By Pieter Holl with photos from Annette, Margaret, Pieter & Sarah

Day 1 – Tuesday 24 November 2020 – Auckland to Helensville. Distance 47kms

It was with a twinge of apprehension that I made my way to the Auckland Domain and the start of the Dargaville Extended Tour.  My first time on a fully laden bike and first tour with ACTA.  It soon became apparent that a fully laden bike rolls almost as well as an unladen bike at cruising speed on a flat surface.  Would it perform as well uphill?  I suspected not. At the Domain, I met for the first time the lovely Louise and we were soon joined by fellow newbie, Luitgard, and our esteemed leaders, Stephen and Annette.  And off we went along the North-western Cycleway, picking up Catherine, Helen and Kathy along the way, with Margaret joining us in Helensville.

Group photo at Auckland Domain

It wasn’t long before Louise’s brand-new chain on her just serviced bike decided to part company with the rest of the bike.  While we stood around wondering what to do and wishing Colin was there to help, who should magically turn up, well-equipped tool kit in hand?  A quick fix with a missing link that was almost the right size and we were on our way again, Louise to the bike shop at Westgate for a more permanent fix and the rest of us to the roundabout at the start of Old North Road for a quick bite to eat whilst enjoying the last of the day’s fine weather.  

Colin and Louise on North-Western cycleway

It wasn’t long before Louise re-joined the group and we were off along Old North Road to Helensville, arriving wet but happy at the Kaipara Cruising Club around 3.00 pm.  With the weather continuing to deteriorate, we were delighted to have full use of the club rooms with their hot showers, tea and coffee facilities, covered deck, kitchen and carpeted floor space to sleep on.

Relaxing on covered deck of Kaipara Cruising Club

Day 2 – Wednesday 25 November 2020 Helensville to Pouto.  Distance 5kms

In the morning, we were joined by Ron & Susan and Willie.  After stocking up with croissants, Danish pastries and the like from the excellent The Real Bread Project across the road, we set out to conquer the gruelling 3.5km of flat road between us and the Kaipara River Landing, dodging the showers as we went. By the time we reached the landing, our “nothing is too much trouble for me” leader had received a favourable response from the big guy (big gal?) upstairs and the weather turned fine.  The Kewpie Too from Kaipara Cruises duly turned up at the allotted time and we soon discovered that this was no walk-your-bike-on ferry service.  It took some serious logistical planning and coordinated teamwork before bikes, gear and riders were all safely stowed aboard.  The three-hour trip that followed was very pleasant with only a small amount of rocking and rolling as we crossed the harbour entrance.

Undeterred by the recent theft of the Pouto jetty, our intrepid skipper quickly remedied the situation by sailing the boat up onto the beach.  It turned out that our efforts in loading the boat were just a practice run for the much more challenging unloading, but some seriously enhanced teamwork soon saw us all safely ensconced on the beach.  (It reminded me of the scene on Karekare Beach from The Piano.)

Unloading the bikes at Pouto

From here, it was a short 1.5km ride (my first on gravel) to Waikaretu Marae where we were greeted by Josephine, Ella, Leigh and Stephen, our hosts for the next two days, and Marlene & Paul, Sarah, Ann and Chris, who had ridden their electricity guzzling e-bikes down from Dargaville to join us. 

We spent the afternoon relaxing and exploring the beach below the marae.  After the first of several beautifully presented meals, we adjourned to the wharemoe with Josephine for a round of mihimihi (brief personal speeches to introduce ourselves) before retiring for the night.

On the beach below the marae with Jo – our host

Day 3 – Thursday 26 November 2020 Pouto.  Distance 0kms

Today, our bikes stayed safely locked away in the former wharekai (since replaced by the current much larger building).  In the morning, Josephine and Stephen lead us on a 15km walk through farmland, recently felled forestry blocks and regenerating native bush and around lakes Kahuparere and Kanono (two of the many dune lakes in the area).  After lunch, we scattered in various directions, some to the wharemoe for a nap, some to the lighthouse with Stephen in his Polaris Ranger, and a few hardy souls walking the 20km or so to the lighthouse and back (on top of the 15km in the morning!).  After another enjoyable meal, we retired to the wharemoe for the night, very happy to have had the opportunity to stay and experience life on the marae.  

Walking through recently felled pine forest
Walking around Lake Kanono
Stephen, one of our hosts, Josephine and the Polaris

Day 4 –Friday 27 November 2020  Pouto to Dargaville.  Distance 66kms

The day dawned fine and warm.  Summer is finally on the way.  After farewelling our hosts, we set out on what would become the longest day of the tour and a personal record for me.

It was nice to be away from the traffic of the roads in and around Auckland, with the occasional logging trucks and other vehicles we encountered generally being well-behaved and courteous.  The first 50km were punctuated with numerous steady climbs and rapid descents, with the first 20km or so of these being on gravel.  The Thorn Nomad (“a real bike” in the words of our leader and fellow Thorn owner) handled beautifully and soon had me whizzing down the descents at speeds that should have scared me.  (A grazed knee or two should eventually fix this problem?)

Helen heading towards Te Kopuru

We reached the first real sign of civilisation (i.e. the dairy at Te Kopuru) at 1.30 pm, just in time for a late lunch in the park nearby.  It was here that Susan W and John B (Sloop) joined us.  It was a relief to me that the last 15km to Dargaville was on the flat as I was starting to feel very tired.  In Dargaville, we dispersed to our various accommodation options before reconvening later that evening for a very nice meal at the Supahn Thai Restaurant.  It transpired that our waiter, Primo, was a very keen cyclist; so keen in fact that he joined us for a couple of our subsequent rides.

Day 5 – Saturday 28 November 2020 Dargaville West.  Distance 45kms

This was the first of our two Dargaville Hub rides.  I joined the main group heading west.  After riding 30km through picturesque farmland, spiced up with around 10km of gravel, we arrived at Baylys Beach for the obligatory, but not always observed on this trip, coffee stop.  

Sharky’s Cafe, Baylys Beach

After a quick trip down to the beach, we returned to Dargaville along the main road, arriving just in time for lunch.  Margaret did her best to entice the rest of us to join her on the second part of the planned route, but couldn’t convince us that it was a better option than spending a leisurely afternoon in Dargaville. A second group of five elite riders completed a much more challenging 66km circuit to the north of Dargaville, which included around 4km on foot along a disused railway line. 

Marlene and Susan W walking the disused railway line

In the evening we reconvened at the Northern Wairoa Hotel for another enjoyable meal before adjourning to the adjoining lounge for one of John’s famous quizzes.  Imbued with sound clips from musicals (not my strong point) and important historic events, the questions certainly had us, well, guessing.  And, while the rules of the game prevent me from naming the winners, I can confirm that it didn’t hurt one’s chances being part of a team featuring two of ACTA’s esteemed committee members.  (Any suggestion of corruption is strenuously denied.)  The coveted prize of a packet of jelly snakes was enjoyed by all on the following ride. 

John and Helen at Northern Wairoa Hotel after decorating the table
John’s Christmas Quiz in full swing. All operated through his phone and sound link.

Day 6 – Sunday 29 November 2020 Dargaville North.  Distance 50kms

We congregated bright and (fairly) early at the band rotunda opposite the Central Hotel, our designated meeting place in Dargaville.  From there, we headed north, travelling initially on the sealed Waihue Road.  After 15km, the seal ended and we continued onto Nichols Road, which we followed until reaching a locked forestry gate.  It was here that said jelly snakes were handed out, while John entertained us with a few ditties on his harmonica.

On the road – Dargaville North ride

The original plan had been to ride through the forest before returning to Dargaville on Tangowahine Valley Road.  However, the locked gate and associated warning signs saw us retreating back down Nichols Road and returning to Dargaville on Opanake Road.  All in all, it was another enjoyable ride through picturesque farmland.

Later that day and the following morning, we farewelled the Dargaville Hub tourers and others who headed home, leaving us as a group of eleven extended tourers.

Day 7 – Monday 30 November 2020 Dargaville to Tinopai.  Distance 60kms

Today was the best day cycling ever!  Well, for me at least (and as my comparison group is still very small, you should read that comment with a healthy dose of caution). After a quick coffee at the Bakery Cafe and the obligatory photo shoot outside the Central Hotel, we were on our way.  With cooling skies, a nice tail wind, no hills and a good, albeit, state highway surface, we set a cracking pace, cutting out the first 30km to Ruawai in not much more than one and a half hours.  The Well Café there proved a hit with very nice coffee and food. 

The good times continued for the next 10km and, while the seal ended, it would have been an insult to describe the surface as gravel, being beautifully compacted with barely a loose stone in sight.  Then it was up and over the hills before we re-joined the sealed road and the long descent (a.k.a. long uphill slog the following day) to Tinopai, our destination for the day.  The campground there was very basic, but priced accordingly.  With rain setting in, most of us retreated to our tents for an early night. 

Campground at Tinopai

Day 8 – Tuesday 1st December 2020 Tinopai to Pahi.  Distance 35kms

Today we were spared the joys and anxieties of gravel, with good sealed roads all day.  After a quick ride to the wharf and back to warm up tired muscles, we were off, grinding our way back up the hill and on to Matakohe, where we arrived just in time for morning coffee.  This was the windiest day of our tour and we clung to our bikes hoping a gust wouldn’t blow us over or across the road.

With time on our side and most previous visits many years ago, we headed over the road to the Matakohe Kauri Museum.  And what an excellent community asset it is with wonderful exhibits and photos from the early timber milling and gum digging days in and around the Kaipara.  I particularly enjoyed the talk we were given by one of the guides and the historic photos of the small towns we had been to or were going to visit. 

Matakohe Museum

And then it was back to the museum cafe for lunch and more coffee before riding the last 10km to our destination for the day.  Pahi is a very nice town, with a very well equipped and run campground, a few historic buildings and one of the largest Moreton Bay Fig trees in the world, believed to have been planted before 1840.  All in all, another excellent day.

Day 9 – Wednesday 2 December 2020 Pahi to Oruawharo.  Distance 42kms

Today we sweltered under the hot sun.  It was the hottest day of the tour so far, hitting 29 degrees. We began by crossing the Pahi River to Whakapirau.  After admiring the quality of work being done to convert the building at the wharf into accommodation, the poem painted on the side of the adjacent water tank by Sam Hunt and the church on the hill overlooking the town, we followed Whakapirau Road out to State Highway 12, which we followed to the Tulip Cafe at Maungataroto for our first coffee of the day. 

Sam Hunt poem

After leaving the township, we turned onto Mountain Road, where we enjoyed the cooler temperatures of the gravel all the way to the main road.  Then all hell broke loose as we diced with death amongst the trucks and the cars on the sweltering tarmac of State Highway 1.  The traffic on NZ’s preeminent highway is unbelievable.  It makes State Highway 12 seem like a quiet country lane.

Arriving at Kaiwaka shaken and stirred but still in one piece, we took refuge in the magical world of the Eutopia Cafe.  This cafe is a work of art and I mean that literally.  If you haven’t been there, you must stop there next time you’re passing through the town.  The coffee and food there were also very good.  

Eutopia Cafe, Kaiwaka

After provisioning up for the evening, we were back in the traffic on the main road for a few kilometres before turning on to Oruawharo Road and then to the home of Lee and Yvonne, Stephen’s cousins, for the night.  Camped outside Lee’s rather large “bloke’s shed” full of aeronautical and vehicular projects in various stages of completion, we joined them for a very pleasant evening over a BBQ. 

Day 10 – Thursday 3 December 2020 Oruawharo to Makarau.  Distance 65kms

We left Lee & Yvonne’s at 7.30am, the first of two relatively early starts for us.  The skies were overcast with steady rain arriving later in the morning.

We returned along Oruawharo Road back to State Highway 1.  Ron very sensibly briefed us with the wisdom of a man who has travelled this road before, warning us of the narrow bridges we had to cross and confirming that it was important we carefully timed our run across these bridges.  He was absolutely right, timing was everything.

Arriving safely at Te Hana, we only just resisted the temptation to stop for coffee.  After turning off the main road, we rode over the hills to the Port Albert Café to find it was only open Thursday to Sunday.  Luckily for us, it was Thursday!  I was feeling a little jaded on our penultimate day and tried to fix the problem by ingesting large amounts of sugar and caffeine.  It didn’t work, but at least the food and coffee were very good.

After saying goodbye to Kathy, we rode over yet more hills to Tauhoa on State Highway 16.  A change of plan saw us riding about 25km down the highway, which meant we could eat our lunch in the shelter of the veranda of the historic Mataia Homestead at Glorit.  Ron & Susan’s friend, Trudy Gardner, joined us and provided great insight into the homestead, farm and family over tea and coffee.  The homestead was built in 1891 and it has remained in Gardner family ownership since that time.  While we were there, the weather turned fine and so we took the opportunity to explore the beautifully maintained gardens and orchard before we left. 

Mataia Homestead

We continued on State Highway 16 for another 9km before turning off on to Makarau Road and onto the Makarau Scout Complex.  Based around the former Makarau School building, the complex proved to be another excellent find for us with a comfortable lounge, kitchen, covered outdoor eating area and plenty of camping space.  Graeme Hounsell, the scout leader, joined us in the evening and it was great to hear his scouting, tramping and other stories.

Day 11 – Friday 4 December 2020 Makarau to Auckland.  Distance 65kms

After a good night’s sleep, I was feeling refreshed and invigorated.  We left at 7.30am and, after farewelling Ron & Susan, were soon grinding up the 1.8km incline to the top of Kanohi Road, with the following descent delivering us in no time at all to the Kaukapakapa General Store, one of the few places in the town to buy coffee, and a very nice coffee it was too. 

Farewell to Ron & Susan

From here it was over the hills of Peak Road and Old North Road, losing Margaret to Kumeu on the way, before reaching the Red Hills Bakery for lunch.  It proved to be another good find.  After travelling back down the North-western Cycleway, we dispersed to our various homes across the city.  My thanks to our leaders, Stephen and Annette, and all who made this an excellent first ACTA tour for me.

Dargaville Extended and Hub Tour – 24 November to 4 December 2020