Hopping South and Bumping Along …..

A very grey and drizzly day could not detract from the scenery as we took the Inter-Islander ferry from Wellington to Picton in the South Island; sailing up Queen Charlotte’s Sound between Islands and the precipitous coast of the mainland.

Crossing to the South Island
Crossing to the South Island Wellington to Picton up Queen Charlotte’s Sound

A tortuous road along the coast to the little town of Havelock was slow going with vertiginous drops down sheer cliffs; but was well worth the white knuckle ride for the views. Continuing on State Highway 6 through Nelson was easier going, with a stop in Richmond for supplies we arrived at the tiny settlement of Motupiko, the blue dot in the picture above.  Keith’s son Stephen manages a dairy farm here and is kindly hosting a three night stay.

Yesterday (27th Feb) the three Musketeers, (well Gavin, Keith and me) set off in high spirits to ride into the Kahurangi National Park, up the Wangapeka valley; surprisingly past acres of hop farms in the lower lands. There are numerous large dairy farms in this region making for one very happy cycle tourist.  After the first seven miles, the road became ‘un-sealed’ or ‘metal’ in Kiwi speak – for the rest of the world this translates into very dusty, bumpy, gravel roads. Every passing vehicle left a cloud of dust in their wake.  We arrived home looking like we had been on duty in an icing sugar factory! It was hard going on these roads, so slow progress, compounded by having to negotiate fords where rivers crossed the road – the cold water soaking our feet was actually quite welcome on a lovely hot sunny day.  Due to Gavin’s severe case of FOMO (fear of missing out) we had to cycle to the end of the dusty track, some 14 miles each way! Whilst the scenery was awe inspiring, the bones were somewhat jangled.

 

Gavin & Keith - Wangapeka River
Gavin & Keith – Wangapeka River

Local knowledge is a wonderful thing and Stephen’s suggestion for a quiet road, 50 mile circuit, to one of the Nelson Lakes, made for a superb ride. Ever helpful, Keith drove us to the start to avoid the main highway, and then secured a table at the coffee stop some 20 miles on, just before we arrived at Lake Rotoiti. The photo below does not do justice the the awe inspiring beauty of the landscape. Stephen’s description of the size of the eels in the lake may have had something to do with a decision not to take a dip (nothing to do with the very cold water – honest). A grand ride – all on real roads with undulating, bike friendly hills, was rounded off by a quad-bike tour around the farm -perfect.

Lake Rototiti

Lake Rotoiti

 

Apples and tears ….

Our six day pedal around the East Cape ended in the small city of Gisborne set in Poverty Bay, a most inappropriate name. Whilst Keith took the bus back to Opotiki to retrieve the car, Gavin and I explored the city, with its long, beach front cycle path, past the wharf where a huge Chinese ship was being loaded with all those tree trunks that had been passing us on the road. We savoured venturing further inland on the flat coastal plain; a welcome relief after the hills of the Cape. Here, shiny coated cattle of all hues, looked us up and down before returning to graze. Pristine vineyards are dangling with the promise of this year’s crop.

Yes it is a ‘look out for penguins’ sign.

A four hour car trip south, on tortuous roads through hills crying out for rain, brought us to Hawkes Bay, the orchard of New Zealand. Barry and Margaret, Keith’s brother and sister-in-law, were wonderful hosts for the next three nights, at their sumptuous house in the hills above Havelock North. Their son-in-law, Ross, kindly led us on a delightful ride, mainly on limestone tracks, through acres of apple orchards, dripping with ripe fruit; and some of New Zealand’s world renowned vineyards.  We also explored the town’s of Hastings and Napier which has echos of the Great Gatsby, it’s Art Deco styling having risen in the wake of a devestating earthquake in 1931.

Another four hour car journey south, through much flatter lands full of large dairy herds, ended at Lower Hutt on the outskirts of Wellington. We are well placed for our early ferry crossing to the South Island tomorrow. With half a day to spare we took a 20 minute train ride for a look around the Capital city, which is set around a large sea inlet. Many of our fellow travellers had a subdued journey back as the Kiwi Cricket team had just collapsed in a one day international against South Africa at the local pitch.

Goldfish and Milestones …

Thigh muscles are developing nicely with plenty of extreme hill training. An all night deluge finally abated in time for a late start from Opotiki, heading east along the cape. With overnight stops at Te Kaha, Te Araroa, Tokomaru Bay, and after a half day, Tolaga Bay, our East Cape adventure has so far covered a distance of 180 miles.

Te Kaha, East Cape, North Island

With stunning coastal bays, long beaches, twisting roads up into inland forests; grazing sheep and cattle, kiwi fruit orchards and river valleys with fields of maize in full flower, it is impossible to pick out a highlight. This region is very sparsely populated.What little traffic there is tends to be tourists in cars or motor homes, Kiwis taking motor boats to one of the great beaches or double bedded logging trucks hauling their bounty off for shipping to China. The truck drivers are, thankfully, extremely courteous.

My wish to stay on a farm was granted at Tokomoro Bay, where after a gruelling 57 mile ride, there was no room at the Inn. Fortunately, the Landlady arranged for us to rent a self catering unit, albeit at the top of a, get off and push hill. She even delivered Gavin and Keith’s beer and put it in the fridge!! Just wish I had accepted her offer to take our panniers. The view over the Bay, from this vantage point, defied superlatives. Not a cow or sheep in sight though, this was a Goldfish farm, tens of thousands of varying size and species.

View of Tokomaru Bay from the Goldfish Farm

Our very kind but talkative host drove us, barefoot, in his very old and junk filled car to the Inn for our supper and then returned to take us back again. People are so friendly and helpful here.
Signs along the road display a telephone number to invite drivers to report ‘wandering stock’. There was nothing wandering about a young grey horse that jumped out right in front of Gavin today then galloped up the road, frantically seeking refuge. The poor thing, finally escaped an on-coming logging truck by clearing a five bar gate with some margin.

Keith caused some consternation this morning, flagging us down to witness him undertake a Haka worthy of the All Blacks. Thankfully, he had not taken leave of his senses, but was celebrating his current cycle odometer resetting itself to zero having cycled 100,000 kilometres (62,500 miles)!!

Slow going and steaming sand …

On the advice of our Coromandel town campsite hosts we traversed east, across the Peninsula’s central ridge, on an unsealed road. Winding up through forests of tree ferns and other species unique to New Zealand, the going got more difficult as constant drizzle made the gravelly surface muddy and slippery. It was a hard slog; slow going both up and down, but the atmospheric mist resonated with sounds last heard in the tropical bird house at Paignton Zoo.

A short ferry ride allowed us to cross the estuary between the charming town of Whitianga and Cook’s Beach, where Captain James Cook anchored HMS Endeavour in 1769. The coast here is as spectacular as anywhere we have been, forested hills running down to, fine fringed, sandy beaches. Our billet for Valentine’s night was a cute cabin at Hot Water Beach, where the must do thing, is to hire a spade and dig a hole on the sand at low tide. This rapidly fills with geothermal hot water for a natural hot tub. Most surreal, but welcome therapy for sore muscles. The sand gets everywhere though!

Soaking tired limbs at Hot Water Beach

Wednesday dawned dry and bright as we continued south, up and down more long hills through tinder dry farm land.  Yet another ferry ride, this time between the picture postcard towns of Tairua and Pauanui, allowed us to hug the estuary avoiding the much busier main highway. Our day ended at the lovely Whangamata home of Annie’s friends, Wendy and David, for whom she was bridesmaid back in Devon, England some 27 years ago – catching up took some time!

Pauanui Beach

Keith has now joined us in Whangamata for a four hour drive to Opotiki, the gateway to the East Cape, where we plan a circular ride over the next six days. It was a good day to be in the car as the rain has not stopped all day – good news for those parched fields.

Gavin & Keith at Whangamata Beach

Achy Legs and Dairy Delights …

With Keith as our guide, we had a very informative 36 mile cycle around the highlights of Auckland city on Sunday morning. His determination to give panoramic views proved useful for practising pedaling uphill, including a jaunt through Cornwall Park, then on up to Mount Eden a, currently, inactive volcano. A plaque at the top informed us that London is a mere 11,500 miles as the crow flies. Auckland is a modern, bustling, cosmopolitan city spectacularly located between the Tasman sea and South Pacific ocean, with numerous coastal islands.

 

Lunch stop before the first big hill

The rolling hills of Waikato, on our drive from Auckland to the little town of Thames, were dotted large outdoor milking parlours and herds of multi-racial cows, grazing parched pastures much in need of rain.

Our kind host, Keith, left us at Thames, where the cycle tour, panniers loaded, begins. The first 18 miles followed the winding coast past, driftwood strewn coves, a flock of, orange billed oyster catchers and banks of New Zealand flax interspersed with escaped blue and white Agapanthus, now growing wild. As we progressed north up the Coromandel peninsula, jutting out into the South Pacific Ocean, the going got very much tougher, with two long and very steep hills; grunted up in bottom gear. A delicious double scoop of antipodean ice cream in Coromandel town did much to restore energy levels.

Coromandel peninsula

Happy Landings & Sunshine

Finally, the jet lag seems to be wearing off, allowing us to fully enjoy afresh the beauty of New Zealand and the friendliness of the people.  The first leg of our flight, from Birmingham to Dubai left an hour late, which resulted in a dash through the airport at Dubai to catch our connection to Auckland.  Both legs were with Emirates Airlines in the newish A380 Airbus, a huge beast carrying circa 500 passengers.

Keith met us at the airport, complete with bike rack, and is a fabulous host at his home near the harbour on the pacific coast of Auckland.  It is so good to bask in warm summer weather. So far our adventures have been limited to a brief ride down to the coast and along the harbour to test the bikes before returning to meet Fred and Geoff, two of Keith’s friends who are planning Land’s End to John O’Groats / UK rides later this year; a convivial lunch and afternoon passed picking brains on the do’s and do not’s of cycling in each others homeland.

Then on Saturday we took our bikes on a 35 minute ferry ride to Waiheke Island, for a delightful, but incredibly hilly ride to a couple of vineyards and along some wonderful sandy beaches.

Gavin and Keith at Onetangi beach.