Sunday, June 6, 2021

Waiheke weekender

After bailing on my dear wife at Easter, it seemed appropriate to follow up soon after with a weekend away together.  

Sarah swooped me up from work on Thursday afternoon, and we had time to run a couple of errands in Kilbirnie before getting rid of our bikes at the oversize desk, and enjoying dinner at the Air NZ lounge.  In our haste to leave to board our flight, I forgot to grab a handful of mints, and had to endure a tough hour masked up.  

We caught a shuttle to our hotel at the top of Queen Street and left our bikes in the bags overnight.  The next morning after breakfast, we assembled them out on the street, and after stowing the bike bags in the luggage room, rolled down the hill to the ferry terminal.  The flow of commuters off the boat from Waiheke reminded us that today, Aucklanders would be going about their business, giving us hope we'd have the island's roads largely to ourselves.


We got changed into our riding gear on the boat, and each carried a small backpack with civvies and a collection of extra riding wear which we were hoping not to need.  In many ways, this is my favourite time of the year to ride - no need to lather sunscreen on, but nor is there need to faff around with highly functional, but otherwise pain-in-the-arse winter riding wear.  

Our overnight accommodation was at a wee hostel in Ostend, and aside from a couple of stops to get some food for lunch, and coffee on board, we made our way straight there.  Having dumped our bags, it was time to start bagging deadends!

Since my Karori caper back in 2014, I've become well and truly addicted to burbing, as it is now known.  It has its downsides, that's for sure - it is very constraining, and an enjoyable ride is very sensitive to careful boundary selection.  Even after carving out an area, it is also difficult to estimate the distance you'll need to ride, so you tend to spend the entire ride second-guessing its feasibility.  On the other hand, you truly do see a place, and there's not been a single ride among the dozens I've now done, where I didn't say "wow", in response to something that a regular ride would never take you past.  

From Ostend, we headed along Sea View Road, before dropping down to Onetangi Beach en route to the start of the Man O' War Bay Road - surely a contender for the coolest road-name in the country.  As per the brochure we'd grabbed from the ferry terminal (including map), it was unsealed from the intersection with Waiheke Road, but great quality, and initially at least, a mellow gradient.  

Initially, at least...

There were few cars on the road, and they were vastly outnumbered by the number of "Private Land" signs we saw, leaving no doubt that visitors were unwelcome.  Even the gate at the end of Stony Batter Road, beyond which was pedestrian access to a WW2 Coastal Defence Fortress, signalled that only pedestrians were welcome.  

At Man O' War Bay, we rode across a foot bridge to a locked jetty, and smashed back a couple of BLT sandwiches each before continuing on our way.

There was an open vineyard cafe in the bay, but we didn't go inside.  Just beyond that was an old church which we were surprised to see was also off limits.  


The climb out of the bay was steep, but there was some nice native bush to admire, and a few kererū hurtling about overhead in their usual glorious fashion.  

The fast section that followed the climb not only was fun to ride, but also gave great views out towards the Coromandel peninsula.   

We poked our noses down one of the rare side roads not marked as private, but while it was shown on the map, it never really felt like we were welcome, and for our nosiness, we were forced to grovel back up to the ridge.  

Soon after, the gravel ended, and we descended to sea level for a quick loop around the wee settlement of Orapiu.  A nice little track above the coast enabled us to connect a couple of deadend roads.  

Two climbs later, we'd completed the big loop we'd started on the Man O' War Road.  I'd been nursing a stroppy rear derailleur, and a couple of attempts to sort it out had been to no avail.  Even though the rollers had been pretty mellow, and sealed to boot, my legs were feeling startlingly smashed - possibly related to compromising on the gear selection and shifting regularity.

On the way down Awaawaroa Road, I noticed a walking track heading in the right direction, so after bagging the deadend, we took a closer look.  There wasn't any "no bikes" signage, and despite the track being too steep to ride up, we thought we'd give it a whirl.  One virtue of the steepness, was that we quickly got great views, and there were even occasional rideable sections.  

Looking down over the Awaawaroa Wetland Reserve

Our hopes that we would be able to ride the downhill were very soon dashed, when we found ourselves staring down a fenceline that was insanely  steep.  In lieu of steps, a rope had been tied to the fence to support anyone foolish enough to come that way.  Figuring backtracking would probably have required walking as well, we picked up our bikes, and started lowering ourselves down the track.

We made the bottom of the track intact, and while there was little riding, most of the time we could push the bikes rather than carry them.

At the far end, we were reminded that the "route requires reasonable fitness"!  Not the most user-friendly bit of signage, and quite the understatement.  Even with the bikes, we'd busted it out in about half the suggested time (45 mins to their 1.5 hours), so that was a win, I suppose.

The service station at Onetangi was a welcome recharge point, though when we resumed riding, we realised that only a sleep was going to help our legs recover from the abuse we'd subjected them to (or more accurately, that I'd...).

I'd hoped to knock off the roads to Rocky Bay and the island's airfield, but the day had really marched on, and so I made do with cleaning up Ostend alone, before joining Sarah back at base.  

One of many houseboats in Anzac Bay

By the time we'd both showered, we were ready for dinner.  Neither of us was inclined to ride any further, so we walked into Ostend for delicious pasta at La Dolce Vita.  

After grabbing some breakfast supplies at Countdown, we enjoyed a sedate stroll back to the hostel, before firing up Netflix and a cup of tea.

Stats:  95km ridden (plus a 23km ferry ride).  2550m climbed!!   


There had been overnight rain, and the skies were still pretty grey when we rolled out towards Rocky Bay.  Consequently, we stayed off the mountain bike tracks at the Onetangi Sports Park, though it was very cool to see that the signage being used there was for the same design that some Massey University students (led by Karl Kane and ably supported by Karl Yager) had made for Makara Peak MTB Park back when I was chairing the Supporters committee.

The climb up to the airfield was pretty stern, although sealed, and we got hit by a few showers, in return for some spectacular rainbow action.

My Pot of Gold and a rainbow

On the return trip, we stopped at the airfield to adjust clothing (yet again), and while parked up, were treated to a great display by a helicopter coming in to land.  Our timing and location could not have been better had we tried!

By the time we'd finished the long, mostly-unsealed deadend out to Woodside Bay, we both had a mud slick up our backsides.  For a while, it seemed like we would get across to Omiha Bay on a bit of singletrack, but all the connections were marked "no bikes" and we were forced up and over the road.  

After a half-decent shortcut between Margaret Reeve and Vintage Lanes, I pushed our luck too far again, and we had a long walk between Te Whau Point and Omiha Bay.  The small consolation was some great scenery, and the occasional bit of riding.  

To our great delight, there was a makeshift cafe running out of the community hall in Omiha Bay, and we were able to scoff back a couple of toasted sandwiches, washed down by smoothies, and for me, a coffee.  Afterwards, I mopped up the last of the roads on my own, netting a new "best letterbox".  The individual on the Kapiti Coast using an old outboard motor is now in second place, behind the repurposed scuba tank on Valley Road - similar scores for novelty, but the effort involved in cutting this puppy deserves some kudos!

Best letterbox in the country?!

By the time we got back to the main road, we'd chewed up almost 4.5 hours, and it was somewhat laughable to think that I'd had some hope of knocking that part of the network off the afternoon prior.  Even without the hike-a-bike, and the much-needed coffee stop, we'd have been lucky to crack it out in under 3 hours.  

The next point of interest was the vehicle ferry terminal at Kennedy Point.  The locals occupying the adjacent beach were clearly not that keen on the proposed marina (though they've since settled with the developer).  From there, we climbed up onto the ridge between Surfdale and Palm Beach, but on the descent, I lost track of Sarah, who as it turned out, had not followed me down a short dead-end.  Thank goodness for cell phones!  We celebrated our reunion with a spot of lunch, before ducking and diving for another few hours.  

Church Bay Road afforded us lovely views across to Auckland, but I started to get the sense that Sarah had had enough.  Unfortunately, there was still a fair bit of road to go, so I suggested she pull the pin and hang out at a watering hole in Oneroa while I mopped up.

She agreed and so I boosted away.  I'd left a few roads between the ferry terminal and our accommodation, which turned out to be a bit of a nuisance, since Sarah decided to go back for the luggage.  

We kept in contact via txt, which was nice, as after dark I started to feel strangely isolated.  Usually I enjoy riding in the dark, and similarly, riding alone.  On the other hand, this unusual riding format sucks when you can't see - partly because it is difficult to keep track of where you have and haven't been, but also because you don't get to enjoy the surroundings.  Anyway, I was brave, kept riding, and arrived at the ferry terminal about half an hour before the next sailing.

There was another group of cyclists waiting for the boat - but the vast majority of those in the queue had clearly been drinking alcohol all day.  As it turned out, there were at least two people in the crowd who'd been celebrating birthdays.  For a somewhat excruciating 10 minutes, their respective friends took turns singing happy birthday to them, each time cranking up the volume ever so slightly from the previous rendition.  As nice as it was to finally be invited to board, the end to the sing-comp was just as welcome.

The sailing was very peaceful in contrast, and once berthed, we had a gentle ride back up Queen Street to our hotel. 

Stats:  141km ridden, and a whopping 3600 metres climbed

* * *

Intotal, we covered about 160-unique-kilometres, which, according to, is only 45% of the island's network.  A good excuse to go back and explore some more of the off-road paths, I suppose!

The format worked surprisingly well - the shuttle to and from the airport dealt well with the bike-bag issue, and the ferry out to the island with a small overnight bag gave us two full days riding over there with a reasonably comfortable evening in between.  

My shifting issue had plagued me throughout, and my legs felt even more wrecked than they would have anyway after 6000+ metres of climbing.  Of course, Oli diagnosed the issue straightway but sorted it out before I had a chance to see the obvious problem that I'd missed - the excess rear derailleur cable had somehow got wedged beside one of the jockey-wheels and was causing issues in the top half of the cassette.

Unfortunately, that is precisely the half that the surprisingly brutal roads of Waiheke Island demand!  The highest point we traversed was not even equivalent to Mt Vic, but in 260km of riding, my total climbing was enough for over 30 ascents of Wellington's quintessential hill.  Don't let that put you off though, just be prepared!