Ever since my South Island cycle trip I’ve been looking forward to my next journey on two wheels. The northern tip of the north island (aptly named Northland) provided the perfect opportunity to get back in the saddle. But I had one reservation. Several kiwis told me that the area I was headed is known for it’s many hills and narrow, winding roads. It didn’t sound like ideal biking conditions, but I figured if I could handle what my South Island trip had entailed, this would be no problem. And I was right–but the kiwis were also right. I think entire days were spent going only uphill! But Northland is so beautiful and there were so many things to stop and see along the way that the hills didn’t get me down too much. Plus, for every long uphill there’s often an equally exciting descent!
I started off in Whangarei after a lovely week spent visiting friends from Vermont. What are the chances? More Vermonters in NZ! The first day was a rainy but nevertheless enjoyable 35 miles to Kawakawa. I discovered quite quickly that my rain jacket was no longer waterproof and had to resort to poking my head and arms through an oversized trash bag. Thankfully there’s no photographic evidence of this. I managed to survive the night in a dark, dingy motel, only later learning that this was the creepy one that locals said to avoid.
Day three was 40 miles to idyllic Mangonui and the “world’s best fish and chips” as proclaimed by the shop’s street sign and I must say, I was not let down. It was the perfect reward for a long day of riding. As for the town, it was right on the coast and reminded me quite a bit of Martha’s Vineyard, where my mom grew up. It’s crazy how similar two places on opposite sides of the globe can be.
I made it to Kaitaia on day four after 27 miles. The biking days were shorter on this trip than on my last, but somehow I felt more tired and was eager to travel by vehicle for a day. So once in Kaitaia I boarded a bus that took me to Cape Reinga–the sacred Maori “leaping-off place of the spirits” on the northernmost tip of the island where the Tasman Sea and the Pacific Ocean collide. I had been wanting to see this site since I arrived in New Zealand so it turned into a pilgrimage of sorts for me.
But let me back up. Perhaps the most interesting thing about this journey was that the bus driver took the road less travelled by. I’m not actually sure I could call it a road at all. It was a beach. Ninety Mile Beach to be exact (which is not an accurate name because it’s only about 55 miles long). But names aside, the bus drove on the beach almost the entire way to Cape Reinga. You can just make out the tire tracks in the sand in the photo below. The view was stunning and we even stopped and saw a sea turtle having a rest in the sand. Finally we arrived and had a short walk along a footpath to the Cape and its iconic light house. I can’t even describe how beautiful the coast is so you’ll just have to take a look for yourself. I was was amazed that I managed to keep my hair out of my face for long enough to get a photo of the light house (it was extremely windy!) but somehow I did: And just beside it, a sign telling you just how far New Zealand is from everything else. Spoiler alert: pretty damn far. All in all it was an awesome day, made even better by the fact that I didn’t have to bike there!
The next 55 miles of cycling were dedicated to getting to Whirinaki, a teeny township where I would WWOOF for a week with a family who lives in “purposeful poverty,” choosing to live without (for the most part) electricity and petrol. I won’t say much about it out of respect for their choices to stay offline and technology-free, but it was a humbling and inspiring experience to see a family be entirely self-sufficient, having built and grown everything in sight, yet still have ample time for numerous tea breaks, conversation with strangers who happened to show up, and just project a general vibe of easygoing-ness. They didn’t rush to do anything, yet achieved an incredible amount. It was a very rewarding week!
And then the journey continued with a hellish but beautiful ride through the Waipoua Forest. This was one of those times I mentioned earlier where the entire day was literally an uphill battle. But the payoff was a good one. The forest is home to the largest living Kauri tree in the world–Tane Mahuna. Almost 170 feet tall with a trunk 45 feet wide, it really did take my breath away. It’s estimated to be somewhere between 1000-2500 years old. After my my shock wore off, I sat on a bench a bit away from The Lord of the Forest and listened to people’s surprise as the tree came into view for the first time. One guy must have said “holy shit!” At least ten times in a row.
The day’s adventure didn’t end there. The campsite where I planned to pitch my tent was closed and I found myself exhausted in the quickly approaching darkness with at least 20 miles to go to the next campsite. I didn’t have much choice other than to peddle fast and hope I made it. I was on my way, swearing under my breath, when a guy yelled at me from his truck and asked if I wanted a ride. Now normally when strange hairy men with chainsaws in their trailer ask me to get I their trucks I say no, but this was a desperate time, people. Ian turned out to be a lovely guy, married with kids (which eased my nerves), although I confess I had a knife in my pocket for the duration of the drive. I did get a bit nervous when he took long detours to show me his favorite lakes and to drive me to Dargaville via yet another beach road. I thought, “yes, this is definitely how I will die.” But die, I did not. Instead, he dropped me off at my campsite after we enjoyed some fish and chips. So thanks Ian, for the ride AND for not abducting me.
The last day of cycling rounded out the trip with about 260 miles in the saddle. Although the last 10km’s back to Whangarei were done on foot due to a flat tire. Can’t win ’em all, folks! Overall, cycle trip number two was definitely a highlight of my year in NZ.