The Hokianga nourished our minds, bodies and spirits today. Kennedy and I set out early from Kohukohu, where we’d had a delightful stay with his friend Sally. From there we took the short ferry ride across to Rawene. The photo above, a fuzzy telephoto one across the vast harbour, is of the church of Our Lady of the Assumption at Motukaraka. The north shore of the harbour is Catholic and the south side, where we landed at Rawene, is Anglican.
As we docked, we couldn’t miss the waterfront building resplendent in a mural to Kupe, the Polynesian navigator who according to some tribes was the first to lead people to Aotearoa. The Hokianga was one of the places he landed, and many places around it have histories connected with him. The local iwi trace their lineage back 32 generations to him. Kennedy has written wonderfully about the harbour in this New Zealand Geographic piece.
Soon after we set off from Rawene, Kennedy’s keen eye spotted roadside edibles. “It’s never too early for blackberries,” he declared as he hopped off his bike and into the bushes.
We rode on around the southern shore of the harbour to Opononi, near its southern head. We stopped at the Copthorne Hotel, where Consuela made us fabulous flat whites. We had a great chat while she did so. She asked if we were raising charity funds for our ride. I pointed to Bikes in Schools on the back of my shirt, and explained what a great job it does helping school get kids on bikes and teaching them how to ride. “Then you don’t need to pay,” she said as she pushed my $10 bill back across the bar. I assured her the money would go to the kids.
As we were chatting we couldn’t help but ask how a local Maori woman was called Consuela. Because she was born quickly, while her Dad was on his way back home from logging in the pine plantation next to the Waipoua forest inland. Her Mum took the opportunity to name her after a Spanish film actress she was mad about. “But every one calls me ‘Girly’, said this delightful mother of four grown children — two of whom are in mental health support work with young Maori kids.
While she’d long known why she was called Consuela, it was only recently she learnt what the name meant. A Spanish couple were staying at the hotel, and she asked them. “They said ‘comfort and compassion’. That’s me!” she said laughing.
We enjoyed our coffees outside, with this gorgeous view:
The ride up over the south head is a bit of a pull on a well-loaded touring bike but the view was worth it.
We then had the biggest climb of the Tour to date, 250m over 7km up to the Waipoua forest, an area of surviving native trees. I know the climb well from three previous ascents on my road bike, so I was curious how I’d handle it on a much heavier bike. Fine, it turned out thanks to my basso profundo gear, which I call my “get me to Bluff” gear”. As soon as I crested the summit at the forest’s edge, a tui chortled loudly from the thick roadside foliage, a delightful greeting from my favourite native bird.
We cruised gently downhill to the most special place in the forest, the site of Tane Mahuta, a huge, ancient kauri tree known as the Lord of the Forest. While I’d been awed by the tree on previous visits, I was reluctant to visit now for fear of spreading kauri dieback disease to it. But it turned out the Dept of Conservation had installed elaborate shoe cleaning and disinfectant stations at the entrance and taken other precautions on the short walk to the tree. So I communed with the tree again.
About 10km down the road we saw this example of dieback:
We still had another 65km to ride to Dargaville, our destination today. So after a bite of lunch at a cheerful food truck across the road from Tane Mahuta…
…we rode on through the forest then up another sharp 250m climb out into higher, open country. The rest of the afternoon’s ride, much of it on a gravel back road, was hard work in a temperature of 28c. At one point we stopped to rest in a rare bit of shade which an old radiata pine tree offered beside the road. We stretched out and listened to the pine needles soughing in the breeze, punctuated by the clicking of some insistent cicadas.
Just when this rough road to Dargaville seemed interminable, a Good Samaritan had set up a refreshment stand for cyclists at his family’s farmgate.
Jonathon had done the same for the Tour in 2018…so we gave him a sticker for this year’s tour.
Today he was offering orange coloured watermelon, which one of his cousins grows. It was deliciously refreshing, with the rock melon he also offered a distant second…plus of course litres of iced water. Later we learned from other cyclists, his brother and sister were also helping out after we’d passed by. His family’s farm is given over to horses rescued from unhappy owners.
Jonathon told us Dargaville was only 8km away, and soon the road reverted to tarmac. So, very refreshed we happily pedalled on into town, completing our longest day yet – 113km with 1450m of climbing. Because of all our delightful stops and conversations, we were on the road for 10 hours. That’s why you’re getting more pictures than words tonight!