Blog // Tales from the trail
So the cycling-proper starts here. Our new friend Dirk from the local bike shop had warned us about the first leg, and certainly from our trial cycle we knew for a fact that it would start with a long, dirt-road climb out of Raglan.
- Total distance - 52 km
- Total gravel ~ 30 km
- Time taken ~ 6.5 hours
- Steep hills - 5
- Other cyclists - 2
Nothing we had learnt so far was doing much to placate Corallie's anxiety over our chosen mode of transport - "It'll be fine" I unconvincingly said, "we just need to get in a comfortable gear, relax and keep pedalling".
Having never toured before, what I didn't realise however was that with the cumulative factors of hills, wind and weight (today was the first full load of all of our clobber), a comfortable gear was often the 'Granny ring' on even the slightest of inclines. Nevertheless we had set ourselves the not-too-ambitious target distance of 50-60 km a day (with a longer stretch into New Plymouth at the end) and as many 'rest days' as required to complete our challenging first leg.
After a final round of questioning from Corallie, treble-checking our bikes and packing, we hit the road and after a pleasant trundle into town from Leslie's house, we hit the hills. The morning went well, covering some of the route from the day before and by midday we found ourselves a sizeable chunk into our journey, stopping for a quick hit of nuts and admiration of the views.
The hills, whilst tough, we were finding manageable; not least for the reward of the sometimes sizeable descent on the other side where one can just sit back and enjoy sweeping curves backdropped by beautiful scenery.
With lunchtime approaching and the road returning to dirt once more, accompanied by yet another steep and twisted climb our legs began to feel the strain; after a descent into a lake-filled valley we decided now would be a good time for lunch, fearing the inevitable climb out of the other side. However not before our first crossing with fellow cyclists - regulars up on a cycling holiday from their hometown in Wellington. Keen to pick their brains (and vice-versa) questions were exchanged on the road that lay before and after us respectively; with a futuristic 'beeelup beep' press of her cycling computer it was revealed we had at east 10 km more of dirt road and at least two significant climbs before the tarred-road turn off to Kawhia.
Also it transpired that my front-pannier bags, which had been giving me hassle all morning (refusing to sit still, sliding backwards, at times perilously close to my front spokes) were in-fact rear-pannier bags. At this point I was starting to question the merits of bringing my heavy SLR camera and filters, adding weight to the unbalanced situation.
Recharged from lunch, bags 'bungeed' and feeling optimistic again we set off, knowing that we were over halfway and above all thankful for our flexible schedule - as day 2 was already being penciled in as a rest day! After some pedalling, sweat and tears we finally emerged onto the tarred road and 30 minutes or so later into the small town of Kawhia.
Our first taste of New Zealand 'motor-camps' awaited and we were impressed both by the friendliness of our host and the fully equipped kitchen and BBQ that had been installed onsite. Wasting no time we marched along the scenic coastal path, into town and the local shop to grab us some steaks and beer for the evening - thanks but no thanks today to our small camping stove!
The other campers were super-friendly and being the school holidays, a large proportion of NZ holidaymakers. The bikes were a great ice-breaker, with all being keen to know where we'd been, where we were going and also one large group kindly invited us to an evening of tea and leftover Christmas cake - bloody marvellous!
If it wasn't already beyond doubt, the rain and strong winds the following morning sealed its fate as a rest day. A lazy morning was thus spent doing odd jobs (tweaking my front panniers and tightening all the bolts and bearings that had come loose on the bumpy roads), followed by a planned outing to some nearby hot-springs on a blasted and barren beach. Juggling tide times (only accessible ±2 hours from low tide) and the rain, I finally convinced Corallie that given the transient nature of the weather, setting off in the rain was OK as; a) it would probably stop raining by the time we got there, b) we were planning on getting wet either way & c) a cold day was the best day for hot springs (convinced?).
A damp few kilometres later and we were smashing up a windswept dune, out and over to the breathtakingly beautiful [and windy] isolated beach, armed with a couple of small shovels borrowed from the campsite. The idea was that you set off on the line demarked by the two yellow posts until you hit the sea, then walk backwards dipping a toe into the sand as you go until a hot-spot was found.
Fortunately for us however, we weren't the first there and we took advantage of dredging out a previous visitor's work, piling up the spoils on one side to form a wind break. Dipping in and out to test the depth, this was done at some speed and as we settled in to rest our weary joints the horizontal rain finally relented as we lay back enjoying the warm and stinky waters in our bizarre dug-out hot-tub.
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