Arriving in Kerikeri you are suddenly aware of stately rows of towering shelterbelt trees lining the roadside. Fruit stalls appear at regular intervals and there is a profusion of signs promoting organic produce and crafts.
Kerikeri means ‘to dig’ and early Maori grew crops of kumera (sweet potato) here. Today the rich, fertile soil and equable climate ensure that citrus and subtropical fruits thrive, especially oranges, grapefruit, mandarins, avocados and kiwifruit. Casual workers find work in the orchards throughout the year and there is a heavy demand for labour in the harvesting seasons.
Strolling down the main shopping street you sense the special charm of this town, which has become increasingly popular as a tourist stopover point. Behind the quiet facade is a very lively place that can boast a regional airport, outstanding arts and crafts, excellent shopping facilities and busy cafès and restaurants.
Kerikeri has great significance to New Zealanders as a heritage site. The pretty Kerikeri Basin below the town was the stage for the founding of our nation. Thankfully the backdrop of that stage survives in the form of a terraced pa site, a two-storey mission house and a formidable stone building. Kororipo Pa still has great mana as the original stronghold of the war-like chief Hongi Hika who guaranteed protection for the peace-loving missionaries in Kemp House, the oldest European dwelling in New Zealand. The Stone Store was the first mission storehouse and today fulfils a role as a store and pioneer museum.
Other attractions include Rewa’s Village, a reconstruction of a pre-European village and the photogenic Rainbow Falls, an easy walk up the Kerikeri River. Further afield is the superb Puketi Forest, a very worthwhile side trip, where you can view strikingly tall and straight kauri rickers from an elevated boardwalk.
A special feature of the Kerikeri district is the excellent arts and crafts trail, details of which can be obtained from the visitor centre. This is an ideal way to meet some of the interesting and talented folk in this cosmopolitan community, which has attracted people from many parts of the world.