Saturday, 27 October 2018

Arthurs Pass and The Great Alpine Highway

I thought that this section deserved a blog post all of its own, as it was quite an epic cycle across the middle of the South Island.  It had it all; amazing scenery, some of the hardest uphill sections I have ever cycled, great hiking, and good weather.  Not too much musing on life in this post, but lots of pretty pictures.

Sometimes, when you are on a long bicycle tour, you can forget that a part of the tour over a few days can actually be the equivalent to something some people train for over several months and make the trip of a lifetime. In fact, I can remember someone asking me once in San Francisco about my bike tour while I was there and they commented that this must be a once in a lifetime kind of trip.  I just replied with, "No, not really, I do this stuff pretty often".  Over the past couple of years, I have done a once in a lifetime trip at least a few times a year.  Make no mistake, the trip up to Arthurs Pass on a fully-loaded touring bike is not for the faint-hearted, but it is a spectacular, special journey.

It starts with a very steady climb after a short cycle down the West coast from Greymouth.  It was quite grey when I set-off and as I was approaching the mountains, they seemed draped in quite a lot of cloud, which wasn't encouraging.  There were still nice views, but usually when it starts off cloudy upon entering the mountains, it just gets worse.

Flowers in bloom and the clouds clearing.
Fortunately for me, however, the weather was on the improve all day, and by the time I found myself in the really nice areas with great views, the clouds were clearing.  Climbing up the Great Alpine Road didn't seem that difficult at first, just a long, slow, steady climb, but things became dramatically steep a few kilometres from the top of the pass.

It never looks steep in pictures, but let me assure you that it was pretty crazy.
The gradient went from a fairly comfortable jaunt, to an absolute gut-wrenching 16%.  This really was at the limits of what I could cycle, especially as I was weighed-down by quite a bit of food.  Even cars were finding it hard-going, very slowly passing me with engines struggling.

I had to stop on a few occasions; the first kilometre of that incline blew me out so badly that my legs and lungs just didn't want to function after that.  I had to push for a bit to get the bike up to the first lookout.  Even pushing, though, was not easy and I was seriously fatiguing.

The first of the lookouts.
I made it to the first lookout and I couldn't face the next couple of kilometres to the next lookout.  I stopped for a while and was joined by a pair of naughty, curious Kea, who constantly pecked and gnawed at just about every part of my bike.  I think they knew that they shouldn't be doing so, as they kept looking at me as they were doing it.

A kea trying to put holes in my stuff.
I really didn't want to get going again, as I was feeling a bit sick also.  It is amazing that you can cycle all day without feeling that bad, but if you bust a gut for 10 minutes it can completely destroy you.  I had another kilometre to go to get to the aqueduct lookout and then another kilometre or so to reach the top of the pass. Riding on the top of the aqueduct was pretty cool, but slow-going as there was still quite an incline.  Another big push and I was at the lookout and one of the most spectacular views in New Zealand.  After a little more extreme cranking of the pedals, it was all downhill to Arthurs Pass Village.

I was pretty beat, so I didn't do much that afternoon, even though I had planned to do a short walk.  Instead, I just sat down and did nothing but eat.  I'm thinking that my body just didn't want to move very much.

The next day, however, I was very keen to do some hiking so I spent the morning walking some of the tracks around the village and then planned to head out to Bealey Spur, about 12Km south and east of Arthurs Pass Village.  I planned to go there instead of Avalanche Peak for a couple of reasons; Avalanche Peak was capped by quite a lot of snow and would be difficult to reach, and it was quite cloudy in the part of the National Park that the peak would have been facing, limiting the views.  Bealey Spur was also in a different area, having amazing views of the valley floor and a mountain hut to stay in overnight.

The spectacular viewpoint on Bealey Spur.
Obviously I couldn't bring my bike up there, so I simply left it at the bottom of the hike in the trees.  I wouldn't do this everywhere, but it wasn't a very well frequented hike and it was well away from the main road.  I thought it highly unlikely the bike or anything on it would get stolen.  Sometimes you just have to have faith in your fellow man to be able to do these things.

It was mid-afternoon by the time I started the hike and it took about 3 hours to get to the tiny little hut where I would be staying the night.  The views along the track were truly awesome.  One of the reasons New Zealand is so stunning are the huge glacial-carved valleys through the mountains, which makes for these massive, awe-inspiring views.

The hut I stayed at was certainly cosy; it could only sleep 6 people, although I was the only one there anyway.  It was a great little hut, though, and had been there for almost 100 years.  After a long day of hiking, it didn't take me long to fall asleep, as usual.

Once I got back to my bike in the morning, I left straight-away and was hoping for some more downhill, but it wasn't really what I got.  Things went generally more up than down for quite a while until an area with lots of limestone caves and rocks, culminating in a popular area called Castle Hill.

Castle Hill is an impressive place, but has to be one of the hardest places in New Zealand to photograph.  I have seen various pictures of the place before, and it never seemed that interesting, but if you get the chance to go there, don't miss it, as the rock formations are striking in scale.  Just don't expect to take a great picture.

Top of Castle Hill
After Castle Hill, I continued to climb, this time to Porters Pass, which is a little higher than Arthurs Pass, but not quite as scenic, still jolly nice though.

I give a bit of a sense of scale to some of these rocks at Castle Hill.
In general, the scenery on the whole road is amazing, and it is a real test of strength and endurance, but the scenic distractions take your mind off the hardship, and like many things in life, the stuff that is worth doing is often not especially easy.  Indeed, this is much of the reason that bicycle touring is such a great means of travel in general.  The Great Alpine Road was certainly a very memorable part of this tour.

Thursday, 18 October 2018

Through the South Island: Picton to Greymouth

Apart from the odd bit of back wheel trouble, the journey through the North Island went not only smoothly, but much better than I could have hoped for.  I got everything done that I wanted to in the best weather I have ever experienced in New Zealand.

This was highlighted by my few days in Wellington and the crossing of the Cook Strait by ferry.  On all of my previous trips to Wellington (I have now been there 4 times) and on my two previous ferry crossings, the weather had been terrible, not just rainy, but torrential at times.  This time, though, the sun was out every day.  I even felt a little guilty for staying inside for much of a couple of days because I had to work and rest.

It was a perfect sunny day to cross over to the South Island.  I arrived in Picton at about midday and I had a plan to cover about 60-70Km so I could arrive in St Arnaud at around lunchtime the following day.  The weather forecast was fantastic for that day as well, so I wanted to do some hiking in Nelson Lakes National Park.

Wellington in sunshine!
With all my back wheel problems, I had been advised by the chap who rebuilt my wheel in Taupo to get the spoke tension checked and have it tweaked again after a few hundred kilometres.  I decided to do this in Blenheim, as there were a few bike shops in town and then not many after that on the route I was planning.

I found a bike shop and the mechanic had no other work on, so he said he could do it in about 30 minutes after he had his lunch.  This was good, but the owner of the shop, who was there also left me feeling uneasy.  The moment I walked into his shop he looked at me with a weird derisory grin on his face.  I was getting a strange feeling of disrespect from him, and he also asked me some really dumb, condescending questions too, like I had never ridden a bike before.  This is in stark contrast to the welcome I get in most bike shops, which is usually friendly, enthusiastic, and full of questions about my trip.

Picton from the ferry.
My instincts were telling me to go somewhere else, but I didn't really have any reason to leave the shop because they could do the job right-away, so I just left it with them and had a bite to eat.

I came back into the shop briefly  because I forgot something and I could see them starting to work on the bike, then 15 minutes later I came back and they had nearly finished.  However, the mechanic was working on the front wheel, not what I had asked, and I never had a problem with it.  He said to me, "Well you might as well have the front checked while you are here", to which I replied, "Okay, as long as it doesn't cost me extra."

Anyway, after 20 minutes work in total (about ten minutes on each wheel), and no parts needed, I get charged $40.  Now, I had many broken spokes over the last few months, mostly on the drive side, so I couldn't fix it myself, so I know how much I should be charged, and bear in mind that a broken spoke requires the mechanic to take the gearing off the bike to thread the spoke and it requires more re-tensioning; it's more work and includes the cost of the new spoke.  All these guys should have been doing is slightly adjusting the tension on one wheel.

Breaking on the river during the steady climb up the Wairau valley.
I was expecting it to cost about $20, maybe $25, and I have since called up a couple of bike shops to see how much they'd have charged and $20-25 is what I had been quoted, so I wasn't especially happy about being charged $40 for what should have been 10 minutes easy work with no parts fitted (at their rate this works out at $240 an hour).

All this being said, however, if the shop owner had been friendly and respectful towards me when I entered the shop, I might have just let it slide, but I couldn't help but think he saw me walk in with the word, "Sucker", written in bold type across my forehead, so naturally I questioned him about the price.

This then turned into a very strange argument indeed; firstly, he immediately became strongly defensive and when the mechanic started to chime in, he oddly shut him down.  He then tried to play the moral high-ground saying that I give cyclists a bad name (a weird thing to say for a bike shop owner) and when I offered him $20, he told me that I was only, "making things worse for myself".  This was another weird thing to say given that he then helped put my bags next to my bike so I could load it onto my bike and didn't accept my money.  I thought he'd try and keep the bags or make me pay the full amount by other means somehow.  Strangely, though, as I was putting my case forward, he gave no convincing arguments or justification for why he'd charged me that amount, just accusing me of never stopping talking, again, very odd because I really didn't talk that much.

Things got even weirder as he went behind the counter and brought out a pricing list poster for mechanical work on the bike.  He pointed to the "Wheel truing" price, it was $30 for both wheels.  So I asked him why he had charged me $40, he said they had charged me an extra $10 because I hadn't just left the wheels with them, so they had to lift the bike on to a stand to do it (it had no mention of this on the poster).  I replied with, "Okay then, fair enough, I only asked you to do one wheel, so I should pay half of that $40, so $20 seems about right.  However, okay, I'll give you $30 as a compromise."  Still unhappy with this, though, he refused my money saying, "I don't want your money."  I just laughed and walked out, job done for free.  I rode down the road thinking how accurate my instincts had been about the guy and how exactly I had made things worse for myself for complaining.

Well, I cycled-off shaking my head, but after some energy-sapping into the wind cycling down the very open Wairau valley towards St Arnaud late into the afternoon and evening, the ridiculous turned into the sublime.  From one disrespectful moron in a bike shop, I was then approached by an absolute legend in his car.

This area of New Zealand is well-known for its wine, and so the valley was filled with wineries and the usual farm land as well.  This was a bit of a problem for me, however, because there was not even the faintest chance of a spot to camp.  At about 7pm, I was exhausted cycling into a strong headwind and just wanted to stop, but there was absolutely nowhere.  In stepped the hero of the hour, a dairy farmer named Mike.

He pulled-up alongside me and, understanding my lack of options, offered to host me for the evening in his house just a kilometre or so just up the road.  I almost bit his hand off.

Very much a man's man, Mike was into motorbikes, hunting, bushcraft, and farming, so I had some interesting chats with him about hunting, fishing, owning a gun, and butchering game.  To top everything off, he even cooked me a steak for dinner.  These are the sort of people you regularly meet on the road bicycle touring, and they far outnumber the odd idiot.

While I was chatting with Mike, I became acutely aware about how incredibly unskilled I am, especially in the traditional aspects, like hunting, fishing, farming, etc.  I both admired him for his man-skills, but also didn't envy him in other respects.  I felt like that for all his skills that I would love to have, I somehow I had a much better chance of surviving and thriving in the modern world than he had. 

It is kind of bizarre that, as a shy teenager, a bit of a loner, and not someone who especially enjoys talking a lot, I have always done work involving talking to people; coaching, personal training, and teaching.  I have certainly noticed over this year how valuable people skills actually are.  I feel like I am incredibly good with people, even though I don't often seek them out.  It seems as though the strangers I come into contact with on the road enjoy my company and respond well to me, and conversely, I have also been able to put plenty of people in their place when I meet problems.  Perhaps a way with words and the confidence to use them comes with age, but I am certainly noticing the advantages of my interpersonal skills this year.

After a very comfortable night at farmer Mike's, I again battled the wind and a very steady climb up to St Arnaud.  I got there at about lunchtime and pondered on what to do.  I had planned an extended hike over a few days, but the weather forecast was not promising and then work also made such a thing difficult.  The weather was great on my day of arrival though, so I left my bike at a campsite at the bottom of one of the day hikes up to the high peaks on the ridgeline of the mountains along lake Rotoiti.

The hike was spectacular, as was the lake at the bottom, and I had a spot of lunch with a drop dead gorgeous view before starting.  I raced up the track and spent time at the top appreciating the views.  No one was there, as usual, although I met about 3 people on the way up who were on their way down.  Those moments, when you are one your own with the sheer wonder of nature laid-out in front of you are almost spiritual (I hate using that word, but I can't think I a better way to explain it).  Everyone, religious, or non-religious as I am, needs to have the appreciation of something bigger and grander than themselves, for some it's god, for others it is their children, mine is nature.

I am not sure where this appreciation for nature comes from; perhaps it is the freedom, peace, and escape from modern life that draws me to it.  I am not a person who ever really feels lonely, sad, or depressed - I just never feel like that - but I do get stressed easily.  How the hell people manage juggling all the crap that surrounds having a mortgage, having a car, paying bills and taxes, having kids, and going to work every day genuinely boggles my mind.  I handle physical stress very well, but I cannot handle the mental stress that all this involves.

I waffle-on, but examining life is what I have always done, but when I bicycle tour, the time on the bike and the physical suffering, combined with the interesting experiences and adventures I have on a daily basis, make the mind wander and I contemplate all sorts of things quite deeply.

I decided to move on, planning to utilise the nearly 2 weeks I was ahead of schedule.  I planned to criss-cross the South Island along the mountain passes, adding miles to the trip, but also making doubly sure I explored everywhere I missed two years ago.  However, the forecast was terrible for a couple of days, so I booked myself into a nice comfortable hostel 60Km away in Murchison, had a rest and sat-out the worst of the weather.

Making my way to Murchison from St Arnaud.
Well, the plan was to head across the Lewis Pass in the "better" weather the following day, but the only thing that was better was that it didn't rain as much, other than that it was one of the worst days weather I've experienced cycle touring.  This made me change plans, as heading across the Lewis Pass seemed a stupid idea.

The top of the skyline track in Murchison after a short trail run on a wet day off the bike.
After about 8am that day the winds blew, gale force, in exactly my direction of travel, South/South-East.  It was not only incredibly hard to cycle into, but also freezing cold.  No matter how hard I cycled, I did not get warm all day.  Adding to my woes, I also broke the cable to my front deraileur.  Fortunately, this didn't hinder me that much as I still had all my granny gears, I just didn't have the top two chain ring's worth of gears to choose from.

Instead of heading South-East, straight into the teeth of the biting wind (and rain and snow, as I was told by someone who just drove through the Lewis Pass), I stuck with my original plan and went West towards Greymouth.  By the time I had changed my mind, however, I had already taken the scenic route, adding an extra 40 or so kilometres to my day.

It was just one of those days you have cycle touring sometimes; sometimes it feels like all the gods are against you.  That's life, I guess, you just have to tough it out.  At least I found a decent free campsite for the night and had no trouble getting to sleep.  After a day like that, basically I lie down, turn off the lights and within a few seconds I am dead to the world.

I thought the day was going to get better as the cloud cleared in the morning, but I couldn't have been more wrong.
I still had 70Km to get to Greymouth and I absolutely had to be there before 1pm so I could work, so I couldn't have an easy day.  It was a freezing cold morning.  In the tent it was fine, but the first couple of hours on the bike were extremely uncomfortable, especially for my hands, which were either painful or numb.  I noticed that the water was freezing in my bottle as I rode.

Grey and cold all day.
I made it in time to Greymouth and checked into a nice hostel and tried to get warm, something that wasn't now very easy as I was a very deep cold.

Despite having 3 bike shops in town, for some reason none of them were open for the weekend, which meant I couldn't get my bike repaired.  This was a nuisance seeing as there now wasn't a bike shop until Christchurch on my route, as I was making my way there via Arthur's Pass.  Likely to be mainly in the granny gears, anyway, I just decided to carry-on without the rest of my gears, as I didn't see it being a problem and I was super-keen to go to Arthurs Pass, one of the potential highlights of the trip.

A nice day at the office in Greymouth.

Sunday, 7 October 2018

Gisborne to Wellington Via Te Urewera and the Desert Road

On this trip to New Zealand so far, the weather has been much kinder to me than before.  While I was taking a few days rest in Gisborne, the winds blew, which would have been horrible on the bike, and then when I left I had a week of good weather as I was riding through some of the most interesting parts of the North Island.

I made my original plan to tour New Zealand while I was still in Australia, and at the time I wasn't interested in long days on the bike and I wasn't that confident with my bike due to my broken spoke problems in Australia.  All this meant that I decided not to go through Te Urewera National Park because the road through this region, going around Lake Waikeremoana, is unsealed.  I had some really rough experiences on unsealed roads in Australia, so at the time of planning, I couldn't bare the thought of going through this again with my unreliable back wheel.

New Zealand, however, is a different beast to Australia.  On the bike, Australia breaks you down mentally; hours and hours of cycling (in my case into the wind all the time) through nothing, with flies surrounding you every time you stop, and huge distances between towns and therefore resources like food and water.  

When I finished the cycling in Australia in Broome, I gave serious consideration to selling my bike and walking through New Zealand, such was the state of despair I was in when it came to the cycling.  This was all the more strange because I was at the same time loving the experiences I was having when I stopped in Australia, I just grew a strong loathing for being on the bike.

Unsealed road climbing through the mountains.
In New Zealand, being on the bike is the fun bit.  Any problems I have on the bike, like the physical challenges of the hills and mountains, or mechanical issues like broken spokes I just accept and get through much easier because I am in such a positive mental state.  There is regular reward for the effort here.  In Australia, I had to wait a few days, a week, even a month for my target - say, diving with sharks, for example.  In New Zealand, the target is the top of that next climb and the beautiful view, the sense of achievement for making it, and the physical endorphin rush of smashing your legs and lungs to get there.  Targets are achieved on an hourly basis and that makes a big difference.

Love early morning mist on clear days.
This is precisely why, for me at least, ups and downs are better than the flat, at least the windy, desolate flat of Australia anyway.  It's funny, because everyone I meet assumes Australia must be okay on the bike because it is largely flat, and New Zealand must be a nightmare because of the climbing.  The opposite is true.

So, with this much improved state of mind, I was ready for a bit of New Zealand wilderness on a difficult road, with a still slightly unreliable bike.  I was psyched and really looking forward to the challenge because this section of road also had some severe climbing to be done.  One problem, though.  As I checked Google Maps, I noticed that sections of the road were closed due to multiple land slips.  Luckily, though, I checked at the i-site in Wairoa, and the very positive (and pretty) American girl working there said it was open to local traffic and that they'd probably let me through on the bike (usually people in information offices are very conservative and careful about advice, and often tell you not to do things, she was a refreshing change).

The kind of roads I had to deal with through Te Urewera.
Before leaving Wairoa, I had to do the daily chore of drying-out my tent, which gets wet overnight from either rain, dew, or condensation.  The skies looked ominous, so I needed to dry it out undercover.  I took it into what looked like an old shopping area where most of the shops had shut down, bar one, a sushi shop.

The owner popped-out of the shop for a smoke and I asked whether it was okay to hang my tent out for a while.  He didn't look especially happy about it and also didn't speak English very well, so I'm not sure if he understood me.  I did recognise his accent though, definitely Korean.  In Australia and New Zealand, there are so many Koreans who own Japanese sushi shops, I guess they think sushi is more popular and they can do better business than with Korean food.

Anyway, he seemed reluctant to let me dry my tent out there and I couldn't understand him, so I started speaking in Korean to him - it always amazes me how much I actually remember and how naturally simple Korean sentences come out of me when I need to use it.  His manner changed immediately; all of a sudden he was smiling, chatty and helping me hang the tent up.  We had a bit of a longer chat in Korean about where he lived in Korea and when and why he was in New Zealand, then he went back into his shop for a while.

As I sat on a bench outside planning where I'd stop that night, I wondered whether he'd come out of his shop with some food for me.  I lived in Korea for over 4 years, so I know Koreans pretty well and I just had a hunch that he would; Koreans are often very kind to strangers, especially if you can speak a little Korean.  Sure enough, about 2 minutes after I thought of it, he came out with a plate full of sushi and then asked me to sit down inside his shop.  What a top bloke, and it reminded me of the random acts of kindness of Koreans.  They are a bit of an enigma sometimes, Koreans; extremely distrustful of non-Koreans, yet at the same time, if you are in need, friendly to them, or show an interest in their culture, they are extremely generous.

As you can see, over a relatively short distance, there was a lot of climbing, but this is a route worth coming to New Zealand for just on its own.

What a great afternoon, free sushi and I could cycle the road through Te Urewera, and it would be extra quiet.  And so it turned-out to be, with so few cars it was like my own wide bicycle path for at least half of the trip - and even after the closures it still wasn't at all busy.

The guy who took this photo for me looked like he had never seen a smartphone in his life.  Miraculously, after about 2 minutes of me holding this pose, he managed to take this photo (37 times).
The cycling was brutal, but the area was something special.  Not just scenic, but really wild and the only communities there were Maori, and they were so isolated that many of them couldn't even speak English.  It did feel like a very ancient and untouched land, except for the narrow unsealed road running through it.

Maori Marae in the Mountains.
I managed a few short walks, although I would have loved to do some longer ones, but that can be difficult with the bike.  The camping was also excellent, with the added plus of it being okay to build a fire, a luxury that is often not afforded in National Parks in Australia and New Zealand.  I could only source water from the lakes, streams, and rivers also, since there were no facilities anywhere other than the odd long-drop toilet.  It did feel like a very wild experience.

Epic vistas, waterfalls, and sights were around every corner and the road, although rough, was very picturesque, weaving through the mountains.

A large waterfall actually passing under the road you can see cut above it.
The climbs were long and difficult, then the road went steeply down and then rose sharply again for probably about 140-150Km.  It was really hard-going, but now over a month into the tour, my body was starting to adjust and things couldn't get that much harder than this couple of days of cycling. Mentally I was up for it, so once I had finished with the main hardship, things started to feel more manageable.

Even a broken spoke, right in the middle of the wilderness couldn't slow me down.  This time the spoke broke on the non-drive side, meaning I could fix it myself without taking the wheel apart.  I did a pretty crappy job of it on the road, and the wheel wasn't exactly running the truest it had ever run, but it was good enough to get me through all the way to Taupo.

Because of the nice weather, I was making good time, and with the combination of this and the feeling of greater strength on the bike, I decided to push forward and forget about rest days.  Starting to have that feeling of invincibility on the bike, I made it to Taupo and tried to assess when the best time would be to go up the Desert Road on to the volcanic plateau past the volcanoes.

Looking on to the distant snowcapped volcanoes from Lake Taupo.
I really wanted to get a good look at Mount Ngauruhoe (used as Mount Doom in The Lord of the Rings) and Mount Ruapehu from the road.  Two years previously, I had an amazing hike through this region, but I never saw the volcanoes from the road riding in because the weather was so bad at the time I had to get the bus up to Whakapapa village and wait around for 2 days for it to clear.  This time my route through the area was on the other side on the Desert Road, but the weather had to be just right to get a view of the peaks.

I only ended-up staying one night in Taupo because the weather looked good for the Desert Road the next day afternoon and the following morning.  In the half a day I had in Taupo, I had some work to do, though.  The broken spoke in Te Urewera was the fourth on that wheel, so this problem was just going to keep on happening, I had to do something about it.  Nowhere in town stocked new wheels, despite there being several bike shops, but I did find a wheel builder and seeing as my rims were in good condition and it was just the spokes that were weak - possibly from not being originally tensioned properly - he offered to put a whole new set of spokes in a tension them up properly for me that afternoon.  I had to do several runs to different bike shops, though, as they didn't have the correct kind of spokes or size of spokes that I needed.

With the bike fixed then, I set-off the following day, trying to time it so I hit the highest point of the Desert Road in the early evening and camp overnight somewhere.  I timed things pretty well, although in the evening the skies were not nearly as clear as the weather forecast promised them to be, so I couldn't see the volcanoes very well.  Fortunately, though, the next morning the skies were clearer than they were forecast to be and the views were amazing.  

I managed to pitch my tent overnight a few hundred metres down and just off an unused, unsealed side road, almost exactly at the summit of the desert road.  It was cold, as the temperature got below freezing overnight, but there was no wind and I found a nice flat, comfortable spot.  I layered-up and actually had a very peaceful and pleasant night's sleep.

I woke up early and the clouds slowly disappeared, as I got ready, to reveal the volcanoes in all their glory.  It made for a very special early morning cycle.  I even managed to meet the happiest man in New Zealand on the side of the road who took my picture for me.

Very handy that I found this side road that I could camp off the side of, right near the top of the Desert road.
The rest of that day was harder than I expected.  I had psyched myself up for the ascent to the top of the Desert Road, which topped 1000m, but it was actually pretty easy after my trip through Te Urewera.  It was a very slow and steady ascent, but even though the road was more downhill than up the next day, it also included a few quite sharp climbs, so with all the riding behind me I started to suffer a bit.  It actually meant that the day with significantly more downhill was actually much harder on the bike, go figure.

Mount Ruapehu in the early morning light from my camp spot.
I had a bit of a target in mind to reach Wellington by the end of the following day to drop-in on my buddy Alex again, and worked-out that I'd have about 120Km to do on each day to get there (again, my plans of doing no more than 100Km a day completely out of the window).

I was exhausted and wanted to stop at about 6pm on the penultimate day into Wellington, but I ran into the usual problem, there was absolutely nowhere to camp.  All farmland, all fenced-off.  I cycled on until 7.30pm all the way to the silly town of Bulls (the pun capital of the world), where I could at least find a campsite.  I called a holiday park in the town and asked the price, but on the way I managed to find a huge area for wild camping so settled-down there for the night instead.

Just the view off the main road.
Because of the extra time put in, it meant that, although pretty tired, I had only 91Km to go the next day on a flat boring, busy road into Wellington - actually a place called Waikenae, where I hopped on the train for the last 40-50Km or so into the city, avoiding the busy roads.

The highlight of this section was meeting a guy travelling in a truck who had fixed up the back section into a tiny house.  It was amazingly well done, the best I had seen, and I have seen a lot of people travelling in campervans, caravans, and trucks over the past few years.  He had solar panels on the roof, an unbelievable 500 litre water tank, a wood burning stove for cooking and warmth, and an amazingly spacious living area, making great use of the space in the back.  He even had cages underneath the back portion of the vehicle to hold firewood.  He had apparently just come from Wellington to give a talk at a university about building truck houses, which he seemed pretty proud of as a self-confessed, "simple man", but so he should of been, his truck was a work of art, and a highly practical one at that.

I never saw snowcapped mountains on the North Island on previous trips (except for the volcanoes), so I am guessing that the feeling that it had been colder this Spring was probably true.
It is always good to see Alex, and I'm glad I arrived earlier than expected as he was off with his girlfriend for the weekend to hike the Tongariro Alpine Crossing (I had done the Tongariro Northern Circuit 2 years previously, a longer hike which included most of the crossing), so I had a couple of days catching-up with him before he left.

I needed a few days rest in Wellington, and I had some work to do, so apart from a few morning runs up into the hills, I didn't do much - this was also, incredibly, my fourth time in Wellington, so I had seen quite a bit of it before.  Legs rested, ferry tickets bought, and I'm ready for the South Island.

My rough route through the North Island this time around, about 2000Km total.