Rawene, NZ to Ahipara, NZ

41.2 mi / 10.2 mph / 2726 ft. climbing
Home: Ahipara Holiday Park

Yesterday’s day off got us in shape for today’s long ride, so we were once again awake in time to see the sunrise. And once again the deeply-carved ridges and valleys cut by Hokianga Harbor created one of the most beautiful backdrops we’ve seen in this country seemingly constructed of nothing but beautiful backdrops.

A strange one-color vertical rainbow(?) and a white fog-serpent diving for the same treasure hidden behind that hill. Because that’s life in New Zealand.
Our neighboring crocodile-tooth, with the larger, more-distant teeth obscured by the glowing air.
Yes, Rett still wants that house at the lower left, and I can’t really disagree with her. Although, maybe this house, where we have this view of that house, would be the better choice?

Once we finished breakfast and got rolling, we thought it rather rude that a light mist had begun filling the air, and desaturating that backdrop. We rolled the mile down to the tip of the tip and “downtown” Rawene, where we stocked up on groceries since there would be little to nothing on today’s route.

Hokianga Harbor cuts more than 20 miles into the west side of the Northland peninsula (nearly half its width), so there is a vehicle ferry that crosses it about halfway from its mouth. We caught the 8:45am, where we paid the ferryman a stunningly-cheap NZ$2 for both of us and our bikes. Three cars joined us, all some flavor of government-service vehicles.

Our ferry approaches in the mist to take us to the north shore of Hokianga Harbor.
A pretty empty ferry, where our bikes even got a little protection.

15 minutes later we began our ride for real on a nearly-empty road, because the ferry is the main generator of northbound traffic. A couple miles up the road, the settlement of Kohukohu is perhaps the mirror of Rawene, but situated along one side of one of the crocodile tooth (rather than straddling the point of one like Rawene) it also differentiated itself with super-cute artsy vibe, surprising for such an isolated village.

The road hugged the narrowing Harbor’s shore for seven miles (becoming more marshy and mangrove-filled), but then took off into the hills, and we were glad to follow. Around mile 17 we passed through the dot on the map labeled “Broadwood”, and I was surprised that in addition to public toilets, it actually had a well-stocked shop/gas station (an interesting bike-friendly setup where the shop was in front and the pumps were hidden behind the store), so we fueled up with some 2nd-breakfast meat pies.

A mirror stream, before we headed up into the hills.
With hills, come valleys, and more of an understanding why everyone told us how much we’d love Northland.
Sometimes you’re on the hill looking down into the valley, sometimes you’re in the valley looking up at the hills.
A second design further down the road suggested that Sam did this bit of positive public-way vandalism for his love, Eve. As empty as the road is, at least a couple cars drove over it before the paint dried!
Sheep moving in their lines across country more beautiful than they understand.
The sheep definitely picked up their pace when they saw us (particularly Lamby) arrive on the scene.

Our exploration of this west side of the north end of the North Island has revealed surprising similarities to the west coast of the South Island. Both have low populations, with no major towns for long stretches, big swathes of native forest, and even sharp-peaked mountains (though much lower and not snow-capped like the Southern Alps). Light rain started coming down again as we descended to another dot on the map called Herekino. There were no open stores or restaurants listed on Google Maps, so I told Rett to keep her eyes open for any public building that might provide some shelter, though I had little hope. And then, the very first building we saw was the Herekino Memorial Hall, that had a perfect sheltered entryway where we could set up our chairs and take a lunch break! Thank you rural New Zealand!

#FindRett descending into our next valley ahead (in this photo she’s still on the upper level!)
#FindRett now at the bottom of the valley and my camera at the long end of its zoom range.
Those are some real mountains!
Green fields that almost look like they’re lit internally.
Our perfect rain shelter in Herekino.

We had one more 500-foot up-and-down hill to go over before rolling through the coastal town of Ahipara and finding the holiday park at its northern end. It was surprisingly busy compared to what we’ve become used to, with at least 10 parties staying! That’s still probably only 20% capacity, but 300% of what I expected. It also had a very “hostel” feel, with the huge common-area lodge hung with various national flags. And the kitchen was absolutely packed with food, both stored in boxes, and half-rotting in the refrigerators, though labeled by people listing a checkout date of simply “June”. Later on those long-termers (camping in tents) were revealed to be young Chinese, maybe temporarily working for some business in town?

That’s not exactly the 500-foot hill we had to climb over, but it’s broadly the reason why we had to climb over a 500-foot hill!
A pyramid the ancient Egyptians would be jealous of!
Four horses saying hello at the Maori gate to Roma.
Northland also seems to have the highest density of picturesque country churches in New Zealand.

Beyond the fridge scene, the holiday park was really nice otherwise, with a very tropical-jungle feel, and a big sandy campsite (“choose any open spot!” again) on which to pitch the tent. We climbed 30 feet up to a hilltop picnic table that granted a view of Ninety Mile Beach, and had a mid-afternoon snack of hummus and cucumbers.

The thin bright line behind the trees is the sand of Ninety Mile Beach, visible running endlessly out to the left until the curvature of the earth hides it under the sea.

We cooked up dinner (luckily before the kitchen got too crowded) and ate at one of the massive wood-carved tables in the lodge-lounge. With Rett understandably worn out, I made a post-sunset run on my own (on foot for the half-mile) to Ninety Mile Beach. That inaccurate name is completely unnecessary and unfair, because while the fact-checkers quickly jump up to say “actually, it’s only 55 miles long”, a 55-mile long beach is still an insane and incredible thing! Ahipara sits at the south end, and the sand stretches north on an unbroken gentle curve to the northernmost tip of New Zealand.

One of its big draws is that the sand is hard enough to be driveable, and even bikeable, famous as the start of the Tour Aotearoa route. I knew from early on that we wouldn’t have the time to bike it (or even take the road route to Cape Reinga), and while it initially sounds like an awesome unique experience that we’d be missing out on, actual rider experience reveals it to be a bit boring and more gear-grinding sand-sinking trouble than it’s worth (riding a two mile section of beach would probably be fun, but repeating that 26 more times with little visible signs of progress is a different story).

Still, the distant headlights of a couple of rental-car-contract violators beaming toward me from the darkened sand did feel like they were silently beckoning me out there with them, to explore this remote unique place. But no! Simply seeing the beach at this one spot is surely the best bang-for-the-effort! Because it’s unlike any beach I’ve ever been on; the sand is incredibly firm, and flat, and stretches out for at least 100 yards before thin sheets of the ocean begin flowing over it. And those sheets are almost like mini-tsunamis: when a distant wave reaches the sand with sufficient momentum, the water spreads slowly but inexorably, requiring a slow walk to stay ahead of the half-inch wall-of-water as it advances for at least 30 seconds. Rett will have to come here before we leave tomorrow!

The last light of day makes it difficult to distinguish the sand of Ninety Mile Beach from a vast wet parking lot.
Four lights, left to right: the last glow of the sun, the bright moon, above one car’s headlights, and another’s taillights.
A thin layer of the sea ripples across the pancake-flat expanse of Ninety Mile Beach.
The town of Ahipara sits where the beach finally gains an inch or two above sea-level.


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