Time to begin our cycle touring New Zealand – along with many other activities on our list!
We arrived in Wellington, North Island of NZ, at midnight, declaring our walking boots, bikes, tyres and tents to the Customs officials, who scurried some bits away into a secret room to inspect our goods. Will’s boots had been scrubbed, and looked much cleaner, so we were happy, though through security, our bags were X-rayed and Will’s rucksack got pulled out. Uh oh. We were asked to wait while it was inspected. New Zealand is strict on what comes into this beautiful country, particularly fruit, seeds, mud, the Australian fruit fly, etc., and we had made sure we were abiding by the rules to avoid the hefty on-the-spot fine. But, here we were, feeling a bit anxious…and Will was getting grilled: “Did you pack this bag yourself?”, “Do you know the contents of this bag?”…
“Er, yes I think so”, didn’t seem to be reassuring enough, and she began unpacking it. It was more or less empty when she pulled out the hockey ball we use as a trigger-point ball. She grabbed it, started laughing and turned to her colleague staring at the X-ray monitor. “It’s a ball, not an orange!” Phew!
Once we unpacked the bikes from the boxes, repacked the panniers and built the bikes, we set off at 2am into the dark streets of Wellington. It was raining, of course, but we were excited to have finally arrived in New Zealand!
We stayed with a top Kiwi adventurer just outside of Wellington city, where it was an ideal spot to run up and along the cliffs to do some trail running, and right on the beach where we could do some sea kayaking in search of Little Blue Penguins.
With a house-sit planned in Northland through Kiwi-house-sitters, we hitched a lift to the centre of the island to begin our cycle touring New Zealand. In the darkness, we pitched our tent and woke to a frosty morning at the south of Lake Taupo in Tokaanu: back on bikes!
Tokaanu to Tauramunui
Brrr…it was cold! With our down jackets and gloves on, we packed up our tent quicker than ever before and cycled straight to the Tokaanu thermal pools where we held our hands over the hot steam bellowing out of the drains (which looked really peculiar – like something underground was on fire!) and watched it rise above the stream. The clouds misted the path ahead, and we cycled up, up and up along Saddle Road. We rode past a sign that indicated the start of the Tongariro National Park…yet the fog was still thick and we couldn’t see anything to our left. There were three volcanoes right there, Mount Ruapehu, Mount Ngauruhoe (aka Mount Doom!) and Mount Tongariro, yet we couldn’t see them. I felt robbed of a view I had been so looking forward to. Still, we pedalled on, and each time I looked up, I pleaded for the clouds to lift.
A coffee stop was very much in order, and just as my spirits were dipping, the wispy clouds grew fainter, and we were granted a truly awesome view – one of the best backdrops for our morning break.
Pharrell Williams “Happy” played repeatedly in my brain. We couldn’t stop talking about how amazing the view was. The cycle to our destination for the night seems a bit of a blur now; volcano imprints must have dominated our minds. What is memorable, however, is where we stayed. We cycled to a sports field, where we assumed we would be able to find a small patch of grass behind some trees to stealth camp; however, it was pretty busy with children running around and actually playing sports. This was totally unexpected. We spotted a patch of grass down by a river, but thought it best to ask a local whether they thought it would be ok to pitch our tent there. Though just about to drive off, a lady stopped to help us; she didn’t think it was a suitable place to camp; instead she offered her house that she was currently renovating. She explained that, when a stranger helped out her son, she felt she had a duty to help others. We were astounded at her kindness and we were left squatting in her house, until she returned in the morning.
Taumarunui to Te Kuiti
Having now added ‘squatting’ to the list of our hobo-esque lives, we cycled away happy. Heading towards the Timber Trail, one of New Zealand’s great cycle routes, which supposedly wound it’s way through forest and over numerous swing bridges, our spirits became dampened by the awful road we decided to take. Instead of a beautifully tarmacked highway – which isn’t busy at all compared to European highways, we went for a quiet back road that ran parallel to the highway. We could even see the highway from our road. Our road that soon turned to gravel. Not a normal gravel road either, this was gravel that must have just been freshly laid down, and it was about 2 inches deep. A river was between our joyless gravel road and the smooth tarmac highway. Our eyes darted everywhere trying to spy a route over. We of course couldn’t turn back; forward was the only option. As our tyres dug deep into the loose surface, our rear wheels, fully loaded, skidded from side to side struggling with traction, we desperately wished this road would end. It did end, after over an hour of struggling. The Timber Trail would be wet and muddy after the rain from last night – and more rain was on its way. With the load of our bikes as well we thought it might not be so much fun. We stopped at the local shop in Ongarue where you can start the Timber Trail and discussed our options; muddy, slippery hills or smooth clean tarmac. We chose the latter, and vowed to do the trail when the weather was more favourable and we were carrying less. It turned out that smooth tarmac was hard enough as it was; rolling hills through New Zealand’s King Country is not so rolling. If we thought Tasmania was a step towards cycle touring New Zealand, we didn’t quite realise how big a step it would be!
We found our campsite in Te Kuiti, nestled in among towering cliffs with a small stream running alongside. The rain started, we hid, realised the tent had sprung a leak, hoped that the stream wouldn’t flood and went to bed.
Te Kuiti to Hamilton
As our eyes started to open, we patted around the tent to see what was soaked. Then patted the floor to see if we were flooded. As we peered out of the tent it was a relief to see the stream still gently bubbling away, no higher than when we hid in our tent.
The skies were still grey as we cycled through the small town of Te Kuiti, and out into the country wondering what hills we had in store today. Completely opposite to yesterday, we were greeted with fairly flat, and boring farmland. At least hills offer some form of focus and a challenge, but flat farmland, although easy on the legs, is just too dull. We probably should have been pleased for a flat day though; these weren’t going to be a common thing here! Lindsay kept herself entertained with a new skill she had picked up – talking to turkeys that were huddled together in groups in the nearby fields. Riding past, Lindsay would burst out with a “gobbley-gobble-gobblelely” type sound and the Turkeys would respond. I tried it and they ignored me. My language skills were never that good.
Tonight we would be staying with a warm shower host, and the driveway to his house was certainly not flat, with a short lung busting push to get to the front door. All worth it for the Fijoa crumble we got fed though!
Hamilton to Kaiaua
We had been telling ourselves that we should not be doing long days here, in New Zealand, for obvious reasons. So today we decided to head to somewhere over 100km away. We were determined. The problem we are finding with the country is that there are relatively few campsites on offer, and even less free ones. Luckily, again today was a bit flat though and we cruised through more farmland. Just to ensure that we didn’t find today too easy, a good strong head wind greeted us along the Sea Bird Coast, along with some rain. Sadly, it didn’t even seem that there were any sea birds braving the weather that we could watch and keep entertained.
As we got closer to the boat club we would be camping at, the skies got darker, the rain heavier and the wind ever stronger. At reaching the boat club, we dived under a roof for shelter from the elements. As we watched the weather turn even angrier from under our little shelter, huddled together with a hot brew and dressed in down jackets, we could see some other tourists watching television from their enormous motorhome. I wonder how much those things are… It’s nice to feel hardy and that you’re doing something different, but that did look cosy!
Kaiaua to Papakura
Although we managed to pitch our little tent we call home under shelter and in between some benches to hide from the wind, the weather was too powerful and kept us awake most of the night. As we pedalled off, there was no sign of life from the huge motorhome, probably its occupants still fast asleep after a beautifully comfortable and warm night. At least we got to enjoy the silent misty morning to ourselves though.
The morning fog seemed trapped in the forests, clinging to the ferns to make the scene similar to something out of Jurassic Park.
The skies brightened and as we cycled around the hilly coastline towards Kawakawa Bay, we had beautiful turquoise blue seas backed by white sandy beaches to keep our minds on the view and off the hills.
Into Papakura with the wind in our faces, our legs getting tired, we had another driveway that could be the steepest yet to push the bikes up.
Papakura to Auckland
Cycling through cities are almost always a chore. In a world where car is king there’s not much room or tolerance for cyclists. Luckily, Auckland has some cycle paths we can stick to, but these all seem to be half-arsed, and thought of after most of the planning has been done, so a network of cycle paths that suddenly end, or with crap signs or just paths that take you on bizarre routes can be frustrating. To get across the city also meant we had to go all the way around the sprawling urban mess in a huge loop.
The main road that goes through Auckland is the Harbour Bridge, which neither cyclists nor pedestrians are allowed on. When it was designed and built, they didn’t realise how busy it would get and cut costs by keeping minimal. Since then they have had to bolt on extra lanes – aka ‘The Nippon Clip-ons’. Now they are in discussions to bolt yet more lanes, this time for cyclists and pedestrians. If you want some city planning done, I wouldn’t ask Auckland council! Cities are not our favourite so we prepared ourselves and went for it. Although still frustrating and taking most of the day, circumnavigating the city wasn’t all that bad.
Auckland to Wellsford
To avoid the main highway we headed out to the west coast. The roads went up and down through Dairy Flats. A name isn’t to be trusted here, but I guess it was flat-ish compared to most of what we had cycled already. Hoping for some spectacular views across stunning coastline we were a little disappointed when all we could see were muddy looking seas and grey skies. We instead counted down the cycle days left until we reached our house-sit, and started to list all the things we would do during our stay: this was keeping us going.
A lack of campgrounds meant that we were hoping to find a wild camp somewhere tonight, but by the time we had turned up to the small and strange town of Wellsford, we had found nowhere suitable. It was getting dark and we started to cycle up the highway hoping to find somewhere we could stealthily pitch our tent. A small house was nestled just off the highway so we cycled up to it. A large scary dog ran toward us and unleashed its terrifying bark, so we cycled on to the next house. After knocking on the door for a few minutes it was obvious no one was home. We carefully went back to the first house in the hope that the dog had calmed down. A gruff looking and coarse voiced man asked if he could help us. We explained that we were looking for somewhere to camp and would they mind if we pitched our tent in the garden. They were more than happy, and apparently we weren’t the first cycle tourists to come knocking. It seems that cycle tourists are regulars here and they have had a few come by in search of a suitable campsite.
Wellsford to Whangarei
Getting closer to our house sit where our legs would get a good rest, and where we would have our own house for a few weeks and we could try and feel normal for a bit, we first had to battle the main highway and the Brynderwyn Hills. State Highway 1 is pretty much the main road that travels from North to South, essentially their version of the M1 motorway. This was nothing like the flat, fast wide-lanes of the motorway though – except for a whole section taken over by road works!
Although it mostly had a shoulder we could cycle on, it was still mainly one lane, and it twisted up, around and through some incredible terrain of lush sub-tropical rainforest. Slowly, we pedalled into the hills and around the tight, twisting corners. Luckily the hills was so long and steep, and the road full of sharp corners that the traffic wasn’t able to go flat out, and we didn’t feel we slowed the traffic down too much. Certainly better than cycling on the M1.
Whangarei to Hikurangi
Our last day cycle touring New Zealand for 3 weeks! This time we did have a stunning coastline to follow, the sun lighting up the electric blue sea with waves crashing onto the dark black rocks.
We arrived at our home for the next 3 weeks, slightly anxious about it’s location in the middle of nowhere and wondering what we had agreed to. As we got to the top of another very steep driveway, a Rottweiler started excitedly barking at us. Lindsay stopped, slightly unsure as to her friendliness. We got closer and suddenly we were attacked. The dog ran and leapt at us, unleashing its tongue trying to lick at us. The owners showed us around and we soon realised we had struck gold. We looked at each other and could not believe how we had lucked in. Our home for the next 3 weeks was set in the middle of nowhere, but this nowhere was 17 acres of land covered in over 25,000 trees and shrubs that the owners had planted over the last 10 years. We had our own sub-tropical rain forest. And the friendliest, beautiful Rottweiler to entertain us. We felt instantly at home and sat on the deck, wood fire blazing, rolling out some home-made pizza dough, watching the sunset with our new companion, Nico.