Friday, January 16, 2009

East Cape Tour (from the vorb files)

One of the few spots in New Zealand I've never had the chance to visit was the East Cape of the North Island. So when my girlfriend Carly invited me to stop in on her family holiday at Waihau Bay, a plan began to hatch. I initially thought a full loop would be cool, riding from Opotiki to Gisborne inland, and then back around the coast, but in the end January was starting to fill up, and the thought of spending two days in a car getting to and from a ride started to intimidate me. A quick look online, and I managed to book a $99 flight to Gisborne, and get home from Whakatane four nights later for $185. Plenty of awesome riding in between, no driving, and little more expense than the gas would have cost me.

Saturday morning dawned, and I ferried my Giant CRX, and borrowed Bob Yak trailer down the front steps, and headed off to the airport. It was overcast, with not a breath of wind, so after dropping off my house keys with my sister in Newtown, I headed to the airport via Lyall Bay. No sooner had I got inside the terminal than the heavens opened! First good omen?!


I had little problem stripping the pedals off my bike after a mission to Scotty's the night before to unseize them. I whipped the handlebars around, and bagged up the rear end of the bike. The trailer went in another bag, and $15 later, I was checked in, and scoffing down a decent lamb curry, with a window seat of the apron. Soon after, I was on the plane, and before too long, touching down at Gisborne.

While I was suiting up, and filling bottles etc, I was being watched by a woman and her small son. After a while they asked me where I was headed. When I told them "around the coast", they said it was a shame, that they lived 50km out of town towards Opotiki, and that I would have been welcome to stay. Nice to have such an early hint that I was out of the city. I grabbed a few supplies from Pak'n'save: a tin of creamed rice, and a small tin of baked beans (both with rip tops), a box of muesli bars, a couple of packs of hnoey roasted peanuts, a large bunch of bananas, and a foccacia pizza bread. That safely stowed, I was on my way.

Shortly after leaving town, I stopped for my first road sign snap...


The plan was to get to Tokomaru Bay for the night. The photo was taken at 3:20, and I had something like 90km to ride. A couple of kilometres later, I had my only technical problem of the entire ride - the mudguard on the trailer gave way, and it spent the rest of the trip tucked under a bungee on the top of the trailer...

Tolaga Bay has NZ's longest wharf, clocking in at about 600m. It was well worth visiting, and even better to be on a bike. It took no time at all to get to the far end.


There were a bunch of people fishing, and some kids jumping off into the sea. 


After soaking it all up for a bit, I headed back, and into town to find some dinner. There weren't many options, so I ended up with an egg burger and a bit of fish from the local chippie.

While waiting for dinner, a bloke was chatting away to me. He went on about his diesel vehicle, and how he likes to keep it filled up. $3 worth last fill he reckoned. I asked him about the road to Toko. He told me it was hilly, and took 1 hour in a car. Bullshit, I thought. Thank goodness it was - what a wind-up merchant! I bet he had a jolly good chuckle as he drove off thinking how pleasantly surprised I'd be.

I stayed at Brian's Place in Tokomaru Bay. The facilities were good, and cheap, though my metal cot was not the most comfortable bed I've slept on. Beans and grilled foccacia in the morning slipped down very nicely, and then I was on my bike again. Sunday's plan was to get to Te Araroa, and was relatively short at just under 80km. It took a while for the legs to come right, but before too long I was turning off SH35 to go find lunch in Ruatoria. There was a cafe there that serves Havana Coffee, one of the logos on my Roadworks jersey, but being Sunday, it was closed. The 4 Square was open though, and I grabbed a very tasty local pie.

I back tracked up the highway a little for coffee from the competitor, and then back on the road, heading north...

Next stop after Ruatoria was Tikitiki. It was a bit confusing to romp into a building expecting a dairy (there were various milk-related sandwich boards outside) to find a pub. Turned out the local RSA is also the local store... Lonely Planet raved about a church there, and although it was Sunday afternoon, it was all locked up.


 A bit more riding had me on the north coast, near Te Araroa. I realised that I was staying another 6km past the town, at Te Araroa Holiday Park, so continued on, and put up my tent. En route was a Honey Factory, but unfortunately it was closed. Despite being about 3pm already, I decided to do an out and back trip to the East Cape lighthouse. 45km return from Te Araroa had turned into 57km return with the road stretch, but the camp ground wasn't particularly attractive (I wouldn't stay there again), so I figured I might as well get it done. Before leaving Wellington, I'd had pretensions of doing it first thing in the morning, and even had lights with me, but ultimately the 4:30am start, and the risk that the sun would be behind cloud anyway put me off.

I grabbed a drink from a store at Te Araroa, before hitting the East Cape Road. It was mostly sealed, though the two unsealed sections seemed to take about half the riding time. (The round trip took me just under four hours, including photo stops, and some sightseeing!) The first gravel was loose and sharp, where as the second one was much longer, and quite badly corrugated in places. The CRX handled it all pretty well. It was quite dramatic along the coast, particularly as I was heading into some bad weather. The road really was stunning though, and I heartily recommend it.


The lighthouse itself was on a hill in a beautiful pocket of native bush.


The ride back to the campsite was hard, though I did remember to check out the mighty pohutukawa tree, said to be 350+ years old, and the largest in New Zealand. Not 40m tall as Lonely Planet had suggested, but 40m wide, and 21.5m tall. Still, an impressive tree. I missed the fish and chip lady at the campsite by a couple of minutes, so (cold) baked beans, and grilled cheese rolls it was for dinner. I had a good night's sleep that night...

I woke up fairly early on the Monday morning, after overnight rain. I had a tin of creamed rice for breakfast, and though I'd given it a good shake, I had to dig the last inch or so out of the tin with a muesli bar! The cold hard facts of travelling light, i.e. without a spoon, hitting home hard, and making me feel grubby. I had only a short ride ahead of me this day - to Oruaiti Beach, a few kilometres before Waihau Bay. The rest of the day, and the day following would be spent with Carly and her family.

I packed up the tent, and mixed a couple of bottles of Replace. Knowing when was the right time to put on my Roadworks bibs and jersey (one set, unlaundered...) was always going to be tricky, but eventually I bit the bullet, and was on the road a few minutes later.

The ride started with a steady climb up out of the bay, and allowed a couple of beautiful photo opportunities.


I made a tiny detour to the Hick's Bay General Store, where upon my request for a coffee, the chap told me most cyclists bought water or juice. While I sat outside, and supped my barely passable "latte", a couple of young girls, barefoot, kicked off the day with some pretty good looking icecream cones. A van load emptied out into the store, and were greeted with "Morena". You sure as shit don't get that in the big smoke, and more's the pity.

The next part of the ride was horrible, and I hope never for a repeat. The day before I'd passed a Manuka Honey Factory. Well, this morning, I was right in the collection centre, or so it seemed. I was riding along, minding my own business, when I was pelted on my arms and face by honey bees. It was pretty terrifying. It was a hot morning, and I had my shirt unzipped about half way down. I had sunnies on, and a roadie cap under my helmet, but with short sleeves on. I felt very vulnerable, and wasn't sure what to do about it. I wanted to zip my top up, but I was going pretty fast, and I wasn't certain that there were no bees in my shirt. I also wanted to get out of the flight path, but pedalling faster made the collisions hurt more. I didn't want to be stung, so I rode faster.

I think I had about 4 or 5 episodes like this, but the first lasted the longest...

From memory, it took me less than two hours to cover the 50km or so from that day, including the coffee stop. When I reached the Banana Bach, Carly was out fishing, so I was able to get unpacked, and put up the tent while I was still hot. The first of many swims came soon after she arrived, and after lunch, we took advantage of the calm seas and went fishing. We discovered a huge flock of sooty shearwaters just sifting, and soon after I landed my first tarakihi of the trip.


It was very cool to spend some time chilling, including time on the beach, more time out at sea, and a funky little walk up a stream to a beautiful waterfall as per the third edition of Classic New Zealand Mountain Bike Rides!


Wednesday had a fairly daunting amount of riding, and with a schedule to keep. It was about 160km for Oruaiti Beach to Whakatane Airport, and my flight left at 5:30pm. I agreed to leave my tent and sleeping gear behind, so the trailer was probably 7-8kg lighter than it had been (about 20kg). Despite the schedule, I stopped for photos along the way, and for a coffee at a macadamia nut farm, whose driveway was metalled with macadamia nut shells instead of gravel! The Motu River brought a funky diversion inland, and some narrow, cliff-hugging roads. Also some roadies on their way out from Opotiki, or so I guessed. The ride was reasonably flat, but at the end of each bay there was typically a climb of some sort. I made Opotiki by about 2pm, and had a really nice bite to eat at the Flying Pig Cafe. It was a short stop though, I had a plane to catch! It took the legs a while to warm up after lunch, and it made me a little nervous. The posted distance to Whakatane was 59km, but eventually, a second route 14km shorter showed up on the signs. I'd been intending to take the route through Ohope Beach, but while shorter, the question of how hilly it was remained.
In the end, it wasn't bad at all, with only a decent hill between Ohope Beach and Whakatane itself, up which I managed to pass a truck and trailer!


I grabbed an icecream in Whakatane, before heading out to the airport. This was a bit nervewracking, as the signs were few and far between, but I got there in the end, with just over an hour to spare. The flight to Auckland was pretty cool, as we got spat out the side of some wicked looking clouds.

My bro picked me up from the airport, and drove me home. My own bed felt pretty damn good!

Originally published on vorb