"Two days chilling out on a beach,
just like any normal family weekend," exclaimed Stuart,
cycling across the sand and straight into the sea, to the
delight of his excited passenger.
"You'll get salt in your cones.
Your wheels will rust and fall off, and you'll never complete
the last hundred kilometres," I shouted to be heard above
the crashing waves.
"Yes I will, on a bus," Stuart
shouted back, soaked through from spray, but obviously happy.
Mile Beach stretched magnificently before us, the smell
of salt air filling our nostrils. Pipi and other shellfish
snuggled deep into the sand at the tide line where the steely
blue Tasman Sea met the pale yellow sands, and sea worms
left tiny holes where they had burrowed underground. We
scanned the horizon for cars or wild horses, unsure of which
was the biggest hazard to cyclists. This beach provided
the last few kilometres of State Highway One and anyone
was permitted to drive, ride, gallop or surf it. There was
no road though, you just had to pick a path and hope you
didn't sink. We had cycled onto the sands with caution,
in a low gear, at first just a few tentative pushes on the
pedals. We then breathed more easily when the bikes barely
dented the sand, and the buggies held their ground on the
hard-packed grain. Ninety
Mile Beach would provide two days of coastal riding towards
Cape Reinga, a sacred place for Maori. After death, they
believe the spirits travel to the headland at the Cape for
their final journey into the afterlife. It was also our
final destination, the last few miles of our epic adventure
before we headed for the unknown of our cycling afterlife.
For an hour or so we had the beach
to ourselves. We watched thick sea mists form several kilometres
ahead and pedalled in companionable silence. It wasn't hard
to imagine the spirits flying along the sands to Cape Reinga,
blown by the wind and applauded by thunderous seas. Then
one by one, out of the mist, ghostly apparitions appeared,
revealing themselves eventually, not as Maori spirits, but
fifty two seater coaches, ferrying passengers to the end
of the land. The 'Dune Rider,' 'Northern Explorer' and 'Awesome
Adventurer' drove close to the sea giving passengers the
choice of a thrill or a heart attack, depending on age and
state of health.
"Just who is having the awesome adventure here?" Stuart
asked as the wind caught the rainbow flags on his buggy,
and he blasted along, for once undertaking a North Island
riding day without a single hill.
So, who's having the awesome adventure here then?
Twelve coaches later, the flotilla
had moved on and the beach was ours once again. The crashing
waves were deafening as the surf curled towards us, but
despite this the beach felt suddenly silent and brooding,
lonely in its' wild emptiness. Cormorants and marine life
seemed its' only residents, the birds hurrying busily back
and forward at the waters edge spying for prey and springing
any careless fish. Our boys clamoured to be let out of the
buggies. We let them run free for a while, dipping their
toes in the water, running along beside the bikes and stuffing
their pockets with pipi, broken shells and grimy feathers.
Late afternoon and the headland
gave way to reveal the perfect camp; a grassy clearing surrounded
by dunes, packed with dry firewood and a stream for Matthew
and Cameron to paddle in. We set up the tent, etched our
names boldly in the sand, collected wood for a fire we all
knew we would never make, and paddled in the surf. Then
at dusk, we raced down to the beach to get a sunset photo.
90 deserted miles of golden sunset to ourselves
the sun is about to disappear" said Stuart, cycling towards
"Stop stop come back sun,"
Matthew ran after him, quickly joining in the game.
"Don't go sun. Don't go, Mummy,
the sun all gone," wailed Cameron trailing behind. The others
stopped, panting for breath, but Cam carried on running,
his hands held out to the sun, his legs trundling along
the sands, trousers flapping at the waters edge.
"The sun gone mummy, the sun
gone," he turned back, tears streaming down his face. For
him this was no idle game.
"It's not gone Cameron, it'll be back in the morning." I
gathered him up, wiping his tears on my fleece and holding
him tightly. In this environment he seemed so small, so
vulnerable. I looked into the orange sunset, surrounded
by translucent sea mists and shivered. It was the hour of
the travelling spirits, and no time for us to be on the
beach. "Let's go back to the tent." I said, clutching my
son to my body to warm us both up.
Cameron was awake with
the dawn to check the validity of my claims. Fiddling impatiently
with the zip, he called to me to come, and sprang into the
morning air. The scene was exactly as the morning before;
miles of beach, crashing surf, pale dunes and mist. And
the sun was in its' usual morning place in the East. I pointed
it out to Cameron, who was searching out to sea for it.
"Look Cam, the sun has come
back to us, it only went to sleep for the night."
Cameron turned around; glared at the early morning sun and
flapped his arms at it. "Don't
want that sun. Want the one over there. Don't like that
sun. It stupid and filthy. Want Daddy." And off he padded
to the tent to complain that the old sun had been kidnapped.
And then the day continued
much as the day before. The scenery was almost identical,
the coach drivers recognised us and waved as they sped down
the beach, and the children begged to be allowed out to
play. And we carried on cycling, desperate to complete our
own high spirited journey to the Northern headland.
Our final encounter with the Kiwi sand came two days later,
just before we set out on the gravel track to finish the
journey to the Cape. We were staying at a tiny backpackers
place ran by a collection of young fishing guides, who were
equally keen to show us the pure power of the dunes. Boogie
boards in hand, Craig, our guide for the event, led us as
we climbed, crawled, and clawed our way up the shifting,
crumbling sand dunes. Then after brief instructions on how
to stay on the board, we launched ourselves boldly onto
the rippled slopes, Matthew in the lead. Racing down the
dunes was magical; the soft sand an airy cushion; the momentum
thrilling. Matthew was straight back up with his boogie
board but Cam refused to follow us at all and sat at the
top anxiously, his natural caution inhibiting any downward
Ready, steady, GO
I no like sand."
"Here Cam, we'll do it together
said Stuart, grabbing the child and plonking him down in
front of him. "Wheyey let's go." The two of them shot down
the sand, and the board upended with the unbalanced weight,
leaving Cameron dumped head first into the soft dune; ears,
nose and hair stuffed with golden sand.
"No like sand," wailed Cameron,
standing up on wobbly legs, his head resembling a sand castle.
"That was fun wasn't it Cameron?
said Stuart, Shall we try again?
"Don't you like the sun or
the sand?" called Matthew, unusually sympathetic to his
brothers needs as he whizzed down past him.
"No like it," confirmed Cameron,
wiping sandy snot on his sleeve.
"Do you like the sea Cameron?"
asked Matthew as he slogged back up the dunes with his surfboard.
"S'ok," Cameron conceded,
sulkily kicking his own board, sending it further down the
"Dad, Dad, Cameron likes the
sea. I think we need to go sailing next," called Matthew,
gliding happily off into the white, powdery distance. Dad
was already on the case.