Dargaville, NZ to Kaihu, NZ

20.2 mi / 9.7 mph / 1220 ft. climbing
Home: Kauri Coast Top 10 Holiday Park

We’d always been planning to wrap up our time in New Zealand with an exploration of Northland. Not because there was some event happening, or because there was something specific we wanted to see,, or because we were “saving the best for last”. It was simply because the far northern peninsula would be the last refuge from the cold as the autumn chill crawls up from Antarctica.

It was 42℉ when we woke up, so not only was the decision to pay for a train-car with a heater (rather than our tent) a good one, it also was seemingly an indication that our plan to stay ahead of the cold had failed. But! It was 37℉ in Auckland, only 80 miles south of us, and 19℉ at Lake Tekapo on the South Island, where we had dreaded camping less than three months ago because it was going to be too hot! So, the plan was at least half-working; Northland is the warmest place left in New Zealand, the problem is that it doesn’t need to be especially warm to claim that title.

We braved the cold to cook up another egg breakfast in the communal kitchen, which was of course empty; I think only one other rail-car was occupied last night, which unfortunately for that guy made the suspect-list quite short when our TV suddenly started playing porn. The funny thing was that Rett was neither disgusted nor amused, but simply annoyed that her HGTV was interrupted. Which, since it happened like 5 times, was vaild! Eventually he either figured out he was casting to the wrong TV, or just gave up and suffered the indignity of using his phone.

Lamby is always excited to stay in a Lamby-sized space. And this one was red on the outside and white on the inside, her colors. The barn-door bathroom is behind her at the far end of the rail car.
Reverse angle of our Rustic Rails accommodation, with the rail-car’s arched roof, and the serial number on the wall. Small, but lots of useful little shelves, outlets (sometimes rare!) a fridge, microwave, and utensils, a small table and chair, and TV; everything we need and more!

Despite the chilly wakeup, once we actually got out riding the day felt warmer than yesterday. Maybe it was just not having a headwind? A steep in-town hill topped out out-of-town with some great views, and then dropped us back on to SH12. A small bicycle sign marked the first time since the southern end of the South Island that we’ve been on the Tour Aotearoa cycling route (except for a small bit near Matamata), but we’re out-of-season for all of those riders too, so did not encounter any. And while the traffic wasn’t nearly as scary as yesterday afternoon’s, there was still more than I expected on this cycling route, particularly heavy trucks again, that gave us a couple more close slow passes. This is no longer on the SH1 detour, so I’m not sure what they’re all doing on this fairly remote highway.

Also belying its cycle-route designation, the road surface itself was one of the worst we’ve been on in a while. Not cracked or potholed, just extremely-large-grained chipseal as is usually the case for “bad roads” in New Zealand. On the plus side, there were barely any dogs, quite a cultural shift from yesterday despite not being far away and crossing visually-similar rural properties. And the views! It was a joy for me to see Rett still gaping excitedly at the landscape after yesterday’s long and rough-ended day. Again, there is nothing I can photograph that will arrest a mindless scroll through Instagram, but it’s just a consistent low-key farm-and-forest beauty scrolling past in every direction.

#FindRett riding across more farm country (hint, she’s far, but still relatively in the foreground of this deep photo).
A tall sharp-edged mountain that we’ve essentially been circling since yesterday.
It might just be something about the haphazard mix of trees and open spaces…
A deeper penetration into the layers of cows and trees.
More “mountains” rather than “hills”. We essentially rode south along the east side of this range yesterday, and now are returning north on the west side.
The Kaihu Tavern, an outpost of old-school New Zealand-ism on this unpopulated West Coast. Rett considered stopping since it said they were open for lunch, but it looked doubtful to me. Later we got a recommendation from the camp host to get dinner there (“just at the turnoff!”, aka…4 miles with 400 feet of climbing round-trip…lol, no.)

New Zealand holiday parks (aka, “private campground with tons of amenities”) are quite unlike anything we’ve experienced in other countries. Yes, KOAs and other private campgrounds in the US have similar amenities (though rarely the full kitchen facilities!), but they tend to be in similar “remote” areas. In contrast, most (all?) of the NZ holiday parks that we’ve stayed in have been in residential areas in the middle of towns (easy accessibility to stores and restaurants is one of their amenities!) Our more “wild” camping experiences have been at DOC (Department of Conservation) sites (and similar) that come with little more than an open area to pitch your tent.

So the Kauri Coast Top 10 Holiday Park is a rare exception, an amenity-filled place in a gorgeous natural setting far from anywhere. Even better, we nearly had it to ourselves. Due to the large kitchen and lounge building to shelter us, we figured it was worth the “risk” (or, “test”) of tenting again in these cool conditions, for which the camp host found us brave. A couple of German guys car-camping showed up in the afternoon (and spent much of their time in the kitchen/lounge like us), and then there was a couple in one of the cabins, but that left probably 60 sites/cabins unoccupied.

Due to our relatively-short ride, we had time to do laundry, and cook up a healthier-than-usual veggie-filled rice and salmon dinner. In the evening one of the hosts came and started up a fire in the lounge’s wood-burner to keep us warm.

In addition to the civilized amenities, the park had a pretty-impressive set of natural(-ish) features as well. While it didn’t have any giant kauri trees, it did have some adolescent ones (and lustrous 35,000-year-old swamp-kauri countertops in the bathrooms!), and then just steps from our tent we could walk to see glowworms (lighting up a rock wall under a bridge), and eels! Yes, the New Zealand freshwater longfin eel populates the river running around the park, though they’ve clearly been “trained” by guests to know where free food is. And kiwi birds are supposedly not far away, but we didn’t have the ability to make the nighttime expedition to search for them.

Our tent site (well, we could have taken the entire tenting area if we wanted to!) at Kauri Coast Top 10 Holiday Park.
After a ride through mostly modified land, at the holiday park we’re surrounded by native forest.
A longfin eel arrives for his closeup, flashing his blue eyes and “How to Train Your Dragon” looks.
Longfin eel.
Our big fancy dinner.
At night the eels approach our lights in even greater numbers!
Plus it’s a little easier to see them through the water at night.
A swirling tornado of eels!


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