It’s ideal for planning a succession of weekend and 3 day cycling tours out of Auckland. Our trips have left us entranced and enriched by memorable characters, landscapes, cycling stories and fun places to stay.
First up was the Dargaville to Poutu trip. This is part of ‘The Kaipara Missing Link’ in the tour book. We drove our bikes to Dargaville, because we were pushed for time. Staying in Dargaville turned out to be full of delight – starting with our accomodation at the recently restored Commercial Hotel. Stylish comfort is provided in first floor rooms, which open onto a wide verandah with views across the lazy brown North Wairoa river to the hills beyond. A cuppa and home baking on arrival with our friendly hoteliers set the scene for a perfect stay. Next stop was the Dargaville Museum, with its absorbing stories and displays about Dalmation gold digging personalities and samples of huge swamp kauri.
Next morning, after a generous hotel breakfast and chatting around the table with other guests, we cycled to Ernie’s Kumara Show, en-route to Poutu. The show is every bit as good as promoted in the tour book, as are the other attractions along the road. My mate returned for the car, leaving me in peace to cycle across river flats planted with kumara and rolling hills, giving widening panoramic views across a landscape of river and the massive expanse and many inlets of the Kaipara Harbour. I began to grasp the fact that this is the biggest harbour in the southern hemisphere. It’s a place where time has been standing still and the sense of history is tangible. I was ‘specially struck by this at Te Kopuru, which still has part of its ornate brick hospital, timber houses and school buildings dating from the 1880s. At that time every inlet had a timber mill and thriving settlement, as all travel and transport was via the Harbour.
There is a mean section of gravel road before arriving at Poutu. The long dry spell of weather made the surface slippery and corrugated, which left me struggling on my hybrid city bike. (I clearly need to harden up, or ride a more sensible mountain bike next time). Poutu is a tiny historic gem, dating from the late 19th century when it was the customs centre for the busy Kaipara shipping trade exporting kauri gum and timber.
A number of original buildings remain, including the spacious Marine Hall, originally the Customs House, and now available for backpackers. We opted for homely luxury at the Poutu Hideaway next door, where we indulged in wide views of the Kaipara Harbour and fresh snapper for dinner cooked by our hosts, Anne and Brian Malan. We had arranged for Anne to book us a quad bike trip to the lighthouse at the mouth of the harbour. This proved to be another highlight as Jock, the tour guide is a living treasure, with rich memories of life on the Kaipara and at Poutu.
The sandhills on the way to the Heads are exquisite natural art works and we delighted in Jock’s stories of the keepers and their families who lived in houses (now long-gone) beside the lighthouse. Climbing the circular staircase in the lighthouse left us marvelling at its construction. We emerged from a trapdoor to the walkway around the light, gasping at the stunning views up the coast and the treacherous harbour bar.
Time prevented us from doing the next leg of this trip. This would have involved booking the local fishing boat to nose into the rocks at Poutu Point to take us at Parakai, then cycling back- country roads to connect with the North Western Cycleway to get into town. It’s definately on our ‘to do’ list for a return visit.
Coming up next – Old Coach Road, and Mountains to the Sea (Ohakune to Whanganui).