Read about a magical week of family adventure in the Far North
of New Zealand, the culmination of a 4000km cycle tour of New
Zealand with toddlers. This piece was written by Stuart Wickes
and Kirstie Pelling for New Zealand's Wilderness Magazine, published
in October 2005. You can download this story
as a full colour pdf file in our Adventures Together ebook . Stuart Wickes and Kirstie Pelling
are Directors of The Family Adventure Project.
cycling 4000km around New Zealand, British visitors Stuart Wickes
and Kirstie Pelling know all about magic moments
"Hey look guys, a
shooting star," said Kirstie pointing into the dark sky.
"Where Mum?" asked Matthew and Cameron in chorus.
"Just there. Look. Quick. Up there. oh.. oh, it's gone."
"Was it a lolly going to the lighthouse?" asked two year old Cameron.
"No. It was a spirit going to the Cape," said four year old Matthew.
"Star, lolly, spirit, who knows?" I said trying to defuse the
sibling rivalry. "Shall we see if we can see any more?"
We lay in silence
under the stars, surf pounding a few metres away, cool air chilling
any bits of bodies not covered by our sleeping bags. It was a
special family moment at the end of a week of action and adventure;
two adults, two toddlers, two bikes and two trailers, exploring
the wilder side of Far Northland, biking from Kaitai along 90
Mile Beach to Cape Reinga.
A lot of people
think toddlers are wild enough without taking them into the wilderness,
but we disagree. If you're careful with your planning and ensure
your route has something for everyone then there's nothing to
stop you and your family going wild. And after nearly 4000km on
the road we knew the last hundred or so kilometres to the Cape
would be a magical way to finish our end to end family cycle tour
of New Zealand.
The route up to the Cape has all the ingredients
for a varied family adventure with opportunities for biking along
Ninety Mile Beach, sandboarding on the dunes of Te Paki, kayaking
to pure white silica sands, fishing on deserted headlands, and
discovering the spiritual significance of the Cape itself.
"Come on everyone, let's go buggy surfing,"
shouted an elated Matthew from his sand splashed trailer as I
pedaled out towards the sea.
"You'll get salt in your cones and your cogs will drop off," shouted
Kirstie, her voice trailing away in the wind. I wasn't going to
let that spoil my fun.
"Go mum, go with dad," squeaked Cameron from behind Kirstie's
bike, his high pitched squeal carrying over the noisy surf, but
Kirstie stayed out of the salty spray, above the water line.
The beach stretched endlessly in front of my handlebars, sea mists
creeping silently ashore in the distance. It hadn't been hard
to sell the idea of three days riding and camping wild on a beach
to the boys once we mentioned swimming, surf, spades and sandcastles.
Ninety Mile Beach is a wide, often deserted
and beautiful beach that doubles as a State Highway, its flat
sands being open to traffic as long as the tide is not in. On
a quiet day it's a great place for a family bike ride; you can
spread out along the beach or ride abreast and chat. What's more
you can stop almost anywhere for a paddle, picnic or play, as
long as you remember to keep an eye out for traffic. We shared
it with a few tourist buses, wild horses, fisherman and surfers.
Cycling at first with great caution, then breathing more easily
when the bikes barely dented the hard packed sand.
It wasn't long before our kids were pestering
to be let out of their buggies and we let them run free for a
while, dipping their toes in the water, stuffing their pockets
with broken shells and grimy feathers, and running along beside
us. By late afternoon we rounded a little headland and found a
perfect camp spot, a grassy clearing surrounded by dunes. We set
up the tent, etched our names boldly in the sand, paddled in the
surf and made some dinner. Then, at dusk, raced down to the beach
to get a sunset photo.
For two peaceful days we pedalled, played
and picked pipi along the wild, deserted sands, encountering few
people as we scratched a path north towards the Cape.
There are several exits from the beach
but the most interesting goes up past the Te Paki sand dunes,
along a pretty freshwater stream; a good place to wash the salt
off your bikes. It's also a great place to try your hand at sandboarding,
that's sliding down sand dunes on a boogie board.
"This sandcastle is so big," said Matthew as we stamped fresh
footprints in virgin dunes.
"Can't do it mummy. Carry me," cried Cameron as he slid two metres
down for every one he climbed up.
From the bottom it all looked so easy
and fun but it seemed a little different looking down from the
top. We chose an appropriate challenge level for a two and four
year old with slightly nervous parents, and briefed the boys on
how to get safely down the slope. Kirstie demonstrated the technique
and arrived at the bottom with a mouthful of sand.
to keep your mouth shut," she shouted to Matthew as he launched
himself down fearlessly, screaming with delight at the sensation
"Right. Hold onto me tightly," I said to Cameron as we set off together.
He wiggled and jiggled as we accelerated away, his shifting weight
upsetting our balance. We arrived at the bottom in a tangle of arms,
legs and boogie board, laughing and spitting sand.
"Again dad, more dume [sic] riding" said Cameron, and off we all
went for round two. And while the kids played happily on shallow
slopes, we took a look at some of the more challenging terrain.
There were dunes to suit every age and fear level, including monster
slopes which promised frightening speeds and a dunking in the stream
|After three days on the sands,
we took some time to clean up, fill our water bottles and restock
our food pannier at Waitiki Landing, last outpost before the Cape.
It's also the base for Marty's Pack or Paddle, a small friendly
outfit who can help out with sandboarding, fishing, kayaking, tramping
and transport, making all sorts of activities possible around the
Cape. After the pure gold of sandboarding, we hoped to paddle out
to the world's purest white silica sands at Te Kokota. But while
Marty's had the consents and kayaks needed to get there, the weather
refused to co-operate. After three fine days on the beach, the wind
got up and the swell increased until the journey across Parengarenga
harbour seemed too risky. So we settled for a family paddle up a
beautiful stretch of mangrove lined river near Tapotupotu Bay. We
drifted effortlessly upstream on the incoming tide, allowing the
boys to take charge of the paddles. Five minutes later and Cameron
dropped his paddle in the river while Matthew was trying to clobber
his brother over the head with his own blade. We took control once
more, and they sang a Maori paddling chant to get us to try and
increase our stroke rate. When that didn't work, they amused themselves
by singing loudly about their experience of visiting a once peaceful
mangrove swamp, "Smellyweed, oh smellyweed, how did you get to be
"We're going to the lighthouse, we're
going to get a lolly," squeaked Cameron as we started out on the
final 21km ride to Cape Reinga.
We set off at a magical hour, dawn; the
early morning light casting a magical spell on the empty end of
the world landscape. The road was deserted too; tourist traffic
still tucked up in bed and out of our way. After the flatness
of the beach, the riding was tough as we slipped, slid and pushed
our way along on the hilly, corrugated, gravel road.
After four hours we caught our first glimpse
of the Cape, a sacred headland where land, sea and sky meet, just
beyond which the Tasman Sea and Pacific Ocean collide in a foamy
swell. Cameron jumped up and down in his buggy, straining at his
straps to get out.
"Look dad, the lighthouse, it's lolly
time, lolly time," he shouted excitedly. But it was not so simple;
eating is forbidden in the sacred space around the Cape so we
had to retreat a respectful distance to get our fingers and lips
"Why can we not have lollies at the lighthouse
Dad?" asked Cameron.
"It's a special place and it's rude to eat there," I explained.
"Do lighthouse people not like lollies?" asked Cameron incredulously.
Maori believe the Cape is the place where
spirits of the departed begin their final journey into the underworld.
The spirits are said to make their way to a single Pohutukawa
tree on the headland from where they slide down a root into the
sea below and journey to the land of their ancestors. And when
you see the lonesome tree, it's not hard to imagine the spirits
travelling along a misty Ninety Mile Beach, over the golden dunes,
past the pure white sands, along the narrowing green peninsular,
to the lighthouse and beyond.
But while spirits end things at the Cape,
the Pohutukawa tree for our adventure was to be a camp site at
nearby Tapotupotu beach.
At the beach, we put the bikes down one
final time, bathed in the cool autumn sea, set up the tent and
enjoyed a celebratory meal. Then we dragged the sleeping bags
outside the tent, slipped inside them and lay as a family looking
up at the southern stars, savouring the moment until it was time
for boys to go to bed. In the tent it was my turn to deliver the
"Can we have one about mousies, a lighthouse,
cheese, the moon and some lollies?" asked Cameron. And so began
a long and involved tale of four mice that travelled the length
and breadth of New Zealand in search of a moon made of cheese
and a lolly at the lighthouse. By the time the mice reached the
middle of North Island, Matthew stopped me mid-flow. "Dad, can
you stop please. I've had enough of this story now. I'm absolutely
tired and really really want to go to sleep." So we all closed
our eyes and went to sleep, the story incomplete but our Far North
adventure well and truly over.