Location: Kouto Point: off Koutu Loop Road
Access: Small parking area 100 metres down Waione Road (1 km north of Koutu); or parking area at end of Cabbage Tree Bay Road, off end of Waione Road
Length: ca. 2 km (one-way)
Grade: Flat; sand beach (may be muddy in places)
Status: off leash
Cafes and restaurants: None locally
The further we head north in New Zealand, the more dog-unfriendly the place becomes. Any place we can get a decent walk with the pooch, therefore, is welcome - and if there's something interesting to see the walk is worth grabbing with both hands.
Along the south side of the Hokianga, one of our few chances is near the out-of-the-way little settlement of Kouto. This scatter of cottages lies on the aptly named Loop Road, which branches off (and rejoins) SH12 a few kilometres north-east of Opononi. About 1 km north of the village is a side road, Waione Road, and along here is a walk that takes in some real curiosities.
There are, in fact, two ways to do the walk - from south to north or north to south. The southern route starts at a small parking area about 100 metres down Waione Road; to get to the northern route we have to drive to the end of Waione Road, and then then on to the very end of Cabbage Tree Bay Road.
If we take the southern route, the track starts by following a small stream down to the beach. There, we turn right (i.e. north) along the beach for a kilometre or so. On the way we might see odd collections of stones, arranged in the shape of small circles. The origin of these isn't clear, but it is suggested that they are traps made in the past by Maoris to catch fish. Further on, though, something even more interesting begins to catch our eye. For we see, or think we can see, larger round boulders, like huge footballs.
Don't worry, these aren't tricks of your eye or imagination, so much as tricks of nature. What we're coming across is large concretions, where rocks have literally 'grown' more-or-less where they now lie. The mechanisms by which this happened still aren't completely clear, but the best guess is that the rocks formed in sediments on a shallow ocean floor. There, as the sediment built up over millennium after millennium, chemicals in the water precipitated out around small nodules or fossils buried in the mud, more-or-less glueing the fine grains of sediment together. In the way of these things, once the process starts it tends to encourage itself - for as the nodules grew they offered a larger surface area on which more precipitation could occur. Over a million years or more huge concretions thus formed. And millions of years later, when the old seabed had been forced upwards to become land, erosion uncovered them and left them scattered for us to marvel at.
Just how big these concretions could become we can see if we walk further. In fact, the further we go along this beach, the larger they get, until we find ourselves facing huge boulders as much as 3 metres in diameter. Here and there we also see examples that have split and fallen apart; and if we inspect these carefully, we might persuade ourselves that we can see the original nodules around which the boulders grew.
This isn't the only place in New Zealand where boulders like this occur. Smaller ones can be found on another walk in this region, at Batley. The most famous, however, are at Moareki in South Island. But they are nevertheless geological oddities, and the ones at Koutu Pointare stunning enough to merit the walk. Be advised, though, it's best to do the trip at least 2 hours before or after high tide if you want to be sure of avoiding wet feet.