Northland Twin Coast Cycle Trail November 2017

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As has become our habit, we set out for the Jac House after dinner on Thursday evening but this time instead of staying for another quiet and glorious weekend, staying the night was a stop over on the way to Kaikohe.  We were joined by the McLeans and Wings who also stayed the night.

We travelled in convoy to Kaikohe mainly on State Highway One but turning off on to State Highway 15 just before Whangarei. We found opportunities for coffee were somewhat sparse but discovered the quaint Cafe/pub/vintage machinery place at Parakao where the coffee and peanut brownie were at least as good as anything we have enjoyed in Auckland. A pleasant but uneventful journey….it seems ages since we have ventured this far north.

We had contact with the other Intrepids, the Pearsons, the Burtons and the Mckessars, who had arrived at the Far North Motor Inn, apparently the only accommodation in the seemingly abandoned, Kaikohe, the night before and they decided to set out before we arrived to give themselves a head start on the trail. The McKessars were very proud of their electric bikes. This weekend saw an intersecting of two cycling groups of whom we were the common denominator.

Day 1 – Kaikohe to Horeke

After a quick bite to eat we set out on the mostly down hill 42km cycle trail bound for Horeke on the Hokianga Harbour. It was a very pleasant day, the gravel track was dry and the scenery while not spectacular…more typical New Zealand with some exciting up and down bits through forest land and alongside the river.  We caught up with the shuttle driver after the three-hour ride and the other Intrepids who had arrived quite sometime before us having set out mid morning. We cycled the final few kms to the Mangungu mission site where a version of Te Tiriti o Waitangi was signed. We agreed to stay at the Horeke pub for dinner as Kaikohe reportedly had few dining out opportunities. After freshly caught fish for dinner – there were three menu options, we were regaled with a history lesson by Pete, the very proud pub owner for 20 years. This area was the location of quite a few NZ firsts – commercial ship building, postal service, murder trial, pub and second oldest town. The pub is now undergoing extensive and no doubt expensive renovations. With the completion of the cycle trail, there is the expectation that the towns and businesses around the area will thrive. We were shuttled back to Kaikohe and anxiously consulted the met service as we anticipated our second cycling day. The obliging proprietor was waiting to lock up our bikes.

Day 2 – Kaikohe to Opua, Bay of Islands

The view out the window was not good, with steady rain, but after a caucus meeting some decided to not set out at all, and the rest of us decided to cycle as planned. We were wet before we even left the accommodation and the track extremely muddy, and after a short time, so were we! It wasn’t cold, but the Pearsons turned back after a short distance with a view to trying again tomorrow!  Today’s scenery or what we saw of it, because we were all cautious, our eyes mostly fixed on the track in front of us, was again not spectacular. As on day 1, we had to stop frequently to negotiate the cycling equivalent of stiles and cattle stops, intended to stop motorcyclists we think but these mini-rests were quite welcome. We cycled over some old half buried rails along the way and a spectacular old wooden viaduct reinforced to accommodate the track. The rain cleared briefly at times but while we were chowing on loquats near Moerewa, we witnessed a potentially nasty motor accident on the road next to us – a young woman, saying that her steering wheel locked (yeah right), was distracted, hit a bridge on the side of the road, collected a fence, crossed the road and ended up in a ditch. The car was certainly a right-off, and the woman emerged from the driver’s seat seemingly unscathed and was spirited away in her mates’ car which materialised from nowhere, clutching a damaged cell phone, before the police even arrived. The young woman’s mates tried to pull the car out of the ditch with predictably no success. We wondered if the police would want to talk to us but, we carried on before anyone else came.  Jan phoned the police and described what had happened.

The Railway Cafe at Kawakawa was an oasis in the desert – it was mid afternoon and we hungrily gobbled down hamburgers, quiches, carrot cake and gallons of tea before knocking off the last 10km to Opua. We were warned to lock our bikes. I’m sure the locals are well kitted out with bikes and gear! The steady rain continued and we were quite happy to be picked up, muddy, wet but happy by Ray the shuttle driver with his 12 bike trailer, who provided us with towels to protect his newish coach. The lovely motel provider was again waiting for us to hose down the bikes and had even turned on the heaters in our rooms. We recc’ed the main street finding a not particularly prepossessing Indian takeaway with tables big enough for our party.  Despite expectations the Indian food was excellent and as usual we over ordered. Plenty of leftovers for tomorrow!

Day 3 – Homeward bound

We could have gone straight home, but the Pearsons, McKessars and ourselves decided to do a mini tour of Northland. First stop on the journey along rolling deserted roads was Rawene on the Hokianga, a very picturesque town with its landmark hospital-on-the-hill, a wonderful cafe over the water, a board walk among the mangroves and jellyfish and a very absorbing puzzle shop. We were all tempted to spend up large! The plan was to meet up again further on the road home, but in the event we did our own thing – for us a nice picnic on the hill above Opononi, tea from a road side stall at Tane Mahuta in the Waipoua Forest and a saunter along the main street of the metropolis of Dargaville.  Many of the towns we passed though with signs of previous prosperity, made us sad. We saw empty shops, rundown houses, car wrecks, abandoned schools, derelict factories and scrappy land. No sign of the trickle-down effect of the ‘rock star’ economy here. The Wairoa river was wide and muddy. Could intensive dairying be responsible? As we approached Wellsford, we decided to take the long way to the Jac House via familiar-from-cycling country roads to avoid the possible intersection-from-hell in Warkworth.

It was nice to back at the Jac House albeit briefly for a leftovers meal before heading home, tired but happy.  I won’t mention spending the whole of the next fortunately sunny day laundering muddy cycling clothes and scrubbing shoes and backpacks.