On Friday the 13th March we headed to Horeke on the Hokianga Harbour. There were 22 of us descending on this little settlement to cycle the Twin Coast Cycle Trail. We had decided to base ourselves in Horeke and to do the cycle trail over two days, being shuttled to the middle of the trail in Kaikohe each morning.
Our base was to be the Horeke Hotel which is the oldest surviving pub in New Zealand. The Hotel is located on the waterfront of the Hokianga Harbour in the Far North District. The oldest parts of the building date back to 1833. It may not have had a liquor licence back in 1833, but that did not stop it serving beer to the many ship builders working in the first commercial shipbuilding yard in New Zealand.
Horeke is the oldest settlement in the Hokianga and the second oldest European settlement in New Zealand after Russell which is on the opposite coast.
Because we were such a big group we were split into three groups for accommodation purposes – one group stayed at the Hotel, one group stayed in the House on the Water and one group stayed at The Riverhead Guesthouse. The House on the Water was originally built in 1924 and the front part of the house sits over the water on stilts – it has been fully refurbished inside and it is lovely. The Riverhead Guesthouse is up on the hill overlooking the harbour and is a beautiful old style Kauri villa. It was originally built in Kaiwaka in 1871 and moved to Horeke in 1979 where it was restored.
By 6pm everyone had arrived and after settling into their respective accommodation spots we converged in the Hotel bar. It was great to have the team back together, many of whom have done various cycling trips together over the years. We met Peter & Laurel, the owners of the Hotel and Mike the barman and all round organiser of all things food and beverage.
While eating our dinner (which was delicious), Peter gave us a history lesson on Horeke and surrounding areas. Horeke was originally called Deptford after the Royal Navy shipyard in England. David Ramsay and Gordon Davies Brown came from Sydney to set up a trading post and shipbuilding settlement in 1826. Three ships were built – a 40 ton schooner called Enterprise, a 140 ton brigantine called New Zealander, and the 394 ton barque Sir George Murray, but the firm went bankrupt in 1830.
New Zealand’s first murder trial took place at the nearby Methodist Mission. In 1838 a Maori ferry man murdered a pakeha passenger in an argument over a fare. The man, a mere slave, was tried at Mangungu with the assent of Maori chiefs, and was executed and buried on the low mangrove island opposite Horeke. This was New Zealand’s first murder trial. Yet the court had no legal jurisdiction at all. Both, Maori and pakeha put increasing pressure on Britain to formally claim New Zealand, so British law could apply.
By 1825, the Hokianga Harbour had its first white settler. Jack Marmon, known as Cannibal Jack, was the son of a Sydney stonemason. He jumped ship, married a Maori woman and settled near Horeke, across the river at Marmon’s Point. There was no white man nearer than the missionaries at Kerikeri. A man of slight build, aggressive manner and quick mind, he lived as a Maori joining in their intertribal fights. He was popularly believed to have ‘joined the Maoris in their cannibal feasts’. He died in 1880 and was buried at Marmon’s point after a drunken Irish wake.
After a good nights sleep we met at the Hotel for breakfast which was plentiful. Peter and Laurel had started loading up our bikes onto the trailer ready to transport them and us to Kaikohe for the first of two days cycling.
The Twin Coast Cycle Trail is 87 kilometers long and goes from Opua in the Bay of Islands to Horeke in the Hokianga Harbour. You can ride it in either direction. We did it over two days and went from Kaikohe which is effectively the centre of the trail to Opua (45km) on day one and from Kaikohe back to Horeke (42km) on day two.
Kaikohe is Northland’s largest inland town and mainly services the mid-north’s farming, horticulture and forestry industries. Kaikohe is steeped in Maori history and owes it’s pioneering growth to the kauri gum trade. The town also boasts the largest grass airfield in the southern hemisphere – the Kaikohe Aerodrome was built in 1942 as a US Marines bomber base. It is now used for general aviation.
The Kaikohe district endured several conflicts during the 19th century land wars. The famous chief Hone Heke (1807 – 1850) settled in Kaikohe at the end of the land wars and died here in 1850. The first Maori Member of Parliament was his nephew who was named after him.
In 1914 the rail link between Auckland and Kaikohe was opened which was a major development as travel to Auckland had been a major expedition by land and sea with freight being hauled on mud roads by bullock trains and horse carts. Kaikohe peaked as a trading centre in the 1950’s when the train station hosted six north bound and six south bound trains a week carrying both passengers and freight.
It was a lovely day – earlier in the week the weekend forecast did not look good. My SUNGRL powers were on point. A couple of friends from Auckland, Jo & Torry, joined us on day one and they also bought along our Scottish friends, Geraldine and Ross. Geraldine and Ross lived in Auckland for twenty years before returning to Scotland to live – it was a real treat to be able to catch up with them both.
Everyone set off at their own pace. The trail has been well built and goes through a lot of farmland. We passed through the rural settlement of Otiria which is the northernmost operational point of the national railway network – it is the terminus of the North Auckland line.
Everyone stopped in Kawakawa for lunch and there were some good offerings to be had. My SUNGRL powers had waned a little during the first 34km (I was probably talking too much and not concentrating) and we got a light shower of rain. We had just made it to Kawakawa when there was a heavier downpour – good timing.
Kawakawa is famous for it’s fancy public toilets, otherwise known as the Hundertwasser toilets. They have golden orbs, mosaic tiles, copper handwork, sculptures and cobblestone floors. They were designed by Austrian architect, Friedensreich Hundertwasser, who was a resident of the town from 1975 until his death in 2000.
Kawakawa is also famous for The Bay of Islands Vintage railway. The railway, which runs down the middle of the main street, was re-established in the late 1980’s (after its early life hauling coal from nearby mines). It now operates a scenic tourist railway between Kawakawa and Taumarere Station. It is unique as it is the only working railway in New Zealand where the trains travel down the middle of a State Highway.
We were just finishing our lunch when the train went down the main street. We rode alongside the railway line as we left Kawakawa and got to the Taumarere station just as the scenic train was heading back to Kawakawa. Taumarere had a population of 1,500 in the mid 1800’s when coal was discovered. The coal mine opened in 1867, and coal was initially hauled by horse-drawn carts on a wooden tramway to the deep-water access at Taumarere, loaded onto barges and then taken to Opua to be reloaded onto ocean going ships.
The tramway was replaced in 1867, making it the first railway line to be opened in the North Island. The first engine was called Puffing Billy, although he ran out of steam within a year and was replaced. The line first carried passengers in 1871 and was the first passenger train in the North Island.
The coal mine closed in 1912 but the railway continued to service the carrying of meat and butter from nearby Moerewa until the 1980’s after which it was used occasionally for freight and tourists. The last NZ Railway train ran in 1971 and the line was closed in 2000. The Bay of Islands Vintage Railway Trust has reopened the historic line to Taumarere as a flourishing tourist venture. They eventually want to restore the line through to Opua.
We rode across the railway bridge after the train had gone and then followed the estuary all the way to Opua where Peter and Laurel were waiting with the vans, trailers and cold beers. Opua is a bustling commercial port with a large marina and boatyard. It is the first port for overseas yachts arriving in NZ after crossing the Pacific Ocean. There is also a car ferry that takes you across to Russell which is the oldest European settlement in NZ.
All aboard the vans to our next stop – Ngawha Springs. It was actually quite hot so the thought of hoping into a hot pool was not so appealing.
Te Waiariki Ngawha Springs are natural geothermal healing waters that come directly from the earth. There are 16 mineral baths each with unique nutrient and temperature characteristics, used for centuries for relaxation as well as their therapeutic qualities and healing properties. They are culturally significant and have a rich social, environmental and political history. The Parahirahi Ngawha Waiariki Trust as kaitiaki has a responsibility to ensure that the springs are maintained and developed so that future generations can enjoy their healing waters.
The pools have a variety of temperatures and bubble from the ground into large wooden tubs. The hot springs arising in this area are slightly acidic and are rich in ammonia, bicarbonate, boron and mercury, which is not typical of other springs in New Zealand. Tests have shown that the pools contain in varying amounts also boric acid, bromide, calcium chloride, caesium, carbon dioxide, magnesium, iodine, fluoride, lithium, sodium, ammonium, rubidium sulphate, silica, potassium and some other minerals.
All pools have personal names. Amazingly they have different colours and different temperatures even though they are in close proximity of each other. So, while Bulldog has black water and a temperature between 41-48 degrees, a small pool located about 3 meters away from it has white water and a cool temperature.
Every pool has its own individual spring, each with its own temperature. The difference in the colour of each pool is an indication of the variation in mineral composition and individual underground source. The spring waters are presented in their natural state and are not in any way processed.
We opted for the cooler pool first before venturing into the hotter ones. Surprisingly the hotter ones weren’t too bad. In the last pool we went into, a local lady hopped in and proceeded to put her head under. Our understanding was that you couldn’t put your head under in thermal or mineral pools so we asked her about it. She told us that this was the only pool you could do it in and that it was noted on the information board. She had been coming to the pools for years and she told us some stories of how the healing properties in the pools had helped various people that had serious illnesses.
She told us that the pool we were in had a high concentration of boric acid and magnesium and that it was good for eye health and arthritis. We decided to put our heads under to absorb as much of the goodness as possible. I’m still needing to wear glasses so it was not a miracle pool!
After our healing experience we headed back to Horeke to enjoy some liquid refreshments before dinner. Our Swiss and Thai friends were travelling in this area and had arranged to call in for a drink with us. It was a beautiful evening which made it so nice to sit out on the deck and watch the sun go down. Our friends went back to their camperan to cook dinner while we enjoyed another delicious meal at the Hotel.
The tradition on our annual bike trips is to have a court session at night where anyone that has done something silly during the day gets fined. Normally I am the judge, jury and executioner but this year Steve Thomas and Rachel Darlington had relieved me of such duties. I had given then strict instructions of course – I don’t let go easily.
Steve, Rachel Darlington and myself then joined our Swiss and Thai friends for a little after dinner party in their campervan. There was no way they were driving anywhere after that so luckily Peter had said they could park up outside the hotel. I did, however, drive us back up to the Riverside when possibly I should not have. I got a fine for this the next night despite having the fine master and his sidekick in the car with me.
On Sunday morning there was thick fog not just in my brain but also blanketing the Harbour – it was quite eerie. We headed to the Hotel for breakfast before again setting off to Kaikohe in the vans. Today we were cycling back to Horeke which was about 42 kilometres.
The trail between Kaikohe and Okaihau follows a disused railway corridor and climbs gently to the highest point of the trail at 280 metres above sea level. The first part of the trail was mainly through bush or old forestry areas.
We came across an old rail tunnel that was built in 1915 – it was 80 metres long with a slight curve in it so you couldn’t quite see the light at the end of it. I decided to ride through it with no light on but as I got inside I thought some light would be good. As I fossicked around trying to turn my light on I lost my orientation and headed a bit far left and before I could unclip my left shoe I was having an involuntary lie down inside the tunnel – I am getting a very bad reputation for these. Luckily Kaz came back to find me with her light on as my light battery was dead and my phone flew out of the holder as I hit the ground. A little bit of blood never hurt anyone and of course a fine at the evening’s court session!
Just before Lake Omapere came into view we came across Margaret, Graeme and Trish fixing a flat tyre. We all had a go at pumping up Margaret’s tyre while Kaz took some questionable photos!
The tranquil waters of lake Omapere are the ancestral home of indigenous tuna or eel that provide a bountiful food source for the local people. Tuna, during the months from February to April set off on an epic journey from the lake, down the Utakura River and through the Hokianga Harbour, swimming thousands of miles to their spawning grounds in the Pacific Ocean, somewhere between Tonga and Fiji. Their offspring, after floating on the southern current back to New Zealand coastline, scale enormous obstacles back upstream to make it back home. It is during this migration that local people have traditionally set nets on the river to harvest this rich bounty of the sea.
The plan was to grab some lunch in Okaihau – Peter had said that one of the two cafes may be open? As we passed through Okaihau there was no sign of anything open so we carried on conjuring up plans as to what we could do once we got back to Horeke.
When Okaihau was settled in the 1880’s, British builders Charles & Walter Rowsell established four sawmills in the mid north region. We passed one of the mills that transformed kauri, kahikatea and totara from the surrounding hills into weatherboards, flooring, furniture, fenceposts and spars to supply the growing community. Many houses in the area were also built by the Rowsells.
Not long after Okaihau we came across a beautiful big Puriri tree. “He’s as tough as an old Puriri post” is a saying testament to the durability and strength of the stately Puriri tree, endemic to New Zealand and synonymous with the landscape of the Far North. Many of the Puriri fence posts we were passing on the trail are over 100 years old and still standing straight and strong.
Early settlers prized the plentiful, rot-proof wood but were daunted by it’s stubbornness. They discovered that most nails would simply bounce off the surface and had to invent a special fence staple to penetrate the grain. They also learned that even when a Puriri is felled and milled into posts it will continue to grow. An incident recorded by New Zealand Geographic tells of a farmer who cut down a Puriri, quartered it and used the posts to build a hay barn. Three of the posts sprouted.
For Maori, who also called the tree kauere, the Puriri provided many resources. The leaves were used for making an infusion for bathing muscle aches and sprains; a useful laxative, a salve for sore throats and ulcers and the bark for dying flax. The wood was used to fashion gardening tools, paddles, weapons and hinaki (eel traps) because it was one of the few timbers that would sink. The grubs of the Puriri moth that burrowed deep into the truck made good eating.
After leaving the trail beside the road we started riding through farmland again and had some great views down the Utakura Valley. We descended down some pretty cool switchbacks before coming around the corner by the Utakura River where we found a lot of the group having a picnic lunch. Tony had decided to buy a loaf of bread and some potato chips so we could all make potato chip sandwhiches – that was a blast from the past – I haven’t had a chip sandwhich for years. I was pretty hungry (nothing new there) so they went down a treat.
Riding alongside the Utakura River was beautiful – it was another sunny day. We had a pit stop at Snows Farm where we saw all these old tractors and some quaint accommodation. There was also a tap for us to fill up our water bottles. This part of the trail was definitely my favorite.
Not far from Horeke you ride along a 1 kilometre boardwalk through the Mangrove Estuary to Hokianga Harbour. It was a great way to end the ride.
We all had showers to freshen up and then relaxed on the balcony taking in the beautiful vista. Mike the barman then arrived with hot pizza – that went down a real treat!
At 4pm we had organised a cruise on the Hokianga Harbour. Craig the skipper of the Ranui pulled up at the wharf outside the Hotel and on we got. It was a beautiful evening and so calm out on the water. It was a BYO scenario so we had purchased a few liquid refreshments to enjoy while we cruised.
We went past the Mangungu Mission House nestled up on the hill just past Horeke. Māngungu was established on the shore of the spectacular Hokianga Harbour in 1828 as a Wesleyan Mission station. It was built in 1838-1839 for the Reverend Nathaniel Turner.
Following lengthy discussions, the largest signing of the Treaty of Waitangi in the country took place here, with over 70 chiefs adding their assent before a crowd of up to 3,000 people. The event is remembered each year on 12 February.
Honey bees were introduced at Māngungu, providing a major contribution to the success of pastoral farming in New Zealand.
From 1840, the mission house was occupied by the Reverend John Hobbs and his family. Hobbs had drawn the plans for the house – a single-storey structure in a symmetrical, Georgian style – and supervised its construction from local kauri.
The family left Māngungu for Auckland in 1855 and the house was moved to Onehunga where it was used as a Methodist parsonage and then sold to private owners. The mission house was returned to the Māngungu site in the 1970s, restored on behalf of Heritage New Zealand, and opened to visitors in 1977.
Next to the Mangungu Mission House stands the little chapel looking over the shore of the tranquil and picturesque harbour. The original church, which could take 800 people, was demolished in the late 1800 to build mill workers’ cottages in Kohukohu.
The present chapel is the disused Methodist church from Kohukohu which was shifted across the water to Mangungu and re-sited nearby the mission house.
We then cruised up one arm of the Hokianga and saw a shag colony before returning to the Harbour.
12,000 years ago, the Hokianga was a river valley flanked by steep bush-clad hills. As the last ice age regressed, the dramatic rise in sea level slowly flooded the valley turning it into a tidal saltwater harbour with abundant sheltered deep water anchorages. This was the harbour that the explorer Kupe left from, and in 1822 it was home to the first European timber entrepreneurs. Southern right whales possibly frequented the bay historically, prior to significant depletion of the species caused by commercial and illegal hunting. Today, large whales are rarely seen in the bay, although the harbour is a well-regarded area in which to watch smaller dolphins and killer whales.
The area around the harbour is divided in three by the estuary. To the south are the settlements of Waimamaku, Omapere, Opononi, Pakanae, Koutu, Whirinaki, Rawene, Waima, and Taheke; to the north are Broadwood, Pawarenga, Panguru, Mitimiti, and Rangi Point; and at the top of the harbour upstream from the narrows are Horeke, Kohukohu, and Mangamuka.
We then headed to Kohukohu where we went ashore to have a look around and enjoy a beer at the pub. I was expecting the pub to be in a historic building or have some history but it wasn’t and it was a bit underwhelming. The town, however, was very cool and had some quirky and quaint buildings.
The first recorded European to enter the Hokianga Harbour arrived in 1819 and by the 1830s, Kohukohu was the heart of New Zealand’s timber industry. The country’s first Catholic mass was celebrated 8 kilometres north of Kohukohu at Totara Point in 1838.
For nearly one hundred years Kohukohu was an important timber milling town and the largest commercial centre on the north of the harbour. In 1900, the township had a population of almost 2,000 people. Today, Kohukohu is a community of 150 people who live within the village and approximately 350 who live in the surrounding area.
It was then time to return to Horeke for another yummy dinner and of course the daily court session. I was fined for falling off my bike but I was not alone.
We enjoyed breakfast together on Monday morning before we all set off on our journey’s home. The Covid-19 pandemic was making headlines daily but at this stage we were probably all a bit blase about it. We were certainly not practicing social distancing or contemplating what was to come ten days later. We have now been in level 4 lockdown for 12 days and although we are getting used to it this is not how we like to live our lives.
I am very grateful that we got to spend that weekend on the Hokianga Harbour. It was fantastic – great accommodation, great cycling, great food and great friends. The cycle trail exceeded my expectations – it was in good condition and there was a good variety of scenery along the way. The area has a lot of history and some untouched natural beauty. The cycling is not hard and the way we did it was very enjoyable and achievable for all.
Thanks to the team for helping create some more special memories – Margaret & Graeme, Trish, Hilary & Graham, Karen & Danny, Kaz & Pete, Peter & Lynette, Debs, Rachel D, Di & Mike, Cheryl & Ross, Kaye & Tony, Stevie and of course our honorary Kiwi, Andrea.
Thanks also to Peter, Laurel and Mike at the Horeke Hotel for transporting us around, feeding and watering us and providing a lovely place to stay. Also, a big thanks to Ollie for helping out with the bikes each day – you were a star.