The weather is much warmer in the north, with blue skies and fresh air, just perfect riding conditions. It’s a scenic ride through the Otaika Valley and across Highway 14 to Dargaville, following along the Northern Wairoa River. In several areas surrounding Whangarei, the landscape has hundreds of dry stone walls, the legacy of skilled builders that utilised the volcanic stone of the area.
On the west coast just north of Dargaville is the Waipoua Forest, the largest remaining tract of native forest in Northland. The road through this ancient green world of towering trees and rare birds is amazing with natural gateways created by huge kauri trees and colourful ferns along the road’s edge.
It is the home of Tane Mahuta, the largest living kauri tree in New Zealand which they believe is around 2,000 years old. Sitting across from the tree you feel in awe of the splendour of this magnificent giant.
We rock in to Rawene to stay with an old mate who has recently purchased the laundromat and lives above the premises, and we are just in time for Anzac Day.
Paul and Theresa show us around the Hokianga over the next few days with dazzling autumn weather and absolutely calm conditions.
We cross the harbour to visit all the tiny settlements of the Hokianga, the heartland for the Maori people and the original landing place. Everywhere there are marae, three in a row out at Pawarenga, and a rich sense of history. It is easy to imagine why this area was so suitable for the large population at that time.
Many missionaries came and there are numerous well-preserved churches which are open to inspect. They are beautifully cared for and we couldn’t find a speck of dust in any of them! Bishop Pompallier from France was the founder of the Catholic Church in New Zealand and is buried beneath the altar in St. Mary’s Church in Motuti. Apparently they can raise the coffin if required!
We also visit the grave of Dame Whina Cooper, a respected elder who spent her whole life working for the rights of her people, particularly to improve the lot of Maori women. When she was 80 she led 5,000 protestors in a land march from the Far North to Parliament with a petition about ongoing land rights.
The Koutu Boulders are one of the Hokianga’s best kept secrets and are excellent examples of “concretion” which means “grown together”. They vary in size with some up to five metres in diameter and look a bit like cannonballs.
Founded in 1920 by a Maori faith healer, the Rātana Church gave new hope and a transtribal unity to the Maoris, who had many grievances against the government. The temples are decorated with stars and moons from the original design in Whanganui and there’s about six churches around the North Island.
In 1840 the Treaty of Waitangi was signed, the founding document for New Zealand to enable the British settlers and the Maori people to live together under a common set of laws. Forty-three Northland Chiefs signed the treaty on that day and over 500 signed it as it was taken around the country during the next eight months. We ride in to Horeke and find the Mission House and church which were built in the late 1800’s and became the scene of the largest signing location with more than 70 chiefs gathered before a crowd of around 3,000. One of the chiefs had been to Sydney and seen the conditions of indigenous people there and said “We think you are going to deceive us. We are not willing to give up our land. The land is a parent to us.” As British colonists streamed in, he was right to be concerned as four million acres of land were lost, some by legitimate sale and some by forced confiscation. Every year the place comes alive with waka (canoe) as people converge to remember an event that changed the course of history.
It has definitely been a week of “churches” and Maori history filled with wonderful bike roads like the Mangamuka Hill road – so good we may have to do it again…
Favourite of the Week
The ferry between Rawene and Kohukohu is a vital link for people in the Hokianga region and as our friend Paul knows the skipper, it’s very special to be given the opportunity to drive it!
Show Me A Sign
Tip of the Day
Our Dutch mate Paul has been in Rawene for nine years and the locals all fondly call him “Clogs” (he even has his own personalised number-plate). He likes to support the community in many different ways and one of these is to regularly buy his breakfast at the local cafe. He likes two poached eggs, some baked beans, toast and a bottomless cup of good coffee. To ensure every member of staff will give him the same deal, they now have the “Clogs Special”…very cool!
Story of the Week
We are in Rawene and it’s Anzac Day, where Australians and New Zealander’s have the day off to remember our soldiers who have been killed in wars and honour the returned servicemen and women. Our mate, Paul, has lived here for nine years and knows everyone so as we gather for the ceremony at the cemetery, there is a lot of friendly hand-shaking and hongi (traditional Maori greeting where you press noses together).
The mist is clinging to the water in the harbour as the sun does it’s best to burn it off while the march into the cemetery starts.
We are all welcomed as we stand around the perimeter and the ceremony begins with everyone singing the Australian National Anthem followed by the New Zealand one! Wow, you don’t hear that happen very often – but it feels so so right.
The speakers are well chosen and the “service” continues in-between their talks with a lot of singing in Maori accompanied by one of the clergy on guitar. It was truly magical singing “Now Is The Hour” as the final song followed by a flag ritual with the bugle. There was hardly a dry eye in the cemetery.
After the service the community is invited to the little local golf club for refreshments where the cadets sing us a Maori song and an elder asks us to remember Watchman Waaka, the last living soldier of the Maori Battalion who is in care in the Rawene Hospital. The locals have donated large pots of hot home-made soup, fry bread and snacks. It feels very heart-warming and reminds us how small communities are in New Zealand. This will definitely be an Anzac Day we will remember for a long, long time.