Bikepackers Paradise, even if you are going Nowhere

  • Day 11 South Auckland to Kaiaua 67 kms 459 m
  • Day 12 Kaiaua to Paeroa 70 kms 11 m
  • Day 13 Paeroa to Te Aroha 45 kms 121 m (side trip on Karangahake Canyon)
  • Day14 Te Aroha to Matamata 38 kms 57 m
  • Day 15 Matamata to Mangakino 103 kms 1326 m
  • Day 16 Mangakino to Pureora 47 kms 888 m
  • Day 17 Pureora to Timber Trail Lodge 42 kms 787 m
  • Day 18 Timber Trail Lodge to Taumarunui 71kms 720 m
  • Day 19 Taumarunui to Whakahoro 66 kms 1085 m
  • Day 20 Whakahoro to Pipiriki 40kms 0 m (Jet Boat! Around the trail closure due to “slip”, stopping at the Bridge to Nowhere.)
  • Day 21 Pipiriki to Whanganui 76 kms 670 m
  • Day 22 Whanganui to Palmerston North 132 kms 885 m
  • Day 23 Palmerston North to Le Gra Winery 106kms 1240m
  • Day 24. Le Gra Winery to Martinborough 58 kms 374 m
  • Day 25 Martinborough to Lower Hut (Wellington) 87 kms 640 m
  • Day 26 Lower Hut to Interislander ferry 15 kms 2m
  • TOTAL NORTH ISLAND – 1592 kms 14,776 m

The missing link is where we took the jet boats.

After leaving the hilly northland and mazing through the complicated Auckland mass, we were rewarded with 5 days of fabulous rail trail on Hauraki Great Ride. Not great ride. It’s “Great Ride”. New Zealand has categorized and sub-categorized many bike routes: 1. 23 Great Rides – “showcasing must see sites”; 2. 16 Heartland Rides – connectors of the Great Rides (mostly); 3. Bikepacking Rides – selected rides elsewhere; and 4. Others. But there can be no denying this – all of the rides we’ve been on are truly great rides.

Hauraki Ride – Thames Valley along the Firth of Thames at the foot of Coromandel Peninsula

Each ride is made up of many individual rides, so when the Arataki ride is closed due to a slip and you spend hours choosing a reroute, and then departure time arrives and the local motel owner says “it’s no problem mate, just go through – she’ll be right”. We asked, “Does it matter that the Department of Conservation (DOC) have been turning bikers back?” Kiwi guy blasted, “Just tell em to piss off!”. And being turned back would mean at least a two day workaround. We went anyway as any self respecting Fernie rider would do.

Many of the rides are technical single track which, for loaded gravel bikes, are awesome but can be a bit challenging, or “sporty”, as you know who would say. So far we’ve managed with only one slight mishap resulting in one bent derailer hanger. Gear Guy replaced it with one of the dozen extras he brought.

Our accommodations have varied greatly. More than for our x-Canada ride. The highs are perhaps higher but the lows are undeniably lower. Heading into the Timber Trail ride in the town of Mangakino we hit a new all time low – beating the record set in Moosimin, Saskatchewan in 1999. The owner toured us down a dark corridor and showed us our room, where at least three cockroaches rested peacefully – dead on the floor. The lounge was adorned with aged overstuffed filthy faded flower couches. The washroom was decorated with a cobweb and cockroach theme. Still, no tent policy endures.

Next ride, the Mountain to Sea Ride, presented logistics – no internet, limited accommodations, a slip to work around, and multiple jet boat bookings. On that trail we overnighted in a DOC bunk house that felt like a Fairmont compared to the Coachroach Cabin. Gear Guy was not enthused about it and considered breaking out the tent until it was apparent that a hiker, young Sarah from Austria, was also staying in the same hut. Gear Guy: “I’ve changed my mind. Let’s stay in the hut.”

The Mangapurua Ride (on the Mountain to Sea Great Ride) was also closed because of a major slip. We wondered if we could sneak through this one too. But all seemed to agree, this one was “Unpassable Mate”. The only way around was to organize two jet boat rides, with two different companies. No phone, no wifi, no people, no signs to the first jet boat ride that was scheduled to leave at 7am. We knocked on the door of a farmhouse to get directions to where the guy is with a jet boat. “Just out back Mate”. Of course he is. And amazingly somehow Michael, the jet boat driver, got our messages and was waiting to jet us down the river around the slip.

Killing some kilometers on the Whanganui River

Michael is really a hunter who drives jet boats so he can afford to go hunting again. So it was a bit suspicious when Michael dropped us off at a seemingly random rock ledge; no dock, no building, no signs of any inhabitants and as he pulled away, he yells “Yous guys arroinged for pick up right?” We did, but had not received confirmation as we had no internet for 3 days. We figured out that we were dropped at the trailhead to the Bridge to Nowhere. Which was appropriate because that is exactly what it felt like.

Several hours and a few cold rain squalls later our next jet boat ride finally did arrive. With 18 seniors destined to walk to The Bridge to Nowhere. In fact, they looked rather ill equipped for the squally weather. But Kiwis are tough. And Senior Kiwis even tougher. No problem for them to make the uphill 5km hike to the Bridge to Nowhere and back to the rock to be picked up by the jet boat. We joined them and had a marvelous day.

The Timber Ride is a highlight so far. The sights are mesmerizing. The sounds are tranquilizing. The scents are intoxicating. This Great Ride is a 84-kilometre cycleway only opened in 2013, with 35 bridges, including eight large suspension bridges. The longest of which is 141 meters long and perched above a massive gorge. The trail winds through virgin rainforest, endless unique bird songs and a fantastic, if challenging for loaded gravel bikes, pathway. And if that isn’t enough, there is a Shangra La type of Lodge that appears out of nowhere. We would do this again. And again. Incidentally, you might notice our bright colours on our backs. We wear those not just for the little traffic but also for hunters. Hunting is year round in New Zealand. Mainly for deer, wild bore and goats.

After 5 days of single track and no internet, we were surprisingly happy to bike on tarmac and return to civilization for two days off which coincided with a heavy rainfall forecast and Jay’s birthday.

Bacon and Eggs – Birthday Breakfast

Next segment we deviated from the Te Aotearoa Trail and use Gaia and Nav Man as our navigational tools. Big mistake. As there was no or little shoulder, we spent the day pulling off the road to allow massive double trailer trucks thunder by. We arrived at our destination town 130km later at 7pm. But then Nav Man detoured us to the furthest grocery store in town – adding an extra 10 kms. A sugar low no doubt. There are no future plans to deviate from the tour trail again. Ever.

What a treat to stay at Le Gra Vineyard in the Martinborough wine district. Brian, Nicky and Orlaith Geary were a joy to visit with and we had a tour of their lovingly manual wine production – from hand picked grapes to hand labeled bottles! We savoured 2 of their 10,000 annual bottle production. Our left overs once again replaced water on our bikes.

Heading towards Wellington and our eyes on the South Island, we got clobbered by the 80kmph wind gusts which knocked us over several times, but we forged on hoping the Remutaku Great Ride would be more protected. It wasn’t and we had to push our bikes sections of the rail trail tiny grade of 3%.

This was a calm spot for a short break…

The long tunnels were fine, but there was no mention of the Siberia Gully Bridge. Gear Guy intentionally stood in front of a historic marker so I couldn’t see the monument commemorating the tragic incident where 3 rail cars were blown off this bridge by the 150 kmph “harrowing winds that frequent this area”. This was a terrifying, mind over matter, one step at a time, get my butt across this bridge. Close to tears once over, I took a long swig from my “water” bottle.

Gear Guy’s wind shedding technique was more effective than mine, and I was pushed into the side several times.

1600 kms and almost 15,000 vertical meters – Farewell to the North Island. Bring on the South!

9 thoughts on “Bikepackers Paradise, even if you are going Nowhere

  1. Keith Gilbert

    A tad slow here to be finally commenting — apologies for it doesn’t reflect my lack of enthusiasm! This looks and sounds like another brilliant trip my friends. And this is just the North Island. The South Island is “brillianter’!!! Have a safe and epic adventure. Keep the photos and stories coming.

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  2. I’d forgotten how much Jay resembled a “wild bore”, but now that you mention they’re open season definitely wise to take precaution. Explains why he never went outside in November back in Manitoba… Happy Birthday, dood.
    That is some wild looking country. How many New Zealanders travel outside the main cities? Unless they own a jet boat, I’m guessing not many.
    Wonderful storytelling, Deb. You even make Jay seem interesting sometimes. And it’s a kindness of you to leave out the parts where he’s the one near tears. (Like every time his navigation device laughs at him, or he sees a tractor but doesn’t get to stop.)
    Keep having fun and enjoying the winding road. Thanks for sharing.

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