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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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?
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.
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.
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.
Finally we got to the real summit. Helluva view.
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.
After a rest and (the previously related) conversation with the ranger in Fletcher Bay, we rode the remaining 60km to Coromandel Township.
The road along the coastline to Colville was lovely, one of the most spectacular rides I’ve ever been on.
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.
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.
More pictures here