Friday, 13 October 2017

Auckland to Wellington - Days 1 to 3: The West Coast

Day 1: Auckland Airport to Raglan
So this wasn't the first time I had cycled from Auckland to Wellington, but this time I was going an entirely different route.  It was always my intention on this tour to cover big mileage on the first 3 days, as the centre-piece of this particular tour was always going to be Taranaki, and I knew the weather would be unpredictable and I might have to wait around or modify my plans.  With this in mind then, after landing in Auckland with next to no sleep after a late night flight from Melbourne, I knew the first day would be testing.  I had about 145Km to cover to make it to Raglan.

On the first night, bearing in mind I had no sleep the night before, I planned to stay in a hostel so I could have a comfy bed and a good night's shut-eye.  Over the next 12 nights on the trip, however, I only paid for accommodation twice, which is not a bad effort for New Zealand because anyone who has visited will know how difficult it is to free camp there, as almost all areas are very well fenced-off.

The first day was pleasant enough, nothing spectacular, but rolled up and down the hills.  It probably was a fairly ambitious target for the first day, but I arrived into town at sunset, basically perfect timing.  A good start to the tour, back in the saddle and bang on schedule.

Raglan at sunset.

On Google, the information about the YHA hostel in town was incorrect, leaving me with a more expensive option of a BBH hostel, as the YHA was actually about 7Km out of town near the surfing areas, and of course, up a rather large hill.  At first, I thought about camping, but as usual in New Zealand, if you go to a campsite, it ends up being just as expensive as a hostel.  So for the same price, a nice warm bed with other comfortable facilities seemed the better idea.

As it was, the BBH hostel was an excellent call.  It was an amazing hostel, I had a quiet and comfortable room and one huge bonus was that the central area of the hostel was outside and had a Jacuzzi!  I had a quick shower and then soaked in the tub for half an hour before going to bed; my legs really appreciated it, it was like heaven.  I slept like the dead and woke up feeling pretty refreshed, luckily so, as I had an even bigger day ahead.

Day 2: Raglan to Waikawau (a little short of here).

This day ended up being one of the best days of the trip; fantastic weather, beautiful waterfalls, and remote and scenic roads.  However, it was also probably the most physically exhausting.  Big climbs, many on unsealed roads, with very few amenities, and even fewer people around.

As the profile above shows, there really were hardly any flat sections, and the day consisted of about 70Km of unsealed road.  Although quite difficult at times to cycle on, the unsealed section was fantastic; a very scenic and enjoyable part of the day.  At almost 100 miles of cycling (155Km), this day took quite a lot out of me.  I really felt it at the end of the day, and suffered a bit for the next couple of days as well.  Still, suffering is all part of the appeal of bicycle touring.

The stunning Bridal Veil Falls.
The first stop of interest of the day was Bridal Veil Falls.  I have seen a few waterfalls on my travels now, but I really liked this one.  Tucked-away in native bush, but not all that far off the road, it really felt like an ancient, remote, and special place.  And as usual in New Zealand, especially at this time of year, I was the only one around.  I lingered around for a while and took in the splendor of this very pretty waterfall.

After the falls my map was sending me down a road with signs saying "no exit", so this worried me a little.  I didn't want to back-track and everything on my map seemed okay, so I decided to risk it.  The further down the road I went without a sign, though, the more worried I became that I might have to go back and waste a significant portion of the day.  Fortunately, that never happened, just a very hilly, very pretty road with absolutely no cars.

After a short, but predictably steeply uphill detour, I arrived at my second waterfall of the day, Marokopa Falls.  A much bigger and more powerful waterfall than Bridal Veil.  I was pretty tired at this point, so I stopped for a needed hour's rest and ate and drank as much as I could.

After this, I wasn't exactly sure how far I was going to get or, more importantly, where to camp.  I kept riding until well past sunset.  No cars had past me all afternoon, until one guy pulled-up alongside me and asked where I was going and then said there would be places to camp just over the next hill about 6Km away or so.  This was a relief as all I could see around me were miles and miles of fenced-off farmland on very wet ground.  I asked how big the hill was, and his reply was "It shouldn't take you too long".

The climb ended-up being one of the biggest of the day at about 300m.  I was worried that he might have also got the details of possible camping areas wrong, so I was always on the lookout for possible camping spots.  I eventually stopped, right at the summit of the climb, where I saw a flat piece of ground set back from the road.  It still wasn't far from the road, but seeing as I had only seen one car in about 3 hours, I figured that no one would be going past at after 8.30pm.  I was right, I heard nothing all night.

Day 3: Waikawau to New Plymouth

I had drizzly rain for most of day 3, but not enough to get soaked-through, so it wasn't too bad.  The first 30-40Km were actually very pretty, even in the rain.  It was a much easier day, only punctuated by two decent climbs, but the previous day made things hard-going.  However, I knew there would be a hostel at the end of it, and that I'd probably be done by mid to late afternoon, enabling me to get some good rest.

In the morning, I past a fellow bicycle tourer from Germany.  He was being a lot more sensible than me and taking his time, doing about 50-60Km a day.  He had the time though, and seemed to be planning to do exactly the same kind of thing I did a year earlier.  I gave him some tips on good roads and sights, especially in the South Island that he shouldn't miss.

In future tours, I am planning on taking things a bit more slowly, taking my time and cutting-down the daily mileage, but this year has been a story of multiple shorter tours, and so with limited time, I've still had to put my foot down a little and grind-out the distance.  I was certainly a little envious of this German fella taking his time to enjoy things a bit more.  Although I like the grind, I am starting to yearn for some easier touring.

I eventually wound my way out of a mountainous valley and found my way to the coast, the last 40Km being on a main road with some cars for a change.  I had only seen a handful of them over the previous two days once I got clear of Auckland.  After one more climb, I had made it to New Plymouth; about 420Km in 3 days, mainly over hills and mountains.  I was surprisingly not too sore, but utterly exhausted.  Cups of tea and plenty of food for the rest of the day, ready for a good night's sleep and hopefully good weather for some hiking up Mount Taranaki the following day.

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