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.

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