This spring, Simon was once again on point from a planning point of view. A month or so ago, we got together to look carefully over the 1:250000 Auckland and Taumarunui maps. And, a lofty and convoluted plan was hatched - 3 big days criss-crossing a massive rectangle (er, quadrilateral maybe...) with Te Kuiti, Awakino, Raglan and Pirongia in the corners (aka vertices).
Te Kuiti was chosen as the start-finish, since it was closest to Wellington, and over the next weeks, things slowly but surely fell into place. Simon sorted accommodation with his friends Pete and Libby in Waitomo, and made a last-minute booking at a B&B just outside Pirongia.
Oli and Kashi had helped transform my Big Top into the perfect platform for this sort of ride, the rigid carbon niner fork trimming almost 1kg off the weight. Some of my touring gear is AWOL, but I managed to borrow a Revelate Viscacha from Jonty Ritchey to complement my own Ortlieb handle-bar bag.
Packing for these things has become a breeze. Into the front bag went some tools, suncream, small cable lock, electrolyte tablets, ayup helmet lights and small battery, armwarmers, and a couple of innovations: my new Steripen water purifier, and a 60mL V "Pocket Rocket" - a "fast energy blast" for emergencies (like the one I had about 10km short of Taihape a couple of years ago...).
Into the seat-bag went a woolen singlet, woolen long-sleeved top, a Ground Effect Baked Alaska, my Metallica boardies, a spare pair of socks, 3/4 overtrou and jacket, beanie and polypro gloves, chamois cream, cell phone and GPS USB cables + plug adapter, and a couple of tubes. I also popped a fibre flare light on one of the Big Top's seat stays and my Garmin Edge 705 on the stem.
I had one set of riding gear, and I'd carry a slimmed down wallet, some one-square-meals, and my cell phone in my jersey pockets.
When I first started using my GPS unit for stuff like this, getting the route into the Edge was a doddle, with mapmyride.com exporting directly into Garmin's crs format. Since then, the "upgraded" mapmyride site lost that functionality, and more recently, the classic interface has been turned off completely. A bit of scouring on the 'net led me to http://www.gpsies.com/convert.do which seemed to do the trick (well the route at least, but not the elevation which had come across previously). Simon would be bringing the maps, in case the hi-tech solution failed (or if I failed to bring the charger).
We left Wellington at 6pm on Thursday evening, having both taken annual leave for Friday. As it got dark, I fired on the headlights in the car, and an intermittent fault with the dash light (conveniently illuminating the speedo) announced itself to be in full effect. It wasn't until Waiouru that I noticed no red glow off the bikes on the rack, and Simon got out to investigate. It was apparent that the whole back end of the car was dark, a tad ironic given the trailer light-board I'd recently purchased to ensure the lights were all visible. Dead! We completed the drive to Rangataua with a pair of rear bike lights flashing merrily away, and I'd flick the hazard lights on when someone appeared in my rear-vision mirror.
Day 1 - Friday
The next morning we awoke to a clear day, and Simon enjoyed a spot of cereal with a mountain view. I filled my bottles from the rain-fed tank, and enjoyed nuking them with the steripen.
|Chilly, but what a view!|
The i-site on the main drag of Te Kuiti gave us directions to the local auto-electrician, and we were lucky that they'd not only have a look at the car, but also open up on Sunday afternoon to let us retrieve it. Bless you, Brodie and Jordan at BK Auto Electrical Ltd!
|My fully loaded Big Top, waiting patiently...|
After the delay with the sparky, we decided against our first long-cut through a valley to the south of SH3, but, when we got to see the road we would have been on from our route, we realised we might have saved ourselves quite a bit of climbing. No use crying over spilt milk though! Our first stop was Piopio, and the Fat Pigeon Cafe. We chatted briefly to a pair of women who were very interested in our ride, and set-ups.
One of the beauties of cycle touring was soon realised - it is incredibly easy to see interesting things, and to stop for them. Nearing the top of a climb, we found ourselves alongside a stone wall with a flight of steps in it. It would have been impossible to stop a car here, but our narrow bikes fitted nicely in the road shoulder, and we were soon admiring the view down into a river gorge.
I had a bit of a sketchy moment getting down off the rock, and wondered whether or not there was enough traction between my hard plastic sole and the rock I was just clambering off, but all that slipped was my pulse, and I was soon back on my bike.
We turned right off SH3 at the 49km mark, and were greeted with a perfect endorsement of our route choice...
|Oh, HELL YES!|
|Cliffs, with caves just around the corner|
Eventually the long climb we were on came to an end, and, along the top of the ridge we'd just ascended, we got occasional glimpses of Awakino Gorge and the coast, and the valley we'd soon be riding north through. The end of the ridge was marked by a transmitter tower, some particularly wind-swept trees, and more glorious views.
Kahikatea aside, the road was incredibly quiet, which helped offset the feeling that we'd been riding uphill for a very long time...
|This one inspired by Dave Sharpe!|
Simon was starting to wane a bit, and said he'd meet me at Te Anga after I'd popped into Marakopa for a couple of bits of fish, and chips! Soon after I'd left him, an oncoming truck almost slowed to a halt rather than risk peppering me with gravel at worst, or covering me with dust at best. The courtesy shown to us by the few motorists we'd seen was well up there with the lovely scenery.
After another turnoff to the coast was a short climb, before the plummet down to Marakopa.
|Looking south a few kilometres from Marakopa|
|And, Marakopa itself|
I thought Simon was probably up the road by now, so rode fairly purposefully up the valley towards Te Anga. It was dead flat, and I had a tailwind, and I soon realised that Simon almost certainly was behind me. I eased off a bit, and by the time Simon pulled up, I'd already discovered the Te Anga Tavern was long since closed too... For a lot longer than an hour, by the looks of it. More likely a year, or even a decade...!
|Simon, arriving in Te Anga|
I was pretty damn thirsty by this stage, and the falls looked to be coming out of some nice native bush so I grovelled my way down to the river's edge. The path showed signs of being permanently in a fine, wet mist, thrown up by the falls themselves, and it was difficult to keep out of the mud. I filled one bottle at the river, and then made my way back up to the viewing platform.
I gave the bottle two hits with the steripen, which was just as well, because only a few minutes up the road, the native bush stopped, and it was pretty clear the river had spent considerable time in amongst livestock. No sign of any trouble five days on, touch wood...
As the sun lowered, our shadows got longer on the road, now heading East towards Waitomo, and our lodgings.
We gave a visit to a cave attraction a miss, but did stop at the Mangapohue Natural Bridge, basically the remaining roof of a big old cave...
A minute or so after leaving the bridge, we had a bit of a monumental moment. For the first time in 104km (since leaving SH3), we were passed by a car! We'd seen perhaps two dozen vehicles, but they'd all been coming towards us.
The last 20km of the day were done with weary legs, and despite being very near Pete and Libby's place, we had to stop to rug up a bit. We were soon warming up though, and had a delicious meal, hot showers, and great conversation before hitting the sack. Sleep is always great after a 170km day on a mountain bike!
Day 2 - Saturday
Simon had posted a wee bit of food and a koha for Pete and Libby which hadn't arrived, so in the morning Pete drove us down to Waitomo to see if we could find it. The postie wasn't there, so after a quick gander at Pete's next MTB track project, we headed back home for breakfast.
We were fed within an inch of our lives: peanut butter on toast, then baked beans and fried eggs on toast! I managed to squeeze down a flat white when we made a return trip into town, where we did see the postie, who did have the parcel.
Simon gave Pete and Libby a copy of the Kennett Bros' new book - the seventh in their New Zealand Cycling Legends series, called The Muddy Olympians, about the six NZ MTBers who've raced at the Olympic Games. We headed home, and we were soon suited up, and ready to roll, including a bit of suncream on my rump! I'd discovered I'd got a little sunburnt through a tear in my shorts (from the Day 3 Cape Epic crash!), and I certainly didn't want it to get worse. As it was, it was slightly swollen, and very pink!
|Behind us, part of Pete and Libby's stunning view|
We had a few kilometres to back-track, and all of it was uphill. I'd eaten too much and was feeling nauseous. Simon was similarly distressed, and the climb wasn't helping.
We were soon turning off the "main" road, and onto the unsealed Hauturu Road. It was a great gradient for the most part, and much mellower than the climb from Pete and Libby's had been. This probably helped us to not puke.
We stopped at a three-way intersection for a drink (but nothing to eat), and a few minutes later reeled the bikes in to check out plaque marking the Robert Houston Memorial Reserve.
Soon, the stunning bush on both sides became stunning bush only on our left, and we were afforded expansive views to the north.
The road then tipped down, and we were soon in the valley floor, this time heading in the same direction as the water.
Around a corner we saw a man and woman on horseback, walking with about 8 or 9 dogs. We'd now seen more people on horseback than cars on the 30-odd kilometres we'd ridden since turning off the Waitomo Road.
Eventually the valley widened, and the road had a fine coating of silt hinting at flooding. Not long after Simon and I started theorising about this, than we noticed the fence on our right and the vegetation neatly folded around the fence wire. We were glad we hadn't stumbled upon this river in flood...!
|Evidence of flooding in the fence.|
|Oparau Roadhouse, one-stop-shop|
We sat outside, and eventually realised that the strange noise was coming from a herd of turkeys grazing in the paddock across the road.
|Gobble, gobble, gobble|
|Kawhia Harbour ahoy!|
There was a heap of traffic initially - about 5 cars in quick succession - but then it quietened down somewhat, to none. About 15km later, we plonked ourselves down at our next turn off, digesting the "Road Closed" sign posted there. Surely we'd get through on our bikes?!
|How bad could it be?!|
I sensed Simon's relief, and when I asked him about it a while later, he admitted that the stress he'd been feeling about Sunday's ride had been limiting his ability to enjoy Saturday's. It was good to know we'd sorted that! And, it was a nice reminder of the strength of our friendship that enables us to generally nip trouble in the bud.
Just before we set off, a young bloke emerged from a nearby property, and I asked him about the chances of us getting through the closed road. He suggested we'd have no trouble, short of having to walk our bikes for a bit. That too relieved a bit of stress, since the trouble spot was much nearer the far end of this road, and we'd get to it after a long ride. Turning back would suck!
The guy had also told us to keep an eye out for a disappearing lake, that vanishes at the height of summer.
We'd climbed a bit, and before long we were turning left onto a sealed road, and soon after that, we were turning into the DOC track to Bridal Veil Falls.
There were various platforms, and from the first we were only a couple of metres away from the top of the fall - the river was relatively narrow - maybe between 2 and 3 metres wide, but it plummeted 55m into the pool below.
|Bridal Veil Falls|
We could see a couple of viewing platforms down in the chasm below us, but once we'd seen the view from the a second platform level with the one we'd just been on, we decided to save our legs!
|Bridal Veil Falls - quite the stunner|
No sooner had I got going than the road had turned to gravel again. I enjoyed riding the climb without regard for pacing, and as the road turned north, got a great view of the coastline above Raglan.
|Looking north beyond Raglan|
I stopped at the first shop I saw, but it didn't have the range I needed, so I limited myself to a powerade, and an incredible-looking piece of pineapple and date cake! A couple of clicks later, I locked my bike outside the supermarket on the main drag, and went in for our groceries. I bought two packets of instant noodles, two small bottles of coke, two chocolate milks, a small can of tuna for Simon, and a cookie for myself. I managed to get all these things into my jersey pockets, and was now in search of greasies.
Since there'd been a shop on the outskirts of town in one direction, I figured it would be the same on the outbound side, but I figured wrong. A short climb later, I was turning around and blasting back into town, parking up outside a fish'n'chip shop directly across from the supermarket. I felt like a bit of a moron, but didn't let that stop me ordering a bit of snapper and a scoop of chips!
|Dinner, take one!|
He was waiting for me at Te Uku, just down the road from the awesomely-named "Roast Office". I was a little sad I wasn't able to sample their wares...
|The Te Uku Roast Office|
It was nice to finally get off the main road linking Raglan and Hamilton. I was pleased to pass by "Old Mountain Road" which sounded like hard work.
The descent was fast, but that didn't stop us from stopping to admire the beautifully lit scene off to our left.
Our room had a poxy wee television, and its channel selection was even smaller than its screen, but turning in was a fine alternative.
Day 3 - Sunday
We didn't indulge ourselves with a sleep-in; even though we'd shortened our route, we weren't certain that my car's rear lights would be fixed, and early arrival in Te Kuiti might mean we'd get back to Wellington before dark.
Ironically, the evening before, I'd not been able to get to my camera in time to record Simon passing the "Alert riders..." sign, so I was pleased to have a second opportunity.
Pirongia had a Sunday market, which we stopped at, and Simon bought some gifts for Miro and Sarah. I fired my cell phone up, and got a flurry of txts, reminding me it was my birthday. Simon had mentioned it the afternoon before, but it seemed to have slipped his mind, and we were both spared the awkwardness of him singing to me!
|Where's all your gear, ow?!|
We made another right turn at Ngutunui Enviro School, and then started one of the most beautiful climbs we'd done. The road was sealed, which made a pleasant change, but the bush was totally luscious. Again, the bottom was steep, and Simon drew away from me.
|Simon, way ahead!|
|My turn to lead for a bit! And, Simon's turn to carry the camera!|
We didn't get much of a view to the south, but it was a nice place to stop for a snack, and to bask in the quality of the forest we'd been skirting. A fat kereru put on a nice show for us, which was a lovely bonus.
In anticipation of a fast descent down to Kawhia Road. Neither of us was expecting the view of the harbour that eventually opened up in front of us, but I guess we shouldn't have been surprised.
We turned left on Kawhia Road, and after a few minutes of traffic were making yet another turn, this time onto Kaimango Road.
We were both expecting a bit of a grovel, but we found ourselves on the top of a very flat ridge. We saw a couple of young women on horseback, and the sort of native forest that had been a theme throughout this trip.
The next intersection had a strange shape to it, and may have been slightly mismapped on my GPS unit, which showed us about 100m short of the intersection when we made the left turn. The descent that followed was "one of the best descents I've done", according to Simon. We had Pirongia Forest Park on our left, and despite the riding being stunning, we stopped a couple of times, just because.
All good things must come to an end, and soon we'd left the bush, and were in a valley with pine forest in various states of harvest. We stopped for a snack, and watched a digger lumbering its way along the road.
|Little Yellow Digger?|
|More logging machinery|
One hill top afforded us nice views over Otorohanga, but that was pretty much all we'd see of it, taking the turnoff onto Waitomo Valley Road a few kilometres short of the town.
|Otorohanga in the distance|
|Emu chicks in with the cows, and mum|
We stopped at what appeared to be the only open cafe in town, and I txted Jordan, the auto-electrician, expecting him to announce a short wait for the car. But, he said to come any time, so we scoffed some food at a leisurely pace. Simon had asked for a raw egg in his shake, and by the reaction of the cashier, was the first ever request of that sort.
Just before 3pm, we had the bikes loaded on the car, complete with fully functioning rear lights. The icing on the cake of this glorious ride was the two hours of rain we had as we made our way south, dry!
|Rain, rain, do whatcha like|
Knowing what was to come when we did the 5-minute-quiz helped somewhat, and we usually remembered the 10 answers within a few minutes of the "game" starting up... They were, in no particular order: knot, Elvis Presley (apparently an anti-drug crusader back in the day), hashtag, (decline and fall of) the Roman Empire, Duchess of York, (Napoleon was exiled to an island in the) Atlantic Ocean, (economist, John Kenneth) Galbraith, Sultans of Swing, Lassiter's Reef, (metastasizing is) the movement of a disease from one part of the body to another. It's amazing the random shit you can remember with a bit of effort...
Here's a link to the mapmyride route of our final ride. I'm looking forward to next year already...
|Fantastic Figure Eight|