Tour Aotearoa Day 3 – Opononi to Dargaville

Today promised to be a shorter day, ahead of some more challenging distances in order to reach Auckland. The route continued along the Hokianga Harbour, with great views on my right, before passing Omapere and beginning a sharp climb up from sea level. From the top of the climb, I enjoyed a far-reaching views back across the Hokianga Harbour and out to the brilliance of the Tasman Sea. Life on a bicycle tour isn’t always easy, but it’s often rewarding.

I stopped for my morning coffee stop at the Wisteria Way Café, and was tempted to stay the night. This attractive café is surrounded by tranquil gardens, displays local crafts for sale, and also offers pretty cottage accommodation. It would make a perfect stop for any touring cyclists wanting to push past Opononi.

Soon after leaving the café, I found myself pulling off the road again – there always seem to be so many interesting distractions! – this time stopping to admire New Zealand’s natural beauty in the form of the biggest tree I’ve ever seen. That’s unsurprising, as Tāne Mahuta (God of the Forest) is the largest living tree in New Zealand, and also one of the largest in the world. Towering 50 metres high, swelling to 16 metres wide, and a nearly-unbelievable 2,000 years old, this tree is sacred within Maori mythology, believed to be the son of the sky-father and the earth mother. Tāne Mahuta gives life to all living creatures so everything, humans included, are considered to be his children.

These coniferous Kauri trees, native to New Zealand, are some of the most gigantic trees found anywhere in the world, and I enjoyed another opportunity to witness them at Trounson Kauri Park. Often described as an island, the park is surrounded by a sea of farmland, not water, and is a preserved area of evergreen rainforest, some 450 hectares large, with immense biodiversity. This conservation status is important, as the Maoris have long-used their timber to build boats and houses, and their the gum as a fire-starter and for chewing. This deforestation only intensified after the arrival of the Europeans, as the value of these tall, straight trees was recognised for making ship masts. This history comes to life vividly, both while riding my bike through these landscapes and also from the local people I’ve spoken with. Stopping in the One Stop Kauri Shop, a woman of British and Maori descent told me more about the history of this gum.

Leaving the rainforests behind, I emerged back into the sea of farmland, loving the quiet gravel roads. It’s perfect terrain for my gravel bike, and I rolled effortlessly over the dirt road, loving having it all to myself. There’s lots of technical terrain and trails ahead, and my 650b wheels will help deal with this.

I’m staying in Dargaville at the Dargaville Motel tonight. Named in 1872 after the Australian timber merchant, Joseph Dargaville, it was then a thriving area for logging the majestic Kauri trees. For a short period it had New Zealand’s largest population, but that has now shrunk to 5,000 residents – and fewer Kauri trees than it once had. The local economy has pivoted to the cultivation of Kūmara (sweet potato), earning it the nickname of the Kūmara Capital. I’ll see if I can find any tasty Kūmara for dinner!

Tomorrow’s section has been one of the biggest logistical headaches when planning this trip; taking the ferry from Pouto to Helensville so I can ride to Auckland to meet new friends. The ferry runs infrequently, however, I was lucky to meet a group of five cyclists who have chartered it and would allow me to arrange a space on it with them. Keep your fingers crossed that all goes to plan, and I’ll update you on the adventure tomorrow!