It’s been a long time since I’ve visited the far North of New Zealand, but I ‘ve just had the best few days with my sister, Anne, cycling the Twin Coast Cycle Trail. The 87 kilometre trail is a coast to coast ride from Opua near Paihia to Horeke on the Hokianga Harbour. The far North is a remote part of New Zealand stretching from the top of Cape Reinga to the Bay of Islands, including Paihia, The Hokianga and the town of Kaikohe. While the area is vast, the population is less than 60,000 people. Unemployent is higher than the rest of the country and poverty is evident, however, it’s hard to find friendlier, more content people.
We drove from Auckland to Paihia and had a very pleasent afternoon, lunching at Duke of Malbourgh on Russell’s foreshore before heading back to Paihia on the ferry. We later ate supper at ‘Charlotte’s Kitchen,’ again overlooking the water on Paihia’s pier. Next morning we drove to the start of the Twin Coast Cycle Trail, a short distance to Opua. Adjacent to Russell’s car ferry terminal, we picked up our e-bikes and headed off around the estuary towards Kawakawa.
Coming into Kawakawa we were fortunate enough to see the old steam train puffing down the main street, heading out to the old historic Taumarere Railway Station, full with sightseers. After a quick stop in the town and a visit to the famous public toilets designed by Austrian, Friendenreich Hundertwasser we headed off towards Kaikohe. With a population of just over 4000 it’s a shopping and service centre for an extensive farming district and is referred to “the hub of the north.” Riding into town the poverty was again evident with unpainted houses, some derelict, and rubbish too expensive to remove. Lush folliage, roaming chickens and dogs bathing in the sun, reminded me of many of our Pacific Island neighbours, where time stands still and nobody is in a hurry.
Our accommodation at the Left Bank Hotel in Kaikohe was superb for a small, rural town. Until recently, the hotel was the BNZ Bank, however they moved to new premises about five years ago rather than stump up with the cost of earthquake strenghening it. Doomed to fall into ruins, accountant Jack Poutsma and Di Maxwell, a former district councillor bought it and spent the next two and a half years doing it up. It has been transforming into a hotel, backpackers and cafe/restaurant.
Off in the morning we passed Lake Omapere, the ancestral home to New Zealand’s long finned eel or tuna. We followed the river, grazing cattle and a zig-zag back to sea level, having gradually climbed 200 metres the previous day. Finally a board-walk track over wetlands and tussock took us to our destination, Horeke.
Horeke is a settlement in the upper reaches of the Hokianga Harbour with a population of 1,000 people. The town sprang up overnight when an Australian firm established a shipyard in 1826, however, only a few ships were built here.
Horeke is the second oldest town in New Zealand and is the site of New Zealand’s first ever pub, the Horeke Hotel. The hotel is open for accommodation, with bookings essential, but it’s not to the general public. Surrounding the hotel is some of the finest tidal marshes in New Zealand with hundreds of wildfowl and endangered swamp birds thriving in the vast aquatic ‘wastelands’. The old buildings of Horeke were mostly built over water, because at the time there was no land for sale or available for development. Arriving a little tired our night at the hotel was fun mingling with other guests. Our room was spacious and clean with water views and ample room in the two bars, now not open to the public. A menu choices of beef, lamb and fish were offered on a first-come basis, as the hotel was full.
Planning your Twin Coast Cycle Trail journey.
Day 1 – Spend the night in PaihiaDay 2 – In the morning drive 5 minutes to Opua and collect you bikes from Twin Coast Cycle Transport and Car Hire, at 2a Baffin Street. The bike hire outfit will give you a map, but the trail it very well marked, so near impossibleto make a wrong turn. Bike to Kaikohe, 45 kilometres and stay the night at the Left Bank Hotel.Day 3 – Bike from Kaikohe to Horeke, 42 kilometres and stay the night at the Horeke Hotel.Day 4 – Get picked up from the Horeke Hotel and returned to your car in PaihiaLuggage and Transfers – The Twin Coast Cycle Transport and Car Hire people will look after your bike hire and transfers. We opted for e-bikes with excellent large gel seats! They transfered our luggage fron Opua to Kaikohe and then onto Horeke. After we had completed the bike ride they transported us from Horeke back to our car in Opua.