January 12, 2002
After New Year's Eve we cleared our heads with a 9 day
bicycle tour through the north island of New Zealand -
what Kiwis refer to as the Northland. Starting in Brynderwyn
(north of Auckland), we made a loop; first westward to
Dargaville with it's cow pastures and pasturial hills.
We enjoyed late night service at the BLah Blah blah cafe
and a friendly chat with Wally about death, friends dying
and his leathery heart that night as we stayed in his
B&B - Birch House. Wally had a pacemaker installed about
a month or so before we arrived. Says it slows him down
a bit. We'd decided to stay in town because Stu needed
a new derailer and camp was 17km away. It was $35 a night
for a room and another $35 per person if you wanted to
take a bath rather than a shower. The place was his house,
a 1940s kind of thing, huge living room with fireplace
and pictures of his family everywhere, small bedrooms
with knotty wooden walls and big feather beds, oldfashioned
payned windows with lacey white curtian, and instant coffee
in the morning. (We have bought him some of our favorite
beans from our favorite coffee roaster here in auckland
and sent them to him). He gave us huge bear hugs good-bye.
Planet mentions that the Maritime Museum in Dargaville
has the only surviving Maori war canone from pre-European
times and the mast from Rainbow Warrior, so we stopped.
It failed to mention Gumboots.
worn by gum diggers. Gum diggers dig up Kauri Gum. When
damaged the Kauri tree produces great amounts of resinous
sap which covers the wound and protects the inner timber.
The sap congeals into hard lumps and falls to the ground
- Kauri Gum. New Zealand's own riches simular of Amber.
I love Amber! I love Kauri Gum. More interesting to me
than the canoe or mast is that Kauri trees do not grow
naturally anywhere else in the world. The tree family
is over 150 million years old and a lot of sap has been
dug up from the dinosaur age. The Maori used the gum for
chewing, tattooing and lighting fires. Europeans used
the gum as an ingredient for high quality varnishes.
museum are displays of the kauri gum digging implements,
photographs of gum-digging, giant pieces of kauri gum,
saws, native timber, bushman's hut,other items connected
with the Gum Digging Days and the gum boots - above the
knee leather wear.
We peddled out of Dargaville around noon, which became par
for the course the whole way - leaving around noon. Stuart
explained it to Sirpa as, "You don't meet people if you
are always biking." We were also continually lucky with
good weather. The landscape grew under our wheels bulging
more and making me go slower up but faster down. I use my
brakes, unlike the boys, going down the curvy snake of a
road, and so saved my life. Stuart used to race mountian
bikes and has described how he used to slide around corners
on his heel with the back wheel slowly going out of control.
I looked down at my little Ho Chi Mihn black chinese slippers
and up at his muscular body and knew he was no help in weaning
me off the brakes. Eric and Stu would actually peddle hard,
crouch way down and follow cars in their slipstreams. I
tried one hill without using the brakes and at about 30
mph (it felt like 100!) I wobbled in a turn, I wobbled three
times actually and was scarred shitless but kept reminding
myself "look where you are going" which I learned in a Bob
Bonderant School of Driving. Prying my eyes off the blurry
rocky shoulder and down the road to the next turn saved
my ass from some severe road rash.
PM The biggest hill was the long zigzaggy switchbacks
that gradually climbed up through the Northland Conservation
Park to the Waipoua Forest which houses the two biggest
and oldest (remaining) Kauri trees in New Zealand. Kauri
wood, like Kauri Gum is highly prized. The trees grow up
looking like pine trees, tall and thin, but when they reach
a certain height they strangely drop their lower brances,
the leaves become rounder and smaller, and the shallow root
system has to support a sudden massive expansion of the
trunk. (Kinda like lovely polynesian girls look so beautiful
and svelt until one day in their aging 20's suddenly pop
out like a filled innertube). This transfiguration of the
trees must be part of the reason why they are part of Maori
Ledgend, representing gods.
of Land did a survey of the forests before the road was
built and decided to make the trees accessable tourist
stops, so after a night in the pine and fern tree campground
where we swam in a cold refreshing river and a day of
going up another bad ass incline, we had the luxury of
getting off our bikes, crossing the road (passing the
airstream trailer selling homemade meatpies and coffee)
to meet the sacred Giant Kauri. Te Matua Ngahere (Father
of the Forest) is big and beatuiful. A wooden walk way
leads you to about 10 feet from its 16.4 meter girth!
Tane Mohuta (God of the Forest) is even bigger and we
had the accompaniment of locals singing hymms in their
native language. (It was Mennenite Stu who recognized
Again, the well maincured walkway stops you just short of
giving these behemoths a hug. The young man, his plump bride
and their tiny child were more rehearsing than entertaining
with their songs, but I dropped a gold bullion-like two
dollar coin into the hat anyway. Kiwi coins look like pirate
money to me. They have a nice weight and heft to them, perhaps
i secretly wanted to get rid of it, before biking more hills.
north with the Tasman Sea our left until we had to turn
in at Hokianga Harbor, stopping for the night at the ferry
town of Rawene. Magic is to be had there. We pulled up
to the first reasonable looking (ie, open) place to eat
which had tables both inside and out. From the curb Stu
asked those sitting outside if anyone there might happen
to have a ?? (some special cycle tool for taking off crank
cases so he could perform bike surgery and fix a particular
titanium spoke). Sure enough a long hair having a beer
said he thinks he does and we could come tomorrow to the
Treehouse and use it. Meanwhile, I am on the other side
of the resturant talking to two girls who are backpackers
and they tell me to come visit them tomorrow at, yes,
the Treehouse. The only follow-up I can give about the
Treehouse is that it is great so get reservations early!
was a treasure trove itself. Everything inside it was
for sale. It looks like an old english Den; bookshelves
and Chippendale desk, brass and stained glass, green leather
couches, high backed chairs mixed with copper cookery,
sterling silver cutlery sets under glass, an oversized
chess set that the prorietor made himself and tons of
antiques. There seemed to be only one employee. When Eric
told our host, John Post, that it was a very eccentric
place he answered, "I am a very eccentric man!" When I
asked for the wine list he said there wasnt one, asked
what I liked and materialized a lovely chardonnay.
The town of
Rawene is very small, very cute. A lot like Cannon Beach,
Oregon. The next morning we had the best cappuccinos and
muffins at the Boatshed Cafe where they sold exquisite
handmade gifts as well. Within an hour we all got back
massages across the steet in a building that used to be
the offices of New Zealand's David Lang. Across from that,
in a little orgainc food store, a local gave me a piece
of greenstone. Greenstone is, well, green and only exists
in one place in all the world - the south island of New
Zealand. It is called the Peace stone. When I was looking
at buying it I thought to myself, "no it willl add weight
to my bike" and put it down. The shopkeeper had been watching
me and probably thought I was being a cheapskate. He handed
it to me and said I could have it for free. "It is better
to be gifted greenstone, anyway" he added.
We took the
afternoon ferry across Hokianga Harbor, biked a few kilometers
to the Treehouse, saw the tool guy and Alona and Sarah,
waited out a rain and began biking through lush wet countryside.
However, the first little town we came to (called Kohukou)
had a Palace Cafe and Eric was hungry. He ordered a lamb
burger and I think the cook went to go slaughter it because
it took about 2 hours to make. Meanwhile we met "The Queen"
and her two sons who were sitting inside and had the such
a good sense of humor that it was hard to keep up with
We were in
a part of New Zealand they call "The Far North" which
is hard for me to grasp as we are about 30degrees south
of the equator. It is warm here, but not hot like the
desert of my youth in Arizona. I pefer pants and sleeves
to summer wear and it rains much much more.
we rode thru specatular Hobbit-esque landscape. It is
easy to see how come they shot "Lord of the Rings" here.
The hills were plushy, lushy, rollie-pollie, full of spring
flowers, thistle, wild fennel, yarrow, flax, dragon flies
and chinese pompus grass. Hand hewn wooden fences cut
along hilltops. Happy looking wooded knots dotted the
distant mountains, birds sang, and we counted numberous
sqwashed hedgehogs and even more possums on the road.
The soil was chalky yellow or deep red. There was very
little traffic and all the buildings seemed to be from
a time before. We even came across a perfectly working
1927 Chevey truck with wooden wheel spokes and two 1930
Ford A-Types. The Gas Station attendant told us that the
Chevey was used for breakdowns which Stuart picked up
right away meant it was a tow-truck.
Within our daily average of 3-3 1/2 hours of biking we made
it to Kaitaia where at the Bushman resturant we discussed
over a bottle of wine called "ninety mile beach" going up
the real 90 mile beach to see the sand dunes and Cape Reigna's
light house or not. I am not sure if it was the second bottle
of wine or the third helping from the buffet that made us
realize we were not going to be able to break our past patterns
to get up early and go farther than normal. We bagged 90
In the mornng
we did internet at Hacker's Cafe, coffee at the Backdoor
Cafe, ran into the "Queen" briefly and again didn't get
on the road until after noon. It was a great day. Loads
of quiet. But it got long. In Doubtless Bay we saw a sign
for a whaling museum - by appointment only. Eric called
them and said we were from a old whaling lineage, which
got us an appointment immediately. They were rather expectant,
but seemed just as amused at being duped as if we had
really come from a whaling family. They didn't really
like whaling and wouldn't support it today, but they had
a well restored whaler's outpost on a terrific track of
land beautifully gardened.
that it was decidedly dangerous business hunting whales.
We saw harpoons, apocothery boxes, pipes and more pipes,
whale tooth scrimshaw, and Ambergris (produced in the
hindgut of the sperm whale, on exposure to sunlight and
air it quickly oxidizes and hardens to a pleasantly aromatic,
marbled, grayish, waxy, pellucid substance. It has been
used as a fixative for rare perfumes, as an aphrodisiac,
as a spice for food and wine, as a medicine for the heart
and brain. In the Thousand and One Nights, Sinbad is shipwrecked
on a desert island and discovers a spring of stinking
crude ambergris which flows like wax into the sea where
it is swallowed by giant fishes and vomited up again as
fragrant lumps to be cast up on the shore).
mighty big and you cant throw one in the freezer, especially
in the 1800s. The crew had special implements for 'downsizing'
the mamal and then right there on the deck, in brick stoves,
they boiled the bits down distilling the oil. That too
was overtly dangerous, espically in rough seas. Several
whaling tales inform of rigging burned, ships alight and
Whale oil was
big business. I would guess it is one of the primary colonizing
factors in the south pacific. We were at Captian Butler's
whaling station, established around 1800. Whale oil was
used for lanters. It was not until the mid 1800s that
New Zealand became a destination for Europeans seeking
religious freedom, escaping poverty, or in search of opportunities
unavailable in the "old country."
before, we were still biking as the sun was setting and
it made me rather anxious. Stu had made us reservations
at a B&B called Kahoe Farms and at the bottom of each
hill it seemed like our destination should be just over
the next one, but no. It was like that for the last 30
kms, which seemed infinite. Both Eric and I ran out of
water. It was more than a relief to finally arrive. It
was a treat! Our host, Stephano was an Italien chief with
a style of fresh fresh fresh. He hand-made pasta, grew
herbs in his garden, and baked bread every morning. The
place was a charming country home with a lively bunch
of world travelers filling it to the brim. One of the
girls we met that night, Kaho from Japan, agreed to come
sea kayaking with us the next day.
It really doesn't
matter - biking or sea kayaking or whatever - we wouldn't
get going until after noon. So it was we hit the water around
1pm. It was my first time in a sea kayak and as I age I
find I do not jump in blindly to first time newness the
way I used to. It took a bit to get comfortable with paddleing.
My arms instantly went weak and tired. My shoulder began
to hurt. I wondered exactly how many things I might be doing
the hard way? But there is a strange attraction to sitting
at water level and gliding smoothly along the top of waves.
The further we got out from shore the eaiser it was to see
the vast beauty of the bay. The terrain is verdant with
much vegitation, but majestic vertical thrusts of dark volcanic
rock dominate the feeble foliage. The outcroppings went
up to 100s of feet and plunged down below the waterline.
Had the weather been bad it would have been overly intimidating
watching the waves crash against them. I was extremely fortunate
that there was no wind and also very lucky there was no
rain, in fact it was hot and sunny. A perfect day for a
beginner. We paddled out of Whangaroa Harbor, stopping at
the Duke's Nose, a fantastic rock outcrop, shear and bold,
in the shape of a head with a very prominent nose, which
we hiked to the top of were it was, er, bald. We had lunch,
took pictures and were romanced by the incredible breathtaking
views. The climb up had been ardurous and coming down the
craggy precipitous trail Kaho lost all confidence. She was
stuck trying to descend the rockface. Simply unable to find
a way to balance upon the tiny juts of stone here and there
she froze. Stu climbed back up and became her strategy coach
while eric and I formed a commitee at bottom which was a
bit like cheating at twister where stu would make the call
and we would approve or not her next move... put your right
foot here (yup!), put your left hand here (no, too low),
put it here (good!), put your left foot here, etc. At the
top Kaho had genuinely thanked us in the most touching,
warmest, sweetest way (broken english) for asking her along,
getting across that otherwise she wouldn't have been able
to see this great spot, and I believe as she made it down
the mountian she was glad again that we were there to help
her down, feeling that as nice as it is, it isn't really
so worth staying much longer than lunch.
Back in the Paddle
Stuart was Mr. Saftey on this trip. He checked the weather,
the tides, the currents, the prevailing winds and asked
some nearby yatchies about change of conditions before
we undertook to paddle further out to sea. We followed
him like New Zealand sheep. He was also the only one with
The first cave we came to I watched stu disappear into
a black hole. I heard a huge noise which I knew was him
crying out in the way gung ho "Geronimo!" guys do or a
monster had eaten him. He came back out grinning. Stu
is Canadian with curly almost frizzy blonde hair and blue
eyes. I just then realized he was a clan leader of a Viking
tribe in a previous life. He is wild but never gets excited.
In his calming level voice he said, "Yeah it's ok. Come
on in." Baaaa! Baaa!
The cave was more of an L-shaped corridor reminiscent
of gothic church catherdrals. The narly walls were tall
and spacious, mysteriously dim but with light pouring
in from many high places. I could have easily turned my
kayak around if I had needed to. We went in one way and
came out at another. That was cool. What a great first
cave. Not at all boring! Gorgeous! But also not too scarry.
We paddled on and came to some funky slits in the cliffs.
They were dark and narrow and the waves were bigger. Eric
took the left one, his kayak bumping along the sides.
Stu scoped out the one on the right which was visibly
wider. Stu returned first so I headed in, hoping eric
would be alright on his own. This cave didn't have as
high a ceiling, and was much more intimate. My paddle
was wide enough to wedge against both sides so I had to
hold it at an angle. Leaving the light into the dim unknown
was an adrenaline rush whose joy is tempered by the thought
of how stupid it is. The sound of the waves against the
rocks amplified. The kayak began to seem like a perverse
extemity. The thought of tippng over into the cold sea
seemed just as dangerous as being thrown against a solid
object. Fortunately all these thoughts fluttered through
my head in a division of the nanosecond it took to see
the exit in the distance. Going through the 100 meter
long cave was like a roller coaser, up with the swell
of the ocean and down with the ebb. Stuart was way in
front of me and Kaho close behind and probably thousands
of thousands of other tourists have been here before us.
We glided into an open cove. Kaho coming out behind me
had a petrified face with a big smile. There was something
so innocent about her. She and I raised our paddles over
our heads as if we had just slain a dragon. Stu was beginning
to dip into the entrance of yet another cave but the strange
garguling sounds emminating from it convinced me straight
away that no matter what I wasnt going to follow.
We decided to go back through the cave, which was shorter
than paddeling around in open sea, to reconnect with Eric.
Rather concerned about him, it didn't take much encouraging
from Stu to for me to go first, tho Stu was thinking something
else. It is the 'funboy' position. When mountian biking
anyway, Stuart told me the person in front is called the
funboy. As I re-entered, water turned black inside the
cave, the waves rushed in, lifting the kayak, and chaotically
swirling in whirlpools and dropping the kayak, backwashing
madly from the walls looking for a new direction while
hurtling me forward. "WHOOOHOO!" I yelled.
It makes me smile
really big and my heart is so happy just remembering what
a great day that was! We got back to Kahoe Farms to Stephano's
mischievious grins, homemade pizza - lamb and kumara - with
good red wine, interesting company, and a raucous game of
That night I loved soccer so much it made me spit. It
was harder than biking up the hills. And so much more
fun! I laughed when Stephano (my teammate) called out,
"heide, control the ball, go for the goal!" And, well,
you would have laughed too if you were watching. Can't
say I ever played soccer before, guess it showed. Kaho
was on our team too. She could bounce the ball on her
knee, her head, get it down the field, even get it away
from others sometimes. When she scored, I created a little
Fortunately I discovered my hidden talent as a goalie.
Perhaps it is because there I only have to concentrate
on one thing? Stop the ball. This eliminates the distraction
of the rest of the game. Unfortunately, I took that position
because during the game I injured my foot and it was too
sore to run on or to bike with the next day.
I took the bus to Paihia and waited for Eric and Stu.
Paihia was originally settled as a mission station and
just north a bit in 1840 the British Government signed
the Treaty of Waitangi were they offically acknowledged
Maori arrival onto the global stage. But today, like San
Diego, Paihia is quite the tourist hub full of accommodations,
souvenir shops and bars, while keeping it's history quiet
behind the pretty face. The blasted remains of the Rainbow
Warrior were sunk just off the coast and is divable, but
the guys we talked to about it said even with full wet
suits and hoods it was biting cold.
In the morning we began the final section of our loop
around Northland towards Whangarei stopping in Kawakawa
for cappuccinos at the Trainspotting Cafe and in Waiomio
to tour a glow worm cave which was stunning. We also added
pubs to the stops this last leg, in celebration.
Our final night on the tour was spent at Sonya's parents
house. Stuart and I met Sonya on New Year's Eve and she
offered her folks house when she heard of our trip and
its final stop. Said they were early retired on their
farm and would love the company. And we loved theirs!
The kindness of strangers is truly amazing.