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Saturday, January 12, 2002

Bike Trip

After New Year's Eve we cleared our heads with a 9 day bicycle tour through the north island of New Zealand - what Kiwis refer to as the Northland. Starting in Brynderwyn (north of Auckland), we made a loop; first westward to Dargaville with it's cow pastures and pasturial hills. We enjoyed late night service at the BLah Blah blah cafe and a friendly chat with Wally about death, friends dying and his leathery heart that night as we stayed in his B&B - Birch House. Wally had a pacemaker installed about a month or so before we arrived. Says it slows him down a bit. We'd decided to stay in town because Stu needed a new derailer and camp was 17km away. It was $35 a night for a room and another $35 per person if you wanted to take a bath rather than a shower. The place was his house, a 1940s kind of thing, huge living room with fireplace and pictures of his family everywhere, small bedrooms with knotty wooden walls and big feather beds, oldfashioned payned windows with lacey white curtian, and instant coffee in the morning. (We have bought him some of our favorite beans from our favorite coffee roaster here in auckland and sent them to him). He gave us huge bear hugs good-bye.

Cycling Lonely Planet mentions that the Maritime Museum in Dargaville has the only surviving Maori war canone from pre-European times and the mast from Rainbow Warrior, so we stopped. It failed to mention Gumboots.

Gumboots are worn by gum diggers. Gum diggers dig up Kauri Gum. When damaged the Kauri tree produces great amounts of resinous sap which covers the wound and protects the inner timber. The sap congeals into hard lumps and falls to the ground - Kauri Gum. New Zealand's own riches simular of Amber. I love Amber! I love Kauri Gum. More interesting to me than the canoe or mast is that Kauri trees do not grow naturally anywhere else in the world. The tree family is over 150 million years old and a lot of sap has been dug up from the dinosaur age. The Maori used the gum for chewing, tattooing and lighting fires. Europeans used the gum as an ingredient for high quality varnishes.

Inside the museum are displays of the kauri gum digging implements, photographs of gum-digging, giant pieces of kauri gum, saws, native timber, bushman's hut,other items connected with the Gum Digging Days and the gum boots - above the knee leather wear.

4:26 PM
We peddled out of Dargaville around noon, which became par for the course the whole way - leaving around noon. Stuart explained it to Sirpa as, "You don't meet people if you are always biking." We were also continually lucky with good weather. The landscape grew under our wheels bulging more and making me go slower up but faster down. I use my brakes, unlike the boys, going down the curvy snake of a road, and so saved my life. Stuart used to race mountian bikes and has described how he used to slide around corners on his heel with the back wheel slowly going out of control. I looked down at my little Ho Chi Mihn black chinese slippers and up at his muscular body and knew he was no help in weaning me off the brakes. Eric and Stu would actually peddle hard, crouch way down and follow cars in their slipstreams. I tried one hill without using the brakes and at about 30 mph (it felt like 100!) I wobbled in a turn, I wobbled three times actually and was scarred shitless but kept reminding myself "look where you are going" which I learned in a Bob Bonderant School of Driving. Prying my eyes off the blurry rocky shoulder and down the road to the next turn saved my ass from some severe road rash.

4:36 PM The biggest hill was the long zigzaggy switchbacks that gradually climbed up through the Northland Conservation Park to the Waipoua Forest which houses the two biggest and oldest (remaining) Kauri trees in New Zealand. Kauri wood, like Kauri Gum is highly prized. The trees grow up looking like pine trees, tall and thin, but when they reach a certain height they strangely drop their lower brances, the leaves become rounder and smaller, and the shallow root system has to support a sudden massive expansion of the trunk. (Kinda like lovely polynesian girls look so beautiful and svelt until one day in their aging 20's suddenly pop out like a filled innertube). This transfiguration of the trees must be part of the reason why they are part of Maori Ledgend, representing gods.

The Ministry of Land did a survey of the forests before the road was built and decided to make the trees accessable tourist stops, so after a night in the pine and fern tree campground where we swam in a cold refreshing river and a day of going up another bad ass incline, we had the luxury of getting off our bikes, crossing the road (passing the airstream trailer selling homemade meatpies and coffee) to meet the sacred Giant Kauri. Te Matua Ngahere (Father of the Forest) is big and beatuiful. A wooden walk way leads you to about 10 feet from its 16.4 meter girth!
Tane Mohuta (God of the Forest) is even bigger and we had the accompaniment of locals singing hymms in their native language. (It was Mennenite Stu who recognized the tunes!)
5:02 PM
Again, the well maincured walkway stops you just short of giving these behemoths a hug. The young man, his plump bride and their tiny child were more rehearsing than entertaining with their songs, but I dropped a gold bullion-like two dollar coin into the hat anyway. Kiwi coins look like pirate money to me. They have a nice weight and heft to them, perhaps i secretly wanted to get rid of it, before biking more hills.

We continued north with the Tasman Sea our left until we had to turn in at Hokianga Harbor, stopping for the night at the ferry town of Rawene. Magic is to be had there. We pulled up to the first reasonable looking (ie, open) place to eat which had tables both inside and out. From the curb Stu asked those sitting outside if anyone there might happen to have a ?? (some special cycle tool for taking off crank cases so he could perform bike surgery and fix a particular titanium spoke). Sure enough a long hair having a beer said he thinks he does and we could come tomorrow to the Treehouse and use it. Meanwhile, I am on the other side of the resturant talking to two girls who are backpackers and they tell me to come visit them tomorrow at, yes, the Treehouse. The only follow-up I can give about the Treehouse is that it is great so get reservations early!

The resturant was a treasure trove itself. Everything inside it was for sale. It looks like an old english Den; bookshelves and Chippendale desk, brass and stained glass, green leather couches, high backed chairs mixed with copper cookery, sterling silver cutlery sets under glass, an oversized chess set that the prorietor made himself and tons of antiques. There seemed to be only one employee. When Eric told our host, John Post, that it was a very eccentric place he answered, "I am a very eccentric man!" When I asked for the wine list he said there wasnt one, asked what I liked and materialized a lovely chardonnay.

The town of Rawene is very small, very cute. A lot like Cannon Beach, Oregon. The next morning we had the best cappuccinos and muffins at the Boatshed Cafe where they sold exquisite handmade gifts as well. Within an hour we all got back massages across the steet in a building that used to be the offices of New Zealand's David Lang. Across from that, in a little orgainc food store, a local gave me a piece of greenstone. Greenstone is, well, green and only exists in one place in all the world - the south island of New Zealand. It is called the Peace stone. When I was looking at buying it I thought to myself, "no it willl add weight to my bike" and put it down. The shopkeeper had been watching me and probably thought I was being a cheapskate. He handed it to me and said I could have it for free. "It is better to be gifted greenstone, anyway" he added.

We took the afternoon ferry across Hokianga Harbor, biked a few kilometers to the Treehouse, saw the tool guy and Alona and Sarah, waited out a rain and began biking through lush wet countryside. However, the first little town we came to (called Kohukou) had a Palace Cafe and Eric was hungry. He ordered a lamb burger and I think the cook went to go slaughter it because it took about 2 hours to make. Meanwhile we met "The Queen" and her two sons who were sitting inside and had the such a good sense of humor that it was hard to keep up with them.

We were in a part of New Zealand they call "The Far North" which is hard for me to grasp as we are about 30degrees south of the equator. It is warm here, but not hot like the desert of my youth in Arizona. I pefer pants and sleeves to summer wear and it rains much much more.

Leaving Kohukohu we rode thru specatular Hobbit-esque landscape. It is easy to see how come they shot "Lord of the Rings" here. The hills were plushy, lushy, rollie-pollie, full of spring flowers, thistle, wild fennel, yarrow, flax, dragon flies and chinese pompus grass. Hand hewn wooden fences cut along hilltops. Happy looking wooded knots dotted the distant mountains, birds sang, and we counted numberous sqwashed hedgehogs and even more possums on the road. The soil was chalky yellow or deep red. There was very little traffic and all the buildings seemed to be from a time before. We even came across a perfectly working 1927 Chevey truck with wooden wheel spokes and two 1930 Ford A-Types. The Gas Station attendant told us that the Chevey was used for breakdowns which Stuart picked up right away meant it was a tow-truck.
9:00 PM
Within our daily average of 3-3 1/2 hours of biking we made it to Kaitaia where at the Bushman resturant we discussed over a bottle of wine called "ninety mile beach" going up the real 90 mile beach to see the sand dunes and Cape Reigna's light house or not. I am not sure if it was the second bottle of wine or the third helping from the buffet that made us realize we were not going to be able to break our past patterns to get up early and go farther than normal. We bagged 90 Mile Beach.

In the mornng we did internet at Hacker's Cafe, coffee at the Backdoor Cafe, ran into the "Queen" briefly and again didn't get on the road until after noon. It was a great day. Loads of quiet. But it got long. In Doubtless Bay we saw a sign for a whaling museum - by appointment only. Eric called them and said we were from a old whaling lineage, which got us an appointment immediately. They were rather expectant, but seemed just as amused at being duped as if we had really come from a whaling family. They didn't really like whaling and wouldn't support it today, but they had a well restored whaler's outpost on a terrific track of land beautifully gardened.

We learned that it was decidedly dangerous business hunting whales. We saw harpoons, apocothery boxes, pipes and more pipes, whale tooth scrimshaw, and Ambergris (produced in the hindgut of the sperm whale, on exposure to sunlight and air it quickly oxidizes and hardens to a pleasantly aromatic, marbled, grayish, waxy, pellucid substance. It has been used as a fixative for rare perfumes, as an aphrodisiac, as a spice for food and wine, as a medicine for the heart and brain. In the Thousand and One Nights, Sinbad is shipwrecked on a desert island and discovers a spring of stinking crude ambergris which flows like wax into the sea where it is swallowed by giant fishes and vomited up again as fragrant lumps to be cast up on the shore).

Whales are mighty big and you cant throw one in the freezer, especially in the 1800s. The crew had special implements for 'downsizing' the mamal and then right there on the deck, in brick stoves, they boiled the bits down distilling the oil. That too was overtly dangerous, espically in rough seas. Several whaling tales inform of rigging burned, ships alight and unfortunate deaths.

Whale oil was big business. I would guess it is one of the primary colonizing factors in the south pacific. We were at Captian Butler's whaling station, established around 1800. Whale oil was used for lanters. It was not until the mid 1800s that New Zealand became a destination for Europeans seeking religious freedom, escaping poverty, or in search of opportunities unavailable in the "old country."

Unlike days before, we were still biking as the sun was setting and it made me rather anxious. Stu had made us reservations at a B&B called Kahoe Farms and at the bottom of each hill it seemed like our destination should be just over the next one, but no. It was like that for the last 30 kms, which seemed infinite. Both Eric and I ran out of water. It was more than a relief to finally arrive. It was a treat! Our host, Stephano was an Italien chief with a style of fresh fresh fresh. He hand-made pasta, grew herbs in his garden, and baked bread every morning. The place was a charming country home with a lively bunch of world travelers filling it to the brim. One of the girls we met that night, Kaho from Japan, agreed to come sea kayaking with us the next day.

11:01 PM

Sunday, January 13, 2002

It really doesn't matter - biking or sea kayaking or whatever - we wouldn't get going until after noon. So it was we hit the water around 1pm. It was my first time in a sea kayak and as I age I find I do not jump in blindly to first time newness the way I used to. It took a bit to get comfortable with paddleing. My arms instantly went weak and tired. My shoulder began to hurt. I wondered exactly how many things I might be doing the hard way? But there is a strange attraction to sitting at water level and gliding smoothly along the top of waves. The further we got out from shore the eaiser it was to see the vast beauty of the bay. The terrain is verdant with much vegitation, but majestic vertical thrusts of dark volcanic rock dominate the feeble foliage. The outcroppings went up to 100s of feet and plunged down below the waterline. Had the weather been bad it would have been overly intimidating watching the waves crash against them. I was extremely fortunate that there was no wind and also very lucky there was no rain, in fact it was hot and sunny. A perfect day for a beginner. We paddled out of Whangaroa Harbor, stopping at the Duke's Nose, a fantastic rock outcrop, shear and bold, in the shape of a head with a very prominent nose, which we hiked to the top of were it was, er, bald. We had lunch, took pictures and were romanced by the incredible breathtaking views. The climb up had been ardurous and coming down the craggy precipitous trail Kaho lost all confidence. She was stuck trying to descend the rockface. Simply unable to find a way to balance upon the tiny juts of stone here and there she froze. Stu climbed back up and became her strategy coach while eric and I formed a commitee at bottom which was a bit like cheating at twister where stu would make the call and we would approve or not her next move... put your right foot here (yup!), put your left hand here (no, too low), put it here (good!), put your left foot here, etc. At the top Kaho had genuinely thanked us in the most touching, warmest, sweetest way (broken english) for asking her along, getting across that otherwise she wouldn't have been able to see this great spot, and I believe as she made it down the mountian she was glad again that we were there to help her down, feeling that as nice as it is, it isn't really so worth staying much longer than lunch.

Back in the Paddle
Stuart was Mr. Saftey on this trip. He checked the weather, the tides, the currents, the prevailing winds and asked some nearby yatchies about change of conditions before we undertook to paddle further out to sea. We followed him like New Zealand sheep. He was also the only one with a map.

The first cave we came to I watched stu disappear into a black hole. I heard a huge noise which I knew was him crying out in the way gung ho "Geronimo!" guys do or a monster had eaten him. He came back out grinning. Stu is Canadian with curly almost frizzy blonde hair and blue eyes. I just then realized he was a clan leader of a Viking tribe in a previous life. He is wild but never gets excited. In his calming level voice he said, "Yeah it's ok. Come on in." Baaaa! Baaa!

The cave was more of an L-shaped corridor reminiscent of gothic church catherdrals. The narly walls were tall and spacious, mysteriously dim but with light pouring in from many high places. I could have easily turned my kayak around if I had needed to. We went in one way and came out at another. That was cool. What a great first cave. Not at all boring! Gorgeous! But also not too scarry.

We paddled on and came to some funky slits in the cliffs. They were dark and narrow and the waves were bigger. Eric took the left one, his kayak bumping along the sides. Stu scoped out the one on the right which was visibly wider. Stu returned first so I headed in, hoping eric would be alright on his own. This cave didn't have as high a ceiling, and was much more intimate. My paddle was wide enough to wedge against both sides so I had to hold it at an angle. Leaving the light into the dim unknown was an adrenaline rush whose joy is tempered by the thought of how stupid it is. The sound of the waves against the rocks amplified. The kayak began to seem like a perverse extemity. The thought of tippng over into the cold sea seemed just as dangerous as being thrown against a solid object. Fortunately all these thoughts fluttered through my head in a division of the nanosecond it took to see the exit in the distance. Going through the 100 meter long cave was like a roller coaser, up with the swell of the ocean and down with the ebb. Stuart was way in front of me and Kaho close behind and probably thousands of thousands of other tourists have been here before us. We glided into an open cove. Kaho coming out behind me had a petrified face with a big smile. There was something so innocent about her. She and I raised our paddles over our heads as if we had just slain a dragon. Stu was beginning to dip into the entrance of yet another cave but the strange garguling sounds emminating from it convinced me straight away that no matter what I wasnt going to follow.

We decided to go back through the cave, which was shorter than paddeling around in open sea, to reconnect with Eric. Rather concerned about him, it didn't take much encouraging from Stu to for me to go first, tho Stu was thinking something else. It is the 'funboy' position. When mountian biking anyway, Stuart told me the person in front is called the funboy. As I re-entered, water turned black inside the cave, the waves rushed in, lifting the kayak, and chaotically swirling in whirlpools and dropping the kayak, backwashing madly from the walls looking for a new direction while hurtling me forward. "WHOOOHOO!" I yelled.

1:10 AM It makes me smile really big and my heart is so happy just remembering what a great day that was! We got back to Kahoe Farms to Stephano's mischievious grins, homemade pizza - lamb and kumara - with good red wine, interesting company, and a raucous game of soccer.

That night I loved soccer so much it made me spit. It was harder than biking up the hills. And so much more fun! I laughed when Stephano (my teammate) called out, "heide, control the ball, go for the goal!" And, well, you would have laughed too if you were watching. Can't say I ever played soccer before, guess it showed. Kaho was on our team too. She could bounce the ball on her knee, her head, get it down the field, even get it away from others sometimes. When she scored, I created a little victory dance.

Fortunately I discovered my hidden talent as a goalie. Perhaps it is because there I only have to concentrate on one thing? Stop the ball. This eliminates the distraction of the rest of the game. Unfortunately, I took that position because during the game I injured my foot and it was too sore to run on or to bike with the next day.

I took the bus to Paihia and waited for Eric and Stu. Paihia was originally settled as a mission station and just north a bit in 1840 the British Government signed the Treaty of Waitangi were they offically acknowledged Maori arrival onto the global stage. But today, like San Diego, Paihia is quite the tourist hub full of accommodations, souvenir shops and bars, while keeping it's history quiet behind the pretty face. The blasted remains of the Rainbow Warrior were sunk just off the coast and is divable, but the guys we talked to about it said even with full wet suits and hoods it was biting cold.

In the morning we began the final section of our loop around Northland towards Whangarei stopping in Kawakawa for cappuccinos at the Trainspotting Cafe and in Waiomio to tour a glow worm cave which was stunning. We also added pubs to the stops this last leg, in celebration.

Our final night on the tour was spent at Sonya's parents house. Stuart and I met Sonya on New Year's Eve and she offered her folks house when she heard of our trip and its final stop. Said they were early retired on their farm and would love the company. And we loved theirs! The kindness of strangers is truly amazing.
2:18 AM


"Reality is that, which if not dealt with properly, will kill you" -Dan Foley

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