We are eager to hit the road again after two nights in Raglan. Our bodies are gradually adjusting to life back on the road, along the with the aches and creaks that go along with camping. There are a lot of foreign tourists in the campground and around town, even all the hospitality staff are foreigners.
The road to Kawhia is gravel (in N.Z. they call it a “metal” road) which is tranquil, quiet and very scenic. The tiny village sits peacefully inside the Aotea Harbour with a short drive over the hill to the ocean beach which at low tide oozes hot water (up to 45°C) if you dig a hole (which can be formed into a shallow bathing pool)!
The locals chat non-stop when we park outside the store for picnic lunch supplies and we discover they have ice-creams! Who would believe it, they still sell cones for $2 – and what they call a double scoop (which would be 4-5 scoops in Australia)!
It’s strange how you start a thought in your head – like how we will know when we are on a “really good road” – and it becomes a reality. The road from Kawhia to Te Waitere is one of those with wonderful cambered corners, no traffic and rolling scenery around the edge of the harbour that just keeps delivering and continues on to Marokopa, a remote coastal fishing village.
One of the most impressive waterfalls in New Zealand, Marokopa Falls is located in Tawarau Forest, a few kilometres away, and just further on is the Mangapohue Natural Bridge where a 17 metre high limestone arch is all that remains of an ancient cave ceiling with masses of stalactite formations.
We are noticing the “gorse” on the farmlands and remember how much of a pest it is. Nowadays it is one of the most widely recognised agricultural weeds in New Zealand and the most costly to control. It was used for hedges and windbreaks initially and had a rapid spread with the temperate climate. The seed can lie dormant on the ground for up to 50 years, germinating quickly after the adults have been removed. Unfortunately, most methods of removing adult gorse plants, such as burning or bulldozing them, create the ideal conditions for the gorse seeds to germinate but they are discovering native bush can regenerate through it, cutting out it’s light and eventually replacing it.
As we stock up on food supplies for the night in Te Kuiti, we learn from the locals of a “free” camp in a reserve up the road. As night falls, the area fills with many tourists sleeping in the back of adapted station wagons. Our one-pot wonders are developing again as we knock up a superb vegetarian curry with fried naan bread.
As nightfall approaches we discover the locals have a great sport of driving flat out around the reserve, spraying gravel from the road everywhere to “disturb” the free campers!
We follow a very calm Tasman Sea from Awakino and hit the back roads through Tarata to Stratford where we begin the Forgotten World Highway. This is 150 kilometres of rugged, beautiful countryside where you ride over three “saddles” with spectacular views of native beech forests. We camp in the middle of it at Whangamomona where the local pub is the big attraction.
The first settlers came here in the late 1800’s but the growth was seriously affected by the loss of over 50 men in the First World War and then a major flood. The arrival of the railway line saw a recovery for 30 years until the school, and later the Post Office closed down. The remaining 20 residents didn’t want the school to leave the grounds, so they decided to make it available for everyone to share and created a campground run on a voluntary basis. It was a great place to spend the night and a great price!
The Forgotten World Highway is supposedly among the 10 worst roads in New Zealand – and this is because of the 17 kilometre stretch of gravel, which if wet can be almost impassable. The spectacular 500 metre Moki Tunnel also has a clay bottom and a talk with a local biker reveals many bikes go down actually “in” it in wet conditions. It was hand-carved with pickaxes and has a wooden ceiling – the locals call it the Hobbit’s Hole.
As the rain showers increase, a stop at a gorgeous Lavender Farm seems very timely and we enjoy home-made delights of bacon and cheese scones and some dark carrot cake. The views over the Whanganui River to the bush beyond are just magic and always make me feel close to the history of this land.
The back roads through to Bennydale follow a scenic forest trail through sheep and beef country until we find a free camp on the reserve at Mangakino, right on Lake Maraetai.
It’s time for a few days off the road to rest our bones so we rock into Hamilton to my cousin Sue’s and it’s always a neat feeling riding in on our own bikes.
Then it’s back to Auckland and a night with family where we meet up with our kids who have flown in from Sydney for Christmas – special times and special memories. We head north to our Christmas destination of Pataua which lies in the mouth of the Pataua River on the Pacific Ocean – so it’s time to say Merry Christmas from BikesnBeers and best wishes for the New Year…
We met Bob at the fuel station in Kawhia as he came over to chat about our bikes. He’s ridden lots of bikes in his day including Matchless, BSA, and even an Indian the same year as Bert Munroe’s! He tells us he’s 92, lives independently, plays golf several times a week, rides a Honda 50 these days and owns an Austin A30. He met his wife in Waihi (on the opposite coast) while on a ride and through the courtship she insisted he come and live in Kawhia where he has been ever since. He has four sons (the eldest is 68) and 13 great grandchildren. He reckons bike “gear” has changed considerably over the years as in his day he wore Air Force boots and an Army great coat with newspaper stuffed down the front to keep warm. He tells us his wife passed away four years ago at 89 from a stroke – and he misses her every day! He was an absolute delight to talk to and a very special man.