Dearest Family (i.e. those who are likely to read this blog),
It is a week since I left the UK on an epic voyage to New Zealand with a massive box containing a bike and all the 4 panniers in a rucksack of sorts. The packing of the bike had several dry runs, with lots of advice taken off youtube and cycling sites about how to protect this most precious of items (a bike tour without a bike is pretty useless). Anyway, on New Years Eve, off we all went to Hope Station (thanks Gaynor, Rachel and Tony) with the worlds biggest bike box et al.
New Years Eve was spent at Premier Inn, Heathrow. A couple of glasses of red wine and I was asleep at 11:56, with the last viber message reading 4 minutes to go. A last minute change of flight (2 hours earlier) meant a 5 am start. Little can be said about the journey out here other than it was LOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOONG. I missed out on the A380 and instead got some cheap and nasty Boeing thing (777). The entertainment was good though – I watched 5 films back to back.
Arrived in Auckland at 11:45 at night with the usual alarms about bio-security. Did I have a tent? Of course I have a tent. Come this way Sir (oh dear). 1 hour later I clear biosecurity with the gold star award for the cleanest tent they have ever seen.
Time to find a bed for the night – luckily a local hotel had one and was willing to pick me up. After 2 or 3 hours sleep there, excitement got the better of me. I got up, had 2 enormous breakfasts, reassembled my bike (took nearly 2 hours) and I was off through the suburbs of Auckland towards the beautiful, scenic and hilly Coromandel peninsula. It seemed like an obvious place to go – avoid the main road going south and instead have a gentle warm up for a few days in an area of outstanding natural beauty.
My route took me towards the coast, round the Hunua mountain range for about 100 km. After an hour of pedalling I decided I needed fuel. It was hot, I was thirsty. A kind man in a petrol station kept giving me ice creams with one proviso – I had to sell him my bike when I’d finished with it – it was the best bike he’d ever seen. I kept pointing out that it was heavy, made of steel, slow, and only suitable for carrying heavy loads. He offered me $3000 NZ dollars. I’m almost tempted to sell it him to save the cost of shipping and get another equivalent one when I get back. The rest of the day was glorious – great views of the sea, a first encounter with other cyclists (my favourite Swiss couple), talking to lots of ex-pats about how much better it is in NZ than back in the UK (I kept telling them I agree, but I can’t get my errant children to understand this).
After 100 Km, its time to find some accommodation so I opt for the Hot Springs campsite in Miranda. Its a great place and sells CHEAP BEER. I buy two, then another two and gulp them down quickly (no change there, then). Camping is great – I sleep like a log. I meet my Swiss compatriots and a German chap who has just retired from the postal service (at 53!) and lives in Maui, surfing, in between cycle touring. He is a chain smoker but appears very fit.
We get on well and talk about cycling to Coromandel town the next day. When next day arrives, he decides he needs a massage etc at the hot springs so we agree to meet up in Coromandel a day later (which we do). He regrets not finding the weed in one of his special tubs in his panniers the evening before, or else it would have made it a perfect evening. I might have (would have) even tried it too (close your eyes now if under the age of 18). I’m only here once….
Miranda to Coromandel town
For those that have never been to New Zealand, you need to know at least 2 things. 1. It is very hilly and 2. the sun is extremely strong. Motorhomes and campervans can barely make it over the many many mountain passes in New Zealand. My intended route for the day (unbeknown to me – poor memory) takes me over two such mountain passes before I reach the promised land.
I tootle along for about 6 hours, taking pictures of the azure sea, sand, headlands then gawp at the mountain someone has put in my way. The gradient is ferocious (20%), switchbacks, intense heat, a new saddle cause my backside to hurt, my nose to burn and my legs to explode. Strangely, I find myself enjoying the whole experience. The scenery is just so fantastic. I run out of water on the top of the first pass. A friendly chap points to another mountain and says ‘you’ve only got to get over that one and you’ll be in Coromandel town’. ‘It’s easier than this one (he lies)’. I gulp, go down the very long hill very fast and start all over again. Up up up I go in bottom gear, stopping this time on the levels to catch my breath. 20 kg of luggage takes legs like pistons to get a bike moving. I do make it though, and arrive some time later at one of my (our) favourite camp sites in New Zealand – Shelly Beach, just north of Coromandel town. I forget the third minor hill I have to bridge to get to it. I quickly decide this place is so like paradise I will spend 2 days here (to give the skin on my backside chance to re-form).
The evening view of Shelly Beach, from my tent
Rest day – did little apart from let my backside recover, tootle into town and sit at cafe’s and generally get over jetlag
Day 4 – where it all began
Day 4 had been looming in my mind for some time. It involved taking a route over the Whangapoua hill ( seriously steep and high mountain pass that crosses the Coromandel mountain range). 11 years ago we were crossing this hill in our camper van and stopped to take in the stunning views from the top. A fit looking 50 something year old pulled up along side on his touring bike, eating trail mix, and told me of his story about how he had just retired and was taking time out to cycle round New Zealand. He had been on the road a month and was both really enjoying it and getting fitter every day. The conversation has stayed with me ever since and I told myself that I would do something similar as soon as it was possible to do so.
Here I am – living the 11 year dream.
The spot, 11 years ago, where my retirement and touring plans were formed. Top of the WHangapoua hill – a 400 metre mountain pass – all by a chance meeting with a newly retired American chap, touring on his new Trek bike
My destination for the day was the imaginatively named ‘Hot Water Beach’ on the Coromandel Peninsula. This is one of a number of spectacular attractions on this stretch of the coast – Cathedral Cove is the most famous. Here, you can hire a spade, dig a hole in the sand and it quickly fills up with hot water. I was too knackered from the cycling exploits of day 4 (up, down, up, down, to have any spare energy digging a hole – instead I started this blog, generally relaxed and sat around on a glorious day of sunshine. My favourite Swiss couple appeared, also saying their legs were too knackered to proceed any further that day. We all sat round waiting for the inevitable rain storm the following day, through which we planned to cycle te rest of the peninsula to Wahai Beach some 100 km and 3 mountain passes away (what fools were).
This one is cheating a bit – the photo was taken last trip – below is Hot Water Beach though. I was too lazy to remove my shoes, wander along the beach and take pictures of silly people sat in sandy pools of water, preferring instead to eat an ice cream and have a lovely meal of something or other at the cafe by the beach 🙂
So, in summary, the day was spent doing what I do best – servicing the bike, fooling myself and drinking a glass or three of red wine.
Day 5 – What it’s like to cycle in a tropical rainstorm.
You’ll have noticed that the greenery is very ‘green’, with all sorts of tropical plants here, there and everywhere. It is like that for a reason. Myself and the soon to be separated Swiss couple pack up our tents in heavy rain (which adds several Kg to the load), head off and fool ourselves that it is going to be a nice day. The first of 3 spiky bits (mountain passes) is passed with ease, despite the gale force winds, driving rain and incredulous looks of the passing motorists. I find my bike lights out and put them on. The good thing about the coromandel is that there are a lot of small villages that have cafe’s. I stop and have a cake, watching the rain get to the biblical stage. I take refuge in the Information SIte (ISite) and ask lots of pointless questions to which I already know the answers. It doesn’t help. I get on the bike and tackle mountain pass number 2, with occasional drying out stops in garages etc. By now, the water is pouring out of my shoes etc etc etc and I am waterlogged. no rain gear helps.
The view part way up mountain pass number 2. Notice the verdant tinge to everything.
After 70 km or so of this drenchfest, I call it a day – I find a small town (Whangamata – got to love the names) some 20 km short of my intended destination and go and soak the ISite there, while they take pity on my and find me a B&B. I am hosted by a lovely retired Italian couple, who attend to my every need. It takes 2 further days to dry everything out though. While I am in town (it does eventually stop raining) having a well deserved tea (an enormous vegi burger), my cycling companions roll into town – also having called it a day. I wish them well as it is probably the last I will see of them.
Day 6 Whangamata to Mount Maunganui
The day starts with glorious sunshine and improves from there. I have a lovely but severe climb to start the day before I can get lunch in Wahai. Part way up I am passed by a red faced sweating cyclist, obviously at his limit. Its not a nice thing to do but I set of in pursuit. I quickly catch him despite my 25 kg of luggage and we battle it out to the top, where we stop to have a chat. He is an Australian who has been made redundant at 61 and was wondering what next. He normally road cycles quite a bit. We chat for about half an hour on the virtues of New Zealand, cycling, touring etc etc before he heads back down the hill and I carry on.
Taken by my Aussie friend at the top of the last climb before Wahai.
At lunch time I roll into Wahai and find the nearest ISite. My first question is ‘where do they serve the biggest portions of food?’. Answer, at the pub on the corner right outside. I treat myself to fish and chips and a beer – some fuel for what lies ahead. The rest of the day is a contrast to the day before – baking temperatures, frequent stops to cool down and top up water bottles. I go down the busy SH2 towards Tauranga, some 70 km away, which is a very lumpy highway. After a while I notice what sounds like bubble wrap popping. It is bubbles of tarmac melting and being popped by my tyres. The popping continues for the rest of the afternoon. I drink all my water, get it topped up by a kind lady at a garage, drink it all again and go all day without a pee (apologies). The best (and most expensive) accommodation is to be had at the spectacular Mt Maunganui, so I head there and get a prime spot overlooking the beach.
I set up camp, attract the interest of lots of locals wanting to know about tents, cycle touring etc, have a shower then head out for food and a cold beer. Its a long walk – 50 metres. Since our last trip here, the massive burger has taken over as the staple diet of New Zealanders and I find a rather good vegi burger that is the size of a small house and order extra chips. It wont make a dint on the 6,500 calories I have expended that day, though.
All in all – a very interesting work, with the major challenges being – finding accommodation, finding internet connections, learning to hone my routine to be able to set up and break down camp quickly, have a shower and get some food in the shortest possible time, giving priority to facetiming home.