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?
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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)!
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.
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).
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).
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.
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).
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. Welcome to the Waikaraka Cycleway – let it be your guide to the wonders of the Mangere waterfront. Sights like…
One of the Ports of Auckland’s other container storage facilities.
The building where the Auckland City Council stores crashed UFOs and performs alien autopsies.
The lovely Manukau Harbour.
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.
I think this used to be His Majesty’s Theatre.
The Lovely New Mangere Bridge.
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.
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).
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.
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.
I usually ride to the Oruarangi Rd wharf and then along a track leading through the Otuataua Stonefields. From 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.
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.
Route here that will take you on a loop starting & finishing in Newmarket.
“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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Riding back to Auckland was very much like the ride out there, but with more donkeys.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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. On 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.
I woke up cold, at about 4am on a bench outside the front door of the Omakau Hotel. My feet were especially frozen so I went for a little walk to try to warm them up. It didn’t really work, and when I got back to the bench, I dug my Buffalo jacket out of my pannier and put it on. I was still cold as I lay back down and failed to get back to sleep. After another hour or so, the door opened and a guy walked out. “Er, morning” I said. “Morning” he replied as he walked past. When he came back a couple of minutes later, I asked if he worked at the hotel. He didn’t – he was just a guest. I was confused about what to do – I couldn’t check in or go to a room, so I just went in to the lobby and stood by the heater I found there. Another guy came down the stairs, we said “good morning” and he walked through the lobby and around a corner to somewhere else. I guessed that it was the breakfast room, because I could hear the two men talking and the sounds of toast being eaten and tea drunk. I also heard them talking about me (assuming I was “that c*nt lying outside the front door”). I hoped that someone who worked out the hotel would come along so I could check in, have breakfast and have a shower. But no one did. After a little while the two guys left and I wandered in to the breakfast room. I stood around wondering what to do – should I wait? Should I give up on staying here? I had stopped shivering by this point, so I walked outside and across the road to the dairy. It was getting light now, as I chatted to the woman behind the counter and bought a cup of coffee. While I drank the coffee I decided that there was now no point in checking in to the hotel, and I might as well just get going. So I packed up the Off-Roadrat and pedaled off down the Otago Rail Trail.
It was another beautiful morning and I was alone on the trail. I stopped in Lauder to have an excellent breakfast and chat to the proprietor. My plan had been to ride to Middlemarch and stay the night in a Bed and Breakfast, but as the day progressed I started to wonder if I really wanted to do that. Because, well, I wasn’t really enjoying myself. The trail was lovely, but my arse hurt and I just wanted to have a rest. What am I proving, and who to? I thought. I arrived in Ranfurly at 3pm, had a muffin and a cup of tea. I was about to head back on to the trail for the last 50km section to Middlemarch and I… I don’t know exactly what happened, I think I just imagined what it would be like to flag the last section, have a nice meal and stay the night here. And staying sounded more desirable than pushing on. So I did – I gave up.
The next day I caught a bus to Middlemarch and from there, the train to Dunedin.
I was awoken by what sounded like a hippo slipping over in the shower and falling down a flight of stairs, but when I peeped around my door a few minutes later, I couldn’t see any large animals or dents on the walls. Must have been something else. I was feeling pretty good, considering the fact that I RODE OVER SOME MOUNTAINS YESTERDAY, and I was keen to get going because today was likely to be quite hard – I was booked to stay tonight at the Omakau Hotel (about 100km away) and I would be following a route described in the Kennett Brothers book “Classic New Zealand Cycle Trails” as “adventurous”.
When I packed up the Off-Roadrat and started to push it down the driveway of the hostel where I’d spent the night, I noticed there was a rubbing sound coming from the rear of the bike. The rear wheel was slightly out of true. Fortunately, at the last minute when I was leaving Auckland, I had put a spoke key in my pocket – just in case. So I quickly trued the wheel and then rode off on the trails that would lead around the lake to Albert Town.
It was another beautiful day. I rode along a mountain bike trail that runs around the edge of Lake Wanaka and took me most of the way to Albert Town. I stopped at the dairy for a cup of coffee, but the coffee machine was broken (“again” apparently) so I had a nice cup of tea instead, sitting at a table outside watching a lot of nothing happening.
From there I rode down the road to the Clyde River trails. This took me (unsurprisingly) on a trail next to the Clyde River. It was, of course, lovely. The trail was good, the scenery spectacular and there were no people to spoil it. On the side of the trail about a quarter of the way along, I saw a dead hawk. It had it’s wings spread and it’s head to one side – it looked like a crashed, feathered aeroplane.
I saw a sign warning me of rabbit poison and “helicopter shooting”. I tried not to think about all the rabbits being silently poisoned all around me, and kept a look out for helicopters.
For lunch, I sat on a wooden bench donated by “The friends and family of Brian Thompson who loved this track.” I understand why – it’s a very scenic spot looking out over the river. I sat on Brian’s bench and ate left-over Indian food.
Eventually the trail ended and I continued along the highway, finding my way to, and then down the Luggate-Tarras Rd. This was fine to ride along – good surface and not much traffic. By the time I turned down Maori Point Rd I was starting to worry a bit about the amount of water I had brought along. I was getting thirsty and didn’t have much left to drink. Along that road were several vineyards with signs outside inviting passersby to come in and try their wine. I went in to a couple of these looking for water. But all I found were labradors.
It was at the end of Maori Point Rd that things went all wrong. I should have turned right on to the Tarras-Cromwell road and then left in to Ardgour Rd. Instead, I inexplicably turned left and blindly trundled off in the wrong direction. All this time I had a topo map sitting in front of me, under the transparent plastic on the top of my handlebar bag. I love topo maps. Not least because if you follow the curves and bends of the real road, on your map, it gives you the reassuring feeling that you’re going the right way. But I was starting to get the feeling I was going the wrong way. The map did not seem to match what I was seeing. Where was Ardgour Rd? And why did I keep seeing buses that said “Lindis Pass” on the front? Eventually I came to a tourist stop with a couple of shops, so I bought a few bottles of lemonade and asked if Thomsons Gorge Road was nearby. The directions I was given started with ‘go back the way you came’. So I rode back down the highway. After an hour or so, I started to get that feeling again. So I checked the map, I had gone right past the Ardgour Rd turnoff again and was heading toward Lake Dunstan. I couldn’t face going back again, but on the map I could see a shortcut. I just needed to ride down to a place called Bendigo, and then another road would take me across to meet Thomsons Gorge Rd, and save me retracing my steps again. OK.
Bendigo consisted of a dusty looking house and a sign put up by DOC describing the mining that used to go on there. I found the turn-off and rode (and then walked) up a really steep gravel road littered with used shotgun shells. Not a good start. From there it got worse. Sections of this “road” and been recently covered with deep coarse gravel that was almost impossible to ride on. There was another section that had been bisected with an electric fence and sheep were grazing on it. I lifted my bike over the first fence, but when I saw the incredibly steep hill just ahead, I gave up. Realising I would have to ride all the way back down this horrible road, through Bendigo, and back down the highway made me want to cry. But it seemed the sensible thing to do. So I did it.
Finally I made it to the elusive but perfectly nice-when-you-finally-get-there Ardgour Rd. This led through some pleasant countryside to a gate with a somewhat ominous sign next to it which read “Road Not Suitable for General Vehicles – Self Recovery Required”. I opened the gate and pushed my bike through. I was now on Thomsons Gorge Road. This led me through some amazing countryside, to the base of the Dunstan Range. And then the road started to go up. And then it continued to go up. At this point I started to worry a bit. I was only part (a quarter? a half?) of the way up and it was 4 in the afternoon. It seemed likely that it would get dark before I made it to Omakau. This wasn’t a total disaster – the Roadrat does have dynamo lights, so I would be able to see. But how was my clearly, kind of shit, navigation going to work in the dark? Would I even make it to Omakau?
I kept going. And it was hard, really hard. The road was steep and crappy, and I was really tired. I had to walk up the steepest bits. I also didn’t know where I was. The topo map showed so many bends that I was unable to work out where on the road I was. It was also getting cold. Eventually the sun went down and the wind came up.
I could still see the road in front of me, but I couldn’t read the map. I also had to keep stopping to open & close gates (the road crosses lots of land belonging to different people). At one point I was at an intersection wondering which fork to take, when I saw headlights coming towards me. It was a guy in a ute. I opened the gate for him and asked if I was on the right road to Omakau. He told me I was. I asked him how far away it was, he said “Oh, a wee way yet.” Yes, but how far? He thought maybe “10 or 15Ks?”. Then he drove off. I put on my puffy jacket & kept riding. By now the road was mostly heading down, which was lucky because I had almost run out of energy. I could only keep going by walking up the hills and pedalling gently on the flats & downhills. Then the road suddenly disappeared in front of me. So I stopped, wondering what the hell was going on. I walked forward a little and then lifted up the front wheel of my bike & spun it, so the light would come on. It seemed I had reached a river. I was confused – why would there be a river running across the road? Had I come the wrong way? I decided to keep going but to walk, pushing my bike in case the water was deep. It wasn’t deep, just cold. When I crossed the river a second time later on, I kept riding through it.
Finally I spotted a light in front of me, I rode towards it thinking it was a farmhouse – was it too late to knock on the door and ask for help? Then I got closer and realised it was just my light reflecting off another gate. I kept riding. Gradually I started to see real lights in the distance, the lights of a town perhaps? Maybe I was going to make it. The road levelled out, and then became sealed! I must be through the mountains! I got to an intersection with a sign – Railway Rd straight ahead. I remembered this from the map – Railway Rd leads straight in to Omakau – I was nearly there. The flat sealed road was luxurious to ride along, I felt a surge of energy and pedalled harder, maybe I would make it to the hotel before it closed. Omakau was promisingly quiet when I arrived. I found the hotel, and it was closed. I checked the time – it was 11:20pm. Oh. I knocked on the door a few times, but no one came. So I walked around the streets a bit to see if anything was open. Nothing. I was getting cold, and I was exhausted. So I walked back to the porch of the Omakau Hotel, put on my warmest clothes, and went to sleep on a bench outside.
I don’t know about you, but I always take a book with me on holiday. They are an excellent companion – providing entertainment, distraction, a very small pillow, and can help you start a fire. For my “holiday” in Central Otago, I was all set to take David Mitchell’s Ghostwritten. But the night before I left, I changed my mind and packed Cheryl Strayed’s Wild instead. I thought it might suit the journey better – her thousand mile walk along the Pacific Coast Trail could perhaps echo my significantly shorter, but still slightly ambitious plan to cycle from Queenstown to Dunedin in four days. But when I started reading it, sitting in a plane, which was sitting on the Auckland airport runway waiting to take off, the book seemed like it might be a poor choice. It started with the traumatic account of Ms Strayed’s mother dying. As we lifted through the clouds to that beautiful other world above, our heroine started taking heroin recreationally.
My flight from Auckland to Christchurch was uneventful, my flight from Christchurch to Queenstown was spectacular. The weather was clear and the scenery beautiful. Cheryl was still having a bad time though – she was plagued by disturbingly real dreams in which she was repeatedly killing her mother. So I put the book down, looked out the window and tried to work out where I would be riding.
The weather was still lovely when we landed in Queenstown. I collected the Off-Roadrat from the oversize-bag area, where there was a sign directing me to a ‘Bike Assembly Point’ outside. So I followed the directions out there and found a proper(!) Park-Tools workshop stand, free for anyone to use. Brilliant. It was a particular treat for someone who does most of their repairs to bicycles that are leaning against the wall of the garage or lifted off the ground by some crappy assembly of F-clamps and rags. Local (or perhaps visiting) smokers had also been using the stand as an ash-tray. The ‘Rat was looking a little different from when it was last on an aeroplane – it was wearing a rear rack, with panniers. And I had replaced the somewhat worn Rock & Road tyres with a set of Clement MSO’s, that I thought might perform better on the significant amount of tarmac I would be riding on.
With the my bike reassembled, I rode off from the terminal searching for the nearest trail. It took all of 5 minutes to find one that took me almost all the way to Arrowtown, almost completely offroad.
Those trails around Queenstown are really excellent. I would have been happy to spend a couple of days exploring them, but I had to get on – I was booked to stay in Wanaka that night, which meant I had the Crown Range to ride over. I got talking to another cyclist on one of the trails when I held a gate open for him. I told him where I was intending to ride – airport to Arrowtown, the Tobin Track that runs up the hill behind Arrowtown, over the Crown Range, and then on to Wanaka.
He was skeptical that the Roadrat and I would be able to ride up the Tobin Track. But in my experience, guys on mountain bikes always think that non-mountain bikes can’t do anything except ride on roads. So I ignored his advice, but I did follow his suggestion to take a detour to visit the Edgar Bridge. Which was indeed worth going to see.
I arrived in Arrowtown mid-afternoon, bought some water, found the Tobin Track and rode up it. The Track was pretty steep (and a surprising number of people choose to drive their 4WDs up and down it on a Sunday afternoon). So I dropped all the way down to my granny gear and trundled up, stopping every now and then to get my breath back and not have a heart attack. At the top, I stopped for a proper rest and spoke to a local couple. They told me to be sure and turn right at the next intersection, which would lead me to the main highway. Turning left would apparently take me to Shania Twain’s house. A disturbing prospect indeed.
I followed their directions and made it to The Crown Range road. I read later that riding over the Crown Range is considered to be the third hardest hill climb in NZ. It’s probably good that I didn’t read that before I organised the trip. It. Was. Hard. One nice feature of the road, is that it’s equipped with “chain bays” – areas designed for people into pull over and put chains on their cars. If you are a cyclist you can use them to stand around pretending to take photographs while trying not to collapse. Or so I hear.
At the top, I stopped to admire the view, but instead of sitting down, I had to stand in a weird half-crouching position to stop my legs cramping. I was able to stand up straight after a few minutes, just in time to chat to another guy on a mountain bike, who was going the other way. Coasting down the other side (for 30km!) wasn’t as much fun as I had anticipated – despite stopping to put extra layers of clothes on, I was freezing the whole way and couldn’t get comfortable on the handlebars.
I arrived in Wanaka just as it was getting dark and spent quite a long time standing in a shower at the backpackers where I was staying, defrosting ,before having a very nice dinner at a local Indian restaurant and then crawling in to bed.
When I mentally filed away the story of my first ride ride from Pukekohe to Raglan (and back) it was pretty straightforward. There was a simple arc to the story. In the memory I constructed, I was a hero – a tragically incompetent and poorly prepared rider, who suffers heroically before returning triumphant. I spent at least a couple of weeks afterward feeling different, a better person. I was a guy who could ride 250km in 2 days. Alone, without a map (and pretty much without a clue) on the open road.
Six months later I was feeling more experienced, fitter, and housebound. Coup had been doing lots of travelling – around NZ for Team New Zealand trainings, and to Australia for The Great Southern Slam while I stayed home. How about another ride to Raglan I thought? I’ll take a different route and a different bike, I won’t make the same mistakes, I’ll do it better, faster even.
The route was mostly copied from The Kennets book again – they describe it as an alternative route, an “interesting ride”. I bought all the necessary NZ topo maps to cover Tuakau to Raglan, and marked the route on them with a pink highlighter.
I left on a Monday morning train to Pukekohe. The feeling that I was escaping the city was reinforced by the way the train seemed to make it’s way through the ugliest parts of Auckland. The route alternated between droning motorways, sad backyards and industrial wastelands. Half demolished abattoirs followed acres of blank warehouses. Torn curtains looked out on overgrown lawns littered with broken toys. The only nice landmark was the guide dog training centre in Manurewa.
The first section of the ride, from Pukekohe, through Tuakau and across the bridge over the Waikato river, was ok. Then instead of heading straight up highway 22, I turned left and took some gravel roads – kind of a back way to Pukekawa. At the top of the hill I turned left and headed east towards the river, past the place where The Dukes of Hazard have retired to. It appears they are now silver nomads living in a bus handy to the golf course.
The weather was cold, still and overcast and the roads were very quiet. There were more animals than people around. Which is pretty much how I like it. Horses, donkeys, goats, turkeys (an enormous flock of turkeys in fact) and of course lots of cows & sheep. This turned out to be my favourite section of the ride. I saw a guy standing, staring in to a bonfire. He saw me and waved, he said “We keep pretty busy around here.” and laughed. “Indeed” I replied, because that’s what I always say when I don’t have anything to say.
The roads got busier around the Rotowaro open cast mine. But it was still an interesting land mark I suppose. From the mine I rode west, through the hills. Past Glen Afton and the Waingaro Springs. Then I met highway 22, the route I had taken before. In my head it was a short ride, mostly downhill to Raglan from there. It’s not of course, it’s another 25km of mostly scenic rolling terrain, but they passed pleasantly. It had started to rain on and off by this point, but nothing too serious, and I arrived in Raglan tired but not exhausted, and with spare food and water.
I watched World Cup highlights at the hotel in Raglan. Ate pizza, drank some beer and read The Book Thief for an hour before falling asleep.
The next day, I took the same route back to Pukekohe. The weather was windier and rainier. On the Ohautira Road I saw several animal carcasses that had been picked clean. I wondered if this was the work of carrion eating birds. Or Bear Grylls.
People often talk about one of the pleasures of cycle touring is that you have a closer relationship with your surroundings – you feel the hills, smell the trees, listen to the magpies. That’s true – but it’s not all good – you also see more clearly the rubbish that people drop. And not just the few bits flung out of car windows as they drive by. You see the big piles that people have driven out in to the country to specifically dump down banks and in to rivers. I hate those people.
I arrived safely back at the Pukekohe railway station on Tuesday afternoon with a really sore arse but without a sense of achievement and it’s bothering me ever since. The sore arse I can take care of – I walked to work for the rest of the week instead of riding, and I’ve retired my ancient Brooks saddle. But I’m having trouble working out how to file away the memory.
Coup and I flew down to Wellington in February this year, for Nicolai and Jaenine’s wedding. I took the Off-Roadrat with me, with the intention of riding up the Hutt River Trail. As usual my plan was pretty vague – to ride from our (honestly pretty average) hotel in the central city, to the Hutt and then up the trail, maybe to the top of the Rimutakas, maybe down the other side to Featherston.
Riding to The Hutt was unexpectedly terrifying. You see it started off as a typical urban road, but as I followed the signs pointing to Lower Hutt, the roads got busier, and the speed limits got higher, until eventually I realised I was on a motorway. An actual motorway with 4 lanes of cars doing 100km/hr next to me, and nothing but a painted green stripe on the road to protect me. Jeebus, I thought, these Wellington cyclists are a bunch of hard-bastards.
So I was very relieved to make it safely to Petone. Having forgotten to bring a map, I just headed for the river assuming that the trail would be next to it. And it totally was. I hadn’t considered however that a river has two sides – so which side should I be on? There were signs indicating that there were trails on both sides, so having arrived on the western side, I rode up there. It was very pleasant – there were people walking dogs, people picking some kind of berry, even some people managing to do both of those things at the same time.
Eventually, in a place called Manor Park, the trail ran out and became a golf course. I’m sure one of the trail signs showed a crossing there, but it turned out to be a railway bridge only. I discovered this after bushwacking for a while, trying to find a way across. I gave up eventually and rode back down to Avalon Park and crossed there. This side of the river seemed more developed, the trail was wider and gravellier, the dogs were waggier. In fact I saw what I believe to be the waggiest thing in the world – six golden retrievers going for a walk together.
Eventually, around …Birchville (I think?) I got lost. The trail had become quite haphazard and after following markers that pointed over a bridge, the path just got smaller and smaller. It led through some trees and across someone’s front yard, down a hill, behind a row of houses and then ended at deserted children’s playground.
I was starting to think that local hillbillies had moved the trail markers so they could lure unwary cyclists to the playground of damnation to be… dismembered? Taught to play the banjo? I wasn’t staying to find out. Suppressing my panic, I blundered up to the nearest road and circled back to where it had all gone wrong. I guessed that the safest thing to do was head north, so I did, eventually emerging at a dairy where I was delighted to find my favourite thing – liquorice toffee. Unfortunately, this stuff is impossible to eat in public due to it’s extreme toughness. So I stuffed it in to my bag with the intention of devouring it later.
I was starting to think that I was never going to make it up the Rimutakas, but after a couple of lucky turns, somewhere between a Devonshire Tea place and the local Naturist society, the road started to head steeply upward. I followed, and sure enough there was the start of the Rimutaka Hill Trail.
Which was beautiful. It starts off a bit steep, but gets gentler as it goes on. It runs through a forest, there’s a tunnel, what more could you want?
When I got to this gate, I decided it was probably the top, or close too, and that this would be a good place to stop. So I turned around and started the ride back. This turned out to be very similar to the ride there, except;
a) the gradients were all reversed
b) I didn’t get lost as much
c) I stopped at the Lower Hutt Pizza Hutt
d) I Strava’d it here
And the wedding? Well that was lovely.