Wednesday, 26 September 2018

Auckland to Gisborne

With the first leg of the tour done in the Northland, I set about finding a different route through the North Island.  I had been through the North Island from Auckland to Wellington twice before.  The first time, I went up to the Coromandel Peninsula first then went straight down the middle, the highlight being a trip to Tongariro National Park and hiking the Northern Circuit around the volcanoes.  The second time, I went down the west coast via Taranaki, another great volcano of New Zealand.

This time I decided to head East, but for the first 60Km or so out of Auckland, I followed the same route as my first time in New Zealand.  After that, though, it was all new and I hadn't even researched that much about the route, at least the first part of it to Gisborne.

I had arranged a couple of nights with a Warmshowers host in Mount Manganui, near Tauranga, but I only gave myself two days to get there - my plan of doing no more than 80Km a day is very quickly going out of the window - 209Km over two days.

Even though this meant an average of over 100Km each day, I wasn't too concerned as I was well and truly warmed-up after about 3 weeks in the Northland.  The first day was extremely trying, however, as I had to deal with headwinds all day, plus my old nemesis from Australia was back, a broken spoke.

Luckily, I broke the spoke right at the turnoff to Thames, where there was a bike shop, as again the spoke went on the drive side, making it difficult to fix myself.  It did mean that I had to cycle an extra 12Km, though, as it was a slight detour.  The mechanic at the shop did the job immediately, however, so I was on my way in no time.

From Thames, I took the Hauraki Rail Trail all the way to Waihi, a mostly flat gravel track, which at first took me through farmland and then through Karangahake Gorge.  This was useful as the road through the gorge wasn't especially safe.

I thought that the rail trail would provide ample opportunities for some wild camping, it being so far off the road, but I was wrong.  It was devilishly difficult, as to begin with it was all fenced-off farmland, and once in the gorge there was nothing but track and walls of stone.  I did manage to squeeze myself into the smallest of clearings on the side of the track after a very long day, finally settling-down well after sunset at 7.30pm.

The next morning the scenery through the gorge was fantastic and I took time to enjoy it.  I had about 90Km left to do, so I had done most of the hard work.

After passing through the gorge, I still had to cycle about 60Km along New Zealand's most dangerous road.  It isn't dangerous because of spectacular drops of sheer mountain faces, it is dangerous because of the volume of traffic and big trucks.  I saw a report on the news about a week prior to going on it myself and wasn't really looking forward to it.  In fact, I had been on the same road 2 years ago, and I remember it not being very pleasant.

I was in luck, though, I hit the road at a good time and it wasn't especially busy or dangerous, just very up and down and a bit boring.  Two years ago, I turned off this road towards Rotorua, but this time I stayed on it all the way to Tauranga.

I was a bit taken aback with how big Tauranga was; lots of busy roads and industrial buildings and work going on, and it wasn't great to cycle through.  Fortunately, my Warmshowers hosts were in Mount Maunganui, on the other side of Tauranga, and it was a much more pleasant area.

Surf's up at sunset.
Mount Maunganui had one of the most stunning beaches, and one with great surfing as well.  Rarely have I seen such large waves on a relatively calm day.  I walked down to the beach at sunset and loads of young people were running out there with their surf boards.  It was a beautiful place with the Mount in the background and a large spit in the middle dividing the beach in two.

Gorgeous sunrise at the main beach in Mount Maunganui.
Sometimes I do curse my bad luck at being brought-up in the flattest, most naturally dull place, in Colchester in England.  It isn't a bad place at all, and culturally and historically it is surely as rich a place as you could find, but it isn't much of an area for an outdoorsman.  I envied these young kids being able to jump out into the surf on a gorgeous beach.  They probably have no idea how lucky they are.

My usual morning trail run, whenever I stop.
The next morning, I did my usual trail run, although I was extremely weary from a couple of long days on the bike.  It was a pretty run; first along the beach at sunrise, and then up and around the mountain.

My hosts were, as usual, very nice people and I was made to feel very welcome.  They also gave me quite a lot of useful information about my route to come and some tips for fixing the bike when I ran into problems.

I had about 3 days to get to Gisborne, and I was treated to largely good weather throughout, which was ideal for riding and camping.  I followed the coast along the Bay of Plenty for about 150Km and then cut inland through the Waioeka Gorge.

It seemed as though it was one, long, endless beach most of the way, sometimes interrupted by an inlet or a town.  I had a tricky day out of Mount Maunganui, firstly, the highway turned into an expressway, which I couldn't cycle on, then the detour was cordoned-off because of a marathon.  I eventually decided to just break the rules and cycle through the marathon course as it was just too difficult to navigate around it.

Once out of the built-up areas, I got back onto the SH2 and the road started pleasantly following the coast.  The weather was good and the coastal scenery was very nice.  Other people seemed to agree as there were more people fishing, riding horses, and walking their dogs than there were on the roads.

I camped overnight at a very good free camping area just shy of Opotiki after a mostly easy day's cycling with gently undulating roads throughout the day.  I could have gone on further, but I didn't need to and camping opportunities were sparse after that.

The next day, I had a scenic cycle through Waioeka gorge.  The gorge was apparently one of the more difficult roads in the whole of New Zealand to build and lives were lost back in the 1910s forming the original track and then again in the late 1950s and early 60s turning it into a proper tar-sealed road.  The steep edges of the mountains falling down into the river were the main reason for this.  It did make for a magnificent cycle, however, and although the road climbed to about 700 metres, it was only the last 300 metres or so that were very testingly steep.  The rest of the time the road ascended so steadily I barely noticed I was climbing at all, especially with the beautiful scenery all around.

Every 5-10Km or so there was a rest stop with some information about the early settlers of this region or how the road was built, mostly in nice areas to sit down and relax.  It was probably my favourite section of cycling on the trip so far.

After a steep climb, I had to find somewhere to camp for the night and managed to find a slightly dodgy campsite near a rest stop on some slightly uneven ground, which didn't make for a great night's sleep.  The next day I felt this; I had done about 120Km with a large climb with not much sleep at the end of it, and even with a strong tailwind pushing me the last 45Km into Gisborne, I couldn't wait to get there.

Statue of Captain Cook overlooking Poverty Bay in Gisborne.
Once in Gisborne - a fairly unattractive town, except for a nice lookout over Poverty Bay - I got a huge bonus when I tried to check into the YHA.  YHA hostels in New Zealand offer a 25% discount for members who are also low-carbon travellers, so I definitely qualify as a cyclist.  It has saved me quite a bit of money on previous tours here.  This hostel, though, took it one step further, offering free camping in their backyard, which included free use of their facilities.  To be honest, with some people in hostels being a bit smelly and loud snorers, the tent is just as comfortable, if not more so, so I was more than happy to pitch the tent.

Poverty Bay is so-named because when Captain Cook sailed into it in 1769 looking for provisions and met with the local Maori, he misunderstood a traditional challenge from the tribe and killed many of them and left without anything. 

There wasn't that much to do in Gisborne, but that didn't matter much; sometimes you just need time off the bike to rest and recuperate, and the hostel had a nice movie collection, ideal for getting away from from the cold wind that was blowing outside and putting my feet up.

While I was in Gisborne, I contemplated how cheaply I was doing things in New Zealand, spending less than $150 a week on everything, while at the same time having an awesome time.  I can't tell you how many times I have cycled away from my camp site in the morning taking deep breaths of the fresh air and mulling-over how wonderful life is.  This is a far cry from cycling through Australia, where things were mostly pure suffering on the bike.

This is not to say that the experience in Australia was not worthwhile; the places I stopped and the things I did in these places will live with me for the rest of my life.  They were genuine bucket-list things to do.  Here in New Zealand, there is less of that, but day-to-day it is 100 times better and without sounding too much of a hippy, cliched, and over-the-top, I feel lucky to be alive.  I literally can't bear the thought of having to do a full-time job and living a "normal life", it's all too stifling for me.  Reading of the trials and tribulations of the first settlers to the Waioeka Gorge region gave me a sense of pity for their hardship, both also admiration for the sense of adventure and freedom.  That's what it is all about for me.

Thursday, 20 September 2018

The Northland Part 2 - Paihia back to Auckland Via the West Coast

After an extended stay of a few days in Paihia, I had three days to get to my next stop which was over on the West coast, Ahipara.  Ahipara lies at the very southern end of the famous 90-mile beach, and I had planned a few days there working.

Before then, I had to cover about 190Km.  The first day was cloudy and grey, but the cycling was uneventful anyway, except for a nice waterfall in Kerikeri, so I didn't miss out on much.  I made good time and, preparing for a lack of supermarkets to come, I stopped in a Pak 'n' Save in Kaitaia and loaded-up with enough food to last me for about a week.  There was very little in Ahipara and also from Ahipara to Dargaville.

Rainbow falls in Kerikeri.
I pushed into some stiff headwinds on a heavy bike - with all the food - rolling into Ahipara, but I didn't have that much ground to cover.

There wasn't much in Ahipara, except for a vast and spectacular beach and a very good holiday park, where I stayed for a few days.  In Paihia and Whangarei I had spent my time off the bike trail running, but in Ahipara, the long, flat beach was ideal for some sprinting, interval training, and circuits, so that was my morning routine for 3 days.  It sounds crazy perhaps, doing all this extra exercise on top of the long days on the bike, but the body thanks me for it; I don't get set into slow, plodding bicycle mode.

The southern end of 90-mile beach in Ahipara.
The holiday park was the best I have ever stayed at; great facilities, super-clean, and Sky TV for extra comfort and convenience.  I put my feet up and relaxed for a couple of days while I did a little work also.

90-mile beach is actually an official road, but I think it might have been tough on the bike.
The next target was Dargaville, about another 180Km south on the West coast.  The roads were tough again, with steep climbs around every corner.  I managed to dodge the inclement weather very effectively on the first day, but I got completely stuck for somewhere to camp overnight and ended-up contemplating staying in a bus shelter out of town.

Somehow I managed to dodge the rain on the first day out of Ahipara towards Dargaville.
Fortunately, a nice chap pulled-up alongside me and asked if I needed somewhere to stay; his car was full but he said he lived on a farm just up the road, about 4Km away.  He gave me directions, but I had trouble finding his place as it was dark and there were numerous other small farms and properties dotted around.  Luckily somebody else pulled-up alongside me and offered to help.  I chucked the bike on the back of their truck and they helped me find the place.

It wasn't quite what I expected, and as I was guided up through the long wet grass and mud in the dark to a house on the top of the hill, I started to wonder what I had gotten myself into.  I eventually made my way up to his place, which was perched on the top of a hill overlooking the valley and his land, and discovered that it was a half-finished tiny house.  The roof was on, the walls were up, he had basic kitchen facilities and two beds, but that was about it, there were bits of wood and tools everywhere.

The view down the valley and his - very muddy - garden.
He went on to explain that he had built it on a trailer to avoid government regulations.  Amazingly, even if you purchase an area of land for yourself, you are not allowed to build your own house in New Zealand, and I am guessing this might be the same in many countries.  Government encroachment on personal liberties is one of the motivations for jumping on the bike for me, I do get sick of having to deal with the constant rules and regulations out there, tripping you up at every turn.  Bicycle touring is freedom from all that crap, and I don't know if the average person realises just how much of this garbage there actually is.

I keep hearing how much life has improved, even over the last 10-20 years or so; crime rates and violence are going down, and apparently we all have more to spend on stuff, have more convenient lifestyles, we are living longer, and have access to all the information we'll ever need at our fingertips.  However, I'm not convinced.  House cats are safe and live longer than a cat free to roam the neighbourhood, but I know which one I'd rather be.  I can't help but think of the movie "Demolition Man" when I think of where we are going.  Government is far, far too big and has too much power, and they'll find a way to regulate the building of tiny houses and bicycle tourers eventually, I guarantee it.

Anyway, (rant over) he was an interesting bloke to meet, and his idea of a tiny house in the countryside, growing his own vegetables is one that has some appeal to me as I enjoy the feeling of freedom and self-reliance.  However, there was a tinge of sadness about his situation.  He did have a family, but was divorced and maybe slightly alone.  I had the distinct impression that he was quite happy having a bit of company and a chat for the evening and that I really wasn't putting him out at all.

I knew the following day would be a testing one; I had the longest climb of the tour yet, up to about 400 metres, followed by another testing climb, with the usual short, sharp inclines in between.  Thankfully, though, the main ascent was mostly steady, so it wasn't too bad.

The scenery in Opononi and Omapere was very nice in the morning as the skies cleared for a beautiful sunny day.  You get such amazing colours in New Zealand on clear days.

Once I said good bye to the coast, I immediately started ascending up into Waipoua forest, home to many ancient Kauri trees.  In fact, the West coast of the Northland is called the Kauri coast.  These trees are big and beautiful and can live for thousands of years.  Unfortunately, they are being blighted by a disease called Kauri dieback.  Because of this, at the entrance to every walking track into the forest in this part of New Zealand, you have to brush the soil off your shoes and then disinfect them also, with strict instructions to stick to the paths and not tread on kauri roots.

It actually was impressively big, this picture doesn't do it justice.
"Tane Mahuta", or "the lord of the forest", is the biggest kauri tree in the world, standing at 51 metres tall and a trunk girth of about 19 metres, and this was just a short walk from the road.  I have seen some pretty big trees this year; the giant sequoia, General Sherman, in California, the Gloucester Tree in Western Australia, and now Tane Mahuta in New Zealand, and the lord of the forest was indeed an impressive sight.

It was an excellent, quiet forest road, although tough going with all the climbing.  I made my way out and down the other side and was going to try and settle into a backpackers about 35Km from Dargaville.  I blew right by it, however, and ended-up a bit stuck for somewhere to stay for the night.  I stumbled into a local inn in a very small village and asked if there was anywhere I could pitch a tent around.  After a short consultation with his wife, the owner offered his garden, and then a little time later his wife offered their outside laundry room.  Luxury indeed.

I felt obliged to at least buy some food from them, and they duly served me up the biggest and best plate of nachos I have ever had for $10.  I was very thankful, they were a wonderfully friendly couple and they introduced me to all their regulars while sitting around watching, "The Chase (UK)" on TV.

Onto Dargaville then and a warmshowers host for a couple of days.  I was pretty tired from the day before, but still managed to get my first game of squash in on this tour of New Zealand a few hours after I arrived.  It was handy as there isn't much to do in Dargaville; nothing to see, no trails, and no beaches, so having the squash club there was a good little resource to have for some more variety of exercise, and I utilised it a couple of times while I was there.

Looking at the weather forecast, the weather didn't seem too good after a couple of days, so with this in mind, I decided to put in a couple of long days on the bike.  I had originally planned to go to the Waiketere ranges, but because of the weather and an outbreak of kauri dieback disease closing much of the park and the campgrounds, I decided to give it a miss and go straight to Auckland to sit out the weather for a day or so.

Back to Auckland.  This is the view from the top of Mount Eden, a now extinct volcano.  I have never been to Auckland on a sunny day.
I managed just over 100Km on both days.  It doesn't sound much, but on the roads up in the Northland, that was a pretty good effort.  Lots and lots of steep climbing, so much so that I don't think I would have managed such a distance a few weeks earlier when I had just arrived.  The legs are adapting to their new routine.  The Northland had been good training for the stiffer climbs to come, and I do have some big ones planned not too far in the future here in the North Island, not to mention the South Island in a month.

I now have an unusual route planned through the rest of the North Island, trying to hit many of the places I haven't been before.  On paper, the next 2-3 weeks look like the most physically challenging of the trip.  Wish me luck.

Tuesday, 4 September 2018

The Northland Part 1 - Auckland to Paihia

Over 366Km, 4238m of climbing is quite a lot.  A tough start.
It is been a super-interesting trip so far, and this is the main reason why I am doing a blog after just a week or so in. The cycling is tough going, constantly up and down, but the scenery is more than making up for the effort expended.  I've also had lots to do, and enjoying shorter days on the bike.

The first challenge was getting through Auckland.  I arrived from Cairns at an awkward time.  I knew there was a possible campsite about 8Km from the airport, but by the time I had put my bike together - at a very handy bike assembly area at Auckland airport - it was already 10pm.  After cycling to the camping area and pitching my tent it was nearly 12.30am.  I needed to get away very early so I would be able to catch a boat, so that meant only about 4 hours sleep.

Awesome cycle path on the way into Auckland.
The next morning I had to pick my way through the centre of Auckland.  Fortunately, it was a Sunday, so the roads were quiet and there were plenty of bike paths, one in particular being very flash.  I made it to the ferry terminal with time to spare.

I planned to take a ferry to get myself out of the main busy centre of Auckland, as it is not much fun cycling a heavily-loaded bike through city traffic.  It wasn't a long ferry ride, about 50 minutes to a place called Gulf Harbour about 30-40Km north of the city.  At about $15, it wasn't too expensive and was a nice way to get myself to a good starting point.

Almost immediately after getting-off the boat, I was confronted by some stiff hills.  This was exactly what I was expecting, but it was still a bit of a shock to the system after all the flat riding in Australia, not to mention the lack of sleep.

A cloudy day 1 on the bike, but at least it didn't rain.
I felt pretty tired that first day, but I managed to find a regional park to pitch the tent that night.  The park was also quite a nice place for a bit of walking and trail running, so I plucked-up the strength to hit the trails.  It was a very well-maintained park, with excellent trails that were perfect for running.  Despite a slightly dodgy campsite, I managed 9 hours sleep pretty easily after about 50km on the bike and 10Km of trail running.

The next day, and I was hoping to be able to make it to Waipu caves, not so much because of the caves, but because they also had a free campsite there.  The roads were hard work, though, and the state highway 1 was very busy and not much fun to cycle on.  It was going to be a stretch to make the 100Km I needed to get to the caves.  Luckily, once off the highway, a chap with a little truck offered me a lift.  In times gone by, I would have refused, but I saw no problem in letting him help me.  He was going to the next town, about 20Km away, which was a nice little boost for me and put the caves back into play for the end of the day.

Tough dirt road section into Waipu caves.
He introduced himself as, "Col", short for Colin obviously.  After a bit of chit-chat, he asked me where I was from and I said Colchester in England.  He turned to me and said, "no way!", puzzled I replied and asked if he had been there.  He said no, but then told me his surname, which was Chester, so his name was "Col Chester", an amusing little coincidence.

I still had work to do, though, so after a little bit of sushi in the small town of Manghawai Heads, I had some more climbing to get to the campground at the caves.  The last 5Km were hard, as the road became unsealed with some steep climbs.  That last 5Km seemed to go on forever, but finally I made it, with some time to explore the caves as well.

Camping between the limestone casts near the caves.
It was a very basic camping area, a toilet being the only real facilities, but the limestone casts around my tent served me very well.  I had bent most of my tent pegs trying to get them into the hard, sun-baked ground in Australia, and one of the casts had a tiny hole that each peg would just fit through.  I fed the pegs through the hole and bent each and every one of them back straight.  Extremely useful, as those pegs were becoming a bit of a pain in the neck.

I was about 35Km away from my first stop of the tour in Whangarei, where I had planned to do some work for a couple of days.  I managed to find a hostel right next to Whangarei Falls, just a little out of the centre of town.  After settling-in, I wandered down to see the falls.  Much to my surprise, especially being so close to town, the falls were spectacular.

The walk down to the falls was about all I could manage for the rest of the day, as I was truly spent.  The first 3 days or so of bike tours are always some of the toughest because your body is fighting the extreme demands you are placing on it.  Things usually start get progressively easier, physically, after that (although it is always very hard).  Back in 2016, it took about a month for my legs to really get to grips with all the hills and mountains, but once they had, I felt incredibly strong on the bike and my legs were like tree trunks.

It rained heavily overnight, so I was pretty glad to be inside and not camping.  I once had a discussion online with a fellow bicycle-tourer who said New Zealand was one of her worst tours; the reason being she had camped almost every single night.  To me, camping can be a miserable business if you are in a country where it rains regularly.  New Zealand is best done on about 50% camping, in my opinion, trying to avoid the regular soaking if possible, and especially if you like to go out of season at times when the weather is more unpredictable.  No one likes being constantly cold and wet.

Running alongside the river.
Despite the heavy rain overnight, the clouds cleared very early, which meant that I had to do a bit of trail running.  The hostel was not only close to the falls, but also to a network of trails which linked to another waterfall, and to a track going up the mountain alongside the town.  I wasn't sure how I'd feel, so I had originally planned just a 6Km round-trip to the other falls and back, but the weather was so nice that I did the complete circuit up to the lookout on the mountain and back along the river to the hostel, about 17Km in all.  A great run; waterfalls, great views, and lush forest, all on a well-maintained track, superb for running.

At the top.  An enjoyable trail run with Whangarei in the background.
The next day I did what my body was telling me to do, and that was have a good rest.  The following day I had to be up extremely early so I could cycle the 23Km to Tutukaka by 7.30am.  I had to be there early because I had arranged a day of scuba diving at Poor Knights Islands, considered one of the finest sub-tropical dives in the world.

I got there with plenty of time to spare, and even stumbled across a cool lookout just as the sun was coming up, with superb views of the coast around Tutukaka..

It was about 50 minutes to the Islands, on a much smaller boat than I was accustomed to in Cairns.  The islands we so-named because, approaching them from the south, Captain Cook saw their shape and thought they resembled the position a knight is put into upon his death.  Poor knights weren't buried, but they were laid to rest on their backs with their sword and shield on their chest.  Have a look at the picture below and see what you think.

A dead knight lying on his back?
There were only 4 of us diving; one Kiwi from Auckland, the dive instructor and his friend from England (who was also a dive instructor, living in the Cayman Islands), and me.  They were all really nice guys, actually, so it was an enjoyable day-out.  The other two with us were the skipper and a photographer just doing his own thing.  He apparently does a lot of work for National Geographic and dived separately from us taking pictures with a very fancy camera, similar to the one they used to take the fantastic photos underwater on the Great Barrier Reef.

At the Great Barrier Reef, the water temperature was about 25 degrees, warm enough for just a thin, legless and sleeveless wetsuit, but here it was about 10 degrees cooler at a very nippy 15 degrees, so a thick 7mm wetsuit with hood was needed.  Indeed, the dive intstructor and the cameraman even dived in dry-suits to combat the cold.  It was quite a shock when entering the water, but the wetsuit did its job and I wasn't too cold.

It was an interesting couple of dives, and very different to diving on coral reefs, but just as colourful.  Instead of coral, there were sponges, rocks, and kelp.  Tucked between it all was life everywhere; large stingrays, scorpion fish, an incredible variety of eels, lots of nudibranchs, sea urchins, and huge shoals of fish.

At one point, we found our way into a cave, which we then ascended up into.  I ascended right through the middle of a big shoal of fish then promptly bumped my head on the roof of the cave in an air pocket that was actually 8 metres below the surface.  We all surfaced in there and had a chat before moving on.

The next dive was more challenging, with plenty of current and surge, which meant being pushed and pulled around underwater.  After all the diving I had done just a couple of weeks previously, however, I felt really comfortable underwater, despite the foreign surroundings and tricky conditions.

A massive shoal of trevally having a feeding frenzy causing the white water.
It was a top day out, and the skipper took us through some of the caves and arches on the way back.  Shoals of fish were feeding on the surface of the water, gannets were dive-bombing into the water after the fish, and seals were relaxing on the rocks.  Good company, great diving, and loads of wildlife, what more could I have asked for?

Despite feeling a little weary, I did manage a quick walk out to the lighthouse before setting-off for my campsite.  Another scenic walk highlighted just how much I had fit in over the first few days of the trip.  It sometimes amazes me just how much there is to do here in New Zealand for someone who loves the great outdoors.  There is surely no better place in the world for outdoor adventure activities.

I was enjoying the shorter days on the bike.  The time spent on the bike was still very hard, with very steep climbs around almost every corner.  Since Auckland, I have hardly cycled on a flat bit of road.  I have either been in the granny gears or just freewheeling, not pedaling at all.  Because of all the climbing, even 40-60Km certainly registers with my body at the end of the day.  It is wonderful not having to push too hard into misery territory though, as I did so much in Australia.

About 20 or so houses in this quaint little bay.
The next day was more of the same on the bike; up and down, dropping into, what seemed like smaller and smaller towns. I stopped at one of these little communities for lunch, a place called Helena Bay. It was a picture-perfect tiny town in a gorgeous bay.

I had set-off earlier that day hoping I'd find somewhere to camp by the end of the day. Freedom camping can be a tricky business in New Zealand with so much private land fenced-off, and everywhere else often too densely forested. Eventually, I stumbled upon a farm offering tent sites for $15. Included were warm showers, wifi, a kitchen, and a comfortable sofa to chill-out on. That was good enough for me.

The next day, I had only about 45Km to cycle to get to Paihia and a few days rest.  Looking at the profile of the road on Google, it didn't look too bad, as there were no climbs higher than about 70m.  I didn't however, factor-in just how frequently these climbs occurred and just how steep they were (have a look at the profile below).  The problem of very steep climbs is that they push your body to it's lactate threshold; have this happen again and again, and it causes quite a lot of fatigue, more so than very long, steady climbs that might look harder on paper.  This is the kind of road that really takes it out of you physically, and mentally it is hard too, as you are confronted with climb after climb after climb, wondering when the torture will finally stop.

I made it to Paihia and checked-in to a very cheap hostel, an absolute bargain at just $20 a night.  Paihia is the launching pad for a lot of tourist experiences in the Bay of Islands. However, it really is a summer destination with lots of bays, swimming, and other water activities.  For this reason, it was extremely quiet at the hostel and in the town itself.  I had a room to myself and pretty much every trail in the area as well.  This is one of the reasons I enjoy coming to New Zealand out of season.  Yes, I have to put up with some inclement weather sometimes, but my reward is that I can rock-up to places and know there is a bed for me, and when I go out, I have the majesty of the surroundings to myself (plus I can be a bit unsociable sometimes).

The Paihia shoreline.

Trail Running

One of my goals on this tour was to get back into trail running.  I find I get extremely bored of road running and it also seems to aggravate my ankles.  On the trails, though, I get no pain whatsoever; all the changing angles and strides is much better for my joints, I think, which I need to watch as I come worryingly close to 40.  I also find I run better than I walk (hear me out).  The heel striking I do when I walk means that sometimes I feel my right hip after a long day of walking, and hip problems not only run in my family, but are also common in the main sport I have played most of my life, squash.  After trail running, on the other hand, my body feels fantastic with no complaints at all.

Running through the mangroves.
So far on tour, I have managed trail runs of 10Km (Wenderholm Regional Park), 17Km (Whangarei), and 20Km (Paihia) over about a ten-day period.  In the temperatures at the current time of year, 20Km is about the maximum distance I can go without bringing any water with me, and I am not sure I really want to go much further than that anyway (I would also start needing to carry some food if I went much further).

A nice street on a short road section between trails.
Trail running is a great way to get into nature and cover some ground at the same time, plus it makes you super-strong and fit.  I take my phone with me also and end up taking some great pictures.

The view through the trees at the end of the Oromahoe Traverse track.
The big 20Km run in Paihia saw me take the trail up into the mountains and run along the ridge on a trail called the Oromahoe Traverse, then along a dirt road that eventually led down to the walk from Opua back to Paihia along the bay.  A fantastic run on a beautiful morning.  The mornings have mostly been sunny thus far here in the Northland.

The dock at Opua, just after taking the ferry across from Okiato.
On one of the walks I did along the river in Paihia to Haruru Falls, I saw something very interesting.  I noticed a girl walking towards me on the track and saw her jump, letting-out a mini-scream.  I then saw what looked like a squirrel running-away from a rabbit carcass.  She asked me what is was, but I wasn't sure.  As I was talking to her, I figured-out that is must have been a stoat and that we had disturbed it in the middle of taking its kill to its burrow.

Stoats and rabbits are pests in New Zealand.  Rabbits were introduced by Europeans in the 1870s as a source of meat and for hunting, then the stoats were introduced to control the rabbits, so I guess this stoat I came across was doing its job.  However, stoats don't just stop at rabbits, they will kill native birds, especially the ones that don't fly and nest on the ground.  They are a real threat to native species, so attempts to control them often make headline news in New Zealand - as New Zealand is also very bereft of the usual bad news topics of other countries.

I wasn't 100% sure it was a stoat, though, so after the girl left, I figured the stoat would come back after its kill, so I quietly hid and waited to see if it returned.  Sure enough, it only took about one minute and it came back.  It was definitely a stoat, and it was probably about 5 or 6 times smaller than the rabbit it killed.  What really amazed me was how easily it carried the rabbit away and up a the bank next to the trail, it was as if it was running without the rabbit in its mouth, it wasn't struggling at all.  Strong little guys, and pretty cute too, despite being exceptionally efficient hunters.  What a nuisance they are in New Zealand, a kiwi wouldn't stand a chance.

As I have mentioned in previous blogs about New Zealand, it always exceeds my expectations.  I think nature has a way of doing this anyway.  I am always struck by the beauty of my surroundings when I am on tour, and New Zealand especially, it never disappoints and I never get tired of it.  The Northland wasn't even an area of New Zealand I was particularly looking-forward to, but seeing as I had the time and I hadn't been there, I thought I should do.  Well, I'm glad I did so far, it's been a great start to this 4 month long tour.