WHY VISIT AHIPARA?
To have fun of course! Sitting at the southern end of the world famous Ninety Mile Beach is Ahipara, an unspoiled sandy beach that curves its way up the Far North’s western shoreline almost to Cape Reinga. Renowned for spectacular sunsets, it also boasts one of the best left hand surf breaks in the world. Apart from taking time to relax and soak up the scenery, one can fish, surf, gather shellfish and go horse riding, dune riding, body boarding, kite flying and hang gliding.
Ahipara is based 14 kilometres west of Kaitaia. The first church and school was built in 1872 and was supported by several stores, a post office and a boarding house. Ahipara has a proud history of Maori settlement, gum digging and sea adventures. The name Ahipara means ‘Sacred Fire’ and this ancient fire was kept burning constantly for the village on the ground where the school is now located.
Te Rarawa is the prominent iwi in the Ahipara area. The traditional area (rohe) of Te Rarawa is described as the area from Hokianga to Maungataniwha, down through Victoria Valley River to Maimaru, across from Awanui Bridge west to Te Oneroa a Tohe (the Ninety Mile Beach) at Hukatere then down to Mitimiti and Hokianga.
Aptly named as it is the burial ground for many unfortunate ships, which can still be seen at low tide. Access to Shipwreck Bay is by road, but access to the Reef and Tauroa Point is limited and is very reliant on the tides. Low tide is the only time a car or 4x4 vehicle can manoeuvre around the rocks from Ahipara. Close by is the Ahipara Gumfields Historic Reserve and the remnants of ancient kauri forests. Bullock teams carted the gum to the beach at Shipwreck Bay for transport by sea to Auckland.
At their peak the Ahipara gumfields supported 2000 people, three hotels, and numerous shops. During the 1880s Dalmatians and Croatian immigrants arrived on the Northland gumfields. Through the 1890s more and more of these vigorous young men arrived in New Zealand and, by the 1900s there were nearly 5000 men working the gumfields. This influx resulted in over-production and in the 1950s the price for gum fell resulting in a fall in the market and the population.
Local resentment grew over this peaceful invasion by “foreigners” and a strong Gumdiggers Union was formed to lobby the Government for action to check their arrival. Locals argued that the Dalmatians worked hard, sent all their earnings out of the country, paid no tax and then left for home a few years later and New Zealand saw no return for all the kauri gum they had exploited. In addition, many of the pioneer farmers saw their source of winter income threatened, for unlike the British and Maori diggers who were individualists, the Dalmatians worked together in teams and systematically dug over whole areas, stripping them of all their gum and then moving on.
As the gumlands in the south around Auckland were converted to dairy farms, vineyards and orchards, the centre of gumdigging shifted to the Far North around Ahipara and Houhora. Today the Ahipara gumfields are still a main feature of the area. Every day quad bikes and campervans visit the area to enjoy a day of history and to see nature slowly healing after its early inhabitants stripped the ground of its kauri gum. The locals in Ahipara are trying to re-open an existing historic walking track that enters the gum sleuths that were used only 60 years ago. Local resources are being used to open a new heritage trail that covers the west coast. There are still families living in the Ahipara gumfields.