en route is Herekino for a true backcountry experience. The main attraction here is the authenticity of the rural locals, their friendliness and a real local pub. Back on the road and heading south, you'll pass through Awaroa, Broadwood and then turn off toward Te Karae which will take you on to Kohukohu.
Kohukohu is a quaint town with several preserved kauri buildings such as the old school and Masonic Lodge which date back to the 19th century. With the harbour so close it's a good place to take a breather, enjoy the company of the alternative-lifestyle locals. If you've got more energy to burn Kohukohu is also good for mountain-biking and kayaking.
Take the ferry from Kohukohu and head to Rawene. Despite its' waterfront location the mudflats here spoil its swimming potential. Historically the town has much more to offer. Clendon House is a must. This building now over 150 years old (ancient by Kiwi standards) was originally built by James Reddy Clendon, the first consul from the US in NZ. He acted as a witness to the signing of the infamous Waitangi Treaty in 1840 which took place at the nearby Mangungu Mission in Horeke (3km west). It's worth the little detour, not only for its historic relics but also for the view over Hokianga Harbour.
From Rawene, you'll enjoy the drive to Opononi and Omapere. A favourite spot with local tourists, you'll see plenty of the traditional holiday bachs at these beach resorts. At Opononi, the walls themselves are historic treasures. The rock ballast from which they are formed originally belonged to ships which were sailed away from Sydney by convicts. At Opononi Hotel you'll see a statue dedicated to a visitor who came to stay welcomed with opened arms. This playful, wild but tame, dolphin swam with children and performed tricks with beachballs. Unfortunately 'Opi', or so she was called, died a mere 8 months later. She was mourned by all, not only because she was a tourist attraction but also because many believed that she'd been blown up illegal dynamite fishing. You can watch this legend in action on video at the Hokianga Visitor Information Centre.
There are several walks, (both long and short) available in the area. A short 1/2 hr climb will take you up to Mt Whiria where you will stand upon an unexcavated pa or fortified village while enjoying spectacular views over the harbour. Alternatively, you can do the longer Waitemarama bush track which climbs to Mt Hauturu (680m/6hr return/4hr). You can also do the old Waoku coach road or Six Foot track in the area. For more information, good old DOC is ready and able to help you.