My trail through Northland has given me a range of experiences to occupy my mind for months to come. A west coast route has taken me through Waipoua Forest, with its legendary giant Kauri trees. The biggest is Tane Mahuta, just 2 minutes walk from the road, towering over 52 metres high, with a girth of nearly 5 metres. These trees were much valued by bygone sailors, making perfect wooden masts for sailing ships, and producing the highly valued gum for making varnishes and paints.
The Save the Children volunteers of Dargaville gave me a royal welcome,
with the local press reporter waiting to take photos. As I hit the edge of town, a passing lady motorist stopped me saying she recognised me from a press article published days before I arrived. Wasn’t quite sure how to handle this local fame…….but I was delighted to be hosted by Brenda, a long-serving volunteer with the charity, in the large family house that she now occupied on her own.
As I pushed on towards Wellsford, I encountered my first stretch of flat landscape (almost fenland flat), but the advantage was quickly diminished by a bludgeoning headwind that almost brought me to a halt along a straight unprotected stretch. Then, when I hit the infamous SH1 (State Highway 1), life on the fast lane became a reality…..except the fast lane for me was the hard-shoulder (where it existed). It was a holiday weekend for Aucklanders, and everyone was on a mission to go somewhere……and in a great hurry.
But a quiet haven of a camp site, just outside Warkworth, provided respite from the motorized storm, meeting up once again with Ted, a fellow camper that I had encountered two days previously over 200 kms away. Ted and I had had a shared existence in education, but his latter years had been spent in Malawi teaching classics.
But what of the New Zealanders I have encountered? To say they are self-effacing is a serious understatement. I have been warned a multitude of times, by Kiwis themselves, that I should beware of the “ragbags” out there who will be determined to rob me of everything I own, even at a remote location like Cape Reinga. But all I have encountered, at every stage, has been friendliness and kindness, almost to a point of embarrassment. People have chased behind on the bike to thrust a $5 note in my hand for the charity. This afternoon, a car pulled up beside me at traffic lights and the driver pushed a handful of coins in my hand to buy myself a drink. The owner of the campsite last night insisted on giving me a plateful of food to tide me over till the morning. A woman, while we waited for a ferry crossing, wordlessly walked over and gave me a $20 bill. She never attempted to explain why she was giving it to me.
Kiwis seriously need visitors to come and reaffirm a vision of themselves and their own country that some of them may have lost. They readily play themselves down when, on the contrary, there is an intrinsic caring integrity deeply etched in the character of the nation.
Oh yes, and what of the progress of my cycling venture? Well, as I hit the hectic outskirts of Auckland, I am almost 600 km into the 4000 km expedition, exhausted from the fatigue of constant climbing and debilitating temperatures, only to be welcomed with open arms by the Flynn Family, close friends of my brother Chris. I was whisked off to a family barbecue, a swim in the family pool with stunning views over the harbour, and a whistle-stop tour of downtown as the sun was setting. A huge thank-you to them for opening the gates of their city to me. And it needs to be said…….Auckland is a city of many surprises. Definitely worth a visit.