A rest day! Yes, at last, a proper rest day – all day to be spent in the tent reading, sleeping and listening to the pitter patter of sandflies headbanging the fly. Oh – and maybe a chance to write that article I promised Claire for the newsletter. Where to begin? Our big cycle trip began back in February. Schools went back but Phil and I didn’t. Joined by my friend Alice, we took a train and buses to Cape Reinga to prove that anyone with a bike, panniers and a little stamina may become a cycle tourer.
The bus stopped and we unloaded our bikes from the back. The bus driver was pretty impressed when we said we intended to cycle back to Auckland. I didn’t mention our eventual goal was, in fact, Bluff. The absurdly huge distance was incomprehensible to most ordinary car drivers. Or was it perhaps a little too much for us to comprehend at this stage? Okay, let’s stick to smaller, more achievable goals – Auckland was our first target.
As we made last minute adjustments to our bikes, we could take in the breath-taking beauty of Cape Reinga. It looked better than the postcard – monstrous, rugged cliffs plunging to dramatic beaches below us; two vast oceans meeting and surging. A steady trickle of tourists didn’t disturb our thoughts as we contemplated why people came up with odd ideas like cycling from Cape Reinga to Bluff. And whose idea was it anyway?
After a compulsory photo shoot at the lighthouse we headed off back along the rather undulating gravel road. For the first few kilometres we felt “first-day-of-the-trip” feelings – a mixture of excitement, nerves and anticipation. Not far along the road, Alice and I both skidded into a ditch. We hoped this wasn’t a bad omen.
We turned off along to 90 Mile Beach. It’s not 90 miles but the 73-km of monotonous scenery and headwind certainly felt like 90 miles. After conversation was exhausted we were left to our thoughts to save us from boredom. We pushed on into the night and again next morning. Alice (the English student) admitted to having gone through all the plots of Shakespeare plays she knew and was on to films that featured bicycles when we finally reached our exit point at Waipapakauri.
We were soon to discover that El Nino’s cousin, La Nina, was still very much alive and well this year and producing fairly significant easterly winds which we were to encounter on several occasions as we headed down Northland’s east coast to the Bayof Islands. After the monotony marathon of 90 Mile Beach, we were in need of sensory stimulation. And there was plenty of that in the form of cars, hills, and amusing roadside signs. Even the odd spot of navigation was required. We soon relaxed into the routine of cycle touring – awake early, pack up and get going before the body has a chance to complain; hot bread shop for morning tea (if lucky) to fuel us to our destination; big lunch followed by swim and shady siesta.
Food soon began to increasingly occupy our thoughts throughout the day. Planning to reach stores before they closed meant less food to carry so we became expert at judging the store potential of various sized dots on the map. Most of these stores were Four Squares and most had an overwhelmingly friendly salesperson–cum–source of local information – information like the best fishing spots, places to put up a tent etc.
Most people we met had great delight in telling us what enormous hills were to follow. They would go on to recount stories of spotting a female cyclist struggling up the hill, miserably sweating and dragging heavy panniers while a kilometre or so on, their partner would be gallantly reaching the summit. We were told how on one occasion a female cyclist was found distraught and in tears at the bottom of the hill. Oh well, I thought, must remember to smile as I’m cycling up all those hills, fake enjoyment and prove those car drivers wrong. After all, they clearly weren’t fit cycle tourers as we were.
Sure enough, many large hills were to follow. The fact is, Northland is particularly wrinkly and road building doesn’t follow the contours too closely. But this also allows for plenty of downhills!
We arrived at Waitangi the day after Waitangi Day. All was pretty quiet and there was little evidence of the previous day’s ceremony, but we struck up some deep philosophical conversations with one or two locals. We left with our heads full of personal thoughts on the Treaty of Waitangi.
The Bay of Islands couldn’t go without a boat ride. Alice declined but Phil and I visited “the hole in the rock” in a particularly rough easterly swell. After my sea kayaking exploits, it was a treat to see the headland in such dramatic and stormy conditions – definitely not a sea kayaking day. I was still feeling a little green as we headed back to our campsite. It obviously didn’t, however, put Phil off as he seized the opportunity while there were just the two of us, to propose! This caused for a bit of celebratory wine that night with our pasta slop.
It was now 2 days to Whangarei. We planned a route of back roads, successfully avoiding the traffic, and discovering Oakura and Helena Bay as quiet alternatives to the Bay of Islands tourist mayhem. The easterly weather pattern continued. It resulted in cooler, more cycling-friendly weather, but the beaches were exposed to a slightly too bracing wind to encourage many swimming exploits (even from us fearsome Stewart Island swimmers).
The three of us cosily shared a tent (well, tent fly). This provided sufficient space but often proved ineffective against brutal mosquitoes. On several mornings I nursed a swollen face. To put my discomfort in perspective, I was reading Maurice Hertzog’s account of his 1950’s ascent of Annapurna.
Unfortunately, Whangarei forced us onto SH1 for 10 km. Being SH1 the hills were a little less severe but the proximity to Northern Dairies didn’t go unnoticed as milk trucks screamed past us.
The first bike incident was no ordinary puncture. Alice’s brake blocks had worn a hole in her tyre. Luckily she hitched a ride back to Whangarei and fitted a replacement tyre before I could settle down to a post-lunch siesta. Our final approach to Auckland was a kind of dog-leg, indirect, traffic-avoiding route (sort of sums up our line from Cape Reinga to Bluff really). At Wellsford we cut across to the west in a coast-to-coast manoeuvre taking in – oh yes – another monster hill. We managed two nights without using our tent as overwhelming friendliness prevailed when using the Stuart Palmer method of asking people if they knew of somewhere to camp… “Oh, use our caravan in the garden”; “Come and use our sleepout”.
Another day coast-to-coasting put us back on the East Coast at Albany and on the home straight to Auckland – our first goal in sight! A slightly taxing day was had limping down to the North Shore with another brake-shredded tyre (this time mine) patched up with duck tape. It made it to a bike shop though.
As the sun set, we relaxed on the Devonport ferry as it headed towards the twinkling lights of Auckland. Our first goal achieved; at last we had made significant progress on the map of New Zealand and our nine days of adventure could be recounted over a large celebratory meal.