Day 1: A belated start: Pataua to Whangārei - Foray into New Zealand's far north - CycleBlaze

December 5, 2022

Day 1: A belated start: Pataua to Whangārei

It's nearly noon on a sunny, windless Northland afternoon. Robyn and Bruce and their bikes have been dropped off at Tahi café deep in the countryside, in time to join the rest of our tour group for lunch. 

Backtracking a few hours: 

4.15am - the alarm wakes us. At 4.45am we are in the car with  bagged bikes, heading to the airport for a 6am flight departure. By 9.30am, we (that's the royal 'we', to be honest) are assembling bikes in  Whangārei, at the other end of the country.  In another hour, our van is chasing the tour group, aiming to deliver us to the bunch.

But lunch intervenes so it's not until early afternoon that we finally get to turn the pedals. (The reason for our belated arrival  is a long-standing commitment to the Picton Christmas parade concert, not the grandest event that our wee audio business provides sound for, but it's an annual highlight we'd hate to miss.)

Today's full route is a clockwise loop from the big smoke of Whangārei along country roads to the sea then turning west and hugging the coastline until we return to the city. We manage a semi-circle.

The Northland region, Te Tai Tokerau, is blessed with a subtropical climate, stunning beaches and majestic kauri forests. It also has a small population with limited opportunities,  leading to high unemployment and poverty. Tourism is a key industry though and on this tour we intend to contribute when we can to businesses hit hard by the pandemic. That includes cafés, obviously. 

Nice bike. Nice beach.
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Back to the ride. The previous paragraph forgot to mention that Northland has another important feature: an undulating topography. Hills, that is. Lots of ups and downs. This could be interesting in days to come. Today, though, I manage the undulations easily enough. A reward for the extra outdoor and Zwift rides I've put myself through in recent weeks? Maybe. In what I think is a taste of things to come, the road surface is good but generally without a shoulder. This isn't a problem while we are in the wilds; there's very little traffic. On the approach to Whangārei though, we are riding in constant traffic until reaching the safety of the coastal  pathway.

Interesting bridge over the Pataua River
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Plenty of sea views on this ride
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The new Hundertwasser museum is a striking backdrop to yachts moored in the town basin.
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Friedensreicht Hundertwasser was a man before his time. An Austrian architect and artist who felt rejected by the conservative Viennese art establishment, he made his home in Northland from 1975 until his death in 2000. Colour, spiral forms, curves and undulations marked his work, and he declared himself an enemy of the straight line: "The straight line is godless and immoral. The straight line is not a creative line. It is a duplicating line, an imitative line."

His multifarious projects and passions are worth a quick squiz on Wikipedia - he was a remarkable man. Many years ago,  the small and unremarkable Bay of Islands town of Kawakawa built a toilet block designed by Hunderwasser. It must have been a brave move by the local council to erect a building without a straight line. But it paid off, with tourists from all over the world coming to experience a Hundertwasser convenience. 

Not only was this a convenient and colourful convenience, it was until recently the only Hundertwasser installation in the Southern Hemisphere. A working  work of art, if you will. Kawakawa's only other claim to fame was a steam train that ran along the main street of the town. Quirky.

We spent a couple of hours this afternoon learning more about this eccentric, brilliant, ecologically aware and passionate man at the newly opened Hundertwasser Art Centre, a striking building both inside and out.  True to his beliefs, Friedensreicht Hundertwasser wished to be buried without artifice and in harmony with nature in a country far from his native Austria. He specified that he be coffinless, naked except for his shroud, and interred under a tulip tree on his Northland property. And so it came to pass. 

A detail of the Art Centre building.
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Dawn HunterLove this historical info. Have been to the loos! 😉
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1 year ago
Robyn RichardsPretty amazing eh?
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1 year ago
Rooftop view
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Today's ride: 36 km (22 miles)
Total: 36 km (22 miles)

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Keith KleinHi,
Thanks for brightening a dreary day in France. I’ll follow along vicariously as you pedal yourself into what is for us Europeans a strange and exotic land. And one other thing: I wish I could have met Hundertwasser. His artistic sense is a class apart.
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1 year ago
Robyn RichardsThanks, Keith. Having followed the European adventures of CycleBlazers the past few months, I'm enjoying our turn in the sun!
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1 year ago
Suzanne GibsonI'm enjoying your sun vicariously, too. Very grey here in Bavaria now. I appreciated your tribute to Hundertwasser. We always make a detour if there is anything of his close to our route.
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1 year ago
Robyn RichardsTo Suzanne GibsonHi Suzanne. I've always been aware of Hundertwasser's presence in Northland but, until today, had no idea of his influence in and involvement with so many issues and projects worldwide. The new art centre here in Whangārei is a fitting tribute to him. An amazing building.
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1 year ago