Day 4 -Moretonhamstead to Street

Apologies, all, for the delay in updating the blog. Long days and a lack of Internet are to blame. 

The ride frome Moretonhampstead to Glastonbury is a long tough one. A couple of severe hills block the way to Exeter. Once those are surmounted I was expecting some nice Somerset levels. No such luck. It was 72 miles of ups and downs. 

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Stage 9 Keswick to Moffat

Ok I know I’ve missed out 6 days but I will get round to those. Probably been too stunned by the Brexit referendum result. What does the country think it is doing? An outbreak of lunacy has taken over. Anyway, to the cycling. I’ve been quietly been cycling the length of England, Wales and now some of Scotland. Yesterday was an epic but wet day from the forest of Bowland to Keswick. I stayed in a quiet hotel.  Almost the only guest. Today saw tough cycling round Skiddaw, over moorland, to Carlisle. The weather steadily dried out but there was often s headwind   

Carlisle Castle


For much (all) of the day the route then followed the a74 old road towards Dunblaine and then Moffat bathe scenery steadily got more dramatic. 


I didn’t eat all afternoon and was seriously calorie deficient by the time I rolled into my csmpsite in the delightful Moffat, after a hard fought 71 miles and another 1000 feet of climbing.  

 

Week 4 – Fairlie to Queenstown – mission accomplished

22nd Fairlie to Mt Tekapo 44 km

A shorter day today, which includes the Burkes Pass at over 700 metres and a crossing of some tundra like lunar landscape.   The Burkes Pass is easy, the wind makes the second half challenging, but I arrive in Tekapo to reasonable weather.  Tekapo on a clear day is a jewel in the crown of New Zealand camping sites, as is lake Pukaki just next door.

Once at Tekapo I have the obligatory photo taken (selfie) of myself next to the Church of the GOod Shepherd, meet the obligatory Yorkshireman (actually he is a Kiwi wearing a Yorkshire Tour de France T shirt) and the obligatory hoards of Japanese tourists.  Last time I was here with my family, last year, we all met a 92 year old lady who was on a cycling tour, together with her daughter, husband etc etc.  She looked as fit as a fiddle, as did her entire family.  An inspiration.

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On the Lake Tekapo campsite,  started to have my first encounters with other cycle tourists.   I spoke first to a Canadian couple (feel pleased that I asked them if they were Canadian as their accent was different).  They were travelling north, so I could ask them about the route ahead.  THey recommended taking part of the Alps to Ocean cycle route, which runs along the lovely canals that go between Tekapo and Lake Pukaki.  This route promises to be traffic free and flat.   I decide to take this route – why not be adventurous.  I also run into my second German cycle tourist (although he has a slight French accent).  I ask (as you do) about the average distances he covers a day.   He says about 100-140 km – which is serious stuff.   I subconsciously call him ‘The Machine’ because of his ability to cover these sort of distances day in day out on NZ roads.  We catch up with each other during the next few days and share stories and nutritional tips (eat as much as you can when you can)

23rd Lake Tekapo to Omarama.  88 km Man vs machine round 1

This is the day when I realise I cycle quite slowly.  I head off for what is probably one of the best days cycling of the whole trip.  I quickly fall in love with off road cycle trails as it gets me away from the double trailer lorries and I can enjoy nature.

The route wanders along the side of a canal for about 50 km.   The views of the Southern Alps on all sides, the blue of the canals make this a perfect day.   I have the path to myself.   I frequently stop and take photos.  The Machine left early so I don’t feel like I’m in a competition.

After a few hours pedalling in heaven, I reach Twizel – an alpine town not far from Mt Cook.  An interesting competition occurs between a group of local cyclists who see my bike and each spend some time trying to lift it off the ground.  They are amazed I have made it from Auckland dragging everything including the kitchen sink.  Another round of culling has to occur.  I also meet a cycling Scottish family (who now live in AUckland), who turn up at the lunch venue on racing.touring bikes and who look a lot faster than me.  I later find out that the parents enter Iron Man competitions and the like.  We are travelling to the same place – Omarama.  I decide I had better leave first so as not to be shown up completely.     I pedal quickly to Omarama and am just about caught on the outskirts by the Scottish fast bike family.   We spend some time chatting about the virtues and pleasures of cycle touring on the campsite afterwards.  They are extremely pleasant and emmigrated to NZ when they were in their late 40’s and have been there 3 years.  Would they go back – NO.

I also meet up with ‘The Machine’ next morning.  We all converge on the place selling the largest breakfast just across the road from the camp site.   I also meet a young English couple and an elderly Dutch couple, all bike touring.  We are all heading towards Wanaka (or Cromwell) some 110 km away, taking in the infamous Lindis Pass.   A local spends some time telling me and the lady from the Scottish family (fiona) that the pass is impassible by bike.     We are all to prove him wrong.

24th – Omarama to Wanaka – 116 tough km

The Dutch and the young English couple are away at the crack of dawn, conscious of the difficult day ahead.   THe rest of us are more leisurely.  We opt for a later, high calorie laden start.   I nip off just before ‘The Machine’ and the Scottish family.   I have been going about an hour and am on the slopes of the Lindis alpine pass when I am passed by ‘The Machine’, going like a machine.  An impressive cycling style and turn of speed.   I make no attempt to keep up, preferring instead to stop and eat 2 energy bars before the main onslaught.  THe Lindis is the second highest paved mountain pass in NZ and is worth taking seriously.

I crest the summit some half an hour later and find it very pleasant – a lovely mountain climb at not-too-stupid gradients.

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Some time later, on the descent, I look in a lay-by and see the Dutch couple fast asleep.   A little time later there is another rest stop.  I see ‘The Machine’ fast asleep on a picnic table bench.   I plod on very slowly and reach the first food stop of the day – a small cafe that emerges out of the middle of nowhere – some 70 km into the ride.   I’m ready for a late lunch.

I reach my destination, Wanaka, some hours later.  A fierce headwind builds and it is one of those spells when I have to stand on the pedals to make progress downhill.  Still, Wanaka is worth it.   I go straight to the first bar I see and order a beer.  110 km of demanding cycling has worked out well.   I arrive 15 minutes after the English couple.  I hear later that the Scottish couple made it to Cromwell and that the Dutch couple have made it.  No sign of my German travelling companion, but he could have stayed at a different camp site.  Our paths have yet to cross again.

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Cheers, from Wanaka

25th Rest day in Wanaka

Wanaka is a great place to spend time.   On my rest day it predicted rain, but predictably it was fine – sunny even.   I needed to get some rest after over 500 km in the previous week, get fuelled up for the Crown Range (the highest pass paved road in NZ)

Priority 1 was to get my faulty bike sorted.   It wasn’t shifting gears very well, kept dropping the chain etc etc.  I looked at the reviews of bike shops and came across Outside Sports, who have an excellent bike section.  Rick, the bike expert, dropped (not literally) what he was doing, put my bike on the stand, attached various gadgets and had everything properly lined up and shifting within half an hour.  Its been ultra-reliable ever since.   I still have a part to swap out which is unobtainable in NZ, but it is going great.

Afterwards, I bumped into Rick at the coffee shop round the corner, where I was predictably having slabs of cake and lashings of coffee.   I treated Rick to a flat white and in return he gave me lots of tips about routes etc etc for my planned course.    The top tip was to take the ‘Round the Mountains’ cycle route to lake Morava – a hidden gem, south of Queenstown, rather than the busy state highway.   This turned out to be a top tip.

I think I spent the afternoon trying to catch up with my blog – was already a week behind at this point.  I meet up with a few cycle tourists I have made ‘friends’ with in the last few days – Anton, the English couple etc.   Anton is heading to Queenstown, but I have yet to see him here.

26th Wanaka to Queenstown via the Crown Range

The Crown Range is a supposed short cut between Wanaka and Queenstown and bypasses a rather laborious drudge down the busy state highway between the two.   It has the advantage of containing one of the best hill climbs in New Zealand  – not to be sniffed at.

It is to be the final ‘big challenge’ of this particular tour (although it has been surpassed as an experience since).

It climbs to over 1000 metres, with gradients that ramp up near the top (i.e. it gets harder as you get tired).  However, I have to have a go.

The route passes through Cardrona, a small mining town with a quaint pub.   It isn’t bike friendly though and I have trouble parking my bike.   I fuel up on chips for the challenge that lies ahead.

The climb does not disappoint.  It does get harder and harder, but I make it without resorting to pushing the heavily laden touring bike.   I must throw out even more stuff.  The top is in a swirling mist, but previous visits here make me recall a stunning view.  I’m more bothered by getting the ‘selfie’ right, to prove the doubters wrong.

The descent is rather like coming down from Alpe D’Huez – lots of switchbacks and it is great fun .   I’m glad I have disc brakes rather than calipers.

I roll into Queenstown in a bit of a downpour – I hope the weather will improve soon.  It is cold, wet and windy.

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Queenstown to Glenorchy return

 

The flesh pots of Queenstown (a difficult place to leave) – too many interesting things going on here.

Week 3 – Kaikoura to Fairlie

Dearest family, non-fans, etc etc

Finally a rest day, during which I can update my blog.

Here is a summary of this week’s riding.

18th Kaikoura to Cheviot

https://www.strava.com/activities/472864278

As usual, I chose the wrong rest day.  I had a lovely rest day in Kaikoura, consuming Coopers fish and chips, having a stroll round the small town, getting a couple of bags to store bits and pieces from my panniers and get them in some sort of order.   I manage to dry everything out from the day before, do a bit of blog updating and generally chill out.

THe forecast isn’t good for the 18th.   I decide to press on south, getting as near as I can to the inland scenic highway which branches inland just north of Christchurch..   This is my ‘dry’ alternative to a good soaking down the west coast.   I am later proven right with this.

Anyway, a beautiful ride down the coastal road from Kaikoura ensues.   I see further seal colonies and have a great, if somewhat drizzly time.   The road then cuts inland to cross a mountain range before resuming a flatter trajectory down towards Christchurch.  As soon as I branch inland I start to get applause from passing motorists going the other way.  What can be going on, I ask myself?   I should have guessed – some steep mountain passes with multiple ups and downs and some (fantastic) hairpin bends.   The gradients are STEEP. I enjoy this section of road despite its challenges.  It climbs into rainforest and gradually emerges (some 15 km later) into an easier section.   I find the SH1 OK and very quiet at this point.

The rain does get steadily heavier though and so I phone ahead for accommodation.    NO one picks up, so I find a convenient motel about 70 km in to dry everything out (only the second time I resort to a motel/B&B because of the weather).   I manage to dry the tent and all my stuff and pass a very restful evening.   There is a pub in town so I go and watch some cycling (tour down under) while I sup a beer.   Pretty good.

19th – Cheviot to somewhere or other

THe days starts of much brighter – the sun is out & I hastily pack up everything back into the panniers and head off down the very quiet and very scening SH1, intending to cut across the inland scenic route 77, following the foothills of the Southern Alps ’till I reach Lake Tekapo some few days later.

A about 15 km into the ride, there is a terrible grinding sound from the back of the bike and I grind to a very rapid halt.  I am doing nothing but pedal at the time.

 

 

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It is rear-mechanism-carnage.  The chain is smashed, the derailleur is a pile of bits.  It takes me half an hour to free the wheel (thankfully no spokes are broken).   I look at the junk pile with a blend of disbelief and shock.  The next bike shop is 80 km away in Christchurch (off my intended route) and its an unusual part to have in stock.

So, nothing to be done but phone ahead to bike shops, hitch a lift and get to CHristchurch.   I am picked up by a very friendly Italian chap who is doing a walking tour of New Zealand and is heading to Christchurch.   He drops me off at a bike shop where I have pre-arranged to have the bike fixed.   I get oil all over his hire car, but as recompense I manage to recommend he visits the Banks Peninsula as he has a day to spare.

Next day the bike is (sort of) fixed, or at least mobile.  A new derailleur, not quite the right one but it will do.   I can access enough gears (the low ones) to get me round the rest of New Zealand.   In a land of hills and mountain passes, the loss of the big gear is of little concern.  I stay at the Christchurch top 10 and drink a very nice glass or two of Merlot.

 

20th Christchurch to Mt Somers.

I decide to try and pick up the inland scenic highway rather than do the busy section of SH1 south of Christchurch.   I don’t entirely succeed in this, but it is a very pleasant days cycling on the straightest bit of road I have every had the pleasure of cycling on – the so called Jackson Track.  It is 50 km through the Canterbury plains to a very pleasant camp site at Mt Somers – a satisfying 130 km of cycling – I arrive just as it is going dark.   The last bit is uphill and into headwind so I am glad (once again) that the local pub is open and serves massive portions of food and good beer.   I pitch my tent next to a U.S. couple (generally Americans would start chatting immediately) but unusually they want nothing to do with me.  It might be that I was f**ting in the night or snoring or something.

 

21st Mt Somers to Fairlie 96 km

The new day dawns.  I have a bit of work to do (the only bit I can’t get out of during my absence).   I have a set of power point slides to do for a skype meeting that evening night.   THese are rattled off before 11 am and I am on the road (again).

I have a fantastic tail wind and the miles fly by for the first half of the route.   I press on to Geraldine, on the way stopping for a pleasant cake break with a German tourer who is heading the other way.   He is complaining about headwinds.  I generally complain about headwinds.   I notice that he has a rohloff hub.  I ask him about it – he loves it and it gives him a good gear range.   We talk about the approach to the Crown Range crossing between Wanaka and QUeenstown – the highest pass in New Zealand.  THis is tomorrow task at the time of writing.  I must save up for a Rohloff and ditch these clanky oily gears.  Its pretty hot by this time (33 degrees), but its better to be moving so I press on to Farlie.  THere is a lot of climbing but I am rewarded by spectacular views, with first glimpses of the Southern Alps proper.   Once in Fairlie I search in vain for the Top 10 campsite.  It has rebranded itself but is lovely to stay on.   This is where I first meet Anton – a Belgian who has just started a cycle tour – he is young and is travelling light, having not yet seen the delights of carrying a kitchen sink with him everywhere he goes.   We meet up again in Wanaka, where I catch up with him despite his youth.   I try to emulate him and throw out everything I haven’t worn on tour up to that point.

 

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Week 2 – Rotorua to Wellington, then onto the South Island

Folks – devoted non-fans etc etc,

Here is a quick summary of week 2 – apologies for the delay – its proving difficult to find the time to charge devices and spend time on the internet, get the miles in etc etc.

Where was I?

This is the week where I more or less break the 1000 km barrier

 

I started off at Rotorua, on a Top 10 campsite (the best ones generally in NZ), where I met a fellow crazy Brit called Rob.  Rob was also cycle touring  with a converted mountain bike, 2 panniers and a RUCKSACK???  How can he cycle with a great big rucksack strapped to his back?

He looked like a lobster, despite the suncream he had been applying.  We both intended to cycle to Taupo the next day – some 80 or 90 kms away.  This involved one major climb of a few hundred metres and a long cruise on some flat (hurray – flat!!!) terrain into Taupo – scene of one of the worlds biggest ever volcano eruptions.  This has left a huge lake of some 60 kms across.  When it last erupted in Roman times, 1800 years ago, it blacked out the sky in the northern hemisphere apparently (according to a well informed source at Mt Doom).

Anyway, it was a great days cycling.  The uphill bit was out of the way first and I had a tailwind and a flat road all the way to Taupo.  A few minorish ups and downs near the end.

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Very little of note happened in Taupo apart from having a generally good time, meeting up with Rob, who arrived just after me.  I bought a couple of (large) beers, which was a mistake as I was camped a long way from the facilities and it involved a trudge in the night.  I’ve since switched to what I know best – red wine, particularly merlot (the Pinot Noir round here is nice, but watery)….

 

The following day was a rest day (driven by the forecast – it predicted rain).  It turned out to be pretty good so I mooched around town, went to the bike shop to get my bike checked over like you do, eat some cake and then decided on visiting Hukka falls.   This is the local tourist attraction.  It is an impressive sight, where the 60 km long Lake Taupo tries to empty itself through a channel a few metres wide.  When I get better at wordpress, I’ll embed a carefully recorded video.

 

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Next day (whatever that day is).

Taupo to Mt Doom (Tongariro National Park)

There is a fabulous World Heritage site (one of many in NZ) just south of Lake Taupo, the Tongariro area.   It’s main attractions are several volcanoes, still giving out steam, a bleak landscape and a complete feeling of being remote.  I was determined to camp at Mt Doom next day.  The kind lady (young girl) in the Taupo ISite told me of an excellent campsite right at the base of the mountain/volcano.  Again I was late setting off.  Rob set off before me with his mountain bike and rucksack.  He suffers in the heat and with hills, so I caught him at the south end of the lake.  He never made it to Mt Doom – I hope he is OK.

The first half of the ride was brilliant – swooping down SH1, sometimes with a tailwind – made it to the end of the lake by lunchtime.   Only one major hill to climb on the way.  Then it started – through remote forests and lakes in blistering heat, uphill all the way to Mt Doom.  Of course, all the things we take for granted in the UK (water, food) were entirely lacking in the wilderness.  My 4.5 litres of water were getting depleted – I kept applying sunscreen to stop my leathery skin getting a further bashing and I kept on cycling up hill (2000 meters) into a headwind.    I stopped to chat to a kind man who was picking litter up off the side of the road (did I mention that you never see litter on NZ roads – why is this?  why can’t we do the same in the UK?  Because we’re crap and have the Tories in charge who run down everything apart from champagne mountains).  He said that the road to Mt Doom was further uphill and I should pick an easier place to camp.  He was talking to the wrong person.  Up the hill I went, right up to the snowline (which is very high in summer) and found a fabulous campsite.  I arrived just in time to pitch my tent as the sun was setting, grab a mega pizza from the only place open (and a beer and a glass of wine) and chat to the inevitable young  English couple staying in the tent next door.  NO sign of poor Rob.  It took me more than 10 hours on the bike to get there, but it was a major highlight of my time in NZ.

Next morning, after sleeping the sleep of the slightly unjust, I chatted to a very nice chap in charge of the camp, paid my dues (I was late and the office was closed) and was off.  The chap in charge of the office (must think of a shorter title) also ran a small film venture and had worked on the Lord of the Rings films down in Wellington.  He knew Andy Serkis (Gollum) and others.

 

 

Next day.  Day something or other.

I decided to miss out the bit between Mt Doom and Wellington as I want to get onto the South Island (why?  Its raining here all the time), so I hop on the train to Wellington, which starts from a place called National Park (as it would).

 

The journey down is extremely scenic, as is everywhere in NZ.  On the train, I meet a couple of other cyclists who are riding round NZ on a tandem.   We try and find a hotel at the end of the day as it is so late, it isn’t possible to go to a campsite.  I have to keep shouting at them to keep to the left hand side of the road while they are cycling (I hope they are still alive).   Still,they have skills in navigation thanks to their smartphone (I’m from yorkshire and therefore too tight to pay for these things), so  we find a great hotel at a good price and I have somewhere to kip for the night.

The day after the next day.  Wellington to Blenheim by ferry and bike

This is an easy day.  I meet yet another young English couple touring round NZ on bikes.  They ask for lots of tips on how to tour.  I don’t have the heart to tell them that this is only my second tour.  But, they are obviously in need of help etc and they seek advice for the duration of the crossing to Picton (or some of it – I fall asleep for the last bit).  They are from Henley, nice  but dreadfully posh.  I tell them of the Top 10 campsite in Blenheim, which is a good place to stay.

I have a very relaxing afternoon and evening in Blenheim.  I meet a lovely couple from Dunedin (Lynley and Myles) and their two young sons.  They invite me to stay if I am in the Dunedin area.   NZ people are the friendliest I have come across, which is one of the reasons it is one of the best destinations in the world to visit.

Next morning as I am leaving for my epic cycle down to Kaikoura I meet the young English couple  – bleary eyed – they have been on an even more epic wine tasting session ’till 3 in the morning so will stay in Blenheim for an extra day.  Why not?   They are staying in one of the lodges.  I made do with a tent (did I say i’m from Yorkshire?).   Something wrong there.  So, once again, I have been let down by the youngsters so I set off by myself for the 130 km ride to Kaikoura.   I opt for the east coast as it is generally dryer than the west coast (but not today).

 

Day after the day after the next day (Sat 16th I think).

I’m determined to press on to south of Christchurch, where my favourite part of NZ is.  THe west coast is dramatic, it has lots of rainforest and mountains, but it has LOTS OF RAIN TOO.  I prefer the arid desert regions of Otago, lake Tekapo, Queenstown, Wanaka etc etc. I see enough greenery in the UK.  So, I set off from Blenheim, past very famous vineyards such as Bancroft and other Cloudy Bay companies and over the first mountain range of the day.   Again, its a lumpy affair, but I’m used to that by now.   My legs are getting stronger.   I power down to Kaikoura, ignoring all the heavy lorries and logging trucks (it is State Highway 1) till I meet the sea.  Thereafter it is a pleasant, if wet, cycle past seal colonies, penguin colonies, stunning vistas ’till I reach Kaikoura.  A lengthy 9 hours on the bike sees me roll up at Kaikoura at 7 pm, having left Blenheim at 10 am (I had to stop for breakfast).  A sign of getting stronger is that I sprint down the last few KM, head down, to get a better average speed.  I could have gone on.

The rain stops as I arrive in Kaikoura.

 

1st week

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.

P1000095New 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).

https://www.strava.com/activities/463131484/embed/84b72d324d06390399b566926f6ae7792d822429

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….

 

Day 2.

Miranda to Coromandel town

https://www.strava.com/activities/463131731/embed/2ac268772339149af85d71ba1d9c9daf4e4ff0c9

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).

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The evening view of Shelly Beach, from my tent

Day 3 

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

https://www.strava.com/activities/464111007/embed/93326989c68a9d06ae7c453355efca97ddf5d211

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.

 

 

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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).

 

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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 🙂

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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.

 

 

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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.P1000240.JPG

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.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

December – getting ready for New Zealand

Good morning,

On January 1st I will be a) part time (and therefore free from working all the time) and b) flying out to New Zealand to start a 5 week cycle tour of both islands.  I’ve wanted to do this for 10 years now – ever since meeting a very happy chap who had taken early retirement, was on his touring bike and grinning stupidly at the top of one of the mountain passes on the Coromandel Peninsula.

My turn now.

I’m taking my specially built Genesis Tour de Fer bike with me, and land in Auckland on the 2nd January.  The idea then is to catch the ferry to the Coromandel and start my journey from there.

A rough plan:

Cycle the Coromandel peninsula, down the East Coast to Rotorua and Lake Taupo (or maybe via Hastings – can’t decide yet), work my way to Wellington.