Thursday, 20 September 2018

The Northland Part 2 - Paihia back to Auckland Via the West Coast

After an extended stay of a few days in Paihia, I had three days to get to my next stop which was over on the West coast, Ahipara.  Ahipara lies at the very southern end of the famous 90-mile beach, and I had planned a few days there working.

Before then, I had to cover about 190Km.  The first day was cloudy and grey, but the cycling was uneventful anyway, except for a nice waterfall in Kerikeri, so I didn't miss out on much.  I made good time and, preparing for a lack of supermarkets to come, I stopped in a Pak 'n' Save in Kaitaia and loaded-up with enough food to last me for about a week.  There was very little in Ahipara and also from Ahipara to Dargaville.

Rainbow falls in Kerikeri.
I pushed into some stiff headwinds on a heavy bike - with all the food - rolling into Ahipara, but I didn't have that much ground to cover.

There wasn't much in Ahipara, except for a vast and spectacular beach and a very good holiday park, where I stayed for a few days.  In Paihia and Whangarei I had spent my time off the bike trail running, but in Ahipara, the long, flat beach was ideal for some sprinting, interval training, and circuits, so that was my morning routine for 3 days.  It sounds crazy perhaps, doing all this extra exercise on top of the long days on the bike, but the body thanks me for it; I don't get set into slow, plodding bicycle mode.

The southern end of 90-mile beach in Ahipara.
The holiday park was the best I have ever stayed at; great facilities, super-clean, and Sky TV for extra comfort and convenience.  I put my feet up and relaxed for a couple of days while I did a little work also.

90-mile beach is actually an official road, but I think it might have been tough on the bike.
The next target was Dargaville, about another 180Km south on the West coast.  The roads were tough again, with steep climbs around every corner.  I managed to dodge the inclement weather very effectively on the first day, but I got completely stuck for somewhere to camp overnight and ended-up contemplating staying in a bus shelter out of town.

Somehow I managed to dodge the rain on the first day out of Ahipara towards Dargaville.
Fortunately, a nice chap pulled-up alongside me and asked if I needed somewhere to stay; his car was full but he said he lived on a farm just up the road, about 4Km away.  He gave me directions, but I had trouble finding his place as it was dark and there were numerous other small farms and properties dotted around.  Luckily somebody else pulled-up alongside me and offered to help.  I chucked the bike on the back of their truck and they helped me find the place.

It wasn't quite what I expected, and as I was guided up through the long wet grass and mud in the dark to a house on the top of the hill, I started to wonder what I had gotten myself into.  I eventually made my way up to his place, which was perched on the top of a hill overlooking the valley and his land, and discovered that it was a half-finished tiny house.  The roof was on, the walls were up, he had basic kitchen facilities and two beds, but that was about it, there were bits of wood and tools everywhere.

The view down the valley and his - very muddy - garden.
He went on to explain that he had built it on a trailer to avoid government regulations.  Amazingly, even if you purchase an area of land for yourself, you are not allowed to build your own house in New Zealand, and I am guessing this might be the same in many countries.  Government encroachment on personal liberties is one of the motivations for jumping on the bike for me, I do get sick of having to deal with the constant rules and regulations out there, tripping you up at every turn.  Bicycle touring is freedom from all that crap, and I don't know if the average person realises just how much of this garbage there actually is.

I keep hearing how much life has improved, even over the last 10-20 years or so; crime rates and violence are going down, and apparently we all have more to spend on stuff, have more convenient lifestyles, we are living longer, and have access to all the information we'll ever need at our fingertips.  However, I'm not convinced.  House cats are safe and live longer than a cat free to roam the neighbourhood, but I know which one I'd rather be.  I can't help but think of the movie "Demolition Man" when I think of where we are going.  Government is far, far too big and has too much power, and they'll find a way to regulate the building of tiny houses and bicycle tourers eventually, I guarantee it.

Anyway, (rant over) he was an interesting bloke to meet, and his idea of a tiny house in the countryside, growing his own vegetables is one that has some appeal to me as I enjoy the feeling of freedom and self-reliance.  However, there was a tinge of sadness about his situation.  He did have a family, but was divorced and maybe slightly alone.  I had the distinct impression that he was quite happy having a bit of company and a chat for the evening and that I really wasn't putting him out at all.

I knew the following day would be a testing one; I had the longest climb of the tour yet, up to about 400 metres, followed by another testing climb, with the usual short, sharp inclines in between.  Thankfully, though, the main ascent was mostly steady, so it wasn't too bad.

The scenery in Opononi and Omapere was very nice in the morning as the skies cleared for a beautiful sunny day.  You get such amazing colours in New Zealand on clear days.

Once I said good bye to the coast, I immediately started ascending up into Waipoua forest, home to many ancient Kauri trees.  In fact, the West coast of the Northland is called the Kauri coast.  These trees are big and beautiful and can live for thousands of years.  Unfortunately, they are being blighted by a disease called Kauri dieback.  Because of this, at the entrance to every walking track into the forest in this part of New Zealand, you have to brush the soil off your shoes and then disinfect them also, with strict instructions to stick to the paths and not tread on kauri roots.

It actually was impressively big, this picture doesn't do it justice.
"Tane Mahuta", or "the lord of the forest", is the biggest kauri tree in the world, standing at 51 metres tall and a trunk girth of about 19 metres, and this was just a short walk from the road.  I have seen some pretty big trees this year; the giant sequoia, General Sherman, in California, the Gloucester Tree in Western Australia, and now Tane Mahuta in New Zealand, and the lord of the forest was indeed an impressive sight.

It was an excellent, quiet forest road, although tough going with all the climbing.  I made my way out and down the other side and was going to try and settle into a backpackers about 35Km from Dargaville.  I blew right by it, however, and ended-up a bit stuck for somewhere to stay for the night.  I stumbled into a local inn in a very small village and asked if there was anywhere I could pitch a tent around.  After a short consultation with his wife, the owner offered his garden, and then a little time later his wife offered their outside laundry room.  Luxury indeed.

I felt obliged to at least buy some food from them, and they duly served me up the biggest and best plate of nachos I have ever had for $10.  I was very thankful, they were a wonderfully friendly couple and they introduced me to all their regulars while sitting around watching, "The Chase (UK)" on TV.

Onto Dargaville then and a warmshowers host for a couple of days.  I was pretty tired from the day before, but still managed to get my first game of squash in on this tour of New Zealand a few hours after I arrived.  It was handy as there isn't much to do in Dargaville; nothing to see, no trails, and no beaches, so having the squash club there was a good little resource to have for some more variety of exercise, and I utilised it a couple of times while I was there.

Looking at the weather forecast, the weather didn't seem too good after a couple of days, so with this in mind, I decided to put in a couple of long days on the bike.  I had originally planned to go to the Waiketere ranges, but because of the weather and an outbreak of kauri dieback disease closing much of the park and the campgrounds, I decided to give it a miss and go straight to Auckland to sit out the weather for a day or so.

Back to Auckland.  This is the view from the top of Mount Eden, a now extinct volcano.  I have never been to Auckland on a sunny day.
I managed just over 100Km on both days.  It doesn't sound much, but on the roads up in the Northland, that was a pretty good effort.  Lots and lots of steep climbing, so much so that I don't think I would have managed such a distance a few weeks earlier when I had just arrived.  The legs are adapting to their new routine.  The Northland had been good training for the stiffer climbs to come, and I do have some big ones planned not too far in the future here in the North Island, not to mention the South Island in a month.

I now have an unusual route planned through the rest of the North Island, trying to hit many of the places I haven't been before.  On paper, the next 2-3 weeks look like the most physically challenging of the trip.  Wish me luck.

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