Tour Aotearoa Day 2 – From Ahipara to Opononi

After a restful night in Ahipara, I woke up rejuvenated and ready to jump back on the bike. Day two on the Tour Aotearoa promised to be another beautiful day with sunny weather and many kilometres of enticing road ahead. After riding across 90 Mile Beach yesterday, today promised to be easier, heading inland to ride across rural farmland and peaceful villages. I was looking forward to exploring the Hokianga Harbour, which has a historical importance for both the indigenous Maoris and the European settlers.

Feeling hungry after 35 kilometres, I stopped for a sausage roll in the town of Broadwood and was surprised by a statue carved in recognition of the European settlers who arrived here in the late 1800’s and helped develop the area into the strong farming community it is today. It’s strange to be here in New Zealand and yet, at times, to feel so close to home. At one stage today, a bolt fell off my wheel due to an issue with a thread, and I stopped at the first house I came to, a ramshackle hut, and was surprised to be greeted by a thick Scottish accent. The man assisted with my bike in his workshop, while explaining that before moving to New Zealand, his father had been a hero of World War I, manning a machine gun on the beaches of Normandy.

Due to a popular fishing competition in the area today on a busy, mid-summer Saturday, I’d been warned about the dangers of drink drivers, and sure enough, the few cars that passed uncomfortable close to me, made me glad to turn right onto the unmetalled dirt road to Motukaraka on the Hokianga Harbour. This road was first constructed in 1908, and remains a slow and bumpy journey.

After 18 kilometres of corrugations, I reached Motukaraka, and was greeted by the glistening dead-end of Hokianga Harbour (Te Kohanga in Maori, meaning ‘the nest of the northern people’). This vast estuary extends inland for 30 kilometres from the Tasman Sea, and was a steep mountain valley, until 12,000 years ago when the end of the last ice age caused sea levels to flood. Thankfully a ferry promised to save me a significant 95-kilometre detour, and allow my tiring legs a chance to rest. An hourly ferry runs from Motukaraka to Rawene, and I rolled on beside a handful of other cars also making the crossing today.

I arrived in Rawene, which means ‘a beautiful sunset,’ and was an early timber settlement with a bustling mill and shipyard in the early 1800’s. Today it’s a sleepy village with a population of 540 people. I was tempted to stay to witness the beautiful sunset across the Hokianga Harbour, but was also excited to see the Koutu Boulders. These strange boulders like gigantic and perfectly-round marbles appear anything but natural. Some were cracked in half as if they’d been dropped from a large height and I was amazed by their size, some of them six-metres tall, more than three times bigger than a person. This bizarre geology is formed from the erosion of the softer sandstone that once surrounded them, and over thousands of years, they’ve rolled down from the hillsides to finish on the beach. I am loving the variety of different sites I’m seeing on this 3,000 kilometre long bike ride, and can’t wait for all the surprises that still lie ahead.

Tonight I’m staying in Opononi at the Opononi Resort Hotel which boasts ten rooms, each with harbour-side views and private balconies offering sea-view. This close to the sea, I’m keen to try as much of the local seafood as I can, and tonight I enjoyed a delicious chowder. When cycling so far across New Zealand, it’s important for me to get enough food in, but that’s easy when it’s all so delicious!

I haven’t mentioned so far, but when I was planning this trip, my gardener asked me which charity I’d be raising money for. I realised this was a great opportunity to raise some awareness (and hopefully money!) for a charity that’s important to me. Claire’s House Children’s Hospice is a local charity that helps terminally-ill children make the most of their time, no matter how long or short that may be. If you’re enjoying this blog, I’d love it if you made a donation to the charity here.