Every time I go to Dargaville, I hear a whisper about some hidden discovery that would blow the collective mind if anyone got wind of it. Recently someone did. Unusual conditions on the coast revealed another shipwreck buried deep under the sand at Pouto, on the northern head of the Kaipara Harbour.

Pouto is the scene of numerous shipwrecks, and a lovely place to visit. There’s a wee campground adjacent to the lighthouse-keeper’s cottage, behind the beach, where motorhomers are also welcome. We stayed there a few years back when we took the legendary sand safari with the late Jock Wills.

Dargaville is so much more than just the Kumara Capital of New Zealand

Jock’s passing marked the end of the tours, but the memories remain of a brilliant man with a fantastic knowledge of the area’s history. Jock told us about the shifting sands of the heads and the many shipwrecks concealed there. One of the sandbars – known as The Graveyards – is thought to be the scene of up to 100 shipwrecks, although only 43 have so far been documented.

A tourist gives scale to the mysterious 20-metre olive tree at Pouto

At Pouto lighthouse, high in the shifting sand dunes, he told us that bulldozers sometimes have to remove tonnes of sand from around its entrance, or access to the building would be forever lost. From the gantry he pointed out the harbour bar, and told us how in the early days of the lighthouse’s operation, the keeper’s apprentice frequently rowed out into the churning seas to find the latest safe entrance. At his signal, the lighthouse keeper would manually reposition the enormous wooden signals on land, so these could be lined up by approaching sea captains.


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