Jumping Out of a Motorboat, Into a Dune Buggy

Omapere from Hokianga's dunes.
View of Omapere from Hokianga Harbour's dunes.

Some of my favorite moments in travel are when I feel like Bond. James Bond. The movies are always set in exotic locations, and he always checks into swank hotels, with his tuxedo ready for a night at the casino, that inevitably will turn into an exciting chase and battle scene that will make you wonder how the tux will ever survive.

Today I jumped on a motorboat and was whisked across a windy bay with the sun glinting merrily off the water and a strong wind blowing. At the other side Andrew Kendall waited next to a classic 1966 vintage VW-powered dune buggy. Behind him stood the giant dunes of Hokianga, four acres of khaki colored sand, formed into intriguing shapes by the harsh winds. It was part Namibia and part Grand Canyon.

I jumped into the passenger’s seat, (no doors, of course) and we zoomed off down the sand. The rear-wheel powered fiberglass craft easily navigated the soft sand, while Andrew steered toward the harder packed areas, since even with his half-inflated tires, he’d get stuck in the soft stuff. We climbed to the top of the big dune and a panorama awaited.

This part of New Zealand is called the Far North, the whole region is Northland, but here, where jobs and gas stations are far and few between, is the true ancestral home of New Zealand’s Maoris. Andrew told me that in his culture, you don’t introduce yourself by what you do, or who you are, but rather, where you’re from and who your father and your grandfather were.

He said that his wife spends most of the week working at a job outside of Auckland. They take in guests in their rural home, in Miti Miti, about twelve kilometers up the far side of this remote beach. To get gas and supplies they have to drive 84 km to the nearest bigger town.

Despite the remoteness of his location they do get guests who enjoy being out near the beach, and he’s making a go of his Sand Trails excursions, taking guests on wild dune buggy jaunts over these sand hills. Despite the difficulties, like many of his neighbors, he would never live anywhere else than this far, far north. It’s where his ancestors came from, and that’s an important thing to many of New Zealand’s native people.

View a photo gallery of the Dunes