At the point in the road where there is little left of State Highway 1, you'll find Herb and Colleen Subritzky.

In the evenings they sit on the deck of their home, overlooking the road - New Zealand's longest road stretching more than 2000km from Cape Reinga in the north to Bluff in the south - nursing cold beers and listening to birds filling the silence of the Far North.

All day, buses and cars race by their home to cover those final few kilometres to Cape Reinga. At 6pm, the main parking area shuts and the flow reverses, dwindles then stops.
From then until morning, it must be one of the quietest stretches of road in the country.

The Subritzkys have always lived in these parts. Colleen, 63, remembers coming here as a child. Her father, Jim West, ran a farm here for a while after moving up from Donnellys Crossing, south of Kaikohe.

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They went to the same school at Te Kao, 30 minutes drive away. Colleen dimples a smile remembering Herb as a boy - one of 10 in a family of 15 children.

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After school, Herb entered trades training - a government scheme to support apprenticeships - and learned to drive machinery.

It was a skill he used on the land, helping clear the land of the country's northernmost farm. He's now 66 and has returned to manage the 3300ha Te Paki Station.

"Semi-retired", he says - and Colleen snorts because it means he's still working bloody hard but sees a day in the future when he might stop.

The Department of Lands and Survey drove the work which created Te Paki Station, recently returned to Ngāti Kuri in settlement. For almost 100 years, it was charged with surveying and managing Crown land and roads and the development of agriculture and forestry.

It arrived here later than in many other places, so there are many who recall "lands and survey" and the impact of its mission to shape the land.

"We slashed it, burned it and put lime over it," says Herb. Thousands of hectares of manuka and other scrub, cut back and set afire before being ground into land made ready for grass seed.

It's a staggering prospect, and one behind so much of our farming land, a great green blanket which stretches on and on and on all the way south to Bluff. Such extraordinary industry, fuelled by government money and driven by muscle and sweat and sheer momentum.

Rough-hewn manukau rails on the most northern stockyard in New Zealand. Photo / David Fisher
Rough-hewn manukau rails on the most northern stockyard in New Zealand. Photo / David Fisher

And not the first time the land had been turned to a purpose. Herb talks of working around holes from kauri gum digging operations and blades churning through soil to throw up hunks of fragile amber sap.

A farm is built of paddocks so fence posts arrived by the truckload. "When they tipped it out of the trucks, the treatment (to preserve the wood) was still running out of them. They were putting them in the ground faster than they could treat them."

Fencing crews would follow pre-ordained paths, digging posts in one by one. It was all manual - not the "thumping" used now, which hammers posts into the ground.

"Everything came in tonnes," says Herb. Even fencing staples, and bales of number eight wire. "None of this high-tensile."

It came by barge into Parengarenga Harbour, or by plane to the purpose-built nearby airstrip. "They gave us sections to clear," says Herb. The biggest was 810ha, which took four months. "It took us five years to do it all."

In places, it is 13km from one end of the station to the other. People just don't realise how much country is left to cover this far north.

"We haven't left the north," says Colleen. "Well, I went for six months hairdressing but I couldn't stand it in Auckland."

Herb went to Auckland about the same time, working for the old power board. The job required working in teams. "I was used to working by myself. Or just the two of you."

So they left. She went nursing in Kaitaia and he went back to the land. "We'd been going together, on and off," she says, apparently since school, and then they married.

That was 1973 and their first home together was at Paua on Parengarenga Harbour. Hairdressing and nursing ended for Colleen. "That's when I started working on the farm."

Te Paki Station, managed by Ngati Kuri, is the country's most northern farm. Photo / David Fisher
Te Paki Station, managed by Ngati Kuri, is the country's most northern farm. Photo / David Fisher

And here they are, decades later. Three kids later. Nine grandchildren later.

Tiriparepa Point (Scott Point) is a favourite place, on the western fringes of Te Paki Station.

There's a paddock called Views. The isolated perfection of Te Paengarehia (Twilight Beach) is to the north. Few visitors to Cape Reinga swap cars for hiking boots. South, there is the awesome majesty of giant Te Paki dunes.

Home is one of the Te Paki Station farmhouses. There's another for workers' accommodation a little further north. It's empty.

"Attracting staff is bloody hard," says Herb. Pay rates, social and technological isolation. Schooling is a fair drive away - and further if it's high school.

Then there are the benefits. That carpark up the road closes about when work finishes. Traffic has dried up by the time Herb has twisted a bottle cap off an icy cold one for Colleen and then fetched one for himself.

They sit there in the silence and listen to the birds singing at the end of the day.
Sometimes, they sit there long enough to hear morepork calling.