Auckland, Thames, Coromandel, Whitianga, Cathedral Cove, Hot Water Beach – 362km (Total 6481km cycled)
Highlights : Wild camping in Auckland, tailwinds, stunning views, new friends, hot water beaches and getting reacquainted with ripio!
Day 309 – October 31 : Leaving Auckland again
We got the bus at eight and pretty much backtracked the route we’d taken up to Kaitaia over the last few days. In Auckland we went via the university where – thanks to the kindness of many friends, and friends of friends – we managed to collect a supply of Peli’s asthma drugs to last her the next three months.
Then we joined the 50km long Tamaki Drive Cycle Path out of Auckland which snaked its way along the bays to the east of the city. The first part will for sure be packed with pedestrians and cyclists on a summer weekend. The path gave excellent views over the CBD (central business district, as they call town centres down here). We had a few hills to climb as we got out of town but spotted plenty of places to do a bit of wild camping in the many parks along the water and bays.
After a little stake-out we found a bench and a bit of flat grass on a coastal promontory out of the wind and cooked up bean chilli and couscous while the dog walkers did their evening constitutionals.
Day 310 – November 1 : Rolling farmland
Wild camping definitely helps you get up bright and early. We were woken by the dog walkers and rowers out in the bay at 6am, not our normal rise and shine time.
We completed our morning faff and breakfast and were ready to hit the road by 8am, shocking.
We experienced a little of the morning Auckland suburb rush hour before the roads turned into rolling farmland.
The morning clouds gave way to blue skies with a light wind as we came over the last high hill out of Auckland. We had our lunch stop at the 20km mark, which today was at just past 11am, rather confusing for us since it is normally well after one in the afternoon. We now know how cockerels feel when they start cockadoodledooing at the wrong time of day.
Pedallers’ Paradise said it would be flat from Clavadale to past Kawakawa but it was more like rolling hills. We’d descended into the very nice Kawakawa Bay and were steaming along quickly alongside the long sandy beach when Peli deployed the “I” word (ice cream?) and we screeched to a halt outside the local Dairy (corner shop) for a TipTop (ice cream) moment.
Fuelled by ice cream we made easy work of the steep climb up and over the last hill of the day and rolled in to Orere Point where we found a Top 10 Campground and a much needed shower. Peli even had a quick swim in the local river’s swimming hole.
Day 311 – November 2 : Long day
Ah, the joy of campsites. We got to sleep in for once (or rather Peli woke up a little after six as usual and was ready to go). But I would have none of that so I forced her to sleep in for an hour and a bit more.
Again the weather started off grey but nearer to lunchtime the sun came out. The wind also woke up, though this time we had tailwind for nearly 40 flat kilometres, sometimes this cycle touring is really hard work. We knew we would pay for it later in the day and tomorrow, however, since we’re going north on the other side of the Firth of Thames to explore the Coromandel Peninsula.
Over the last few weeks my hands have gone numb very fast, a couple of kilometres and the tinkling starts. I’m very sure that I set the bike up correctly after the flight as I’ve got little markers on the frame and components. It gets that bad that much of the day I’m riding one-handed to get some blood back into my fingers. But today the numbness had turned borderline painful and I could feel it all the way up my right arm to the elbow. No matter how much I fettled with the handlebar grips and moved my hands around I got no relief, it was either the same or worse. We think that it can be my gloves that are past their best, so at the next bike shop we’ll get some new mitts for me.
As we turned unto SH25 we also turned into the wind and after 10km in Pipiroa we spotted a roadside cafe/kitchen and dived in to celebrate having passed the 700km mark in New Zealand with tea and truly wonderful posh cake, rhubarb crumble for me and lemon slice for Peli.
In Kope we turned right into the wind and onto the Coromandel Peninsula for the last five kilometres into the rather nondescript town of Thames. On the outskirts of town we were overtaken by a fella from Belgium and a fella from Germany. We all ended up in the slightly rough around the edges campsite four kilometres north of town. Though we can’t really be too critical of this site: it’s apparently the only campsite in New Zealand with a whole hour’s free internet access included in the price.
We crawled into our tent and watched an episode of Doctor Who and went to sleep hoping that the wind wouldn’t turn during the night and send the lovely smell of burnt rubber and what not from the pile of burning building rubble our way…
Day 312 – November 3 : Wet hill
We set out into the wind with the weather looking like it would become nice and sunny. The first 30km was flat right next to Firth of Thames zigzagging in and out of the many bays.
In one of the bays I had a visitation on my rear tyre, it was still running one of the old inner tubes. Just as we were nearly finished the lady across the way came and offered us a cup of tea. How nice! Too bad I was putting the panniers back on the bike and ready to get going.
We had lunch at the bottom of the first hill of the day, we needed some fuel for the next 20km. As we climbed up a rather serious the hill we got over taken by a club run, which made us look like we were standing still. They encouraged us with lots of “You’re going well!” and “My, you’re loaded up!” which made us feel slightly better.
On the last few metres of the second hill the skies opened and before we’d had chance to rummage in the panniers for the wet weather gear, we were absolutely drenched. But, since it was nearly 20C, the downhill was wet but not too cold, though Peli begged to differ (she does feel the cold! No one would know she’s from the North!).
We found a friendly little campsite, at $NZD15 per person our cheapest yet, showered and dried off before going out on a cake hunt. By the time we were ready the time was nearly dinner time, so we shopped for food and had the cake for pudding.
Day 313 – November 4 : Ripio again
We didn’t need to make breakfast for me this morning, I got it all served. There was a company outing sharing our campsite and they went the whole nine yards when it came to a English breakfast and they’d made too much. Enter hungry cycle tourer! Sadly everything was fried in the same non-veggie butter so Peli had to live with vegemite on toast and the banana porridge that I cooked up for her. When they packed they gave us leftovers – slices of apple, sausages, tea bags, a water bottle and even home-made birthday cake!
The next 30km was on tar sealed roads as they call tarmac down here before it turned into gravel roads.
Around 10km outside Corville we picked up a friendly German chap, Chris, who lives in Auckland and was out on his road bike for the weekend. We spent a bit of time cycling with him and enjoyed lunch together before he had to head for back to Coromandel to catch a ferry back to Auckland. Now, if we had known about this ferry before Anthony arrived we could a have concocted a different route out and avoided the suburbs. Oh well!
After Chris turned back we had one little hill to climb before we enjoyed five or so kilometres of flat valley roads with a lovely tail wind. Beautiful countryside and again very, very bright green, it’s not the same green we are used to in Europe.
With nine kilometres to go the gravel road started. Now this “rough” road surface has nothing on the ripio we found in Patagonia. This would be like baby-bottom-smooth-newly-laid asphalt compared to what we cycled on down there.
Beautiful views and nice up-and-down hills were enjoyed to Waikawau Bay DoC (Department of Conservation) campsite. This was sadly only tainted by the fact that I had to stop now and again to rest my painful wrists, arms and hands.
The Waikawau Bay DoC is the biggest in New Zealand at high season, and it is already fully booked, hosting up to 2000 campers. It is just a little hop and skip away from a simply stunning remote beach where good fishing is to be had and you can pick shellfish at low tide. We had a great chat with the host/ranger lady who seems to have landed a dream job.
Day 314 – November 5 : Gone fishing
Today’s ride would be short at around 30km, and I knew that there would be hills. But boy, we were in for a surprise.
While having breakfast we were treated to an acrobatic helicopter show. A helicopter from the coastguard was flying around showing off its skills while another was hovering and filming it all. I wonder what for?
Waikawau Bay is a really beautiful and wild beach, we could easily have spent a few days there, but contented ourselves with an hour in the morning light. We were the only ones there. It is accessed via a small path at the bottom of the campsite and doesn’t appear to have any car access, thankfully. The local postman later stopped us while we cycled past and told us to visit Little Waikawau Bay as it should be the best beach on the North Island. We dipped down to have a look. We agree it was nice, but as cars could drive onto it, it wasn’t as breathtaking as “big” Waikawau bay in our humble opinion.
We had lunch in Kennedy Bay and were visited by a local who told us about the area and fishing (he did go on a bit – I don’t think he’d had anyone to talk to for a while). Suddenly, mid sentence, he asked if we liked crayfish. “I do” I said, and a few seconds later I had a wrapped frozen crayfish thrust into my hands. He had cooked it all ready, I just had to defrost it.
We set off and the climb started gently at first and then it really kicked in. On some of the steepest places they had put tarmac down, it wouldn’t have been fun on gravel. We had many stops to let cars past on the narrow bends but also to put our lungs back into their rightful homes. The last hundred metres I had to resort to my lowest gear, my two feet. Peli managed to pedal all the way up. The ride up was well worth it for the stunning views of the bays and islands around the Coromandel Peninsula. The landscape reminded us a lot of the San Juan islands we’d visited off the Washington Coast in America.
Day 315 – November 6 : It’s all downhill
Any cycle tourer knows that a good way to wake your legs up in the morning is to find the nearest hill and cycle over it. At just 370 metres it doesn’t sound like much at all, but they way they build roads down here 370 metres is plenty, as it goes straight up. No messing. The first kilometre is nice and flat, then three kilometres of up-ness, with very steep bits in parts.
Peli loves being up high for the views and vastness all around. I agree, though sometimes, as you’re fighting your way up, it’s hard to see the beauty in it all. But what goes up must come down and this is the part where I go wheeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeee!
Today we discovered a link between my sore hands and wearing the helmet. Yesterday while on the quiet back roads I took my lid off and the tingling, numbness and pain up my arms to the shoulder along with the pain from the base of the skull down the spine and shoulder blades was much more tolerable, even on gravel roads.
Today since we would be on a main road again I put the magic hat on and I was in agony within a mile. Bother.
The ride into Whatianga was in places very beautiful with sandy beaches, bays and islands which were visible from atop the hills. Peli had a paddle in warm, crystal clear water on a beach of white sand while we relaxed and ate peanut butter sandwiches and slices of orange. Have we made you sick yet?
We found the i-Site and again their helpfulness delighted us, yet another thing that makes visiting New Zealand worthwhile. They certainly go out of their way to help everyone with unbiased advice. And they always seem to have lots of time for everyone. No stress.
Snuggled up in our tent at the local campsite watching Doctor Who the rain started big time. But we were snug as frogs in a large green sock, not a drop came in to disturb our sleep. Our Hilleberg, despite its zip faults, definitely makes camping in the rain a pleasurable experience.
Day 316 – November 7 : In hot water
We woke up to clear skies and a dry tent, packed up nice and easy and went hunting for food.
At the i-Site we managed to book a bus down to Tauranga for Friday from Hot Water Beach and also got some useful snippets of information about what to see in the area. Taking the bus would gain us a few days in hand, and allow us to skip a section of busy road down that the Pedallers’ Paradise guidebook tells us has been dubbed ‘The Suicide Highway’ by Kiwi cyclists.
At the picture postcard harbour in Whitianga we took the tiny passenger ferry to hop across the bay, saving around 20 km riding. Lunch was had in an idyllic little bay just outside Cook Beach, named after that famous sailor Captain Birdseye, I mean Cook! You know, that sailor who got all the fame, statues and knighthoods from finding new and far lands, when it wasn’t even him who shouted Land Ahoy! or stood on these fair shores first. Anyhow, Cook and his merry men anchored up at Cooks Beach (I wonder what it was called before he put a flag in it?) some years ago. It must have been amazing to be the first (or somewhat first) person who saw this.
The landscape and weather were kind to us today but we could feel the last eight or so days in our legs. We were glad, then, to have a short day before our rest day. We stopped at Cathedral Cove in Hahei Beach which was a bit of a bugger to cycle up to (yes, steepness again – something of a theme here in NZ) before the 40 minute walk down to the Cove, but well worth it.
We spent half an hour or so at the Cathedral Cove, paddling in the nearly warm water, a rather paradise moment. Since the tourist guides have a photo of a woman jumping up in front of the cove we saw at least two others trying to re-enact that jump.
We rolled into Hot Water Beach late in the afternoon and pitched up at the Top10 campsite there. Probably the “worst” of all the Top10s we have been to, with 120+ pitches, a famous beach next door and only two shower cubicles in the men’s and women’s bathrooms. And the brand new kitchen could have been planned out much better, so that you don’t fall over your fellow camper with a pot with boiling water. (Grumble, grumble, look at at us becoming grumpy old cycle tourers…)
Good news: it was only thumbs up from the “United Nations” of travellers sitting around the TV in the campsite, watching the US election results. Four more years with the Obama administration. As one American tourist put it, thank f**k for that. After nearly five month in the States in the run-up to the election, we know Obama is far from perfect, but by heck he’s much better than what could have been. Phew.
Day 317 – November 8 : Rest day
Sleeping, tea drinking and eating were done in champion style as we indulged in a lovely rest day.
Today I was contemplating beards. My mission to grow my beard, untrimmed, for a full year might fail on three grounds: complaints from my touring partner; the amount of beard all over the tent and panniers (boy, do I moult); and the fact that when riding in a side wind I get beard in my eyes which isn’t something I’m used to. Peli has tried to plait it but it solves only one of the above issues. How does the bearded cyclist cope with such trials and tribulations?
Two hours before low tide we wandered, spade in hand, to the Hot Water Beach. Only at low tide, two hours either side, can you access the hot water coming from 2km down below you from a pocket of lava leftover from a volcanic eruption a few million years ago. (Mind boggles.) With the enthusiasm of wee kids at the beach, we dug a hole in the sand, built a wall around it, watched the hot water seep through, waited for a wave of cooler water to refill the hole and dived into our own makeshift spa pool.
A few seconds later Peli was rushing out to sea with our Ortlieb kitchen sink (yes! we came prepared!) to get cold water for our hot water tub. Our spot was rather close to where we could see the hot water seeping up from below, so our little pool became very hot rather fast. You really had to be careful as the raw water can get up to 65c.
It was a surreal experience, lying like beached whales – albeit warm and relaxed beached whales – amongst fifty other people, surrounded by little heaps of sand, watching the sun go down.