Blog // Tales from the trail

17 Jan
2016

Whanganui or bust, New Zealand

By Keith

The Route

The route according to GoogleMaps

The route according to GoogleMaps

Route stats:

  • Total distance - 72 km
  • Total gravel - 3 km
  • Time taken ~ 5 hours
  • Broken spokes - 1
  • Thunderstorms - 1
  • Flat tyres - 1

The Deal

Up early, breakfasted, packed-up and raring to go (although noting the campers/sea-kayakers we'd met the night before had somehow managed to do all this before we had even surfaced from our tent...), today the cycling sprouts had their sights set firmly on Whanganui. Having seen no one vaguely connected with the campsite ownership since our arrival the afternoon before, we dropped our dues in the 'honesty box' and rolled out at the very respectable time (in our opinion) of 9am!

The wind was against us again today and, as Corallie had pointed out to me numerous times in her weather app during breakfast, 'heavy rain' was forecast. However as expected, the morning wind was considerably tamer than that of the day before, when we had decided to retire early and, as yet, no rainy-looking clouds had rolled in. Unfortunately the trucks were still out in force though and so at the first opportunity we opted to take the longer, but considerably quieter back-roads.

Our first cycling-selfie of the trip

Our first cycling-selfie of the trip

Despite dark-looking skies, life seemed much more pleasant away from the traffic and we were making good progress until... TWANG!

What was that? No idea... My bike feels 'slow', Corallie reported after a few further pedal strokes.

On first inspections it appeared that Corallie's rear brake was catching on the rim, however on closer inspections the reasons why were clear - a snapped spoke and a resultant decidedly warped-looking back wheel... and then it started raining!

Rolling on another 100 m or so and taking cover by a tree in front of a rural house to inspect the wheel further, it wasn't long before an elderly couple appeared out of the driveway next to us, "We're heading out, but we've left the garage open if you want to fix your bike in there and get out of the rain. Sorry, I'm not much of a mechanic myself!" Gosh people really, truly are very, very friendly here!

Spoke sort of bodged back on and the rain having past, we blasted on down the country roads, back onto the highway for a stint, before stopping for a Ploughman's lunch at a roadside antique shop - reward for climbing up a particularly evil hill. We set off for our final 'back route' of the day and only about 20 km left of sealed and gravel roads to go. We were so close to our destination in fact that we (or at least I) wanted to ignore the dark clouds forming behind us once again and the quite-visible rain sweeping in across the planes. Impossible to ignore, the heavens opened and we were in no-man's land, having cycled passed the last of the houses a few kilometres back. Finding a small copse we wheeled the bikes in and with very bleak looking skies, tired legs and soaking everything, we started contemplating our options in a somewhat heated discussion.

Fortunately for us (or rather me), the rain somehow ceased almost as quickly as it arrived and we were eventually dragging ourselves up and over the last few hills before the cruise into Whanganui; or rather Castlecliff, an industrial suburb about 10 km outside of town, which on first impressions seemed to be famous for its processed meat, fish and pet food (a combination of processed meat and fish). Thankfully, the campsite was much nicer, despite somehow providing me with the first puncture of the trip - somewhere between checking-in at reception and wheeling round to our pitch. Not to worry, a job for the morning, as we settled into a spacious covered cooking area just before the forecasted heavy rain well and truly arrived and stayed for the night, feeling very relieved that we had made it to the campsite just in time.

Cooking up a feast in the kitchen

Cooking up a feast in the kitchen

Priorities for the next day were to find a bike shop to fix Corallie's very wonky looking wheel, book bus tickets to Wellington and finally, find a fish and chip shop we'd been recommended in town to celebrate a route completed and continue the difficult business of reviewing NZ's best fish and chips.

Looking across to Durie Hill from Whanganui town

Looking across to Durie Hill from Whanganui town

Whanganui (not Wanganui*), was an interesting little town and still with time to kill before Corallie's wheel was ready we went off in search of a curious attraction in town we'd been told about. Built in 1919 the Durie Hill Elevator (and New Zealand's only public underground elevator) provided a unique form of access to the housing developments atop Durie Hill, which previously could only be reached via a steep concrete staircase up the side of the hill. Unusually (unlike the street elevators of Lisbon we'd seen before) the designers had opted to burrow a 200 m tunnel straight into the middle of the hill to meet up with the bottom of the shaft, tunnelled down through the hill. The elevator can be ridden for $2 a person each way and is still operated by an attendant, who seemed to take great pleasure in keeping a dead-pan face as the old elevator lurches into motion (making us both jump) and rumbles and sways, quite disconcertingly, up the shaft like a bad fairground attraction.

*Whilst elsewhere in New Zealand, Wh is pronounced Ph (or ffff) the local iwi aspirate the h, which resultantly influenced the way that the early European settlers spelt Whanganui, omitting the h. This has since been the subject to some controversy and as an attempt to compromise, in 2009 the government ruled both spellings were acceptable; however in 2015 following a number of public consultations it took further steps and made the decision to fully respect the Maori spelling of Whanganui.

Waiting for the elevator in the hill

Waiting for the elevator in the hill

The view from Durie Hill

The view from Durie Hill

The lift shaft at the top of the Durie Hill Elevator

The lift shaft at the top of the Durie Hill Elevator

After enjoying the views we opted for the good old-fashioned staircase down, just in time to pick up the bikes and grab a coffee before the shops closed up for the day. Sitting, sipping and reflecting on our pleasant day in Whanganui and what was now the end of our first stint of cycling in New Zealand - the hills, the wind, the food (and how good it tasted after a long day cycling!) but above all the fun we'd had and the many friendly folks we'd met along the way.

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