Kaikohe, NZ to Dargaville, NZ

48.6 mi / 10.1 mph / 2045 ft. climbing
Home: Rustic Rails Accomodation

We weren’t able to enjoy a relaxed morning in our cottage upgrade, because we had a long ride ahead with the wind projected to be in our face all day. So in an effort to beat it, the alarm went off at 6am, we made some egg-bagel sandwiches in the kitchen, and then Keith opened up the bike-storage shed and saw us off at 8:30am. The main drag of Kaikohe was once again so busy that I just minded the bikes on the sidewalk while Rett dashed across to the other side to pick us up some 2nd-breakfast pastries from the bakery (ok, and of course now infected with the idea that crime is an issue in Kaikohe, our trust-level has regretfully gone down).

Luckily when we turned south, traffic immediately dropped to nearly nothing. We were on SH15, the same numbered highway we had come into town on from the north, but not only was the traffic profile completely different, it was the least-busy State Highway we’ve been on in New Zealand.

Yesterday’s ride into Kaikohe brought us up to 700 feet above sea-level, and today we would cash in that downhill (it feels like a long time since we’ve had a day where we didn’t start at sea-level!) But a bigger effect of our non-coastal location was that the omnipresent North Island hills were somehow grander here, much closer to mountains than mere hills!

A truncated volcanic hill (or burial mound for an ancient king?!) in front of a wall of near-mountains.
This heavily condensated bike sign wasn’t for us, it was because the Twin Coast Trail crosses the highway we were on at this point.
Pretty nice place for a morning ride.
I’d like to say we were out early enough to get these long shadows emphasizing the topography, but really, the shadows are long all day at this time of year!
Low-lying moo-cows.

Not a lot of cyclists (or cars!) go this way, because it’s a pretty dumb route to take. But they should, because it’s gorgeous! If you’re going to pass through the west coast town of Dargaville, then you’re probably going to want to stay on the west coast (SH12), because that’s the road that goes through the Waipoua Forest and past the two biggest trees in the country. Taking that route means missing this one on SH15, and you’d have to have a pretty strange set of circumstances that would send you down SH15 and back up SH12. So I’m pretty happy that the unexpected change in highway construction handed us that exact set of circumstances, because otherwise we would have been like every other logical tourist, with no reason to see this superlative road!

Keith had recommended a 2nd-breakfast stop (he knows cyclists!) at Twin Bridges, a picnic/rest area whose entrance is actually in the middle of the bridge crossing two branches of the Mangakahia River. Just before that, the river (and the road) twisted through a narrow high-walled gorge, something we haven’t been through in some time (it reminded me of the gorge outside Hot Sulphur Springs in Colorado), all part of the beauty of this route. And then the stop at the confluence of the rivers was in fact the perfect place to eat our fresh-baked donuts.

“I’d live there!”
Rett, refueled, riding over the second of the Twin Bridges.

The domesticated fauna was unique on this road as well. We saw as many pigs as we’ve seen in all of New Zealand combined, peacocks in multiple places (a first), and, slightly-less-fun, dogs. It seems that the culture here involves owning loud-barking, frequently-pit bull-looking dogs. And it wasn’t just one farm, it was pretty much the entire day. Only a couple of them ran loose after us and not too aggressively, so it wasn’t nearly as bad as the Southeast of the United States, but it’s the first time we’ve seen anything close to it in New Zealand, so it really stood out.

Yeah, I think I’d definitely call those “mountains”!
Despite all the farmland, you’ll rarely see a barn in New Zealand, and almost never a red one!

SH15 bends east away from Dargaville, so we turned onto Opouteke Road, probably even quieter than the highway. We had one last big hill to climb, so we agreed to find a place to pull over for a snack just before the hill started. A few minutes later, a Department of Conservation sign appears in front of a little pull-off and a footbridge over a creek. It’s the only DOC site we saw on the whole route, and it’s a short little trail that leads to a giant kauri tree. We couldn’t have drawn up a more-perfect place for a pre-hill break if we had tried!

A normal-sized tree trying to compare itself to this big bull of a kauri.
Straight on, the comparison is even worse for the little guy.

The headwinds were never too bad, but they were definitely slowing us down all day, so the 10mph average is actually a pretty impressive showing over a distance longer than anything we’ve done in nearly three months. Our effort to wait for the most-gorgeous of endlessly-gorgeous places to stop for lunch ended with our hunger just telling us to stop in an exposed area (or was it Lamby telling us to stop by the entire flock of sheep that she induced into running?!) There, the wind was strong enough (and the temperatures cold enough!) that we explicitly lined up our bikes to act as a windbreak while we sat behind them in our chairs.

Looking for the optimal lunch spot.
Even if it’s not optimal, it’s pretty close (and there are our wind-breaking bikes).
Another definite “mountain”, with some cows pretty high up there!
Just past our lunch spot, of course Rett then said “darn it, we should have waited until we got here!”

We had to finish with 7 miles on SH12, and ouch, that was a rude awakening and a rough end to an otherwise-excellent day of bike touring. Not only was traffic much heavier (literally, with a lot of huge trucks), it was also much stupider. At one point we were riding over a narrow, crowned bridge, and not one, but two of those huge dual-trailer trucks squeezed past, inches from our handlebars, with traffic coming in the other direction. I was able to alert Rett that they were coming, so she managed it excellently, sticking to her line despite the roar and shadow and wind. It was a bit later when another passing asshole surprised and scared her that she went into shaking, “don’t even talk to me” mode.

At least it confirmed our decision to take the bus out of Northland rather than ride, because this segment is part of one of the detour options for the SH1 closure (specifically the heavy-trucks detour), and if we had just stuck with our original route, we would have been riding on some 30 miles more of that detour with these idiots.

Unlike Kaikohe, Dargaville does have a holiday park, but it was another one that didn’t seem to have a lounge or dining area, and another cold evening was expected. So I’d booked a room because I figured after such a long ride we’d be a lot more comfortable under a roof with a heater (and I hadn’t even predicted the scared-sour mood Rett would be in from the trucks, so that makes it doubly worth-it!)

Rustic Rails is relatively-inexpensive, and perfect for us. It’s a group of 10 or so retired box-cars that have been converted into small but really-well-appointed rooms. Sort of like shipping-container houses, but cuter. They each have a large covered deck attached where we left the bikes; the host kindly gave us a key to one of the bathrooms they reserve for campervan people, to lock our bikes inside of if we wanted to, but locking them onto a steel bar welded onto the outside of the railcar seemed much more appropriate! There was a Countdown literally within view (the first proper full-sized and familiar Countdown we’ve been to in a while!) so I got some groceries to cook up a dinner in their kitchen, which we brought back to the room because it was too chilly to eat in there (and even our heater was having a tough time keeping up). Sometimes I feel like we’re wussing out if we’re paying for a roof on a night when it isn’t raining, but not tonight!


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