The small resort of OPONONI runs almost seamlessly into the equally small resort of OMAPERE, comprising little more than a roadside string of houses spreading 4km along the southern shore of the Hokianga Harbour, with great views across to the massive sand dunes on the north side.
Kiwis of a certain age can tell you about Opononi and the summer of 1955–56 when a wild bottlenose dolphin, dubbed "Opo", started playing with the kids in the shallows and performing tricks with beach balls. At the time dolphin-watching trips were decades away. Christmas holidaymakers jammed the narrow dirt roads; film crews were dispatched; protective laws were drafted; and Auckland musicians wrote and recorded the novelty song Opo The Crazy Dolphin in a day. Their tape arrived at the radio station for its first airing just as news came in that Opo had been shot under mysterious circumstances. No one ever took responsibility, but amid the national mourning the song became a hit anyway.
Opononi has dined out on its fifteen minutes of fame ever since, though the only concrete reminders are a statue of Opo in the car park outside the Opononi Resort Hotel and her grave next door outside the War Memorial Hall. To get a sense of the frenzied enthusiasm for Opo, head to Omapere where the local museum inside the visitor centre shows a short video in classic 1950s-documentary style.