A rest in Tauranga allowed us to reflect on our Coromandel Peninsula adventures. Excellent memories of relaxing beaches and coves, deserted gravel roads, humungous hills, spectacular views, art galleries, cafés and hot bread shops, swims and siestas.
A phone call to Harry in Wellington and he was inspired with all this and decided to join us for Part III of our coast hugging North Island cycle – the East Cape. Once again heading in a Northerly/ NW direction, any thoughts of what lay ahead to reach Wellington and eventually Bluff had to be pushed into the far recesses of the imagination.
It was good to see Harry at the Opotiki bus station. Harry’s arrival brought news from Wellington, a whole load more adventures, and RAIN!
Firstly, the teabag thief. Now, all through the trip we were careful not to leave the bikes unattended. But a remote lunch spot at Torere saw us taking a quick swim. Well, everyone except Harry who decided it looked too cold and grey and was probably wishing he were still in his grey Wellington office.
Anyway, we all sat and had lunch on the beach unaware that someone was searching through our panniers. How do we know? About to leave again, Harry discovered a pot of teabags in the public toilets – his pot of teabags. Now, either Harry had a memory lapse when leaving his teabag pot in the men’s toilets or eek – someone had in fact stolen his teabag pot from his handlebar bag. Hearts raced as we all searched our panniers for missing items. Relief as wallets and cameras were all located. We left feeling somewhat puzzled and alarmed, wondering what had been so attractive about the contents of Harry’s teabag pot. An interesting welcome to the East Cape.
The western side of the East Cape reminded us a little of the western side of the Coromandel, only on a much grander scale, the road hugging the coastline, just leaving it periodically to grunt up a short hill. We arrived at the mighty Motu River, carving its way through bush-covered hills. I could almost imagine we were in the South Island.
The tents were pitched, Harry turning down the offer of attempting to squeeze four people under a 2-man tent fly and instead erecting what can only be described as a coffin. He muttered something about bivvying out under the trees and went to collect firewood.
We awoke to the unfamiliar sound of torrential rain and hoped Harry had found his tent. No one moved till midday. The morning’s entertainment was watching the local chickens cleaning up the porridge pot for us.
The flood of rain didn’t let up so we remembered Stuart’s words – “Well, your skin’s waterproof” – and set off regardless. Heads down, we stopped only to take pictures of swollen rivers and to shelter for lunch in a greasy café. Harry had more thoughts of his cosy Wellington office as we gravely studied the weather forecast. “Don’t worry,” I said chirpily, “this is the East Cape. It never rains more than a few days.” There was a chilly silence. Was Harry really a clag factor?
We headed for what turned out to be a soggy campground at Whanania Bay and slept in their games room. The East Cape guidebook described the bay as the best view in New Zealand – we had to use our imagination!
The next adventure was visiting Lottin Point, later renamed Lotto Point. On the map it looked like a short side trip from the main road. As suspected, a few hills were in the way. “It’ll only take you 15 minutes,” a friendly campervan couple informed us. We soon learnt to be wary of car driver’s estimates. Downhill to the bay was one of those awesome rides tainted only by the knowledge that we would have to climb back out again. It was, however, a captivating spot and we probably spent too long fishing off the lava formations.
After eventually gaining enthusiasm for the cycle back up the monstrous hill, Alice’s tyre obviously had other ideas and blew up rather dramatically. Alice’s depression at frustrated repair efforts was soon lifted when Harry spotted $120 lying in the mud!
Spirits were soon dampened by more torrential rain and sadly, Harry couldn’t spend his Lotto Point money that evening as the delay fixing Alice’s bike meant we arrived like drowned rats outside the closed store at Hicks Bay. What a sad sight to see four hungry, soggy cyclists sit down to a meal of our emergency Backcountry meal for one and 3 cans of spaghetti.
After an enforced rest morning the next day while waiting for a replacement tyre to be couriered out from Gisborne, my body struggled to get going over another monstrous hill to Te Araroa. Could we detect some long-term cycle touring fatigue setting in?
It was decision-making time. Were we to make the 40-kilometre round trip to the East Cape lighthouse? I can’t believe now, we nearly missed it out. What an inspiring stretch of road, a sea mist giving it a magical quality. A man on horseback galloped past us along the beach carrying a cloth sack, hair tangled in the wind. Had we stepped into a film set? The area seemed sleepy and unconcerned at the prospect of an invasion of thousands of millennium visitors watching the first sunrise. To be different we climbed the 100 or so steps for the sunset and camped around the corner. It must have stopped raining as Harry lit a campfire on the beach. We felt the dark evenings were beginning to draw in as we huddled around, reciting poetry!
The road now headed inland from the coast a little over an all too familiar lumpy landscape. More rain, more swollen rivers, more soggy tea shops. The novelty of proving our skin was indeed waterproof began to wear off. Ideas of climbing Mt Hikurangi in the rain were ditched and we looked forward instead to a welcome soak in Te Puia hot springs. We emerged like lobsters – the springs currently having a hotter than usual season.
It was a somewhat soggy few days back to Gisborne. Tokomaru Bay, Anaura Bay, Tologa Bay all unused to grey skies and drizzle were slightly lacking in wet weather activities. The boys were still keen, undeterred by the rain. While Alice and I were curled up with our books, they returned with tales of shark fishing and of walkways to Cook’s Cove.
Despite the rain, the ride around the East Cape was superb, with the remote, rugged coastal scenery taking on an ethereal, misty quality reminiscent of Wales or Scotland – perhaps not typical of a normally drought-parched corner of NZ. As Harry’s bus departed Gisborne, so too the black clouds parted, a rainbow adorned the sky, and we continued our journey to Wellington in the sunshine.