Right! I am really trying to get up to date here but I have let things go to the bad a little! Looking back, I seem to remember this being an incredibly hard week but there were lots of great views and fantastic people. Again, I might not do it full justice but I feel an account of the first few days back on the North Island should be completed nonetheless!
Just to note that a number of people have mentioned to me that this has been one of the windiest summers they have known. It’s my arch-nemesis.
Also, I am at the library and have managed to get a picture of the route according to Garmin.
Day 48 – Wellington to Ocean Beach – 37.7 miles
Without a doubt, this is the most ridiculous day of riding I have ever done. I stayed up late with Susie and Gerard trying to work out whether this route was accessible and Susie found some great route maps on the Bike Shed at Pencarrow‘s website. It did say there was a small percentage of the walk where I would need to push the bike, but I was undeterred and thought this was true to the spirit of the coastal route I was attempting.
To begin with, I would have to leave Wellington – the road was busy and a little scary, but nowhere near as frightening as the route in along SH1 has been all those weeks ago. Much of it was cycle path and, at a particularly busy junction, I noticed a sign directing me into a car park. Following this, I found the beginning of a cycle path which would keep me relatively traffic free all the way out of Wellington and along the coast to Eastbourne.
I had planned to double check with the people at the Bike Shed whether the route would be manageable but unfortunately it really was just a shed and it was only open on weekends. I tried the number but had no answer. I decided to brave it and hope for the best – I had stocked up on food before leaving Wellington so I knew I should be okay. The only thing I was a bit short on was water, having thought I would be able to get more at the shed but I knew there was a water point at Corner Creek Campsite and headed onwards.
All the way to the lighthouse, I had a tailwind and it was glorious. I hadn’t even been too put out by having to unload my bike, lift it over the gate, reload and carry on. En route, I met a very tired looking cycle tourist and he confirmed my suspicion that it was going to be a tough day. He said I probably wouldn’t want to go any further than Corner Creek Campsite – it was well past midday and it had taken him all day to get to our meeting point from there. However, he said that it WAS possible. He also said that, in all the countries he had travelled, this was THE worst cycle route he had ever been on but that it certainly was beautiful.
I still had no idea how difficult it was going to be.
The section from the bike shed right through to Orongorongo Station around the lighthouse at Pencarrow Head was lovely – mostly very easy going gravel and even a section of beautifully sealed road. I began to realise just how windy it was though – luckily it was a tailwind to begin with but even then there were some frightening gusts which got me panicking. Again there were no bike gates – every time there was a gate, I had to unload Peggy and lift everything over.
The real problems started at Orongorongo Station – I couldn’t even work out where the trail began and almost tried to scale a huge fence, which led to public land before spotting the pathway. I didn’t like the pathway at the beginning which was not dissimilar from some of the walking paths across the Yorkshire Dales but I could just about ride it with a good level of concentration. I passed some walkers and they offered me luck in staying upright in the wind – it really was vicious. This was the best that the path got.
On reflection the sign near the shingle fan was quite comical – ‘sections of the next 2km of track may be rough or un-rideable’. There was no ‘may be’ or ‘sections’ about it – I could barely walk along it. It was ridiculous. I grew up near a quarry and to me it seems it was easier to scrabble up the scree banks than lug my chieftain tank over this ‘track’ whilst all the while being battered by the unrelenting wind.
After that, I don’t remember it getting an awful lot easier. I remember there being ‘sections’ of the track which were just about rideable and maybe would have been okay had the wind not been intent on blowing me off course.
Then the path just disappeared and became a beach. A beach with rivulets to ford. Rivulets with steep banks in some cases. Now – think about what happens to your feet when you go into the sea and then walk on the soft sand – you get covered, don’t you? This happened to Peggy’s wheels and after each fording, I had to heave her through the thick dunes as she got further caked in the sand.
This sounds hard enough, I am sure but let’s not forget the weather conditions. All of this time, dragging, pushing, heaving, using logs to cross deeper rivers, I was being pelted by the wind and any weapons it could gather in its fierce gusts. I have cycled in hail and that hurt – this was a whole extra level. The wind was picking up the sand and small pebbles and hurtling them at me at 100km/hour and I didn’t even know from which direction the gust would come!
By the time I got back to a gravel like section of the track, I was exhausted but rejoicing. It wasn’t destined to last long as the track became unreasonably steep with random sections of deeper sand and a sheer drop onto the jagged rocks in the sea below… needless to say that, with an unpredictable and ferocious wind, there was more pushing to be done!
I’m glad I did push, because, when I got back on where the track was wider, the wind blew me off and I ripped my arm coolers and cut my elbow on a rock. Still, there wasn’t much further to the campsite – I had no doubt that I was going no further than this now.
I walked around the site a few times trying to find a space that was sheltered from the wind and ended up pitching right in the middle of the trees. My tent still nearly flew away in the night, the wind ripping up three of the tent pegs in the night.
In the cookhouse area, I cooked as much pasta of the fresh pasta as I could manage – it actually took two loads as the pan was quite small. The water wasn’t safe to drink, so I had to use my chlorine tablets, which wouldn’t seem to dissolve and by the time I had eaten I was ready to pass out in my tent.
I’d hardly seen anyone all day and felt very nervous and isolated. My mind started playing tricks on me with the noises of the wind and I fell asleep dreaming about which of the items in my bag would make the best weapon in an emergency… I think I decided I could probably do some damage with the quick open tuna can. This made me recall a time when I had attempted to make Cornish pasties at home, sliced my fingers open on the corned beef can, left a trail of blood through the house as I ran to the bathroom, forgot to turn the carrots off and came back downstairs ten minutes later after hearing a loud bang – the steam from the carrots had loosened the wall fixings of a large wooden horses heads ornament, which was now where I had been standing… needless to say it was a night of fairly fitful sleep!
The scenery really was beautiful though! On a mountain bike, on a calm day, with some buddies… I think this would have been a completely different story.
Somehow, I haven’t managed to bring myself to listen to War and Peace again since that day! Hahaha.
Day 49 – Ocean Beach to Masterton – 59.3 miles
Tired and thirsty, I packed up and wondered where on earth I was going to head – the wind was still wild and there was no way I was going to attempt the next headland cycle trail after the previous day’s experience! I decided to head to Martinborough and then make a further decision from there.
The first hill of the tar seal made me concerned for the rest of the day but this really was the worst of the challenge. At a pretty river, I stopped to take a photo but my phone started playing up and I ended up taking time out just to sit there, take in the view and catch up with some of the messages which came through. I was starting to feel vaguely human again!
At Martinborough, I had a strawberry milkshake (remembering only afterwards that this was banned from my diet in early years as it was almost guaranteed to revisit the outside world as soon as I got into the car – fortunately there was no car – phew) and a pie. Then I got another pie. I couldn’t really work out where I wanted to go and decided on Masterton.
I really enjoyed cycling through the vineyards on the way and the simple joy of being able to actually cycle as opposed to fight the elements carrying a heavily laden bicycle.
The campsite at Masterton was lovely – brilliant facilities, especially the showers and a lovely open field (but with enough shelter) in which to camp. I was so ready for my sleep that night.
Day 50 – Masterton to Glenross Backpackers – 49.7 miles
Today, alongside the wind, we had scorching heat and I found out just how isolated Route 52 is. Neil had warned me but I hadn’t really realised that there wasn’t anything! I had seen a school on the map, so I figured there would be a little shop near the school, but there wasn’t. I should have gone into the school and asked if they would refill my water, but for some reason I didn’t!
Instead, I went and sat on the verge a little further down the road and had some lunch from the supplies I had picked up in Wellington. I hadn’t realised that this was still next to part of the school grounds and I entered a battle of wills with some of the local children – I didn’t think it was right for me to chat with children over the school hedge and really couldn’t face moving when I had just got everything out… so I just ignored them. To give them credit, they kept shouting hello until just before I set off. I did give them a little wave as I pedalled off in search of bed and water!
Fortunately, I found water at an old school building/public toilets/town hall and just in time, too. This gave me the strength to carry on and I actually enjoyed the big hill with the lush pines sheltering the road and giving sweet relief from the blazing sun.
I definitely enjoyed stopping to let the cows pass! How gorgeous! I do love cows.
The accommodation at Glenross Backpackers was excellent but I think I was expecting more because Neil had raved about it so much – he had got lucky this time, meeting the owners but they were out of town when I was there. This also met with the realisation that I had forgotten to replenish my cash supplies. I had three $20 notes and the room was $30… in the end I left $40 and hoped that that last $20 would see me to the end of the road!! I was a bit panicky.
I did have some nice company – a lovely Scottish chap, whose name escapes me at this moment in time. He gave me a taste of a delicious honey and ginger drink and entertained me with his conversation. I am afraid I was a bit tired and didn’t have much to offer in terms of making it a dialogue but hopefully he didn’t mind too much! I cooked up a huge vat of pasta, mixed in tuna, stuffed my face and went straight to bed.
Oh yes… my shoes! After all the walking I had done leaving Wellington, my shoes were falling apart. Since I attach my foot to my bicycle with and SPD cleat on the sole of my shoe, this wasn’t particularly good news but I just wrapped myself up in duct tape and hoped for the best!
Day 51 – Glenross Backpackers to Wimbledon – 62.7 miles
Looking at the map in the backpackers the night before, I had realised that I had missed a road which would take me nearer the coast and I was cross with myself, so decided I would take a diversion out to Akitio. I’d heard a rumour that it was going to be incredibly hot so I had set off early – thankfully it was rather overcast but I needed that extra time after all!
At the Pongaroa shop my heart sank – I’d been excited about re-stocking here but there wasn’t much in the way of food and they didn’t accept credit card so I bought some weird lemon biscuits and chatted with the shop owner. He said that the road I had intended to take had some ‘metal’ strips but wasn’t really a gravel road – it’s just in strips, just the distance from here to the corner, there.
He was wrong. Out of the twenty miles to the coast, I would imagine that there were ten miles of gravel. One mile on, one mile off. It was hard going (in the wind again) but I managed it and thought that Akitio was a pretty village. I managed to get a pie in the shop here to keep me going but again there were no credit card facilities… I now had about $10! Was I going to find accommodation that accepted credit card?
On top of this worry, I found out that the road which I had thought was Route 52 again was actually a long, hilly, badly gravelled road – I decided to head all the way back up to Route 52 rather than attack the gravel but this added an unexpected 15 miles to the journey!
The River Road was beautiful and sealed – I loved it and would recommend it to road cyclists though I have a feeling that it may be travelled by logging trucks on weekdays – I was at least lucky in that respect! I really can’t stress how hard the wind made things though – cycling up one hill, a gust hit me hard and blew me right across to the other side of the road! Thank goodness nothing had been coming!
Along the road, I met my Scottish friend again and we had a nice little chat. He was staying at the Glenross for another two nights and had a $10 note with him – my salvation! He gave me the change for my previous night’s lodging and left me feeling a bit happier in that respect, too!
It really was a tough day of cycling and the never ending hill that led me to Wimbledon was the final straw. I was just ready to collapse. Thankfully, in a tiny spot of signal, I had managed to get hold of the owner of the tavern and found out that, not only did they accept credit card but they also had a self contained cottage in the garden which I could have for the tiny fee of $65. It was wonderful. The flowers in the garden and the set up of the cottage made me feel like Miss Honey. SANCTUARY.
In the tavern, I had a good chat with some of the locals and joined a group of holidaying friends. This did give a slight tarnish to the joy of my perfect cottage as they didn’t have good things to say about the east cape – they thought it would be quite dangerous and warned me against my journey.
Day 52 – Wimbledon to Takapau – 49.5 miles
One of Dr Emily’s best friends lives on this stretch and had begun to worry about me as I had sent her a text message in Masterton not realising that I would be off the grid for a couple of days straight afterwards. As well as offering up her home near Hastings, she put me in touch with Sharn, a friend of hers from work who lives near Waipukurau and I had a beautiful bed to look forward to that night.
The predicted weather of the previous day came unexpectedly then and I think it got over thirty – it was incredibly challenging. But obviously there was still SOME wind – if you think that I have been over exaggerating, I would hope that this fallen down tree goes to show just what I have been battling into over the past few days!
Not long after negotiating my way around the fallen tree, I met with one of the highlights of my route 52 journey – the longest place name in the world! I’ve copied the following from newzealand.com – “Near Porangahau in Hawke’s Bay is an unassuming hill known as “Taumata whakatangi hangakoauau o tamatea turi pukakapiki maunga horo nuku pokai whenua kitanatahu”, which translates into English as “the place where Tamatea, the man with the big knees, who slid, climbed and swallowed mountains, known as ‘landeater’, played his flute to his loved one.” Locals simply call it Taumata Hill.”
I met a guy here who had taken a massive diversion just to see it – he was in a car though! He offered me some water but at the time I’d hardly drunk anything – I definitely regretted it later!
Nearing Waipukurau, I saw a hotel/bar and knocked on the door to see if I could fill up my water but no-one answered even though I could see them there. Never mind, it wasn’t too much further. I could definitely make it!
Then, I realised that I didn’t need to get to Waipukurau before heading to Sharn’s… I had about 4 gulps of water left but it had cooled off a little, so I decided to head straight there. It looked like there was a Foursquare en route.
Unfortunately, the Foursquare was closed because it was a Sunday! So, it was a weary, frazzled Elisha that Sharn stopped on the final drag of the day! I just remember being completely bereft of words.
Dan and Sharn were amazing hosts. I really enjoyed their company, finding out about their lives and just chatting. It was a shame I couldn’t stay longer as it really was bliss. We ate delicious fajitas and I sprawled out in a gorgeous double bed, sleeping like a log.
In the morning, I even got to see one of the beautiful stags just outside the window and I heard its roar! So cool.
Thank you so much!
Day 53 – Takapau to Hastings – 58.3 miles
A very grey day with a bit of rain. I stopped to replenish my cash supply and to have a hot chocolate before setting off properly to Hastings.
I really enjoyed the ride, probably because it was predominantly downhill!
It was exciting getting into Hastings as there was a huge horse show on and the park was full of neddies being prepared for their big day.
Sam and her husband James are both doctors, too and they live on an awesome lifestyle block. I have been completely spoiled with companionship at the end of this week. I’m also in love with their dog, George!
We ate delicious food, played a board game and watched chicks hatching and it was wonderful!
I felt about 100 years old. I slept late, went on a walk with James and George and then fell asleep for hours! I feel I wasn’t a very entertaining or helpful guest but I was just exhausted.
Thank you again!