Seventy mile bush

Travelling north through pioneering trails to home

Seventy-mile bush was a continuous track of forest spanning an area just north of Masterton in the Wairarapa to just south of Takapau in central Hawkes Bay. The landscape was transformed by the more than 4,000 settlers that arrived here from Denmark, Norway and Sweden in the 1870s. With sawmills, logging and burning they rapidly turned the forest into fertile 40-acre family farms.

So with the wind at my tail, I’d chosen this trailhead north by northeast up Opaki-Kaiparoro Road, which goes on to link the original Scandinavian settlements from Mauriceville to Eketahuna, Dannevirke and Norsewood before reaching the expanses of the Takapau plain.

The Bohemian

“What do you mean you were born in Mauriceville? I thought you just sort of arrived here on some sort of cosmic space beam from another planet! Mauriceville? Seriously Antonios… Mauriceville?”

I first met him about 20-something years ago, when he commissioned me to build a solar-powered cafe for Shell oil for a three-day music festival. It was right on Christmas, and with only two weeks’ notice, it proved to be an insane assignment that built a lasting friendship. I got to work and ended up at the event, surviving 48 hours on a diet of No-doze and Tattinger’.

As I attempted to get the contraption working, I’d failed to check the alignment of some core components, obscuring the letter ‘S’ of the required Shell signage. As Antonios stood by for the great unveiling he broke into laughter “That’s brilliant” he cried looking up at the overhead sign, “_hell rocks!” 

A bohemian, Antonios is an accomplished author, musician and father. Has played live on intercontinental Virgin Atlantic flights and lived in places as diverse and random as Mumbai, Tangiers, New York and Kyiv. I’ll never forget the time he arrived at my house dressed in an ape suit, nor the time I arrived at his, with a bottle of Tattinger under one arm and a live duck in the other. What else do you give this guy on his 40th birthday? 

A continuous and stanch supporter of Clueless living, here he now is, telling me he was born at the southern frontier of the 70-mile bush. I laughed as I rode past the Mauriceville School & Community centre. Mauiceville!!!

I pushed on as the day grew low, grey and grim. With great squalls funnelling through in swells, pressing hard into the blades of the harakeke and tī kōuka that were all hiss and shiver in the brewing southern storm. It was a very Wairarapa kind of day, being chased up the great inland valley of the Mangatainoka in that very male of pilgrimages – to the Tui brewery. 

The following day dawned dew-covered and hush, the quiet calm between brews. Once reverence was given, I turned east off of the ‘main drag’ down Kohinui Road. Bypassing Woodville (not one of the original Scandinavian settlements) to follow the Manawatu valley system towards its headland and Dannevirke for an appropriate pastry. 

Kopua and Southern Star Abby

As the trees fell, a rail economy replaced it. Bypassing Norsewood, some six kilometres to the north of the Gisborne line. I turned east of that at Matumau towards Kopua, where the road traces the rail through Makotuku and Blackdog tavern to Ormandville. Beyond that is Kopua and the Southern Star Abby – a Cistercian monastery.

Father Nico

Father Nico (then a novitiate), arrived in New Zealand from the Netherlands in 1961 and spent two years boarded with my Grandmother at Point Chevalier in Auckland before moving south to the Abby. He was a surrogate son to her since before I was born and I remember him clearly from my childhood. I couldn’t pass Kopua without seeing him. We sat on the steps of the Abby looking out over falling pasture as the Friesians drew near. We quietly talked of family, my late mother and his pending and likely last voyage back to the Vatican. Then with his blessing, I saddled up and crushed through the dense gravel back to rejoin the trail north.

To the finish

The rolling hills dropped away to the plains, the Takapau plains. I had reached the northern memory of Seventy mile bush. There was nothing else for it, a lime milkshake at the Takapau Foursquare.

The wind was up again, another one of those damn spring nor-westers that blows low across the plains. I’d have another tail-wind to close out this day and I was eager to dismount at the historic terminus of the Scandinavian trial, the Tavistock Hotel, Waipukarau. Unfortunately, it was between management, so I needed to push onto Waipawa. Tracing the Tuki Tuki river as the sun set, before settling into the Commercial Hotel. 

As the solo patron, I pivoted back in my chair and looked into my tequila. I’d been a long time in the saddle, even for me. It must have felt longer for the pioneers, and eternal for the spiritual ones.

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