Happy New Year!
Week 1 – Auckland to Oparau Roadhouse
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What a week – I’ve had some seriously rotten luck but at the same time some incredible kindnesses, which seem to have balanced one another out.
Day 1 – Auckland Airport to Waiuku – 46.9 miles
This is easy, I thought to myself as I pedalled out of the Ibis Hotel at the airport. I’d had a great sleep, I’d been to the supermarket and sorted out some power issues at the Warehouse shop that was next door and I had stuffed my face with terrible but free breakfast. So, no jet lag – I’d really killed it with the sleeping on the plane thing and I had bags of time in the morning to make sure all my kit was nicely balanced in my bags.
So, at 10am, after spending a bit of time on Facebook, I set off into the glorious sunshine to meet up with Frank, who lives in Auckland and had just completed his own tour of New Zealand, covering 4000km rather than the 4000 miles I am intending – his route taking more main roads than mine.
I found it strange cycling out of Auckland. I couldn’t decide on the feel of the place, but the low buildings seemed to make the city have more of an American feel than I expected. I do always miss the historical buildings I am used to at home. Frank was good company and I felt good on the bike. We travelled out of the city together to just outside Papakura where we paused by an artificial lake. Frank took some of my extra kit, like the big plastic bag that Peggy had travelled in and gave my brakes a bit of a once over as they seemed to be rubbing a bit. Then we said our goodbyes and I headed on my way.
Since I was feeling so good, I decided that I would head to Clarks Beach on my way to my host’s house at Waiuku – I wanted to see a beach! Also, it would add a few extra miles and I know I have to keep them up!
There wasn’t an awful lot there but I loved lounging on the shoreline, having my lunch and paddling in the sea. THIS IS THE LIFE!
Cycling along, I started to notice the differences – weirdly, I especially missed the magpies – I have a thing about saluting the solo ones!
THEN something started to change. I felt tired. So tired that I had to get off and push up a hill as I got close to Waiuku. A hill that wasn’t even really a hill. And it was HOT, really hot. Still, not far to go and… oh great Idi Garmin broke down. FINE, I still had my phone and could check where my final destination was on MAPS.ME.
I trundled into the drive of Val, who was meeting me to take me to Tony’s house where I was staying. She made me feel instantly at home and gave me a drink before showing me around. It was great to get settled and to get the smell of the day washed away.
We agreed to meet an hour later to go for some food and to watch the sun set at the local beach.
DISASTER. Somehow I managed to lose my phone – what a nightmare. I’d lost everything – all my photos, all my contacts. Val and I scoured the area but we just couldn’t find it. I don’t know how I managed to lose it in twenty minutes. It must have fallen out of my pocket whilst we waited for our fish and chips, which Val had kindly bought for me. So… jet lag is a thing then! And maybe a bit of sunstroke, too – I managed to get burnt through my clothes, my nose was falling to pieces and I’d been burnt pretty badly on my forehead through my helmet, too. Jeez. So much for this being easy!
We did manage to still finish the day in style, though. Taking our fish and chips, Val drove us out to Karioitahi beach where we watched the sun set over the black sand.
I spent the rest of the night trying to work out what to do about my phone and sulking a bit over its loss but I guess, in the end – better to lose just one day of the trip’s photos instead of all of them. Even if I did have a few photos on there to remind me of home as well. 😦
Day 2 – Waiuku to Port Waikato 33.9 miles
So, after a sleep (and waking up at 6am again), I had a plan. I would cycle to Port Waikato the direct way after hanging around in Waiuku to sort out my phone and meeting Tony. Val and Tony were incredible, keeping my spirits up, feeding me and making sure that I got everything sorted before I left. I really appreciate everything they did for me and hope to keep in touch.
Before I left, I enjoyed delicious homemade pumpkin and lentil soup courtesy of Val and poured over maps with Tony, who then packed me off with plums from his garden and delicious Christmas cake – spoiled!
There was some climbing to be done on the journey, but nothing that felt too disastrous and I just kept reminding myself that it was a mind over matter situation – I can do this – I have done much harder! Still, it really felt like such a struggle compared to any riding at home. Despite not setting off until after 3:30pm, it was still really hot and my bags seemed incredibly heavy.
The countryside really reminded me of home – the dales or maybe Scotland, lots of greenery and hills. It was beautiful but nothing particularly new just yet – though maybe that was just me being a bit negative – the black sand at the beach the night before was pretty awesome. I guess I had hoped to be spending more time with the sea in view, given that my challenge is supposed to be a coastal one.
Finally, I got to the banks of the Waikato River and I felt happy again – I just love being near the water. It always feels special. The bridge at Tuakau is spectacular and I paused a while to take some photos. Note how gorgeous I look now that I am smearing my face in expensive zinc every day… yey! Still, hopefully this will help my nose to recover!
Thirty miles should be well within my capabilities – I am used to doing that for fun on a morning but today it was really, really hard. I had to stop a number of times. The first, I was revived by the deliciousness of Whittaker’s L&P white chocolate slab. Mmmmm. White chocolate with popping candy! I liked it so much that I actually managed to save some so that I could taste it again later. A pretty spectacular feat!
I stopped again about 4 miles from the end of my journey, just feeling incapable of going anywhere. I was totally exhausted. The day had been windy and that had been sapping my energy, but it just felt so strange to be so tired after such a short ride. Unfortunately, there was nothing else I could do – I just had to keep cycling.
This exhaustion did seem to work for me in the end, though and as I looked so horrendous upon my arrival, the kind people at the holiday park gave me a proper bed for the night meaning that I didn’t have to pitch my tent and could get some proper rest. THANK YOU!!
Before hitting the sack, I stuffed several roast lamb sandwiches into my face, then trundled down to the beach to see the sun set again, having my expectations set the previous evening. But alas, the land of the peninsular meant that the setting sun wasn’t visible from the shore. I sat in the wind for a few moments, allowing my hair to blow dry a little and then headed back to the cosiness of my little cabin.
Day 3 – Port Waikato to Nikau Caves 17.1
After another good sleep, I packed up and set out for the long journey ahead. It was good not to have any dramas to deal with! I was starving and had only two rolls left, which I ate greedily, followed by lots of plums and some Christmas cake thanks to Tony.
I had forgotten to go the shop the night before, so I would need to stop somewhere for lunch – it looked as though there was only one suitable location, the Nikau Caves Café, about a third of the way into the journey to Raglan.
I definitely wasn’t feeling strong or brave, though and with the road starting to climb immediately out of Port Waikato, I soon needed to stop for a drink and a snack to keep myself going. Knowing that I had to keep going, or I wouldn’t make the day’s 57 miles – an easy target for back home – I clipped my right foot in and began to push off. But something went wrong, I lost balance and toppled right over. I must have been trying to keep the bike upright, or something but somehow I managed to take the most impact on my left leg, despite having fallen to the right. It was really sore. I did manage to get back on, and tackle the rest of the hill but the pain kept getting worse and I was going so slowly.
After a few more miles, and the road having deteriorated to gravel, I pulled up under the shade of a tree to drink more water and have another magical piece of popping candy chocolate. It was no good though, and as I heaved Peggy up the gravelled hillside, going practically nowhere and still being unable to hear my audio book because of the howling headwind, I began to cry. I was in pain and so frustrated. I just didn’t seem to have the mojo that I normally have on my trips and I couldn’t get my head around it. I got myself so worked up that I had to stop and take my inhaler, my breathing becoming erratic. I needed to pull myself together.
Since the lack of audio distraction had seemed to be the final straw, I dug out my headphones, climbed back on Peggy and got stuck into the task at hand. I’m not sure whether Andrew Marr’s History of the World was the most rousing choice, but it certainly distracted me as I listened to his views on human development from the dawn of homo-sapiens to the Mesopotamians and the idea that farming was invented at least seven separate times throughout history. Interesting, yes, but I’m not sure it did much for my spirits that day.
Finally, after what seemed like forever on the gravel, not being able to get any speed going downhill, there was a beautiful, gravel free descent. I pulled into car park of the caves and café and crumpled into the stunning café room where the lovely Philip recommended that a pizza would probably be the best fuel. I was limping and he offered me ice, but I didn’t think it would be wise to chill my muscles before getting back on the bike. He assured me that they would be able to box the rest of the pizza up but there was no need – I devoured every delicious morsel and even went back for a slice of carrot cake.
A few of the other diners had passed me in their cars and asked me about my ride. I enjoyed chatting but I really was in a lot of pain and I was starting to worry about the rest of my journey. Anne, Philip’s wife and the owner of the café, had also noticed my limp and wasn’t happy about me getting back on the bike. She very generously offered me a bed for the night and, with much deliberation, I decided that I would be a fool not to stay.
After a glorious shower, I laid my head down for an hour and then woke up to an invite to have dinner with Anne and Philip with their daughter Emily and her husband Sam. It was their youngest, Eli’s first birthday and I found myself inadvertently in the middle of a birthday dinner complete with Lamington cake train!
The family are shearers and both Emily and Sam are world record holders! I was mesmerised by Emily’s ability to hold a conversation with all around the table whilst simultaneously managing four young children and organising teams of shearers, wool handlers and pressers for the following day. I could barely even follow the conversation being so tired! Incredible.
On the way back, we watched the sun set and I was invited to go and see some shearing in action in the morning.
Day 4 – Nikau Caves to Raglan 39.1 miles
Before bed, I had decided that I would travel to Raglan the long way, rather than heading along the coastal road and getting the water taxi. The water taxi man would cost $10 and could only carry me up until lunchtime. No doubt it would have been sensational, but the idea of being pressed by a cut off time as well as not cycling very many miles and all over gravel just seemed too much.
I had a leisurely morning, munching on muesli and walking up to the shearing shed to stretch out my leg. It was amazing in there – almost like a dance. Those guys work really hard.
Then I came back down to the café, where Anne let me make myself some scrambled egg – the yellowest I have ever seen and was made perfect by being eaten looking out into the countryside. I also carved off a few slices of delicious home made bread to take with me for my lunch break.
Unable to have a journey without some kind of event, I was unsurprised to find that, in the middle of traversing another gravel road, my pannier was hanging off. Ridiculous! Fortunately it was an easy fix and I was soon on my way again, but seriously?! What else?!
The gravel wasn’t actually that long and I felt like I had made good progress. Especially given that I had made another late start. There was climbing to be done, for sure – it’s a hilly place! But I seemed to be able to keep pushing even with the injury of previous day niggling away. So, when I joined the busier road, I stopped and had some lunch. Soon I was joined by a couple who were lost and found myself giving directions!
Back on the road again, I heard a voice behind me and was stopped by a cyclist who had passed in the opposite direction whilst I had been eating. It was lovely to chat and most excitingly, to find out that a long, sealed tarmac, descent was just ahead. Hooray!
Reaching the climbs again, I was concerned that my gears were not behaving themselves. Frustratingly, the chainset would not take me into the granny cog very easily but I did seem to have some joy by playing with the barrel adjuster. I felt like I did a good job and it wasn’t long before I reached Raglan. I did find myself wondering how I was still climbing with only one mile to go to a coastal resort… but I did make it.
Anne had recommended that I pay a visit to the cycle shop, Cyclery, and I met Dirk outside who set about helping me straight away. He gave me tips for my route, saying I was mad to stick to the coast but that it was doable, fixed me up with a second hand front mud guard and got my gears in action all for only $10! Thanks so much Dirk, you’re a star!
Having arrived a day later than I’d intended, I had missed my warm showers host and town was incredibly busy given the season. I sat for a while checking options on the internet outside the library but in the end, I gave in to convenience and stayed somewhere on the high street. I ate fish and chips, showered and walked down to the beach before heading to bed for an early night. (With one more batch of ice for my poorly leg)
Day 5 – Raglan to Oparau 45.9 miles
Hooray! I actually set off at a reasonable hour. 8:30am and I was on the road but jeez it was already hot. I knew today was going to be all about the climbing and the gravel and I was mentally prepared. However, at three miles in, I was boiling and needed a break. I stopped and sent a few self-pitying text messages and then got into the zone and on the road. I was so glad.
The journey today was more like I had expected. I was greeted with stunning views around every corner and I also had some shade from lush, tropical vegetation. I was climb, climb, climbing all morning but it just seemed so worth it. The view really did reduce any pain of the climb by about 50% – I was loving it.
I stopped for lunch feeling very proud of myself and enjoyed the view before hitting the road again. There was still plenty to be done but I felt like I was in the zone, Peggy and I were one again. The challenge of the gravel gave me extra reason to concentrate, so I couldn’t focus on the pain of climbing and the day was passing by brilliantly.
One chap, Kelly, pulled up behind me and I waved him on, saying it was safe to pass but he wanted to say hi and offered me a drink – sweet chilled powerade tasted like heaven and I gulped at it greedily! Thank you Kelly!! I had discovered the need to keep my fluids up and have been getting better at popping up driveways to ask for refills but this was special!
Guess what? Now that I was in the groove and heading towards the main roads again – I fell! I fell again and this time flew off the bike, hit my hand really hard and did some kind of crazy roll and just laid in the gravel half laughing at myself and half yelping at the searing pain in my right hand. Ridiculously, the sanctuary of sealed tarmac had only been 100m away. It was horrendously sore and I had 30 miles still to go. There was no way I was giving up this time and I took three ibuprofen and cautiously remounted my steed.
It was painful, but I had to do it and I did. There was still plenty of work to be done and, after a short moment of bliss on the sealed road, I was back on gravel again, apparently in the middle of nowhere. It had been really, really hot but there hadn’t been a shady spot for a while, or anywhere that felt safe to stop, so I hadn’t. Finally, I pulled in where the road widened and there was some shade from the cliff walls. I felt tired so took 40 winks before heading off again.
When I eventually pulled into the roadhouse at Oparau, I was overjoyed. It was a decent time still and the food smelled incredible. I ordered a cheeseburger and guzzled it happily. The camping is free here but I had emailed Brenda and Bill beforehand to see if there would be any beds available, thinking that a roadhouse was like a hostel. It turns out that that isn’t the case but, incredibly kindly, Bill and Brenda have a house here that they sometimes rent out and they let me have my pick of rooms, wash my clothes and make myself at home. I felt like I had arrived in heaven.
Heaven was fantastic and I spent an hour or so down at the café, chatting with Bill and looking at some of my options online. THEN I started to feel a little dodgy and my stomach started cramping. I made my apologies and turned in for the night. I really did not feel good and thought it would be a good idea to take a bucket through into the bedroom with me. I lasted about ten minutes before the bucket was in use and it continued to be in use for the rest of the night as I alternated between sleep and sickness right through to the New Year.
Thank goodness today has been a rest day. I didn’t even make it out of bed until 4pm. I have managed to eat a small amount and drink a small amount but I don’t exactly feel great. I have planned my routes for the next few days, which is great but I am nervous.
If I wake up in the morning, ravenous, I will feast on a huge breakfast and make my way. Otherwise, I am not sure what I will do. Fingers crossed.
So… there we have it! A week of sunstroke, sickness, falls and fading energy! Let’s hope I muster some of my usual stamina from somewhere!