Waipoua, NZ to Rawene, NZ

35.5 mi / 9.2 mph / 2948 ft. climbing
Home: Rawene Holiday Park

As we were preparing for bed last night, I was surprised to see my headlamp lighting up small raindrops in front of my face. We were still supposed to be in a rain-free period here! I pulled up the forecast, and yeah, no rain in Northland, “except for an odd shower on the west coast”. Congratulations to both the forecast, and the odd shower that found us. Jerks! But by morning, everything was no wetter than it would have been from condensation anyway. We chose to interpret the screeching cries we heard overnight as coming from kiwis. Some sounded quite close, but we’ll have to be satisfied just knowing that we shared a forest with them.

Rett went off to the kitchen, and while I was inside the tent packing up, the camp host came by, sat down against the tree we had pitched under, and shot the breeze with me for a while. With the rainfly on, I didn’t even see the man until 10 minutes into our conversation, so it felt a bit like “Love is Blind”. Well, without the love. Though we did make a nice connection!

“Two and a half years riding your bikes, wow, I guess you’ve seen a lot!” He’s familiar with the Tour Aotearoa, since many of those riders stop here as well, so I first responded that we haven’t seen as much as those TA riders, since we cover ground much more slowly. But then I reversed course and proposed that we’ve probably seen a lot more, since we actually have time to look. As if completing my sentence, he began telling me about a pod of orcas that was chasing the Rawene ferry recently (the one we’re going to take in a couple days): “that was finally enough to get everyone’s faces out of their phones, but otherwise no one looks these days!”

Right on, my brother! He then related a story of a  couple of guys he recently saw visiting Tane Mahuta, the largest tree in New Zealand (that we’ll see today): “one guy gets a photo of the other standing in front of the tree, then they switch, and then they leave”. This time I’m completing his sentence: “not even absorbing the atmosphere of the place!” “Yeah! Take a moment to listen to the birds, watch how the light filters down…” If I hadn’t been prepared to give the giant kauris their due reverence, I definitely was now!

We set off at 8:30am, backtracking a mile, and then starting a 1000 foot climb up into the heart of Waipoua Forest. Almost immediately we began passing giant kauris on the roadside, the first time we’ve seen them standing unpretentiously like the trees that once dominated New Zealand, rather than isolated and spotlighted like a museum piece. Rett did the climb without a break, which is a statement about her fitness, though it also helped that the climb was graded at a steady 5%, a rare New Zealand example of road-engineering matching that of Western US highways.

Rett riding by a giant kauri, one of dozens we didn’t need to hike a trail to go see.
A kauri dominating with height, not just its thick trunk (and this one must be relatively young, given its cone shape.

A brief descent brought us to the parking area for Te Mahuta Ngahere, the oldest kauri in New Zealand. In addition to the usual shoe-cleaning station guarding every kauri area, this trailhead also had a live guard/host! He gave a nice overview with interesting details, and, promised to keep an eye on our bikes while we walked the two miles out and back. Even without the living monument and cultural icon at the end, it would have been a worthwhile walk, with plenty of old-enough kauris to outdo Trounson yesterday (or at least they were somehow different, which seems to be the case for all kauri groves). Though like a redwood forest, it was surprisingly cold, and even with our down jackets on we needed to move vigorously to outrun the chill.

Rett approaching one of Te Mahuta Ngahere’s opening acts.
Tall kauri.
Rett, normal trees, and a non-normal tree.

When we descended the final curve of the wooden boardwalk, Te Mahuta Ngahere literally took my breath away. I had of course been expecting something huge, like twice as large as the biggest kauri we’ve seen so far. But this Father of the Forest was more like six times as large! It was utterly unprecedented; we’d seen a vast range of kauris by this point, from tiny seedlings to massive straight-boled giants, but Te Mahuta Ngahere sits far beyond that continuum. It would be like discovering a Planet X, orbiting the Sun ten times further out than Neptune, and six times bigger than Jupiter. Just a completely different league.

Rett and another visitor absorb the massive size and presence of Te Mahuta Ngahere. For perspective, the viewing platform where they’re standing is still probably 20 yards away from him.

Another aspect to his ancient mystery was the ability of such a massive form to stay hidden until we were nearly on top of him. It’s not like we were in super-dense jungle. On the way back out, even when we now knew where to look, his vast white form was still surprisingly elusive.

It’s nearly impossible to communicate Te Mahuta Ngahere’s scale in a photo, but if you see the large dark buffalo-head spot on the main trunk just left of center, scan straight up from there until you see a bit of blue sky in the background. I believe that’s a completely-new kauri growing in his crown (yeah, wtf, I know?!), and if you saw that tree on a residential street, everyone in the neighborhood would know the tree you’re talking about.
Zooming in on the details of Te Mahuta Ngahere’s ancient skin and hair (half of the “buffalo head” is on the right edge of the frame.

Just another mile down the road hid another giant. Tane Mahuta is even more famous, as the largest (rather than oldest) tree in New Zealand. His entrance station befits that fame, with 4 parallel shoe-cleaning stations followed by a disinfectant-soaked mat to walk across (the first of those we’ve seen); it felt like the loading section of a rollercoaster! Thankfully in this off-season there weren’t amusement park crowds, and we were actually granted an audience alone with Tane Mahuta for several minutes.

Even though Te Mahuta Ngahere should have prepared me, I was again literally stunned when my vision beheld Tane Mahuta. How can such a giant life-form hide so easily? He is certainly the more-stately of the two, an admired king to Te Mahuta Ngahere’s exiled emperor driven mad by his immortality. Which is why I slightly preferred Te Mahuta Ngahere. But Tane Mahuta was still well-deserving of our attention, which we gave for those several minutes, remembering the camp host’s call to not just look, but feel.

Tane Mahuta
Rett and New Zealand’s largest tree.
Me moving to a second, more-distant viewing platform allows a focal length that puts Rett at a more-proper scale relative to Tane Mahuta.
#FindRett at the base of Tane Mahuta.
The scales in his bark reveal that Tane Mahuta is part-dragon (another large, long-lived species).

We left the trees behind to grow even larger, while we enjoyed a wonderful 1000-foot descent from their domain. Because it has the same (relatively) gentle grade of the ascent, we could fly down the sweeping curves (with almost zero traffic) without squeezing the brakes too much. At the bottom and out of the forest it was suddenly much warmer, and we stopped at the unlikely Four Square grocery in the barely-a-town of Waimamaku for some second-breakfast meat pies.

The forest clears and we’re ready to descend.
Kauri forests are amazing, not-kauri-forests are amazing too.
Another example of Northland’s surprisingly-mountainous terrain.
We essentially need to make a big loop around the left end of this east-west range blocking our way.
Every time we see a cornfield in New Zealand, I have to take a picture. Which means about five cornfield pictures by now.
Today’s glimpse of the Tasman Sea down a long valley.

My original plan had been to ride to Rawene today, but given Rett’s ongoing cold, I moved to the closer target of Opononi, with Rawene as a stretch goal if she still felt strong when we got to Opononi. Well, before we even left Waimamaku she decided on Rawene!

As if to punish her optimism and faith in her abilities, we were soon smote down (to a brief period of walking the bikes) by a crazy 13% uphill. At least it brought us to an amazing view of the entrance to Hokianga Harbor, with sand dunes out of Morroco on the opposite jaw of the harbor’s mouth, and green hills from Ireland layered along the bays further inland.

Hokianga Harbor, with sand dunes across the water.
Looking down to the town of Omapere on Hokianga Harbor.
From our lunch stop: desert dunes behind…
…and verdant slopes ahead.

We got fish-and-chips lunch at a waterfront takeaway in Opononi, and then set off for the last 12 miles to Rawene. And that’s when the universe tried again to punish our pride.

A week ago Rett’s seat had started creaking, and when I finally had time to investigate a few days ago, I discovered the tension bolt on the Brooks leather saddle was loose, but also somehow bent. I tightened it a bit, but the nut was slipping on the bent threads, so I just zip-tied the bolt’s bent end to the saddle rails to stabilize things. It seemed to help, until today, when the bolt snapped. Shit!

I guess that “bend” was a partial-split that I couldn’t see. The exact thing happened to my Brooks saddle two years ago. Small-town Ohio produced a hardware store with a good fix that night, but in this part of New Zealand we’re at least three days away from a hardware store. And there is definitely no help right here on the side of the road!

We recovered the broken parts from the road, and I was able to wedge the bolt in a bit with the help of more barbarically-applied zip-ties. And that worked for about half a mile. At which point we had to stop, pop it back in, and continue. After a few cycles of this, we decided to just switch seats, since I would be able to pop the bolt back into place while riding. But the angle on my seat was a jab to Rett’s privates, so it wasn’t much of an improvement from her perspective.

#FindRett in the scene between the moo-cows and the church.

Still, it got us into Rawene, and despite the stress and pain and sickness, we had some good fun on the stretch segment, like laughing at set of the tiniest black piglets hopping home to their mom. Or, the large dog, sprinting like he was shot out of a cannon, towards us and the herd of cows near the road. Except  wasn’t a dog, it was a calf! We both just thought it was a dog because cows don’t run like that! It was the most independent-minded calf we’ve ever seen, galloping his own way for no reason at all.

The fun ended again with some 12% hills on the town streets to get us to the holiday park, and while Rett couldn’t decide, I said we should just get their fanciest kitchen+bathroom accommodation. I then did a run down to the town store (more-limited than I’d expected), getting some less-than-ideal ramen for the tired patient.

Another lobe of Hokianga Harbor seen from the Rawene peninsula.
The view across Hokianga Harbor from our holiday park room.


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