Monday 23 November – Day 9
45 km cycle and walk Opua to Paihia
James the night manager at Left Bank had breakfast ready by 7:30am for myself and the other couple in the backpackers. I must say his cooked breakfast was delicious. I had a very quick video call with the Martens in Denmark when Wenz and Phil arrived outside in their car. I immediately thought this was strange as I wouldn’t have thought his bike would fit in the boot of the car. I had expected them to arrive in the ute. They crossed the street for greetings and I asked Phil did he have his bike? “I thought we were walking” came the reply. Woops seems we had wires crossed. I was anticipating cycling to Opua and they had anticipated walking. Cycling it would be so a quick call was made to Top Trail and shortly after Phil had his very own bike for the ride to Opua. In its heyday in the 1950’s there were six trains each way between Auckland and Kaikohe every week. Today nothing remains of a station although we have the land the tracks ran upon to be thankful for – this will provide our trail as far as Opua. Departing Kaikohe, the trail was flat and passed behind town through farmland and was lined with totara and a surprising number of peach trees. The fruit is yet to ripen – riders in the coming months will have a trailside feast.
At each road intersection would be two traffic barriers designed to stop motorised vehicles from invading the trail. I would dismount at each and guide my bike between the bars. Phil on the other hand would stay on his bike and negotiate gingerly through careful not to get stuck. All credit to him he managed them all without injury to himself or bike. The trail descended gradually to the valley on a 1:35 level gradient which must have been a real struggle for the trains to climb on their way up to Kaikohe. Super easy to whizz down on a bike though. We then meandered along the valley through cleared pine forest until it opened up to farmland of the valley. We are in Kawiti country. Home to descendents of the great Ngati Hine leader Kawiti. A highlight of the area is the truss bridge in the Ngapipito River Valley with two bridges spanning a stream. The bridges were built with massive timber beams and poles tied together with steel rods and bolts. I don’t know what timber was used for it’s construction but it’s still in good condition for its age. Much of the railway line was cut through scoria which made perfect ballast for the tracks and the loamy soil was easy to excavate.
A few kms along the trail emerges alongside Ngapipito Road and we cruize to Otiria for a bathroom stop at a marae. The Otiria marae has a large sign outside on the road indicating everything prohibited including taking photos from the road! So no pic for the blog. A ute pulled up and we chatted to a Maori guy with a full face tattoo. I should have asked for a selfie with him and kicked myself later that I hadn’t. Otiria was the junction of the railway and a main terminus where the trains from Auckland separated to Opua or to Kaikohe/Okaihau. Shortly beyond we rode past the back of Moerewa with its timber mill and freezing works. A sign encouraged riders to visit the main street for shops etc but one wouldn’t really want to when Kawakawa was a couple of km away and exceedingly more hospitable to stop and enjoy. It’s delights include the vintage railway with its popular cafe and the railway line running through the main road.
The town is also famous for its Hundertwasser toilet block, designed by Austrian artist Friedensreich Hundertwasser, who was a resident of the town from 1975 until his death in 2000. In October 2020 the town opened the new Hundertwasser centre which houses the library and an information centre about the artist. Its well worth a visit, to see examples of his art, philosophy, the mosaic toilets and the beautiful tinted rammed earth walls.
Onto the bikes again and out of town we rode. We were curious to see the sign warning of swooping magpies. Anyone who has had a magpie swoop upon them during their mating season will tell you they get ferocious in their protective state. I suggested that Phil go first.. Fortunately there was to be no swooping today as we beat a quick ride along the concrete trail path to Taumarere Station where we stopped for lunch under the shade of oak trees. The vintage railway ends here. When coal was discovered in Kawakawa in 1864 it was to become one of the first rail lines in the country, it initially started with horse drawn carts on wooden rails and was later upgraded to steam locomotives on iron. The sight and ride over the graceful arc of ‘Long Bridge’ gripped me with its magnificent span over the Kawakawa River. The final kms of the trail followed the brackish water of the harbour reaches. Railway tracks would peek out from the gravel in places and for me the sight of them keeps the dream alive to have the vintage railway one day travel all the way from Kawakawa to Opua. We ride through a magnificent brick lined tunnel and into the commercial yard of Opua. The trail ends (or starts) here. It is a nondescript adjunct to the the marine businesses and rather a sorry sight. Not that I expected fanfare but neither did it celebrate the purpose and mana of the trail, at least to my eyes. It has been a brilliant two days crossing from the west coast to the east. I would highly recommend the ride. We turned in our bikes but have a bit of time before they are to be collected. Once this has been done we set off walking around the coast from Opua to Paihia. The tide was just on its way out so we were able to go the distance. The walk made more interesting with Phil pointing out the landmarks and notible houses along the way. A highlight was the pohutukawa in Paihia which has green and yellow flowers rather that the conspicuous red. Never seen that before. A final uphill to their place and it was time for a celebratory beverage and almost every scrap of clothing I am carrying into the washing machine…