Father of the Forest

8, 9 & 10/12 /15.  As we were facing a long day (60+ km in the hills) the plan was to get up and go quickly. Hmm. The best laid plans…… Overnight we received two emails from the agents regarding problems that the tenants were having with the cooker at home so we had to Skype our son Alaric to try to resolve these (the time difference means that the agent’s office hours coincide with our sleeping).

So it was almost 10 o’clock before we got going and after retracing our steps to the main road (about 3 km) we set off towards the hills. There were 2 main ones and several smaller ones (just to keep the legs burning) all of which were steep before we reached the village of Broadwood where we had a very welcome ice cream/drink stop that we had not been counting on. (We had taken the pessimistic view that it was too small to have a shop in order that we would not be disappointed. The joys of having two accountants in the family, eh?)

While refreshing ourselves two more crazy Brits on Bikes turned up. As they were going in the opposite direction we asked them what the road ahead was like. As expected they said it was hilly although it would be more down than up because we were heading down to sea level again.

Out of Broadwood there was a small steep bit but then it became much more gentle and, with a tailwind to help, we moved along at a reasonable pace even though we were climbing. After a while we reached the watershed and started going down but even this wasn’t very steep so we could whizz along without Christine getting herself scared silly.

By 5 o’clock we were getting into Kohukohu where we had arranged a stay at the home of a cyclist through Warmshowers (a website that puts touring cyclists in touch with likeminded individuals who are willing to offer free accommodation for a night or two). We were made extremely welcome by Brett and Lynsie with a lovely dinner and a friendly chat (including Brett’s tales of his cycling across Canada and down the Great Divide from Banff to the Mexican border) before crashing out in proper beds in Lynsie’s art studio in the garden.

On Wednesday morning we said goodbye to Lynsie while Brett accompanied us down to the ferry across the Hokianga Harbour to Rawene. Once across the water we fortified ourselves with coffee and hot chocolate before heading up the hill.

We had to face a headwind and a couple of long hills in the next 20 km along the south side of the Harbour before reaching our destination of Opinoni. Even though we went little more than 25 km in the day we were both more than ready to stop by mid afternoon.

The campsite was only separated from the water by the road and had fabulous views across the harbour to the enormous sand dunes on the other side. On the downside it was the first one that we had stayed that did not offer Wifi and there wasn’t even a mobile phone signal – the area really is quite remote.

The route down the west coast for the next few days was through a sparsely populated area with a few campsites but no towns or villages apparent from the map. We therefore stocked up with food for three days and had another conversation with Alaric about the oven before setting off the next morning.

The road went along the Harbour side for 2 or 3 km before deciding it wanted to go inland even though there was an enormous hill in the way. We spent the next thirty minutes huffing and puffing very slowly upwards but were rewarded by a viewpoint at the top where the outlook was even better than at the campsite. Of course when we set off again we went straight down the other side, which is nice in one way, but we are always reluctant to give up hard-won altitude too quickly because 9 times out of 10 the obvious happens all too soon!

Thankfully the next up wasn’t too severe and we then had 15 or so km along a gently sloping valley and (even better) we had a helpful tailwind. It couldn’t last however and we started climbing again, initially steeply at 10-12% before it relented a little to 5-8%. After a couple of km Stephen was recuperating and waiting for Christine beside a gate when an old boy opened it and had a brief chat before driving off. To Stephen’s hopeful question “Are we nearly at the top?” he disappointingly replied that we were “over halfway” but then he did give the slightly cheering news that this was the second biggest hill in the region (and thankfully the biggest was behind rather than in front!)

Unfortunately he wasn’t joking! We eventually got to the top where we entered the Waipoua Forest. The kauri tree has spiritual significance to the Maori and can grow to an enormous size as we were to see when we took two signposted paths off the road to the right to see Tane Mahuta, the largest kauri alive at 51.5m tall with a girth of 13.8m, and Te Matua Ngahere (the Father of the Forest) which is shorter but fatter (16.4m in girth). These are seriously impressive trees!

After these diversions it was back on the road and eventually we started going downhill for 8 wonderful km before reaching a turning where we followed a gravel road to the campsite for the night. This was the first one we had stayed at which was not a commercial operation.  It is run by the Department of Conservation (DOC) and is at the “basic” end of the spectrum but still offers warm showers (when the sun shines enough to power the solar panels at least) and a kitchen area with electric hot plates (unfortunately only 1 out of 4 working) and a microwave.

With the campsite being down near the river there were inevitably many mosquitoes so we retired to the tent very early which at least made a change from the sandflies which have developed a taste for our ankles and feet. These annoying little blighters cause a small red spot, without the swelling that often accompanies a mozzie bite, which takes about 48 hours before it starts itching. It then seems to hang around for about a week.

(Reading back, it sounds like we are obsessed with hills. There is a reason for that.)

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