Thursday, 23 June 2016

Tour Aotearoa Days 7-9

Day 7: Damp 
Mangakino to Timber Trail 100km

Another poor nights sleep at Mangakino, where some of the local degenerates thought it would be fun to cause a general disturbance in the wee small hours, aside from making a lot of noise they caused no other problems and eventually moved on. There was a bit of drizzle around in the morning, after a trip into the town centre to stock up at the bakery and supermarket it was time to move on, there had been a dozen or so riders staying at the camping ground or in motels in town, so there were a few riders about, this gave a chance to catch up and compare notes so far. The first target for today was Centre of the North Island, about 35km from Mangakino, a couple of km around Lake Maraetai then about 20km on the road, mostly uphill, before the trail turns into a rough 4WD drive track. We had been warned by Erik about the wild blackberry that infested the 4WD track, he had previously cleared a lot of the blackberry while compiling the cue sheets earlier in the year, however the narrow swingbridge at the start was a pain as you had to lift the fully loaded bike across while the bridge was swaying from side to side. The last bit of gravel road was a grovel in the rain on an increasingly waterlogged road surface.

The middle
The Timber Trail is an 85km ride through the regenerating native Pureora forest, it's well marked and features many information boards covering the rich Maori and European settler history of the region, the trail also features a number of long swing bridges

The Timber Trail was one of my highlights of the tour, but like all the other off road sections took a lot of effort and time. There had been word of accommodation at the Black Fern lodge just off the trail, I found the sign and turned off, but after about 500 metres decided to head back to the trail, it transpires that the lodge is a few km off trail. I

Regular Trail Markers
I then decided I would complete the last steep climb and find somewhere to camp for the night. Meanwhile the rain had stopped, I walked most of the climb thinking I would try for the historic No 10 Camp, in the end I set up camp on the trail side. I had  also managed at some point to lose one of my sets of gloves

Day 8: Lasagna
Timber Trail to Whakahoro 134km

The remainder of the Timber Trail is an old tram trail that used to service the logging camps along the trail, consequently the gradient for the final climb was not steep and was followed by a 10km downhill into Ongarue.

Part way down is the Ongarue spiral, a clever feat of engineering that allowed the tram line to climb/descend a steep section of the trail. Erik and Greg had spent the night at the Ongarue Flashpackers and were just leaving as I arrived, Greg had parted company with his spot tracker the previous day and asked if I had seen it, unfortunately not. It faithfully continued to report his location in the middle of the Timber Trail for some days. I washed the bike had lasagna for breakfast and used the shower at the Flashpackers.

Between Ongarue and Taumaranui Jo and Scott from the first wave caught up with me, so I rode with them to Taumaranui and had lunch, Mark who I had encountered the day before on the timber trail also joined us, we booked the boat ride from the Mangapurua landing to Pipiriki for 1:00pm the next day. Steve and Seth also from third wave arrived at the cafe just as we were leaving. the ride through to Whakahoro was uneventful with just a 400m climb in the way, and passed by Owhango where I had been hoping to get something to eat, unfortunately I was too late, so had to move on. I busted out a bag of jelly dinosaurs and got to Whakahoro just after 8pm, again too late for the shop. There were spare beds on the dormitory at the DOC camping ground so a night inside was appreciated.

Day 9: Wheeee
Whakahoro to wanganui 117km

It was an early start, but I still managed to be last of those to leave the dormitory. I was grateful to have spent the night inside as it bucketed down overnight, which turned the first 4WD road section of the Bridge to Nowhere train into a boggy mess, the mud was so thick that withing seconds my forks and seat stays were so clogged with mud that I couldn't push the bike, let alone ride it

The mud became less of a problem as the climb to the high point on the trail began, the track narrowed and became a series of pinches and dips that invariably had a bog at the bottom of each dip. The riding conditions had no doubt been worsened by the rain and the passage of  a 100 plus riders over the past few days. The going was so slow that I began to wonder if I would miss the boat at  Mangapurua Landing. I eventually reached the top where there is a memorial to the servicemen who were given land to settle after the First World War

There is plenty of evidence of there presence from empty paddocks, fruit trees and the odd Hydrangea, but it is indicative of the harshness of the environment that no one managed to settle permanently. The initially fast downhill flattened out and the terrain became wetter again and was punctuated by regular narrow swing bridges which you has to push your bike across on it's back wheel. After about 3 hours of isolation I emerged into the crowd at the Bridge to Nowhere, there are at least 2 tour operators doing guided tours to the bridge. I didn't enjoy the trail, possibly because of the time pressure and possibly because of general tiredness, it's one I would like to go back to at some point.                                                                      

I made it to the landing with half an hour to spare, as I loaded up, another rider arrived early for the next boat, we squeezed him in and  hoofed it down the river. The image below shows me apparently wide awake, when in fact, despite the noise of the boat, I was falling asleep.

Wide Awake
We arrived at Pipiriki about an hour later, went back to the office to pay for the ride, eat ice creams and clean the bikes. It was hot at Pipiriki, hotter than it had been anywhere else on the tour. I left Pipiriki at about 3pm after mucking around for too long, and got to Wanganui about 6 hours later, passing Neil (I think) on the way who had kayaked down the river. As I was riding up one of the small pinches alongside the river  through some road works a DOC worker who was passing me in the opposite direction gave me a bottle of water, much appreciated as it was still hot. I had a meal at the Aromoho Hotel and stayed at the Holiday park just down the road where I had booked a cabin. Jo and Scott had taken the cabin next to mine, I took the opportunity to do some washing, borrowing some $2 coins off Scott as I was out of change. I fell asleep while my clothes were drying and had to stumble to the dryer to collect it in the early hours of the morning.

Thursday, 16 June 2016

Tour Aotearoa Days 4-6

Day 4: Urban 
Kaipara Cruising Club to Miranda Camp Ground 157km

After a restless night, due to the number of people sharing the facilities, some of whom left at indecent hours of the morning. The night before I had put out a distress signal on facebook to find out who stocked batteries for my nightlight, Edd had kindly offered to ring around on my behalf. Apparently Planet cycles on Dominion rd had what I needed, Edd offered to meet me when I got to Auckland. I left around 8:00am after saying farewell the those I had ridden with over the past day and a half, Sam, Dave, Jess and John, I did expect them to catch me later in the day though.

I enjoyed the ride through Helensville and then Riverhead, to the outskirts of Auckland city, the terrain was undulating and the temperatures not too hot. I passed Neil on the way, repairing a puncture. I met Edd on the Northwest Cycle Route, he gave me a banana, and we rode into town and detoured up Dominion Rd to Planet Cycles, Kevin and John (the distinguished gentlemen of the tour dressed up in their tux's) were already there. I purchased my replacement battery and we went and got some lunch.


After lunch Edd had to go to work, I carried on to Mt Eden for some panoramic views of the city, where Neil caught me up.

Land of Orcs
I joined Neil for the ride South out of the city, this was probably the trickiest navigate of the tour. Neil is a dedicated Fru Ju man, but he sets a limit of no more than 1 per hour, Fru Ju's at this point were not unwelcome as again temperatures were above comfort levels. Somewhere along the way we decided that we would take the coastal route to Miranda, my reasoning was that we weren't doing much coast riding on the tour, conveniently forgetting 90 mile beach not so long ago, and that the route wasn't as hilly, wrong. the going was OK until we got to Kawakawa Bay then the going went up, with three pinches between Kawakawa Bay and Miranda. At this point Neil dissappered into the distance and I left my sunglasses on a seat 3/4 of the way up the first climb out of Kawakawa Bay, not being mission critical I left the glasses to fend for themselves. Once back on the coast the going was pleasant again as temperatures had dropped and there was very little wind, but it was getting dark. I got to the Miranda camping ground after everything had shut, pitched my tent and then wondered about what I was going to do for dinner as my food supplies were running low. Luckily the free food box in the kitchen was well stocked, so I managed to scrounge a tin of tuna and some rice seasoned with Worcestershire  sauce, I spread the banana Edd had given me on some cruskits for desert. This was my first 150km plus day of the tour, but the riding was relatively flat and all on sealed roads. 

Day 5: lost 
Miranda Camp Ground to Matamata 111km + 30km

I was among the last of the tour riders to leave the camping ground the next morning, the first target was Thames about 30km away. I bypassed Thames and rode on to the Hauraki Rail Trail  until I got to the Matatoki Cheese Barn Cafe, where I had one of the most enjoyable meals of the tour, a ploughmans lunch, simple but delicious. 

The Hauraki rail trail carries on to Paeroa, but on the way passes through Hikutaia, it was at this point that I discovered I had a puncture, my first and only of the tour. Conveniently, Hikutaia is the home of the Convenient Cow Cafe, I purchased a real fruit raspberry ice cream and fixed my puncture. Today was Saturday so the trail was well patronised with cyclists enjoying the trail.

Paeroa was the scene of my worst navigational blunder, I took the wrong turn after crossing the bridge and headed 15km towards Waihi, stupid really, because I knew the way to Te Aroha. Ironically I found the leg of the Hauraki rail Trail that heads towards Wiahi the most interesting section of the trail, it includes a 1km long rail tunnel, the site of the  old Victoria Battery and some beautiful scenery. Most of this section had poor cell coverage and as I had nearly reached Waihi my cellphone started beeping at me, I steadfastly ignored it for a couple of km and then checked it to discover all sorts of people messaging me telling me I was lost.  I turned around more than a little peeved at myself, I later performed my good deed of the day and turned back another rider who had made the same mistake.

The Old Victoria battery
  On to Te Aroha, which brought back memories of 10 years ago when I had done a couple of nights work in the area. Leaving Te Aroha there was a favourable wind, there was also cloud building and the air was beginning to feel like rain. I got to Matamata at about 7pm, the town was busy as there had been races that day, so all accommodation was booked out. I was sitting at the Subway devouring half a footlong and pondering my next move as rain was starting to fall, on option was to head on to the camping ground at Little Waipa Reserve about 30km away. While i was thinking on this a couple who lived just out of town offered me a bed for the night, this was actually the second offer of this nature I had received. I spent the night at Henry and Robin's place, in luxury as this was the first night I had spent in a bed since leaving Cape Reinga, Henry and Robin are keen cyclists and were very interested in the TA, having noticed cyclists riding past their place for the past 5 days. I like to imagine that I was captivating company, I was more likely delerious. This was one of the highlights of the tour for me and I am extremely grateful for the hospitality of these two strangers.

Day 5: suffer 
Matamata to Mangakino 90km

After a good night's sleep and breakfast it was time to hit the road again, this was to be one of the shortest, distance wise,  yet one of the hardest days of the tour. It started off OK with a pleaseant enough ride to Arapuni and then lunch at the Rhubarb cafe. There were about half a dozen other tour riders at the cafe including Erik who was having a catch up with his family, erik would have to be the most unlucky rider I encountered on the TA, more about that later. The Cafe was the last food stop until Mangakino, I did have half a 12 inch in my bag for later though. Once away from the cafe we were onto the Waikato river trail proper, I found the Waikato River Trail quite unpleasant, this may have been for a few reasons, whether it was gradient changes, the changing trail surface or just tiredness.

The Waikato River
I used my first aid kit for the only time when I came across a couple who were out walking and one of them had slipped and turned an ankle, I gave them a crepe bandage and carried on as they were confident of walking back to their car.  Water became an issue with the only supply being the Waikato river, which I thought a dodgy proposition, forgetting that I had water purification tablets.

I encountered Kevin heading back towards Waipapa, he had lost his Garmin, it is unlikely the the Garmin was lost though, I told him that I hadn't seen it and he asked me to tell John to go onto Mangakino with out him. I met John a short time later and relayed the message, but he refused to go on without Kevin so he too headed back. I got to finally Mangakino after having to lift the bike through too many stiles.

Stile Style
The Bus Stop Cafe was still open at about 7:30pm when I arrived, the owners were following the blue dots and waiting for the stragglers. I was shattered and spent quite some time staring at the menu unable to make a decision, this was apparently quite the problem with TA riders when presented with a menu with more than 1 item. Erik and Greg arrived during this time, Erik had had an unplanned dismount  and had landed in a wasps nest and had a number of stings, I had avoided the nest, as I had been warned about it by a walker, I gave Erik some of my voltaren. Another rider had a spill at the bottom of a series of downhill switchbacks, all agreed that it had been tough day. time for a dip in the lake to clean up and another night in the tent

Wednesday, 8 June 2016

Tour Aotearoa Days 1 to 3.

Prelude: Nervous
Waitiki to Cape Reinga 20km

After a 6 hour bus trip the previous day from Auckland we had disembarked at Waitiki and spent some nervous moments assembling our bikes on the lawn, hoping that nothing had been forgotten and knowing that if we had, it was too late. Most were staying at the Waitiki landing Holiday Park, either camping or using pre-booked cabins, some had elected to camp closer to Cape Reinga at the Tapotutopu camp site.

I had planned to camp at the camping ground, but my friend Paul Smith had booked a cabin and there was a spare bed, the opportunity to spend a comfortable night in a proper bed for possibly the last time in a while was too tempting to turn down.  An unexpected advantage of this was shelter from the horde of mosquitoes that descended on the camping ground once the sun got low in the sky.

Cape Reinga

After a morning of faffing around I headed off to cape Reinga around 10am, expecting a nice gentle warm up ride to the start 20km away. Apparently, I'm a slow learner and the lesson from KB14 (KiwiBrevet 2014) hadn't sunk in, everything in godzone is lumpier than expected. Anyhow, I got to the start in plenty of time to have a look around, chat with other riders and have another fret about what I may have forgotten. I also managed to find a spot with intermittent cell reception, so I was able to check messages and social media.

Day 1: Sandy
Cape Reinga to Ahipara 102km

After the pre-ride briefing, during which we were promised favourable winds on the beach, we  set off at 2:00pm, hoping to be off the beach before dark and beat the incoming tide. The first 15km was on the road, back the way we came, then a right turn onto Te Paki Stream Rd, the first gravel road section of the tour, this gradually degenerated into a sandy stream bed banked on both sides by sand dunes before we got onto the beach proper. The promised favourable wind had not eventuated, and was in fact coming from an easterly direction, not quite a full on headwind, but difficult all the same. The term "hard sands" is a relative term in that it means harder than soft sands, and though firm, the sand still had some give in it. By this time everyone was spread out along the beach and although the scenery was beautiful the riding became very monotonous, and very tiring. I rode by myself for about 30km, taking a stop every hour, I was by this point starting to get very tired and was wondering if I would get off the beach in time. I had for some time noticed a group behind me slowly catching up, they finally caught  me during a rest break and I was invited to join the group, I gratefully accepted. I was quite fatigued at this point and rested up in the bunch, at one point mesmerised by a spinning wheel with a single white spoke amongst all the black spokes, until the next rest stop. After this I was able to take the odd turn on the front .
Swallowed by the Peloton

In the end we numbered about 18 riders, this was all organised by Nev from Nelson who had known what was coming. The  company and  shelter and shared were huge relief. About 15km from Ahipara the wind shifted around behind us and we were able to move faster. It was around 9pm by the time we got off the beach, luckily the local takeaway bars knew that we were coming and had remained open, I bought a feed of fish and chips and headed back to the camping ground, there was a queue for the hose so i opted to leave washing the bike until next morning. I was unable to eat all the food that I had bought, so I took the time for a shower and spent my first night in my $50 tent. This was one of the hardest days of the tour, made difficult by the wind, sand and the time pressure of trying to get off the beach in time.  

Day 2: Dark
Ahipara to Trounson Park Camp Ground 125km + 16km

The morning was cool, I washed my bike and had a chat to Paul who said he was going to try and make the 8:00am Kaipara ferry teh next morning, some 240km away, I wished him luck knowing that this was well beyond my capabilities for the day. The day got steadily warmer and I was passed regularly by faster riders who had started later than I had.  A pie and milkshake at Broadwoood, and on again, on to an off road section to Kohukohu for the ferry. The day was getting hotter and hotter, at one point when I had cell reception, my phone beeped. The next rest I took I checked my phone to see what the messages were, just marketing from my provider, so I put the phone down and finished my drink. I got to the Ahipara shop and stocked up then went to pay, at this point I realised that my eft-pos card was with my phone, back where I had stopped. Luckily I had some cash, but I had to go back and get the phone. The phone was where I had left it, but the backtracking had cost me about 90 minutes, 16km of riding and 300m metres of climbing.

The Rawene Ferry

The Rawene ferry sails regularly, so after a 20 minute lie down on the grass it's on the ferry across the the Hokianga. A burger and some fish and chips at Rawene, again I struggled to eat the fish and chips. Thankfully it was starting to cool down by this point and I decided to push on, with a target in mind of Tane Mahuta, and then to find somewhere to pitch the tent for the night.  


It started to show signs of rain on the way to the twin seaside towns of Opononi and Omapere. I restocked at at the service station at Omapere and headed  onto Waimamaku. I made a pit stop at Waimamaku and was caught up by Sam, Dave, Jess and John. They  were also heading on to  Tane Mahuta, I left before them expecting that they would catch me up well before the big tree. The 400m climb before Tane Mahuta was gradual and not to tough, aside from the odd bit of drizzle the rain never eventuated, I still found myself walking the odd section to break it up. 

On the downhill to the tree an opossum appeared suddenly in my headlight from my right hand side, where it ended up I don't know, but if I had hit it I think I would have come off second best. I got to Tane Mahuta around 10pm, about which time the others caught me up.  There was a tour group still at the tree, we had to take a photo for one of the control points, unfortunately the results weren't spectacular.  The others were keen to head on to the DOC camping ground at Trounson Park Rd. I had promised myself my cutoff for each day was going to be 9:00pm, but the night was balmy, the company good and the road quiet so I decided to join them. Shortly after setting off my front light failed, after a bit of fiddling about I came to the conclusion there was a short in the battery cable, among the group there was now a total of 3 headlights and a similar number of rear lights, we juggled the riding order to attempt to give everyone enough light to ride by, aided by a bright and full moon. The last section of road before the camping ground was gravel that had been recently graded, this left piles of deep soft gravel that would have been interesting during the day, but at night and with not enough light were rather challenging, I nearly had an OTB experience when my front wheel dug into a particularly deep patch of gravel. We got to the camping ground at about 00:30 in the morning and set up camp. The camping ground had a hot shower, unusual for  a DOC camping ground, and gas cooking facilities. By this point I was low on food, Jess and Dave gave me a packet of their noodles for which i was extremely grateful.       

Day 3: Hot
Trounson Park Camp Ground to Kaipara Cruising Club 114km

Another cool morning, and rising a bit late after the long bay before. The nights sleep had been frequently interrupted by the mating call of an amorous bull, the others said that they had also heard Kiwi in the night. We had breakfast, then off, mostly downhill to Dargaville. Dargaville brought a stop at a cafe for lunch, my first proper meal for 3 days, and a bakery to stock up for the ride to Poutu Point. It was sweltering by the time we left Dargaville, but the going was mostly flat so we were made good time for the first 30km. Then it got lumpy again, climbing in the heat was a different proposition for the final 30km to Poutu Point. A local farmer had left bottles of clean water by the roadside and had offered the use of his barn as accommodation, the water was gratefully received as everybody was now running low, I lost touch with the others from here for the last 10km, the heat and the long night before having taken their toll. I was passed by a number of wave 3 riders, all going hard to make the 6:00pm cut off for the ferry. I had resigned myself to spending the night on the beach and taking the 8:00am ferry the next morning. I made the beach at 6:30pm, 30 minutes after cut off to find a queue on the beach and the ferry still loading, 

Tane Mahuta at night
I joined the line out of hope more than anything else, as a quick count revealed far more than the 30 riders and bikes the ferry was supposed to be carrying. In the end 43 riders and bikes were loaded onboard for the trip across the Kaipara harbour. Trays of watermelon were passed around and hot drinks and biscuits were also provided by the crew. Takeaway orders were placed, to be ready when we reached Helensville. Those keen for more headed on into the night towards Auckland. After some confusion about their location we found he takeaway bar and the Kaipara Cruising Club, where we had been offered accommodation for the night for $5 each.
Sunset on the Kaipara Harbour

I ordered my first beer of the tour, and again couldn't manage to eat the fish and chips I had ordered. I waited my turn for the shower and then found an unoccupied spot on the floor to sleep on.