Blog // Tales from the trail
Well rested and feeling as prepared as we would ever be for what was to be the longest leg of our route so far, we awoke to a bleak and decidedly grey looking day. Still 50/50 on what we were to do, we figured a cooked breakfast would help matters whilst we waited for the weather to decided what it had planned.
- Total distance - 92 km
- Time taken ~ 10.5 hours
- Time spent hiding under a tree ~ 1.5 hours
- Mountains conquered - 1
- Brewery stops - 1
Our rest day the day before had been most enjoyable, managing a tour of the local town, a bit of stroll, coffee, stop at the local butchers (for dinner ingredients) and even a browse of the town's museum. The only blight in the otherwise most enjoyable day being, surveying a model of the region to discover a particularly large lump in the middle labelled Mt. Messenger, over which a yellow line (the road we were due to take) weaved - why had no one mentioned this to us before!
Still dry when the last scraps of breakfast had been mopped up, we hastily packed up the tent, loaded the bikes and set off - we had kilometers to cover and a mountain to conquer! Our route today was entirely on the main road until we hit New Plymouth, with the mountain roughly at the halfway point; we figured if we could clear this by lunch we would be on track for a same-day arrival.
The first hour went well, the cloud-cover providing pleasant riding temperatures and even a slight tail-wind to push us along - we were making good progress. And then the rain started. Slowly at first and fortunately the open landscape providing us with plenty of warning, seeing it sweeping in from the sea, and we dived into the one of the few places off the main road that we could find affording us at least some shelter - a small ditch covered by a couple of bushy looking trees.
No sooner were we under when the rains hit and as the large dairy trucks continued to howl past, kicking up bathtubs-worth of spray in the process; we were thankful both to be off the road and of our small refuge... After about half an hour and as the coldness crept into our limbs, our initial appreciation of the semi-shelter was starting to wear thin; and so in times of crisis we pulled out the gas burner and turned to tea and cake... Another hour passed and with frequent trips out of the ditch to inspect the subtle-grey tones of the sky, I declared it was clearing and we agreed perhaps a good time to set off. We prepared ourselves to make a dash at the first break in the rain, if only to put a few more kilometres behind us and have a change of scenery should it start raining again.
Our luck was back in however and after a couple of hours we dropped into a picturesque bay and caught a passing glimpse of the 'Three-Sisters' rocks - a landmark we knew to be just short of Mt Messenger. Sadly the tide was in and so we couldn't complete the short coastal walk to have a proper look at the sibling rocks and with a quick handful of nuts we decided it was time to conquer today's mountain.
The run up didn't do much to boost our confidence, with many signs telling drivers to 'be patient', passing lanes were present and depicting the next 7 km as up-hill squiggles with 'strong winds likely' - brilliant. It was still slow progress with the weight, but perhaps our earlier practice from Raglan was starting to pay-off as we steadily wound our way up the mount, a small tunnel near the summit thankfully shaving the final climb to the top off.
Rolling into the picnic area at the top we felt we had most definitely earnt our lunch and on stopping we were greeted by a bizarre sight - a small family of chickens, chicks and all, clucking around the area*
* We later learned that there is a house at the top that these chucks belong to, just around the corner on the track from which this photo was taken in fact!
Recharged and feeling confident of actually 'making it', we started our decent towards the coast, legs very much enjoying the free-kilometres and the downhill sections. An hour or so later of weaving through the valleys we hit a sizable climb and as we rounded a bend swinging us back towards the south, we caught our first glimpse of the area's iconic Mt. Taranaki - a snow capped volcano which rises up unchallenged from the surrounding flatlands in an almost perfect triangular form.
Not only does Mt. Taranaki appear in the background of pretty much all postcard shots of the region (as well as being in the background on any day clear enough to see it), but it has also shaped the human geography of the region. The slopes pushing up clouds from the coastal air, that can come from any of coastline that wraps around about two-thirds of the mountain (think East-Anglia with a volcano in the middle) and providing highly fertile ground in the lands that lie below. These have been duly exploited by the dairy industry and is home to the world's largest dairy cooperative [/company], Fonterra, who reportedly account for approximately 30% of the world's dairy export - or as most people will know them, the producers of Anchor butter.
The mountain also affects the wind and despite it being an otherwise glorious day by this point, we found ourselves pedalling into a strong (15-20 knot) headwind. Consulting the phone, we surmised the final 40 km were going to be a bit of a slog. Still, despite earlier lost time, it was only 3pm and we figured we had at least 5-6 hours of daylight, so we could stop as many times as we wanted - or worse case there were campsites along the coast as a backup - keep calm and carry on pedalling!
This proved quite a challenge however and, after it being in our favour this morning, the wind now felt somewhat unfair; damn unfair if I'm honest and as I slowly ground along, my front panniers caught it all and pushed me back. The flat sections alone were hard work, but every now and then the road dropped into a valley and we could feel ourselves physically slowing even before the down slope had ended and struggled to carry any momentum into the bottom of the depression, never mind up out of the hill the other side. And the trucks, oh the trucks, punching their way through the air at unnatural speeds and blasting us with either a side or full frontal wall of air depending on their direction of travel. It was a stupid road, following every crest and convex feature possible, totally open and exposed as it stood proud of the surrounding dairy fields like some form of hideous man-made corridor to transport the wind. And why so many trucks when a perfectly good and under-utilised railway ran alongside the stupid, stupid, stupid road!
Then there was a sign, small and subtle but most welcome, "Brewery, 500 m on the right". I'm not even sure we spoke any words, instead I simple glanced back over my shoulder, face highlighted with a big grin - Corallie needed no convincing either.
Mike's Brewery had been going for a good 20 years or so and during this time Mike had perfected quite a selection of craft ales. The lady in the shop offering us a free taste tour from the mildest to the strongest (most 'hoppy') in flavour, starting with some pale ales before moving across to the stouts. I could have quite happily pitched up our tent on their lush green lawn at that point and spent the rest of the day in the sunny gardens in relative bliss, however with only 20 km to go we felt within touching distance of the finish - which also included the promise of a proper bed.
We left with a large plastic bottle of the OMPA (One More Pale Ale), a good weight to beer ratio, and a smaller glass bottle of a delicious coffee porter (so named after the coffee colour grains used).
Running out of steam, but not yet daylight we made a couple of further stops, the first to munch on the remaining cake outside a small church and 'flake out' in the grass for a while and the second a small detour into a town to stretch our legs for a little longer and hopefully enjoy a sit down coffee. Sadly most things resembling cafes had shut and we were forced into trying a surprisingly respectable vending machine coffee and muffin at a petrol station.
Providing us with the final push we needed, we soon found ourselves on the outskirts of New Plymouth, opting for the most direct route, a dual carriageway through some eerie-looking suburbs. Pressing on we started following the route to what we hoped was our host's house, a little way back out of town - their last message still reverberating in our heads, "call us if you get lost!". We really hoped Goggle Maps was correct and we were on the correct twisting residential cul-de-sac as we passed a number of new-builds and empty plots (some about 10m² of flat land leading up a massively steep bank?!) and whilst trying to count house number (on the plots that had houses) we heard some shouts from a nearby hill. We'd made it, just before dark and with just one last hill to climb!
Tyler and Megan were part of the old-skool Dubai crew (Tyler being best buds with Ross, Corallie's younger brother) and had currently been on some travels of their own across The States as part of an extended honeymoon. They were now at Tyler's parents' house, Malcolm and Melanie who were to be our hosts for the next few days.
Malcolm and Melanie were keen road cyclists (former active members of the Dubai roadsters, and used to pedalling 90 km before breakfast!) and after plying us with hot tea and food and cold beer were keen to hear about our exploits as well as the future routes we had planned. They were also well placed to recommend a decent local bike shop to get our hubs and headsets re-greased - mine sounding a little like a stuffed pig after our first dirt-road sections.
Our time in New Plymouth was mostly spent not-cycling (other than a brief spin to and from the local bike shop) and similar to Megan and Tyler, we were starting to plan our re-entry into the real-world with some job searching and a couple of speculative job applications. Day's were lovely, long and lazy, punctuated with trips down to the waterfront and a couple of vendors selling the excellent, locally roasted Oxygen Coffee.
A combined cycle and footpath ran a considerable length along the waterfront with many interesting features and occurrences. On our first day we took the full tour, stopping in at the Puke Ariki Museum and a hugely satisfying lunch at the local pub - the sprouts really getting along with the New Zealand nosh!
We also stopped in at the Len Lye centre, an impressively surreal jelly-mold of a reflective building, dedicated to the famous Kiwi sculptor and well as some other interesting exhibits.
One highlight of our stay was the Festival of Lights, an annual occurrence at which the long summer twilight in the Pukekura Park is accompanied by a spectacular display of lights. Again, slightly surreal, but very creative displays and testament to this fun but slightly wacky town that we had certainly enjoyed.
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