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.
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.
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.