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New Zealand North Island 1 PDF Printable Version E-mail

 

CYCLING IN NEW ZEALAND: PART ONE

RIDING IN THE NORTH ISLAND, GOING SOUTH

A Ride of 1,891 miles (3,025 km), the first part of a 4,641-mile (7,425 km), 5-month complete circuit of both Islands, from Cape Reinga in the North to Stewart Island in the South, starting and finishing in Auckland

September 2000 to February 2001 (New Zealand Summer)

Part One. Riding South through the North Island (1,891 miles,  or 3,025 km)

Barry and Margaret Williamson

Here is an NZ2000_(23).jpgedited version of the diary we kept when we cycled round New Zealand in 2000/1. Starting from Auckland, we rode up to Cape Reinga, the northernmost point of North Island, then followed the east coast of North Island down to Wellington for the Inter-Islander ferry to Picton at the top of South Island. We followed the west coast route down to Bluff at the southernmost point of the South Island, then took a ferry to Stewart Island, a mile off-shore to the south.

Returning to the mainland, we cycled north up the east coast of NZ2000_(39).jpgSouth Island, making detours to the west coast and back in order to climb all of the road passes in the Southern Alps. After the ferry back to Wellington, we followed the west coast of North Island as far as Auckland, for a flight to Fiji.

After a week's NZ2000_(25).jpgcycling in Fiji we flew on to Los Angeles, to cycle across the States to Key West in Florida: the southernmost point of the Continental USA. All this was part of a one-year round-the-world journey totalling 12,000 miles (19,200 km), which included Singapore, the crossing of Australia (Perth to Brisbane), New Zealand, Fiji and the crossing of the USA.

Tables of distances and times for the ride in New Zealand and for the complete round-the-world bicycle ride are given at the end of this diary.

To read about later stage of the journey through New Zealand, click:

Travel Log of the 3,176 km (1,985 mile) Ride through the South Island of New Zealand

Travel Log of the 1,224 km (765 mile) Return Journey, cycling North through the North Island of New Zealand

For images of the ride across New Zealand, click: Cycling in New Zealand

For the ride across Australia, click: Australia Coast to Coast

For the ride across the USA, click: USA Coast to Coast

For images of the ride across Australia, click: Cycling across Australia

For images of the ride across the USA, click: Cycling across the USA

Here is a Map of the Route in the North Island of New Zealand

northisland_track_1[1].jpg

 

 

Outward Route is shown in yellow

 

Return Route is shown in blue

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Here is a Map of the Route in the South Island of New Zealand

southisland_track_1[1].jpg

 

 

 

Outward Route is shown in yellow

 

Return Route is shown in blue

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Day by Day Diary of the Ride South through North Island

11/12 September 2000   BrisbaneAustralia - Aspley Acres Caravan Park

During our last 2 days in Australia, we prepared for New Zealand. We had to ring Qantas to confirm our flight to Auckland, do our laundry and shop at the massive Pick'n'Pay shopping mall behind the CP. We bought a cheap holdall to use as a flight bag, having donated our last one to a charity shop in Perth.

Barry checked and oiled the bikes, M learnt to use the electric frying pan provided in the cabin (mixed grill and pancakes!) There were also post cards and letters to write (including thanks to our hosts in Toowoomba and Brisbane). The maps and guide book for Australia were packed up and posted (sea-mail) back to England. Our remaining camping gas canisters were given away (not allowed on planes). A whole new country awaited.

13 September 2000   To Auckland, New Zealand - Airport Pensione   16 km

A leisurely morning to finish packing and ride the 10 miles to Brisbane Airport, in just under an hour, for flight QF025 to Auckland, departing at 4.30 pm.

After establishing that bike boxes (at A$16.50 each) were not compulsory, whatever we'd been told on the phone, we prepared the bikes and bags. There was plenty of time left to convince the check-in girl that Barry had let the tyres down, and to drink expensive coffee with our sandwiches.

Packed into a full Boeing 747-400, the 2.5 hour flight eastwards over the Tasman Sea went smoothly, with a good roast lamb dinner. New Zealand is 2 hours ahead of Australian time, making it 9 pm, dark and cold, when we landed. We passed through the food quarantine point (depositing our excess cheese & tomato sandwiches in the yellow bin), collected bags and bikes, then had to declare one 'used tent' (including pegs, poles and inner) to the Ministry of Agriculture for inspection. Luckily, it passed – we saw some travellers have their hiking boots confiscated, being charged for cleaning!

At last we were allowed through, with a free 6-month permit. It was far too late to start reassembling the bicycles and looking for a room. A free phone call from the information corner, to the Airport Pensione (recommended in Lonely Planet), solved all our problems. The landlady came at once in a white van to collect us (bikes and all) and 5 minutes later we had an en-suite bedroom in her guest house, the bikes in the adjacent room, with a limitless supply of tea/coffee and the promise of a light breakfast tomorrow. All for NZ $65 (at NZ$ 3 = ₤1). A good start.

14 September 2000   Auckland - Remuere Motor Lodge/Camping   33 km   

Wanting to stay in Auckland itself, we phoned 3 campsites (known as Motor Parks, Holiday Parks or Caravan Parks – anything but Camping!). Remuere is the closest to the centre (5 miles out). We also arranged to return to the Airport Pensione for our last night in NZ next January and left the flight bag there (later postponing our departure to mid-Feb).

Riding into the city centre (our very first time in New Zealand), we observed the lifestyle, which is similar to Australia but with more British overtones. There is also a large Pacific Rim community around Auckland. The temperature was cooler than Brisbane, the cloudy sky reminiscent of England – pleasant cycling weather. The standard of driving did not impress us.

At a shopping centre along our route we discovered McDonalds have up-market McCafes, with good cappuccino and muffins! We also got fixed up with a SIM card and number for the mobile phone, gas canisters, spare inner tubes and a new clip and lead for Barry's bike speedo (damaged in transit).

In the centre of NZ's largest city (though not its capital), we negotiated our way through the traffic to Queen St, the main street running downhill to the harbour. The AA office, just off Queen St at the base of the Sky Tower (tallest building in the southern hemisphere), gave us a good supply of free maps. The Tourist Info in the Civic Theatre buildings was less helpful. Asking about budget accommodation, they tried to push us into a motel at NZ$ 83 a night (without breakfast).

We took the 'tourist flat' we'd been offered for NZ$ 65 in Remuere, at the Motor Lodge/Camping run by a friendly Maori family. Our self-contained cabin was older and shabbier than the average Australian version, but very comfortable. A take-away chicken tikka masala rounded the day off nicely, Remuere being the Indian quarter of the city.

15 September 2000   Auckland - Remuere Motor Lodge/Camping   21 km

Cycled the 5 miles into the city again to shop. We passed 'Penny Farthing Cycles' -claiming to be NZ's best cycle shop - but they had no tyres or tubes in our size (700 x 32c). They did supply better maps, as well as a pair of excellent little books with cycle routes by Nigel Rushton: 'Pedallers Paradise' (North and South Island). Lunch at McDonalds on Queen Street. A supermarket was not to be found and we had to buy food at expensive corner shops, called 'Dairies'.

Returning to Remuere, we followed part of the 50-km round-Auckland cycle route: along Quay Street and the top edge of Hobson Bay, then inland to Remuera and straight to our flat. A longer but easier and quieter route. Back home, the TV showed the opening ceremony of the Sydney Olympics from 7.30 pm.

16 September 2000   Auckland - Remuere Motor Lodge/Camping

The day was spent shopping at the local dairy and bakery, cooking, doing the laundry, and route-planning with the new maps and book. This is known as a 'Rest Day'!
The Olympics showed bare-foot volleyball on Bondi Beach. There will be gold medals for sand castle building next!

17 September 2000   Parakai, Nr Helensville – Mineral Park Motel   64 km   

Today being the 60th anniversary of the Battle of Britain, we saw old fighter planes flying in formation over Auckland.

Riding out of the city, we eventually (with the help of an ex-London taxi driver living in Ponsonby) found our way to the Great North Road. A cycleway followed the stretch that is the NW Motorway, over the Waitemata Harbour and around endless suburbs to Massey. After a good cheap lunch at a bakery, we rode State Highway 16, once it lost motorway status.

With a back wind and the hint of rain soon gone, we gradually left the sprawl of Auckland (population only 1 million; area greater than London). We crossed a hilly fruit and vine-growing area, very green with lush grass for the cattle, sheep and new-born lambs. Of course, it's spring with flowers and fern-trees burgeoning. This would indeed by a Pedallers' Paradise, apart from the dreadful traffic – a line of Sunday drivers rushing past as if late for work.

We made a brew of tea at the roadside before reaching Helensville, where we turned west for about 4 km to the geo-thermal pool resort of Parakai, on the edge of Kaipara Harbour (the largest natural harbour in the southern hemisphere). Parakai had an Aquatic Park (with camping but no cabins); Black Peter's Bar/Restaurant (with rough wooden shacks, lacking kitchen or bathroom); a motel which was full; another motel that was closed up; and finally, best of all, the Mineral Park Motel.

Every room here has a kitchen and its own private 'hot mineral spa tub' in an enclosed yard behind, surrounded by a high fence. The pure natural mineral water is pumped from a bore 20 metres below ground, emerging at a constant 65°F, promising 'great relief for arthritic pain'. Not being in pain, we enjoyed the warmth and the fun of turning the pulsating bubbles on and off in our first Jacuzzi (also known as a 'hot tub'). A new experience!

After cooking Chicken Kievs from the store across the road, we turned the TV on. Even 'Coro' (the English soap opera 'Coronation Street', equally popular in NZ) has been suspended for the Sydney Olympics coverage.

18 September 2000   Brynderwyn Junction – Brynderwyn Motel   90 km  

A strenuous day across constantly rolling green hills, the beautifully forested road bordered with spring flowers. The pastures were grazed by dairy cows or sheep with tiny white lambs.

From Helensville we rode through Kaukapakapa, a small village at an altitude of only 20 m, then grabbed bottom gear to climb to Kaipara Lookout up at 210 m. We made coffee at the Lookout, gazing over Kaipara Harbour, then dropped almost to sea level before the next long climb to the top of Cleaseby Hill, slightly higher than the last. The scenery was lovely but again the traffic was dreadful, with timber trucks and cars coming too close and too fast.

We made lunch at the roadside before reaching Wellsford (height 80 m), the largest town today, where we stopped to shop. There we joined the busier road SH1 northwards, still rising and falling (rarely level), through Kaiwaka, where we made tea in a Rest Area next to an expensive Best Western Hotel.

Then the final 10 km, rising to 110 m, brought us to the SH1-SH10 junction and a nice motel, run by a chap from Glasgow who said he much preferred it here. We were too tired for anything but sleep.

19 September 2000   Dargaville – Glen Dene Motel   75 km

Another hard day's climbing. Weather sunny and dry.

The road descended from Brynderwyn Junction to the village of Maungaturoto, then up and down to Paparoa, where we brewed up in a little park opposite the shops. We were quickly joined by a lone cycle-tourist from Leipzig (only the third we've met this year). Stefan, aged about 30, talked at length about the months he'd spent on South Island, tramping, cycling and kayaking, and of his fascination with the Maori people (he had a tattoo). Sad to be on his way back to Auckland for a plane home, he was full of energy and plans to return and settle in NZ.

Delayed but inspired by this meeting, we continued past the Matakohe Museum, just stopping to pick up a leaflet. The museum tells the history of the giant Kauri – coniferous trees found only in NZ, which covered much of North Island until they were felled for ship-building or to clear land for sheep-farming, wiping out thousands of years of growth.

In Ruawai, with the hills behind us, we bought bacon & egg sandwiches and a pot of tea, as a strong side wind blew up from the west. After crossing parched Australia, we remain amazed at the green pastureland, the livestock, the spring flowers and huge white lilies of the fields. Ruawai is a Kumara (sweet potato) growing centre, the vegetables on sale along the roadside.

Crossing salt water inlets, edged with mangroves, we reached Dargaville in time to shop for food and find accommodation. 'Glen Dene' is a much more modest motel, run by a dear old lady who thought we were 'just marvellous'. She charged NZ$ 50 (about 16 pounds) for a 4-bed suite, including a big jug of milk and a morning paper (the excellent 'New Zealand Herald'). Motels in NZ so far are better value than Australia, and have all included cooking facilities and free use of a washing machine. We slept like Kauri logs!

20 September 2000   Waipoua Forest – DOC (Dept of Conservation) Campsite Cabin   59 km

In Dargaville we saw the dock on the Wairoa River. From about 1870 to 1920, when a railway brought the Kauri timber to the riverside for export through Kaipara Harbour, it was the site of the biggest sawmill in the southern hemisphere, built to destroy the world's oldest (and second largest) trees. Only the Californian sequoia (giant redwoods) can out-girth them, but their numbers have been decimated.

Riding north, the road became gradually more hilly with some very long steep climbs and the wind getting stronger from the west. We need more tall trees! Passing an emu/ostrich farm, we thought of NZ's own giant flightless bird, the Moa, which was hunted to extinction. With no native mammals, the early Maori settlers ate birds and fish (and each other).

As a break from climbing, we paused for brew-ups by the roadside, and at a shop in Kaihu. The road leapt up and down at a sharp gradient, much like it does in Britain. From the tops (reaching over 1,000 ft) we could glimpse the sea beyond the fields of cattle.

At last we had a lovely descent into the sheltered rampant growth of Waipoua Forest, the largest area of mature Kauri left standing. At the DOC Information Centre, 1 km off the main road, is a campsite with some simple wooden cabins and a communal cooker and washrooms. We heated a tin of chicken stew, then fell asleep long before the resident Kiwis and Glow Worms came out. The forest is also home to the Kauri Snail and some other rare birds, though numbers are sadly depleted since the introduction of non-indigenous animals like possums, goats and rats. (NZ's only native mammals were Bats).  

21 September 2000   Rawene – Rawene Motor Camp   75 km

For the first 16 km we climbed gradually through the dense Waipoua Forest, fresh and green in a light drizzle, well sheltered by the ancient Kauris and plenty of fern trees and other mixed bush.
Passing a car park (for a 20-minute walk to a stand of huge trees), we didn't stop. Further along, we did take a 5-minute walk up a path to see 'Tane Mahuta' (Lord of the Forest) in his dense sanctuary. Approx 2,000 years old, he stands 52 m tall with a girth of over 13 m. The display sign told us to 'Breathe deeply and tread softly'. It was a good experience (including the coffee and toasted sandwiches sold at a nearby Maori caravan).

Climbing out of the forest over the Wairau Saddle (385 m), we dropped to Waimamaku, where the only tea shop was disappointingly closed. At least two more steep climbs followed before the descent to Omapere at the mouth of Hokianga Harbour. Swooping down to the coast, the views of sand dunes and mangroves were a sharp contrast to the sub-tropical forest. After a picnic lunch by the shore we rode on through Opononi, where we turned inland (east) for the last 15 miles to the ferry at Rawene. Still hilly, but at least we had a back wind.

Waiting for the 3.30 pm ferry, we took tea in a café and learnt that the oldest Maori and European settlemts are in this area. The small car ferry runs once an hour, taking 15 minutes to cross the wide tidal river to the village of Kohukohu – fare NZ$ 1.50 each, bikes free. Once across, we found the 'Treehouses' (an overpriced pretentious backpackers' hostel) was 2 km from the ferry landing, in the opposite direction to the village (which lay 4 km away, on our onward route). In Kohukohu, the Harbour Guest House was full and the pub had no rooms. It was a long way to the next bed!

Taking the best option, we caught the 5 pm ferry back to Rawene, a small town with a motorcamp just a steep mile uphill from the harbour. We were rewarded with a newly built cabin and a good view.

22 September 2000   Kaitaia – Kauri Lodge Motel   86 km

Crossing the Hokianga Harbour again on the 9.30 am ferry, the early drizzle turned to rain for the first few miles, from Kohukohu to Broadwood. The roads were very quiet as they rolled through damp farmland.

Broadwood had a single store/petrol station but no café, so we brewed up on the grass verge, watching a pair of black & white dogs round up a herd of cows. There were more hills to Herekino, where we lunched in the porch of the village hall. Turning north, this was a better direction as the west wind grew stronger.

We took a 4-km side trip to see the start of the famous '90 Mile Beach' and made tea by the shore, quite undeveloped with just the odd house advertising B&B. Back on the main road, the final 12 km to Kaitaia were not as flat as 'Peddlers Paradise' suggested but we did have a tail wind at last.

Our excellent motel room has a full kitchen and there is a guest laundry and library (with an old copy of Dervla Murphy's 'Full Tilt'). The Olympic Games still dominate the TV, which we haven't missed on the past 2 evenings.

23 September 2000   Waitiki Landing   95 km

The Kaitaia Cycle Shop did not sell the toe clips or mud flaps we needed for repairs: 'We used to stock things like that when I started here 15 years ago'! We did find a battery for the Minolta camera at the chemist, giving it a new lease of life. Then we hit the Great North Road or State Highway 1, leading 116 km to the northern tip of the country at Cape Reinga.

Through Awanui, then past the 'Ancient Kauri Kingdom' – a commercial centre displaying logs and stumps of Swamp Kauri, thousands of years old. It also sells wooden furniture and crafts, souvenirs and coffee to tourists on their way to Cape Reinga. We took our break in Waipapakauri, where the kind owner of the dairy/butcher's made us mugs of coffee, since it was too windy and drizzly for brewing up outside.

Continuing through rolling farmland, with twin lambs and black & white calves dashing out of our path, we passed the turning for the Wagener Homestead Museum on Houhara Heads Harbour (where there is a campsite). At Pukenui we stopped to eat lunch in a bus shelter with a sea view, by a motel and holiday camp. The rain had stopped but the wind was getting harder.
For the final 45 km the long empty road was certainly not flat and Waitiki Landing came as a welcome sight at 5 pm. This complex (the last before Cape Reinga) has a shop, restaurant and petrol, a campsite with a very new hostel, and a separate row of very cosy en-suite cabins (with electric kettles but no kitchen).

We took a cabin for 2 nights and had an excellent meal of pizzas, cooked by the Maori family in charge.

24 September 2000   Waitiki Landing   43 km

What a nice surprise on waking – the radio carried Australia's own 'Macka' (our Sunday morning favourite in that country), broadcast from the Sydney Olympics!

After that good start, we cycled the 21 km north to Cape Reinga lighthouse, taking 2 long hours. Not only did the pebble-strewn unsurfaced road climb steeply in parts, but we had to stop regularly to let coaches and cars pass, and to put our jackets on and off as showers overtook us. The buses had names like 'Awesome Adventure', 'Sand Safari' and 'Cape Runner' - and no time to lose.

The woods gave way to open pasture, then glimpses of white silica sands on the east coast and finally the sand dunes to the west and the sound of the pounding sea. After a final climb to the car park and a 10-minute walk to the lighthouse, we had our picnic, watched by small seagulls with vivid red legs, beaks and eye-rings. NZ's most northerly shop and post office are obviously seasonal, but the toilets were open.

Some of the busesNZ2000_(10).jpg went on to Tapotupoto Bay, east of Cape Reinga, where there's a very simple campsite. We were more than pleased to have reached the point where the Tasman Sea meets the Pacific Ocean, 'Te Rerenga Wairua' (the Place of Leaping), a sacred Maori site from which the spirits of those recently deceased depart.

Our return ride was quicker, the road being quieter and marginally less steep, though we were delayed by a mob of bullocks. We passed the turning for Te Paki Stream and Sand Dunes, where most of the buses turn down to '90 Mile Beach' to play on the sands.

It was warm and sunny by the time we got back to Waitiki before 5 pm, with heavy snow reported from South Island! We celebrated our short but tough ride to almost-the-most-northerly point of NZ with a good meal of fish & chips. (The nearby North Cape takes the honour from Cape Reinga, but it has no access road.)

25 September 2000   Pukenui – Pukenui Holiday Camp   50 km

On the road heading south at 9 am it began to rain. By 9.15 am there was a steady downpour with lashings of hail! We brewed up in a tiny bus shelter half way to Pukenui, then rode on, splashed by passing log trucks and the oncoming trip buses.

By Pukenui the rain had eased but a cold westerly got up, chilling us through. We checked into a 'tourist flat' (a musty hut) at the Holiday Camp and gradually dried everything out (including our precious notebook).

The Olympic Games are still on TV round the clock – Cathy Freeman won her gold medal in the 400 m.

26 September 2000   Kaitaia – Kauri Lodge Motel   45 km

No more rain but still a strong cold side wind from the west, for the easier half of the return ride to Kaitaia, with gentler hills and more trees.

The Waipapakauri butcher stopped us for coffee as we passedNZ2000_(11).jpg by and, with time in hand, we had another break at the 'Ancient Kauri Kingdom', 8 km before Kaitaia. It had nice toilets and beautiful furniture to stroke.

Back at the Kauri Lodge Motel, we were welcomed like old friends, with fresh-baked scones from Mrs McPhee. A nice 'unit' (en-suite room and kitchen) cost NZ$ 60 (20 pounds) – only NZ$ 5 more than we'd paid for last night's hut (without linen).

A peaceful afternoon, washing, drying and sorting our gear. In the free laundry/library, we looked with pleasure at a Time-Life World Library volume on Australia and NZ published in 1965, with interesting text and nostalgic black & white photos.

27 September 2000   Kaitaia – Kauri Lodge Motel

Enjoying a rest day in Kaitaia, we wrote and posted some cards, recharged our mobile phone (for free) at the Vodafone shop and bought more than enough food at the huge Pak'n'Save store.

The Minolta camera is not working properly, despite a new battery, so we treated ourselves to a replacement Pentax compact model at a good price (just under NZ$ 300). We also ordered 2 Continental Top Touring tyres from 'Penny Farthing Cycles' in Auckland, to be collected as we head south, since our favourite Schwalbe tyres are unobtainable here.

The TV news told of a Greek ferry disaster off the island of Paros, where the boat hit a rock and sank. Over 60 were drowned, including one of the coastguards involved in the rescue.

28 September 2000   Whangaroa Harbour – Whangaroa Motor Camp   81 km

We said goodbye to Mr McPhee, our host at Kauri Lodge, who has just bought an old Japanese bus to convert into a motorhome (hoping to retire in 2 years' time). Then it was north to Awanui and east (into the wind) to Taipa, for a beach-side brew-up.

The road from there ran south-east along the shore of Doubtless Bay, though it wasn't flat. (It was named after Captain Cook's log entry: 'Doubtless … a bay'). Along Cooper's Beach (where the McPhee's told us a pair of Swiss cyclists stopped and bought a house), there were plenty of 'lifestyle blocks and houses' for sale. 'Lifestyle' is a very popular NZ expression – and it looks good.

After a picnic lunch in a lovely rest area overlooking the Bay, we dropped down to Mangonui for a short detour to see the picturesque fishing village and historic wooden houses (that is, anything up to 100 years old!) Then the road turned inland over more hills until we reached the turn-off for Whangaroa Harbour: 6 km.

Half way along we checked out the Motor Camp, which looked deserted until we met Dave Lyttle – a bit of a joker! He showed us a simple room with kitchen – the best he had – and threw in free bed linen. The lovely trees round the camp included the Pohutakawa (the NZ Christmas tree), whose red flowers bloom before the leaves uncurl.

Revived by a pot of tea, we left our stuff and rode on to look at the harbour. It's on a beautiful bay hemmed in by steep wooded cliffs, with a little store in an 1830's wooden warehouse. The scene was only spoilt by a yuppy yachties' marina and the Big Gamefish Club – a centre for catching and weighing Marlin.

29 September 2000   Russell (Bay of Islands) – Russell Holiday Park   63 km

Returning to the SH10 (Twin Coast Discovery Highway), we rode south through Kaeo. There was more climbing, with the north-west wind sometimes behind us and forest views to our right.

At Waipapa we took a detour loop to Kerikeri, which claims to be 'the cradle of the nation' - where missionaries were welcomed by Maori in 1819. On the way, in Rewa village, we passed Kemp House (1821: NZ's oldest wooden house) and Stone House (1836: NZ' oldest stone house), as well as a steam-operated sawmill. Kerikeri itself, however, was charmless and we rode on, past citrus orchards whose sweet blossom filled the air. The kiwi-fruit harvest is over, but avocadoes and citrus are abundant.

Rejoining SH10, we lunched at a café/pie shop in Puketona, then turned off, past Waitangi (famed for its 1840 Treaty with Maori chiefs), to reach the coast at Paihia.

Paihia is the main tourist resort on the Bay of Islands (144 of them!) and we went straight onto the little passenger ferry for a 10-minute crossing to Russell – not an island, but the tip of a peninsula opposite. The sea being pretty rough, the 'Waimarie' took 15 minutes to carry her German captain, 5 passengers and 2 bicycles across. We paid NZ$ 4 each and the bikes went free, lashed on deck, with the panniers inside to keep dry!

The tiny former whaling port of Russell was the earliest capital of NZ, with fine wooden buildings along the waterfront. We took a self-contained cabin for 2 nights at the 'Top Ten' group's Holiday Park, 10 minutes' walk from the harbour, set high on the hillside with a good view across the water to Paihia.

Settling in, we watched more Olympics on the TV.

30 September 2000   Russell (Bay of Islands) – Russell Holiday Park   8 km

A showery day, less windy – ideal for catching up on maintenance. Barry cleaned the bikes and put the spare tyre on his front wheel, as its Schwalbe tyre wall is starting to break up. Margaret did the laundry, shopped at the 'Four Square' supermarket near the harbour and made an apple crumble!

For a view of the Bay of Islands, we climbed Flagstaff Hill, where the rebel Maori chief Hone Heke felled 4 British flagstaffs in succession. This caused the British to evacuate to their ships and fire cannons on the town. The captain of HMS Hazard was killed, along with some of his crew, and there is a grave with a poem about the events in Russell churchyard. A climb past the Holiday Park, up Long Beach Road and Queen's View Road, provided more views of the Bay.

We also cycled round 'Romantic Russell', once the Maori village of Kororareka. It became a base for whalers and sealers (known as the 'Hell Hole of the Pacific') and the white wooden church built by missionaries in 1835 is the oldest in NZ. By 1840 Russell had become the largest European settlement in the country, until it was ransacked by chief Hone Heke in 1845.

We visited Christ Church and saw the bullet holes in the walls and the interesting graves. These include the large grave of chief Tamati Waaka Nene, who encouraged Maori to accept the Treaty of Waitangi, signed in 1840.

Other historic buildings in Russell are NZ's oldest Roman Catholic site (Pompallier, originally a seamen's mission built in 1842), and the country's oldest printing house and tannery. The present Duke of Marlborough Hotel is on the site of the one granted NZ's first Liquor Licence in 1840 (burnt down, along with most of the town, in 1845).

We remembered to put our clocks forward one hour tonight for 'Daylight Saving', or 'Summer Time' as it's known in Britain (though not in October!)

1 October 2000   Oakura – Oakura Motel/Caravan Park   44 km

Our ride began quietly on the Old Russell Road, past the turning for Opua and the car ferry (for traffic in a hurry to reach the SH1).

We took a shoNZ2000_(12).jpgrt cut through the Ngaiotonga Scenic Reserve (with Kauri Grove Nature Walk), which saved 10 km over taking the coast road. However, it did involve a 9-km twisting climb and descent on a gravel road, through a dense forest of ancient twin-bole Kauri and huge fern trees. Mist and light rain shrouded the woods and we made coffee in the middle, in a fine drizzle, before emerging into the daylight, with sea views and rolling volcanic hills.

After 40 km we turned down to the coast at Oakura Bay, a small Maori community, with 2 campsites for fishing and scuba diving. Stopping here for lunch, we decided to take a cabin and shelter from the wet afternoon. Luckily, it had a TV for tonight's amazing Olympic Closing Ceremony, starting at 10 pm NZ-time. The musical finale was Slim Dusty (now aged 80) giving a rendition of 'Waltzing Matilda' (we've heard better). A firework display illuminated the city and spread over the harbour bridge. The next Olympics will be in Athens, with Sydney a hard act to follow.

2 October 2000   Whangarei – Otaika Motel/Caravan Park   55 km

The news is of rain and more rain! Wellington had 750 mm (25 inches) in 3 days and we are having our share.

The first 24 km involved a steep climb over to the SH1, where we had a good lunch of sausage, egg and chips in a café at the road junction. Then we rode in much busier traffic on the highway, through Hikurangi and Kamo to Whangarei, Northland's largest city (population 45,000).

Whangarei proved to be a friendly working-class town with a good cycle shop, where we finally found new toe-clips for Barry and a spare tyre (only one in our size). At the outdoors shop, we bought a new compass and a set of waterproof bags (sold for kayaking) to line our rear panniers – just what we need today!

We took comfort in a coffee & cakes place, shopped for food, then continued on SH1, stopping a couple of miles out of town at the second caravan park, which had a nice warm dry 'tourist flat'.

On this day in 1839 a Scotsman, Kirkpatrick McWilliam, invented the bicycle. Could be a highland ancestor (the Williamsons originate in the Shetlands)!

3 October 2000   Mangawhai – Mangawhai Village Holiday Park   66 km

Dry at last, with a back wind, low hills and a broad shoulder – the dreaded SH1 for 32 km to Waipu (with a coffee break at a petrol station) could have been worse! Reaching Waipu safely, we turned off to the coast on the quieter 'Tourist Route'. Waipu was first settled by Caledonians from Nova Scotia and still has annual Highland Games!

After a picnic on the beach at Waipu Cove, we continued past Langs Beach, climbed over a headland (the seaward end of a long distance footpath to Brynderwyn), and dropped to Mangawhai Heads, a beach estuary with seabirds and a view of the Hen & Chickens Islands. Here we had another brew-up before the final low climb to Mangawhai, a quiet pleasant village where we found another 'tourist flat' on a campsite.

M got the laundry washed and dried, while B put the new tyre on his rear wheel and gave the bikes a quick service. Hot meat pies from a nearby shop made a good supper.

4 October 2000   Parakai, Nr Helensville – Mineral Park Motel   89 km

A long day, made harder especially at the end by a strong west wind.

The first 24 km was quiet until we met the SH1 at Te Hana and followed it for 8 busy km to Wellsford. The bakery café (next to McDonalds) made a good break for coffee and date scones.

Then we retraced our outward route on the Kaipara Coast Highway to Helensville. It was very hilly, with gusts of side wind over Cleaseby Hill. After a picnic lunch at Tauhoa, we wearied of constantly dropping to sea level to cross rivers, only to climb again. Luckily the wind was behind us for the last steep climb to Kaipara Lookout, before Kaukapakapa village. Although the last 16 km, through Helensville and on to Parakai, were flat, we were down to 12 km per hour, pushing against the wind.

Back in Room 1 at the Mineral Park Motel, we enjoyed the thermal spa pool again, bathing under the moon and stars, cooled by an occasional rain shower. Magic!

5 October 2000   Auckland – Tudor Court Motor Lodge   57 km

Riding south on the busy road, with a good shoulder most of the way, we were still pushing into a strong wind. It got easier as we turned east through Kumeu before going south again to Waitakere.

We lunched in a KFC, then followed the North Western Cycle Route through Massey and into Auckland along Ponsonby Road. After tea and cakes on Karangahape Road, we stopped at the last (most modest) of a line of motels along the Great South Road. The room had a bath but no kitchen, just a kettle.

6 October 2000   Auckland – Tudor Court Motor Lodge

A rest day, reading the complimentary 'NZ Herald' and planning our route south. Phoned Penny Farthing Cycles but our spare tyres had not come.

We walked as far as the local shops on Broadway: Woolworths supermarket and a fast food meal. There was a Pack'n'Pedal cycle shop, which provided 2 new chains and another map, though again no tyres in our size (700 x 32c are rare here).

Watching evening TV, now the Olympics are over, was like being back in the UK: 'The Bill' and 'Last of the Summer Wine'. Also a tribute to Dusty Springfield, who died of breast cancer last year. The international news was serious: revolution in Yugoslavia and renewed fighting in Israel/Gaza/Palestine. Feels a very long way.

7 October 2000   Orere Point – 'Top Ten' Holiday Park   64 km

Riding down the Great South Road, the traffic was relatively light on this Saturday morning. We just made the 10.30 am deadline for McDonald's morning coffee and pancakes at Otahuhu! Then we turned east past Manukau City to the Pacific Coast Road, through the usual scenery of rolling hills, woods, sheep and cows.

Clevedon's 'Historic Site' by the river was a quiet place for a picnic lunch - once a busy wharf with regular boats to Auckland. The information board told of early European settlers like the McBride family, who arrived here by boat in 1854. Now the river is silted up and very narrow.

Continuing along the shore of Kawakawa Bay, a small resort with one motel, we had a brew-up by the water: very quiet, with more seagulls than bathers. Then there was one long climb to 170 m (600 ft), helped by the prevailing westerly. Dropping back to sea level, we turned off left to Orere Point, 3 km from the main road.

Here by the beach is another Top Ten Holiday Park , with a store and take-away at the entrance. We took a simple cabin (no TV or bathroom), but it had a kitchen and 2 bedrooms, sleeping 8!

We got excellent fish & chips for NZ$ 3 each and spent the evening reading this morning's 'NZ Herald' from the motel. Heavy rain overnight.

8 October 2000   Thames – Dickson Holiday Park (Kiwi Group)   72 km

Sunday morning and we awoke to a difficult choice on our shortwave radio's World Service: Alistair Cook's 'Letter from America' or Macca's 'Australia All Over', (vintage Macca, talking to a traveller in the Black Forest about whether they could make Kuckaburra clocks!)

Back on the road, after a short climb and a few gentle hills, the going was level with an easy wind, round the Firth of Thames. With a background of mud flats, shore birds, mangroves and fishermen, we rode through Kaiaua (where we made coffee by the beach), Miranda (a spa with hot springs and expensive accommodation) and Waitakarum. The flat Hauraki Plain, once a swamp, has been drained with ditches and canals to make pasture for sheep and cattle.

In its gold-mining heyday (around 1867), Thames town was bigger than Auckland, grown rich on gold and Kauri logging. This is no ghost town, its long main street (Pollen St) lined with fine 19thC wooden houses and pubs, all quiet and closed on this Sunday afternoon.

We stayed in a cabin at the 'Kiwi Group' Holiday Park (campsite), 3 km beyond the town, which had a Butterfly House (closed). Kiwi Group give10% discount to members, as well as to those with an Australian 'Top Tourist' group card (which we already had).

Margaret rang her Mum at 10 pm (10 am in England) and we watched the film 'Good Will Hunting' on TV.

9 October 2000   Coromandel - Holiday Park   52 km

The road hugged the coast for the first 32 km, very quiet on a grey overcast day, with wind but no rain. We made coffee in the shelter of a wooded bank before the steep climb to Kerita Hill (206 m). After dropping to sea level again at Manaia Harbour (more mudflats, mangroves and seabirds), there was another climb to 160 m.

The final 8 km to Coromandel were level again and we managed to overtake and talk with 2 cycle-tourists: brothers from Australia, who had camped on our site last night. It's their third visit to ride in NZ, this time for 8 weeks.

The pleasant little town is named after HMS Coromandel, which came to collect Kauri logs for naval ship-building in 1820. (It's also the name of the Indian coast around Madras.) We found another Pack'n'Pedal cycle shop - still no spare tyres, but the owner supplied a second-hand cogwheel for Barry's derailleur free of charge!

At the Holiday Park we took a cabin, resembling a wardrobe crossed with a caravan, on a nice site with free oranges to pick. Margaret did the laundry and wrote post cards while Barry fitted the new cycle chains.

10 October 2000   Hahei - Holiday Park   68 km

A hard day's ride with plenty of climbing, some of it on gravel.

Our road SH25 went into a climb almost at once, from sea level to 340 m, with at least 10 km unsurfaced. Road works along the first 3 km of gravel meant that big trucks were lumbering down loaded with rubble, then dashing back uphill empty, occasionally forcing us to stop. Margaret gave up and walked most of this. The reward was the view from the top, looking down at the sea on both sides of the Coromandel Peninsula. Here we met a pair of cyclists from Napier, on their way to Coromandel, and we were all happy to pause and compare routes.

After that it was rolling country, with a picnic on a hillside. From Matarangi, where the seaside had been taken over by real-estate agents, we took a detour on Bluff Road (gravel again) round a headland to Kuaotuna Bay. After a brew-up by the shore, we faced the last climb (140 m), then rejoined SH25 to Whitianga.

The cycle shop in Whitianga had closed down, but we bought food before taking a short ferry ride (NZ$ 3) across to Cooks Beach. Here the eponymous Captain James anchored the 'Endeavour' to watch the planet Mercury eclipse the sun, so we have Mercury Bay overlooked by Shakespeare Cliff lookout.

It was now 5.30 pm, with no time to linger as we had another hour's ride to the next accommodation. Hahei was a 5 km detour, between Cathedral Cove and an ancient 'pa' site, in the lee of Mahurangi Island. (A 'pa' is a Maori hill-top fort.) The Hahei Holiday Park's 'comfort cabin' was not worth the NZ$ 70 charged, but it was comfortable enough and we were given some fresh milk when we complained!

As usual, we slept like logs through the gathering rain.

11 October 2000   Hahei - Holiday Park

Didn't intend staying a second night, but it poured down all day. It was too wet and windy even to consider the walk to Cathedral Cove or to the terraced hill at Te Pare Point (the Maori 'pa' visible from our streaming window). We just ventured along the beach to Hahei village store.

The rest of the day passed with reading, laundry and mending (including a bike light). There was also a TV, showing 'Fawlty Towers', 'Ally McBeale' and Lenny Henry in 'Chef'. We switched off for the soaps ('Emmerdale', 'Coro' and 'Casualty'), not to mention 'Teletubbies'!

12 October 2000   Hot Water Beach – Motor Camp   10 km

As the rain had ceased, we bravely set out into the strong south-west wind, soon turning off for the famous Hot Water Beach. Just as we reached the car park and motor camp, it gusted over and began to pour again.

At the motor camp we had a choice: a very basic on-site caravan for NZ$ 35 or a house sleeping 6 for NZ$ 90 (or our emergency tent). We took the very welcome shelter of the caravan! It's a lovely setting, with a view of ducks and gulls on the beach – and only one of the roof-lights leaks!

For 2 hours, each side of low tide, people come to Hot Water Beach to dig a hole in the sand (where a thermal spring flows) and sit in a warm puddle. Yes, really! We walked up the beach at about noon to watch a dozen youngsters digging with hands and shovels in the biting wind, creating little sandy pools that steamed.

The Motor Camp had its own private spa pools to sit in, housed in an aged and gloomy building. More usefully, it had a camp kitchen where we cooked chicken breasts, followed by muffins warmed in the microwave.

13 October 2000   Whangamata – Pinefield Holiday Park (Top Ten)   61 km

Warm and dry at last, though still a wind from the south-west.

We climbed sharply up from Hot Water Beach to rejoin SH25 at Whenuakite. The next 16 km included a well-graded ascent to 220 m, followed by a steep descent past the Twin Kauris to Tairua, a small seaside town. We bought coffees here (the only chance until Whangamata).

Riding inland again, we climbed to 220 m to cross the Opoutere Saddle, with a picnic near the top. The conifer-clad hillside was busy with logging trucks going to the sawmill near the bottom. Dropping to sea level once more, we reached the estuary harbour town of Whangamata, at the end of the Coromandel Peninsula. There were plenty of shops along Port Road (we needed food and new socks!)

The Top Ten site, further along Port Road, had a good non-suite cabin with TV. We cooked supper, watching a documentary about Liberace, who died of AIDS. More seriously, war is threatening in Israel, in the places we cycled through just 6 months ago.

14 October 2000   Waihi Beach - Holiday Park (Kiwi Group)   48 km

Less windy, for an excellent sunny morning's ride to Waihi.

It began through rolling pasture and woods for a few miles to Whiritoa, where we turned off to make coffee by the beach. Calm blue sea, white sand dunes, no tourist development – wonderful!

A steady well-graded climb followed for 5 km, up and over the Waihi Saddle, down and up again, then a long descent to Waihi in the Hauraki Plains region. In Waihi we had a good lunch in a tea shop - toasted sandwiches with chicken, stilton, plum sauce and apricots (no less), served with chips, followed by Black Forest cake and a pot of tea – all for NZ$ 13!

Well fortified, we went to look at Waihi's 'Big Hole' – the Martha Mine – an opencast gold mine which was one of the world's largest by 1909. The ruin of the Cornish-style pump house, made by a Leeds firm and erected in 1901, still dominates the town, overlooking a street which is closed to traffic because of landslip. The original mine closed in 1952 and the inhabitants turned to farming the plains, which are still lush and green, grazed by cattle. The gold mine, however, re-opened in 1988 and is still working, with guided tours on weekdays. This being Saturday, we could only gaze down in wonder.

It was another 16 km to the coast at Waihi Beach, taking the scenic route along Barry Road and Golden Valley Road, past more mine workings. The Holiday Park at the north end of the beach had a non-suite cabin with sea view.

We took a short walk on the beach, bought ice creams and gathered pretty shells – just like being on holiday! There is a footpath over a headland (too tricky for smooth-soled cycling shoes) and an off-shore island, which Cook named Mayor Island.

In the evening we sat on our balcony, watching a full moon reflected in the water. Lovely!

15 October 2000   Tauranga – Palms Holiday Park    65 km

Cooler and cloudy, with a light west wind.

We rode along the sea front to the Bowentown headland, a peninsula which divides the Ocean from Anzac Bay, with a view of Tauranga Harbour. We talked with a couple of old lads, out cycling on this quiet Sunday morning. The sea lay like glass.

On through Athenree, rolling countryside, a fruit and vine growing area. After rejoining SH2 the traffic was much busier, with plenty of white wooden crosses at the roadside to remind us – if not the drivers – that 'speed kills'.

At Katikati, about half way toTauranga, we stopped for coffee and cakes. After that the rolling hills were steeper, past orchards of kiwi-fruit and citrus with astonishingly high hedges to break the wind. Through Tepuna and Bethlehem, we arrived at Tauranga – the main city and port on the Bay of Plenty (named by Cook, of course), exporting fruit and timber.

Palms Holiday Park, a couple of miles before the city centre, had a simple chalet (using communal facilities and kitchen). We did the laundry and walked to the local shops, rounding off the day with fish & chips (always excellent quality and value).

Today we clocked 1,000 miles in New Zealand so far (in one month). Also, we rescued Baa-Ram the sheep (a soft toy found dead in the road), who came up nicely with Omo and became our mascot!

16 October 2000   Rotorua – Acacia Holiday Park (Top Ten)   67 km

In the centre of Tauranga we got 2 new jockey wheels for Barry's derailleur from a friendly bloke at Koops Cycles (didn't stock our size tyres, of course). Then we left on the back road to Rotorua, via the small village of Pyes Pa.

It was a gradual 16-km climb to Pyes Pa, through horticultural land (citrus, avocadoes and kiwi fruit), then rolling (mostly uphill) for a further 16 km, past Ngawero Golf Club. From here we rode 6 km of undulating gravel, climbing to 500 m, followed by a very steep descent into Mangarewa Scenic Reserve. This gorge, with fir trees and volcanic rock sides, led to another sharp climb out, stretching and bedding our new chains in nicely! The road was then undulating until our first glimpse of Lake Rotorua, continuing to the town through its unscenic suburbs.

Rotorua, at a height of 280 m, is North Island's foremost tourist centre, based on the thermal activity underneath the earth's thin crust. As we rode in along Fairy Springs Road and Lake Road, we saw the steam issuing from Kuirau Park and stopped to photograph the steaming vents, bubbling mud and fumaroles. An impressive sight (and the smell of sulphur was not as bad as at the Sulphur Springs in the Greek Peloponnese). Entry to the Kuirau Park was free, though the more dramatic thermal sites to the east of Rotorua have fees.

The Top Ten campground had a tourist flat at NZ$ 50 but it was directly on the noisy main road. We paid a little more for one of their larger, plusher and more peaceful motel units at the rear of the Holiday Park, to enjoy a good break. With the cycles safely locked in a garage, we phoned for an excellent Indian meal, delivered in 30 minutes, for just over NZ$ 20.

There was a bewildering pile of leaflets on the various excursions and attractions to be booked, including Maori concerts and 'hangi' (feasts) specially laid on - cringe!

17-18 October 2000   Rotorua – Acacia Holiday Park (Top Ten)   15 km

Margaret's bike now needs a new rear tyre and at Rotorua's Cycle Centre we finally found another Continental Top Touring tyre (and another pair of derailleur jockey wheels). It was an excellent shop, selling 'Peddlers Paradise' guides and all manner of spares. We also recharged the mobile at a Vodafone shop, stocked up at Pak'n'Save (including the ingredients for a super lamb and apricot casserole) and had a coffee in McDonalds.

Barry fitted one set of new jockey wheels to his derailleur and serviced both bikes. The new Continental tyre proved too fat for Margaret's frame, but it went on Barry's front wheel and his front Schwalbe tyre fitted Margaret's rear wheel. So B now has 2 new tyres, while M has the least worn surviving pair from our original 4 Schwalbe Marathons.

Margaret was busy with laundry, letter-writing and phone calls. Our planned route for the next few days took us to East Cape over Labour Day (next Monday: a public holiday), so we took the precaution of booking accommodation ahead over the long weekend. This will include our first NZ backpackers' hostel, since the campsite at Hicks Bay is full on the Sunday night.

We enjoyed time to read and to soak in the Holiday Park's thermal pool, and cycled to the Lakefront to do our own sight-seeing. There was a jetty for boat trips on Lake Rotorua, home to various ducks and black swans with young. The 'Maori Village' of Ohinemutu was very peaceful – in fact deserted, until the tourists gather at the Tamatekapu Meeting House (built in 1887) for the 'Magic of Maori' Concert, performed every evening for a suitable fee.

We did like NZ2000_(13).jpgSt Faith's Maori-Anglican Church, built nearby on the shore, which was freely open and very interesting. Outside, the style is early 20thC mock-Tudor but inside the pews and pulpits were beautifully carved with lots of Maori scrolls and woven panels. A modern stained glass window depicted Christ in a Maori cloak, with the lake visible behind him through the window, like Jesus walking on the water. (The LP guide went so far as to liken the lake to the Sea of Galilee, but we've cycled round that and beg to differ!) The graveyard at the back had many military graves of the Maori battalions – once feared warriors.

Steam hissed and water gurgled from various vents around the site – in Rotorua we almost expected the toilets to flush with hot water! Back along the Lakefront, we followed a public walkway round Sulphur Point (lots of seabirds) to the formal Government Gardens with a Tudor-style bathhouse (1908), now a Museum, and the original Blue Baths spa building. There are bowling greens, croquet lawns, rose gardens and a few steaming pools (which are decreasing, as the water is tapped off to every other spa pool in the town!)

We returned to the town centre, past the Polynesian Spa (a modern complex of pools based at the hot springs, in use since 1886) and the Orchid Gardens hothouses (all paying attractions). There seem to be very few tourists, unless they're all out for the day on coach tours (very expensive – Carey's all-day bus trips are over NZ$ 100 each).

19 October 2000   Awakeri – Hot Springs Holiday Park   73 km

We rode up the east side of Lake Rotorua past the little airport (scenic flights, helicopter trips, tandem sky diving …), then took SH30.

After 16 kmNZ2000_(14).jpg we stopped at 'Hell's Gate', Rotorua's most active thermal reserve. For NZ$ 10 each, we spent 45 minutes on a walkway round the many sulphur pools, hot falls, steam vents and seething boiling mud (the Devil's Cauldron) – following in the footsteps of George Bernard Shaw, who wrote 'It reminds me of the fate theologians have promised me'. Run by Maori, it had a simple café (where we left the bikes) and humorous signs, such as 'Those throwing stones or rubbish in these pools will be asked to get them back'.

Continuing past Rotoiti, Rotoehu and Rotoma (all lakes in the craters of extinct volcanoes), we climbed to 315 m before a picnic lunch. Bypassing Kawarau (a pulp and paper-milling town), we crossed a plain towards the Bay of Plenty. Just before the village of Awakeri (about 16 km short of the coast at Whakatane), we stopped at a large Holiday Park where hot springs feed a huge outdoor swimming pool. Margaret managed a few warm lengths before supper.

20 October 2000   Tirohanga Beach – Motor Camp   80 km

It was 16 km along SH30 to Whakatane (pronounced Fakatane), pausing en route to mend Barry's toe-clip. After making coffee by the estuary harbour, opposite the Citizens' Advice Bureau (run by a Scottish woman who knew Blackburn), we shopped in Whakatane. Now the main town on the Eastern Bay of Plenty, it was the arrival point of some of the earliest Maori in about 1350.

Leaving, we had a strenuous climb over the bluff before dropping down to the coast at Ohope, for our first view of a small island puffing out white clouds of smoke - NZ's most active volcano with a high point of 321 m, just 50 km offshore. The island, steam rising from its crater, was formed by 3 volcanic cones. Known to Maori as Whakaari, it was named White Island by Captain Cook (who else?). Sulphur mining was abandoned in 1910 and the island is now inhabited only by a gannet colony. The most recent activity was in 1976-81. You can visit by helicopter or on a daily boat trip (weather permitting), which includes a 2-hour walk with hard hat and gas mask. You can - we saw it well enough from the shore!

We continued on a minor road inland, following the estuary of the Waiotahi River through the Cheddar Valley and on through Kutarere, with a brief section on busy SH2. A detour round Ohiwa Harbour was hilly and added 10 km to our ride, but did escape the traffic building up this Friday afternoon: the start of the Labour Day long weekend. Our picnic lunch at the water's edge was on a climatic division line – here grow NZ's most southerly mangroves and most northerly beech trees.

After another steep climb and descent we rejoined SH2 into Opotiki, the 'Gateway to East Cape'. From here the main road SH2 cuts inland to Gisborne but we shall follow SH35, the Pacific Coastal Highway, round the coast of the rugged Cape, the most isolated part of North Island and a Maori farming area.

We shopped in Opotiki, then rode another 6 km to Tirohanga Beach. At the Motor Camp we knew that all the 'tourist flats' had been taken. We were given a simple and draughty cabin, with 2 single beds and no TV, but all for NZ$ 30. The beach was busy with children playing with their toys, while their fathers fished. Slept well, as ever.

21 October 2000   Te Kaha - Holiday Park   62 km

Riding between the sea and the forested hills, through an occasional Maori village, the road regularly cut inland to bridge estuaries. As the cold wind dropped, the sun was strong enough to need sun-screen lotion on arms and legs. We had frequent views of the White Island marine volcano beneath a plume of steam.

After a couple of short climbs we made coffee by the beach at Hawai Bay, where the shelved pebbles were strewn with driftwood – the perfect spot for an artist. There was a simple campsite there with 2 lovely static house-buses (elaborate wooden sheds built onto a bus chassis). The scene was only marred by the need to keep upwind of a dead pig on the shore!

A long well-graded climb took us to the top of Maraenui Lookout at 218 m, over Maraenui Hill (198 m), then inland to cross the Motu River (where jet-boating, rafting and kayaking were on offer, in a delicate ecological zone).

It was another 25 km to the old whaling centre of Te Kaha and a couple of miles further to the Holiday Park, where a cabin and fish & chips awaited us. It overlooks Schoolhouse Bay, good for crayfishing - the local passion.

22 October 2000   Waihau Bay - Holiday Park   39 km

With no wind, warm sun and less traffic, this was a perfect Sunday morning. Along the way we met Graham, a marine environmental scientist teaching at Auckland University, cycling from Whakatane (where he'd left his car) to Hicks Bay.

Following a beautiful stretch of rocky coastline, we climbed up, then dropped into Whanarua Bay to make coffee by the driftwood-strewn shore. A few small boats were out Big Game fishing.

Further on at Waihua Bay we spotted Graham again, sitting outside the Holiday Park café, and joined him for a pot of tea and toasted sandwiches. This was only half-way to our intended overnight at Hicks Bay Backpackers Lodge but, as there were cabins available at NZ$ 40, all 3 of us gave in to the temptation of an early bath! (We did ring the Backpackers to cancel.)

The afternoon passed sitting with our new friend on the sandy Oruaiti Beach. Graham had worked in New York, Barbados, Adelaide and now Auckland. He has an Algerian 'de facto' (as they call a partner here) and has cycled in Thailand, Nepal … Plenty to talk about! We did learn a lot about modern NZ and the position of the Maori and Pacific Islanders here - our first intelligent conversation about what is happening in this remote part of the world.

23 October 2000   Hicks Bay/Te Araroa – Te Araroa Holiday Park   51 km

After coffee with Graham outside our cabins, we left him at Waihau Bay and set out into a light variable wind (no problem).

We followed the coast for 5 km, then climbed steeply inland behind Cape Runaway and Lottin Point. This has been Maori territory since the 11thC AD (200 years before the Great Migration). After passing a waterfall and Nipple Hill, we rejoined the coast at Hicks Bay, where we stopped for a picnic lunch. (Lieutenant Hicks was Captain Cook's 'Number One' on the 'Endeavour'.) The tiny settlement, its jetty long abandoned, now consists of a poorly stocked general store, the backpackers lodge on the shore and a single phone box.

A steep NZ2000_(15).jpgclimb followed, over Pukeamura Hill at 140 m, before we came to the Maori-run Holiday Park situated between Hicks Bay and the town of Te Araroa. The wooded campground had a good shop and a pair of 'tourist flats', each with its own bathroom but sharing a well-equipped kitchen between them. As the other cabin was empty, it was very quiet.

A footpath led to the beach and there was even a little cinema (sadly closed), claiming the title 'world's most easterly cinema'. It was a nice relaxed place to make dinner and read the 'NZ Herald' – Happy Labour Day. Tomorrow it's East Cape lighthouse!

24 October 2000   Hicks Bay/Te Araroa – Te Araroa Holiday Park   56 km

This was not a rest day! We made a 4-hour 56-km round trip on the bicycles to the East Cape lighthouse (not to mention climbing the steps up to it).

It was 6 km along the main road to Te Araroa village, which had 2 shops and a school yard containing the world's largest Pohutakawa tree (600 years old). The remaining 22 km to the lighthouse was along a level gravel road, through small Maori farms with wandering cattle and horses, a few deer and a couple of ostriches. Sandstone cliffs backed a rocky shore with a strip of beach, where signs warned that the Dotterel bird, a threatened species unique to NZ, nests in simple scrapes in the sand.

A car park wNZ2000_(16).jpgith toilets marked the end of the road and we hid the bikes behind the former lighthouse keeper's house. East Cape lighthouse, the most easterly in the world, lies very near the international date line. Originally built in 1906 on East Island (a tiny mound offshore), it was moved to the headland in 1922 and has been working ever since, now computer-controlled from Wellington.

It took 15 minutes to climb over 700 steps, up the hillside through the woods, to the lighthouse itself, perched 154 m above the sea. On a clear day, you can see yesterday! After admiring the view, we descended to the car park for a picnic lunch before returning along the rutted track.

Back at our base, dusty and sunburnt, we had time for laundry and showers before supper.

25 October 2000   Te Puia Springs – Te Puia Motel   75 km

Today we both had stiff calf muscles after yesterday's 700 steps, proving that cycling is easier than walking! Resisted the temptation to take a day off, as the excellent weather may not last.

After Te Araroa village there were some serious climbs inland for 32 km, with 3 hills reaching 115 m, 205 m and 220 m, before a long descent to Tikitiki, a small Maori settlement (population 105). Its park was closed, the shops abandoned and the campsite behind the 'World's Easternmost Hotel' deserted. We made coffee under the trees by the hotel, then visited the beautiful St Mary's Memorial Church, very much open, below a war memorial at the entrance to the once larger village.

St Mary's was built in 1924 to commemorate those warriors lost in the First World War, at the instigation of Sir Aspirana Ngata, the Minister of Maori Affairs, who was born in Te Araroa and lived in nearby Ruatoria. The church looked plain from the outside, but inside the walls and roof were covered in woven panels, with carved figures on the pew ends and the pulpit, all gleamingly polished. It felt loved.

Leaving Tikitiki, we rode through rolling farmland backed by forest, following the Waiapu River valley, long settled by Maori. After passing the turn-off for Ruatoria (a Maori town, capital of the Ngati Porou tribe), we soon came to the Blue Boar Hotel and had lunch at the bar (selecting from burgers, chips or deep-fried battered hot dogs). The car park had plenty of notices warning about under-age drinking (though not drink-driving!)

A gradual climb led up the Kopuora Valley, where scattered homes ran sheep and logging trucks occasionally pushed past us. After the last climb, atop Takapau Hill (280 m), we brewed up in the rest area before rolling the last 8 km to Te Puia, still high at 240 m.

Te Puia's hot springs feed the spa pools at the nearby hotel. The hydrogen gas is also used for local heating and lighting. We took a comfortable motel room with kitchen, conveniently placed next to the general store.

26 October 2000   Tolaga Bay – Tolaga Motel   48 km

After a climb out of Te Puia Springs, we had a 10-km descent to the sea at Tokomaru Bay. Like Hicks Bay, this Maori fishing settlement is in decline, its freezing works (abattoir) closed, its shops barely surviving.

Climbing out again to the Parau Saddle (200 m), we then crossed rolling inland hills and sheep pasture. The wind had turned, colder and stronger from the south, and when we reached the larger village of Tolaga Bay we decided to stop at the motel. We couldn't find the owner, by the name of Wally, but a friendly cleaner showed us a nice suite, saying it was NZ$ 60. 'Pay Wally, later' she suggested.

Captain Cook landed near Tolaga in 1769 and again in 1777. It is also known for its wharf, the longest in the Southern Hemisphere at 660 m, built to give sailing ships entry on all tides.

27 October 2000   Gisborne – Waikanae Beach Holiday Park (Kiwi Group)   62 km

The elusive Wally's son-in-law was the only person at large after breakfast. He thought the room price was NZ$ 70, but accepted 60 with good grace!

Leaving Tolaga Bay, we took a side trip along Wharf Road to Cook's Cove to see the famous long wharf. At its busiest in the 1920-30's, it was closed in the early 1960's, when storms made it too dangerous to use and too expensive to repair, given the decline in shipping. We cycled out to the end, between the rusty railway lines, to watch a lone angler land a snapper.

With a good back wind from the north, at last, we climbed away to 120 m, followed by more long rolling hills until a descent to Pouawa Beach and a brew-up by the sea. Then we rode a welcome flat stretch along several beaches – Tatapouri and Wainui, not yet busy with surfers – and past the sad Sperm Whales' Grave, where over 50 whales were stranded on the beach in 1970.

Gisborne on Poverty Bay is the world's easternmost city, its 30,000 people living on the International Date Line. We found a self-contained flat on the Kiwi Group campsite, right on the beach and just 10 minutes' walk from the city centre.

After calling at the nearby Tourist Info Centre for help with planning the next stage of our ride, we shopped at Pak'n'Save for a hot roast chicken (or 'chook') among other essentials.

28 October 2000   Gisborne – Waikanae Beach Holiday Park (Kiwi Group)   20 km

'Sun City', 'First to see the Light' – and the Millenium: Gisborne is a special place.

With a good range of shops, we bought books to read ('3 for NZ$ 15'), calendars to post as gifts and a pair of flip-flops for M. The cycle shop even had one Schwalbe tyre in our size, but couldn't replace Barry's rear-view mirror, saying they were 'as rare as ants' teeth'! He had to super-glue the broken one, meanNZ2000_(17).jpging it can't be removed for flights.

We took an afternoon ride round the historic shore, where a memorial marks James Cook's very first landing in NZ on Kaiti Beach, October 1769. A modern bronze statue of the Captain, astride a globe (with his 3 epic voyages plotted), overlooks the site, very near our camp (sorry, Holiday Park). A statue of Nick Young, the cabin boy who first sighted land, points across the scenic bay to Young Nick's Head. Cook was the first European to land here, though his welcome soon turned sour and he sailed on, naming the place Poverty Bay. Sadly, such an important site is now marred by a huge wood yard. The logging trucks that have been rushing and pushing past us for the last few days bring their loads to the port here for shipping.

29 October 2000   Wairoa – Three Oaks Motel   102 km

The route from Gisborne on Poverty Bay to Wairoa on Hawke Bay was along SH2 all day, though it was fairly quiet on this Sunday – just a few trucks packed with lambs going to meet their fate.

The first 32 km was easy riding across a flat flood plain, with a back wind from the north. We left East Cape and Poverty Bay behind as we crossed the wide Waipaoa River. A viewing platform up on the flood defence bank showed what a huge area used to flood, as recently as the 1980's. It was fertile land, with vineyards and fruit orchards scenting the air.

We made coffee before the road started to climb inland, away from Young Nick's Head. First we crossed Kopua Hill (120 m), then descended before the long ascent of Wharerata Hill at 488 m (over 1,600 ft). A look-out at the top gave a good view of the coast but its picnic area was busy with Sunday drivers.

After some rolling country, there was another climb to 280 m at Morere Hill. Hot and thirsty, we had lunch here (chicken sandwiches – the last of the Pak'n'Save chook!) Descending to Morere Springs, we found a tempting tea-rooms/campsite with cabins opposite the hot spring swimming pools. We'd ridden 60 km but it was still early and the onward route was easier – we decided to go for 100 km and push on to Wairoa (meaning Long River).

After another 10 km of gently rolling hills, we turned west at Nuhaka (one store and one fish & chip shop, both closed). For the final 32 km, we rode into the wind along the north coast of Hawke Bay to Wairoa, once a port on its river estuary. The campsite had no cabins free, so we settled at a good motel, negotiating a price reduction from NZ$ 76 to 70 per night if we stayed for 2 days. We deserved a rest!

30 October 2000   Wairoa – Three Oaks Motel   13 km

The motel proved a good choice, with free use of the laundry (chance to wash the sleeping bags we use in campsite cabins). There was also a complimentary newspaper, 'The Dominion' (we enjoy both news and crosswords) and the bliss of a private soak in the hot tub spa.

Barry checked the cycles over (brakes and derailleurs) and we rode along to the river mouth to test them after lunch.

31 October 2000   Putorino – Waikare Hotel   60 km

Despite a gusty west wind and the threat of trucks carrying sheep or timber, which often come too close, we had a wonderful day's climbing after our rest.

Our road followed the Gisborne-Napier railway line (freight only) for much of the way, through green woods and pastures, though the tracks had the advantage of tunnelling through the hills on 3 occasions!

The first 25 km was level with a good wind, then we had a steep climb up Taumatataua Hill (250 m). After a brew-up with a wonderful view over Hawke Bay, there was a steep drop to Raupunga, with lunch in a picnic area by the river.

The rolling country was made harder by the strengthening wind through the Mohaka Gorge. We marvelled as we passed below the Mohaka Railway Viaduct, built in 1937 – the highest in Australasia, 100 m above the river. Then we followed the Waikari River Gorge into Putorino: population 300, altitude 85 m.

Unlikely as it had seemed, a comfortable tea-room/pub/hotel stood opposite the petrol station and school, which comprise the village. Here we had booked a meal and room, after much research to get its name and phone number – the only accommodation between Wairoa and Napier.

After a memorable meal of soup, rack of lamb with heaps of vegetables, strawberries and meringue, we had a long chat with the owners. Heather Ward has been running the place for over 30 years, while husband Bill mans the bar every night and gets up at 5 am daily to milk the cows. The herd is actually owned by their son, but he leaves at 3 am to drive a logging truck. Both their daughters have wisely left home! How will they ever retire?

We retired to the hotel TV room with coffee and found that every single video on the shelf was about Dairying! Our homely room had twin beds and a wash-basin, with ablutions down the corridor. We were the only guests and treated like royalty.

1 November 2000   Napier – Kennedy Park Holiday Park (Top Ten)   65 km

After a very full breakfast and a gift of 2 sports bottles of mineral water, we left the haven of the hotel in Putorino. The SH2 road climbed up and down through the Matahorua Gorge until it reached the wildlife refuge of Lake Tutira. We made coffee on the shore, watching the black swans and various ducks with their young.

Then it was 130 m down, 200 m up, and so on through the hairpins of Devil's Elbow, peaking at 340 m after a well-graded 4 km climb in our lowest gear. We were rewarded with a superb view of Hawke Bay from the top before dropping to the coast. Here, in a fruit-growing area of vines, apples and peaches, we lunched on the black sands, looking across the bay to Napier. 
The final 16 km was flat with a good back wind. The road followed the railway through the suburbs and into the centre of Napier, the famous Art Deco city (pop 50,000). We headed straight for Kennedy Park, a couple of miles south, where there was good camping and accommodation set among trees and gardens.

Ready for a short break, we opted for a motel unit (with the luxury of TV), rather than a cheaper Tourist Flat.

2 November 2000   In Napier - Kennedy Park Holiday Park (Top Ten)   12 km

We'd been warned of the need to reserve Christmas and New Year accommodation, as it's the peak mid-summer school holiday! After some research and phone calls we booked 5 nights at Owaka followed by 4 nights at Oamaru, in the south of South Island. We also rearranged our onward Qantas flights from Auckland, via Fiji, Los Angeles and Miami – we now have a schedule, though it's flexible.

A circular ride into Napier and back along the sea front followed, for shopping and sight-seeing. In 1931 the original city was destroyed by an earthquake (Richter 7.9) and fires, leaving 256 dead. When it was rebuilt in the contemporary style it had become 40 sq km larger, as the land level had risen by 2 metres. It was dubbed 'the most complete planned Art Deco city in the world'.

We rode along and behind Marine Parade to admire the soft pastel colours and geometric shapes of the Criterion Hotel, State Cinema, Municipal Theatre, Daily Telegraph building, clock tower, the banks, the statue of Pania on a tall fountain, etc, etc. Impressive, though not to our personal taste – the architecture all looked too Odeon-cinema or Fascist-classical to our untutored eye. We preferred the surviving fine wooden villas that predated the quake.

We cycled to the port under the sheer cliff face of Bluff Hill, returning along Marine Parade with its parks and gardens, marineland and aquarium (being rebuilt).  At 'Opossum World' you could enjoy seeing the live animals, then buy souvenirs made from their fur!

Back at Kennedy Park we learnt that the original campsite there dated from 1937: a collection of cabins, huts and camping run by the city council. It was taken over by the army during World War II, after which the huts were used to house families in transit until 1957. Then they reverted to holiday accommodation, with the revenue from the campsite used to build more motel units, expanding into the present complex. It is still being enlarged. Visit www.kennedypark.co.nz .  

The Emergency Fire Procedure on wall of our room also had earthquake instructions: (1) Drop under a table or stand in a doorway. (2) Stay away from windows or objects that could fall. (3) Stay inside and under cover until shaking stops. We wondered how long we would take to stop shaking!

3 November 2000   Waipukurau – Waipukurau  Holiday Park   80 km

In a cold south-east wind and a light drizzle we set off down the coast, past the turning for Cape Kidnappers where a boy on James Cook's 'Endeavour' was kidnapped by Maori. The Cape is home to one of the world's biggest Gannet colonies, disturbed only by the tractor-drawn trailers, 4-wheel motorbikes, 4-wheel-drive jeeps and Unimogs which take visitors who can't manage to walk 5 miles along the beach. We prefer Bempton Cliffs, north of Bridlington!

At Clive we left the main road SH2, bypassing Hastings. A café at Havelock North gave a welcome break after 15 miles before we continued southwards on a rolling road through a dry valley between the coast and the Kaokaoroa Hills. It was reminiscent of the Yorkshire Wolds (apart from the vineyards, citrus groves, cabbage trees and palms!) and so quiet that we began to suspect it was a dead-end.

At last we came to Patangata, consisting of a pub by the Tukituki River. The kind new owner said that 'Food' didn't start until 5.30 pm, before taking pity and producing mugs of tea. He went on to share his pizza with us (microwaved to perfection), while we told him and the lone customer about our journey. The unofficial lunch was 'on the house'.

We turned inland for the next 10 miles, with a better back wind, to meet busy road SH2 again at Waipawa. We followed this for the final 5 miles to Waipukarau on the Tukituki River. The Holiday Park offered a nice 'tourist flat' (actually a little self-contained bungalow) and was just 5 minutes' walk from a good supermarket (Woolworth's).  

Fishing and hunting are important here, in the town known locally as Waipuk. Its full name is that of a Maori 'pa' (hill fort) a mile downriver. 'Wai' means water or river, while 'pukurau' is apparently an edible fungus that has to be soaked in the river.

Waipukurau is 70 km from Napier by the direct route on SH2; our quieter alternative road added a further 10 km.

4 November 2000   Porangahau - Duke of Edinburgh Hotel   46 km

With a cold wind, grey skies and a hint of rain, it felt like summer in Wales (complete with sheep) as we rode through Waipuk. We left the SH2 for a quieter scenic route on SH52.

After nearly 20 km (12 miles) we took shelter in the Wanstead Tavern, a cosy pub run by Mabel & Russell Hewitt. Our hosts had old photographs of this coaching inn, built in 1875, and of the nearby village (now gone), including one of the removal of the post office. Russell had an interesting history himself. He had been a racing cyclist in his youth, worked as a sheep farmer until 6 years ago, and is the father of a member of the All Blacks rugby team.

His son, Norm Hewitt, recently became famous for playing on despite a broken arm and we remembered reading about the incident, when he was criticised as a 'bad example' by a female government minister - shortly before she was arrested for drunk-driving and forced to resign! The Tavern was decorated with a splendid collection of All Blacks jerseys and memorabilia - and an all-black cat on the sofa. There were also photos of Wanstead tube station, sent by a friend in London.

After this fascinating coffee break it was an easy ride southwards, despite the cold wind. We cycled through Wallingford (a church and a bridge) and past a turning for a Historic Signpost - on a hill with the world's longest place name, at 57 letters - but decided this was not worth the 10-mile detour!

The village of Porangahau (meaning 'night pursuit') comprised another historic coaching inn (the DoE Hotel) with 3 motel units at the back, and a small dairy shop opposite. There was no telephone anywhere.

The motel (complete with bath) proved a good place to spend an afternoon idling over newspaper and crosswords. The dairy sold fish & chips for supper and the evening TV showed a boringly sycophantic programme about Andrew Morton's new book on Queen Elizabeth II, which held no surprises. The Duke of Edinburgh Hotel, incidentally, was named not after her husband but an earlier model.

5 November 2000   Pongaroa - Glen Ross Lodge Backpackers   76 km

Rain continued to drizzle steadily all through the day. The sharp climb out of Porangahau was followed by a 6-km stretch of gravel road that was fairly level.

Reaching Wimbledon village we saw a war memorial, a tiny closed school, a couple of houses, a pub (the Wimbledon Tavern) and a tennis court. It seems you can buy certificates saying 'I played tennis at Wimbledon' in the Tavern when it's open. It wasn't, so we sat outside, sheltering under its verandah to make coffee and biscuits. Riding on across rolling sheep-hills, it seemed even more like North Wales, seen through the mist and rain.

With no further shelter, no respite from the worsening downpour, we were more than ready for a break when, after 50 km, some Cyclists' Fairy Godmother sent Harvey out in his car to ask us in for lunch! Actually it was his wife, Chrissy, who had passed us on the road, hurried along to their home to light a fire and prepare a meal, and sent him back to invite us in! What wonderful kindness to complete strangers. Over a Sunday lunch of chicken, salad, fruit and chocolate, we got to know our new friends.

Harvey farms cattle and sheep, while his wife is Head of the local school. Their beautiful new wooden house was built when the previous farmhouse was destroyed by an earthquake 10 years ago. They have a daughter in her last year of boardingschool, 2 sons in the NZ Air Force, several sheep dogs - and a Cesssna light aeroplane in the garage! Harvey proudly showed us the shiny red plane, describing himself as a Bush Pilot. He had just returned from a fishing trip to South Island and dreams of flying around Australia.

After 3 hours - and more coffee and chocolate - we were even offered a bath and beds for the night. We had to resist this generosity, explaining that we had booked a night with evening meal at Glen Ross Lodge. 'Oh, they are friends of ours', said Harvey. 'I'll ring and let them know you're on your way.' Reluctantly, we prised ourselves from their fireside and back onto our bikes in the rain.

We rode about 15 km to Pongaroa village, then a further 10 km to Glen Ross Farm, where we were met with more kindness. Here George & Pauline Wardle have made a lovely new backpackers' hostel in the shearers' quarters, with 5 twin-bedded rooms, bathrooms and an excellent common room/kitchen. Pauline had put a heater on in our bedroom, lit a log fire in the common room, and left fruit, eggs, milk and home-made biscuits for us. Later she delivered our evening meal: roast beef with a platter of vegetables (asparagus, mushrooms, roast spuds, pumpkin, kumara, broccoli …) What a wonderful end to the day. Who needs fireworks?

6 November 2000   At Pongaroa - Glen Ross Lodge Backpackers   0 km

As it was still wet, we were easily persuaded to spend another night at Glen Ross, getting to know Pauline & George Wardle (who were to become good friends). Barry had forgotten an item of clothing, left drying by the fire at Harvey's, and offered to cycle back for it. No question of that - George rang to sort it out and while we all had coffee in the farmhouse kitchen the garment was delivered by the postman to the house of friend Martin, near Pongaroa!

The Wardles have 4 boys: 3 at the local school and the eldest away at boarding school. Pauline is a Scout leader, as well as running the backpackers lodge and a beach cottage that they rent out at Akitio, 40 minutes' drive away.

George took us into Pongaroa to show us the village - or what is left of it. There is a garage and store, and a pub which used to be the bank. The cinema he went to as a lad is now a Maori playschool and many of the houses he knew are now gone or abandoned. Inheriting and extending his parents' sheep farm, George has lived here for all his 63 years.

Back in the Lodge for lunch, we cooked some of the eggs (from Pauline's hens) and rested by the fire. Reading the Visitors' Book we recognised the name of cyclist Nigel Rushton, author of the cycling guide to NZ, 'Pedallers Paradise', which we find indispensable. He runs a hostel on South Island, which we intend to visit.

Later, George collected us in his 4WD pick-up for a tour of the farm, extending over 2,000 acres. He has 7,000 sheep and a few head of cattle. We saw the house where his parents had lived, the home of his shepherd, and the new 4-stand woolshed near the backpackers/shearers' quarters. Barry had a turn at driving a quad bike on the back entrance track. There was even a landing strip for the fertiliser-spraying plane, up a grassy track above the farm, and a pond with a pair of specially bought white swans (not the native black ones). George didn't own a plane but he did show us two Model A Ford cars, circa 1930. One of them still runs and is proudly taken to an occasional veteran rally. The other was last used for his wedding! We came to know a quiet and contented man, at home in this, his world.

Pauline invited us to dinner in the farmhouse: 4 hours of excellent food and conversation with the family and Tony, a long-term resident at the backpackers' lodge, who is working as a woodcutter in the area and is also a Scouter. We feasted on hoki (fish), lasagne, salad, veggies, home-bottled peaches, meringues and ice cream.

Of course, we talked travel. Tony had toured western and eastern Europe with his brother, who lives in Sweden. Pauline had spent a year at college in the USA and she was truly interested in cycling and all we had done, fetching an atlas and asking hundreds of questions. Walking back to the Lodge towards midnight, under a clear sky, Tony pointed out the stars of the Southern Cross.

7 November 2000   Masterton - Discovery Motor Lodge   83 km

Taking our leave at Glen Ross Farm, we were overwhelmed by Pauline's generosity, giving us eggs and cakes. We promised to keep in touch and to return on subsequent visits to NZ - and we have (twice).

We rode south on Route 52 (only recently sealed), a beautiful quiet road through prime sheep country. A head wind became gustier in the afternoon, with heavier rain. The only settlement along the way to Masterton was Alfredton, a tiny place with nowhere for a break, so we made lunch at the roadside, sheltering under some trees.

Arriving in Masterton we were too cold and wet to be tempted by the basic unheated cabins at the Motor Camp. Instead we checked into the first motel we saw, handily placed opposite a New World supermarket and a KFC take-away. The motel had a free laundry for guests and our clothes were soon drying on the heated towel rail, while we ate chicken and watched Sky TV.  
Masterton is the main town of the Wairarapa region: home to 3 million sheep in a 10-mile radius! In March it hosts the Golden Shears competition - the world's top sheep shearing contest.    

8 November 2000   Featherston - Leeway Motel   71 km

The morning was still cold and showery, the wind now from the east. We noticed Christmas displays in the shops as we looked round Masterton, seeking out 'Happy Valley Cycling', as recommended by Pauline Wardle. Its genial proprietor, Gordon Hyde, had come out from England (Derby) as a young man and stayed. He still goes mountain-biking every weekend, despite being past retirement age! Gordon showed us his wonderful collection of veteran bicycles, delivery bikes, even an Indian tri-shaw, and entertained us with a fund of stories. We both bought new over-trousers, hoping they might be more waterproof than those we have!

We sat in a café with coffee and scones waiting for the rain to ease, leaving at about noon to take the quieter route to Featherston (rather than the shorter but busy SH2). We lunched at the roadside and passed through tiny settlements without stopping - Gladstone, where the pub lay 2 km off the road, and Longbush, which was just a school. A recent Scarecrow Festival in Gladstone had left its mark, with ingeniously made scarecrows outside every farm. The straw figures were in every pose, from fishing to sitting on a toilet. All good fun, apart from one hanging from a gibbet!

Reaching Martinborough (home of NZ's first sheep station) after 54 km, we had tea and cakes at the Deli just before it closed at 5 pm. For the final 16 km to Featherston, with the wind behind us, we made faster progress.

The Leeway Motel included a campsite and a backpackers' hostel, which was full of workers. Featherston is also home to the Fell Engine Museum (open weekends and holidays only), which contains the only remaining Fell engine in the world. John Fell's friction-drive system for climbing the 3-mile Rimutaka Incline was used here from 1878 to 1955. We would learn more of this tomorrow.

9 November 2000   Lower Hutt, Wellington - Hutt Park Holiday Park (TopTen)   64 km

It was a 10 km ride from Featherston to the Rimutaka Incline Walkway car park, the start of a crazy obstacle course. First we had to strip the cycles of all their panniers (5 on each) to lift bikes and bags over an awkward barrier onto the footpath, signed as a 20-minute walk to Cross Creek. Then the reloaded bikes had to be wheeled along a dangerously narrow path, sometimes edged by a barbed wire fence, then above a sheer drop to the river below. Whatever the guide books might say, it was totally unsuitable for loaded bikes, smooth-soled cycling shoes, or anyone who valued their life – and it took 45 minutes.

Reaching the safety of Cross Creek, we made coffee in the old waiting room. This former railway village once housed 30 families and a school, but the buildings are now gone, along with the rails.

After a short stretch of rideable grass, the gravel track climbed steadily for 5 km to the Summit, following the route of the railway (gradient 1 in 15) across the Rimutaka Mountain range. Our ascent involved walking through the short Price's Tunnel, then we had to clamber down a hillside, across a stream and up the other side of the Siberia Washout before Siberia Tunnel. Luckily we had a light back wind: in the 1880's a train had blown off the rails on the embankment at Siberia, killing 3 children.

Our track became easier after Siberia, through Summit Tunnel (the longest, at 600 m), emerging into sunlit forest at a height of 1,155 ft/350 m. We ate our lunch in the clearing where Summit station once stood, with the drone of loggers' chainsaws all around.

The 9 km descent was on a wider, better maintained track, crossing several short wooden bridges over streams. Halfway from Summit we passed over the line of the modern Rimutaka Railway Tunnel, deep below us. We had to lift the bikes over 2 more locked gates before reaching Kaitoke and joining main road SH2 over Kaitoke Hill (726 ft/220 m) and on towards Wellington.

Our route had, at least, avoided climbing the Rimutaka Hill (1,830 ft/555 m) on the busy highway – though the Rimutaka Incline had hardly been an easier option and we were still less than halfway to Lower Hutt! We continued through Upper Hutt, then along the Hutt River, riding the margin of SH2 through Wellington's industrial area. There was a quarry and a railway line, though the car industry had folded here. Following a trail of campsite signs through Lower Hutt, we finally came to a large and busy campsite/holiday park (the nearest to Wellington, NZ's capital city): see www.huttpark.co.nz.

The long hard day ended in a new Tourist Flat, where we heated a couple of frozen meat pies from the campsite shop.

10 November 2000   At Lower Hutt, Wellington - Hutt Park Holiday Park (TopTen)   14 km

Windy weather on a well-earned rest day. In the morning we did nothing more strenuous than feed the birds: ducks, a lame drake, sparrows, chaffinches and blackbirds. Not a kiwi in sight!

Riding out after lunch, along the Esplanade to Petone, we shopped at Pak'n'Save and enjoyed hot chocolate with marshmallows in McDonald's.

11 November 2000   At Lower Hutt, Wellington - Hutt Park Holiday Park (TopTen)   43 km

We cycled into Wellington and back, following a dubious cycle-track from Petone that was squeezed between road and railway line, sometimes disappearing altogether. After 14 km we reached the Interisland ferry terminal and collected tickets for Monday (13 Nov) before continuing into the city centre.

It was very quiet for a Saturday morning, with little sign of Christmas in the shops and no street decorations. We were surprised to find the Qantas airline office closed, as was the Map Shop, and 2 of the 4 cycle shops had shut down. We did buy a camping-gas refill, found a map of South Island at Dymocks bookshop and lunch at McDonalds.

A ride along the waterfront was on land reclaimed since the most recent earthquake in 1855! We passed the new national museum 'Te Papa', and the Beehive parliament building designed by Sir Basil Spence. Yachts battled and tacked to come into the windy harbour; a few skateboarders and rollerbladers raced along the promenade; some outdoor musicians played. It all seemed very low-key in this, the world's most southerly capital, built on a major seismic fault line.

Back at Petone, we visited McDonald's again for coffee, did more shopping at Pak'n'Save and returned to Hutt Park.

12 November 2000   At Lower Hutt, Wellington - Hutt Park Holiday Park (TopTen)

Giving the bicycles a rest, we caught up with phone calls, mending, laundry, bike and shoe-cleaning, ready for South Island.

We booked a Tourist Flat here at Hutt Park for 24-25 January and left a pile of North Island maps and guides to collect on our return.

We read the Sunday papers and did crosswords. The news was of the chaotic USA Presidential election (with a recount in Florida), an Austrian ski-train disaster (over 160 dead), and Lennox Lewis easily retaining his heavyweight boxing title against David Tua, the Samoan New Zealander with the 'bad haircut'!

13 November 2000   Picton, South Island – Blue Anchor Holiday Park (TopTen)   19 km

With less than 10 miles to ride to the ferry terminal, we paused for hot chocolate in Petone on the way. Also had an intelligent conversation with an American cyclist, mending a puncture on his racing bike at the side of the cycle path.

The Interislander ferry 'Aratere' sailed smoothly across Cook Strait to South Island, taking 3 hours. The final hour through the inlets of Marlborough Sound was beautiful. Landing in Picton – 'Gateway to the Mainland' – it felt warmer and sunnier out of the wind.

There were plenty of motels and hotels, as well as a Top Ten campsite near the ferry terminal, where most of the motorhomes headed. We'd booked a Tourist Flat there, and also reserved it for our return on 23 January. See www.blueanchor.co.nz.

To read about later stage of the journey through New Zealand, click:

Travel Log of the 3,176 km (1,985 mile) Ride through the South Island of New Zealand

Travel Log of the Return Journey, cycling North through the North Island of New Zealand

Distances and Times of the Cycle Ride South through North Island

Day Place Distance Cumulative Average
(km) (miles) (km) (miles) (km) (miles)
1
In Auckland
70
44
70
44
70
44
2
Helensville
64
40
134
84
67
42
3
Brynderwyn
90
56
224
140
75
47
4
Dargaville
75
47
299
187
75
47
5
Waipoua Forest
59
37
358
224
72
45
6
Rawene
75
47
433
271
72
45
7
Kaitaia
86
54
519
324
74
46
8
Waitiki Landing
95
59
614
384
77
48
9
Waitiki Landing
43
27
657
411
73
46
10
Pukenui
50
31
707
442
71
44
11
Kaitaia
45
28
752
470
68
43
12
Whangaroa
81
51
833
521
69
43
13
Russell
63
39
896
560
69
43
14
Oakura
44
28
940
588
67
42
15
Whangarei
55
34
995
622
66
41
16
Mangawhai
66
41
1061
663
66
41
17
Parakai
89
56
1150
719
68
42
18
Auckland
57
36
1207
754
67
42
19
Orere Point
64
40
1271
794
67
42
20
Thames
72
45
1343
839
67
42
21
Coromandel
52
33
1395
872
66
42
22
Hahei
78
49
1473
921
67
42
23
Whangamata
61
38
1534
959
67
42
24
Waihi Beach
48
30
1582
989
66
41
25
Tauranga
65
41
1647
1029
66
41
26
Rotorua
67
42
1714
1071
66
41
27
Awakeri
89
56
1803
1127
67
42
28
Tirohanga
80
50
1883
1177
67
42
29
Te Kaha
62
39
1945
1216
67
42
30
Waihau Bay
39
24
1984
1240
66
41
31
Hicks Bay
51
32
2035
1272
66
41
32
Te Araroa
56
35
2091
1307
65
41
33
Te Puia Springs
75
47
2166
1354
66
41
34
Tolaga Bay
48
30
2214
1384
65
41
35
Gisborne
82
51
2296
1435
66
41
36
Wairoa
102
64
2398
1499
67
42
37
Putorino
73
46
2471
1544
67
42
38
Napier
77
48
2548
1593
67
42
39
Waipukurau
80
50
2628
1643
67
42
40
Porangahau
46
29
2674
1671
67
42
41
Pongaroa
76
48
2750
1719
67
42
42
Masterton
83
52
2833
1771
67
42
43
Featherston
71
44
2904
1815
68
42
44
Wellington
64
40
2968
1855
67
42
45  In Wellington  57  36  3025  1891  67  42 

 

Distances and Times of the Round-the-World Journey

Country

Days

Days Cycling

Miles

Average

Singapore

4

2

60

30

Australia

88

65

3440

53

New Zealand

160

111

4641

42

Fiji

7

6

300

50

USA

82

65

3645

56

Totals

341

246

12070

49

Coast to Coast

Australia

68

55

3025

55

USA

60

52

3000

58

No time was lost during the whole round-the-worl journey through illness. Xmas and the New Year consumed a 7-day break in New Zealand and stormy weather kept us indoors for 4 days in total. Otherwise, non-cycling days were used for sight-seeing, maintenance, writing, repairs, cleaning, reading, shopping, planning ahead, telephoning, crosswords, listening to the BBC World Service on our short-wave radio, etc.