Awanui and Rawene
At about 3pm we head out of Awanui having stocked up with supplies, the next stretch is a road Gavin recommended and it doesn’t disappoint. It’s 70km long and sweeps through farmland, forests and hillsides. It’s like the land that time forgot this side, the houses, shops and farms look like they haven’t changed in 100 years. We stop several times to take pictures of the scenery and some of the houses including one that has a wooden carved statue of one of the pioneers that built the town. The road continues to swoop and swirl around the landscape and it’s fun to ride. Eventually we ride into the tiny but very picturesque village of Kohukohu. It sits alongside the sea of the Hokianga harbour, this is an enormous natural harbour which almost cuts halfway through Northland necessitating a ferry to cross it. We stop to take pictures and have a wander before riding the last 4km to the ferry. It’s now 7pm and the last but one crossing so we ride onto the waiting ferry, it’s only 6 NZ $ as it’s a short hop but it gives us some great views around the harbour. We hop off the bike and take lots of photos on the way across, the evening light is beautiful, the harbour and old fashioned houses make a good picture. As we are getting closer to Rawene I am taking pictures of the view from the front of the ship, the loading ramp is right up and I have to hold the camera up above my head to clear it. Spotting me from the high mounted bridge the captain obligingly drops it down a couple of feet so I can see over the top. I turn round to the bridge and give him a thumbs up and he grins. As we dock at Rawene we can see that it has the same old time feel as Kohukohu, the wharf deposits you right in the middle of town next to a garage that is partly on stilts. It looks like something from the mid west circa 1850 as do a lot of the buildings, they are kind of a mixture of wild west and colonial styles and we both love the place instantly. I pull up to take a few pictures and we promise ourselves to return tomorrow to explore some more but now we need to find somewhere to stay tonight. Gavin told us about a nice campsite this side of the water and Daniel and Nikolai said they stayed in a great one in Rawene so when we see a sign for Rawene motor camp we follow it. Nestled in the back streets it is a hidden gem and is probably the best equipped campsite we have ever stayed in. We pitch up the tent in a nice spot with a view out over the harbour and the rolling hills beyond. There are also two conveniently placed trees on the edge of our pitch so we make a garage for the bike with some para cord and the tarp. The weather has been pretty wet of late and it gives us a dry area for all the gear as our borrowed tent is too small to get us and all our stuff in. They really need the rain here, there has been none for 3 months, we don’t however as we are camping in a tiny two man tent and travelling on a motorcycle with no waterproof leggings but ho hum at least its warm. The campsite has a really well equipped campers kitchen which makes life a lot easier, there is also a lounge with comfy seats where we can read and blog which makes a nice change from being sat on the ground. The next morning it’s pouring with rain so we decide to stay put and after breakfast retire to the lounge to blog etc. After lunch it eases up slightly and by mid afternoon we walk back into town to explore. We have a lazy wander around taking pictures, right on the shore there is a recycled art shop which we have a look in. Karen gets chatting to the artist whose work we really like. She makes pictures from washed up scraps of glass and ceramics most of which have local themes and connections. She shows us two broken pieces of a ceramic plate that she found several years apart that fit perfectly. On the back are some marks which she has unsuccessfully tried to track down. Karen notices the border is rope which the lady hadn’t noticed which leads her down another path of research as the name on the back that she previously thought was a maker could be a ship ? Although it distracts her from her workshop she says she likes to talk to people who come into her shop as they often provide inspiration or ideas. On the way back up the main street we stop in the take away and get an ice cream which is delicious, they do some nice food at very reasonable prices so we decide to pop back later for dinner. A very cute stray dog appears while we are wandering around, we make a fuss of her while we are sitting on a bench watching the world go by. She follows us around town for a while and obviously knows all the locals. Eventually she goes her own way and we head back to the campsite. At teatime I scoot back to the takeaway to pick up dinner and we eat it in the camp kitchen with a bottle of wine. It’s raining again in the morning but we manage to duck and dive the worst of it and get going. We head down to Opononi which has a beautiful beach inlet surrounded by dunes. We get a brief respite from the rain here and stop to look around. A few km’s down the road we enter Waipoua forest, this is a protected Kauri forest and is teemimg with native flora and fauna. This is one of the last places where you can see really big Kauri trees and the home of Tane Mahuta (the lord of the forest) We stop to take a look, it is a majestic sight. What strikes you most is it’s girth it is huge, at 4.38metres (over 14feet) in diameter, it’s so tall I can’t actually get it all in one picture. I take a picture with Karen stood next to the trunk to give some idea of scale. Tane Mahuta is estimated to be 1250 years old, there is another Kauri (Te Matua Ngahere – Father of the Forest) not too far away that is 2000 yrs old. Think of the history these trees have seen, the massive trees were discovered in the 1920′s when they were making the first road through the forest. The road has bend after bend after bend partly because of the logistics of trying to build a road through here and partly to avoid these mighty trees. Later that afternoon we come across a visitor centre that has some amazing pictures of those pioneering days. The new tarmac road still follows the same route as the original gravel track and at one point passes right through the middle of two big Kauri’s which were named Darby and Joan. The rain gets worse whilst we are in the visitor centre but Karen notices that they have some cheap cabins for the same price as camping. We decide to book one to save camping in the rain, spookily the couple in the queue before us who are Scottish have the same surname as us which is fairly unusual as ours is Browne. The cabins are basic but very welcome and fine for our needs. There is also a communal shower block and washroom with nice hot water so we make the most of it and wash some clothes. After dinner the rain stops so we go for a walk around the local area. Once the sun goes down we close the doors and windows to keep the Mosi’s and sand flies out as they are quite bad here, it’s a bit hot and sticky but better than being mauled once we are asleep. Sand flies are little blighters they are tiny a bit like Scottish midges with an evil bite. They are so small and fast that they are hard to spot and kill and they have a habit of getting under sandal straps and sneaky places. The bites itch like mad and they get worse if you scratch them too much, they can even scar. We are comfy in our cabin and out of the rain which gets heavy again during the night so we are grateful for it.
A Slice of England
We are woken by bird song early in the morning it is short lived however as the heavens open and they all flee for cover. Safe in our little cabin we snuggle down for a lie in till it blows over. When the sun comes out we pack up and head out. There is a lookout point we are going to ride to first, we could have bush walked to it from the site yesterday only it was cloudy. Today it is crystal clear, there is a purpose built look out tower which offers a commanding view over the tree tops of the forest, it also gives a good view of Rhonddas bike below so we capture the image. We are still following the route Gavin recommended so we visit the Kai Iwi lakes. Riding down alongside the lake shore we see a lot of people in swimming, the water is a pale blue where the sand is so shallow it is reflecting the light. There is a barrier of buoys marking the deep water line but it is instantly recognisable by the change in colour to deep royal blue. Parking the bike on the shores edge we quickly change and run in. Hunger drives us out after we have been swimming and playing for a while and we dry off in the sun eating lunch. We have a contact in Whangarei to visit Kirsty, her father is in the Guzzi club in England and has been following our travels, on realising we would be passing close to his daughter he suggested we get in contact. We text, any time after 3pm is fine with them. The heavens decide to open again so we quickly get dressed and head off. We are not so lucky this time and get a good drenching but sun and wind soon dries us out, just in time to get absolutely soaked again we arrive in Dargaville like drowned rats. After taking some photos of the swollen river we head for Danny and Kirsty and hopefully some sun. We manage to dry out again before landing on the doorstep. We get a lovely warm welcome and some tea and birthday cake it is Kirsty’s birthday so best wishes all round. As her friend Helen goes to leave she offers us a bed in her motor home on her drive we gratefully accept it is also walking distance so we can have some bubbles with Kirsty. We cram lots of socialising in a small time they are off to England tomorrow (snow permitting) to see Kirsty’s mum and dad(Al). We agree to return for breakfast and photos in the morning. Guided by Danny we head across the fields to Helen and Gavins where we are treated to some of his home made beer. Kev hasn’t tasted anything this good since home. Even thought the hour is late we spend the time chatting before finally retiring. It is cute and very comfortable little camper but it is a humid and sticky night. We socialise with Helen, Gavin and his parents Rob and Louise who are over visiting from Scotland before heading back to Danny and Kirsty’s for boiled eggs. The forecast for the day is really bad with heavy rain all day, although Kirsty and Danny are leaving for England they suggest we stay put for another day and have the use of their house. The rain is relentless so this makes our minds up pretty quick and we accept their more than generous offer especially as they have wifi. Before they leave we head into the garage to get some photos of Dylan their son on the stand in trip bike, Kirsty reckons this will make her dad’s day. We make good use of the day off and have a marathon uploading session of photos over 400 and we reach New Zealand in pictures, the same country at last! This was really fortuitous as we took so many pictures in Japan but didn’t have access to wifi very often to upload them. Without this day it would have taken ages to catch up. After a good nights sleep, the next morning we are heading for the oil refinery off Marsden point it has a visitor centre and was recommended by Louise. Her directions were spot on and it is as interesting as she said with a huge and amazingly intricate model of the site which was used in it’s planning and construction.
Bad luck or devine intervention
We have one more stop on our itinerary the Kauri museum everyone has recommended it and said we will need about 3hrs to do it justice. We are on our way about 30km away when the back end shimmys violently forcing Kev to an abrupt but controlled stop. A large nail in the rear tyre is the cause of our puncture. We are a bit stymied with the Vulcan it has no centre stand and we do not have the means to repair it as we would on our bike. A quick phone call to Rhondda reveals although she has breakdown it is for the person not machine. Kev has to push it back up the road a way as it is in a vunerable spot where it is. I mean time have reccy’d out the nearest house who recommends a couple of garages, 20 minutes later we are loading the Vulcan on a trailer heading for the Suzuki Garage in Kaiwaka the mechanic there does us proud and with a little help from ourselves we are all done in under an hour, the bill including the call out charge was very reasonable thanks guys, we also find out he is a Browne as well and has heaps of family around these parts. Kev must have a lot of relatives out here he doesn’t know about ? Its on his to do list to look into his family tree but we have been too busy with preparations for this trip. We take our usual photos and leave them our website address. It is too late to get round the museum today so we head for a campsite near to it. We have wifi so do another blog and photo uploading session we are almost up to date but it is a late one. Next morning It dawns a beautiful day a shame to be indoors really but the museum beckons. My god it’s massive over 8 large warehouse size rooms, a full 2 storied life size replica of a boarding house, a real saw mill full of moving parts to show the process, a steam engine, massive slabs of Kauri throughout, photos, a room given solely to display the gum (Copal and Amber),realistic scenes with life sized models based on real people, a truly magnificent museum we take a break after 4 halls for lunch which we take sitting on the veranda feeling like a pioneer ourselves. The array of stuff on display and the information is outstanding, one of the last to leave we finally drag ourselves away legs and backs aching but what a place, well done New Zealand a great asset. We turn the Vulcan back to it’s home and arrive at Rhonddas in time for dinner and a lovely welcome from both Rhondda and Bishop. We spend the night catching up and chillin’, tomorrow (22nd December) we will do all we can to get the guzz out of the docks before everything shuts for the holidays.