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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