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.

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