Two years come around fast these days … It was soon February the 9th and we were busy catching a flight to Auckland to start this year's tour.
|Te Paki Stream|
As with all adventures, it starts well before the departure date, planning, riding, logistics, gear choices are where it all starts. Like any adventure – it is a journey with a certain degree of unknowns, and that to me is what defines an adventure. At times there are some adventures which involve a degree of risk and when we look at risk it usually involves the ability to lose something or (at times) someone of value. Bikepacking Tour Aotearoa to me has a pretty low-risk factor, sure there are some sections on the road and some on the trail but the real risk is low. This I think is one of the reasons why there has been an explosion in Bike packing numbers in recent years … Adventure with low risk that is accessible to a moderately fit person who wants some fun with like-minded people!
The 2018 start has seen 6 waves of 100 riders … that is huge!
While leading up to this year's event I did less long rides but more hill climbing with the goal of getting stronger on the hills, so I didn’t lag behind Helen as much during the climbs.
My gear was 95% unchanged since 2016, being pretty comfortable with my set up, the big change was a new frame for my bike, instead of riding my Carbon Specialized Stumpjumper hardtail 29er I had found a Jamis Dragon 29er hardtail in Steel (Reynolds 853) and put a Muru Titanium front fork on it.
|Te Paki Stream|
2016 was a dream run 22 days, with3 half days of rain. 2018 was always going to be different … we just didn’t know how different!
Our plan was to start in wave 1 of February the 10th and ride the North Island jump on the ferry and ride to Nelson, finishing at home, some 1760 km. Holiday time is a bit short this year with planned adventures for later in 2018. So with two weeks our sleeve we set off.
Meeting the rest of our friends in Auckland and having picked up our two vehicles, loaded our bikes in, we headed north a 6-hour drive to Waitiki Landing 20 km short of the Cape, here we had accommodation and assembled the bikes. For most of the trip it had rained, waking in the morning it was still raining, breakfast and a short drive to the Cape later it was still raining!
A big thanks to Chris and Harvey who gave up their time to drive our vehicles back to Auckland. Cheers guys!
|90 Mile Beach|
Well, 8 am rolled around and a 100 riders rolled out down the road … turning into TePaki Stream and on to 90 Mile Beach we were in for our first surprise, a fairly high stream, at times over of bottom bracket and hubs, a soft stream bed, it is normally firm and easy to ride one, a tough start then out on to the beach, still raining. The pace and choice of a line couldn’t be decided upon so I pretty much stuck to my line and pace, at times the rain eased to showers and even paused for a moment, the wind flirted around fortunately never a headwind. Stopping in Utea for some water and a breather we continued on to Ahipara.
Like all relationships, Helen and I don’t agree on everything and we struggled to communicate on the beach which left both of us frustrated, so we cleared the air and decide to push on, in the rain, to Broadwood, where it was raining.
Having the knowledge, we earned in 2016 was starting to give us an advantage, where we could get supplies, where we could eat, where we could sleep, just a little less worrying. Pitching our tent under the picnic shelter day 1 was complete 140kms done!
|Breakfast day two ... salami cheese and an Em's power cookie|
Day two, still raining, the shop was closed in Broadwood so we had a snack of salami, cheese, and half an Ems Power cookie washed down by a cup of black tea, this fuelled us to Kohukohu, at the head of the Hokianga Harbour, were it had stopped raining, a full breakfast and coffee was ordered and consumed. We headed off down the road and caught the Rawene ferry across the harbour, stocked up on some essentials and pedaled off around what I think is one of the most picturesque coastlines in NZ, through Opononi and Omapere in search for a photo with Tane Mahuta in the Waipoua Forrest.
Back on the bikes for a descent down through all the Kauris and long climb to Kaitui, we turned off the sealed road for a gravel back through Donnellys Crossing and eventually into Dargaville, 135 km done for Day Two some of it wet and some of it dry!
Northland is an interesting province with so much history and stunning coastline, forest and some of the friendliest locals, it is also one of the poorest areas in the country, this Tour puts so much back into the communities along the way, we had decided to stay at the Great Northern Wairoa Hotel in Dargaville, this 100+ year old girl, when we were discussing this with the owner. A quick calculation our spending for the day was about $210 for the both of us, there were another 598 riders … it soon adds up for these small places. Most of that went on food to fuel our motors.
Overnight we washed and dried all our gear, showered and slept, for today was planned to be a short 68 km out to Poutu Point, relax in the sun, then catch the 6 pm sailing to Helensville.
A pretty simple plan … we even had some shade to ride in as the sun had come out, the toughest part was following the Grader on the gravel section of road. Ice blocks and cold drinks, time to sort gear out prior to the Lady Frances arriving.
Sure enough, we loaded up about 20 riders and their bikes, plenty of chit-chat, seeing if there was anyone still coming down the road, soon we cast off … 10 minutes later… the engine packed a sad, threw a wobbly and spat a piston! Sitting on top of the engine cover the noise was not nice metal on metal, crunching away we soon came to a halt. I looked across at Bruce, who raised an eyebrow and quite understated says … “that doesn’t sound good!”
Sure enough, it wasn’t good, here we are early evening sitting on the notorious Kaipara Harbour Bar without any means of propulsion. But skipper a wily old sea dog had a plan, he had a mate who would tow us into Helensville, we just had to wait for him to arrive … so there we sat enjoying the atmosphere of the sun setting, cups of tea and gingernuts with great conversation. What more could you ask for?
Dusk fell, we watched the weather start to change, a few electrical storms over the land, darkness fell just and four hours after breaking down another charter boat pulled alongside, hooked us up and headed off to Helensville just so we didn’t miss out it started to rain. Now we have all heard about a slow boat to China this was the slow boat to Helensville, arriving at 2.30 am, so much for a short day!
A feed of cold soggy chips we laid our heads down for a quick sleep in the Cruising Club rooms.
Four hours later people started to stir and pack up gear for the trip across Auckland, in 2016 this was the surprise of the Tour, it was easy to ride all the way across the City of Sails with very little time spent on busy roads.
|Aucklands Cornwall Park near One Tree Hill|
Sure enough, it was raining, yep day four, four days with rain! We traced the GPS track into town up over Mt Eden, through some parks, down out past the airport, up and out of town to Clevedon. It eventually cleared after Mt Eden and we were able to ride in some sunshine. Checked into the Hotel, needing to wash and dry gear, not a bad day for four hours sleep, another hundy km in the bank.
Day five, I had been looking forward to the first half of this day, around the coastline to Miranda, we are so blessed with stunning coastlines in NZ and this is no exception. We spent the day leap-frogging fellow riders Geoff and Maureen from Hawea, the last half of our day was spent on the Hauraki Rail Trail … now the Surveyor who mapped out this route had the easiest job … it is bloody arrow straight for way too long! It does my head in, worse than Canterbury roads!
We crossed countless cattle stops, watched dairy farmers herd their cows through the river … WTF! Along the way, we got our compulsory photos of a cow and the L&P bottle in Paeroa and continued out to the campground at Te Aroha. Just prior to Te Aroha we caught up with Phil “the machine” Paterson completing the Tour on a single speed (12 ½ days – legendary) the flats are the hardest part for a single speed.
We thought we had escaped the rain for the day but no … half an hour before we finished for the day … down it came … Still feeling the effects of only four hours sleep two nights ago, we grabbed a cabin at the motor camp, showered, changed washed gear and order pizzas to be delivered! Still not a bad day 136 km.
Waking early, we were away by 7, with plans for a solid day, it would still be flat until past Matamata where we would join the Waikato river trails – single track was beckoning 😊. Stopping for breakfast in Matamata, my stomach started to churn, a couple of quick trips to the loo, we pushed on hoping that was all. Fortunately, there are loos along the river trail and Awakino.
|Waikato River Trails|
Lunch was at the now infamous Rurhburb Café in Awakino we Helens cousin Philip meet us for a brief catch up. Leaving here I wasn’t feeling the strongest but the Tour goes on … suck it up buttercup!
The river trails are old school mountain bike tracks which tend to follow walking routes, not always the best gradients to ride, at times I needed to push what Helen was riding, she was getting stronger. We rolled into Mangakino, 128 km later, just before dusk, I was buggered, hungry and just wanted to sleep, decision making wasn’t high on my agenda. This is where riding a Tour like this in a Team is beneficial, Helen just made the call, fish and chips now then we will book into the Bed and breakfast across the road. Feed and showered I started to perk up.
The afternoon I had been my low point of the whole tour, running on empty for most of it.
The morning came around too soon and we mounted our steads at 7.30 and headed off, now today I was really looking forward to … The Timber Trail … at 85 km, this is probably the North Islands premier “long” ride., stunning bush and forest, a great track with plenty of history. But it was just going to be a long day where my back started to tighten up, I was just not getting the power out and felt like Helen just dragged me along all day, it really gets into head and screws you over. Well, we kept on plugging away popping out the other end of the trail, with 127 km completed, 879 km from Cape Reinga as the Tour route goes.
We elected to stay in Ongarue about 20 km shy of Taumaranui. The community here had opened up the towns hall for the first time in 20 years, spruced it up, put some mattresses on the floor, hung some solar showers up and a group of them were putting on dinner and breakfast, this is the start of how a small settlement like Ongarue benefits from being on the Tours route. It was heaven!
P.S. Like yesterday no rain today … two days in a row … unheard of!
Day eight dawned, clear we headed off into the thriving metropolis of Taumaranui, resupply at the supermarket, coffee and a chat with Helens cousin, then onto the back roads out through Hikumutu Owhango, Retaruke to Whakahoro and the Blue Duck café. Again, I was really struggling, my back was tight, like yesterday I popped a few Voltaren, I certainly wasn’t getting any relief.
Unfortunately, the discomfort takes away your focus of where you are and what you are doing.
We enjoyed a toasted sandwich and drink at the café and pushed onto the Kaiwhakauka Track which leads you through the Whanganui National Park to the Bridge to Nowhere.
10 km in is Mosely's shelter, a three-sided hut with running water and a long drop … what more could one ask for? The Kaiwhakauka track is a muddy, slippery piece of single track, which had had a whole lot of work completed prior to the Tour, it was still a muddy, slippery piece of single track. This is one of the tougher sections of the route but one of the most enjoyable too … if you are a mountain biker.
We had not long finished dinner when Steve Halligan came through on his mission, calm and coherent, we had a chat, Steve filled his water bottles and pushed on for his quest to get to Bluff as quick as possible. (10 ½ days … well one!)
You guessed it … the day finished with some rain … this was so far our shortest day with 93 km completed. It also set us up nicely for tomorrows riding.
I just love sleeping outside in the bush, it is so peaceful and relaxing, while our days may be long and hard, nights like that made it so worthwhile.
Morning arrived and we were on a deadline, 11.30 at Maungaprua landing for the jetboat pick up, 40 km to get there. Along the way we stopped to admire the new monument to the Returned Servicemen who were gifted this land on their return, only to walk off it later, it was just too tough to break in and farm successfully and to this day is not farmed.
The Bridge to Nowhere sums the area up.
Our jetboat arrived, Tom senior from Whanganui River Adventures picked us up, Tom is part of the family which owns the company and have lived on the river for many generations now, their passion for sharing the river is evident, with a strong customer focus, they go out of their way for the TA riders. A set schedule of pickups making it easy for us to plan, they spot track the riders through the track, provide a bike wash, feed and accommodate all with a smile. Thanks.
We left Pipiriki and headed along the river to Whanganui, day three of a tight back which was getting worse, certainly by the time I had climbed gentle Annie and was heading into town, I was not comfortable at all. Helen literally towed me into town along the flat.
We stopped in the same motel we stayed in last time, unpacked, washed and walked around the corner to the Chinese takeaways. Previous knowledge is a good thing.
|The Bridge to Nowhere|
There is one rule all riders should abide by, sleep on any decision before making one. I didn’t have a comfortable night and in the morning, we discussed the situation about my back. In the last 12 months, I had been to the Emergency Department twice to get the pain under control. A CAT scan shows a deteriorating disk, I have to learn to manage it, do what I can when I can, sometimes that may mean doing less than I aimed for.
|Pipriki to Whanganui River Road and complimentry Gorse Fire|
So I pulled the pin and now got to watch Helen some us some of her potential.
1115 kilometres of riding completed in 9 days, I am pretty damn happy about that! Especially as I got to share it with my best friend.
Helen, continued, riding from Whanganui to Ashurst that day, 178 km. Then onto Martinborough, 177 km. Popped over the Rimutaka Incline to Upper Hutt, 60 km, to spend half a day with her niece. Catching the ferry the following day and riding through to Pelorus River campground, where I had driven over to meet her for the night. Leaving early the following morning, Helen headed up and over the Maungatapu Saddle to arrive at Alton Street Cycle in Nelson at midday. 1760 kilometres completed!
|Home with her girls|