Blog // Tales from the trail
As fate, luck or good fortune would have it, there are quite a few Kiwis living in Dubai at the moment. Putting the word out to our favourite Antipodean friends for recommendations for visiting New Zealand, we were inundated with suggestions, and also very kindly, with offers of places to stay en route. With Raglan being described as 'Choice-As!!' - surely there is no higher Kiwi accolade - and our friend Rachel offering up her mum's place as a great bed for the night, our first destination out of Auckland had been set, which fitted in perfectly with Kate's plans.
Our mini road-trip with Kate and bikes had grown to include Graham and Mary, Kate's brother and sister-in-law, and with Keith's anal, but useful, packing skills and a few carefully manoeuvred car seats, we were ready to go. Whatever initial guilty feelings I had of 'driving's cheating' to our first cycling destination, they were quickly erased as we took the cross-country route. I started to play the 'count the long and windy hill' game but soon gave up and closed my eyes to avoid feeling too car sick and was very relieved that we had somehow managed to bag a few free miles. This shit just got real and I was starting to regret blurting out the words 'bicycle' and 'New Zealand' to Keith whilst delirious on the plane!
We arrived in time for lunch with friends Phil and Di, who gave us a quick tour around the picturesque Lorenzen Bay, before taking advantage of low-tide and walking us across the beach for more 'fush & chups', posing the idea that this could easily become a cycle tour of NZ's best 'fush & chups'. Now there's an incentive for getting buns up hills!
Phil and Di bid their hasty goodbyes to beat the tide but not before inviting us for a sail the next day, and the rest of us carried on into Raglan town. A very charming and buzzy high-street just set back from the estuary, it had all the hallmarks of a quintessential surfer town - surf vans, surf shops, surf forecasts, surfer dudes, surfer chicks and coffee, not to forget the surfing exhibition in the museum. We stumbled across the Raglan Roast, a hole-in-the-wall at the end of a small alley-way, which would become a regular pit-stop for us over the next few days, and over our meltingly-smooth caffeine rush, served to us, by surfers, Graham proudly piped up that now he had ticked Raglan off his list, he only had Port Stewart left to visit and he'd have seen all of New Zealand's towns.
With hugs and farewells to our Auckland hostess with the mostess, we arrived at our next hostess's 'bach' - a traditional Kiwi home somewhere between a cottage and a beach house.
Lesley immediately gave us the low-down on the bike shop in town and after a short whizz past the grassy air-strip, holidaying bridge jumpers and all manner of quirky organic and independent shops, we were getting some seriously-needed intel from Dirk about the route to New Plymouth, which included the words that no unfit, unprepared and novice touring cyclist wants to hear... 'to be honest this route will probably be the hardest leg of your trip over here...'. Feeling sorry for us, Dirk mapped out a cool 25km trial circuit around Raglan to give us an impression of the hills and gravel tracks that were to come and we left the shop wondering what we had hastily gotten ourselves into.
That evening, Lesley's idea to have a picnic dinner overlooking the surf coast was magic and the perfect remedy to blow any subconscious nerves. If those little grommet surfers can hurl themselves into the ocean to take on the waves, we could surely take on a few hills?!
The sun streaming through the windows the next morning woke us up. A late start as usual and we flapped about trying to get a big breakfast in before attending to the full complement of panniers on the bikes, our first proper test arranging the gear. Cycling under a bright sun, we hit our first hill almost immediately. A quick instruction from Keith to get into my 'Granny ring' was well-received and I thought to myself that this would undoubtedly be my favourite ring for the trip, if one can have such a favourite. True to Dirk's word, the ride covered sealed road, gravel tracks and went up and down hills and was a good starter for us. The hills and friendly cows, who would promptly relieve themselves when they had decided we weren't dangerous, made for some happy scenery and I hadn't had to get off and walk my bike up anything either, which was an added bonus. Arriving back in town about 3 hours later and flopping down on the nearest bench for our avocado-based lunch, I did however wonder whether I'd be able to get up again in time for our sailing date!
We did make it back across to Lorenzum Bay, again a little later than planned with our stiffening legs posing some resistance to the hilly route. Di quickly pointed at the boat and our skipper out in the bay as the tide and wind faded fast, and throwing our bikes down we waded out across the sludgy bottom, hauling ourselves and a six-pack of beer for our skipper, Tom, on board. Tom wasted no time in cracking open a beer and setting off into the bay. The wind surprised us all by suddenly picking up to a 'good sailing gust' and we hit quite a pace across the bay, Tom casually pointing out places of interest, avoiding paddle boarders and regaling us with stories of invasive Japanese oysters and meetings with killer whales, all the while keeping an eye on Keith who had taken up post at the helm.
A breezy hour later we were refreshed and cycling back to Lesley's for a walk along the beach and a locally-smoked fish-dinner. Life really was pretty sweet sometimes, especially it seemed, if you did it Kiwi-style. We can confirm that Raglan really is 'Choice-As'!
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