A Travellerspoint blog

Opotiki and beyond

wind, hills and magpies

all seasons in one day 15 °C

One of the few things that was certain at the start of this trip was that we would be cycling round the east cape. Every time we mentioned this to anyone we could find to bore about our cycling plans it was unequivocally met with cries of how spectacular everything beyond Opotiki is - and how perfect it is for cyclists: rugged and wild with hidden rocky coves and plunge pools, white sandy beaches that go on for kilometres in areas completely unpopulated by people. We were chomping at the bit to leave Whakatane after our day off the bikes and head into the Maori heartland.

Our first couple of days certainly didn't disappoint. The weather was perfect as we picked our way through settlements that were fewer and further between with scenery that was unspeakably beautiful. As the villages were quite spaced out - many without shops, cafes or any other sources of food we had to ration the number of times we could stop to admire the view to make sure it didn't get to lunchtime with 30km to the next place selling a snickers bar (Rob's new favourite... he has become a sugar junkie, eating the equivalent of about 6 full meals a day and is still losing weight!)
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On our third day in the east cape we felt the full wrath of New Zealand's greatest weapon against the unprepared cyclist: the Southerly. Cold and gusting at between 30-50km per hour straight at us it was absolutely punishing and unrelenting. We woke up in Te Aroroa to lashing rain and we ummed and ahhed for a couple of hours before finally setting off on the road. Both wind and rain were unrelenting so sadly unable to report much on the beauty of the coastline between Te Aroroa and Ruatoria and all energy was expended trying to avoid being blown off the bikes grimacing through the rain. One of the highlights of the east cape cycling was inadvertently becoming part of a cycling touring posse. We met a lovely Canadian couple - Fred and Sarah - doing a similar cycling route to us and a French couple - Tomas and Aurelie - who put our cycling feats in the shade: they are travelling with their 1 1/2 year old daughter who is being pulled in a buggy behind the bike. All their additional paraphenalia adds a cool 50 kgs to the weight that they have to carry up hills. As there were so few campsites to stay at throughout the east cape we invariably ended up together and did quite a lot of the trip in convoy. We must have been quite a sight with our neon raincoats flapping in the wind with faces like pinched lemons facing the elements!
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To add insult to (almost) injury Rob experienced first hand what we thought to be a cyclist myth - the dive-bombing magpie. We had heard from another english cyclist that magpies have a bit of an axe to grind with cyclists as they are very territorial and particularly when they are nesting they will go for the back of cyclists' helmets (they always attack from behind and from a great height). Luckily the wind was howling and whistling so loudly he didn't see or hear it going for him - or hear me screaming in panic- as he was hurtling downhill. Luckily Rob's speedy cycling more or less eluded the magpie and we have been told that the solution to cyclist-preying magpies is to paint eyes on the back of our helmets.

By the time we got to Ruatoria we were battleweary and beaten by the weather. We had planned to try and get to Tokomaru - another 40km down the coast (over a big hill). We had only cycled about 50 km but we were absolutely exhausted - not helped by having to pedal hard to get down the hills in the wind as well as up them. We were standing forlornly in the rain with Fred and Sarah when a Maori lady ran over to us to ask if we knew where Tomas and Aurelie were as they had arranged to stay with their family through a friend of a friend. Seeing us all looking like drowned rats she extended the invite unleashing a cyclist invasion in her house and exposing us to the most amazing hospitality in this small Maori community.

Posted by mrs lewis 00:52 Archived in New Zealand Comments (0)

Tauranga and a trip to NZ's only active marine volcano

sunny 19 °C

After an epic day cycling into Tauranga we treated ourselves to a hostel room and a slap up meal (at a Turkish restaurant so it was just like being back in Newington Green). The next day we stuffed ourselves with fantastic and cheap sushi before heading over to Mount Manganui where we relaxed on the beach before soaking our aching muscles in the thermal pools at the base of this beautiful landmark. We cycled back to the hostel along the peninsular with a beautiful sunset forming in the backdrop.

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The next day we headed off to Whakatane (Wh pronounced 'F"!) over flat terrain but a stiff head wind made the task more difficult. Mariana was not put off by this and set a blistering pace for most of the day so I did the prudent thing and tucked in behind her avoiding the worst of it. That evening we set up camp in a pleasant site overlooking the river.

About an hour and a half from the mainland lies New Zealand's only active marine volcano named White Island. We decided it was an opportunity not to be missed and set off on a guided tour of the island. As we approached large plumes of smoke billowed out from the summit and when we were equipped with gas masks and hard hats we knew we were in for a exciting time; we were not disappointed. Arriving on white island is like landing on Mars; yellow sulphurous rocks, ferociously steaming vents of gas and belching, bubbling pools of mud lay all around us. We precariously made our way across the island closely following our guide to prevent having a misplaced foot burned off. At the centre of the island lay a huge lake of highly acidic water, like something from a batman movie. It was incredible to think that several mining operations had been set up here in an attempt to extract the sulphur with the miners actually living on the island. Unsurprisingly all had been unsuccessful and many miners had died in the process, such were the difficulty of the working conditions.

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The following day we set off for the East Cape, supposedly one of the worlds great coastal cycle routes and the Maori heartland of New Zealand.

Posted by roblewis 22:55 Archived in New Zealand Tagged volcano white island tauranga manganui Comments (0)

100 km cycle

Whangamata to Tauranga

sunny 20 °C

After spending the last few nights in beautiful beachside campsites, Whangamata motorcamps was a bit more of a run down trailer park... no matter as all we needed was a restful night in advance of our first big cycle of the trip. But at first glance this seemed unlikely. Rob and I felt very old as we politely asked to be housed in a 'quiet area'. Despite the owner's vehement's protestations that her insalubrious establishment was a 'family campsite' our neighbours were keen to prove her wrong... Four families descended next to our tent in their caravans for a bank holiday booze up - with early tell tales signs like glow in the dark headbands, stacked up crates of beer and a lot of cheesy 90s music cranked up out of their suped up cars suggesting they would be putting up a fight against the 10.30 "quiet time" curfew.... Sleep was in short supply that night.

Bleary-eyed at about 7 in the morning as the sun turned our napkin-sized tent into a sauna we scuttled about getting ready for the cycling leg down to Tauranga. In the short time that we have been going on this trip packing up our panniers has already turned from routine into a ritual. With six panniers and a handlebar bag between us trying to remember where we packed everything important when we need it (like our raincoats when the heavens have opened) turns into a frantic search eventually finding the choice item in the 6th pannier. So now everything has it's 'place' (raincoats on top) so packing is now a meticulous exercise. A few campers were out and about while we were going through this ritual of squeezing our belongings into our panniers keen to find out what we were up to. All the Kiwis we have met so far have been incredibly friendly and hospitable - from bringing us chairs to sit on in the campsite when we are hunched over our trangia stove - to pulling over and offering to pop the bikes in their cars to give us a lift over the punishing hills (they always seem bemused when we politely decline!) Our noisy neighbours asked where we were heading as we pushed our bikes past their caravans to the campsite exit. When we told them they gleefully described how long and hard the hills were out of Whangamata. "good luck" they said, "you'll need it!"

With these encouraging words ringing in our ears we set off on the road. The weather over the last couple of days has been brilliant and we started our long days cycle with a winding incline towards Waihi with clear blue skies and sunshine. Most of the hills we have come up against have been long but not too steep and so we have just whacked the bikes into our lowest gears and plodded up. The first 30 kms to Waihi (an old goldmining town) passed very quickly and we were feeling quite confident that we would get to Tauranga by lunch. By 1.30pm we were still 20 km away and fading fast. The traffic on the road had become quite congested on the approach into the city and the hills had gone from long and sloping into short sharp yoyoing inclines and descents. We took pause at a petrol station where we were reliably informed that if we took the next turn off we would get to a beachside restaurant. Music to our ears - but how far? 'no more than 400 metres'... Hmmm. 5 kms later we were still cycling and mentally cursing at every turn when the restaurant was not round the next bend. When we finallly made it to the beach (Omokoroa) it was spectacular and well worth the cycle. We splashed out on lunch in the restaurant in the boathouse - reciting to each other every couple of mouthfuls how much we deserved it - before the final push into Tauranga having broken the 100km mark for the first time on the trip.

Posted by mrs lewis 18:06 Archived in New Zealand Comments (2)

Coromandel's beautiful and unique beaches

sunny 20 °C

We decided to take it easy and do short cycle over to hehei where we heard there were beautiful beaches to be sat on. On the way we came across a stunningly located vineyard and decided to drop in for a spot of plonk - very quaffable.

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We arrived at Hehei campsite and after bagging a prime spot overlooking the beach we decided to spend a couple of days exploring the area.

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First stop was Hot Water Beach where at low tide you can dig yourself a hot tub - hot water springs rise up from underground and emerge through the sand. As the sea is pretty chilly at this time of year this enables you to take a quick dip before warming up again.

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We cycled back to the campsite in extremely gusty conditions, so strong that at one point i turned around to see Mariana had been blown into a ditch - luckily she only had a couple of scratches and narrowly avoided a wet boggy area by a few inches. When we arrived back at our campsite, our tent had nearly been blown away by the strong winds and several tent pegs were nowhere to be seen. We decided to relocate to a more sheltered area (so much for the prime spot!)

The following day we went to Cathedral Cove. Only accessible by foot, this stunning beach has a number of fascinating rock features, as well as white sand and clear blue sea.

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I also did a spot of snorkelling and saw a lovely array of fish.

We set off early the next morning for Whangamata - a place which turned out to be the NZ equivalent of Hicksville, and our campsite was right in the thick of it. NZ is certainly a place of extremes and some campsites are nicer than others.

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Posted by roblewis 14:52 Archived in New Zealand Comments (3)

one pedal in front of the other

semi-overcast 16 °C

After a couple of days in Auckland fighting off punishing jetlag punctuated by a few exploratory trips round the city we assembled the bikes and bit the bullet for the first leg of the cycle. It felt good to get on the road quite quickly as we had both been feeling a bit anxious and nervous about how we are going to fare... So we decide to take it gently for the first couple of days - with our trusty bible 'New Zealand by bike' printed in the 80s as our guide. We set off to beautiful coramandel from Auckland on the ferry to tootle round the penninsula to have a very short day to get warmed up before the 'proper hills'.... or so we thought.

Clearly Bruce Ringer (author of New Zealand by bike) is made of sterner stuff than me as a couple of miles from we were stuggling up an eyewateringly steep road which wound its way uphill (mountain?). Every hairpin turn was faced with a bubble of hope that it would be the last one before the descent followed by crushing despair and increasing knackeredness (is that a word?) as the road stretched endlessly upward ahead. After about an hour I was staving off despair that I wasn't going to be able to make it and that I had been beaten on the first attempt - accentuated by the fact that Rob seemed to be finding it much easier than me! But fuelled by lucozade we plodded on and made it to the top about half an hour later. I can't remember the last time I felt so alive (and relieved!). We were on top of the world surrounded by bays, beaches and harbours to the east and west.

Mariana admiring the view

Mariana admiring the view

In afternoon we soared through dairy farms and pine plantations and saw less than 10 cars on the road for the two hours. Completely exhausted but exhilarated we stopped at Kuaoutunu by a beautiful beach for our first night in the tent to recharge our batteries before heading to Cook beach tomorrow.

beach in Kuaotunu

beach in Kuaotunu

Posted by roblewis 16:37 Archived in New Zealand Tagged cycling Comments (6)

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