Northland green

Koke’ to Ahipara

Sour scratch, that Koke cat sure was a mean old sour scratch.

There it was, stopped mid scritch and glaring at us from the sunny centreline with its angry and inconvenient squint. Bitterly refusing to give ground until we got within its whiskers, it then turning abruptly tail up, and sauntered back down the road towards town. All spit and hiss, it was fussing like somehow we’d just ruined its entire day, but it was barely nine that morning.

Breakfast company in Kohukohu.

Koke’ or Kohukohu is a sleepy settlement on the deep inland banks of the Hokianga harbour. It’s one of New Zealand earliest European settlements and once a thriving town and heart of the country’s early sawmills and shipwrights. They cut more than six million feet of timber a year in this one place alone. On this day we had come for coffee and treats at the Koke café before exploring some of the inland lanes for a little hidden heritage.

We left sour scratch to its scritchin’ and traced the harbour south to the white spire of Our Lady of the Assumption, Shining like a beacon to God’s faithful on the the hill beyond Motukaraka. Then we drew down to the dusty coastal trail on our way to Paponga road.

Crossing the Paponga

“Oi’ You can’t go that way!”

With a roar around the seal he hurled the battered white SL Kingswood on an under-inflated, no brake, u-turn back up the trail towards us. As his pillion pooch-hound, held his footing and surfed that old Holden bench seat like a pro.

Viv’ came to a wheezing stop in the soft gravel. He was all coarse curl and stubble held back with a pair of shop bought silver wrap-arounds. He was already talking before the dust settled. Convinced, ”absolutely convinced in fact” that the Paponga was completely impassable by car let alone bike. We looked on in silence trying to find a pause, but he just kept going. “I was born in Kohe… I know that place and this… Northland is mean bro… you know the best place to catch a kingi with a kina and a cork screw… anyone of yous fullahs got a durry…?”

This continued unabated until a van and trailer carrying an oversized load of last weekends marque descended in a dust cloud down from the Paponga. The driver saluting as he passed with a ‘hang-loose’ hand gesture. We all just stared back in silence – even Viv’.

Needless to say we rode over the Paponga to Broadwood.

There is never just the one trip to Broadwood general store. First it’s a pie, then it’s a coke, and finally a double scoop of extra green mint chocolate goodness. Which we took our time over, sitting out front on the steps, next to the all-weather peanut slab sold here sign.

A late model silver BMW three series pulled up in the rough. It was pimped out with all the tintings and doosh doosh base beats.

We watched as a barefoot twenty something got out. He had flared faded stubbies and a souvenir ‘Snapper bonanza’ singlet on. He gingerly high stepped his way across the hot mid-day gravel seal to the shade of the Broadwood general store. Five minutes later he returned with his own double scoop of extra green mint chocolate goodness.

Life sure is sweet and green is clearly good business up here.

Onward to Ahipara

One by one we saddled up and drifted on. A shambles of scattered riders, all coddiwompling* west towards the wilds, passing through Awaroa and the upper reaches of Whangape to Herekino and harbour.

It was a shave close to two as we turned north. An azure blue pearl of northern high cloud over the lush valley floor as we gazed beyond Orowhano into the Herekino valley gorge. It was a landcape of memory to me, reminiscent of similar I’d once been drawn to – Tlacoapa, Guerrero and another life.

We rode up into that gorge under a lazy northland sun, before grazing the white line through the bends in flight to Roma and Nga Marae o te Rawara below. This was Horse’s turangawaewae and he was coming home.

We had made it to Ahipara.

*coddiwompling: To travel in a purposeful manner towards a vague destination.

The mission

From Paihia to Kohukohu

“What do you mean they don’t serve beer?” Expectation always precedes disappointment. And there was nothing for it, I needed a boat!

That was the story at trail-end after the first of four Clueless days on the Hokianga. I’d managed to recruit a few riders for this misadventure. There is always the incorruptible Horse (Dean Ogilvie), but the posse was joined by others. The Sarg’ (Glenn Martin), Craig Richardson, Diz (Dhiren) and Pete O’Kane. A mix of freshmen and veterans… Wheelmen all.

Within minutes of the trailhead we were grappling with fresh gravels through Opua forest west towards the Hokianga. Those were old well weathered trails. The desire lines and trading routes of Ngapuhi. Those were the very same trails that later served as the passage for missionaries, this time trading the word of god.

We journeyed the mission at Te Waimate, the battle pa of Ohaewai, the lake at Omapere and onward to the hot pies of Okaihau. Before dropping down into the warm Utakura river valley onward to Horeke and our first real glimpse of the old Hokianga. Our destination was the Horeke hotel… the oldest surviving public house in New Zealand. The only issue was it wasn’t!

It has become a boutique hotel for the day-rider and urban glampers. Definitely not the kind of place six blokes can casually roll up to unannounced for a feed of fish and a pint of the black stuff.

As expectation turned to disappointment, disappointment turned to desperation. And in an audacious act of cluelessness, I convinced our ferryman to send a rescue mission.

So we waited. Sitting in the tailings of late golden sun. While faint in the distance we could hear that rythmic slow chug of the Ranui. Oily waters slapping at its shallow draft as it slew its way upriver past the Mangungu Mission house and ever closer to our salvation.

Within the hour we were holed up with locals at the Kohu Kohu tavern. Quenching our thirsts and looking back westward down the trail. I was lost in that ideal. Daydreaming how this quiet resting harbour must have once been… crowned in kauri with it’s waters flush with flounder and mullet. That reminded me… It was time for supper.