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Cape Reinga to Bluff

a travel blog by John and Claud

On 14th January, I set of with my bicycle, Claud, to cycle from Cape Reinga, the top of New Zealand's North Island, to Bluff, the bottom of South Island.

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Day 0: John and Claud set off from Cape Reinga

Auckland, New Zealand

After a day's delay due to missing our flight in LA, we (that's me and Claud), finally made it to New Zealand. The evening of 14th January is spent in the LA Sheraton, funded by Virgin Atlantic, in the company of my fellow travellers: Ana (a native of Gisborne), Hazel (who is visiting her daughter in New Zealand) and Fiona (a Glasgow University student on a year's exchange in Auckland). Thanks for your company, ladies!

After driving in a hire car from Auckland to Whangerei, I unpack Claud, outside Hedgehog Bikes (who helpfully dispose of Claud's box). This stop was strategically planned, in case Claud had been damaged during the flight. Also, I pop in to visit with Mick Buckley, a relative of my friend and former colleague, Jonny Cheetham. Thanks for the cuppa and the local info, Mick! Claud is fine and we proceed to Kaitaia to be met by Cape Reinga Adventures, who drop me at Cape Reinga at 5pm.

After some photos, we set off from Cape Reinga, the most northerly spot on North Island, at 5:30pm on Wednesday, 17th January. After 50 yards, Claud's chain comes off! Then the gravel road proves very hairy, not so much due to the gravel as the steep cambers. Several times I slide sideways into the banking, but remarkably stay upright. It was really a good idea to do this stage without all the bags, which I had left earlier in the cabin at Waitiki Landing.

Cycled the first 21Km on rough gravel roads to Waitiki Landing, with steep hills and lush valleys, to get that bit out of the way before loading up the next morning for the first real stage to Kaitaia.

Distance today: 21 Km, cumulative: 21Km

permalink written by  John and Claud on January 22, 2007 from Auckland, New Zealand
from the travel blog: Cape Reinga to Bluff
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Day 1: Waitiki Landing to Kaitaia

Auckland, New Zealand

I present myself in the morning to Joyce, the proprietor of Waitiki Landing. Her eyes travel slowly down from my face to the tight cycling shirt-encased torso, linger on the clingfilm-tight lycra shorts and then on down....
"STREWTH!! You'll have to get those pins tanned up a bit!", exclaims Joyce, aghast at the sight of my very white legs. I explain to Joyce that I was issued with albino legs at birth and that those babies are going to remain lathered in factor 55 for the duration, so will arrive in Bluff untanned. "Well, just don't go cycling at night!", advises Joyce, "or you will dazzle the oncoming traffic!".

Waitiki Landing to Kaitaia is a pleasant first short stage and an introduction to New Zealand hills. The only technique for getting up these monsters is to slip the chain onto the "granny ring" and settle down to half an hour to an hour of grinding, with the feeling that the old ticker might burst through the ribcage, in a John Hurt/ Alien-esque way, at any moment.

I cover the 96 Km by 2pm and consider going further. But tomorrow's stage will be over Mangamuka Summit, with no settlement for some 25 miles. So I decide on an early first day's break and repair to the Mussel Bar for refreshments.

Kaitaia is the most northerly town in Northland and I check into the Kaitaia Historic Hotel, for the princely sum of $25, about 10 pounds. Claud is allowed in to share my room. I have a few drinks with Patrick, one of the locals, who was a guardsman in the UK and moved to New Zealand in 1968, when the Irish "troubles" started, thinking that being an Irishman in the English Guards might not be too clever at that time. He advises me on possible routes and adds "Whatever you do, don't travel alone, it is too dangerous!"

Distance today: 96 Km, cumulative 117 Km

permalink written by  John and Claud on January 23, 2007 from Auckland, New Zealand
from the travel blog: Cape Reinga to Bluff
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Day 2: Kaitaia to Omapere

Omapere, New Zealand

After a large hot pie of uncertain content from the bakery, followed by muesli and pancakes at the Gecko cafe, I set off for Mangamuka. The first 18Kms pass through pleasant rolling countryside. I notice the high volume of roadkill.

If anyone paid less attention, in school road safety lessons, than the young hedgehog children, then it was young Peter and Pauline possum! Despite the relatively light traffic, those poor creatures are spread everwhere, and in so many poses! I even pass one very bushy intact tail - just a tail!

Mangamuka is a 400m continuous climb, for 5Km. Not the big deal of the century, but if you want a workout, try cycling for 5Kms, non-stop, up a 8-10% gradient, with a fully-loaded touring bike!

Turning off SHW1, thus avoiding the growing number of thundering logging trucks, I follow the picturesque HW12 towards Hokianga Harbour, where I just make the ferry as last man aboard - yes!

Later on, I learn that I was fortunate indeed as, a few days before, the ferry crew turned up in the morning morning in Rawene to find that their ferry was missing!! I have heard of misplacing your car, but your ferry!? Apparently, some local wags had slipped the mooring the previous night and Kohu Ra Tuarua drifted off to beach on some mud banks.

After some more punishing hills, I coast into the beach settlements of Opononi and Omapere, nestling on the banks of Hokianga Harbour.

I check into GlobeTrekkers - my first "backpackers", which is run by Sue, an English nurse, who bought the place in 2002, as an alternative to living on her meagre nurses pension. Property prices have since tripled in New Zealand, apparently.

I spend a pleasant evening over a few "handles" of DB with Chris, a Dutch carpenter who is 54 and weighs 68KG. He is a marathon runner and we swap stories about "hitting the wall" and dietary measures to avoid this. I advise that New Zealand pies are the way to go - did the trick for me today, at least. Sue kindly includes my laundry in her family wash and I am off to sleep at ten. The stars are amazing here!

Distance today: 91 Km, cumulative, 208 Km

permalink written by  John and Claud on January 23, 2007 from Omapere, New Zealand
from the travel blog: Cape Reinga to Bluff
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Day 3: Omapere to Ruawai

Ruawai, New Zealand

"Don't go South tomorrow!", Joe, a local Mauri guy (who turned out to be Sue's gardener)advised last night in the bar in Omapere. "The hills are terrible - head North instead." Joe is somewhat of a philosopher in the "live in the moment" sort of way. I try to explain my Southerly intentions, by showing him my guidebook map. "Throw that away for a start, man", says Joe. "That was written by white men!"

Well, Joe was right about the hills; the three big 'uns out of Omapere are tough and made worse by the fact that you can see them snaking upwards into the mountain mists ahead. But it is worth the effort for the views back to Hokianga Harbour and then the Waipoua Forest, where I visit Tane Mahuta, the biggest Kauri tree of them all. Photos cannot covey the scale, as it is so wide, but Tane Mahuta is awe-inspiring - about 50 feet around its trunk!

The haka chanted by the All Blacks goes:

Ka Mate! Ka Mate! Ka Ora! Ka Ora!
Ka Mate! Ka Mate! Ka Ora! Ka Ora!
Tenei te tangata puhuru huru
Nana nei i tiki ra
Whakawhiti te ra
A upane ka upane!
A upane kaupane whiti te ra! Hi!

This translates roughly as:

I die! I die! I live! I live!
I die! I die! I live! I live!
Behold the hairy man
Who fetched the sun
And caused it to shine again
One upward step! Another upward step!
An upward step, another....the sun shines!

Apparently, this verse was penned by warrior chief Te Rauparaha, who hid from a chasing band of Ngati Te Hou tribesmen, after he had, rather ungraciously, eaten some of their number in an earlier raid. The words relate to Te Rauparaha being uncovered, after he had hidden in a kumara pit to avoid his pursuers! His first sight is of the hairy legs of the friendly chief who hid him, and then the sunshine.

I press on for the easiest bit of cycling so far down past Dargaville, along the banks of the Waipoua River, finally arriving in Ruawai, where I stay in "Bea's" backpacker lodge.

Distance covered today: 112 Km, cumulative: 320 Km

permalink written by  John and Claud on January 24, 2007 from Ruawai, New Zealand
from the travel blog: Cape Reinga to Bluff
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Day 4: Ruawai to Orewa

Orewa, New Zealand

I leave Ruawai early and head down to Brynderwyn to join SHW1. There is nowhere for breakfast in Ruawai (beacuse it is Sunday morning), so I stop after 20 miles at a dairy, where breakfast consists of a 6-pack of "Le Snack" biscuits and cream cheese, two white peaches, and a banana.

Hilly roads continue but I get a tail wind and make good progress to Wellsford, where some scrambled eggs and toast strengthen the legs for the afternoon's ride. Just as well, as after Wellsford, there is "The Dome" a brute of a hill.

This road has fast and heavy traffic, but there is reassurance at the roadside. Getting closer to the North of Auckand, I encounter huge hills on the coast road, up over giant headlands. So, after 136Kms, I call it a day and book into a cabin at the "Top Ten" beachside campsite.

Claud takes a candid photo of me as I check out the next day's route, while reclining in my silk sleeping bag inner.

Distance today: 136 Km, cumulative: 456 Km

permalink written by  John and Claud on January 25, 2007 from Orewa, New Zealand
from the travel blog: Cape Reinga to Bluff
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Day 5: Orewa to Pukakohe

Orewa, New Zealand

Today was not a great day! I felt very tired after yesterday's long run. The first part was driving into Northern suburbs of Auckland. I got lost in Albany and had to backtrack up a giant hill (very bad news psychologically).

When I stopped to ask for directions to the Devonport ferry, my sunglasses fell into the gutter and bounced down a storm drain hole!! The lady shopper I was talking to exclaimed "Oh dear, that drain goes all the way to the beach!"

I could see a little ledge down the hole, so I reached my arm down, getting it completely black with oil and muck, I rustled around in the leaves on the ledge, until I fancied that there was something else rustling about there too, so I quickly withdrew and went to buy a replacement pair of sunglasses!

The ferry was fun, crossing into Auckland. Amazingly, I was the last person to board again! The ferry had a bike rack and Claud got to hobnob with some of the local ATBs.

The run South from Auckland was then a nightmare of traffic lights and suburban and industrial squalor, through mangy Manuka, poxy Papakanu and dreary Drury.

Eventually I got lost from the HW1 route and found myself in Pukakohe, where I booked into a motel for the night. To pronounce Pukakohe correctly, you have to use very short vowels: pu-ka-ko-he. But the ladies at the information centre say the locals call it "pookakoey", or even "pookie".

Distance today: 104 Km, cumulative: 560 Km

permalink written by  John and Claud on January 25, 2007 from Orewa, New Zealand
from the travel blog: Cape Reinga to Bluff
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Day 6: Pukakohe to Putaruru

Hamilton, New Zealand

"You can go up the hill and through Bombay, or you could just join the Expressway here!", said the lady at the BP garage. "Bombay is a nice little place that........". But her words tailed off, as she realised that the strange English cyclist had already gone, his chubby little white legs pumping away down the Expressway in the direction of Hamilton, with a blessed tail wind behind him!

Not fantastic scenery today and rather grey and misty, but I covered 55 miles in 3 hours cycling, by quarter to 12:00. After a long stop in Hamilton, I then cover another 40 miles in three hours, reaching the small town of Putaruru. Check into a huge old rambling and characterful hotel, the Putaruru Hotel.

I am shown around by the hotel's cook, Arthur, and later join him and some of his pals, including Pogo and Lido, for a really nice time in the bar. When I mention that I need to eat, Arthur escorts me to the kitchen and insists that I have his own dinner!! He assures me that, now he has started drinking for the evening, the dinner will otherwise go uneaten. Whatever, I woolfed down Arthur's pie, peas and mash with relish! Thank you Arthur. And thanks Pogo and Lido, too, for advice on the route! it was a pleasure to meet you all and I hope to see you on the way back! (Would you believe that New Zealand won that match in the end!!).

Distance today: 153Km, cumulative: 713 Km

permalink written by  John and Claud on January 28, 2007 from Hamilton, New Zealand
from the travel blog: Cape Reinga to Bluff
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Day 7: Putaruru to Taupo

Taupo, New Zealand

The saddle sores start bleeding again after an hour or so. The worst of this is not the pain of riding on bleeding sores, so much as the anticipation of taking the shorts off at the end of the day, by which time the inner seams will have embedded themselves in, and slightly fused with, the broken flesh! Yes, I made the mistake on yesterday's long ride, of forgetting to apply the vasaline - big mistake!!

Also, it is another grey day and the rain gets steadier. Legs are very weary, so I stop in Taupo at 1:30 and simply cannot face starting again. So I check into the "Go Global" backpackers. Taupo is grey and rather commercialised and seedy - maybe I did not catch it on a good day, or it me! Either way, the only highlight was my first New Zealand fish and chips: $9.50, including a free beer - delicious! Managed one photo of the terrain, during a brief break in the rain.

Distance today: 91 Km, cumulative: 804 Km

permalink written by  John and Claud on January 28, 2007 from Taupo, New Zealand
from the travel blog: Cape Reinga to Bluff
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Day 8: Taupo to Ohakune

Taupo, New Zealand

Poured with rain most of the day, so only one brief photo before I leave the shores of Lake Taupo. Last night, I was warned that the stretch of SHW 1 along the lake is highly dangerous as it winds around headlands, with blind corners where the large trucks cannot see cyclists. As it turns out, the stretch from Taupo to Turangi is closed, due to a fatal accident. The traffic cops let me through and say I can try to get past the accident site. This works and I am the only one on the road that morning. I pass the scene of the accident, at which point the road has been closed for four hours.

Nothing to do but press on today and I check into my first shared dorm room in Ohakune. However, it is quiet and I have the dorm to myself. Catch up with laundry and drying.

Distance today: 142 Km, cumulative 946 Km

permalink written by  John and Claud on January 28, 2007 from Taupo, New Zealand
from the travel blog: Cape Reinga to Bluff
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Day 9: Ohakune to Wanganui

Wanganui, New Zealand

"We think you are very brave!", call out the picnicking couple at the side of HW4, as I toil past. This is the hardest day's cycling I have ever done. I have deviated from the guide book, so I do not have a route elevation profile. As the altitude falls about 700metres from Ohakune to the coast, I had thought it would also be a picnic for me too- how wrong!

The route follows the river Mangawhero, but it does so by traversing about 20 precipitous river gorges on the way. The whole day consists of a series of two minute, 40+ mph freewheels, followed by half hour energy sapping climbs.

As I pause at one river gorge bridge, I am thinking how close I can get to the edge, (with a barrier between me and the drop, of course!), how far down it is and how little traffic there is. A strange thought occurs: one could fairly discreetly take a wee off the side of this bridge! It would be rather juvenile, but fun, and you would be finished before the first drops hit the river. Well, all I'm saying is that's the thought that popped into my head.

Despite the knees aching, I have to say that the scenery is, well, no other word: gorgeous! Much as I had imagined New Zealand landscapes. But it is a relief to finally finish fighting the headwind on the last few miles into the attractive setting of Wanganui, where I again "share" a dorm room with no other guests.

I leave you with some of the scenery:

Distance today: 100 Km, cumulative 1046 Km

permalink written by  John and Claud on January 28, 2007 from Wanganui, New Zealand
from the travel blog: Cape Reinga to Bluff
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