Auckland to Dargaville
To the uninitiated cycling out of Auckland can be a real challenge. But with care and a bit of luck this route to Parakai along the North Western Cycle Way can be done!
Let's assume you are at the Britomart Transport Centre at the bottom of Queen Street. Start by proceeding up Queen Street for about 2 kilometres until you come to the intersection with Ian Mckinnon Drive. Here you turn right onto the North Western Cycle Way.
Hats off to the Auckland City Council for building these great cycle lanes. Not always beautiful but clearly popular judging from the number of cyclists who were making use of the North Western on the day I cycled through. Unfortunately the council has stopped short of making them truly useful to anyone without local knowledge, as crucial junctions are missing signage. This can make for slow progress as you second guess yourself at every intersection and perhaps have to backtrack when occasionally you take the wrong turn.
A case in point is the first turn-off up and over the Newton Road overpass then down to follow the North-Western Motorway. You have to intuit somehow the requirement to veer left and up to the overpass, because it's only once you reach Newton Road that any signage appears. And this deficit of signage continues right along the route.
I had stopped and was puzzling over my map, trying to marry it with the scene in front of me when, in a proud-to-be-a-Kiwi moment, a fellow cyclist pulled up and asked if I needed help. This good Samaritan then guided me all the way through to Te Atatu where he left me in the certain knowledge that I couldn't go wrong from this point on.
About 200m further along I was again checking my next move when yet another cyclist stopped. This time I was guided all the way to the turn-off onto Highway 16, where I really couldn't go wrong. I would have got there in the end but these two cyclists of generous spirit probably saved me an hour or so of false starts and backtracking.
As with leaving any city, once you're out of the urban area then navigation becomes plain sailing. And so it is heading along the final stretch through Kumeū (store, café, cycle shop) and into Parakai. The highway is busy but, apart from a few danger spots where you're better to get off and walk, there is a goodish shoulder. Perhaps a better alternative though is to take the back roads though Helensville.
Parakai is a tiny hamlet, popular for its thermal pools, with a store, takeaways and a pub. The campground is attached to the Parakai Springs complex and campers get half price admission to the pools. Nice enough, but I found the quieter Palm Springs over the road more my speed.
A good alternative is to take the train to Waitākere (week days only) then cycle the relatively flat 30 or so kilometres to Parakai.
Several charter services operate in and around the Kaipara Harbour and will take you - subject to weather - to Pouto Point. Your best bet is to join up with a fishing trip as the cost to charter the boat is prohibitive. I went with Shamrock Charters who picked me up at first light from the pontoon down the end of Springs Road. The trip wound its way down the Parakai River and out onto the Kaipara Harbour, stopping briefly to pick up the fishing group and eventually arriving at Pouto Point after about 3 hours.
Those wishing to dawdle may choose to stopover at the Pouto Point Motor Camp. Otherwise you begin the slow climb up the gravel Pouto Rd. At about 15 km you have the choice to continue along Pouto Rd or turn right into Kellys Bay where there is a campground. The distance is roughly the same but the Kellys Bay route is quieter and gets you safely away from the logging trucks that work this area.
Once you rejoin the main road the gravel gives way to tarmac and the remainder of the day is spent riding though rolling farm land into "New Zealand's Kumara Capital", Dargaville, a small town with everything you need.
For an alternate view of this ride (in the other direction) see the Kennett Brothers' book Classic New Zealand Cycle Trails or checkout the online description in the NZ Cycle Trail site (has boat charter contact details). Note that when I last cycled through there were no services on this route, as the store at Te Kopuru had closed.