The Cheese Run

It was sunny in Pukekohe when we got off the train. Sunny and cold. Cold enough to put a layer of ice crystals on the handrails at the station, and for puddles to have frozen over. As Emilio and I rode off in the direction of Tuakau, I could hear him shivering behind me and cursing his own foolishness in not bringing any gloves. I wasn’t quite so cold inside my Buffalo jacket, but still keen to get moving and warm up a bit.
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The road to Tuakau is a little too busy on a Saturday morning, but as soon as we got over the bridge, things were quieter. And mistier, and more mysterious and beautiful.
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There was no wind and mist was sitting like polyester fill over the countryside.
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We rode up the hill and then down another hill and across the river to Mercer. To the cheese shop. While we coasted down, the fog condensed in to droplets on my eyelashes.
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The Mercer cheese shop is my favourite cheese shop. I like the modest signage, the obscure location, the honest staff (sample conversation – me: “Is the wasabi cheese nice?”, staff member: “Not really.”) and of course, the excellent cheese. As the character Della says in the TV series ‘Raised By Wolves’ – “In my book, if you can’t handle cheese, you can’t handle life.”
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With the cheese purchased and stuffed in to my front bag, we went for a little ride down the road next to the river. I love the way the landscape looks in fog – things in the distance disappear, and things close up look like they’ve been clear cut. We saw some horses.
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Some toilets made from concrete watertanks, marked “Wahine” and “Tane” looked beautiful.
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So did this hill with a tall flagpole/cross on it.
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Then we rode up and over the highway toward Maramarua. The road rose took us out of the mist and the sun first pushed through gaps in the trees and then came out completely.
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It was a lovely day for riding up the Paparimu valley, through the Hunuas and on to Papakura. Where we caught the train back to town.P7020103.jpgAnd what kind of cheese did I buy? Mature Gouda, Nettle, and Goat Supreme. All of which were brilliant.P7020106.jpgRoute here.
More pictures here.

Coromandel, the Hard Way

It was early on the Sunday afternoon of Queen’s Birthday weekend, and Guy & I were chatting with the local park ranger at Fletcher Bay. We were lying on the grass congratulating ourselves on completing a ridiculously difficult section of our weekend tour and feeding bits of apple to some ducks.
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Ranger – So where have you ridden from?
Us – Stony Bay.
Ranger – Yeah that track’s pretty hard.
Us – Well it’s a big hill.
Ranger – Hill? You took the walking track didn’t you?
Us – No, the the mountain bike track.
Ranger – The mountain bike track? What, over the hill?
Us – Yes.
Ranger – Really? You rode over the hill?
Us – Yes.
Ranger – Oh, um, we always tell people not to go up there. It’s too hard. We tell them to take the walking track.
Us – It is quite hard. You should tell the people who look after the Stony Bay campground, they’ve got a sign up telling people on bikes that they have to take the mountain bike track.
Ranger – Oh… Ok… I’ll have a word with them.
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This whole thing had started when I was talking to Guy at a Sunday afternoon shift at Tumeke Cycle Space. He asked if I was keen to go for a ride around the Coromandel Peninsula. I said I was keen. He said that it would probably be quite hard, because there would be several thousand meters of climbing. I said that would be fine. So I bought a sleeping bag, borrowed a tent, packed my stuff on to the Space Horse and cycled over to Guy’s house early on Saturday morning. The drive down to Coromandel Township was beautiful. I’m always reluctant to get up early, but it’s always worth it. There was plenty of mist covering parts of Auckland, the sun came out as we sped over the Bombay Hills, and the mist returned as we descended toward the Hauraki Plains. It was freezing, even the cows looked cold.
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After getting our bikes loaded up, our first challenge was to get over the Coromandel ranges between Coromandel Township and Kennedy Bay. This wasn’t too hard, despite our bikes being fairly heavy. But we established as we coasted down to Kennedy Bay that I’m a much more timid descender than Guy. I could blame the narrower tyres on my bike, but I don’t think I will.
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Kennedy Bay was very quiet – a few houses, one dog, no people and nice marae. There was very little traffic around as we headed North toward Stony Bay. Not surprising really as the quality of the ‘road’ deteriorated significantly. Sometimes we would pass through a bay with some houses and tar-seal, but then the gravel would return and the size of the rocks making up the gravel would increase.
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The hills were pretty steep too. So it was a relief to arrive in Stony Bay  at about 5 in the afternoon. It’s a beautiful place with a big campground. I pitched my tent, Guy set up his hammock, and we ate our dinner on the stone & driftwood covered beach.
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I woke up just before dawn on Sunday morning and wandered down to the beach. It was nice. Then Guy fell down a bank and met me on the beach for breakfast. It was pretty cold, but not cold enough to deter some backpackers from going swimming and taking pictures of each other. I wonder what the hashtags were? #nothypothermia? #shivveringissexy?
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It was about 10am by the time we packed up and got on our bikes. There is a walking track that goes from Stony Bay to Fletcher Bay via a fairly flat route around the coast. There is also a designated mountain bike track that takes a different route (over the top of a 500m hill). There’s a DOC sign at the start of the walking track saying that people on bikes should take the MTB track. So we did.
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The track started somewhat inauspiciously with a couple of rivers to ford. Then it went uphill a bit. Then it went uphill a lot. In fact it wasn’t long before the track was stretching ahead of us like a big clay ski jump.
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Parts of it were as rideable as a ski jump too. So we walked. And rode, and walked. It was all very difficult. Finally we made it to the top, and stopped for something to eat. When we continued riding, it became clear that we were still some distance from the top. Which was very disappointing.
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Finally we got to the real summit. Helluva view.
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Descending to Fletcher Bay wasn’t quite as fun for me as it was for Guy. He immediately tore off downhill, brakes squeaking loudly enough for me to keep track of him (and frighten the sheep). While I went much more carefully, even (ahem) walking at times.
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After a rest and (the previously related) conversation with the ranger in Fletcher Bay, we rode the remaining 60km to Coromandel Township.
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The road along the coastline to Colville was lovely, one of the most spectacular rides I’ve ever been on.
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The last 25km or so was hard – we were tired, it was cold, it was dark. Guy actually whooped when we arrived in Coromandel at about 7:30pm. Fair enough I thought.
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Would I recommend this ride to other people? Not really. The section from Coromandel to Stony Bay was nice but hilly, the section from Fletcher Bay back to Coromandel was lovely. The mountain bike track from Stony Bay to Fletcher Bay? No, I wouldn’t do that again. Not with a bike. I reckon it would be nice to ride up the Western coast, camp at Fletcher Bay, walk over to Stony Bay and back. And then cycle back the same way. I might do that one day.

Route here

More pictures here

Papakura to Miranda

As I may have mentioned before, I’m not really a summer person. Hot weather makes me whiny and listless. Occasionally I venture out on my bike, but such outings often end in humiliation thanks to my tendency to sweat a lot. Witness a recent ride out to The Trusts Stadium in Henderson on a sunny afternoon – upon my arrival an acquaintance asked if it was raining outside (because I was all wet). It wasn’t. But when autumn was rumored to have begun, it seemed like a good time to go for a long ride. Somewhere new perhaps – how about Papakura to Miranda & back?
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I duly caught the train to Papakura early on a Saturday morning and rode off in the direction of the Hunua Ranges. It was a beautiful morning. The sun slowly rising in to a clear blue sky, mist nestling in the valley, magpies were quardle oodle ardle wardle doodling all around. All this peace was regularly shattered by trucks bellowing their way up to the Hunua Quarry. Once I got past the quarry the road was quieter, and it was a pleasant ride up to the top of the Hunuas and down though the Paparimu valley.
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There was some confusion and riding in circles when I reached Lyons Rd, because the route I had planned on Ride with GPS told me to go straight ahead. But in the real world there’s no actual road there. It wasn’t a huge deal, but although I’ve heard of theses GPS-type issues, I’d never come across one before.
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The old highway from Mangatawhiri had more traffic on, but it also had a wider shoulder. From Rawiri to Miranda the road was fairly quiet, although at least half the cars I saw were on some kind of rally. I think it was a rally for cars from the 70s & 80s that had been fitted loud exhausts and lots of stickers. I finally made it to the coast and the Shore Bird Centre about 11:30am. I spent a few minutes wandering around looking at stuffed birds (those Caspian Terns are big aren’t they?) before embarking on the return journey.
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By this stage I had realised that all this had been a huge mistake. This wasn’t autumn, it was still summer and I was like a snowball in hell. Or like a person who was too hot and far from home in the midday sun. Also I was quite tired. So I pulled in to the Miranda Farm Stop for a rest and some things to eat & drink. It seemed like a good strategy would be to take the return journey in stages – ride for a bit, sit down in the shade drinking for a bit. Repeat. I discovered that schools are handy places when you’re out on the road. They have shade, shelter and drinking fountains.
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In this way I rode back to Mangatawhiri and up the Paparimu valley, all the way to the top of the Hunuas. I stopped there to drink ginger beer and talk to the woman who runs the shop, who told me that she also breeds goats. I also chatted to a woman from Kaiaua outside the shop. She corrected me when I said I had cycled out to the Miranda Shore Bird Centre – “It’s now called The Pokorokoro Miranda Shorebird Centre” she said. And so it is. She also the listed the attractions that Kaiaua has to offer the passing cyclist. A campground, dairy, garage, and a fish & chip shop. I remembered visiting that fish & chip shop about 25 years ago. The food was good, but parked outside was a ute loaded with a couple of dead and bloody wild pigs.
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Coasting down the Papakura side of the Hunuas in the late afternoon was a pleasant relief from all the uphill, and I had a little rest at the railway station before catching the 6pm train home. On the whole, I thought the roads were ok – not too much traffic and with some nice scenery. The only unpleasant incident on the ride was when a white cabbage butterfly smacked me right in the face on the ride back. Fortunately I was wearing a proctective beard which saved me from serious injury. Imagine if it had been monarch (butterfly)!

Route here.

The Twin Streams to Hendo

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Recently, my fellow cyclist Emilio and I went for a Thursday evening ride along the Twin Streams Shared Path. I can’t really handle hot weather so I suggested that we go after the 5:30-7pm Tumeke shift, hoping it would be cooler then. When we met at the workshop, there was an ominously dark cloud bank looming out west, and light showers were wandering through Newton. It was still pretty warm though, and much too humid.
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First, we rode along the Western Cycleway out to the Te Atatu interchange, then along Royal View Road to the Eastern end of the Twin Streams Trail. The WS is looking pretty good these days apart from the detour around Western Springs that’s been there so long it’s a Strava segment (called ‘Leightons Annoyance’, for some reason).
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We were chatting the whole way, the kind of things men usually talk about when they get together – the Argentinian economy, awful bosses, how yoga classes in Auckland are way too expensive, Emilio’s father-in-law and his infuriating search for a flowering Pohutakawa tree, how I learned to really like birds,  and my friend’s dodgy Peruvian ex-boyfriend. For this reason we were riding pretty slowly and by the time we got to Henderson it was dark, and we missed a turn off. We ended up off the Twin Streams and halfway up Henderson Valley Road. So we gave up and rode back (getting lost several times on the way).
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I rode back out there the next evening by myself, and made it all the way to  the end of the trail at Palm Heights while it was still light, and took some pictures. I thought it was a very nice ride – pleasant scenery, very flat, not too busy (at least in the evening). Would definitely ride again, perhaps with more people and a picnic.
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More pictures here.

Route here.

Monsieur Peugeot

Do you wish your bikes could talk? I don’t. I’m pretty sure that if they could, mine would just complain. About the parts I’ve taken off them, the bits I’ve put on that they weren’t designed for and the fact that I hardly ever wash them. Take M. Peugeot for instance… I bought him a few years ago from a woman in Hamilton who I suspect had never ridden him, but perhaps found him in a shed. I think I paid about $150 after being the only bidder on TradeMe. He looked like this.
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Despite his sad state, he had clearly been owned by an enthusiast at some point. The Brooks saddle did not accompany him out of the Peugeot factory in the mid seventies and nor, I suspect, did the nice SunTour VX front & rear deraileurs or the Sugino Super Maxy crankset. When I first fixed him up, I just put on some new tyres, cables, moustache handlebars and brake levers. Compared to my other bikes he was fast, smooth and long-legged. A bit of a tourer. We rode around the city, and he was my assistant for my first Velociteer performance. Then I came across some genuine Peugeot mudguards, put those on, attached a dynamo to power the  beautiful front light, and changed the shifters to bar-ends.
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These modifications made him more practical, but he was a bit awkaward to ride – mostly thanks to that crankset with it’s stupid huge 53T outer ring. After converting the Roadrat in to a semi-offroad touring thing, I needed a bicycle that was better suited to riding to work. So I bought a bunch of parts and made M. Peugeot in to an ancient-looking but with some actually-very-modern components, commuting/general purpose bike.
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He was fitted with a dynamo front hub, powering front & rear LED lights, a nice 48/34 PlanetX crankset, Tektro Dual Pivot caliper brakes and Grand Bois handlebars. In this guise we took a trip down to Raglan, as well as hundreds of trips to & from work.
The latest change was from carrying stuff on the back to, to carrying stuff on the front. I bought a Soma Porteur rack, changed the handlebars to a pair of Salsa Cowbells, and put a Chrome Front Rack Duffel on.
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This weird combination of an old frame, with a bunch of mismatched new parts, has worked really well for the last year or so. The mudguards mean that wet roads don’t bother me, I prefer the front loading, the dynamo lighting system is lovely, and the whole deal has been very reliable. There’s just one little problem. The frame is too big. Bicycle sizing has never been my strong point, but when I first got the Spacehorse, it felt too small. After lots of riding I have come to realise that it’s the right size and the Peugeot is too big. Every time I ride him now, I feel like I’m climbing up on to this huge machine. So there’s a change a-coming…

More pictures here.

Conversations with Auckland Motorists #2

The scene: 3:30pm on a warm Thursday afternoon, I’m cycling down Carlton Gore Rd towards Newmarket. I’m approaching the intersection with Davis Crescent and I intend to turn right. I look behind, there’s a car but it’s some distance away, so I indicate by putting my right arm out to the side and start to move to the right. The car fails to slow down and breezes past me, very close. I look up, and through the back window I can see that the driver is looking down and to the left. When the motorist stops at the intersection I ride up next to him and look in the window, he’s doing something with his cellphone. I knock on the window, he rolls it down.

Me: You might want to look at the road instead of at your phone.

The Motorist: What’s it to you?

Me: You nearly ran me over back there.

The Motorist: Well… were you indicating?

Me (while riding away): Yes, which you would have seen if you WEREN’T LOOKING AT YOUR PHONE.

Conversations with Auckland Motorists #1

The scene: an unspectacular Tuesday morning, I’m cycling to work heading west along K’Rd. I’m approaching the intersection with Ponsonby Rd, so I enter the right turn bay intending to turn right. A car coming in the opposite direction crosses the centreline and heads directly towards me. I stop and motion to the right, waving my hand to indicate to the driver that he should get back on his side of the road. The car stops, the driver waves at me to get out of the way.

Me (looking non-plussed): You’re on the wrong side of the road, the centre line’s over there.

The motorist (motions me again to move out of the way):

Me (still non-plussed): FUCK YOU, YOU’RE ON THE WRONG SIDE OF THE ROAD.

The motorist (winds down his window so I ride up next to the car): Fuckwit.

The motorist then drives off.

Waikaraka to Ihumatao

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Come with me now, on a journey through time and space. Or more specifically, a super-fantastic ride through a beautiful part of Auckland. For the full experience, make your way (preferably by bike) to Hugo Johnston Drive in Penrose. Being a predominantly industrial area, the traffic is pretty gruesome during the week, but it’s fairly quiet evenings and weekends. If you want to travel there in a stylish new electric vehicle – the nearest railway station is Penrose. You could also ride there via Cornwall Park (as I usually do).
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At the end of Hugo Johnston Drive is factory. It was built to manufacture teen vampire fiction. But since the demand has now moved to dystopian future romance novels, or anything written, read or even sounding like John Green, this factory is about to be mothballed. To the right of it is the entrance to the cycleway. Don’t worry if you see lost or furtive looking individuals wandering around, they’re probably just buying & selling drugs, or dogging. Or doing something else that is perfectly innocent. Pretend you haven’t seen them and follow the path.
P6210060.jpgWelcome to the Waikaraka Cycleway – let it be your guide to the wonders of the Mangere waterfront. Sights like…
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One of the Ports of Auckland’s other container storage facilities.
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The building where the Auckland City Council stores crashed UFOs and performs alien autopsies.
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The lovely Manukau Harbour.
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Did you ever wonder what happened to all the beautiful historic buildings that were knocked down during the 1980s Ugly Glass Tower Building Boom? Well here they are being carefully stored for future archaeologists to sift through and wonder what the fuck people were thinking.
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I think this used to be His Majesty’s Theatre.
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The Lovely New Mangere Bridge.
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After you ride under the New Mangere Bridge, hang a left and ride over the Old Mangere Bridge. This is a very popular fishing spot, and apparently seals are seen here occasionally (when they are released from their contractual obligations to promote Papakura car washes). Over the bridge, turn right on to Kiwi Esplanade. This is a pleasant road that follows the waterfront, and will take you all the way Ambury Park. If you ride along there on a Saturday or Sunday morning you may be lucky enough to see flocks of brightly coloured roadies. At the end of the road, go through the gate and follow the gravel.
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In Ambury park you will find pukekos, sheep, Clydesdale horses, chickens, rabbits (both wild and domesticated) and small children (both wild and domesticated). After pausing here to admire the forbearance of the animals, you can go through the two gates, turn left and ride south to explore the coastal wonderland (that will start to smell like poo after a kilometre or so).
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You can ride around the Mangere Basin, and all the way out to Puketutu Island. In fact I encourage you to ride out to Puketutu Island – it is beautiful and quiet. There are tracks that run halfway around each side of the island, both sides are worth exploring.
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There is also a track that goes around to Oruarangi Rd and the carpark next to the wharf. Be aware that these tracks are shared with people walking, so be nice to any you come across. Once I was trapped giving way to a large group or tired & sweaty teenagers who kept asking me if “the bus” was nearby. I told them it was just around the corner. And it may well have been.
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I usually ride to the Oruarangi Rd wharf and then along a track leading through the Otuataua Stonefields.
P6210164.jpgFrom there I cut across a field (where there are sometimes actual cows) to meet up with the end of Ihumatao Quarry Road, and then back to Mangere on sealed roads.
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I’m honestly a little reluctant to share this ride, I’m afraid that if too many people use it then I won’t be able to enjoy my selfish solitude. But recently I’ve seen a (ludicrous) proposal to stick a motorway through the Mangere waterfront, and there’s a plan to put 500 townhouses at Ihumatao. So maybe we should all just go and enjoy the place now, before it’s all ruined. P7250530.jpg

Route here that will take you on a loop starting & finishing in Newmarket.

To Helensville & Back

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“It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a man in possession of a good touring bike and a set of panniers, must be in want of a tour.” to paraphrase Jane Austen.

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I don’t have much cycle touring experience. I’ve done a couple of overnight trips one 3 day tour, and I’m planning to do a 5 day ride soon. On all my rides to date, I had stayed in bricks & mortar accommodation. So I though it was time to try camping – it would save me some money, and give me more freedom to perhaps camp in other places should the need arise (like it did back in Omakau in February). It would also mean carrying more stuff.

I looked at various destinations around Auckland and chose Helensville. It’s only about 50km each way and there’s a camp ground (and a hot pool) in nearby Parakai. I was also somewhat familiar with the area having ridden the NW cycleway at least a million times, and out to Woodhill twice. The route was easy to plan, just ride all the way down the previously mentioned cycleway, through Swanson and then other people on The Internet had recommended taking the Old North Rd as a quieter alternative to highway 16.

When it came to packing the Space Horse on Sunday morning I was a little surprised to discover that my old sleeping bag weighed a thousand tonnes and took up an entire pannier. Must be the old-school insulation it contains (a mixture of mammoth hair and dodo feathers I believe). This excess weight was offset a little by my choice of svelte shelter – a Hennessey Hammock. Now I’d never actually slept in the hammock (despite owning it for a couple of years) so that was going to be interesting too.

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The ride out to Swanson was nice, it was a beautiful Sunday afternoon and the cycleway was looking different to the last time I rode it. I must ride out there about once every 3 weeks or so, and each time it changes. Sometimes it’s a new bridge, sometimes there’s a moved fence, other times a vast concrete flyover rising out of a swamp and across the sky, stopping abruptly in a tangle of steel rods hanging there like arteries in a severed limb.

Triangle Rd seemed to take forever to traverse and it was a relief to finally get “out in the country” in Taupaki. The roads and the scenery on the way to Helensville were nice enough, but there was too much traffic for me. Like I didn’t have the road to myself for more than 30 seconds at a stretch. I coasted down the last hill and then along a short stretch of highway to Parakai, in the middle of the afternoon.

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I was the only one camping at the campground but there were a bunch of caravans, some of which looked pretty permanent. There were also quite a lot of cats around. I set up the hammock (all wrong). Then I set it up again (a bit better). Before darkness fell, I rode down to the (very friendly) Grand Hotel for a drink and after it got dark, I had a (very nice) dinner at The Curry Leaf restaurant. Full of food & drink I cycled back to Parakai and my hammock. Which turned out to be quite comfortable, except that getting in to a sleeping bag in a hammock is actually really hard. And don’t even ask about getting up in the middle of the night to pee.

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When I woke up on Monday morning, I was surprised at how much traffic noise there was, but the mist over the estuary was quite beautiful, and I had a nice chat to a guy who was smoking a cigarette in between mowing lawns.

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Riding back to Auckland was very much like the ride out there, but with more donkeys.

Route here

Stoney Battered

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I had some fascinating yet secret business to conduct on Waiheke Island the other day and I thought it would be nice to go for a ride down to Stoney Batter while I was over there. I used to live on Waiheke years ago, and I had walked the road to Stoney Batter once. I remembered it being a long walk on a hot day. Back in those days, if you wanted to go there you pretty much had to walk it, because the local land owner had dumped a huge mound of earth in the middle of the road to stop people driving down it. The mound remained there for a few years making lots of other Waiheke residents quite angry, until a pitchfork-wielding mob bulldozed it away. Or the local council did, I can’t remember which.
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The ferry trip over was nice, and so was the ride down to Onetangi. The hill up behind Onetangi seemed like hard work, so I stopped at the top to have a drink and eat the extraordinarily expensive vegetable pie I had purchased from a cafe in Oneroa. The view was lovely from up there and it reminded me of time spent lying in the grass and talking to friends up here, back when I lived nearby.
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My new bike is an All-City Space Horse frame, built up with various components, some of which I transferred from the Off-Roadrat, and some purchased specially. Why a new bike? Because I want to do more touring, and although the Off-Roadrat had done a fine job carrying me to some out of the way places, it wasn’t quite right. Mostly, it was the wrong size. A little too long in the top tube, which made the handlebars too far away, even with a really short stem. It was also not really stiff enough to carry much of a load. The steel which was pleasantly springy unladen, became a bit wobbly with a few bags on (especially the front). I was sold on the Space Horse when I saw this one. It could take fat tyres and a front load – awesome. I found a frame at Human Powered Cycles in Melbourne, bought it over the phone, and my friend Steve happened to be visiting NZ and was kind enough to bring it over with him. After finishing building it up, I’d done a few rides around town, but this was my first real outing and I wanted to see if I had everything set up properly.
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From the top of the hill, the route wound mostly down before turning left on to Man O’War Bay Road. The first few kilometers of this gravel road were untiringly flat, but then the hills started, and then continued all the rest of the way. Friends of mine had warned me about the chronic washboarding on the road – they were right, it’s pretty bad at times. I had to stop about halfway there, to adjust the front derailleur so that it would shift the chain to the inner ring. Somehow I had failed to check that when I put it on.
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After finally making it to Stoney Batter, I wandered around for a bit, looked at the small concrete building surrounded by broken plastic chairs, mops and other detritus that was labelled something like “Visitors Centre” and was menaced by a sheep.
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Riding back down that gravel road was much easier (which confused me at the time, but made sense when I looked at the elevation profile later). Although I did have to stop once to fix up my handlebars which had slipped round to face downward after one severe section of downhill washboarding.
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Now, I don’t think I cut an exceptionally athletic figure when I’m out riding – not so much greyhound, more old spaniel. But at one stage during my return journey, when I was slogging up a long hill toward Onetangi, a guy leaned out the window of a passing car and yelled at me – “You can do it! You’re nearly there! Good on you maaate!”. What? I thought. Of course I can make it – I do this all the time – dammit.
P3300025.jpgOn my way back through the habited part of The Island, I stopped at the Waiheke skateboard park and had a quintessential Waiheke encounter – a couple of the local youth were trying to light a joint on the gas-powered public barbeque. They weren’t successful and asked if I happened to have a lighter on me.

The Bike performed well, and I just need to tweak a few things like the front brake & the saddle to make it ready for a new trip I have in mind.

Route here http://ridewithgps.com/trips/4310540

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