Sunday, 29 October 2017

Auckland to Wellington - The Dimholt Road, Cape Palliser, and Near Disasters en Route to Wellington.

The Putangirua Pinnacles, better known as, "The Dimholt Road", the home of the cursed undead in The Lord of the Rings.
Mission accomplished to Taranaki, now all I needed to do was make my way down to Cape Palliser and then across to Wellington.  The long range forecast was changing all the time, and on short tours to New Zealand, weather watching is pretty important.  I wanted to make it to Cape Palliser before the forecast rain could spoil the last really scenic part of the tour.  That meant some more big days.

I set-off from Whanganui a little after lunchtime, after the bus back from New Plymouth, and I at least needed to get as far as Palmerston North by the end of the day.  On the days I was hiking on Mount Taranaki, there were quite fierce westerly winds, which would have seen me literally breeze-through this stage of the ride, but typically, when I actually got back on the bike, the wind had shifted to the South East, which meant headwinds for most of the day.  It was a hard 70Km or so to Palmerston North.

My only option in Palmerston North was an expensive campsite, so I decided to ride on and find somewhere to free camp.

In a stroke of bad luck, the Manawatu Gorge road was closed due to a landslide earlier in the year, which would have provided a nice scenic crossing between the Ruahine Ranges to the North and the  Tararua Ranges to the South.  The route I had to take instead took me more directly to Pahiatua, but with a big climb at the end of the day of nearly 400m.  I was looking for somewhere to camp before this, but there was nothing.  Everywhere was fenced-off and the parts that weren't were boggy and impossible to pitch a tent.  I had no choice but to cycle into the night to find a campsite in Pahiatua.

I arrived after 9 o'clock at a small campsite and I only paid $5.  I was pretty exhausted, 112Km in about half a day with headwinds wasn't bad going.  My plan the next day was to make it to the DOC campsite at the Putangirua Pinnacles on Cape Palliser road, still a fair distance away, but a much flatter day, so very doable.

I made it to the campsite at about 6pm, about an hour and a half before sundown.  Just enough time to explore the Putangirua Pinnacles, an area of very eerie rock formations that were used as the path of the dead (the Dimholt Road) in the final installment of The Lord of the Rings Trilogy.  They are extraordinary structures, and certainly spooky to walk around in the fading light on your own, and especially when I had minutes earlier been given a major fright.

In one of the more stupid moments of my life, I had my phone in one hand and my camera in the other while making my way down from the high lookout to the pinnacles.  As I made my way to a clearing for a good photo opportunity, I knocked my hand on a wooden barrier, which sent what I thought was my phone - with all my money and cards - flying out of my hand and careering down a steep forested slope (very steep).  Panic swept over me and I began sliding down the slope searching among the thick, and very spiny undergrowth.

The mixture of trees and spiny bushes was making it very difficult to find my phone and after nearly half an hour of panicked looking, I decided to try and calm down and take a break and try and look carefully again from the top of the slope just where the phone could have fallen.  I made my way back up and once at the top I realised that I had just left my phone on the top of the wooden barrier all along.  I must have kicked a rock down the slope and knocked my hand at the same time, then leaving my brain to very convincingly turn that rock into a green wallet with a phone in it.  What a moron.

This buffoonery left me with less time to explore the pinnacles from the river bed, where they were most spectacular, but I still wondered around in awe for quite a while.  One of the most unique places I've been too, without a doubt.

I somehow managed to find my way, in the dark, back to my bike to set up camp.  I woke early the next morning and headed to Cape Palliser before the forecast rain set in too badly.  Cape Palliser is remote and beautiful, even in slightly dreary weather.  The last 5Km to the lighthouse is unsealed, and I wouldn't have wanted it to be much rougher on my touring bike.

On the way, there was stunning coastal scenery and plenty of fur seals lying on the grass next to the road.  There is actually a trail that continues beyond the lighthouse, but it requires a wider tyres at least and probably a mountain bike to ride on.

As the day went on, the weather started to deteriorate.  I was actually quite lucky to get most of the scenic part of the day done before the weather really set in.  I made my way back out of the Cape Palliser area, taking a few more pictures on the way.  From the lighthouse, it was about 60Km to a small settlement, Pirinoa, which was basically a couple of houses, a petrol station and a coffee shop.  I was pretty wet and tired, so I spent about an hour in there resting and charging my phone.

I was intending on going about 110Km in the day and getting to the start of the Rimultaka cycle trail, which would take me through the mountains and finishing a few Kms short of Wellington the next day.  I had a problem, however.  The rain just kept coming and didn't stop for the rest of the day.  I was getting so wet and cold, and combined with being absolutely nothing around me, I was getting a little concerned.

I needed to find some shelter from the rain, and eventually I found a picnic area with a big shelter over a picnic table.  I had internet on my phone and the weather forecast was grim reading, basically, a lot more rain.  I began to question the wisdom of doing the rail trail with so much rain about.  I took off all my wet clothes and camped there for the night, as I was pretty sure no one would disturb me.  I actually camped on top of the picnic table inside my tent, as at about sunset it was clear that my vicinity to Wairarapa lake was quite attractive for the mosquitoes.  There were thousands of them.  I find that there is always that one terrible camping night on every trip, and this was the one for this trip.  It was truly miserable.

The next day, I had a decision to make; cycle the Rimultaka trail through the mountains - a difficult 40 or so Kms - or just cycle about 15Km to Featherston train station to skip the busy roads into Wellington.  I really wanted to do the trail as a cool ending to the trip, but the weather was so bad and my clothes so wet, it seemed unwise.  I opted for the train option, arriving a little earlier in Wellington than planned.

A day before I notice that my tyre was gently brushing my brake pad, so I adjusted things slightly and thought nothing of it.  Then on the short trip to Featherston, I noticed it again.  Wet and generally a bit fed-up with just a few Km to go, I ignored it, but towards the end of the short cycle into town my bike definitely wasn't feeling right.  Anyway, I released the brake on my back wheel and I hopped on the train for the short journey into Wellington, my finishing destination.

As I took the bike off the train and wheeled it down the platform, I noticed that the back wheel wasn't just catching on the released brake pads, but actually on the frame itself!  It was wobbling around all over the place.  I looked down to the wheel, which had completely gone.  It was cracked like the picture below in several places.  I guess the combination of 20 000 or so Km on previous trips and some of the rough roads had stressed it to the point of absolute failure.  I couldn't even have cycled it another 50 metres.

It was of course unfortunate that my bike had broken, but also incredibly lucky that this was the time it chose to fail me.  I simply walked the bike to my friend Alex's house, a couple of kilometres away - who had kindly, once more, offered to put me up for a couple of nights - and that was the end of the trip.  It was even sort of handy, as on the way back from Melbourne airport, the Skybus dropped me off right outside the bike shop I go to.  Having no public transport to my apartment means that I usually have to get a taxi, costing much more money.

Anyway, it was good to see my old mate Alex again.  On my last trip to New Zealand, I also stayed with him, but that time he was in Wanaka on the South Island, which was a stunning place to stop for a few days.  He has luckily located himself in some very convenient places for me and has been the perfect host on both occasions.  Many thanks old chum, and feel free to ask anything in return in the future, as after a year or so more in Australia, I might be in some interesting places over the next few years.  That's the plan anyway.

I managed to organise a bike box from a local shop and quickly got it back to Alex's house between the rain showers and packed everything up.  After nearly 3 days of continuous rain, finally I could see blue sky again, so I went out for a run up to Mount Victoria to get a view of Wellington before I left.

It had been an eventful trip, and another successful one (just).  I tweaked the route slightly from the one originally planned, but things did go pretty smoothly.

Just a bit of warning for fellow bicycle tourers; I got slightly caught-out by Air New Zealand's baggage policy.  I had flown with them before and as long as I had purchased extra baggage in advance, they accepted one bag being over the allotted 23Kg (my bike box with other gear was about 30Kg).  However this time they didn't and I had to pay a fee of $120 at the airport.  I would have repacked, but my flight was one of the first out in the morning so the check in was open quite late because the airport closes overnight.  I did however get a refund of this when I got back to Melbourne, as I took great pains to let them know how unhappy I was with paying it.  I have found airlines quite willing to refund extra charges for all sorts of things if you do some sensible and persistent moaning.

Next on the horizon is an arduous week tour in the mountains near me in Melbourne at about Christmas time, then a very opportunistic trip to the US in February for two weeks, followed by some exciting plans for the second-half of 2018 and my biggest challenge yet!

Tour Summary

Total Distance: 965Km

Total Ascent: 7234m

Daily Average when Cycling (8 days of cycling, 3 days hiking, 2 days in Wellington) = 120.62Km

Total Spend: Approx $400 (Not including flights), working out at $30 a day, pretty much entirely for accommodation and food.

No comments:

Post a Comment