It's been four days since my baptism of fire (or should that be sand?) on the Tour Aotearoa (TA) and yet it feels like it could be four weeks. It still amazes me how much can happen in just one day on the road so here's the lowdown of my journey from Apihara Bay to Murawai Beach.
It was overcast and humid as I hit the road out of the holiday park the morning after my ninety mile beach experience. The chocolate milk of the previous day must have worked recovery wonders overnight as my legs felt good as the hills began out of Apihara. The same however could not be said for BB as there was an awful crunching and grinding noise coming from the cranks in every uphill pedal stroke that made me cringe. I'd washed her as best as I could after the beach but it seemed that we'd be carrying more than just memories of the beach with us for a while yet.
Having ridden this twenty mile stretch earlier on my way northward to Cape Reinga, I switched off and settled into the pace of the ride. Passing Broadwood I headed off-road and onto the gravel track that would take me up and over to KohuKohu. The next few hours passed in a blur of beautiful views and winding, flowing fun. I was treat to five minutes of damp drizzle by the passing clouds which was a true delight in the sticky, humid heat of the day.
Descending into KohuKohu I popped into the shop to fuel my growing desire for chocolate milk. Cold, calcium healthiness with a hit of chocolately naughtiness - I can see this becoming an addiction already, haha! Riding on towards the ferry a sign caught my eye for New Zealand's oldest footbridge. Investigating, I found two women reading the sign beside the smallest, saddest little footbridge. My thrilling daily taste of culture over, I realised that New Zealand is named 'New' for a reason - their oldest footbridge was dated from 1840.
Catching the ferry to Rawene I headed west towards Opononi and to the mouth of the Hokianga. The clouds had long since disappeared and the sun was searingly hot as I rode along the highway. It was worth pedalling the extra fifteen miles though as it was a wonderful place to stop for the day. Feeling like a horrible sweaty, sun lotioned, gravel dusted mess it was a joy to go for a swim and wash off the grime of the ride.
Another day dawned and it was a tough mornings ride. Climbing out of Opononi offered fantastic views of the Hokianga but that was only the beginning of what was to come. Taking a pit stop in Waimamaku to grab some fruit, I sat outside the Four Square store and munched on an apple for my second breakfast of the day. Beside me was a bearded local dressed in high vis eating a meat pie and so I struck up a conversation to find out more about the region I'd been riding through. Throughout my riding in the North here I had seen only a glimpse of any local industry and that was mainly cattle. I could count on one hand the number of sheep I'd passed and there didn't seem to be any visible significant fishing industry along the coastline and so I asked the pie man what kept people in work in the area. In a nutshell it's forestry, which would make sense considering I was about to ride through Waipoua Forest but the cattle I'd seen were actually dairy cattle and making honey was also one of things he mentioned which explained the roadside bee hives I'd been seeing over the last few days. He told me that the logging industry was struggling and slowing down due to the majority of the wood being exported to China which is a problem because of the coronavirus. Leaving him to finish his pie in peace I continued onto what seemed like an endless uphill struggle for the next few hours into Waipoua Forest. Here I visited New Zealand's largest Kauri tree, Tane Mahuta. In Maori cosmology Tane is the son of Ranginui the sky father and Papatuanuku the earth mother. Tane tore his parents apart, breaking their primal embrace to bring life, space and air and allowing life to flourish. Tane, lord of the forest is the life giver and all living creatures are his children and it is estimated that he is over two thousand years old. A photograph really doesn't do it justice because you just cannot see the scale of him, it's incredible. His trunk is fourteen metres wide and he is just over fifty one metres tall.
What goes up, must go down and my uphill struggle was rewarded with a glorious five mile descent through the winding forest road. The afternoon turned into a gravel-fest of annoyingly long miles in the hot sun. I was starting to have a sense of humour failure from the horribly rutted terrain that was so energy sapping for both me and my speed. When I finally returned to the tarmac I was relieved and exhausted and I arrived in Dargaville at 4pm feeling rather goosed. I'd decided to get Betty checked out at the local bike shop as they're few and far between on the TA route and her cranks were still making an awful racket. For the next hour she was prodded and poked and I paced the shop like an expectant parent, no doubt annoying the hell out of the mechanic there.
Apart from having a bit of sand in the cranks she was looking good and I was just relieved to know that wherever the noise was originating from, it wasn't the bottom bracket bearings. Forty eight dollars well spent for my piece of mind but leaving the shop an hour later and still hearing the grinding felt a bit disheartening. I grabbed some supplies from the supermarket and hit the highway again to finish my last 4 miles of the day. Arriving at the Kumara Box farm campsite at 6pm this had been my latest finish in my riding so far. I felt totally cream-crackered and just wanted to put up my tent and go to bed. I was greeted by Warren and he told me to leave everything where it was and come in for a cold drink. I was ushered into the house, met May his wife and had an ice cold glass of water before I knew it. The kettle was on and a cuppa with a biscuit or two followed as we chatted about my day. I immediately felt better and they needn't have gone to the trouble, they could have just showed me where to pitch my tent and left me to it but no, they were so welcoming and generous and they made my day.
Kumara is the kiwi word for sweet potato and Warren (who strangely also goes by the name Ernie) and May had been farming kumara for 33 years. There was a large communal area, kitchen and facilities for camping and I was the only person there. Unpacking and putting up the tent I realised that I hadn't seen my flip flops. They were the first casualty of the trip, likely left in the Countdown grocery store car park when I removed them to squeeze some sandwich wraps into my saddle bag and failed to put them back on. Bummer. They were only Primani specials but they were clipped onto the rear bag with a carabiner which is also AWOL. Never mind, it could have been worse.
One of the reasons I decided to ride the extra few miles out of Dargaville to camp here (other than to escape a holiday park full of other people) was to see the treasure trove that lies within the Kumara Box. Ernie has turned a large outbuilding into a museum of anything and everything. Over the years he's collected shells and marine paraphernalia from all over New Zealand and the world and also takes people on tours and explains all about kumara. He's an inventor and collects random pieces of machinery and odds and sods. He unlocked the doors and let me loose to explore his wares.
In a thin strip of land next to one of his pastures he'd also built New Zealand's smallest church. The little chapel is furnished inside with wood from the giant kauri trees and they've had many weddings there in the past.
A bizarre but fun place run by a kind, eccentric couple, my stay at the Kumara Box was so much more interesting than a bog standard holiday park campsite and I went to bed that night feeling richer for the experience.
After a few long days I was feeling it yesterday as I left the wonders of Kumara Box behind and set out for Pouto Point. I had a ferry to catch that had been pre-booked for the 18th and missing it would not be a good thing. As I mentioned in my previous post there is a brevet event happening here on the TA route and that kicked off on the 17th. These guys aren't racing each other but they're essentially racing themselves along the 3,000km of the trail. Endurance addicts, they often ride 150-200 miles a day and I wanted to get on the ferry before the hoards of riders descended. There'll be one thousand riders in total starting the route over the next two weeks so it'll be interesting to see how it pans out for camping from now on.
Unsure of my slowing legs, I started out early as usual for Pouto Point as I knew that the last fifteen miles of the ride would be on a gravel road which would slow me down. I really didn't enjoy any of the ride to be honest. I was struggling with the hills and the heat and just hating having to commit to being somewhere at a certain date and time. That is the glory of bicycle touring for me - you're free to ride as much or as little every day without having to be anywhere at a particular time.
I needn't have worried as I ended up covering the thirty six miles in just under four hours but it wasn't the best route. It goes through the Rototuna forest which is being logged and so these huge double load logging trucks would be speeding by on the narrow track at a moments notice and leaving me coughing in a cloud of gravel dust. Let's just say that I was glad to be there three hours early and it was a beautiful end to a horrible road.
After a few hours of relaxing on the beach the brevet riders started appearing. The boat arrived and literally hovered on the beach by the lapping waves. A large metal ramp was lowered and in turn we wheeled our bikes onboard to be hauled up to the upper deck by some of the riders. The crossing was three hours and rather choppy at first but on the whole it was a very enjoyable way to pass the time chatting to the brevet riders and people from all over the world who'd come to ride the Tour Aotearoa.
Docking at Parakai it was only a few miles to the Kaipara Cruising Club where they'd opened their clubhouse for anyone who needed a place to camp for the night. Only two of the fifteen brevet riders stopped for the night so I spent the evening with Bryan and Chevonne in the luxury of the clubhouse floor - a nice respite from putting the tent up for the night. After wishing them luck as they left at 5:30am this morning I breathed a sign of relief to be heading away from the TA route today. Instead I've taken a twenty mile detour west to Murawai beach. Arriving here just before noon I knew that I was in need of an afternoon off. I was also in need of a washing machine as my riding shorts had gone stiff with muck, sun lotion, sweat, salt and everything else that the last twelve days have thrown their way. I cannot wait to put clean pants, socks, t-shirt and shorts on tomorrow, I'm going to be a new woman, haha!
Wandering towards the beach, I came across the black sands that I'd read about along the west coast of New Zealand. To me it looked a lot like just muddy brown sand and it was just along the top part of the beach by the sand dunes, but it was different nevertheless. The black sand is a magnetic iron mineral, titanomagnetite which was eroded from volcanoes in the centre of the north island and carried down the Waikito river to the Tasman Sea where it is washed up on the beaches here.
Another reason I'm here is to see the takapu colony. One of the largest in New Zealand, there are over one thousand gannet couples here on the cliffs between November and March and it was quite a spectacle to see them in all of their glory.
There were young of varying ages and it was cool to be able to get so close to them on the clifftops. I saw the adults 'kissing' each other when one returned to the nest having been out looking for food, I saw the babies being fed by their parents and watched them flapping and preening - it was great. What wasn't so great was the smell, oh my! You could smell them from the beach as you approached the steps to the cliffs, a smell of rancid fishy poo, yack.
Having just watched the sun set over the Tasman Sea it's hard to believe another day is done. Tomorrow I'm going to see how I feel before I decide what I'm doing. I may ride into Auckland or I might take another day here to enjoy the wild west sea air - the world is my oyster!
PS. Looking in the Dollar City shop today in Helensville in search of a replacement pair of flip flops I asked the guy behind the counter if he sold flip flops and he looked at me as if I was from Mars. He was Asian and so I thought he didn't understand me and so I wiggled my hands up and down as I said flip flop only to endure a longer look of bafflement. As I turned to walk away a lady in another aisle said to me, 'you need to ask him for jandals, they don't know what a flip flop is here'. I went back to the counter and asked him for jandals and he pointed to the corner. Another lesson learnt, flip flops are jandals in the weird and wonderful world of kiwis!
I nearly forgot, here's my postbox of the week.
- Number of microwave postboxes: 11
- Number of squashed possums seen (for the record they were not squashed by me): 26
- Number of dogs I've been chased by: 2
- Number of Kiwi's seen (the birds not the locals): 0
- Number of sandfly bites: 0 (and long may it continue)
- Number of factor 50 sun lotion bottles used: 1 (50ml)