Friday, January 1, 2016

Red Rocks to White Rock: Longest Day, 2015

Way back in July, Brendan had a cyclocross bike on order, and I proposed an overnighter that would be a perfect shake-down ride:  following the coast from Red Rocks in Wellington all the way around to White Rock on south-east of Martinborough in the Wairarapa.  It seemed like a good opportunity for a fun adventure, and also for Brendan to get to know two of my best riding buddies, Dave and Simon.  All were keen, but the challenge of finding a suitable weekend was simply too much.  The road racing season started, and with all of us having heavy family commitments, the idea was shelved...

... but not forgotten.  It is very rare that I let go of an idea I regard as "good", and so it was that this missed opportunity nagged at me.  Come mid-December, I was pretty raced out, and I had an increasing desire to return to my spiritual home on the bike: riding from Point A to Point B.

The Longest Day was looming, and completely aside from the Longest Day Ride being an actual phenomenon, it came at a very convenient time, nestled nicely in between exam marking, and Christmas.  After a very successful (and very long) tandem ride back in 2012, I was looking forward to notching up another.

I made no effort to rustle up company, partly because I didn't want to reopen the coordination can of worms, but also because I wanted some solitude.  As a result, preparation consisted of swapping out the suspension fork on my Yeti Big Top for a nice light carbon fork, and replacing the chunky MTB tyres with some semi-slick Stan's Ravens.

On the eve of the ride, I was a bit stressed about the beginning, having been reminded that Long Gully had removed access to mountain bikes, but, I managed to get Steve Watson's cell phone number, and before too long had his blessing to pass through his land.  Had I not heard from him, I would've had no choice but to ride the Red Rocks track - not something I was looking forward to on my rigid steed.  As it was, I had a short but stress-free sleep.

My alarm went off 5am, and I replaced my usual porridge which something that took a little less time (and was quieter) to prepare.  At 5:40, I was out the door, and ready to roll...

05:40, 0km

06:09, 5km.  I managed to get past this amusing gaggle of geese in Long Gully unscathed.  The ride up Wright's Hill Road had been a nasty way to start the day, but progress was good down towards the coast

06:22, 10km.  Part way through the descent from Long Gully to the coast, overlooking Cook Strait.  I always enjoy stopping here, especially if going in the opposite direction!

06:38, 14km.  Here with some rent-a-rocks.  A couple of my geologist buddies have since pointed out my poor form in not photographing the bike against bedrock...  In any case, RED ROCKS!!

07:24, 30km.  On a lovely little bit of track in Seatoun.  I'd decided not to explore the cliff above Breaker Bay, but had hung a right immediately after Pass of Branda and found this gem

07:24, 30km.  Steeple Rock.  I spent a moment fondly remembering trips to this rock in my uncle Colin's dinghy, and clambering over it while he scuba-dived for crays and fish

07:59, 47km.  Oriental Bay after a noisy ride around the Miramar Peninsula and Evans Bay.  The big 2" tyres definitely (literally) hum along, in contrast to the high pressure slick tyres on my roadies which figuratively do...

09:04, 62km.  I'd met Brendan for a coffee and a scone at iRide - 2nd breakfast, or morning tea, but definitely too early to call it lunch.  This mini detour onto Petone Wharf was just about the only time I wasn't heading in the right direction

09:12, 65km.  A neat little harbour near the mouth of the Hutt River.  I'd stayed on the cycle path all the way from the Petone off-ramp, and the route through McEwan Park had brought back nice memories of the City Safari earlier in the year

09:15, 66km. In Seaview, with a nice view over the Hutt River mouth of the harbour entrance

09:33, 72km. A quick coffee stop with Sarah, who had driven there en route to Martinborough.  The coffee was OK, but the cheese scone was decidedly not.  The Chocolate Dayz cafe had been closed unfortunately, so we'd resorted to its neighbour

10:06, 83km.  Approaching Pencarrow Head, and its pair of lighthouses.  I'd been harangued on the Eastbourne Esplanade, by a woman who'd seen me coming from a mile away, but wanted to tell me how a cyclist had frightened her another time. I lied, and said this was my first ride around there in 20 years so it couldn't possibly have been me.  I won't be putting a bell on my bike, despite her plea

10:12, 85km looking towards Baring Head. I'd recently been passed by a bus which was just approaching the next point.  I was curious to see why they were there, and around the corner saw them grovelling their way up a steep gravel road to Pencarrow Lodge

10:27, 89km.  Just below the turn-off to the Baring Head lighthouse.  The warm day and light sou-easter were a far cry from the shitty conditions that Kaitlyn and I had endured on our ride to the lighthouse a few months earlier

10:32, 90km.  Overlooking the Wainui Coast Road

10:43, 93km.  The size of this gigantic sign seemed connected to the amusing detour avoiding about 50 metres of road through private land leading up to the bridge over the Orongorongo River, which apparently there's an easement for!
10:45, 93.1km.  Said Orongorongo River

10:46, 93.2km.  I sincerely hoped that I wouldn't be taking 5 hours to get to Ocean Beach, but it was nice to have a distance for reference

10:55, 98km.  Looking out towards Cape Palliser

11:20, 101km.  This fellow was heading to Martinborough.  I didn't take much time out of him on foot, but his very heavy load certainly slowed him down on the bike!

11:36, 107km.  Looking up the Mukamuka towards Mt Matthews

11:47, 109km.  Ocean Beach.  A nice way to arrive in the Wairarapa

12:08, 116km.  Looking across Lake Onoke (which until this moment I thought was Lake Ferry) to Lake Ferry.  As the crow flies, not far, but I can't fly

12:30, 127km.  About to head east on the East-West Access Road.  The highlights of the road-bash north had been the wind somewhat behind me, and watching a crop-dresser landing on a ridge high above the paddocks it was working on

12:45, 131km.  Plenty of cow shit suspended in the waters of Lake Wairarapa on their way to the Pacific Ocean.  Gross

13:11, 142km.  My GPS had had a bit of a tantrum which had necessitated a stop.  I'd been in touch with Sarah, and thought we were meeting at the intersection just behind me, but she'd gone ahead to Pirinoa.  I don't think she'd drawn the heart when she passed, but it seemed apt!

13:41, 151km.  Fuelling up at the Pirinoa Store.  I managed to smash back two pies and a bottle of iced coffee.  My bag was still full of One Square Meals, and Sarah had plenty too, so we didn't do much other shopping.  It seemed somewhat irresponsible, since this was the last definite food stop until Martinborough.  Sarah had agreed to pick me up in Martinborough, and at the last minute I'd suggested she join me for the second half of my ride.  At this point she'd ridden 30km from Martinborough, plus another 10km once she'd back-tracked rather than wait for me at the store!

14:36, 165km.  Looking back over Palliser Bay to Turakirae Head.  I was having a bit of a nightmare trying to adjust to Sarah's pace.  I was pretty tired by this stage, and thought she'd be tearing my legs off.  She sped up a bit once I'd relieved her of the 1.5L bottle of water in her backpack!  I think it was mostly a protest-ending move!

14:48, 169km.  Looking along the old road at a couple of baches which are not long for this earth.  The sea will be claiming them soon, if they're not demolished and carted away first

14:59, 170km.  More new road, slowly on its way towards the ocean, at a guess

15:32, 180km.  The wind was up, and was coming straight at our faces.  Progress was really slow, but at least we were heading towards a sharp left turn, whereupon things should get a bit easier
15:57, 186km.  Approaching Ngawi, with the golf course either side of the roads - not a golfer in sight

16:00, 187km.  It seems no-one in Ngawi is keen to share their bulldozer.  Fair enough, I suppose!  It's not often you have an excuse to own one!

16:09, 187.5km.  Celebrating after discovering a woman in a caravan selling food!  My mocha was not at all great, but Sarah's tea, and our scoop of chips slid down very nicely indeed.  And, it was bloody nice to sit in the sun for a while

16:10, 187.5km.  Looking north-west, or thereabouts.  Turakirae Head clearly visible, and Sinclair Head in the haze beyond it

16:34, 188km.  Time to hit the gravel again, for the first time since Ocean Beach (and for Sarah, since forever).  Not a great shot of Kupe's Sail, the rock on the left

16:40, 191km.  It takes a while to see the seals lying on the rocks, but you know they're there well before, by virtue of the stench

16:51, 192km.  Cape Palliser lighthouse.  There were far too many steps between it and us, so we left that particular mission for another day

16:56, 195km.  Remnants of an old farmhouse made for a perfectly good snack-stop

17:04.  Very welcoming signs at this end of the track.  We did shut every gate (that wasn't laden with a million padlocks), and had absolutely no intention of camping!

17:20, 199km.  This was the most incredible sight - we'd seen it coming from a wee way off, and the evening light was accentuating its uniqueness.  Mind-blowing

17:27, 200km.  Almost completely devoid of vegetation, not much of this sandy section was rideable.  But, the rain of the previous evening, and the odd 4WD that had passed through did give some opportunities to stay on the bike

17:30, 201km. We'd had glimpses of White Rock out in the distance, but by now it was an almost permanent feature in the view ahead.  The reef in between it and us had very nifty wave patterns criss-crossing it, and by now, the wind was behind us

17:45, 203km.  We'd safely negotiated a steep 4WD climb and descent, a big gate, but not the aggressive signage we'd see on the back of the last gate we scaled, thank goodness

18:03, 206km.  A kind Canadian tourist was hanging out here with his (presumably rental) SUV.  He'd been told he could bypass the private land at low tide by riding on the beach.  Rather him than us!!!!   White Rock really is white!  WHITE ROCK!

18:21, 209km.  With the ocean now at our backs, the scenery change was a welcome one.  The obvious gravel road we'd taken was not the route I'd mapped - gunning for the end of Tora Road, I'd plotted a route further along the coast.  We'd passed a sign indicating 49km to Martinborough, so were not worried about getting lost

19:02, 223km.  Stopping for a bite to eat.  The gravel road was among the sweetest I've ridden, and it was only the livestock that were keeping us on our toes.  Sarah was moving at a good pace, and remarkably, my legs were holding up well.  On the other hand, my GPS was on its last legs, and I kept nervously checking that Strava was still running on the phone in my pocket...  It would have been horrible had the ride not happened

19:20.  A random stunning sight on the road to Martinborough.  At Tuturimuri (231km), we left the gravel for good, and it was sealed road all the way home.  A shame, since the Ravens always feel slower on tarmac

20:29, 243km.  Looking up at the modest Hau Nui wind farm.  While waiting for Sarah to complete the 250vm climb, I enjoyed the first bit of cell-phone coverage for a while.  Brendan was keen to know if we were safe - I'd turned down his offer at iRide of an EPIRB - and when I told him we still had 20km to go, his response was "Holy cow" to which I replied "Tell me about it!"

21:10, 258km.  Finally looking down over the lights of Martinborough, very much looking forward to stopping, and even more, to something hot and greasy!

Sarah had left the car by the Square, and I turned Strava off at around 21:30, with 263.6km on the clock, for a few minutes under 13 hours moving, and almost 16 hours since I'd left home.  Sarah's loop had been 147km - a monster effort in itself.

Due to the hour, we had to drive to Masterton, and I thought we were staring down the barrel of my first visit to McDonalds since the midnight finish of the Kiwi Brevet, and my second in a couple of decades.  But, we were saved by Pizza Hut!  One of the best things about these rides was eating somewhat with impunity at the end of them, and that's exactly what we did.

We stayed the night in Carterton, before returning to Wellington on Christmas Eve to do some last minute shopping.  I managed a (very slow) ride to Makara Beach and back with Sarah on Christmas morning, and a Bays+Hawkins ride with Brendan on Boxing Day. 

Even had the legs not bounced back so fast, this incredible ride would still have been well worth it.  I'm not sure I'd recommend doing the whole lot in one go, but the coastline offers some truly wonderful sights.  It was wonderful to have Sarah's company, and mostly stunning weather.  This one definitely goes in the "Roaring Success" folder.

Here's the GPX file, and strava, so you know what segments to hit up...!!

Happy New Year, everyone!


  1. Wonderful! What an epic; something you certainly specialise in, brother. Love the Strava call too, haha!

  2. Awesome stuff, John! I love that road from White Rock through Tuturumuri (the site of the southernmost school in the North Island, btw).

  3. What an epic ride! And well written to boot. I regularly do the rimutaka loop on by gravel bike but adding cape paliser into the mix is genius. R