Book in at Horeke
This story was originally published by North & South and is republished with permission.
…We cycle out of Ōkaihau, past two pretty, well-maintained late-1800s churches. As we ride past bamboo-fringed paddocks with their handsome Hereford steers, a flock of peacocks sprint for cover, fanning their turquoise-fringed tails as they run.
This is where the “fun descent” starts. The trail is crushed local bluestone, and is dry and well formed. It’s a moderately steep downhill and a yellow sign warns cyclists to dismount. Dismount? And miss the fun of a 25kmh swoop through switchbacks on packed gravel? Seriously, if you can ride a bike reasonably well, this part of the trail is for you. Just ensure your brakes are up to spec, and you’ve got your turns sorted.
After 2km, the grade evens out and we roll into a grove of mature trees, then a stretch of track with a lovely, high-speed gradient. We fly alongside a stream and its attendant tōtara, before pedalling into a clearing with a strategically placed picnic table. We guzzle water and scoff fancy muesli bars. The Utakura River splashes busily downhill and two kererū swoop by, disturbed from their nikau roost.
It’s a pleasant place to linger, but the promise of fresh fish and a beer at sunset at the Horeke Hotel beckons. A 1.2km boardwalk-ride over mangrove flats tips four thirsty pedallers out at the colonial hotel overlooking the Hokianga Harbour headwaters. We’re staying in one of the pub’s over-water houses, where it’s tempting to simply park yourself on the deck and watch the wildfowl in the estuary. Fourteen royal spoonbills have made their home here, roosting on a half-sunken log a stone’s throw away from our perch. This colony is one of 19 in the country; these Australian migrants have found a muddy toehold on the intertidal flats of our harbours.
But little Hōreke is big on history and a nosey-around is required. It was New Zealand’s first commercial ship-building yard, dating back to the late 1820s. A few thousand Māori attended a hui here six days after the signing of the Treaty of Waitangi; it became the largest Treaty signing in the country. More infamously, it’s also the site of the country’s first pub, and its first murder trial in the late 1830s – despite “the court” having no legal jurisdiction at that time.
Hōreke’s historical and architectural gem is the elegant Mangungu Mission House, overlooking the tranquil harbour. It was completed in 1839, making it one of Northland’s oldest buildings, and relocated to Ōnehunga in the 1850s before returning in the 1970s. The chapel alongside is the old Methodist church from Kohukohu, which was shifted across the water to Mangungu. Inside the mission house, you can see the original table on which the Treaty was signed – then wander through the historic cemetery. We’re in the heart of the Hokianga now, and there’s a palpable sense of whakapapa…