Day twelve. Tongariro to Waiouru 

At 6am the Tongariro holiday camp felt like grand central. There were people everywhere getting ready for their day. Some finding new socks, some with old faithful, some grumpy and shouting, some queing for the kitchen, others queuing for the loos. The loos!   Outdoor mayhem that must leave the wildlife waiting in trepidation. 

With all the carnage I decided to skip breakfast and brunch at National Park. I knew it was an energy risk, but by 6:30 am I was on the road… passing screds of European hikers untwidling their hiking poles with empty clunks and many a ‘ja est fue ‘. All waiting for a bus up to the Tongariro crossing. The same bus that inevitably wheezed its way past me on up the mount, full of pom pom topped jaja’s.

It was beautiful, crisp, blue and windless. A morning where the shadows are a deep pool of coolness and the sun thawing. I climbed and climbed, Mount Doom on my left and Ruapehu in advance, like a white sister looming over its smaller siblings. 


I made National Park in two hours for beans beans, eggs eggs and hash browns on hash browns. Yes double everything. I figured if I could double my porridge I could double everything else. Stuffed full I fronted the chill mountain wind and humped south. 

I got to Horopito and Smash Palace in good time, took the old bumpy coach road to Ohakune where I spent time considering my options. What do I do now? I needed to get to Napier via the Gentle Annie. So now it was all about considering time, food, distance and destinations.  

If I stayed in Ohakune, I’d need to get beyond Waiouru before heading towards Napier. A tough ask considering the camp ground was at Kuripapango or the other side of the Gentle Annie. If I went to Taihape, I’d need to double back tomorrow and I wasn’t sure I had that left in the tank. There was really only one choice… Waiouru. 

I humped on another 35km. Hot afternoon sun and a new Playlist. 

Where have all the big guns gone?

Waiouru military base… the heart of all things in New Zealand that are pointy and go bang. I got off the main road in a vein search for food. I didn’t just ride through empty streets, I rode through streets without houses! Where has the Army gone! Where are all the things that go bang? Waiouru is a ghost town leaving me and three young mums waiting anxiously outside the four square looking for a way in. 

The owners had obviously given up on customers for the day and driven off south to Taihape with the young mums in chase. As I couldn’t do the same, it was back to having indescribable things out of a packet for dinner. 

But where has the Army gone? Are they all on holiday?  If so, why did they take their houses? Where did the three young mums go? Where are their houses? What did they have for dinner? So many questions pouring through ny head as I slaved over instant rice risotto for 10 minutes. 

In the morning is the endless Rangatiki… the land the perfected the ‘hill’. Sleep well leggies for tomorrow may not be a good day. Night night bottom. 

Todays top track: Kings of Lyon – Use somebody

Day eleven. Taupo to Tongariro

Ominous. The south looked ominous. 

I had a warning of rain so planned to be up and on the road by 7am. I joined the road to Napier at 6:50 then turned south onto the East Taupo Arterial towards Turangi. The mountains were gone, replaced by a low cloud cover  growing greyer  deeper in the distance.


It was a crisp paced ride to Turangi. Really very pretty, light traffic and dry up to within 10 minutes of town. Then it was on with the rain gear for the arrival, coffee and muesli. I sat and watched the rain from the cafe, windless, dense and consistent. I had a choice: quit or go for the mountain. I chose the mountain. 

I prepared and hit the road. Up state highway one to Rangipo then right towards Tongariro. On the ride up the cloud came down to meet me, eventually enveloping me like a hug from an old friend. From there is was a perpetual climb into consistent rain. 

The higher I went, the wetter I got and the windier it became until I reached the intersection of 46 and 47 where that rain got horizontal and bitter. It was time to hold up before things got worse. 400 metres up the road was salvation (well shelter) in the form of the tongarariro holiday park kitchen. 

It was the end of my day. I was wet, cold and without connection. 

Before long camp filled with wet wayward stragglers. Like a transit lounge for the adventurer. Shared stories, bad meals and wool socks drying on hooks by the door. Each pair weary and resting for another day, just like their masters. 

Todays top track: Bob Dylan – Not dark yet

Haunting. I’m Always amazed By this mans abilty to manipulate words around melody.

“I was born here and I’ll die here, against my will.  I know it looks like I’m movin’ but I’m standin’ still. Every nerve in my body is so naked and numb. I can’t even remember what it was I came here to get away from. Don’t even hear the murmur of a prayer. It’s not dark yet, but it’s getting there.”


I think many a rider has had a day like this!

Day ten. Detour

The original plan for the day was to high-tail it to Turangi for the night, but after the burn from yesterday I thought better of it. I need better protection, I needed a shirt, which meant I needed Taupo. 
Now a shirt is hardly the attire of a typical MAMIL (middle aged man in lycra), but I needed something practical and I remembered my days on the Costa. In Pies de la Cuesta we used to arise early to beat the heat and nothing served me better  than a big, light, open shirt and collar. 

So it’s up at 6am for Jed’s extra strong and a double dose of daring do (porridge), a wave to my American friends and I was back on the river trail out of Mangakino heading for the world. Or in this case Taupo. 

Sheep rustling

The day was like many previous, humping hill and hollow. A pretty country, yet unremarkable except for one chance encounter..

All at once he lept from the scrub and stood there, four footed in the middle of the road, it was ram lamb! 

With not more than 15 metres between me and him, I swiftly pulled up to a standing straddle. Tough piece of road this, facing rock on the right, steep drop on the left and me at the base of the incline. I know he was feeling cornered and thinking escape. Me, I was thinking chops.

We both stood our ground, staring each other down, then he saw that savory glint in my eye (or be it my mirror finished aerodynamic eyeware) and immediately turned and made haste. With little hesitation I dropped a gear and gave chase. 

The incline was steep… he bolted…  I gained… We weaved through oncoming traffic like a slow motion version of a New York car chase. Was it the French connection or a French rack of lamb? I didn’t know, I was ravenous in pursuit. Then as unexpectabtly as he appeared he was gone. Leaping high and wayward like only a ram lamb can, he found a fence and made good his Escape. 

I pulled up, resting elbows on my bars watching as he bound off through the thistle, I’d been thwarted! 

Green with envy

Later in the day it was a time for reflection, as I sat there in the turbid green waters of the Debretts public pools. I’d been on the road more than a week and covered a lot of ground. Yet way over there beyond the great lake lay the mountains, but they will be tomorrows mountains for tonight I must eat. 

I dawdled back to my tent, dreaming and grumbling over what could have been. Of roast lamb, of chops and of sausage, but reality was a going to be a choice between 10 minute rice risotto or 10 minute spag’ bol’. 

At least I found a shirt. 

Todays top track: The Stranglers – Golden brown


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Day nine. Arapuni to Mangakino 

Slow start today… didn’t get away until after 8:30 for what I’d planned was a nice river ride to Mangakino. It was brill’, what I’d built beastie for in the first place, a little low effort riding into the boonies. I got about 5 clicks down river to the first swing bridge (now that was wild!) when the track notice changed to say ‘suitable for advanced riders’. ‘That’s a bit rough’ I thought, but after a little introspection and having recently turned 50 I considered it ‘made to measure’. 

 Within a few kilometers I realized the ‘advanced’ status was nothing to do with age, it was likely more to do with my ability. Ability that I didn’t quite have. No amount of double doses of porridge and ‘daring do’ was going to make up for the fact I didn’t have the minimals required. That and the fact the beastie is loaded down with about 16kg in gear and riding cyclocross tires. I want to ride like the wind, I want to be free, what I don’t want is to push and carry beastie all the way to Mangakino!

Before long I found myself humping more hills to get back on a rideable track somewhere further down river. 

It was a very hot day on the quiet back roads of central, as I sat back in the saddle for the big upward haul from Rotongata, then down to Waipapa, where I rejoined the track for a while. Rolling into Mangakino (parched and dry) about 4:00. It had been a real scorcher. 

I’m now camped at the boat ramp for the night with a nice vista over Lake Maraetai, reviewing future routes more gentile to the elderly. 

Vindication

I was already in bed when I heard some familiar voices. A young couple from the USA (who were staying at Arapuni the night before) had just rolled into camp. There was blunt and expressive use of Anglo Saxon to describe their feelings at making camp after sundown. 

Turns out these two had left Arapuni about 30 minutes after me to attempt the river trail, but rather than admit defeat early, they pushed, carried and cajoled their bikes all the way to Mangakino. I did drift off with a smile of satisfaction, as they clattered through their belongings to rustle up a late dinner. 


Back road playlists

The best thing about backroads is bugger all traffic and the opportunity to break the monotony of the road with a loud long cranking playlist. 

I remember cresting one of the endless summits, screaming along with Glen Campbell to ‘Wichita lineman’, where a highly surprised herd of about 30 heifers looked up, their necks tracing a slow arch in unison as I glided into the downhill. As I looked at them, looking at me, looking at them, I could almost imagine them in chorus…

“I hear you singin’ in the wire, I can hear you through the whine. And the Wichita lineman, is still on the line…”

What I’ve realized in the travel to date, is how inquisitive the humble heifer is, in comparrison to the noble sheep, goat or lama. I always get a gaze, the occasional nod and the odd chase parallel to the wire. Where as a sheep, well, they couldn’t give cows crap. 

Perhaps its my singing…

Todays top track:  Jack White – Wayfaring stranger. 


Day eight. Miranda to Arapuni

Flat… and I mean flat flat. After days of humping hills in Northland I was at one end of the Hauraki plains and if the winds were at my heal I was in for a good ride and a good distance. 

My route was a whip around the east of the wetlands close to Paeroa and then north to Matamata via a zig zag chain of interlinking back roads. All went according to plan except the insessent sou’ westerly wind woke up about an hour into the ride, from then on it was a joust. It took six hours for the 98km slog, getting hotter and dryer as the day progressed. 

On arrival in Matamata I tracked down the local bike store and had them switch my tires while I went for a meal. I think I discovered the best chicken burger on the planet. CK Burger in Matamata. 
Returning and after a brief chat with the bike crew about all thing daring and impossible (all of which I’m not) it was off for supplies. Water, more freeze dried goodness, carb rich nut bars and ample servings of porridge. Then onto the 29 for the ride through to Lake Karapiro and the short run to Arapuni. 

Wind, wind, wind

Never a break, Never… I mean really. After days of humping hills and the beast of Brynderwyn into a sou’ easter I’m now on the flat lands. So as some form of demonic torment I’m now humping uphill into a howler. Where every oncoming container truck creates a redefinition of turbulence, and every outgoing stock truck the redefinition of flatulence. 

I always find that in conditions like this that the closer to the destination you are, the further it seems to be.  Just one more little hill, one more bend, over and over and over. Take my advice and don’t look at the map, it’s conspiring with the wind. 

The river

On one bend of the mighty Waikato, where the state highway follows it like the skin of the snake is the shedding of side road. Horahora, where it drops down to a terrace onward to Arapuni. In a warm late afternoon sun the river shined like a serpent still and deep. I rode the long sunning side until reaching camp after a good half hour. 

I set up, ate and looked out over that river. I entrusted my little camp in the keep of the tanewha that must wait there in the dark waters. It had been a long ride today, I sleep in safe company.  

Day seven. Go, no go day

Today was going to be different. It was going to be a short hop over to Miranda to hold up for the day, rest the legs, evalate things and make some calls. It was the preplanned go, no go day!

Why Miranda?

Well Miranda has a few unique things going for it that makes it a good place to go or no go the next stage of the trip. Firstly it has a thermal pool, ideal for soaking ones poor old legs and bottom in, let alone the rest of me. Secondly it’s pretty well serviced; with laundry; kitchen; and wine and beer fridge. Thirdly and perhaps most importantly it’s the gateway from the north to the Hauraki Plains and that means touring options. 

I had always seen it as the go, no go place for three potential routes:

  1. Go east young man – to whip through to Waihi, then follow the east coast of the Bay of Plenty, then take the Motu to Gisborne, then down (or should I say up and down) the coast to Napier. I always saw this as the route should I get through Northland quickly, was fit, the beastie (bike) was in good order and the weather outlook to the west unfavorable. All up I estimated a seven day gig. 
  2. Napier direct – to basically bolt for Taupo and do the Napier, Taupo highway. This was really the route should things have turned pear shaped up north, or I ran out of time to do the other two routes. All up I estimated a four day gig. 
  3. The big wiggle – to aim central, do the Waikato river trail, then detour from Mangakino around the mountains to Ohakune and Taihape, before crossing the Gentle Annie to Napier. Basically three back to back trails over a seven to eight day gig.

So where am I at?

Well I got to Miranda in the middle of day seven after an unexpected second breakfast (below). That gives me nine days to make Napier for Christmas eve. All routes are go! Physically I’m better than I thought, knees are good and sure my buns have been better, but they are holding up. Mentally I’m as mad as a mad thing, so no change there. The bike is good, with the only point of concern being the rapid wear of the rear tire. 

Tires will need replacing at some point, hopefully Napier (which could be a problem considering the holiday period), but if it’s needed sooner that’s really going to impact my route choice. I don’t want my choice of route to be rooted!

Decisions decisions

I’ve decided on the big wiggle.

I figure with some effort I can get the day count down to seven max, maybe even six. If I can haul a nail tomorrow I could get to Matamata at mid day, swap my current tires around then push on for the Waikato river trial. Trail riding should reduce the wear and allow me to get to Napier by say Thursday of next week. 

If I have some sort of major issue (heath, gear, weather bomb, act of God, mother) then I can make a decision to go Napier direct. Ok decision made, now all I have to do is get to Miranda…

An unexpected second breakfast 

I left Maraetai at 7:30, a pastal light kind of ride to Clevedon and then a left for Kawakawa bay. 

Really the only route to take and besides, I wanted to pop in on friends, Mr and Mrs Healy for a cup of team and to leave a little kit to lighten my load. Unbeknownst to me and what was wonderful good fortune, that today was actually Mr Healy’s birthday and a planned breakfast feast was to about to ensue. My timing was impeccable, which was much more than could be said of the way I looked and smelled after a few festering days on the road. 

After a few rounds of coffee and my second breakfast on the patio overlooking the estate, I then disgorging a few unwanted items in the care of the Healy’s and prepared to set off once more. I wasn’t in any particular hurry as Miranda was relatively close and there was the small matter of getting over the Kawakawa Orere saddle, but I pushed on. 

It was a lovely day for a ride and I swooped on through to Miranda by two. Just in time to treat my legs and bottom to a good soaking in the thermal springs, and my belly to a fine Merlot. I do think I shall sleep well tonight. 

Day six. Sandy spit to Maraetai. 

Warkworth to the CBD is a nasty ride. It’s a slog of up down tight roads and fast moving traffic I haven’t experienced since riding back in DF, but to be honest I expected that. 

One particularly memorable climb narrows to a point where there is no margin for the rider and no margin for error. You have to play roulette, judge a gap, then go as hard as you can for 150m on maybe a 15 degree incline before the next  wave of traffic arrives. I did it… just. 

In that wind, the downs were as hard as the ups. The crawl up from the tunnels, Owera to Eastern Bays in a nasty sou’ wester,  through diesel infused traffic. I was pleased when I saw the Devonport terminal. 

I got the first ferry at two, met Nina for a catch up and then another to Pine Haven at five. Free camped above Omana beach, I was asleep by 8:30. 

So how bad?

I’ve spent a chunk of my day to day riding experience in city traffic, Commuting London and Mexico City. In those times I’ve had a lot of close calls: riding fast to escape merging buses, being under another, being in the wrong suburb at the wrong time, being a target for aggression and targeting my aggression, and one time looking down the wrong end of a few hand guns in La Condesa (Mexico City) when one particular situation got out of control (my fault).

For the record Warkworth wasn’t scarier, it wasn’t even closer, it was just a lot faster. 

Now I’m through Auckland and I’ve left Northland, bring on the lowlands and a wind at my heal.