Day thirteen. Waiouru to god only knows where

The day started like all previous with a double dose of daring do, but this was going to be different. This time I had to cross from central to Hawkes Bay. 

I’d been considering this leap since the very beginning, ‘what is the best way to get there?’ and as I’d described in an earlier post I had determined three routes with this as my preference. Taihape to Napier via the Gentle Annie, with many a warning of the route ahead. I knew it wasn’t going to be easy. 

It was a clear blue day, with the sun already in bloom by 7:30 as I stocked up on more water and snacks. My plan was pretty simple, get from Waiouru to Kuripapango in a day, a ride of about 85 km through the Rangatiki and over the Gentle Annie pass. 

I was on my way, gliding down towards Taihape, then turning off state highway one to the Te Moehau junction, over the first rise to see the land laid out in front of me. I felt like a grey ships captain peering out of the wheelhouse at an endless swell, with a far off ridge barely visible through the sea haze, but these weren’t rollers, they were hills. This was the Rangatiki. 

The road beyond this point swiftly dropped down to Moawhango and with it that sinking feeling of again going beyond the point of no return, but this time there weren’t choices. It was this road to Christmas and mamas home cooking. I’m now as unfavorable to roads going down as those going up, as one inevitably tends to proceed the other.

The work began at Moawhango… climbing, climbing, climbing for at least a few hours to the top of black hill, before a rapid descent to the old swing bridge crossing the Rangatikei river at the Otupae outstation. The most disconcerting moment was the view on the way down, as across the valley in plain sight was the grey road going back up. It was 11:30, already hot and that road steeper and higher than the previous.

I crawled, growing wearysome in the heat back to the top and the tablelands, rolling like a shawl draped over a widows shoulders, it must be Annie. 

The place was fairly deserted, little to no traffic apart from the odd passing farmer going about his trade. It was still, the kind of summer day where the silent heat sounds like crackle and smells of melting tar freshly licked. 

By 2:00pm I was creeping slowly through the Sparrowhawk and Tahuhunui ranges. The green fields of the Rangitiki in my past and the wilds in my future, I was entering the Kaweka. 

The Jurassic

The Kaweka: still, dusty, scrubby and raw. I had already broken into my reserves of water, I’m already well past the 2 litre mark and the elements were not letting up. The place was reminiscent of the high sierra of Guerrero where you grow up learning to expect the unexpected… that is how it felt to me. A place where the unexpected happens and it did, it went down.

Not your usual down, but down down. So much down that in that crackle and tar my brakes screamed and broke the tension in the air. An unexpected scream not out of place in this place. They were screaming and I was screaming in the suddenness of the noise and the speed of the descent. 

The horror 

Then it came into view, as I was going down this endless descent I could see that familiar grey river of tar and gravel flowing up the other side. I pulled up to a stop and involuntarily said to no one listening: ‘the horror’. That grey river of tar and gravel was the Gentle Annie, and she didn’t look gentle. On the other side of that pass was my camp site and it had just turned 3pm, I’d already been on the bike for 7 hours.

Crawling up the Annie will forever stick with me, like the wet fragment stench of the tar clawing at my tires. Every turn of the crank came with its own unique and frank Anglo Saxon exclamation questioning the parenthood of that mountain pass, but in the end I reached its summit. 

One more long screaming decent, but this time that scream sounded like angels trumpets hearlding me into camp for a well earned feed of instant mashed potatoes and dehydrated chicken bits. I’d done it and this was something I was only going to do once. 

Tonight I will sleep quiet in the clevage of the great ravines, listening to the chatter of the river. Another climb in the morning. Timeless. 

 Todays top track: Bob Dylan – Cross the green mountain 

 

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.