90 Mile beach to Pouto Point
Sitting on the beach looking over Kaipara Harbour I have time to reflect. The sun is burning off the grey veil of dawn. Crickets chirp their morning ritual as the warm air rouses them. The temperature is steadily rising and the sounds of the animals rising with it. I’m facing out to sea, the golden sand hard packed under my bare feet. A cluster of trees behind me houses the crickets and my tent. To the far right small sand dunes break the horizon. To my left is a small automatic lighthouse gleaming white in the sun and a worn dark sandstone jetty. This is Pouto Point my home for the next two days.
It’s a few days into the ride and I have come to learn one thing; that it is hard.
Everyday has its struggles, be it the heat, wind, rain or climbs. Headed down the west from 90 Mile Beach I climbed inland away from the coast. The next few days it was to be the climbing that was making it difficult. Days of big elevation gain made up of dozens of small hills.
The day started with a light drizzle, still warm, the humidity had reached tipping point and a fine layer coated me as I rode. The scenery was tropical; densely forested, tight knit hills crowded together to block the view of the ocean. Holding all their weather down onto their lush forest gardens. The air hummed with life and sound, constant bird calls shouting over each other, clamouring for attention.
The road weaved a jagged but determined path through the hills, fighting to find the most efficient route. The heavy rains of the previous week had left their calling card. Flooded forests left trees stranded in pools of dark murky water and the road was squeezed tighter by fallen embankments. The land trying to reclaim the road that was ambitious enough to try to cut through it.
I reach Broadwood, a little settlement nestled in a secluded valley, surrounded by the deep forest. A scattering of farms and a shop. I resupply and have a lunch break. The locals are beyond friendly, they all come out to chat with me. It’s a quiet gem of New Zealand’s rural towns. I sit for two hours eating my cheese on crackers and a pie. Seeing this town slowly but surely go about its day. None of the hustle and bustle of a town, just a steady beat along with the sound of nature.
It was just one street with maybe ten houses either side, everyone waved at one another as they drove past. A nod from the farmer on his quadbike, no helmet just ruddy face and faded baseball cap, two dogs standing proudly on the back atop of a sack of grain. The shop owner gives a nod back as he takes 20 minutes from his day for a smoke and a chat. The Maori guy in full hunting gear pulls up with his daughter and spends half hour talking to me before even going into the shop. It’s a wonderful place to stop for lunch.
Stopping in tiny little settlements for a long lunch would become my norm. It was a great respite from the hottest part of the day and fantastic people watching. Rarely do I get the opportunity to witness life in a small community and this was like being a fly on the wall. Rural small town New Zealand was my new must-watch TV.
A few days later as I headed out of Rawene at dawn the sky was a bright candyfloss pink. The garish heavens reflected in the calm still waters of the sea, giving a rosy tinge to the morning. My guide book (Kennet Brothers Classic New Zealand Cycle Trails) said there was a big climb up to the Kauri Forest. I had been riding lots of little hills since Cape Reinga but this would be the first long slog. Preparing for yet another tough day I followed the coast for a little while, conserving my energy and enjoying the sea breeze.
I left Oponui behind after eating my second breakfast (three hotdogs at a charity stand for the local school) and immediately the road got steeper. I sweated my way to the top thankful for the awesome descent into the flatter plains on the other side. Next up was the big hill up to the rainforest. I ticked down the kilometres and got ready.
As soon as I saw the road disappearing up into the low cloud it started to rain. The winding road became a silver strip zig-zagging up into the grey sky. It wasn’t a big hill but it was the first. I was excited. The rain was giant drops the size of golf balls that thundered down and splashed up from the road into my shoes. I wore just my merino wool base layer and was wet but warm. Little rivers ran down my arms and dripped off the bars. The world went quiet, a hush as all the creatures stopped and huddled into shelter, wondering if this onslaught would last weeks like the last big storm.
I powered on, feeling strong, cooled by the rain and enjoying the challenge. 5km of uphill and I was finally in the rainforest. The animals had reanimated and were full of song and call. I could only make out as far as the next corner through the dense wood. Fallen trees and foliage piled high between the giant trees. Everything was covered in a thick carpet of bright grass-green moss. The rain tumbled through the canopy diverted and broken by the branches above. I spotted a few of the younger Kauri trees with their thick stubby trunks muscling their way through the smaller trees They seemed so ancient and steadfast surrounded by all this water-filled exuberance.
I pulled into a surprisingly busy carpark (I had barely seen any traffic all day) and took a little walk to see Tane Mahuta, the King of the Forest. A 2000-year-old giant Kauri Tree. If I thought the other Kauri trees looked old this one was next level. It was spectacular, so thick and then suddenly springing out of the treetops with giant arms. Those arms so big and wide other plants and trees had started to grow along them.
I felt crowded by all the people, suddenly thrust very much on to the tourist trail. Ticking off a must-see attraction it felt a little staged and took away from the wonder of this giant tree that had been thriving through the history of man.
My feeling of overcrowding soon disappeared with a truly epic (and almost scary) 10km of wind screaming descent. Sharp winding corners, slick with rain kept me on my toes. I loved it, I wooped laughed out loud to myself, enjoying the well-earned downhill.
Next morning, I was up just before dawn. The cacophony of bird calls was my alarm and when I opened my eyes the fresh grey light was seeping into my tent. I had packed and was riding along a hilly ridge before the first orange rays of light had even hit me.
It was surreal and strikingly beautiful time to travel. Dawn light has a special ethereal glow to it. With the crisp air sharp against my skin, my fingers and toes would be painfully raw as my body sluggishly pumped blood to them. But the views were incredible. A pale mist swirled through the valleys, frosting every spider web into a dew-beaded pearl necklace. Every fence became a Christmas tree decorated by the fog and lit by the dawn.
I stopped in Dargaville for a resupply (the last town before Pouto Point so be sure to stock up) and a long lunch. The day was building into a scorcher but a strong Southerly was blowing across the inlet.
Soothing as a side wind but tormenting as a head wind. The sun was baking my back and neck but the breeze was pushing from the front, making me work for every inch. I struggled like this for one and a half hours. Tucked down and leaning my elbows on my handlebars in an attempt to be more aerodynamic. I made slow progress. I sat up and rested when trees created a natural wind block then tucked back again when riding through the corn fields. Steadily stealing kilometres and praying to get out of the long straight wind tunnel.
I pulled over to add more sun cream and checked my map for any sign of getting out of the wind. My stomach dropped and my shoulders slumped. I looked around to get a bearing hoping I was wrong. Unfortunately I wasn’t. I was very clearly going the wrong way. The Wairoa river was on my right and it should have definitely been on my left. I could actually see the road I was supposed to be on, 400m away across the murky brown waters, the only bridge was back in Dargaville.
After running through the gambit of emotions in record time, shock to disbelief to anger to denial then acceptance all in a heartbeat. I laughed and took some photos knowing I would be retelling this story, everyone loves an adventure mishap!
My GPS ran out of charge after riding 110 km. I pushed on theorising if I got further tonight I could get an early boat across from Pouto Point. By the time I stopped I was starving and exhausted and approximate new record of longest day. I pulled into a small field with a 4×4 track down to a small jetty. Far enough from the water to keep the bugs away but it was cooled by the breeze. I sat down and began to make camp in the fast fading light. A man from a nearby house started shouting at me after I had set up the tent.
‘Damn’ I thought, I must be on his land and he wants me to move.
I really didn’t want to keep riding my legs were like stone now that I had cooled down. I couldn’t hear him but he jumped into his truck and drove down to me. As soon as he got out the car he was all smiles and handshakes, rough callused hands with thick knuckles from rugby and farming. They protruded from a worn flannel shirt rolled up the sun-tanned arms.
‘I was shouting at you to take the water from the boat tap, it’s filtered, tastes better’, he explained.
He had spotted me out the window over his dinner and stopped eating to jump in the truck. Kiwi hospitality yet again, he even offered to let me sleep in his garden. I had already set up the tent though so I was happy to stay and drink my filtered water.
It was an ill-informed race against time to Pouto Point. I wanted to catch the early boat across to Helensville so I could make it to Auckland the day after. I made the assumption that an early boat would, like the ferry in Rawene be on the hour or at least three times a day so at a guess 9am. This assumption was based on nothing, absolutely zero, I had plucked it straight out of the ether.
I arrived after a tough sprint finish. The final few kilometres to Pouto Point are an unsealed gravel fire road. Dusty, dry and rough but with the wonderful smell of fresh pine in the air. I was transported immediately back to Canada. The little log cabins dotted organically throughout the trees, like they sprung up with the bright red mushrooms that littered the sides of the road. Even the few logging trucks that came barrelling past, real work trucks clattering and rumbling along all had me reminiscing. I love the smell of pine and for the whole ride would actually enjoy being over taken by the logging trucks, getting their heady scent as I was buffeted about by their slip stream.
Arriving at Pouto Point was a shock. Even by little New Zealand settlements this was small. A scatter of whiteboard houses basking in the sun. All seemingly empty (holiday homes generally) no store and just a picturesque town hall. Door left unlocked of course. I rode down to the ‘dock’ and saw a sign with the number to call for the boat.
‘Yea we can take you to Helensville no worries and your bike. Our next charter is Saturday.
No, we aren’t headed that way any sooner. There is no ferry. No, there isn’t any other boats.
So, stay in Dargaville and head down on Saturday.
Oh, you’re already in Pouto Point? Well there aren’t any shops there so you might have to ride back to Dargaville for food.’
I had been reading an older version of the Kennet Brothers guide book and I say reading in a very loose term. I had assumed a regular boat service, whereas it was more of a side-line for a fishing charted Shamrock Charters (Absolutely lovely people by the way I will mention them more in m next blog).
For now, I was stuck in Pouto Point. Stranded for two and a half days.First of all I had no intention of riding back to Dargaville and around. it would have taken me the same amount of time as waiting for the boat. Second, I wasn’t looking to double back twice in one week.
Now I have never been stranded before, but Pouto Point has got to be one of the nicest places for it. The sand was soft and golden stretching out before turning into the sand dunes in the far distance. The salty air whispered gently through my camping spot. My tent shaded by the few trees and softened by the fresh green grass. I spent the days reading on the beach or swimming in the strong blue currents of the Kaipara Harbour.
My forced relaxation time was ideal. Causing me to take the time to really slow down and appreciate the ride. No need to rush around getting from A to B. I stopped and took stock. Wrote in my diary, fixed my buckled wheel and gave the bike a thorough check up (the chain was looking seriously abused after 90 Mile Beach). Because I always carried enough supplies for 3 days I was perfectly comfortable. Like I said being stranded had never felt better.