This story was originally published by North & South and is republished with permission.
I’m sitting on a green-tiled concrete sofa in the main street of Kawakawa. Across the street is the so-called “World’s Best Bathroom” – the Hundertwasser toilets, designed by Austrian architect Friedensreich Hundertwasser, who was a local resident for approximately 25 years.
A young girl is singing, perched on a low wall beside the funky toilet building. She’s busking a cappella – no instruments or boombox – just her clear voice ringing out in the warm morning air. Her koha can looks suspiciously like a large, repurposed dog-food container. To my right is the bustling, whānau-owned 39 Gillies St cafe, which sports a menu to rival any Ponsonby eatery. There’s a pleasant vibe: te-reo pop oozing over the sidewalk tables, happy people eating and strolling past.
To the visitor, Kawakawa is looking alright. It appears to have perked up from its past as a grimy old junction town.
I’m perched here in my padded bike shorts, waiting for two things: my tray of coffee and goodies from 39 Gillies St, and a ride to Kaikohe, which is the central point of Pou Herenga Tai, the Twin Coast Cycle Trail.
87km cycle trail spans the Northland map in a zig-zag that connects Ōpua in the Bay of Islands on the east coast to Hōreke on the Hokianga Harbour in the west. From Ōpua, it winds through Kawakawa, and around the back of Moerewa; then rises gently to the plateau where Kaikohe sits, about midway through the ride.
The trail can be tackled in a number of ways. Head west to east if you fancy taking on a mighty hill. For those who like riding mainly on the flat or downhill, starting at Kaikohe, heading west or east, is the way to go. From the farming service town, we intend to hop on our bikes, first riding west for an overnight stay at the Horeke Hotel. In the morning, we’ll be shuttled back to Kaikohe (a half-hour drive) to cycle east to the Bay of Islands.
But first, we have to leave our vehicle at the Twin Coast Adventures base in Kaikohe. A 2m-high steel gate rolls back to welcome us. It feels a bit fortress-like to the happy holidayers, but sensible if we’re to leave our vehicle and belongings behind. Jade Wahiri is on the desk today, selling motel accommodation, bike hire and shuttle services. Jade’s dad, Shane, is the owner of Twin Coast Adventures, and he’s invested heavily in the cycle trail’s promise of a tourism boom. Along with the spruced-up motel, he’s purchased 100 Merida bikes and three shiny new LDV mini-coaches.