Part nine: Auckland to Dargaville

Goodbye Auckland, hello New Zealand. Our biggest city is like a different country, a feeling reinforced by our visit to Te Puea Marae.

As we worked our way up the country, people kept asking us what was happening with homeless people in Auckland. It wasn't that the concept of homelessness was new - it was the clusters of people with children sleeping in cars that seemed to shock people.

Blaine Hoete in the meeting house at Te Puea Marae in Mangere. Photo / Mark Mitchell
Blaine Hoete in the meeting house at Te Puea Marae in Mangere. Photo / Mark Mitchell

There was genuine shock and surprise from people, particularly that it was a marae reaching out a helping hand rather than a government agency.

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Blaine Hoete told us that the youngest homeless person to need help at the Mangere Bridge marae was a 7-day-old baby.

Those of us who live closest to the problem seem to be the most disconnected from it - that's the extremes of Auckland and its property bubble. The haves and have-nots are further apart than ever.

North we went, past Waiwera and Puhoi and Warkworth, beyond Wellsford and eventually past the sign which declared we were leaving Auckland.

The geographical extent of the Supercity seemed ludicrous. How many homeless at Te Puea Marae came this far north? How many of those on the wrong side of the property bubble have a horizon which extends beyond the furthest reaches of the planned Holiday Highway?

Paul Norris, 29, of Puhoi with a chalkboard message on what it means to be a New Zealander. Photo / Mark Mitchell
Paul Norris, 29, of Puhoi with a chalkboard message on what it means to be a New Zealander. Photo / Mark Mitchell

We were beyond that now, back into territory where the woes of Auckland seem like troubles of another country. We were in Kaipara country, turning left at the Brynderwyn Hills to head through Maungataroto, Paparoa and Matakohe and towards Dargaville.

This is the countryside young Scotsman Temple Sutherland came to in the 1920s. He wrote a cluster of books about his experiences, with the first titled Green Kiwi.

It's a love story, really, and tells of how he fell for the New Zealand he discovered at the end of the rail line to Helensville and in the communities served by the ferries which linked towns around the Kaipara.

If you haven't read it, then you must. Temple wrote with eyes and spirit wide open, willing to embrace all that his new land had to offer.

Farmers viewing and buying at the stock sales in Dargaville. Photo / Mark Mitchell
Farmers viewing and buying at the stock sales in Dargaville. Photo / Mark Mitchell

Dargaville would have been a boomtown in those days. Since then, it has the feeling of having suffered neglect by local and national governments alike.

Imagine - the Queen once visited Dargaville and waved to adoring subjects from the balcony of the grand Northern Wairoa Hotel. It's a grand building with good food and great room rates. You, too, can live like royalty.

Dargaville is a superb town. A three-bedroom house can be bought for $250,000. It's hard to believe you can see Auckland from here, but that's what those distant shores across the Kaipara are. In Temple's day, a ferry would run to Helensville and the train would deliver you to the city. It's just over two hours' drive as it is.

We went to visit Warren Suckling. He's a kumara grower who leads a double life. His other existence is as Ernie, a persona through which he showcases local history, rural quirk and exciting kumara facts.

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Yes, that's right. He has exciting kumara facts.

What a heck of a nice man! What a bag of tricks! Warren's property, about 10 minutes south of Dargaville, is worth a visit. He showed us how to flip a coin with a forklift, how to ride a trick bike, how to strip corn from a cob and what the cob can then be used for. He let us inside the shed which is an Aladdin's Cave of Kiwiana. It is amazing.

In Warren I saw the same joy which shone through the pages of Green Kiwi - a love for this land. I would love to bring the people from Te Puea Marae here.


• Tomorrow: Dargaville to Paihia

About the series

The current flag got a tick from the people of New Zealand, but the referendum triggered an unprecedented debate about our sense of national identity and how we're seen on the world stage.

What better time to hit the road and visit every corner of our amazing country. We wanted to know how we feel about ourselves. What are our hopes? Our fears? Do we like our national character? What could we do better? What should we celebrate?

We met dozens of Kiwis. This week and next, we're telling their stories, showcasing the places where they live and investigating the themes that unite - and sometimes divide - us.

We're publishing daily travelogues and video blogs by two-time reporter of the year David Fisher. His words are illustrated with stills and video by award-winning Mark Mitchell.

We're also publishing animated graphics featuring everyday New Zealanders and the word (or words) that best sum up, to them, being Kiwi in 2016. Here's today's:

On our travels, we gave New Zealanders a blackboard and asked them to write the word - or words - summing up what it means to be Kiwi.

Later this week, we're going into even more depth, publishing a series of mini-documentaries about those themes.

The series will conclude with an interactive presentation showcasing our conclusions.

We want you to be part of this special project. On social media, share the word (or words) that sum up being Kiwi to you. Use the hashtag #NZin1word and we'll add the best submissions to our #NZin1word hub which will run throughout the series.

At the end we'll analyse the answers to create the Land of the Long White Word Cloud - a visual representation of how we perceive ourselves.