Choices for riding out of Auckland: Heavy traffic, less hills; less traffic, extremely hilly. We went for option two, Dairy Flats Road (nothing flat about it) then Highway 16. The highlight was an excellent strawberry ice cream made with real strawberries and a brick sized ice cream block mixed together. This is not to say the road wasn’t pretty. Anywhere else it would probably have been a scenic drive. But this is New Zealand, scenery standards are high.
After Wellsford we headed NE on some smaller roads. This should have been pleasant, especially when we got to the coast. Unfortunately it was mainly scary. Traffic passed us close and fast continually. NZ drivers do not give any consideration to waiting for a gap in the oncoming traffic to pass cyclists. Brill. The real low was a white truck that passed me very close in Waipu Cove. I was about to give some inappropriate had gestures, stopping myself just as I saw the logo note side – Police. What can you do when even the law enforcers don’t know how to safely pass a cyclist? Luckily, we met some extremely lovely kiwis over these few days, great warm showers hosts, and kind people that let us camp on their land. Their warmth and enthusiasm really helped us. We were also thinking happy thoughts about the two days we would ride traffic-free on the newly fully open Twin Coast cycle route, recently listed as one of the top five cycle rides IN THE WORLD by the NZ Herald.
Meanwhile… In December we had treated ourselves to some new cycling shorts (Merry Christmas). Mine seemed to be causing some problems. After a particularly hilly ride between Whangarei and Russell (don’t take the unsealed road, I know it saves 16km, but it’s a beast) I developed a new type of saddlesore. I had full-on blisters on my sit bones. How this is possible after 14000+ miles on the same seat I do not know. Anyway, my backside benefitted from a day off in pretty Russell and some salt water bathing in the sea. On our day off we got a local walks leaflet from the museum and selected the coastal walk, along the beach at low tide. Just in case you are choosing a walk in the Bay of Islands area, please bear in mind that this is more accurately a scramble, sometimes a wade, and occasionally a climb over rocky outcrop. Seaside stroll it is not. It is incredibly beautiful though and we even got the 4th biggest cruise ship IN THE WORLD out of our eyesight.
From Russell we took a ferry to Waitangi and headed via Paihia (very busy) to Opua, the start of the Twin Coast (TC) bike ride, one of the top five routes IN THE WORLD. In Paihia we stopped at the tourist information to ask about the bike route. We asked “Are there any campsites on the route?” They said “No. Maybe there will be in a year, when more people use it.” I asked “How will people use it if there is nowhere to stay?.” Then I let the nice lady off the hook, asked her about fish and chips instead and decided we would just wing it later.
There was a hairy moment with a pick up truck and coke lorry on one of the 3 very steep difficult hills between us and the TC trail, so we were even more excited to reach Opua. The first obstacle was a man made structure designed to keep motorcycles off the bike route. Very valid installation. Poor design. Irrelevant of any panniers, our handlebars wouldn’t fit through. It required lifting the curly bar over the first bit of metal, keep bike lifted whilst you edge around the outside now lifting front end of approx 40kg bike in a reached-over position, then drag your bike through as your rear panniers barely fit between the metal uprights. A couple just finishing a short day ride told us there would be five or six more of these. Super.
The TC trail is mostly on an old train line and the first section was very flat, firstly through mangroves and then through some average countryside (for NZ). We got though the five or six bike gates and reached Kawakawa, home of some famous fancy toilets. We used them (rude not to), ate some fish and chips and refilled our bottles at a handy water fountain.
Evidently the couple on the bikes had only been to Kawakawa and back. There were loads more gates on the next section and for the first 15km or so it was very dull, almost all on a just ok gravel surface alongside a gravel road. It was 6 or two 3s as my friend (a maths teacher) says… Either the ok gravel, have to keep stopping and lifting bikes (did I mention there was a new type of bike gate with bollards and cattle grids that required a two person lift?) OR the gravel road which had an appalling surface and threw up loads of cough inducing dust. At least it was good training for SE Asia. In the end we did a mixture of the two and got increasingly frustrated at our lack of progress. We wondered how this had got into a top 5 bike rides IN THE WORLD list which included ‘Mountain bike the world’s most dangerous road in Bolivia.’ I don’t want to name drop, but we have done this, and it is awesome.
Just when we were considering sacking the route off, there was a good bit. Back on a train line, away from the road. Where we had been trapped between hedges there were now sweeping views. The hills looked beautiful in the soft evening light and we loved cycling again. There was even a new infrastructure challenge – we had to post our bikes through gates. The only downside was that it was getting towards sunset, we had hardly any water, hadn’t seen a stream for ages and there were no campsites.
We struck off the route and onto the Kaikohe road. We picked a house with hanging baskets and pot plants (always a good bet). You would not believe whose house it was. It was Bruce and Shirley’s. You don’t know them? Well you might soon, because we had knocked on the door of people who wanted to set up a campsite for cyclists on the TC trail. What are the chances. They were great to chat to and I hope we were able to assist with the needs of cyclists. Good luck with the campsite guys.
The next morning, the TC wooed us with a good stretch where there was information signs, good scenery and a MTB skills area. Obviously there were still a lot of infrastructure obstacles but we tried not to get too angry at these. Okaihau won points by having a place you can stay in railway carriages (cool) but lost points when a cafe didn’t want to fill our water bottles (not cool, though they did eventually). This type of contradiction sort of sums up the TC trail. If you want a bike trail to bring tourists to the area, local businesses need to be prepared to supply their needs. This applies to getting to the start and end (if you are not like us crazies riding everywhere), getting drinking water, and the route itself being suitable. I mention the latter because the entire trail is graded at 1 or 2 by NZ cycle trails, that’s Easiest and Easy. From Okaihau there was a very steep descent. On loose gravel. With hairpins. Tight Hairpins. I ride my bike nearly everyday and I found it tricky. It would be tough for families or irregular cyclists.
After this the trail undulated along a river. We had lunch and paddled. Then there was a boring bit alongside a road. (It’s in a top five with the North Sea Cycle route. The whole 6500km thing). The road was gravel. The bike route was slightly better gravel but kept going up little hills. Things improved when we hit the longest bicycle boardwalk IN THE WORLD. Actually, the brochure didn’t say that. It is the longest one in NZ though, and it was a brilliant finish to the trail riding through the mangroves on it. Hopefully the trail will provide a tourist boost to the towns along it, like the Otago Rail Trail. If people are as enthusiastic as Bruce and Shirley I’m sure it will be fantastic long term. In the meantime I suspect Vietnam’s coast road and the Tour de France mountain stages still edge it.
From Horeke we headed West to Opononi. Thumbs down to the horrible gravel road at the start. Thumbs up that it only lasted for about 10km before the seal started. The massive sand dunes were awesome and the fish and chips the best of the trip. We had got to town early enough to be smugly in our tent reading when heavy rain hit in the afternoon. It’s a good job we were well rested because the first half of the ride to Dargaville was hard, as in 800m of climbing in 30km really hot day hard. The big trees were very nice though, and so was the flat bit towards the end of the day.
We made it back to Auckland in one piece, and rested up before our flight to Kuala Lumpur. We squeezed in two more fish and chip suppers, a trip to Tiri Tiri Matangi Island, plenty of Whitakker’s chocolate, a walk around an old volcano, the baking of a coffee cake and some time hanging out with our fave New Zealanders in Hillcrest. Oh, and about 2 litres of Hokey Pokey ice cream. Which is definitely the best IN THE WORLD.
Thanks to: Steve & Lynda; Roger & Laurie; Kathryn & Family; Christophe, Heidi & Carol; Lisette & Eoin, Bruce & Shirley, Fami-Lee.