Geezers run

The twin coast cycle trail – Pou Herenga Tai

A late hard rain of apprehension fell over the far north, but that didn’t deter Geezers run. He’d enlisted a good posse for the twin coast cycle trail – Pou Herenga Tai. So there we were. The seven of us. Going about our trailhead prep’ at the Hokeke speak-easy.

We were way up in the Hoki’, that oily flat Hokianga water an amble tide. Slowly washing through mangrove and boat house pier. Times a slow mover up here and there’s no rush to change it. So why are we racing? I thought. The Hoki’ is special. Not just Kiwi special, I mean world special. It never changes, it ebbs and flows on a living tide. Some people say that’s stagnant, I see stability.

So we head east. Along that ridiculous purpose built board walk for the rich strangers that never stay. Past free wheeling tamariki who slowly ‘cruise’ on their own steel wheels. Checking our rides and throwing us that sly northland nod – a tilting mean overshot jaw. “Fight you for your bike man” they jeer… Geezer looked back with a grin.

Our posse fell to bits and before long wheelmen were spread from road to railway iron all along the trail. We traced the riparian of the Utakura river valley onto the only real climb to the Horeke plateau, Okaihau and a coffee (of sorts).  There we waited on the stragglers, shoulders hunched and huddled around our own uncertainty as the weather closed back in. A turbulent overcast white water rolling east to Paihia.

Old virginia

It’s claimed the legendary Kupe made landfall up here. And the peoples of this land, the Ngāpuhi, trace their lineage back to the earliest of waka that migrated from across the pacific deep to these warm and fertile lands.

This was preceded many many centuries later with the arrival of old world detritus – the traders, whalers, sealers and colonial escapees that all took refuge in the small and legendary anchorage of Kororareka.

Boarders between worlds are always places of exchange, diversity and dishevelment. I’ve stayed and lived in these kinds of arrival town with their transience and can only imagine Kororareka for what it once was – ‘that lawless hellhole of the South Pacific’. But beyond the periphery lay the interior. For the tupuna of Ngāpuhi and european ancestors alike this warm and fertile land became our country’s own colonial virginia.

Strewn between us and Kororareka (Russell) lay many a Mission house, pa and battle ground. The chapel of Saint Michael’s and the great fortifications of Ohaewai lay just beyond lake Omapere to the east. But we were following the old iron of the Okaihau branch rail line south to Kaikohe.


Saddle up

We saddled up and rode on. Seven sullen and soaked men doggedly making for town. Where slowly we ‘cruised the main’ in search of supplies and shelter. We found it in the Kaikohe bakehouse and cafe.

One by one we slid half inch thick porcelain plates over polished rails with all the clatter and rhythm of empty steel wagons. Shunting our cargo of warmly greased pastries to the till. Before negotiating our way back through the dejected to the door.

I ate in silence. Trapped within a wet wool malaise that was fitting for this sullen Kaikohe day.

Fifty clicks still stood in the way of our posse and Paihia. Our destination. Before long the route turned to rivers. We were soaked Lost within our own thoughts and privations.

I arrived at the outskirts of Moerewa – alone. Up ahead an old Holden swung unbreaking around the bend towards me. It lolled and floated, before swinging violently right once more. It’s lazy suspension bounding up and over cracked curb onto a squelch of sodden lawn. Sucking at air like a dying man, it’s engine wheezed, coughed and shuddered to its last breath.

I rode through Moerewa. Through its abandonment and endless unkept promises. That Holden a fitting metaphor of a struggling community.

We all got through it in the end – the seven of us, all in our own way with our own memories of it.

I love Northland. Its hard edges, its history and its heart. And this trail, Pou Herenga Tai, you don’t leave it behind you. You pick it up and carry it with you.

Away beyond the Wawa

It took us a day and a half to get to new. That’s always the challenge when you set out from the same trailhead time after time, it takes a while to branch onto uncharted terrain, to find the new. For us the new was just east of Tirau at a place somewhere, yet nowhere called Okoroire. A place of good grub, tall tales and even better, a steaming thermal hot pool.

Night was descending quickly as we slipped below the surface, I watched the stall and swoop of fantails through the punga and mist, as it gradually clawed its way up from the Waihou river falls below. Eventually arriving, greeting my chin with its chill fingers as I dove lower into the earthy warmth of the waters. It was definitely autumn and this was a definitely a very New Zealand kind of place.

Following a good meal I lay back thinking of months past. Well planned intentions and destinations not visited. Now feeling wearysome, fat and unfit, I drifted off to the roar of white water. It’s tumble, foam and swirl forcing fading memories into the deeper fissures of my mind. Ride tomorrow.

The Wawa

It wasn’t the first time we’d seen that sign that particular day, ‘Private road, no entry!’

Horse and I had made good from Okoroire, passing through Tirau and the back roads, sliding slippery in the cool fog over the rolling green south through Putaruru and onward to Tokaroa. Taking shelter from the cold drizzle under a slender canopy of the local two dollar shop where we silently squaffed down our pies.

Then passing Kinleith and the long decent to the Kopakorahi stream to that damned sign – ‘ye shall not pass’. We pulled up as the road continued on into the deep of the forest ahead. It was a wide road, a paved and beautiful road, a lost road, lost forever as just another national chattel surrendered in the sale of now private forest ownership.

Surly, I straddled my bike scouring sites for solutions when Horse quietly muttered a Lebowski under his breath: “oh fuck it!” and pushed on down the road and into the Wawa. I watched him disappear into the deep, soon following.

I missed this. Where the only sensible barriers are the natural not the human. I’ve missed the silence that comes with travelling in company and the trust that comes with it. And I’ve missed the paths untravelled, I’ve missed the new.

So as we rode on we considered our excuses if caught. Horse suggested I swear in broken Spanish, I responded that he may want to invoke tino rangatiratanga and claim his sovereign rights over the Wawa. We eventually settled on sensibility and pressed on through the endless even formation of plantation forest. With its creeping suffocating silence that lays dormant in its still.

We slowly weaved our way up the ravine the top of the Wawa, which then gently fell away in a seamless decent down Flavell Road to the Waikato river. Away up river was raw tooth of rock that is the ‘Pohaturoa’ rising near vertically from the river valley.


Horse took point and led the way through the remaining hill country to Mokai. My legs were tiring as was my mood. I was spent and Horse knew it. Encouragement from Horse is a bit like getting encouragement from a fist full of warm gravel, its blunt, brief and raw. But it had its effect, as I climbed the last wall prior to Oruanui, then on into the fading glow of twilights passing to Taupo.

“Pub?” said Horse. And the man abides.

Through pine

With a light crust of dry dirt with equally dry joints, we headed south into the hills. It had been some time since we rode together, Horse and I.

In the beginning was Hunua and the climb up Moumoukai Road. Then the drop in a scramble of single track to Mangatawhiri, the Waterline and on into ‘the forbidden’.

It felt tamed, the forbidden. But that’s the thing about a plantation, there is order in unwilding pine. That and the suffocating silence that comes with it.


It was Reminiscent of another place, another time, where I climbed up out of Mexico City’s endless rivers of traffic in search of space – Desierto de los Leones high above the city in the Sierra de las Cruces to the west. Its ridges and gully’s of wild pine, fir and oak pierced by flickers of light within. Nature’s palisade from the inescapable fire and rumble of the city beyond.

“Nobody here, will ever find me, I’ll always be around, just like the songs I leave behind me, I’m going to live forever now…
…and when this old world has blown asunder, and all the stars fall from the sky, just remember, someone really loves you, we’ll live together, forever, both you and I,
I’m going to live forever, I’m going to cross that river, I’m going to live forever now.”

Onward we rode, eventually screaming down the gravel winding to Ness valley and Clevedon below. And so it is. Like Mexico of old, we were back in the world.


Training days

The day has arrived (and passed) and it’s clear I’ve still not learnt my lesson.

It’s three months out before beginning the next big tour so the training now begins in ernest. After a few months of near constant rain and a winter spread, I’m expecting a yet more months of constant rain with a liberal dose of self inflicted pain. I’m not sure how oxygen efficient it will be, but I’m seriously considering buying a snorkel!

As I’ve noted in past posts, this time I have company – ‘Horse’ (Dean Ogilvie) from the League of Clevedon Wheelmen is joining me, so we are on a training programme to get our kneeses ship shape for the ride ahead. The route is plotted (the South Island traverse) with another big wiggle of about 1,700km over a three week timespan.

Today was a short 76km rolling ride west into world. Clevedon to Clarks beach return. Not to taxing, but I’ll still be applying a liberal dose of X-Zone tonight (this stuff was a god send on the last tour).

Be prepared for more mayhem, machinery and man bits in follow up posts in the months ahead!

No cold feet

Remarkable. Two back to back sun filled days. This was mid-year, months since I pack-muled the Surly and I wanted a challenge, plus I really needed to winter test my kit. So fully loaded and anxious I headed south.

From Highridge through the Hunua, eastward to Miranda, then onto the flat lands of the Hauraki. Destination Thames. Ninety six clicks later I arrived at camp north of town. It was time to set up and hunker down for the evening. A good days ride on good ground.

Steaming nostrils

As the sun slipped away back towards the west, the draft from the rearward ranges flowed down in an endless bitter current. It was going to be a cold night.

It was! It ended up being the coldest night of the year. Cold cold!

FullSizeRender 2I lay in whatever I carried; sleeping bag, layers of merino, leggings and with cold feet, it also meant shoes. Leaving only a set of nostrils exposed to the elements, snorting steam into the tent like an old leaking fell engine. It was little use, the ground cold meant for an endless rotisserie to retain what little warmth I had. It was an endless broken sleep.

Winter test over, I’d learned my lesson and now know what kit I’d need next. I packed early, hit the road and headed towards town to find somewhere warm for my toes (let alone my belly).

Waihi return

‘The Dean’ (of Clevedon Wheelmen fame) arrived for second breakfast a little later.  We latte’d and got on the road. The plan for the day was trail riding Thames to Waihi return.

Stage one to Paeroa was a gravel double track through dairy country direct to Te Aroha Maunga. Rest, photo op’, loo then onward up the rail trail through the Karangahake Gorge to Waihi. 

We completed our customary pie stop at 2pm just in time for a freshly invigorated shady wind to follow us back to where we began. A few aches aside, we made good time on the downhill trail. 

Then onward to Paeroa and the double track, a setting sun in front of us, elongated shadows at rear. All the while bemused heifers nodded at us, humming their line to another old Glen Campbell favourite: ‘that keeps you ever gentle on my mind’.

I was relieved and thankful to have reached that last bridge and completed those two days. A shade over 200 clicks, a few sore muscles and a few frozen memories.

Good ground and a good day for the Wheelmen.

Today’s top track: Glen Campbell – Gentle on my mind