The Tour Aotearoa: Day 10 – 17
Geoff Gabites’s Diary
The jet boat ride down the Wanganui River contrasts so much with the effort to get there. From the Blue Duck, we entered the single track of the Whakahoro Track and this rises from 125m up to 600m. The bottom section of the track was a grind with occasional walking sections, before breaking out into the farmland and trails above that gradually ground to the summit. As we slowly cycled through, we were passed by a group of farmers on quad bikes and motor bikes. A meeting of two cultures seemed strange but we were united by a love of the remote landscapes. Eventually we sort ourselves out and get our nerves ready for the swoop back down the hard-won 600m on dry handpicked trails that dropped down and and down into the bush and eventually out to the Bridge to Nowhere. A chance to dry out our tents and enjoy a spell until the arrival of the 4pm jet boat for a ride down to Pipiriki. Accommodation is in a large family camping tent with a meal and drinks provided. The following morning featured an early breakfast and then away again down valley, heading towards Wanganui on what was to be Day 11.
The river road weaved down valley with occasional bumps and climbs. After 60 kms the gradual climb up Gentle Annie seemed enjoyable as we crested the hill top with a final 20 kms into Wanganui and the ongoing search for thick shakes and food, before finding our way to the unique elevator which took up some 20 floors and an exit onto the outskirts of town, this time to head to Hunterville another 60 kms away. The ride passed in blur with the highlight being the hospitality of the staff and the amazing food delivered to the group of us staying at the hotel. The downside of Hunterville has to be the train which seemed to be literally outside our cabin as they passed 2-3 times during the night.
From Hunterville the route loops via the back roads in a semi circle that was to end at Palmerston North. Arriving at Apiti and lunch and in need of food and cups of tea, it was a shock to find the local hotel closed on Tuesdays. Fortunately a group of locals had risen to the challenge and provide a BBQ, cups of tea and drinks for the riders who seemed to stream in. Pushing ever onwards we finally turned southwards and from here all kilometres ridden were southward. Ashurst was a temptation to stop at but we pushed on to Palmerston North and rode through the town to find our accommodation and make do dinner.
The weather which had been a feature of our trip, finally turned, and it was a sad sound to hear the rain on the roof. The day that followed involved a climb over the Pahiatua Track in the rain, with sweat mixed with raindrops making riding difficult on the narrow twisting road. Like all good things, this came to an end as we descended the hillside into Paihiatu and a late breakfast, before we pushed on into the cold southerly wind. A lunch stop at Eketahuna gave an encounter with the model Kiwi that adorns the roadside and is perhaps the most notable things of the toenailed. Pushing on again wheeled our way through the last 40 kms into Masterton, only to find that this visit coincided with the Golden Shears event which flooded the town and left accommodation at a premium. Last minute begging and pleading eventually unearthed a room at a local hotel, and we were then able to look forward to our final days ride in the North Island – up and over the Remutuka Incline and down into the Hutt Valley.
Two weeks after starting our tour, we headed southwards yet again through the Wairarapa and a cold southerly heading through the rural landscape towards Martinborough. by late morning and 50 kms later we entered this town and sought lunch before joining a friend who had trained over to join us for the ride. Regrettably, at this stage my derailleur threw a hissy fit and refused to change into my lowest or highest gear and my decision was make to leave Mark to climb over the Remutukas, while I trained through to the Hutt Valley and find a bike shop. With little guilt I settled into the train ride and effortlessly swept through the tunnel to eventually find My Ride Bike shop and Brendon. He straightened my derailleur hanger and recalibrated my gears, leaving me free to head to Petone and accommodation.
Wellington isn’t bike friendly and the cycle paths lead easily into the central city. By 11am I was at the Ferry terminal waiting in line along with the cohort of riders who appeared from nowhere also looking for the sailing. Combined with the easy day of yesterday and the gentle 15km ride into town, the following 3.5hr crossing was a dream and we were able to emerge from the bowels of the ferry refreshed and ready to ride.
The climb over Queen Charlotte Drive was relatively easy. Even I “rolled into Havelock” – a mark of comfort with my fitness and bike. It was such a delight to cycle the familiar roads with the sounds looking awesome and the 35 kms passed easily to allow me to arrive refreshed and happy to be under way for the south island. Dinner tonight was relaxed. although the concerns over tomorrows grind over the Maungatapu Track into the back of Nelson weighted heavy.
A fast 19km took us to Pelorus Bridge and then turned south to ride deep into the back of the Richmond Range. The Maungatapu Track is an access 4WD route to support building the power pylons, and hence it became one of the biggest climbs of the Tour Aotearoa. Everything reduces to a slow grind and under a clear sky, we eventually emerged pushing the final 2kms onto the summit. If the uphill was tough, the descent was far worse with loose debris covering the track and making a high speed crash both easy and highly damaging. My riding is conservative as I looked to protect both bike and body. After the inevitable grind into the Matai Valley, we popped out almost into the heart of Nelson with its closed off streets , live piano player and the inevitable thick shake to follow.
A 13km urban cycleway feed us out to Richmond to my daughter and her family for some long overdue washing and bike maintenance. While it was a “short” day, the relaxation with family was a highlight as we sought to regroup.
Our decision was to abandon camping options and with that we almost halved our loads. The riding from Richmond to Spooners Tunnel to Kohatu and then Tapawera went well. Inland through the Tadmor Valley Road, we road up and over to the Buller, followed by a lovely climb to Lake Rotoroa and the Gowan Backpackers for the night.
By now, we can see the far end post and a series of calculations follow that provide a picture of what is needed to be ridden on a daily basis. The risk is that the end point starts to become stronger while we risk ignoring the remaining 9 days of riding required to get us to Bluff.
The Essence of Kiwi
The Spirit is Alive and Well!
In a society where I am feeling that I am held personally responsible for every beaten child, social poverty, bullying and even the actions of a solo nut case Australian who lives out his fantasy, the Tour Aotearoa has proved to be a stunning reconnection with real New Zealanders. Kiwis are caring, of spirit, helpful, open and kind. Something we seem to forget while being held responsible for the woes of society.
Along the Tour Aotearoa, unknown individuals have acted with a generosity of spirit that is so uplifting. Drivers wave, stop to make sure everything is okay, and offer nay support that may be required.
Susan from Pohangina, one of Tour Aotearoa’s Trail Angels, drove a rider back 16km to pick up her forgotten phone. Jessie and his sister Hannah had a road side stall with free water, watermelon and general advice. Howard and Helen made their upstairs apartment available to us. And today, whilst resting on the roadside, another driver stopped to enquire if I was okay, or could she help me in some way.
The kiwi spirit, going beyond what is expected to provide help and support is alive and well! And this trip reinforces the reality that beyond the world of social media trolls, we are in pretty good shape! 🙂