Holidaying and Homeward Bound …

One the one hand it feels like we have been here for months, on the other the last six weeks have flown by. No matter which, we have bags and bikes packed as we prepare for the first, eighteen hour, leg of our journey home, from Auckland to Dubai. Hopefully we will be on time as there is only 90 minutes before the second leg departs for an eight hour leg into Birmingham.

On ‘holiday’ Bay of Islands Northland

After cycling over 1,300 fairly hilly miles, Gavin declared the last four days a ‘holiday’. With Keith at the wheel we motored north up the West coast of the Northland region. Setting out from the suburbs of Auckland, our journey took us through open farmland and the forests beyond. A late afternoon arrival at the tiny coastal village of  Oponone provided ample opportunity to stretch tired, car bound, legs. Walking on the soft sandy beach provided glorious views of massive sand dunes across the sea inlet.

Fishermen at Oponone

Late last week, months of work culminated to fulfill the recently resigned Prime Minister’s ambition to create an off road coast to coast cycle way in this region. Clearly the challenge and temptation would be too great for one of our party to resist, consequently, Gavin and I set off from Horeke in cold fog, taking three hours to complete just 10 miles, so challenging was the trail. The terrains was ‘bike pushingly’ steep in several sections with a surface so rough we had to partially deflate our tyres to cope. A serious sense of humour failure was only averted by glorious Exmoor like scenery and a restorative ice cream sundae when we finally reached the remote little town of Okaihau. Fortunately the remainder of the ride was much easier, mainly following the course of disused railway lines. About 12 miles from the end we came upon Keith, sat on a tree trunk, he had driven the car to Opua, on the west coast, then cycled the trail in reverse to meet up with us. A short car ferry ride brought us to the peaceful and elegant resort of Russell, on the beautiful Bay of Islands.

Coast to coast cycle trail

For fear of mutiny in the ranks, a delightfully quiet day followed just pottering around the seaside resorts of Russell and Paihai, taking in the sights in warm autumn sunshine; there was even time for a leisurely lunch!
Winding up for this trip, we covered just shy of 1,400 miles on the bikes, had one puncture each and slept in 31 beds. The variety of the scenery in each area was a joy, the friendliness of locals and other tourists humbling and even the weather was exceptionally kind to us.

Many thanks to Margaret and Barry in Havelock North, Stephen and Roberta in Motupiko, Sue, Pete and Tom in Wanaka and Wendy and David in Te Kuiti, for putting us up and such warm hospitality.

Huge, huge thanks to Keith for his wonderful hospitality, driving us miles between regions and for his eternal good humour and friendship, we look forward to attempting to return this in September.

The ‘Boys’ celebrating a happy and successful trip

Catching up and Staying out …

We arrived in Wellington a little ‘green around the gills’; the crossing being somewhat choppy once in the open waters of the Cook Strait. After a good night’s sleep, a 120 mile drive north, at Whanganui our normal countenances​ were restored.

After depositing Gavin and me five or so miles further up the Whanganui river valley, Keith headed back home to Auckland. Within minutes of setting off, a small shard of glass put paid to my clean sheet as far as punctures were concerned. One each in the 1,200 miles or so covered is not bad going though.

Whanganui River

The Whanganui river valley road was yet another delight to cycle; very little traffic, hills of traditional wood forests, spewing waterfalls, birdsong and tumbling water swelled by recent heavy rain. Curiously, the tiny villages we passed through on our way to Pipiriki included, Athens, Corinth, London and Jerusalem!

Tongariro National Park – Mount Ruapehu

A short 25 mile ride the next day, virtually all uphill, on yet more quiet twisty roads brought us to Ohakune, the carrot capital of NZ, in the Tongariro National Park, south west of Lake Taupo. The park is dominated by three huge volcanos, with cones permanently sugar coated with snow.

Although reputed to be a buzzing apres ski centre in the winter, we found a quiet little town where gum-booted locals gathered to enjoy an after work pie and pint.

Fabulous King Country on the way to Taumarunui

Over the following two days we cycled about 100 miles through the beautiful, crinkly hills of King country. The many sheep, dairy and beef cattle could be heard munching on lush grass, courtesy of recent rain. With the first night spent in the tongue twister town of Taumarunui; at the confluence of the Whanganui and Ongarue rivers, the second was at Te Kuiti, the sheep shearing capital of New Zealand. It was fabulous to catch up with fellow Devonian, Wendy and her Kiwi husband and former many times World shearing champion, David on their farm. An evening of reminiscing and giggling over Young Farmer’s photographs melted the 27 years since I was bridesmaid at their wedding. Thank you both for your wonderful hospitality.

Tane Mahuta (God of the Forest) a giant 2,000 year old Kauri Tree – Waipoua Kauri Forest Northland

As our time in NZ is fast diminishing and the roads approaching Auckland became increasingly​ busy, we took a bus the 125 miles from Te Kuiti. With traffic jams and road works extending the journey time, we pedaled back to Keith’s to find him in a state of anxiety worthy of a father who’s teenage daughter had missed the curfew. Whilst it’s good to know he cares so much, we were grateful not to be sent to bed without supper and grounded for the rest of the week!
Our final few days are being spent in Northland …

Hector’s Dolphin and Gentle Annie …

It’s our penultimate Sunday in this delightful country and the last in the South Island; we catch the ferry back to Wellington tomorrow. Since leaving Hari Hari we continued up the West Coast through Greymouth, and Westport, to Gentle Annie, an expansive, drift wood strewn beach area just a few miles before the road runs out.  Doubling back to Westport along the coast, we were privileged to glimpse a rare Hector’s dolphin from the small village of Hector! The air along this section alternates between ‘eau de cow’ a sweet bovine smell from the many dairy farms and coal from the open cast mines.

Cabin at Gentle Annie

Today’s ride headed east from Westport up the Buller Gorge, simply splendid scenery with wooded hills running down to the pebbled river banks. The terrain was easy going and with the forecast rain not materialising, we ate up the 54 miles to rendezvous with Keith; arriving within ten minutes of the suggested time. Kindly meeting us at the junction with the main route from Christchurch spared us having to cycle on a much busier road.  Whilst having now pedalled 1,129 miles since our arrival in New Zealand, almost 500 of those since leaving Wanaka nine days ago, it was a treat to sit in the car for the two hour drive to the town of Blenheim. This leaves us an easy twenty minute drive to the ferry port at Picton tomorrow morning.

Pancake Rocks

Highlights since the last post include a visit to the Pancake Rocks, layered limestone stacks in the sea, a very unique geological feature, and the beautiful coast road between Greymouth and Westport, which is reminiscent of the capes and coves of Oregon and Northern California, complete with billowing clumps of pampas grass.

Sun sets over the Tasman Sea

We have been very fortunate with the weather, whilst parts of the North Island have experienced torrential rain and significant flood damage, we have had sunny dry days, with spectacular sunsets over the Tasman sea.
Keith enjoyed a trip to Christchurch and then travelling back over Arthur’s Pass in the Southern Alps, to his son’s farm near Nelson, despite this being a major road, he was held up by a typically New Zealand traffic jam.

Cabbage Trees and Chickens …

Since leaving Wanaka four days ago, we have cycled 240 miles (bringing the NZ trip to 876 so far) and are spending Tuesday night in the, delightfully named, little town of Hari Hari. There have been a number of long and quite steep hills to spice up lenghty stretches  of undulating road. Much of the way the road weaves along the coast, with the sound of Tasman Sea waves breaking on the shore to the left and birds singing in the rain forests on the right. Low, wispy, clouds hanging in the tree and fern clad mountains makes for atmospheric travelling in this remote corner of the world.

On the road between Fox Glacier and Franz Josef

Whilst unwinding in our motel room at Haast we were rather surprised to receive a visitor – a large white hen strutted through the patio doors, gave us that cock-eyed look that only chickens can, clucked a greeting, then sauntered out again.
The hazards of driving NZ roads as they twist around the mountains was brought home rather graphically today. Descending the second hill after Fox Glacier on the way to Franz Josef we came across a rather shocked group of people who had just witnessed a car drive of the edge of the road down a deep ravine. The car was invisible, completely hidden in the vegetation, which no doubt cushioned the impact. Fortunately, the occupants appeared not to be seriously hurt as one was shouting up to the bystanders. As the rescue services had already been summoned we continued on our way. A sobering thought if no-one had seen the car leave the road….

Gavin with Cabbage Trees and Tree Ferns at Hari Hari

Exploring Hari Hari doesn’t take long, a handful of houses, couple of farms, hundreds of cows, a shop, one hotel and service station, but we did find a short walk up through the rain forest which was delightful; full of tree ferns, cabbage trees and many other native species.

Scenery overload and Headwinds ….

A warm welcome from Gavin’s cousin, Sue, and husband, Pete, was very much appreciated after a tiring twelve hour journey down the west coast of the South Island, to the lakeside town of Wanaka. Having emigrated 8 years ago, Sue and Pete have built a magnificent house with glorious, panoramic views over the lake and the surrounding mountains.

Pete, Sue and Gavin with Baxter sitting on the gate post

Keith left the next morning  (Thursday 2nd March) to explore Christchurch and Westport before returning to the farm to spend more time with his son. Gavin and I took the morning to explore the bustling town of Wanaka and further along the lakeside path; much needed relaxation after such a long drive. A very pleasant walk in the forest above the house with Sue, Pete and their extremely well behaved and endearing Border Terrier, Baxter, rounded the day off perfectly.

Lake Hawea

Very trustingly, Pete and Sue loaned us their 4 wheel drive truck to venture into the Mount Aspiring National Park, some 2.6 million acres, 10% of NZ’s land mass. After several miles on a bumpy gravel road through a glacial valley, alive with herds of fat hereford cattle, thousands of sheep and farmed deer, we parked up for a 6 mile walk to view the Rob Roy glacier. Despite low cloud and high winds the glacier was an awesome sight in a hanging valley of the main river gorge. A pre-dinner game of frisby golf on a lakeside course proved hazardous for people’s knees and heads; great fun but the professionals don’t have anything to worry about!

Our cute A frame cabin at Makarora

Saturday morning, taking our leave of Pete and Sue’s wonderful hospitality, we stashed a parting gift of a picnic lunch in our panniers to start the long pedal north. A super ride, with stupendous views, along the Clutha river then the bank of lake Hawea, was compromised by fierce headwinds as we turned west along the northern end of Lake Wanaka. It took all our effort to complete the last twelve miles to Makarora where we gratefully laid our heads in a delightful A frame cabin.
Thankfully, the wind had abated to more acceptable levels for Sunday’s fifty mile ride to the coast at Haast. Still in the Mount Aspiring National Park, the road led us up and over the Haast pass to the little township of Haast on the wet and wild west coast. Water flowing from high in the mountains creates many sheer waterfalls before joining the main river via a series of creeks. Melt water from the glaciers gives a unique blue hue to the exceptionally clear rivers.

Blue Water Pools

Happy Birthday Dad for 6th March, we will be thinking of you xx.